His Presence

             I.      Introduction

Our scripture for the week was supposed to be Exodus 39 & 40.  It’s starts with these verses,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.

 So I’m thinking one lesson we can learn is what sort of clothes we should wear to church.  This description of clothing goes on for like the entire two chapters of Exodus 39-40.    We should always wear our ephods of gold, blue, purple and scarlet.  And I ask a deep theological question of the Lord: Lord, please reveal to me, what is an ephod? 

Here is a traditional ephod:

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So then I asked, Lord, is there a deeper theological message, other than a church dress code?  If I understood God’s answer correctly, today we will discuss God’s relationship with His people through history, the functionality of God’s temples and the duties of His royal priesthood.  And ephods.

But let’s start with this:  Where does God live?

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When I want to speak to God through prayer, I look up.  As though God was in a particular direction, and if I looked in that direction, I’d see Him.  Is He close?  Is He far away?  Where does God live?  And what does He look like if I see Him?

Does He look like George Burns?  Morgan Freeman?  And how does any of this tie into Exodus 39?

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Our bible study today centers on Exodus 38 through 40 which begins with a description of the first temple and the clothing to be worn by the first priests.  There are a great many instructions on what to build and what to wear.  We could spend a long time reading the description of the temple and the clothing, but I want to get into the purpose, so we’re just going to hit a few verses.  Turn your bibles to Exodus 38.    Here’s how God instructed the altar to be built starting in Exodus 38:1 –

Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits wide, square, and three cubits high.  He made its horns on its four corners, its horns being of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze.  He made all the utensils of the altar, the pails and the shovels and the basins, the flesh hooks and the firepans; he made all its utensils of bronze.  He made for the altar a grating of bronze network beneath, under its ledge, reaching halfway up.  He cast four rings on the four ends of the bronze grating as holders for the poles.  He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze.  He inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks.

This goes on for 31 verses, and my second question (does anybody remember what the first question was?  Right, “What is an ephod?”).  My second question was, “what the heck is a cubit?”  That part was pretty easy to figure out, I guess they didn’t have a Wal-mart nearby to go pick up a ruler, so a cubit was simply the length from the back of the elbow to the tip of the finger, about 18 inches.  The final altar looked like this:

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And then, as if the altar instructions weren’t complex enough, there was some weird fashion show one had to wear before one was allowed to come near. 

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Church dress codes have certainly relaxed since biblical times.  Now we wear Astros gear.  I wonder why they don’t make Astros ephods?  That would be perfect.

Exodus 39 beginning in verse 1,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.  Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman.  They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends.  The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel.

And then this description goes on for another 43 verses.

What’s the purpose for all these instructions?    The Lord told Moses how the Aaron and the other priests were to dress when ministering in the Holy Place.  The Lord had specific instructions to Moses about a great many things before the Lord would, as Dr. Young says, “tabernacle among them.”

But when I was studying this chapter, it felt like I was reading a book out of order, and not even reading the entire book.  Like picking up a novel, reading a couple of chapters from the very middle of the book, then closing the book.  And afterward, I’d be asking myself, “How did the story begin?  How did it end?”  I dunno.  I’m only reading the middle part of the book.

I don’t know how many lessons I begin with Genesis 1, and many times I end in Revelation.  Today is another one of those times, so we’re going to have to study the entire bible today.  Shouldn’t take too long, right?  So let’s turn to Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1. 

          II.      Genesis 1:2, The Spirit of God

Genesis 1:1-2,

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

 To fully understand where God lives, well, that’s beyond our study.  But we can study what God has revealed to us in His Word about His Presence, and see how and when God reveals Himself to us.

When God created the heavens and the earth, it was perfect.  How could it be otherwise?  There is no presence of sin, no rebellion, nothing opposed to God.  God’s will is everywhere, God’s will is perfect.  And the Holy Spirit moved over the surface of the waters.  And this is important, God is in direct contact with His creation.  And at the end of the sixth day, God creates man and woman and places them in the Garden of Eden.  And there was still no sin.  In Genesis 2:15, scripture says,

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Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

In other words, God dwelt with man and interacted with Him in a perfect sinless environment.  But then mankind messed it all up, and disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  And sin entered the world. 

This is important an important change in our relationship with God.  Sin entered the world.  You and I tell little lies and gossip and steal office supplies and get mad at each other, but we live with each other and learn to get along.  But God is not like you and me.  God is holy and pure and good.  He’s omnipotent and full of justice, and when He sees any injustice or sin, God will destroy it.  How can a holy God be otherwise, so see evil and just say, “well, that’s not so bad, I guess I can accept that.”  No, God promises to make all things right.

After man at the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what happened to the relationship between God and man?  God drove the man and woman out of the garden, no more in direct contact, lest God be compelled to destroy the evil within.

       III.      Exodus 38-40 God Dwells in His Temple

But God is also perfect love, and God still loves His flawed, sinful people.  How will God dwell among those He loves without destroying them in the process?   In the Old Testament, God prescribed a method, sort of like a Martian airlock. 

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I’m not sure the altar of the Lord has ever been described like a Martian airlock, but let’s go with it.  The purpose of an airlock is to keep the Martian atmosphere on one side, and the earthly atmosphere on the other, with an intermediate area to transition from Earth to Mars and back again.

So sinful man cannot simply walk up to the presence of the Lord without being destroyed by His holiness.  So the altar was devised by God for God to indwell, and the priestly garments, like a Martian spacesuit, was worn after the priest was purified and temporarily pure for approaching the presence of the Lord.  All of the clothing was symbolic for being set apart for God’s work of atoning for sin.  The dress code was mandatory.  Noncompliance was sin, and the wages of sin is death, so getting dressed up for church was a good idea.   God says that this is the Martian airlock method of separating His Holiness from our sinfulness so we won’t die, in Exodus 28:43,

They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die.

 So even noncompliance with the dress code was a problem.  Forgetting to wear a tie to the altar was imperfect, a sin, and like all sin, no matter how big or how small, was punishable by death.  In Exodus 28:31-35, the Lord tells Moses to add little golden bells on the hem of the priestly robe –

“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue.  There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn.  You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe.  It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

That’s a pretty sophisticated Martian airlock with all the bells and whistles.  And there’s meaning in the robe;

  • The blue represents heaven and water, the pristine state of the earth when God created it.
  • The gold represents, well, gold.  It’s pure and it’s rare.
  • The scarlet represents the blood; Leviticus 17:11 tells us that life is in the blood.  And this is important to the sacrificial system.  Since the wages of sin is death, sin requires atoning by blood, but God’s sacrificial system allows innocent blood of a lamb to be substituted for our sins.
  • The purple is the mixing of blue and scarlet together, mixing of the heavenly, of God and man, and indicated royalty.
  • The bells are because the Israelite must make noise to come before the Lord.  One of the words for praising God is the Hebrew word, ruah which means to make an ear splitting sound. The sound of the bells prevent the death of the priest when he comes before the Lord. While it is true that man needed to hear the bells to know that the priest was still alive, the bells actually seem to be protecting the priest from death.

Also, you may have heard that the priest also had a robe tied around his waist or around his ankle so that when the tinkling stopped, the people outside would know he had died and could pull the rope and retrieve the body.  I hate to say this, but that’s probably not true.  I checked on Snopes.com.  Actually, I checked a source by Dr. W.E. Nunnally, Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Hebrew at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary ( https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/author/w-e-nunnally/  ) who researched this, and it’s an urban legend, though one that’s been around for a very long time, probably starting around 600 or 700 years after Christ.   Dr. Nunnally says,

“The rope on the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”

I mean, this professor is so smart, he knows what the Pseudepigrapha is and he’s read it.  So the story of the robe around the ankle is just not listed in scripture anywhere. 

I continued following the rabbit trail about the bells on the hem of the robe, and look at this last line we just read a moment ago –

It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

 But then if we jump over to Leviticus 16:2-4, it says,

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.  “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering.  He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments.  Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.

 These are two different places, even though the words are similar.  The second location is inside the veil, often called the Holy of Holies.  The first one, the Holy Place, is outside the veil, where Aaron ministered to the Israelites.  Notice that the robe with the bells is worn outside the veil, but not inside after he’s been washed and purified.

That’s the end of the rabbit trail regarding the bells and the robe and the ankle, so let’s go back to the Martian airlock and recap the purpose of the altar and the priestly robes –

  • God desires a relationship with His people
  • God is holy
  • Man is sinful. 
  • The wages of sin is death, but God implemented a sacrificial system to allow innocent blood to be shed for the guilty.
  • The temple and the robes provides a purified exposure of sinful man to a holy Lord that separates man from the wrath of God.

The priest ministered to the people, collected their sins, made a sacrifice on their behalf, purified himself, then if everything was pure and holy, the priest would walk into the Holy of Holies to communicate with the Lord.

          IV.      The Temple of the Lord: What Changed?

Where is our temple today?  Why don’t we purify ourselves and sacrifice and asks a priest to intercede for us today?

The answer is Jesus.  Jesus changed everything.

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When Adam sinned in the garden, God put into a plan to save man from his sins.  It begins with Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that Eve’s offspring will eventually crush the head of Satan, continues through the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel for the salvation of God’s people.  The purpose of the temple before Jesus was described in Exodus 25:8-9,

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

But the book of Hebrews tells us that the temple was just a copy of better things to come in Hebrews 9:23-24,

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these (blood sacrifices), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

 What this verse is saying is that the Jewish temples constructed for the Lord’s presence were copies of Heaven, examples.  These old temples required earthly blood regularly sacrificed because man sinned repeatedly, and so the sacrifices had to be repeated.  But this verse in Hebrews says Jesus didn’t come to cleanse a copy of the temple that represented heaven, but Jesus entered heaven itself, once and for all and for many.  This verse in Hebrews 9:25-26 goes on to say,

nor was it that He (Jesus) would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

 In other words, the sacrifice of Christ is a permanent solution for all sin, past present and future.  His sacrifice was God Himself pouring Himself out for all of us on the cross.  And when Jesus breathed His last, His sacrifice to take away the sins of the world was perfect, and with His final breath in John 19:30, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  And this was not defeat; this was victory, for Matthew 27:50 says Jesus cried this out in a loud voice.  It is finished; sin has been defeated.

If you recall the purification of the priest, it enabled the priest to be temporarily purified so that he could offer sacrifices for our sins to God within the veil.  But the role of priest has also been fulfilled by Jesus, Hebrews 4:14-16,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 Because Jesus is a permanent sacrifice and also sinless, additional sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus is the last priest we’ll ever need, and with His sacrifice, 1 Peter 2:5 says that all believers are now part of the royal priesthood, chosen to proclaim the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness and into the light.

So what about the temple?  The same temple built by Herod with the Holy of Holies where God would dwell and accept sacrifices from the purified priests wearing fancy schmancy garments? 

Jesus, again, changed everything.

For one thing, the veil that separated us from God fulfilled a purpose; it kept sin out.  But Jesus defeated sin with His final sacrifice, and this veil od separation was no longer necessary.  After Jesus’ cry of victory, well, let’s look at Matthew 27:50-51 says,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

The veil was torn by God from the top.  Remember that veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies?  Aaron wore the robe with the bells on the outside of the veil, but before he would go inside the veil, he’d had to purify himself before entering the presence of God.

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In Jesus’ day, Moses’ tabernacle was long gone, replace by Herod’s temple in the exact location, but the concept was the same.  A thick veil separated all from God except for the High Priest who would sacrifice for the sins of the people and purify himself before entering the Holy of Holies.

But because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the protective veil that separated God from Man was no longer necessary.  Man now had a permanent sacrifice, a savior.  Jesus is our permanent sacrifice.  So what do we need a temple made of stone for if sacrifices are no longer needed?  We don’t.

In fact, Jesus knew this, and prophesied the temple of Herod would be torn down and no stone would be left unturned.  And in 70 AD, Romans soldiers overturned the temple and it’s never been rebuilt.  For Christians, the temple isn’t needed, because we are the temple.  1 Corinthians 6:19 –

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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

 Jesus changed everything.  We are his priesthood and He is our greatest priest, the sacrifices are finished, the veil that separates us from the Holy of Holies is forever torn, and when we accept Jesus as our savior, we become the temple of the Holy Spirit.  The separation between us and the Lord is forever eliminated for those who accept Jesus’ atoning death.

             V.      The Temple Yet to Come

But this isn’t the way the story ends.  What about any future temple?  Let’s head to the end of the bible and check Revelation for any, um, revelations.

There are two main temples discussed in Revelation, and I want to dismiss the first one pretty quickly.  The dimensions of this first temple are prophesied in Ezekiel 40-47, and Daniel 9:27 says this temple will be built on the Temple Mount by Jews eager for their Messiah to return which, of course, already happened 2000 years ago.  Sacrifices in this temple begin again, but then in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 the antichrist desecrates the temple in the middle of the Tribulation and declares himself to be God.   Ultra-orthodox Jews are already prepared to build what they call the Third Temple.  While important to understand this third temple when studying end times eschatology, I don’t believe it to be a temple directed by God.  Why would we need sacrifices to begin again?  This temple is a misguided effort by Jews and orchestrated by man.  And when Jesus returns, this temple is destroyed by earthquake in Revelation 6:12-17.

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But for believers, we can read a little further to Revelation 21:22-23, a beautiful description of our glorious future.  John is describing what he sees as a new heaven and a new earth with a new Jerusalem:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 

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God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and us will all dwell together in His glory where there is no sin, no pain, no tears.  That’s something to look forward to.

          VI.      Conclusion

I started off preparing for this lesson reading about what Levitical priests wore when going to prepare sacrifices, but there was a lot more to learn than just biblical fashion statements.  We learned that the role of temple was to be like a Martian airlock that separates our sinful self from the holiness of God who has vowed to destroy all evil.  We learned that priest purified themselves before offering sacrifices, but this had to be repeated every time a sacrifice was made.

And we learned that Jesus changed everything, who became our Great High Priest and we all became members of a royal priesthood with our bodies being the very temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells today.  There is no longer a separation between us and God because Jesus forever intercedes for us.  And we learned that at the end of time, there will be no need for a temple at all because we will dwell with the Lord forever, just as the Lord originally intended when He created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve.

In the meantime, there is no need to look up when we look to see where God live.  God dwells inside each one of us.

Jesus changed everything.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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His Faithfulness

I.      His Faithfulness

We’re going to spend some time in Psalm 146, so let’s get right into it.  Verses 1-2,

Hallelujah!
My soul, praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing to my God as long as I live.

God is worthy to be praised.  But do we always praise Him?  Do we praise Him in all things, at all times?

I know all of you have perfect, content lives, full of joy and peace and abundant blessings.  Me, I’ve had a few struggles along the way.  Family relationships that soured, times in my life where finances didn’t seem to be working out, a couple of lost jobs.  Sickness.  Disease.  A death in the family.

My soul, praise the Lord, I will praise the Lord all my life.

I have to say that when I’ve had difficulties, I’ve not always turned to the Lord for comfort.  Sometimes my attitude is, well, God’s not helping the way I think He should.  Where else can I get help?

II.      God’s Promise to Israel

I think Israel often felt the same way.    Way back in Exodus, Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites, forcing them into hard labor, and the bible said the Lord heard their groaning and remembered His promises.  The Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go!” and sent 10 plagues to make His point.  And Pharaoh freed the Israelites, and Moses led them to the Red Sea.

Psalm 146:1-2,

Hallelujah!
My soul, praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing to my God as long as I live.

Slide3But Pharaoh changed his mind and gave chase with his chariots, and when the Israelites saw the chariots coming, they were not singing a Psalm of praise like this.  If I read Exodus 14:11-12 correctly, the Israelites were a little grumpy.

They said to Moses: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Isn’t this what we told you in Egypt: Leave us alone so that we may serve the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.

Slide4That’s a far cry from “My soul, I will praise the Lord all my life.”

The Lord promised Israel to save them and lead them to the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey, the land of Canaan or modern day Israel.  God promised this land forever to Abraham and his descendants.  And yet, even as the Lord was delivering on His promises, Israel was begging to go back into slavery at the hands of the Egyptians.  It is human nature to want to depend on other humans instead of supernatural dependence on a Living God.Slide5

Let’s look at our next verse, Psalm 146:3,

Do not trust in nobles,
in man, who cannot save.

This is the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation, do not trust in man.  Other translations are the NASB (“mortal man”), NIV (“human beings”), and King James, “son of man” which really confused me for a little bit.  Wasn’t Jesus the “son of man?”  And the King James is saying not to trust him with our salvation?Slide6

Well, obviously, that cannot mean that.  And then I went on one of those rabbit trails that distract me from the lesson, but I learned so much on this trail I thought I’d share it anyway.  And don’t worry, we’ll get back to Psalm 146 eventually.

First, let’s look at the phrase “son of man.”  In Psalm 146:3, the Aramaic phrase is “ben ‘adam” and it occurs something like 500 times in the Old Testament.  There’s another 100 or so uses of the Aramaic “bar ‘adam”.  Literally, it means “the son of Adam.”  But even that phrase is confusing, since “Adam” is both a person’s name and it means “man, human being, mankind.”  And “Adam” is also used as a verb in the Old Testament.  It means “to be rubbed red, to dyed red, to show blood in the face and turn rosy.”Slide7

Context is so important to understanding scripture.  Among serious Christian scholars, proper translation has been debated for centuries.  “Ben ‘adam,” literally the “son of Adam,” can apply to Seth, Adam’s offspring, or it can apply to all of us as the offspring of Adam.  When used this way, then “human beings” or “mortal man” is a good translation for us English speakers.  In fact, in the book of Ezekiel, God called Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times, and in this context, “son of man” just means “man,” a son of a human.

But then the book of Daniel, among other books, uses “son of man” like this in verse 13-14:

I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.

Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.

“Ancient of Days” is a name for God used in the Book of Daniel, and whoa, this verse is certainly not talking about the son of Adam or mankind.  It’s definitely not talking about you and me.    That’s clearly a messianic prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ.

I couldn’t stop there, so I followed the rabbit trail a little further to see what Jesus meant when he used the phrase “ben ‘Adam.”  Well, ok, the original gospels are written in Greek, so “ben ‘Adam” is not used, but “huios anthropos” is used, but that’s also translated “son of man.” Slide9

In Matthew 16:13, Jesus refers to Himself like this:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

This is probably a formal use of referring to Himself in the third person.  Apparently in the ancient Greek, “son of man” was a formal way of saying”I” or “me.”  This could have been the equivalent of saying, “Who do people say that I am?”  There doesn’t seem to be any messianic connotations in this verse, just a simple question.

But then when we get to Mark 14:61-62, Jesus has been arrested and brought to the high priests.

Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”

Jesus said, “I am.  And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Slide10This is almost word-for-word from the scripture in Daniel 7 that we just read a moment ago, clearly establishing that “son of man” is a fulfillment of the messianic prophecy.  Jesus will rule in Heaven.

III.      Son of Man, Son of God

Jesus is both Son of Man and Son of God.  Mark 1 opens this way,

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It dawned on me while studying how closely that phrase matches Genesis 1:1,

In the beginning, God.

Jesus was and is the fulfillment of God’s plan to save us from ourselves.  The Hebrew word “mashiach” is the messiah, the “anointed One,” used in Psalm 2:2 and in Daniel 9:25-26.  In Greek, it is the “Christ.”  (When I was young, I though “Christ” was Jesus’ last name.  Now I know it’s a title, “Jesus, the Christ.)  This term is applied to the future ruler, sent from God, who will sit on the throne of David forever.  Acts 3:18,

But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets – that His Messiah would suffer – He has fulfilled in this way.

The life and death of Jesus on the cross was not a secret or an accident, but the result of God’s divine plan that He revealed throughout the scriptures.  In the Encyclopedia or Biblical Prophecy, there are 127 Messianic predictions involving more than 3000 Bible verses.  We’re only going to examine 2000 of those verses today.

No, just kidding, but let’s look at a few specific prophecies that God gave us in the Old Testament:

  • The Messiah would be the seed/offspring of a woman and would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15).
  • He would come from the seed/offspring of Abraham and would bless all the nations on earth (Genesis 12:3).
  • He would be a “prophet like Moses” to whom God said we must listen (Deuteronomy 18:15).
  • He would be born in Bethlehem of Judah (Micah 5:2).
  • He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
  • He would have a throne, a kingdom and a dynasty, or house, starting with King David, that will last forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
  • He would be called “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace,” and would possess an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7).
  • He would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, righteous and having salvation, coming with gentleness (Zechariah 9:9-10).
  • He would be pierced for our transgression and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).
  • He would die among the wicked ones but be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9).
  • He would be resurrected from the grave, for God would not allow His Holy One to suffer decay (Psalm 16:10).
  • He would come again from the clouds of heaven as the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14).
  • He would be the “Sun of Righteousness” for all who revere Him and look for His coming again (Malachi 4:2).
  • He is the One whom Israel will one day recognize as the One they pierced, causing bitter grief (Zechariah 12:10).

IV.      God’s Promises Fulfilled

In the fullness of time, God brought forth His son that fulfilled these prophecies.  The prophecies were not a bunch of scattered predictions randomly placed throughout the Old Testament.  They were a careful and cohesive plan from God where each individual promise is interconnected into one grand plan.  When God makes a promise, God fulfills a promise.   The son of God, the son of man, was sacrificed for our sins, a ransom paid for our shortcomings, out of His mighty love for us.Slide14

God has proven He is trustworthy by fulfilling His promises, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.

God proves Himself not for His benefit, but for ours.  We, as humans, need proof.  We are flakey people, or at least some of my friends are.  I’m not.

And when one of our flakey friends lets us down, we lose a little trust in them.  If we loan somebody 100 dollars and they promise to pay us back, but then act like they never made that promise, we are not likely to loan 100 dollars to them, or anybody else for that matter.  The trust has been broken and we have little faith.

Some broken promises are more hurtful.  Broken friendships, broken marriages, broken trust makes us fearful or angry.

But God wants us to know that He is unlike any other friend.  When He makes a promise, He keeps a promise.  Even when He knows that you or I have already broken our promise to always attend church or always go to bible school or always be faithful or always pay our friend back that $100 so long ago and is too awkward to bring it up again, He is still faithful.  Even when we are unfaithful, He is still faithful.

And His love is so strong that we can have eternal life with Him, despite what wretched excuses we can sometimes be.

What promises has God made to us about our future?

  • The Bible is to give us hope.   (Romans 15:4-6)
  • Hope of eternal life is based on God’s promise.  And God cannot lie.   (Titus 1:1-3)
  • Our hope is laid up for us in heaven.   (Colossians 1:3-4)
  • Hope is eagerly waiting, with perseverance, for the redemption of our bodies, even though we do not see them now.   (Romans 8:23-26)
  • Our confidence of a better and enduring possession in heaven will be richly rewarded.  We must wait and rest in this hope until Jesus comes.   (Hebrews 10:34-39)
  • Earthly things are a vain hope for safety.  God watches over those who hope in His mercy.    (Psalm 33:17-22 )
  • God is good to those whose hope is in Him.   (Lamentations 3:25-26)
  • Jesus’ resurrection gave us a new birth into this living hope, to obtain an inheritance that will never perish.   (1 Peter 1:3-6)
  • Jesus is our hope.   (1 Timothy 1:1, Colossians 1:26-27, Romans 15:12-13)

V.      Trust in God, not Man

Ok, that’s enough of that rabbit trail, let’s get back to Psalm 146.

Hallelujah!
My soul, praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing to my God as long as I live.

Do not trust in nobles,
in man, who cannot save.
When his breath leaves him,
he returns to the ground;
on that day his plans die.

We trust not in mankind, but our hope is in the Lord.  Man’s promises are fleeting and cannot be trusted because one day our final breath will come and our work here on earth is done.

That doesn’t mean that we should not trust one another.  It means we do not place our trust in the promises of man.  But as the children of God, we are the hands and feet of God’s work here on earth, and we strive to be trustworthy and emulate Jesus Christ within us.  And that means we trust one another, but place our trust solely in Jesus.  God uses people like you and me to accomplish His will.

That, by the way, is my constant prayer every time I sit down to prepare to teach.  Do not place your trust in me; one day, my final breath will come.  Until then, I am a flawed earthen vessel, prone to failure on my own.

But when I sit down to study, I pray for the Lord to use me faithfully, to find something worthy in me than He can use to bring all glory to Him.  Tony and Dr. Young are right to pray for us to get out of the way, because we are weak but He is strong.  Y’all know I’ve been distracted the last few months, but my usual strategy for studying wasn’t helping this time.  For the last 3 weeks as I pondered Psalm 146, I had no idea how I was going to build a lesson.  My first reading, all I got was, “yay, trust in the Lord but not in man.”  And then I drew a blank.

But Saturday morning, just before I sat to study, I learned again that the lesson was for me.  I was again trusting in myself to put together a lesson, but I’m a son of Adam, I am a member of mankind, and the whole point of the lesson was to trust in God, not man.  Trust in God, not myself.  Let the Lord speak, talk to my heart and direct my words, and I pray only that God will use me as He sees fit to accomplish His will.

I was reminded of another Psalm, Psalm 121, when I realized I was leaning on my own understanding yet again.

I lift my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Slide17You, too, should pray to get out of the way of the Lord who works within you.  You, too, are a flawed earthen vessel, but you are also a beloved and eternal adopted child of the living God with His very presence within you.  Your help does not come from your own strength, but the strength of the one who dwells in you.  If you and I can only get out of His way, then He will use us to demonstrate how good He is and to bring glory to Him.

VI.      Conclusion

So, except for my rabbit trail about the Son of Man, I learned a little more this week about trusting in the promises of God.  This world has a lot of pain and trauma, and as people, we’re to blame that we live on ground that God cursed because of our disobedience.

People will let us down, but God never will.  The government will let us down, but God never will.  Our family will let us down, but God never will.  Our friends will betray us like Jesus’ friends betrayed Him, but Jesus’ is faithful to keep His promise.

We pray for God to work His will in our lives to fix problems or to heal illness, and God promises to give us something even better.  He promises eternity with Him.  So even though people may let us down, we can trust in the Lord who never breaks a promise, is always faithful to His word, and promises that we have an eternity in heaven in the very presence of Jesus where there is no pain, no tears, not suffering.  Whatever chaos reigns in our lives, we know that all things work together for those who love Christ Jesus.  And that is a reason to rejoice today in the day that the Lord hath made.  Again I say, rejoice.

Hallelujah!
My soul, praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing to my God as long as I live.

Slide18To God be the glory.  Amen.

What Is Required?

             I.      Introduction

Today’s scripture is a familiar one; Jesus has been teaching and preaching in Judea when He was approached by a rich man, and they had a conversation about sewing and zoo animals.  Let’s read the entire conversation and see if I understood it correctly.  Matthew 19:16-26:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

When I was younger, my entire takeaway from this conversation is that rich people can’t go to heaven.  You can’t take it with you.  Only Mother Theresa can go to heaven because she was poor.  Also, this was a very big needle or a very tiny camel.

Slide5

But, as simple as this conversation is, there is so much more here than “you can’t take it with you.”  So today we’re going to do our best to understand all the nuances of what’s going on, one verse at a time.  And we’re going to begin with the question every soul wants to know: what do I have to do to go to heaven?  How much is good enough?  What good thing must I do?

Slide6

          II.      Obey the Law

I heard a pastor say recently, “Everything in the bible is for you, but not everything in the bible is about you.”  That’s partially true in this passage if we understand who Jesus is talking to and why.  Jesus is talking to a Jew who is under the Law.

Here in Matthew 19 the man is identified only as “a young man,” but this discussion with Jesus is so important to understanding the New Testament that it’s also reported in Mark Chapter 10 and in Luke Chapter 18.  Luke 18:18 refers to him as “a certain ruler,” so most likely he was a ruler of a local synagogue, a Jewish leader.  And he is asking Rabbi Yeshua about theology, and it sounds to me like he’s asking with brashness and confidence.  Wealth from man’s perspective is often associated with success, so if you’re a religious leader with money, then you must have God’s blessing.  The evidence is all around you.  The Prosperity gospel has a long, long history.

So the man, being a young, rich, religious leader, considers himself pious and full of religiousity and good deeds.  But something gnaws at him, he wants to know of all the good things he has done, what one thing must he do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus’ initial response, though, is not to the young Jewish leader’s question about eternal salvation, but Jesus answers,

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.”

The root word for “good” implies “from God,” although those words are from 12th century Middle English.  But similar words exist in Greek; “agathos” vs “theos” or “ἀγαθός” vs “θεός”.  Jesus’s response is a question that can be rephrased,

If you ask me what is good, do you acknowledge me as God?

Jesus continues then, to answer the question accurately as God would answer Israel:

Be obedient to the law I have given you.

If you want to earn your way to heaven, then earn it through obedience.  Start with the Ten Commandments, work through the 613 mitzvots,

Jesus replied. “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Before sin entered the world, God had one command for man.  “Do not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Just one rule and be obedient.

 

But man was not obedient, he ate the fruit and gained knowledge of good and evil.  Without the knowledge of evil, then our actions before the Lord are innocent.  We are like innocent children that do not know things that are wrong.  We are untainted by the knowledge of evil, so all we have to do is be obedient and we have a close relationship with the Lord.

But once sin entered the world, and we gained a knowledge of good and evil, so did the laws increase.  One of the first sins in Genesis 4 were between the children of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 4:2-8,

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Cain offered “some of the fruits” but Abel offered the best of the best of his flock.  The Lord appreciated Abel’s offering, but knew that Cain wasn’t giving the Lord the best, and gave Cain instructions and a warning.  Do what is right and your offer will be accepted.  Otherwise, sin is crouching at your door.

So we need more rules.  One of the first commandments springs from Cain and Abel, “thou shalt not murder.”  And as man’s sin have multiplied themselves over and over through the centuries, so did the Law with God’s instruction continuing to be: just be obedient.

We have our Ten Commandments, we have our 613 mitzvots.  We have our human governments and our US Constitution and 25 volumes of United States Codes and US Statutes at Large that contain not just an overwhelming number of laws, but every year we pass new laws, some laws are passed to amend existing laws, and some new laws are passed that repeal old laws.  Then we have case law and regulations that have the force of laws.  I checked the US Federal Register ( https://www.federalregister.gov/ ) and there are currently 745,213 pages of laws, rules and regulations that we are required to obey, 109 new documents from 39 agencies are added every day.

My bible has 1,281 pages.  The Federal Register is 581 times bigger.  We’ve come a long way from, “Please don’t eat the fruit.”

       III.      Be Perfect

So Israel asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Obey the Law.”  And incredibly, the young ruler responds with,

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

I’m guessing he might be lacking humility.  Or maybe wisdom.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

To be in the presence of a Holy God, have no sin in you.  Be perfect.

If you want to go to Heaven, you cannot drink or smoke or dance.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must belong to a certain church.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must attend church services every week and tithe 10% and attend bible study and sing in the choir and donate shoes for orphans and participate in Serve Houston.  And since we are also supposed to be good citizens, there another 746,213 pages of federal regulations we have to obey.

I thought Theresa’s quote from Mohammed Ali’s eulogy captured our thinking pretty well,

“For his part, he saw the good soul in everyone.  And if you were one of the lucky ones to have met him, you know what I mean.  He awoke every morning thinking about his own salvation, and he would often say, “I just want to get to heaven and I’ve got to do a lot of good deeds to get there.”

Have to do a lot of good deeds, obey a lot of rules.  By the way, I looked up the Bylaws of USA Boxing, and there are 50 pages of Bylaws, 31 pages of Technical Rules of Boxing, 47 pages of Competition Rules, and 35 pages of Medical Rules.

I think sometimes we recognize that it’s not all these laws we have to obey if we want to be a good Christian.  But other people?  *They* have to obey certain laws if they’re going to be good Christians.   My children have to clean their room, my spouse has to do what I tell her to do.  Even if I cannot follow all the rules, it doesn’t stop me from demanding that *other* people have to follow the rules.

 

If you look at this last question and answer between the rich young ruler and Jesus, you may notice that Jesus didn’t answer the question.  The question is wrong.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

It illustrated the central error of the Pharisees, the central error of many legalistic churches.  It is not by *doing* something that man can inherit eternal life, but by *being* something.  The ruler asks, “What shall I do?” and Jesus answers, “This is who you have to be.”  If you want eternal life, you have to be perfect.  And apparently to be perfect, it appears Jesus is saying you can’t have money.

Or at least that’s the way some have interpreted this verse.  Jesus says give away all your money to follow Him, and if you don’t, you’re a camel trying to fit to the eye of a needle.

That doesn’t seem right, though.  What is Jesus saying?

          IV.      But What About the Money?

Is money evil?  Is giving away all our money something Jesus is really asking us to do? Let’s start with this familiar verse, 1 Timothy 6:10,

Money is the root of all evil.

Actually, that’s not what 1 Timothy 6:10 says.  The full verse is,

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money by itself is not evil.  Jewish teaching establishes that your own needs are your primary concern, but not your only concern.  Caring for your own needs is essential to survive, but not to thrive.  Therefore, helping to provide for the needs of others is an essential part of living a fulfilling life.  The Jews celebrate this idea at the end of each Sabbath on Saturday night with a Havdalah service.  They fill a cup of wine to the brim and then let it overflow into a saucer beneath the cup.  The idea is to continue to fill your own cup so that it overflows even after it’s full so the excess can provide for others in need.

How big is your cup?  Our modern society tells us our cup is huge.  Fill it with everything you can get your hands on, look out for yourself.  All of your wants are needs.  And the cup never overflows because you are constantly trying to satisfy all of your needs and all of your wants.

But some say Christians should give away everything and have a small cup, live poorly.  But that’s not biblical, either.  1 Timothy 5:8 says,

 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Ultimately, the size of the cup is between you and the Lord.  Your cup must be large enough to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but small enough to allow the blessings God has provided to overflow to those around you.

There have been plenty of people, both Old Testament and New Testament, that had money.  David, a man after God’s own heart, had a palace and a kingdom.  Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was also the wealthiest who ever lived.  But Solomon said this about money in Ecclesiastes 5:10.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”

And Joseph of Arimathea is described in the book of Luke as a “good and upright man” and a follower of Jesus, who donated the use of his wealthy family’s tomb after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Interesting to me was that the wealth of Joseph was part of prophecy, Isaiah 53:9 –

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Slide24Besides, the absolute worst way to care for the poor is to give away all your money and become one of the poor that need help.

 

            V.      It’s About the Heart

So it’s not about the money.  It’s about the heart.  Do you treasure the things of God, or the things of this world?  Matthew 6:21,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Slide25That’s the central point of Jesus’s message to the rich young ruler.  If you want eternal life, where is your heart?  Is it with your possessions, or is it with heavenly things?  And the ruler went away sad because he was a wealthy man.

If one problem with money is that it becomes our idol, our focus in this world, then another problem is that money keeps us from remembering that all blessings come from God.  I have this passage from C.S. Lewis, and it’s a little on the long side, but I think very appropriate to the dangers of complacency when one has too much:

C.S. Lewis – “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. Now, quite plainly natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex or dipsomania or nervousness or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap, and between ourselves, you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing, and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until one day, the natural goodness lets them down, and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are rich in this sense to enter the kingdom.”

 

          VI.      Old Testament Vs New Testament

So money can’t buy you a ticket to heaven, but then neither can a lack of money.  So neither wealth nor poverty leads to eternal life.  Who then, can be saved?

And that’s exactly what the disciples of Jesus asked after the ruler went away sad.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I spent a lot of time on this last sentence, and one of the things that dawned on me is that this is the line that separates the Old Testament from the New Testament.

You see, God made a unique covenant with Israel.  Be obedient and the Lord will deliver you to the Promised Land.   But those 745,213 federal regulations turned out to be too hard to follow, and the only reason there are so many regulations is that sin had entered the world and the wages of sin is death.

What’s the right size of your cup to make sure it’s overflowing?  That’s between you and God.  But what if you get it wrong?  What if getting the size of the cup built to the right size as specified in the regulations was necessary for eternal life?  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is to get my cup and your cup sized perfectly.  Man’s heart is full of deceit and we will get the size of the cup wrong, even if we give all we have to the poor and become a pauper for Jesus.

But the Lord can accomplish His will.  And with God, all things are possible.  Instead of trying through our own efforts at complying with all the regulations, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  The rules I don’t satisfy?  Christ paid the cost for me.  The rules I break?  Christ paid the punishment for me.

For Israel, it was indeed about “What can I *do* to inherit eternal life?”  But for those of us who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, it’s now, “Who can I *be*?”  We can be believers and trust that Jesus Christ, our Advocate, will satisfy all the requirements for us.  That’s what Jesus meant 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 satisfies every federal regulation we have to meet.  And now the laws we have to follow now are simple:

Romans 13:8-10,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5:14,

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 6:2,

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Jesus somehow takes those 745,213 federal regulations and reduces it to this:

Love one another and carry one another’s burdens.  Let me handle the details.

 

       VII.      Conclusion

So let’s remember today that in order to inherit eternal life, we have to be perfect.  In order to be perfect, we have to cover ourselves with the shed blood of Jesus Christ because He alone is perfect.  And that on our own merits, we cannot work our way to eternal life.  We cannot be perfect at fulfilling the Ten Commandments and 613 Mitzvots and 745,213 Federal Regulations, not to mention the boxing rules.  But we believe the Lord fulfilled the Law and took our punishment.

Pray that the size of your cup if large enough to enjoy this world and what God hath created, but small enough that it overflows.  Love one another and carry each other’s burdens.

Slide33

They say you can’t take it with you.  However, if you trust in Jesus, you can let Him take you with Him.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

My Yoke is Easy

  I.      Introduction

We’re only going to study 5 verses today.  How long can that possibly take?  Let’s start by turning to Matthew 11.

When I just sit down and read the bible, I often just read quickly without slowing to ponder the meaning.  But once I stop to examine a passage, often I find a deeper meaning, a revelation, a message to ponder.  When I find one of these passages, I highlight it in my bible.  And now, today, every passage is highlighted.

So I guess what I’m saying is that getting through 5 verses that hold an exceptional amount of meaning that can take all day.  I hope you brought your lunch.

Slide2

Let’s put the Matthew 11 in context.  Jesus has been speaking and teaching to Jews in the towns of Galilee.  Galilee is a province in the northern part of Israel, the other provinces being Judea and Samaria.  Jesus spent much of His ministry living and teaching here and his life and miracles are captured in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Interesting, the book of John primarily focuses on Jesus’ life in Judea, not Galilee.

Beginning in verse 20, Jesus warns those that do not repent of their day of destruction, and the very presence of Jesus performing miracles in the towns of Galilee is to give evidence that Jesus is who He says He is, the very Son of God, and the miracles are given to give weight to Jesus words of repentance.  But a great many people see the miracles, and even want the miracles for themselves, but do not want to believe.  And we come to our first verse to study today, Matthew 11:25.

II.      Matthew 11:25, Truth Revealed to Little Children

Matthew 11:25,

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Jesus praises God the Father for who He is, and rightly proclaims God the father to be Lord of heaven and earth.  In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.”  During the life of Jesus, though He was also God, He lived His life as man, and it was proper for Jesus to show us how to live, including giving all honor and glory to God.  Jesus, Son of God, God the Son, gives praise to God the Father.

Jesus is One with the Father, He is Emmanuel, God with us.  But to demonstrate to us what it means to live a life free of sin, Jesus talks to the Father, not as an equal, but as a faithful servant.  He speaks to God the Father as a man.

I looked up the Greek word for Father used here, and you might have heard plenty of sermons where Jesus uses the phrase “Abba” to call to His Father, a phrase a toddler might use when he just wants to be held.  But that’s not the word Jesus uses here, he uses “pater,” and uses the same word to begin the Lord’s prayer, “Our ‘pater’, who art in heaven.”  When applied to God the Father, Strong’s Dictionary defines it this way,

God is called the Father

  1. of the stars, the heavenly luminaries, because he is their creator, upholder, ruler

  2. of all rational and intelligent beings, whether angels or men, because he is their creator, preserver, guardian and protector

  3. of Christians, as those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate relationship with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere him as their reconciled and loving Father

  4. the Father of Jesus Christ, as one whom God has united to himself in the closest bond of love and intimacy, made acquainted with his purposes, appointed to explain and carry out among men the plan of salvation, and made to share also in his own divine nature

 

Could there be a better description of our heavenly father?

Then Jesus says, “because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

The “wise” that Jesus mentions here likely refer to the self-righteous Pharisees who obeyed the letter of the law but understood not the intent of the law.  From a human perspective, they were wise and learned.  They knew the Old Testament scripture, and were not afraid to apply to others and be judgmental about how other people lived their lives.

How can we best understand that being wise is foolish?  The first step toward wisdom is recognizing our own ignorance.  We do not, and cannot, know everything.  We will never be omniscient, knowing everything that ever was and is and is to come.  Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 2:4-8.  Paul says,

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.  We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

There are clearly two kinds of wisdom.  There is worldly wisdom and there is Godly wisdom.

The source of worldly wisdom is man’s own human intellect.  It is human ideas and human reasoning and human philosophy.  There is nothing wrong with human intellect as long as it is based on spiritual truth.  Building intellect on spiritual truth is like building or foundation upon rock.  The book of James talks about this at length.  You might be familiar with James 1:5 that says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James tells us that if lack Godly wisdom, all we have to do is ask God.  Less well known is what James says about worldly wisdom in James 3:15,

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

Worldly wisdom misrepresents truth and leads many Christians into gross errors.  It looks good.  It sounds noble.  It seems to make sense.  But worldly wisdom can lead us astray, from seeking God’s will.  It fosters doubt, makes us question God’s goodness, teaches us to put faith in ourselves and our own smarts.  The “wisdom of this world” appeals to the flesh and to our carnal nature.  We listen to worldly wisdom because we can do what we want instead of what God wants.

What does God want?  Well, knowing that comes from godly wisdom.  We just have to ask God.  He gives graciously.  But first we have to acknowledge that, compared to God’s incredible knowledge and wisdom, our own meager worldly wisdom pales in comparison.  We are like children.

And that’s not just a metaphor.   Jesus wants us to be innocent in worldly wisdom and abundant in godly wisdom.  That’s why he says in our verse today that God reveals his truth to little children.  Jesus reinforces this is verses like Matthew 18:1-5,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Why does God hide his wisdom from the wise and learned?  Well, that’s the next line of scripture in our study today.

III.      Matthew 11:26, Because It Pleases Him

Matthew 11:26,

Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

I think that many times God works through weakness, and that belief is reinforced in scripture.  Paul had a thorn in his flesh, and when he asked for it to be removed, God said His strength is made perfect in our weakness. But then I want to ask, “Why?  Why can’t God’s strength me magnified in our strength instead of our weakness?”

This verse says this is God is pleased to do this.  I don’t really know why.  Well, part of me knows that when we depend on our own strength, we just give credit to ourselves for our good works.  We pat ourselves on the back and say, “good job.”  But when we can’t do it ourselves, we have to acknowledge we are not in control, and that our Creator has a plan bigger than us.

Job asked some of these same questions.  Job had a really bad day and lost his family, his property, and grew boils all over his body.  Job’s friends said it was because Job had some sort of hidden sin that he needed to confess, but Job said that that view wasn’t scriptural, and besides, Job was a righteous man.  But then Job got to wondering, “so why, then, am I being punished?”  And Job demands an audience of God.  Job believes that, since he is righteous, God owes him a good answer for these boils.

God finally does answer, but not in the way Job expects.  God asks Job some questions.  Where were you when I created the universe?  When I marked off the dimensions of the earth, where were you?  When I give the command to the morning where the dawn’s light should shine, where were you?  The Lord commands the constellations, counts the number of clouds, directs the lightning bolts, Job, where were you?

And Job realizes that his righteousness is insignificant compared to the majesty of the Lord.  God doesn’t provide any answers to Job.  God wants Job to be obedient because of God’s superiority.  There is no one like God. In essence, God’s answer to His children is, “Because I said so.”

This morning, while you and I were setting our alarm so that we would show up to church on time, and trying to decide what we wanted to wear, God was orchestrating the universe and telling the galaxies what to wear.  Isaiah 55:8-9 says,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Because He said so.

So who can know the will of the Lord?

IV.      Matthew 11:27, To Know the Father, Know the Son

Matthew 11:27, Jesus says,

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Just two verses earlier, Jesus was praising God the Father and calling Him the Lord of heaven and earth, but Jesus has been given this authority.  All of these things have been given to the Son by the Father.    Jesus, as God’s only begotten son, has a special and intimate relationship with God the Father.  And because Jesus alone has intimate knowledge of the Father, it is only through Jesus that the Father can be known.  No one knows God the Father except through Jesus the son.

And here’s an interesting phrase at the end.  The scripture says that Jesus knows the Father, and those Jesus chooses can know the Father.

Who does Jesus choose?  Does He choose those who are already righteous and do good works?  Does He choose tall people, or people who are good in math?  No, Jesus chooses sinners like you and me.  Only those God calls can hear the message, and Jesus repeatedly invited those who had ears to hear.  Why?  Because God said so.

Again, I think it’s so God can demonstrate His power and glory through our weakness.  He didn’t choose me because I was some great whoop-de-do (although I am tall and good at math).  No, he chose me while I was still a sinner, and I am forever grateful.  Literally, forever grateful.

And to those Jesus chooses, He reveals the Father.  In Matthew 11.27, the word “reveal” comes from the Greek word apokalupto, to take off the cover; to disclose or reveal.

In Old Testament times, the Shekinah glory of God dwelled within the innermost part of the Tabernacle behind a veil. No one could enter behind that veil except the High Priest, and even then under the strictest set of rules.

Exodus 40:34

Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

 

When Moses received the Law, God’s Glory shone upon him so much that he “glowed” with the heavenly radiance.

Exodus 34:35

And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with God.

 

God’s plan is to reveal Himself in the Son.  God sent His Son so that we may “see” the Father.

John 14:8-9,

Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

 

When Christ died for us, the veil that separated us from God was torn in two from top to bottom.

Matthew 27:50-51,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

Whereas in Old Testament times only the priest could see the shekinah glory of God, now Jesus is our high priest forever and ever.

Hebrews 4:14-15,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

When we want to see the Shekinah glory of God, we only need to look to Jesus.  Or, under the burden of the law, all we have to do is follow the 613 old testament laws to be saved.  Did you know the Old Testament specified 613 commandments?  There are 365 Negative Mitzvots (to remind us not to do bad things every day of the year) plus 248 Positive Mitzvots (the number of bones in the human body, so we can obey the laws with our whole body.)  Here’s a list:

Here’s a list of all 613 mitzvots.

Obey all 613 Mitzvots, and you will be saved.

  V.      Matthew 11:28-30

Goodness.  613 commandments.  If I thought following the Ten Commandments was difficult enough, how am I supposed to remember all 613 commandments, let alone follow them all?  That sounds like a lot of work, and I’m weary just thinking about it.  Fortunately, I know where to find rest for the weary.  It’s in our scripture verses for today.

Matthew 11:28-30,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

 

The yoke of the law was not light.  613 Mitzvots is a lot of mitzvots.  What exactly is yoke, anyway?

Slide21

In a literal sense, the word ‘Yoke’ means a bar of wood, harnessed around the necks of two animals (usually oxen), enabling them to work in the fields, drawing loads, pulling farming equipment.  In the Bible, it is figuratively used as a symbol of bondage and oppression, such as in Isaiah 9:4,

For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,

especially bondage to sin, as in Lam 1:14:

My sins have been bound into a yoke, by his hands, they were woven together

The farmer would bind the yoke upon the neck of the oxen so that it would not fall off or be shaken off.

Why did the Pharisees rebel against Jesus? Because the Pharisees were intellectually and spiritually proud and would not become little babes in humility and honesty.  The Father reveals Himself to the Son, and the Son reveals Himself and the Father to those who are willing to come to the Son in faith.  These verses indicate both the sovereignty of the Father and the responsibility of the sinner. Three commands summarize this invitation.

“Come.” The Pharisees all said “Do!” and tried to make the people follow Moses and the traditions.  But true salvation is not found in works, it is found only in a person, Jesus Christ.  To come to Him means to trust Him. This invitation is open to those who are exhausted and burdened down. That is exactly how the people felt under the yoke of legalism.

“Take.” This is a deeper experience. When we come to Christ by faith, He gives us rest. When we take His yoke and learn, we find rest, that deeper rest of surrender and obedience. The first is “peace with God” as shown in Romans 5:1 –

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And then “Learn.” The first two commands represent a crisis as we come and yield to Christ; but this step is into a process.  As we learn more about Him, we find a deeper peace, because we trust Him more.  Life is simplified and unified around the person of Christ.

As we learn, we find the “the peace of God” in Philippians 4:6-8.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

 

Farmers, when binding their oxen, often bound an experienced ox to a younger, untrained ox.  They did this so the new oxen would learn in the experienced oxen’s ways.  When we submit to Christ, we yoke ourselves to Him so that we may learn.  The word “easy” means “well-fitting”; He has just the yoke that is tailor-made for our lives and needs.  The burden of doing His will is not a heavy one.  On the contrary, when we are in the will of Christ Jesus, we find abundant joy.

Jesus was saying that any kind of law-keeping is a burden and amounts to a “heavy yoke” of oppression because no amount of law-keeping can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and God’s holiness.  God says through Isaiah that all of our righteous deeds are like a “polluted garment.”  Paul said in Romans 3:20 that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.”

Jesus brought good news.  To all who come to Him, He will give us rest from the heavy burden of trying to earn our way into heaven and rest from the oppressive yoke of self-righteousness and legalism.  Jesus encourages those who are “heavy laden” to take His yoke upon them, and in so doing they will find rest for their souls. The yoke of Jesus is light and easy to carry because it is the yoke of repentance and faith followed by a commitment to follow Him.

This is what Jesus says in Matthew 11:20.  His yoke is easy and His burden light.   Is there is really a difference between the commandments of Jesus and the Jewish Law?  Isn’t the same God responsible for both?  If anything, one might argue that the commands of Jesus are even more burdensome because His Sermon on the Mount actually goes above and beyond outward conformity to the Law and deals instead with the inner person.

What makes Jesus’ yoke easy and His burden light is that Jesus fulfilled the Law of God.  He has already carried the burden that we were meant to carry.  His perfect obedience is imputed to us through faith, just as His righteousness was exchanged for our sin at the cross.  Our obedience to Jesus then becomes our “spiritual worship”.

And we have the Holy Spirit who works in our lives to mold us into the image of Christ, thereby making the yoke of Jesus easy and His burden light. The life lived by faith is a much lighter yoke and a much easier burden to carry than the heavy and burdensome yoke of self-righteousness under which some continually strive to make themselves acceptable to God through works.

 

VI.      Conclusion

So are you striving hard to be a good Christian?  Are you trying to follow some man-made law that tells you who you are?  You are more than a set of rules.  You are more than a secretary or an engineer.  You are more than a mom or dad.  Your struggle for the approval of others can be set at the foot of the cross, it’s not a burden you were meant to carry.  You are an adopted child of God, righteous in His sight.  Worship our Lord with your obedience, but don’t make your obedience a definition for who you are.  Christ sacrificed Himself so that we are free from the burden of works.  His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

To God be the glory.

The Faith of the Centurion

  I.      Introduction

The Roman Empire conquered by force much of the known world in days leading up to the birth of Jesus.  By 37 BC, the Romans placed Herod the Great to rule Judea as a Roman province, with Roman troops stationed in Jerusalem to enforce the peace.

Slide2

After the death of Herod in 4 BC, Judea came under direct Roman administration and suppression.  The Jewish people longed for their Messiah, their deliverer, to free them from bondage, to give the land of Israel back to the Jews.

This was the land where Jesus preached the gospel of salvation to the Jewish people, under bondage to the Roman military machine.

II.      Matthew 8:5, Roman Occupation

A Roman legion was approximately 6000 Roman soldiers.  To manage such a large number of soldiers, they were organized in groups of approximately 100 called “centuries.”

Slide3

Soldiers that demonstrated superior leadership skills were promoted to command a century and were known as “centurions.”  Since these centurions represented the face of the Roman empire, they were hated and despised by the Jewish leaders and people, though in the New Testament, centurions were always mentioned with respect.

During the life and ministry of Jesus, Jesus preached almost entirely to the Jewish people.  While ultimately His message was for all of God’s adopted children to place their faith and trust in Him, Jesus reached out first to God’s chosen people.  The Jewish people looked for their Messiah to confront the Roman occupation and emerge militarily victorious, but Jesus during His ministry confronted primarily the Jewish Pharisee leaders for their hypocrisy.

However, in the midst of this occupation and hatred of Roman soldiers, Jesus did have a few interactions with the gentiles, and we are going to look at a significant one today.  Let’s turn to Matthew 8, verse 5-6 –

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.  “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”.

Already we can see some interesting things here.  Jesus has given His amazing Sermon on the Mount, and now left His hometown of Nazareth and arrived in Capernaum, the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John the fishermen, as well as Matthew the tax collector.  And a Roman centurion, commander of a century of soldiers, has come to Jesus for help.  This same story is told in Luke 7 and it says elders of the Jews came to plead with Jesus on behalf of the centurion, saying that the centurion is a good man, loves the Jews, and built a synagogue for the Jews.  Not your typical Roman centurion.

The centurions had a reputation as ruthless warriors, and they often took slaves or servants from the local population.  Neither Matthew or Luke mention this, but it’s very possible the servant is Jewish.  And when a servant or slave becomes paralyzed while in service to a centurion, they were no longer of any use.  Under Roman law, slaves that could no longer perform their duties could be killed.

But this centurion seems unique.  As a commanding soldier in the occupying Roman army, he could expect to order a Jewish rabbi like Jesus to appear before him.   But instead, rather than summoning Jesus, the centurion comes to Jesus.  Rather than trying to command Jesus, he asks Jesus for help.  And instead of asking for a personal favor, the centurion comes to Jesus humbly to ask for help on behalf of another.  Perhaps if the servant was Jewish, the centurion was more confidant that Jesus would come heal a Jew.  Jesus’s response is immediate.

 

III.      Matthew 8:7-9, The Humble Centurion

It says in verse 7,

Slide5

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

Some translations translate this as a statement, “I shall come and heal him.”  But the Greek word for “I” used by Jesus, “egō” is only used emphatically.  “Shall *I* come and heal him?”  Sort of like Miss Piggy saying, “Moi?”  Or Robert De Niro saying, “You talkin’ to me?  You talking to *me*?”

Jesus is pointing out to us and to those around him how unique this request is.  “Are you, a Roman centurion, asking for a favor?  From a Jew?”  Is this a really a polite request?  Or is this an order from a commanding soldier to a subservient occupied Jew?

The commanding Roman centurion soldier responds humbly, and acknowledges that Jesus’ authority is supreme.  Verse 8-9 –

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The centurion shows his faith not only by acknowledging his own unworthiness, but also recognizing that the power of Jesus is so great that this request is so small.  The Jewish people at the time did not believe that long distance miracles were possible, but the centurion reasons otherwise, based on his own experiences.  The centurion can issue commands and receive obedience at a distance because he is under authority of the Roman Empire, which rules the land.  Therefore, Jesus, as a ruler under the authority of the God of Israel, merely has to issue a command from His own mouth to banish powers that are subject to Him, such as sickness.  He knew the word of Christ and His authority were enough. He believed Christ’s words before He saw the works.

 

IV.      Matthew 10, The Amazing Faith of the Centurion

Jesus then makes two incredible statements.  First, in verse 10, Jesus says,

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Jesus is amazed at the gentile’s faith.  The gentile doesn’t need to see the signs. The gentile understands, believes, and acts on it. This is an indictment against the Jewish nation which insists on seeing signs as proof and then still doesn’t believe even after they see the signs.

The Greek word “thaumazo” is translated “marveled” or “amazed” and there are only 2 times in the gospels that record Jesus has being amazed.  This is the second instance; Jesus is amazed at the great demonstration of belief displayed in the gentile Roman centurion.  The first time is in the book of Mark, chapter 6:4-6 –

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Slide7

Here Jesus is amazed at the lack of faith.  I think Jesus would still be amazed today at the lack of faith.  That left to their own, people must answer for every word ever spoken, every deed ever done, and if we are honest with ourselves, our words and deeds fall far short of perfection.  And yet, Jesus came to bear the punishment we so richly deserve and bore the whips and scourge on his back for us.  By His stripes we are healed, if we but believe in Him.  But due to a lack of faith, so many will miss out on this forgiveness.  It is truly amazing.

Then Jesus says in Matthew 8:11-12,

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and [m]recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The centurion gets far more than he asks for, and this is a result of his faith, not his authority as a commanding officer in an occupation army.  We should remember that this man asked nothing for himself, only for his servant, and yet he receives two of the finest blessings for which a man could ever hope.

First, the centurion receives the highest praise any man, Jew or Gentile, receives in the Gospels.  This Gentile’s faith surpasses that of any Jew in Israel, and it receives the commendation of our Lord.  Second, this man receives the Lord’s promise of inclusion and fellowship that he would never have imagined. The centurion did not consider himself worthy or qualified to have Jesus pass through his door.  Jews during this day would never pass through the door of a gentile, for they would be defiled.

Slide9

But Old Testament ceremonial food laws also separated Jews and Gentiles. That is what we see in the case of Peter, both in Acts 10 and in Galatians 2. This man could not conceive of Jesus entering his door, much less sitting at his table.  But Jesus tells him that in the kingdom he will be reclining at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He also says that while many Gentiles will be found at this table, a number of Jews will not be there.

This would have been a radical idea to the Jews listening.  As God’s chosen people, they didn’t not believe gentiles or pagans would belong with God after death.  This was a spot reserved for them, the chosen people.  But Jesus says that gentiles will have a place at this great Messianic banquet.

Gentiles, pagans, and God’s chosen.  Note that Jesus heals at a distance, something the Jews didn’t believe.  But I think there is something symbolic here.  In the first part of Matthew 8 verses 2-3, Jesus heals a Jewish leper by touching him.  For the gentile, Jesus heals from afar.  While Israel is God’s chosen people, but now God’s power is demonstrated and magnified through gentiles.

Also, these few words of Jesus tell us a little something of heaven is like:

  • It is a place of rest; we sit down or recline in heaven.
  • It is a place to sit with good company; we enjoy the friendship of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in heaven.
  • It is a place with many people; Jesus said that many will come into heaven.
  • It is a place with people from all over the earth; from east and west they will come to heaven.
  • It is a certain place; Jesus said many will come, but others will be cast out.

This gives me some comfort that we will indeed know one another in heaven.  When we pray, maybe we can keep our eyes open.  I want you to be able to see me so that when we all get to heaven, you can recognize me.  “Look!  There’s Michael!”  Charles Spurgeon puts it this way:

Slide15

“But ye shall hear those loved voices again; ye shall hear those sweet voices once more, ye shall yet know that those whom ye loved have been loved by God. Would not that be a dreary heaven for us to inhabit, where we should be alike unknowing and unknown? I would not care to go to such a heaven as that. I believe that heaven is a fellowship of the saints, and that we shall know one another there.”

As well, Jesus reminded his Jewish listeners that the Jews racial identity was not a guaranteed entrance to the kingdom of heaven, just as the Gentile’s racial identity was not an automatic barrier. Though Jews were God’s chosen people, they might end up in hell.

 

  V.      Matthew 8:13

In Matthew 8:13,

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go!  Let it be done just as you believed it would.”  And his servant was healed at that moment.

Remember, Jesus had just given his amazing Sermon on the Mount that had a lot of radical ideas in it.  The Jews would have loved to hear, “Blessed are the descendants of Abraham,” or “Blessed are those who keep the Law of Moses.”  But instead, Jesus redefines who the blessed are.  The meek, the poor in spirit, those who mourn or are humble.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and now He is demonstrating this love in action.  When Jesus heals the servant, he is providing for the well-being of the enemy, an occupying soldier in the Lord’s holy land.  But rather than use this as an excuse, Jesus demonstrates from the Sermon on the Mount, love thy enemies, pray for them, do good to them.

 

VI.      Conclusion

Do we have the faith of the centurion to recognize the greatness of God’s power?  If we love the Lord and are obedient to His will, we may have confidence the Lord has the ability and love to fulfill His promises.  Jesus provides the authority for us to do the work He has called us to do.  The work is His and not our own.

Just like the faith of Abraham his son Isaac we studied a few months ago, Abraham rested on his faith in the Lord.  In Genesis 22, The Lord tested Abraham and ask him to sacrifice his only son.  But earlier, The Lord had told Abraham he would have more descendants than the stars in the skies.  How would the Lord fulfill both promises?  In verse Genesis 22:3-5 we read –

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

On the third day, a shadow of things to come in Christ Jesus, Abram’s son would live.  Abram would sacrifice his son, and somehow his son would live.  Abraham showed his faith when he told his servants “we” will return.  God fulfills His promises despite appearance.  And Abrahams faith was credited to him as righteousness, and he’s listed in the Hebrews hall of faith.

Will we be like Abraham, and trust in the Lord’s promises despite appearances?  Will we be like the centurion and trust the Lord has the power to overcome death?  The centurion didn’t use his position or status as an excuse not to follow Jesus.  He didn’t say, “I’m too busy, I’m a soldier.” Or, “I’m too busy at my job, I can’t right now.”  Or, “My company prohibits any sharing of faith.”  The centurion was a busy soldier in a pagan, gentile occupation, yet still boldly followed Jesus.

Will Jesus be amazed at our demonstration of faith, like the centurion?  Or will he be amazed at the lack of faith, like the people of Nazarene?

Jesus came for His chosen people first, but then stretched out His hand to save the gentiles, too.  Not our ancestry, not our works, but only our faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah will save us. This is what makes us a true offspring of Abraham.  In Romans 4:13-17, Paul writes –

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.  For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

Demonstrate faith.  Do not just bring your problems to Jesus.  Look at your problems *through* Jesus.

This centurion, who sought the Lord’s mercy toward his servant, came to Him on the basis of faith, and it is this faith which not only healed the servant, but saved the centurion.  We here in this room are Gentiles, and our lesson today has told us that Jesus came for us as well as the chosen people, and that by trusting in Him, by relying by faith in the awesome power of Christ Jesus, that we may be saved through His sacrifice.

If we but trust in Him, that amazing faith will save us.

To God be the glory.

Revelation 12, Jesus Defeats Satan

  I.      Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Slide3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide8

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

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

Slide10

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

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

Slide12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide13

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

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

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

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

Slide15

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

Slide16

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

Revelation 12:7-12,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 13-17,

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

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

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

Slide21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide23

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

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

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

Slide24

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

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

  V.      Conclusion

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

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

To God be the glory.

Give Everything You Are to the Lord

   I.      Introduction

A study of Malachi 3

This Spring, we studied the following minor prophets, beginning with Nahum, then Zephaniah, Obadiah, Zechariah, Habakkuk, Haggai, and now Malachi.  Many times, these Minor Prophets brought us a repetitive reminder:

  • God is perfect.
  • God is holy.
  • God is awesome.
  • We are flawed.
  • We are rebellious.
  • We deserve wrath.
  • God gives us mercy.

Slide2

God’s perfect justice demands wrath, but God’s perfect love prevails, and He gives us mercy through our savior Jesus Christ if we just accept it.

Repent, and seek the Lord.  There.  That’s pretty blunt.  Any questions?

One of the things that crossed my mind during these minor prophet studies is how rebellious the Israelites were and how often God was patient with them over the centuries.  Despite the stiff-necked ways of the Israelites, God remained faithful.  God blessed, fortified, rebuked, disciplined, and demonstrated miracles to guide the Israelites in the ways that are holy and pure.

The book of Malachi was probably written about 420 BC, about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah, but neither of those prophets mentioned Malachi, so it’s difficult to be sure.  The Jews at the time attributed the book to Ezra, but within the next century, scholars had dropped Ezra’s name from the book.  Some attribute it to Zerubabbel or Nehemiah, or to a relatively unknown Levite named Malachi.  The form of the word, though, suggests the book was intended to be written anonymously.  The word “Malachi” may not be a name but an adjective, meaning “one charged with a mission”.  Malachi may have been simply an anonymous missionary to bring us a prophetic message.

Slide3

II.      God Sends Us a Savior, Malachi 3:1-5

We’re going to pick up where Libby left off last week in Malachi 3, so let’s turn there and read Malachi 3:1-5 –

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

Who are we talking about?  This is the promise of the coming Messiah, a prophecy fulfilled by the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus, Emmanuel, who came to defeat death itself.  This message, as we know it today, is cause for celebration, but for the Jews, it was cause for worry.  Were they faithful enough?  Were they pious enough?  Were they Pharisee enough?  God’s discipline on the Jewish people had been full of trials, and now God Himself was coming.

 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

Slide6

Purifying.  Refining.  The Lord will be like a refiner’s fire.  The story goes that a silversmith first heats his furnace to the melting point of silver, about 1800 degrees F.  I think that’s the setting I used on my oven the last time I tried to cook something.  The silversmith holds the silver over the heat of the furnace so that all the impurities are burned away, but he has to hold it carefully because if it’s too hot, the silver oxides and is destroyed.  So he watches carefully.  And when he can see his reflection in the silver, then he knows it is pure.

God is our refiner, and He is watching us carefully.  Our lives, if they are truly dedicated to Him, will be refined by the Lord to teach us to be holy and pure like silver.  He holds us in many trials in our life to teach us to trust in Him.  We learn what has everlasting value, and what is temporal, what is junk.  And when God can see His reflection is us, then he knows his purification is complete.

Me, personally, I do not like this purification process.  In my life, I’ve been through it more than once.  I know once I’ve been refined, I am indeed closer to God, but there’s often pain along the way.  CS Lewis described pain this way,

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Slide7

So while I do not care for the refining process, I joyfully endure it again and again as it brings me closer to my Lord.  And I say that with the utmost of trepidation and trembling, because this refining is for those of us in Christ.  Back to Malachi 3, those that reject Christ are not refined, but judged –

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

It’s interesting to me how many times the bible says “do not fear” or “do not be afraid”.  And how many times we *are* to be afraid.  Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  But for those of us in Christ Jesus, we are to fear the Lord’s incredible might and majesty, but we are not to fear His judgment.  God’s discipline is coming and will He will right all wrongs, correct every mistake, and that includes our own mistakes.  Christians fear God now so they do not fear God at Judgement Day.  For those opposed to God, they do not fear Him now, but one day they will.

III.      Do Everything in Love, Malachi 3:6-12

God wants us to be authentic in all we think, say, and do.  God is our refiner, and I thought about the qualities of the silver that the refiner is watching.  Did you know that silver is a far better conductor than copper?  It has lower resistance.  If we used silver wire, we would have lower energy bills, we would have more efficient motors.  We don’t use silver, though, because it is so must more expensive than copper.

I think we are to remember that God’s purified children are worth a great deal to God.  If we want God to be able to work in us and through us, though, we have to stop being copper and learn to be silver.  We need to lower our resistance so God can conduct more of the Holy Spirit through us.  We do this by being more authentic.  Let’s look now at Malachi 3:6-12 –

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.  Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe, says the Lord Almighty.  “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

This is not “prosperity gospel;” tithing will not make you rich by the world’s standards.  Tithing is one of our early lessons as God’s children; we are to give 10% of what we make to the Lord.  But as we mature in Christ, we come to an understanding that far exceeds the value of our tithe.  If we make $1000 and give God $100, does God need $100?  Our majestic and all powerful omnipotent God who breathed the universe, time and space into existence, needs $100.  God Himself does not need money, don’t be ridiculous.

So there is something else going on.  As we tithe and the years go by, we start to see the meaning and the purpose.  From a practical standpoint, money is fuel for God’s church.  It supports our pastors and our missionaries and pays for the air conditioning.  When we tithe, it shows our support for God’s work.  But as time goes on, we realize that’s not what the tithe is, either.

During the next step of Christian maturity, we grow to understand that what we own actually doesn’t belong to us.  Everything belongs to God, He is asking us to give only a part of what He has already given us.  So the attitude changes – we no longer think of it as, “I made $1000, and God wants me to tithe 10%.”  Instead, we think of it as, “God gave me $1000 to steward for Him.  To whom much is given, much is expected.  It is my duty, my honor, my pleasure to give back a portion of what God has given me.”  And we come to realize that not only was it God that gave us the $1000, but God gave us… us.  Our very hands to work, our very legs to walk, our very brains to think, the very air we breathe… all of it came from the Lord.

So if we say we are Christians but do not tithe, God says, “Why are you robbing me?  All of earth, all of creation, belongs to me, yet the portion I have entrusted to you, you withhold from me.   You know it belongs to me, but you will not give it to me.”

How much should we give?  The Old Testament guidelines say 10% for the tithe plus other offerings.  The New Testament is both more simple and more complex.

Matthew 6:19-21 –

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Mark 10:19-22, the Rich Young Ruler –

You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 –

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

The Gospel, the Good News in the New Testament, is that we are free of the law.  Christ died to set us free.  So we are no longer compelled to “tithe plus” our 10% under the law.  But God is sitting as a refiner to see if He can see His reflection in us.  He wants us to have a heart that we can give everything we have cheerfully because we recognize it all belongs to Him.

So give nothing at all.  You are free of the law.

Or give away everything you have.  Give it cheerfully, knowing that treasures in heaven are worth far more than treasures on earth.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Give, and give cheerfully.  God doesn’t need $100.  But He died for you, and wants all that you are.

IV.      Say Everything in Love, Malachi 3:13-15

Malachi 3:13-15

“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

 “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?  But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.'”

Remember that childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”  Our parents give us this rhyme when we are children and we pass it along to our children.  We mean well.  Children can say hurtful things, and we teach them that just because Bubba Duell down the street calls us stupid or ugly, we’ll survive.  Words cannot hurt us.

But then again, maybe it’s only words that can hurt.  James 1 says that if we cannot reign in our tongue, our religion is worthless.  Listen to what James says in James 3:3-10 –

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  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.

 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

I found 17 verses on the power of the tongue and the purpose for it.

Slide19

God wants us to use our speech for good.  With our words we can build people up or we can tear them down.  We can encourage or we can criticize.  We can praise or we can condemn.  Jesus says in Matthew 15:1, 17-18 –

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

So maybe it’s words that can hurt, not sticks and stones.  Our earthly bodies have expiration dates, but Jesus says in Matthew 12:36 “that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  What comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart, and it’s the heart God wants.  Our faithful hearts are God’s treasured possessions.

  V.      God is Looking for His Faithful Remnant, Malachi 3:16-18

Malachi 3:16-18

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

We are saved through our Lord Jesus Christ.  God says that those who accept this sacrifice and call him Lord will be spared from the Day of Wrath that is coming.  God is looking for His faithful remnant that will serve Him.  So what does it mean to serve the Lord?

I think the answer for that is uniquely tailored for each of us.  Certainly the calling that Dr. Young heard is different than you and I.  But I don’t think the actual service is what it important.  Remember, God doesn’t need $100.  He desired our hearts, they are His treasured possessions.

You know that phrase, “fake it till you make it?”  There’s a lot to that, at least initially.  God uses us best when we are in motion and trying to do something for Him.  If you don’t know what God wants from you, are you just sitting and waiting?  Or are you in motion?  Volunteer for something.  Anything.  Don’t feel the Holy Spirit moving in you?  Say something encouraging to somebody.  Can’t stand the sight of somebody and the hate an unforgiveness inside you is eating you up?  Do something unexpectedly nice for them.

But “fake it till you make it” is still fake.  It’s surface, it’s shallow.  God wants the depths.  While you are working from the outside it, God will be working from the inside out.  Eventually they will meet.  You will “make it.”  You will be authentic, a whole person.

So right now, you and I may not always feel like a solid Christian.  Ever grumbled that you had to go to church?  Even inside?  You sit in the pew, and somebody that you don’t care for is sitting where you can see them.  And you’re thinking, “that no good so-and-so, they are so fake.  Coming to church for Christmas and Easter, but not in a bible study.  They’re just taking up space.”  All while you’re singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”

We’re not whole.  If we “fake it till we make it,” we’re putting up a nice exterior for people to see.  And if we’re in prayer and repentance, the Holy Spirit is working on the inside.  We still have our old sinful self with pride and arrogance getting in the way daily.

For our math teachers, what is an integer?  It’s a whole number that can be positive or negative.  It’s not a fraction like three quarters ¾ or a decimal like 0.5829.  It’s a whole number.

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The word comes from the Latin “integer.”  “In-“ meaning “not,” and “tangere” (like “tangent”) meaning “to touch”.  Literally, it means “untouched,” but figuratively it means “Untainted, upright.”

God wants us to be an integer.  Whole, upright, untouched, untainted.  The same all the way through.  The same on the inside as we are on the outside.  He wants us to be people of integrity.  To say what we believe, and to believe what we say.

We can’t do this on our own.  It’s a supernatural conversion from our old self to our new lives in Christ.  Christ living in us, through us, and the world sees Christ in our words and actions.  A complete, whole person of integrity that believes and demonstrates His love of the Lord through words and actions.  It’s not the words and actions themselves that God desires, but they are outward expressions of the heart we have toward him.

So if I can control my tongue to only offer encouragement and praise, that’s a start.  If I am not whole, if this attitude does not penetrate my heart, if I am not an integer, then God’s most treasured possession, my heart, does not belong to Him, then my words are meaningless.  If I tithe 10%, or 15%, or 25% or 100%, but my actions are not driven from the heart and my love for God, then my tithing is meaningless.  It’s my heart for Him that the Lord wants.  1 Corinthians 13:1-8 –

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 Love never fails.

Faking it is not the goal, but it gets the body moving.  Our goal is making it, having a heart that belongs to Him and Him alone.  We do that by loving our God who first loved us and sent His son to die for us, to pay the price for our sins that deserve the wrath of God.  But because of His mercy, we are Children of God and our hearts and words and actions, our tongues and our tithes, our whole selves, belong to Him.

VI.      Conclusion

Ask God daily to give you a heart of love for Him.  Be wholly devoted to our Lord and Savior.  Give everything you are to Him who sits on the throne.  Abide in Christ, and be one in Christ Jesus.

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To God be the glory.