Saturday, March 31, 2012

A parable about Dr. Law and the Great Physician

Romans 8:3-4 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh

In today's blog I want to tell you a parable about two doctors: Dr. Law and The Great Physican. 

Once there was a letter sent out from Divine Grace Hospital to a man by the name of Adam.  Adam had been very ill for quite sometime.  His thoughts were that perhaps he had a bad flu or perhaps some type of virus.  In the letter Adam was told to come immediately to the Hospital where he would meet with a doctor to discuss his condition. 

When Adam arrived, he came upon an office with the words written above: "Dr. Law".  As Adam stepped into the main waiting areas, he was immediately taken back.  A high desk was in the room, along with ten charts, depicting the results of Adam's test.  Dr. Law told Adam to sit down, as he had some news to share with Adam.  The news was far worst than Adam thought.  He had through carelessness contracted a fatal disease called "S-I-N".  It was in its final stages, and its rate of mortality was 100%.  Furthermore the disease was genetic and was guaranteed to infect all of Adam's loved ones. 

At first Adam tried to ignore Dr. Law's diagnosis, but a still small voice urged Adam to listen, since Dr. Law's tests would show the true picture.  As hour upon hour past, Dr. Law was relentless in his presenting of the test results.  Alas Adam blurted out: "Doctor, what can I do? Is there anything you can do for me? Is there a remedy?"  With hands folded and elbows resting on his desk, the Doctor told Adam that there was nothing he could do. All he could do was report the results.  Doctor Law told Adam: "Our office doesn't prescribe medicine, we just report test results and make referrals."    The message was clear: Adam was going to die!

Adam buried his head in his hands.  No comfort was available.  Realizing the nature of his disease, he got up to leave.  Dr. Law told Adam: "By the way, there is a Great Physican down the hallway.  I refer all my patients to him.  The choice is yours".

As Adam left the office, he headed down grace hallway and stood in front of a doorway marked: "The Great Physician".  As he looked back, he noticed other patients, like he, coming out of Dr. Law's office.  Some were stumbling behind him, while others headed in the other direction.  Adam could not ignore the diagnosis.  Dr. Law's chilling diagnosis made him desperate for answers.  He regretted his careless decisions.  "Dr. Law was right", he thought, I'm going to die!"

As He opened the Great Physican's door, a gracious nurse came to Him and asked if Adam needed anything.  With barely a whisper, Adam said: "I'm dying, I need help".  Without hestitancy he was wisked into The Great Physician's office.  In came The Great Physician.  For a long time they sat in silence.  Unlike Dr. Law, The Great Physican's walls were bare.  Adam suddenly got on his knees and begged the Great Physician for help.  He said: Doc, I've been diagnosed by Dr. Law as having the S-I-N virus.  I have no hope.  I'm going to die.  No medicine that I take can cure me.  He referred me to you.  Great Physican, you're my only hope!

With that admission, the Great Physician stretched out His hand, with a scar of a nail print, and with a voice that shook the entire building He said: You are healed! You are Forgiven! Live!

1 Peter 1:3   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The difference between skepticism and faith

Luke 24:24-25  24“Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” 25And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!

Contrasting Living Living Christianity and Dead Christianity
We noted yesterday that dead Christianity and Living Christianity are two mirror opposites.  We can call the Living Christianity of Luke 24 "Living Living Christianity", since in the face  doubt and skepticism it lives the living essentials of the implications of Christ's Resurrection from the dead. 

Dead Christianity is centered around a "dead Christ", whereas living living Christianity's theology and experience is centered around the Risen Christ who overcame death.  Dead Christianity operates out of human opinion, whereas living living Christianity works from the living scriptures.  Dead Christianity has no message while living living Christianity has a living message - the proclamation that He is Risen.  Then finally, dead Christianity has no testimony, only long faced religion - a shell of what it was or ever could be.  Living living Christianity has a robust testimony of how the Risen Christ of scripture is central to the conversion and ongoing Christian's life. 

Skeptics' claims of insight leads to their own blindness
As you follow the conversation these followers of Jesus had between themselves and the disguised Jesus in Luke 24:13-24, you can gather how much the bias of unbelief informs these disciple's conclusions.  Unbelief sees what it wants to see, despite the evidence.  Faith sees what it is able to see, because of evidence.  In Luke 24:16 the text states: "their eyes were prevented from reocgnizing Him."  As you go down through the text, Luke 24:19-21 reveals their view of who Jesus was:
1. He was a Prophet
2. He was a Mighty teacher
3. He was Crucified.  Despite the claims of resurrection, it is most likely He is dead

It is no wonder Jesus made His blistering indictment of these disciples in Luke 24:25 "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!"

Why faith requires God's supernatural power to see the evidence
As I said earlier, skepticism sees what it wants to see despite the evidence.  However Faith sees what it is able to see because of the evidence.  As Jesus began to explain and unfold the scriptures, Luke 24:31 states "Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and he vanished from their sight".  The scriptures are God's instrument by which the persuasion of the truth comes to convert the heart. (Psalm 19:7; 1 Peter 1:23).  Hebrews 11:1 tells us - "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen".  Thus what Christ did through His word was bring the "persuasion" of grace to bear on the "proof" that was before their eyes - Himself. 

Dead Christianity is made into living living Christianity
Remarkably, as a result of the Divine gifting of faith, these disciples made a genuine decision to belief the testimony of the women. (Luke 24:34)    In addition to acknowledging the events of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, they had an experience of such through faith.  They had a living testimony whereby they could related "their experiences" in Luke 24:35.  Then as Christ appeared to the disciples in Luke 24:36-49, we see that He was not some mere vision or mass hallucination, rather His resurrection was a bonified physical event. 

In Luke 24:53 we see all the disciples "continually in the temple praising God".  Clearly living living Christianity acknowledges what the resurrection demonstrates - that this Jesus who raised from the dead as a sinless man is and always will be very God of very God.  Living living Christianity abides and goes forward in the supernatural resurrection power of Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:11)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Living Christianity vs Dead Christianity

Luke 24:11 But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.

Yesterday we began looking at the most important doctrine of the Christian faith - the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  We discovered that from it issues four essential elements vital to Christianity:
1. Living Christ
2. Living Christ revealed in Living Scripture
3. Living Scripture leading to Living Proclamation
4. Living Proclamation that results in Living testimony

Ingredients for a dead Christianity
As exciting as the women's testimony was, Living Christianity came in contact with a cold reception.  Peter and the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, as well as some disciples traveling on a road to a town called "Emmaus", were operating in unbelief.  In stark contrast to the living Christianity of the women, the dead Christianity of the rest of the disciples contained four elements:

1. A Dead Christ, who had not risen (in their understanding)
2. Dead Human Opinion
3. Dead Message
4. Dead Testimony

A Dead Christ means a crisis to Christian faith, and thus the death of Christian hope
From Luke 24:11-24 we see a group of Christ followers who were sorrowfully convinced that their Master was still in the tomb.  When Peter and the disciples heard the women's living proclamation, they took it as nonsensical. (Luke 24:11)  The rest of those traveling on the road to Emmaus concevied of Jesus as a Prophet and a mighty teacher in Luke 24:19.  In Luke 24:20 they noted He was crucified, and was hoping in Luke 24:21 that He would had been "The One".  Yet their Jesus was still in the tomb.  Faith was in crisis and hope was lost.

A Dead, unrisen Christ, is based upon dead human opinion
Not one time do you find the skepticism of the Apostles nor these other followers rooted in scripture.  Living scripture knows nothing of a Christ who remained in a tomb, never to be risen from the dead.  Instead, all those who have argued against the resurrection, or who have not had it in the realm of the supposed Christian faith, are arguing from sources other than the scripture.

Dead Human opinion leads to a dead message
As Jesus, in veiled form, questions these disciples concerning there conversation.  In Luke 24:17 the NASB states that these men "were standing, looking sad".  The word for "sad" in the Greek corresponds to an inner turmoil in which one's emotional world is in a state of chaos.  When we trace the meaning of this word back through Jewish thought, it characterizes those who are unbelievers. 

When a person is in this particular state like these disciples, they have nothing to say, since no hope, no positive outcome for the future can be seen by them.  Dead versions of Christianity are like the beautiful cathedrals dotting the countrysides of Europe.  Christianity became a museum when 18th and 19th century versions of Liberal Christianity ravaged the faithwalks of Germany, England and France.  A Dead Christianity with no message is no Christianity. 

A dead message leads to a Dead Testimony
No wonder Jesus rebukes his followers in Luke 24:25 - "And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!"  It was the Risen Christ's indictment on an unbelieving church.  Nothing can kill a move of God quicker than the preachers and practitioners of the Christian faith who operate in unbelief.  As a pastor, I marvel at the times I exhibit lack of faith - allowing circumstances to determine how I live.  Thankfully, as Christians, it does not nor should ever have to be that way. 

We do not despair, for He is risen!
As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20a "But now Christ has been raised from the dead." The Living Christ, of the living scriptures, issued a living proclamation leading to a living testimony compels me to tell my circumstances how I'm going to live.  As Christians, we have all the means of grace available to put forth a living Christianity.  The Living Christ will not tolerate a dead Christianity.  He lives so that we can.  Without Him, there is no life - neither physical nor spiritual. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Christianity's Most Important Doctrine

Luke 24:6 "He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee"

Today we are going to be talking about the most important doctrine and truth of the Christian faith - The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  In Luke 24 we witness the events surrounding the morning in which He had raised from the dead.  We know the resurrection to be the most important Christian doctrine, since without it, Christianity cannot exist. (1 Corinthians 15:19)  The Resurrection issues forth four essential elements that enable Christianity to be a living Christianity.    I will list them and then deal with them briefly one at a time:

1. Living Scriptures
2. Living Christ
3. Living Proclamation
4. Living Testimony

1. Living Christianity is built around the Living Christ
The Angel's assertion to the women who came to the tomb was "He is not here, He is Risen".  This statement constitutes the most fundamental truth of the Christian faith.  We assert the centrality of the crucifixion of Jesus - without which Christianity would be in crisis.  However without the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity is dead.  The Resurrection validates the identity and accomplishment of Jesus Christ. 

2. The Living Scriptures Center upon the Living Christ
Luke 24:1-12 shows us the episode of the women coming to the empty tomb.  What the angel spoke to them in Luke 24:6 constitutes the heart of the Christian Good News (the Gospel) - namely that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  The angel was bring to their attention the living words of God.  These words that we have in written form are of course the Bible, from the Latin term scriptura meaning "those things written".  The Angel reminds the women that Jesus Himself had predicted His own, death, burial and resurrection.  Years later, when the four Gospels were composed, those very statements were recorded stated by Jesus on at least half a dozen occassions. 

3. Living Scriptures, about the Living Christ require Living Proclamation
In Luke 24:9 the women ran from the tomb and "proclaimed" to the rest of the disciples what they had seen and heard.  The idea of communicating God's truth has always been a central hall mark of true Biblical faith.  In the Old Testament the Prophets' preaching centered around Prediction and Explanation.  When Jesus Christ came preaching went from prediction to pronouncement.  The King and His Kingdom were not merely coming, He was here!

However there still was the element of anticipation, since the arrival of the King meant that He was going to achieve something significant in His realm.  When Christ raised from the dead, preaching and communication of God's word went from pronouncement to proclamation.  Proclamation is way different from the first two, in that there is no longer anticipation, but completion.  The victory has been won!  Jesus Christ demonstrated Himself to be both the living God and Perfect man!  Preaching or proclamation that lives centers its content around the victory of the cross demonstrated in Christ's resurrection from the dead. 

4. Living testimonies issue forth from living proclamation of the living scriptures about the living Christ
Luke 24:8-9 tells us the response of the women to the angels words: "And they remembered His words, 9and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest."  These women had a living Christianity that overflowed into the telling of their own personal experience - their testimony.  Like a testimony in a court of law, the value is confirmed by experience, tested by evidence and confirmes what took place.  Matthew 28:8, the parallel text to Luke's, records these details: "And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples."

A Living Christianity that centers itself around the Living Christ, Living Scriptures, Living Proclamation and Living Testimony is the only hope for a dying world. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Four Purposes of the Lord's Supper

1 Corinthians 11:28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

In today's blog we want to understand the purposes for which the Lord's Supper was prescribed by the Lord Jesus Christ to His church.  Regular observance of this "meal" by the local church enables the body of Christ to maintain its corporate identity and grow closer as a body of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)  Below are four reasons why celebrating the Lord's supper is vital to Christians both individually and as members of the local church.

1. The Lord's Supper is used by Christ to repair divisions
The letter of 1 Corinthians was written to a church that was fractured in its fellowship.  Out of the 10 churches that the Apostle Paul wrote to in his 13 New Testament Epistles, the church at Corinth was the most heartbreaking.  Jesus had prayed in John 17:21 that His church as a whole would be one as He and the Father are one.  Clearly the church at Corinth was going in the opposite direction - which is why the Holy Ghost inserted instructions about the Lord's Supper.  The Lord's supper gives the church the opportunity to seek forgiveness, heal division and fix fellowship issues that may have arisen since the last Lord's supper. (1 Corinthians 11:28-34)

2. The Lord's Supper is used to remember the cross
The cross in the scriptures was the event that the Holy Spirit used to point me to the source of my salvation.  Additionally, the cross is the place the Holy Spirit uses to cleanse me in my post-conversion sanctification.  The cross must never be forgotten. (1 Corinthians 2:2)  The Lord's table intentionally focuses the entire church on all the signifcance and daily need for the cross.  (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

3.  The Lord's Supper urges the church to repeat the Gospel
The Gospel of Jesus Christ focuses upon what Jesus came to do in His first coming - accomplish salvation.  The Gospel also tells us how we can be saved from the reality of God's wrath that is coming upon this world in Christ's second coming. (Romans 5:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10) As an ordinance, like Baptism, the Lord's table conveys the Gospel in picture rather than words.  By the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ communicates and reinforces these truths to the hearts of His church through their observance of His ordinance (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:26)  This is why the Lord's table is celebrated in conjunction with the communication of the scriptures.

4. The Lord's Supper gives the believer a chance to re-examine their walk with the Lord
We are told in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to "examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith".  What kinds of questions are good to ask myself when getting ready to receive the Lord's Supper (or communion, as it is sometimes called)?  What if any unconfessed sin has crept into my life since I last partook of the Lord's supper?  Do I have any resentment towards anyone?  Have I grown cold in my love for Jesus, His Word or prayer?  How am I doing in the areas of supporting the local church of which I am a member through my giving of tithes and offerings? Am I mad at God? Have I done anything to grieve His Spirit?  Have I seen growth and change in my life for the glory of God?  What has God shown me about Himself since the last time I partook of His meal?

Questions like the ones above remind the Christian of the need for daily examination.  There is no cruise control on the steering column of the Christian life.  We don't coast, we aim to strive for all we can in Christ, since it is He who is working in us His perfect and pleasing will. (Philippians 3:12-13) 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The significance of the Lord's Supper

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The Importance of the Lord's Supper
We typically refer to the final meal that the Lord Jesus Christ had with his disciples the night before His crucifixion as "the Lord's Supper".  All four Gospels and Paul's statements here in 1 Corinthians 11 (as well as 1 Corinthians 10) are the primary texts we look to when discerning the meaning and purpose of the Lord's supper. Paul emphasizes that he had "received from the Lord that which I delivered to you", giving us the chief reason why the Lord's table is so important: Jesus Himself gave it to His church to practice, to celebrate what He accomplished, and to anticipate His soon return.

The Lord's Supper was an ordinance given by Christ to His church, along with Baptism
Last week I blogged about the meaning, mode and place of Baptism in the Christian life.  I won't rehearse that material again, since it is available in the past blogs.  I will point out to the reader that when Jesus prescribed ordinances (commands or "orders" given by the Lord to be carried out by His church), two, and only two were given: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

We know this first of all by the fact that Baptism occurs at the beginning of each Gospel and the instiution of the Lord's Supper is found at the end of each of the four Gospels.  Both are consistently practiced by the early church in Acts and both are taught in the Epistles.  Both picture the Gospel in some way and both are used by Christ to encourage the faith of the New Testament believer. 

Baptism's connection to the Lord's Supper
Just as Baptism is performed following the believer's faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord's Supper is an act that follows after the believer has been baptized.  Acts 2:38-42 gives the standard order of events in the life of the Christian: Conversion to Christ by grace through faith, followed by believer's baptism, then participation in the "breaking of bread" or the Lord's supper.  

While Baptism signifies a one time act, the Lord's Supper signifies continual and repeated practice.  Baptism, being the Christian's first major step of Christian obedience, determines  who should partake of the Lord's table.  The Lord's table is a believer's table - first and foremost.  Secondly, the Lord's table points to His Lordship, His ownership of the Christian.  In approaching the Lord's table, the Christian comes with the attitude of remembering Jesus as their Savior and Lord.  Reasons such as these are why Baptist Churches typically require all those partaking of the Lord's table to be both genuine converts of Christ who have been immersed in believer's Baptism.

What the Lord's Supper Means - Picture and Encouragement to the faithlife
The Lord's Supper points us in two directions: what Christ accomplished and who Christ is.  The Lord's Supper pictures and communicates Christ the God/man.  The ordinary elements of bread and fruit of the vine picture for us His humanity, of which being God He assumed when He came to earth in order to die for our sins.  Through the Lord's table the Christian is encouraged in their faith-life about the centrality and significance of Christ's finished work on the cross and His intercession for them in Heaven as the God/Man.

With the focus on His humanity/Deity and his accomplishment in His first coming, the Lord's Supper also points us forward to His second coming.  The Gospels and 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that the church is to celebrate the Lord's Supper until He returns.  Therefore the Lord's Supper encourages the faithwalk of Christians to lift their eyes to the hills from whence comes there help. (Psalm 121) 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Defining the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

What is the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”?

John the Baptist told the people whom he was ministering to that the One coming after him would baptize them with the "Holy Spirit and fire". (Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16) When we consider John the Baptist's statements in those first three gospels, it is vital to take those statements and read them in light of a clearer text that was written in the same context. We find such a one in John 1:24-34.  Jesus' role of "baptizing with the Holy Spirit" in John 1:33 is connected to His teaching about the New Birth in John 3:1-6. The meaning of "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is the Spirit's New Covenant ministry of placing a believer into union with Jesus Christ at conversion.

Why Jesus' statements about the Spirit's Ministry are vital in understanding the idea of "Spirit baptism"

John 2 is the vital bridge between John 1 and 3, since the miracle of changing water into wine was designed to reveal the New Covenant ministry of Christ, which would include His sending of the Holy Spirit. The New Covenant ministry's chief work would entail the Holy Spirit leading men, women, boys and girls to trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins so as to follow Him as their Lord. (John 16:7-16) In contrast to the Old Covenant, which had the Holy Spirit ministering to God's people from the outside to inside, the New Covenant would be marked by the Holy Spirit working from inside to outside. (please compare Ezekiel 11:17-20 and 2 Corinthians 3) 

Both Old Covenant saints and New Covenant Saints were saved in the same way, by grace through faith. What distinguishes New Covenant Christianity from Old Covenant Judaism is a richer and greater amount of God's presence and power due to Jesus Christ and the sending of the Spirit.  The Spirit's work of uniting the believer in conversion to the New Covenant's central Person - the Lord Jesus Christ, is key to understanding the meaning of Spirit baptism.

Spirit baptism marks the beginning of the Christian life in union with Christ

John's statements about Jesus "Baptizing with the Spirit" centers more on what occurs at salvation, since the Spirit of God brings a person "into union with Christ". 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, our main passage above, confirms this reading. The Holy Spirit's coming in Acts was to usher in the church age, wherein the Spirit's chief work would be to convict sinners of their need for Christ.  Additionally, the Holy Spirit enables believers to live out the Christian life through prayer, scripture and their union with one another in the local church as they carry out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Spirit Baptism is another way of describing one's conversion

We read in Ephesians 4:5 "one Lord, one faith, one baptism". What Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 pertains to a person being brought into union with Christ at salvation. This "baptism by the Holy Spirit" is the unseen reality that occurs in the heart at saving faith. Therefore in order for the new convert to testify as to what took place, a re-enactment is in order. Thus Water Baptism, the subject of the past few blogs, is necessary for the new believer's obedience.

How water baptism pictures what took place in Spirit Baptism

Water Baptism is picturing for that new Christian the reality that took place in conversion. The picture, or sign, is identical to what it is signifying - namely when the Holy Spirit "baptized" or "united" that person into Christ at salvation. We are dealing with "one Baptism", wherein Spirit Baptism being the reality and water Baptism being the picture of that reality.

Why does this issue matter to the Christian?

Due to the differences of opinion that exists between genuine believers in Jesus Christ who love and serve the Lord, it is important to know what we believe, why we believe and how we will instruct new converts on their next step. Whatever we hold to in regards to the doctrine of Baptism explains what we hold to in our understanding of the Gospel - since baptism is Christ's ordained picture of it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why a Christian must be baptized

Matthew 28:19-20 19“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Two ditches I have witnessed in discussions about water Baptism
Today's blog is going to deal with the specific question concerning the necessity of believer's baptism.  In my time in serving the Lord in ministry, I have witnessed two ditches that can be fell into when it comes to this particular issue.  The first states that all the Bible is concerned about is conversion, and that Baptism is a distant secondary concern.  Some will cite the thief on the cross who trusted in Christ without getting baptized as proof of baptism being optional for the disciple.  The second ditch is where we see baptism being viewed as necessary for one's conversion.  Sometimes appeal to passages such as Acts 2:38, where Peter states "repent and be baptized", are cited as proof that baptism must be connected to saving faith in order for genuine salvation to occur.

The first ditch takes water Baptism too lightly - making it an option, a "nice thing to do for Jesus, but not required".  The thief on the cross did not need Baptism to gain entry into paradise - that much we know - for Jesus told Him "Today you will be with me in paradise".  If that thief would had been under different circumstances, following His trust in Christ he would had sought to follow the Lord in obedience into believer's baptism - since obedience is the chief way we express our love to the Lord. (John 14:15,21-23).  The second ditch misplaces baptism, making it a "means of salvation" or going as far as to say that the baptismal act itself confers the miracle of salvation.  In attempting to take seriously the command to be baptized, the second view goes too far.

Why Baptism is not optional, but essential for obedience
In the passage above, Jesus did not call us to merely make "converts", but disciples, meaning that those who by grace through faith believe on Him as a result of hearing the Gospel will want to be like their Lord.  Now verse 20 has Jesus telling His disciples to teach "all that I command you".  The question is: what has He commanded?  Answer: begin by reading verse 19.  As you look at verse 19, you find among the things commanded by Christ the command to be baptized.

When one became a disciple, they did so by heeding the call of Christ issued to them by faith. By denying themselves and taking up their cross so to speak, they followed Jesus Christ.  (Luke 9:23-24)  But now what public act was necessary for them to declare their faith in Jesus Christ?  Believer's Baptism!  Now a genuine Christian will want to get baptized, just as a baby who has been born will want to walk.  Though both are distinct events, yet it is what the baby was born to do.  This is why the "new birth" language of Jesus in John 3:6 aids our understanding of the relationship of "conversion by faith" with that of "obedience in believer's baptism".

Jesus teaches in John 14:15, as well as John 14:21 and 23, that all those who love Him "will obey His commands".  Thus when I counsel a new Christian to get Baptized, it is an area where they don't have to go home and pray to God about His will for them, since He has plainly made know His will on that matter. 

Why baptism is so important for the New Christian
1. It encourages the New Christian in their faith
Baptism sets the tone for the Christian.  It helps that new believer, and those around them, to witness with physical eyes a reinactment of the change the Spirit of God performed on the day of saving faith prior to that Baptism. 

2. It reminds the believer of the sweetness of their prior faith commitment
Furthermore, in Baptism the Lord affirms to that Christian their identity.  By grace through faith they have put on Jesus Christ, exchanging their former lost condition for Him.  The picture of baptism is used by God to communicate to that person the work He did already when they had trusted in Him. 

3. It pictures the Christian wanting to operate under an open heaven of the Spirit's leading
Additionally, just as the heavens opened when Jesus was Baptized in the Jordon River in the openings of all four gospels, conveying to Him further illumination and insight by the Holy Spirit, the Christian's obedience in believer's baptism communicates their desire to operate under an open heaven.  When I as a Christian allign myself with God's Word, I'm indicating the desire to be led by the Holy Spirit and to walk in the light as He is in the light. (1 John 1:6-8; Ephesians 4:1)

Baptism is not entered into in order to become a Christian, rather because one has become a Christian they desire to be baptized.  The human heart is changed by the Spirit in the presence of the explanation of God's word as that person receives Christ by faith.  All Baptism does is reenact that blessed reality and bring to light to physical eyes what invisible work the Spirit of God did the day He called, convicted and convinced that person to believe on Jesus Christ. 

Though Baptism is not essential for conversion, it is essential for obedience.  Though baptism does not convert people into the Kingdom, yet those who have been converted by faith will want to get baptized. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Defining Baptism as an ordinance

Matthew 28:19  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

What is an ordinance?
Baptism will sometimes be referred to as an "ordinance".  Why? The word "ordinance" comes from the Latin term ordinis that refers to a statement of order, law or decree from an authority.  An ordinance entails three characteristics: First, the practice must have been taught by Christ in the Gospels, practiced or preached in the Book of Acts and practiced or preached in the New Testament Letters.  The second trait of an ordinance is that it pictures the Gospel.  In the New Testament there are two such practices that fit this definition: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.  Then finally, an ordinance, being a decree, is issued from Christ to His church. 
Baptism is an ordinance because it is practiced and preached throughout the New Testament
In the opening of all four Gospels, Jesus is Baptized (immersed) by John the Baptist in the Jordon River.  John then spoke of how Jesus would later on baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4,8).  Baptism's primary meaning is that of immerse, with its secondary meaning being that of "brought into connection or indentification with someone".  Thus John was speaking of the Holy Spirit's ministry of uniting believers with Jesus Christ in the New Covenant reality of the church. (Acts 2:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13)

As we come to the Book of Acts, Baptism is practiced and taught throughout the early church.  In passages such as Acts 2:41; 16:33; 18:8 and 22:16, we see believers, new converts, being baptized and then received into membership in the local church. 

Then in terms of the New Testament Letters (Epistles), we see Paul refer to Baptism in his writings (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:4-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:11).  Peter too mentions Baptism in 1 Peter 3:18-21.  These texts are the main places I take new converts to in explaining the practice and meaning of Baptism.

Baptism is an ordinance because it proclaims the Gospel in picture form
When Christ was setting the foundations for the New Testament Church, he designated the Gospel to be proclaimed verbally through preaching and teaching, and pictured by means of the ordinances of Baptism and Lord's Supper.  For example, Baptism pictures the "putting away of the life, and putting on the new life".  (Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:11-12)  Jesus speaks of the New Birth experience in John 3:3-6.  Also too, the Apostle Paul shows how Baptism pictures our prior identification with Christ in His Death, Burial and Resurrection, something of which occupies over 30% of the content of the four Gospels. (Romans 6:4-11)  The Apostle Peter speaks of Baptism picturing the pledge of a good conscience and the removal of dirt from the conscience. (1 Peter 3:18-21)  Hebrews 9:14 tells us that the Blood of Christ at salvation cleanses the conscience. 

We must understand that Baptism is "picturing" that supernatural change that occurs at salvation, rather than it being part of the actual salvation experience itself.  Baptism does not bring about salvation, rather it is an essential picture of that inward reality.  Baptism is an ordinance, a sign, signifiying externally a prior invisible reality that occurs by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Baptism is an ordinance because Christ gave it to His church
In all of the passages cited above, not one of them occur apart from connection with or practice of Baptism in the local church.  Christ issued forth, "ordained" baptism to be administered through the agency of the local church.  The Apostles and later leaders in the  church administered the rite.  Even though Baptism is commonly administered by ordained Pastors, the focus is not so much on who is Baptizing.  On occassion I've heard of Deacons, or Elders, or even rarer fathers Baptizing their converted children.  The chief emphasis of our point here is: under what context is the Baptism being administered?  As long as Baptism is performed in conjunction with the local church, the Lord's purposes for this practice are being kept. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The meaning and mode of baptism

Romans 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

            In yesterday's blog we explored the meaning of Baptism as taught in the New Testament.  We noted that three terms can be used to summarize its meaning: participation, obedience and identification.  If we were to consdense what was written yesterday, it would be this: Although baptism is not essential for conversion to faith in Christ, yet it is essential to obedience to Christfollowing one's conversion".  With that said, today we want to explore the "mode" of baptism.

The original meaning of the word "baptism" or "baptize"
            In over 100 New Testament passages we find reference to baptism.  The Greek words associated with this word comes from the Greek word “baptizo”, from whence derives our English word “baptism”. In all standard Greek Dictionaries (The New Testament of course was originally written in Greek), without exception, "baptizo" has the primary meaning of “to dip, to immerse”.  When one digs back into ancient Greek sources, we discover this word was used to describe the sinking of ships in naval battles or the dipping of various foods in honey.  Clearly the meaning of the word alone tells us that the mode of baptism is dipping, immersion or submersion.

          A secondary, but still important meaning of this word is that of "identification" or "to be brought into connection or union with someone".  For instance, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-3 we read of the people of Israel being "baptized into Moses, in the cloud and in the sea".  Now we know that the people cross the Red Sea on dry ground, and that the "cloud" was the pillar of cloud that led them - being God Himself.  Many of those who oppose believer's baptism by immersion will cite this text, however the secondary meaning of "brought into connection or union" aids us in making sense of the meaning here.  As always, context is the chief aid in determining the dictionary meaning of the word. 

          What we would advocate is that in all instances where the practice of New Testament water Baptism occurs, the primary mode of "immersion" fits the context of those passages.

Why do our English Bibles have the word "baptize" rather than "Immerse"
            When the first English translations began to appear in the 14 century, men such as John Wycliff and William Tyndale led the way in translating the first English Bibles.  When the church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic church in the late 16 century, it retained much of the Catholic church's viewpoints - among which was the teaching of infant baptism and the mode of sprinkling.  When the English translations were produced in the 16th century, the translators who knew the original languages were aware that if they translated the term "baptizo" as "immerse", it would get them into trouble with the King and the powers that be in the Church of England. 

            Thus they "transliterated" the term, meaning they took the Greek letters of "baptizo" and transferred them over into English as "baptize".  All English Bibles to this day follow this method.  In attempting to be "safe", the refusal to translate the word has created in no small measure an uncertainty as to baptism's mode.  For this blogger, if the word were translated, rather than "transliterated", the confusion over the meaning of baptism might very well lessen, since the mode and meaning are so inter-linked.

The picture communicated by Baptism
            With the mode established, the biblical picture which Baptism conveys show the close connection between the mode and the meaning.  Romans 6:1-4 states:  "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Notice how Paul uses the concepts of “burial” and “raised”.  Clearly this picture cannot be accomplished through sprinkling nor pouring, but through only one mode – immersion. 

          In all four gospel accounts of Jesus' baptism we see record of him coming straight up out of the water and the Holy Spirit coming down upon Him.  In John 3:23 we see this statement – “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized”.   Clearly the only proper way these people could be baptized is if there is a place where much water is available.  There is no doubt on the mode of baptism – dipping, immersion or submersion under water.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Baptism - a matter of participation

Ephesians 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism

We continue today with our exploration of the meaning of New Testament Baptism.  Yesterday we mentioned three terms: identification, obedience and participation.  The first two terms were our main focus, with the third being the primary one in today's blog. 

When a Christian becomes baptized, they not only are communicating prior identification and a lifestyle of obedience to Christ, but also that of participation in Christ. In Romans 6:4 Paul states: "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Being that Baptism is a picture of the believer's prior conversion experience, the idea of the Christian walking with God goes hand in hand.

The idea of "walking with God" is the first description the Bible gives of the believer's relationship with the Lord. Being found some 50 times in the Bible, we read for instance in Genesis 3:8 that God was "walking in the cool of the evening", looking for Adam. Evidently God had created Adam for covenant and communion with Him. We read of Enoch in Genesis 5:22 that he "walked with God for 300 years". Baptism pictures for us the Christian's desire to walk with the Lord all of the days of their life. Clearly participation is in view.

Why baptism is connected to local church membership

Baptism is an act that follows faith in Christ by the pattern in the New Testament. Acts 2:40-41 tells us that as many as had received the word (i.e received the message of salvation by grace through faith) were baptized. Following the baptism, the text states then that 3,000 souls were added to the church. This tells us that saving faith came first, followed by baptism, then church membership.

When a baptized believer joins a local church, they are indicating that they do not merely want to be a spectator, but a participator. Jesus tells us in John 14:15 that all of those who love Him will obey His commands. Being that baptism is commanded in Acts and the Epistles, and since it is modeled by Christ Himself in the Gospels, clearly then Baptism centers on participation following one’s commitment of faith.

Relating identification, obedience and participation in Baptism

Romans 6:1-4 and Galatians 3:27 define baptism in terms of how one walks with the Lord. Submission to Christ’s Lordship is the primary fruit of the Christian walk. Acknowledging Him as Savior and Lord is central to saving faith and becoming a disciple of Christ (compare Luke 9:23-24 and 14:25-35).

I sometimes refer to Baptism as the “Christian’s first major step of Christian obedience”. It indicates that the disciple is publicly identifying  the reality of His otherwise personal new birth experience. Scripture uses the language of new birth to describe salvation (please compare John 3:1-5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). We can liken baptism to a toddler's first steps, since baptism follows the new birth as a toddler's first steps comes after their natural birth. Obviously a baby has to be born first before they can walk. Likewise before an adult (or child reaching the age of accountability) can be baptized, they have to be first born again by grace alone through faith alone (please compare Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

Baptism, as the Christian's act of identification and obedience is again, their way of setting a lifetime pattern of participation.  Peter states in 1 Peter 3:21 - "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ". The KJV brings out the rendering "answer of a good conscience", which brings us closer to the original text. The idea Peter is describing is an already converted heart coming to the baptismal waters to publicly declare before Christ and his people their aim to grow in grace from a good conscience. Clearly this allows no room for spectator Christianity.   

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Baptism - a matter of identification and obedience

Ephesians 4:5 "one Lord, one faith, one baptism"

          In today's blog we want to explore the meaning of believer's baptism.  When I am counseling new Christian converts, I sometimes will use three terms to help them understand what the Bible has to say about this important subject: Identification, Obedience and Participation.  We will look at those first two ideas in today's blog, with attention being placed upon the third term tomorrow.  

Public Identification
            When John began baptizing the Jews at the beginning of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the meaning was that of identification with the coming Messiah - Jesus Christ.  Another passage which speaks of Baptism is 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, where the Israelites were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”.  The Israelites identified with Moses and ultimately the Lord, who was the One who delivered them out of Egypt. 

          This is why both the Apostle Paul (Romans 6:1-11) and the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:18-21) describe baptism as taking one's prior private committment of faith and making it a public "identification" in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In other words, Baptism functions as an "I.D" badge that tells everyone of an internal reality that occurred prior to the baptism - namely by grace through faith that person experience death to the old life and was raised to new life. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Baptism enables the Christian to not be ashamed
          Luke 9:23-26 states:   "23And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25“For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."  Verses 23-25 speak of the commitment of faith that occurs when by grace through faith the sinner confesses Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Verse 26 tells us that the true believer in Christ will want to tell everyone that they're Christ's disciple.  Thus Baptism gives them that chance.  This is why, especially in Baptist churches, baptism is called one's "public profession of faith".


Obedience - The Christian's proof that they love Jesus
          Along with identification we find the second central thought of Baptism’s meaning – obedience.  Matthew 28:19-20, The Great Commission of Christ to His Church, states –Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  Notice how the underlined words are commands.  Baptism is a command that a believer obeys following their trust and faith in Jesus Christ.  Though Baptism is not essential to salvation, it is essential to obedience.
In Baptism, I'm showing my following of Jesus Christ to be not an "I have to", but rather an "I want to" lifestyle 
         Baptism sets the pattern before everybody that the Christian life, as much as it is entered into by faith alone, is nonetheless to be lived out with a faith that is not alone.  True faith, following conversion, is characterized by works of obedience. (James 2:14-18).  Jesus teaches that all those who love Him will obey His commandments. (John 14:15, 23)  Conversely, those who aim to keep Christ's commandments are those who demonstrate genuine love for Him. (John 14:21)  Truly then a person does not get baptized in order to become a Christian, rather they get baptized because they have already become a Christian.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in salvation

John 3:3 "Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

So what roles do God's Sovereignty and human responsibility play in the realm of salvation?  John chapter 3 is an amazing chapter, since it lays out before us the role each plays in the realm of salvation.  Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility are both taught in scripture.  Today we will lay out scriptures from this chapter that show God's Sovereign role and man's responsibility in salvation.  Remarkably, both these truths occur often in one verse!   

1. God in grace grants the gift of the new birth or eternal life, man by grace through faith receives the gift 
God's Sovereignty in Salvation: John 3:3 "Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (or "born from above", original Greek, KJV) he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Man is responsible to believe in Christ: John 3:15 "so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."

God's Sovereignty in the New Birth: John 3:6-8 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7“Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Whosever believes has eternal life: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

2. God gets the credit for anyone who believes and receives the gospel, man is to blame for rejecting and not believing the gospel
God sent Christ, since no one seeks Him John 3:13 “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.
Unbelief is the reason for condemnation John 3:18 "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

Responsibility: Although people choose to come to the light of truth. John 3:21a “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light...."
Sovereignty: Yet people can only choose to come to the light of the truth because of God. John 3:21b " that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

3. Faith is the Divine gifting wherein people can decide to choose Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and Treasure
Responsible to receive salvation: John 3:27a "John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing....."
Sovereignty makes it possible to receive salvation: John 3:27b ..."unless it has been given him from heaven."

God is Sovereign over everything, including salvation: John 3:35“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand."
Man is responsible to receive salvation: John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”   

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The God of second chances

Exodus 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

How an opportunity with God was squandered
Moses the man of God had been atop Mount Sinai for quite some time.  It had been 50 days since the Lord had led the people out of Egypt across the Red Sea on dry ground.  They had witnessed the ten plagues and they had been given the Law of God.  They witnessed the thunder and lightening of God's very presence atop the Mountain.  They were poised and postioned by God to achieve great things for His glory.  Moses was ready to deliver to them the revelation of Grace - the Tabernacle.  All was set.  It should not had happened - but it did.

The people presumed that Moses had delivered them, rather than God through Moses.  According to other scripture passages, the people concluded in their minds that Egypt was way better than their life with God.  According to Psalm 106:20-21, they exchanged the God of glory for a calf made of gold, and they forgot the Savior who had redeemed them.  Nehemiah 9:17a states -  “They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt."  They squandered their chance with God.

Much like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Genesis 3, the opportunity of the ages was set before the people.  Yet apart from relying upon the grace of God, man chose to rely upon his own strength.  The episode here at Sinai gives us a slice of what every human being has done - exchanging the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:24)

God had the right to Judge and destroy
What these people had done was tantamount to High Holy Treason.  They exchanged God's glory for a calf. (Psalm 106:20-21)  They rejoiced in their own works, rather than in His work. (Acts 7:41)  When Moses got word from God that this breach of covenant was taking place at the base of the mountain, he plead to God on their behalf to stay His hand of judgment.  Exodus 32 records for us that for Moses' sake and the sake of the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God did postpone judgment. 

As Moses ran down the side of the Mountain, Joshua, his faithful aid, said to Moses at the end of Exodus 32 that he could hear the sounds of shouting and victory.  Moses comments that it was not the sounds of war, but of worship.  Ironically what both men were hearing was true.  In the idolatry of false worship is the declaration of war from sinful man on Holy God.  True worship is when we are exalting God the King and declaring war on the enemy.  No doubt, like all humanity, the evidence was overwhelming in sentencing man to judgment and destruction.  Yet, as you read on into Eoxdus 32-34, you discover that on that day, it was Mercy that said no.  Why?

Why God chose to render mercy
Why did God choose to render mercy?  Three things were present at this scene in Eoxdus 32-34. 
1. A Mediator was present.  Moses, the man of God, pleads twice in this episode for God to spare the people of God. 

2. Marvelous promises were present.  As Moses pleads on the people's behalf, Moses reminds God of the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Mosaic covenant demanded death to the sinner.  The Covenant of works in written form had been breached.  Moses' act of breaking those tablets only illustrated the point.  Yet Moses' appeal to the Covenant of Grace spelled out to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the only basis for mercy. 

3. Mourning repentance was present.  The people, in the sight and in the words of God in Exodus 33:5-6, took off their ornaments.  They showed, at least outwardly, that they wanted to turn from their sin, and that they mourned over how they had regarded the one who had saved them.  Repentance, like faith, is a Divine gifting, wherein the decision to repent and faith occurs.  (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:25-26)  

Why God is the Second chance God today
The Mediator is Present

Exodus 32-34 illustrates for us how it is God is the second chance God.  Moses' mediation for the people pictures the ultimate mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1-2) 

The Marvelous Promise of the Cross, was accomplished
The promise of God to send His Son into the world to die for sinners was the ultimate basis for God being the second chance God without violating His justice.  2 Timothy 1:9 tells us that He saved us and called us with a Holy calling, not based on anything we had done, but by His grace which was granted to us in Christ Jesus before time began."   

Mourning Repentance must be presence to receive the second chance
Then finally, only when faith and repentance is present can the sinner have the means whereby God grants that second chance.  When the Spirit of God so moves in your heart, by His grace you are convinced to turn from your sin (repentance) and trust in Jesus (faith). 

God is not only the God of the second chance, He is the God of second chances.  For following salvation, whenever a child of God sins, 1 John 1:9 tells us that when we confess our sins, He is just and faithful to forgive us all our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  I'm so glad that even though I deserve the yes of justice and judgment, instead by His grace through faith and repentance I can stand confidently in the "No condemnation" of mercy. (Romans 5:1-5; 8:1) 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

God's purposes and the problem of evil

Daniel 9:26b-27 and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27“And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

God's purposes and plans will prevail despite predicted evil
This prophecy of Daniel gives the believer a great lesson on the nature and scope of God's Sovereignty.  In the final seven years or week of Daniel's prophecy (termed Daniel's seventieth week, also called the time of Jacob's Trouble in Jeremiah 30), the world at large and Jerusalem in particular will be tormented and tyrranized by the man of lawlessness, the Anti-Christ.  Today we want to understand that despite this predicted event, God wills the inclusion of free-actions and events of evil agents to accomplish His overall good purposes.  Romans 8:28 reminds us:  "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

God included evil in accomplishing His good purposes in the Old Testament
When we look at this prophecy, we may ask ourselves: why?  Evil and suffering, in ways that scripture reveals, but in ways we do not fully comprehend, factors into God's Sovereign plan.  Passages like Genesis 50:20-21 read -  20“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. 21“So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.  Those words came from the lips of Joseph who had been left for dead by his brothers and thrown into prison.  Yet God worked forth His Sovereign will to raise up Joseph to be "a savior" of his people. 

God included evil in accomplishing His good purpose in redemption
As we saw in yesterday's blog, God's purposes for Christ's first coming included the cross.  Acts 2:23-24 tells us - "23this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24“But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power."  God's will for history included the evil, sinful decisions of the Gentiles and the Jewish nation to crucify the Lord of glory.  God includes evil in His overall Sovereign will, and yet is not the author of evil. (Isaiah 45:7; 1 John 1:6-8)

God will include evil in accomplishing his purposes for history
If we take seriously the Sovereignty of God, predictions such as the coming of Anti-Christ and the final rebellion of humanity will not disturb the faith of the Christian? Why?  Again, though God wills evil to be part of His Sovereign plan, yet He is not the author of it.  If evil occured outside of God's knowledge, then we could not say that He is Sovereign.  The biblical notion of God's Sovereignty including evil, while not being its author, brings greater comfort than other frameworks which try to make evil a separate thing from God's will.   

Sovereignly God willed the existence of evil, even though He morally does not condone nor advocate its existence
All evil is directly accomplished by creatures - this much we know.  We also know that when Satan, or demons, or anyone commits an act of moral evil, they are acting responsibily and out of their own choice.  Though God includes evil in His Sovereign plan, that does not mean He is condoning it nor advocating it.  God's moral revealed will, the scriptures, clearly condemn the actions done by Judas in betraying Jesus.  Yet we know that such betrayal was within the Sovereign plan of God, otherwise Jesus would not had been handed over to be crucified.  Thus it is with what will take place in Christ's second coming.  The Anti-Christ will rise, however God's ultimate purpose is for Christ to be glorified and to defeat the kingdom of darkness and make all kingdoms to be under His glorious reign. (Revelation 11:15)

Final note of application: God permits what He hates in order to accomplish the good He intends
If we were to summarize everything we saw today, it would be this: God wills to permit what he hates in order to accomplish the good he intends.  Romans 8:28 states this for the Christian's individual life when facing evil and suffering: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Why the accuracy of God's word fuels faith and hope

Daniel 9:25-26a 25“So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26“Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing,

How accurate and trustworthy is the prophetic word?
Daniel gives us a detailed prophecy concerning the destiny of Israel and Jerusalem.  The events to which God decrees (His purposes) center around the first and second comings of Jesus Christ, and include the crucifixion and the yet to be revealed anti-Christ (God's predicted plans). 

According to the prophecy, the 490 year period of time is divided up into three main sets: 49 years (7 weeks);434 years (62 weeks) and the final 7 year period of time (1 week).  The first two sets encompass the time from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the week Messiah is cut off.  Those first two sets comprise 69 prophetic weeks or 483 years period of time (with each year containing 360 days).

As we saw yesterday, in history Artaxerxes Longimanus of Persia issued a decree to rebuild the wall and city of Jerusalem on March 14, 445 b.c.  This decree had reaffirmed an earlier decree made by his predecessor, Cyrus, in the book of Ezra in 539/538 b.c.  Nehemiah 2 records Artaxerxes decree and support of Nehemiah beginning the project.  According to Daniel's prophecy, from that decree until the cutting off of Messiah would be 69 total weeks (483 years).  Since the Jews reckoned their years by 360 day periods, we can work out Daniel's prophecy in terms of days:

69 prophetic weeks or 483 years x 360 days = 173,880 days.

Now when you count 173,880 days from March 14, 445b.c, you arrive at April 6, 32 A.D, the very day Jesus strode into Jerusalem in His Triumphal entry!  That very week Messiah was going to be cut off!  Those people who in the Gospel accounts were throwing their cloaks at Jesus' feet, shouting "Hosannah! Hosannah!" would be in a span of five days shouting "Crucify Him! Crucifiy Him!". 

The prophetic word leads you to the cross, and to the second coming
To know that God's word is this accurate pertaining to what took place in Christ's first coming, we know that the same level of trust can be given to what it says about Christ's second coming.  This is why the scriptures must be daily in our hearts and minds, because only through them can my faith be fed by the cross and my hope be fueled by His soon return.