Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Recipe for Hope from Lamentations

Lamentations 3:22-23 "The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness."

Whenever you turn to the Book of Lamentations, you are reading a book written by the Prophet Jeremiah who witnessed the fall and carrying away of his people into exile in Babylon.  Jeremiah has been coined "the weeping prophet" due to the fact that much of his ministry carried sorrow over the non-repentance of his nation.  The Book of Lamentations are a series of five poetic songs written to lament over the eventual carrying away and destruction of the Jewish people in Jerusalem in 586 b.c. 

Thankfully not everything in Jeremiah's book of Lamentations is hopeless, for among the tear soaked verses we find some places where hope shines through.  In Lamentations 3:19:25 we find a recipe of hope tucked in the midst of circumstances that desperately needed a word from God.  In today's post I would like you to see the recipe for hope found in these verses.  The question we can ask of these verses is this: how can you retain your hope in the Lord? 

1. Recall God's Faithfulness.  
Lamentations 3:20-23 states: "Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me.
21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.
22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness."  This is an important principle to remember whenever your present circumstances yield no evidence of God's activity.  God's silence does not equate to God's absence.  At times you and I must hold our Bible before our eyes to understand the reality of God's faithfulness, even if other people and situations in our lives try to tell us otherwise.

2. Rely upon God's Graces. 
Consider these words in Lamentations 3:24 -
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The Hebrew word translated "portion" can refer to "a share of possession".  To say that the Lord is our portion indicates that He has a claim on our lives.  Whenever you and I are viewing God as our portion, we are relying completely on Him.  Because of His "lovingkindnesses" and "compassions" being new every morning in verses 22-23, we can say: "the Lord is our portion".  Why? Because in taking up His provisions in the realm of daily graces, we are automatically saying that the Lord alone is enough.  

3. Rest in God. 
Note what Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 3:25 - "The Lord is good to those who wait for HimTo the person who seeks Him."
How can you tell you view something as good? When you are willing to wait upon it.  God is always good, no matter what.  Waiting on God is the equivalent of resting in God.  Often you and I never grasp how good He is until we are made to slow down and experience His goodness. To wait for God in 3:25 means to wait with the expectation that He will provide hope, namely Himself.  

May you and I partake of this recipe for hope in Lamentations 3:20-25 by Recalling God's faithfulness, Relying upon His graces and Resting in Him.  

Saturday, June 29, 2013

How the Christian church thrives amidst adversity

Revelation 1:10 "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet."

In yesterday's post we considered how the Christian church survives.  We noted that the church is able to survive because of three things spoken of in Revelation 1:9a - "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus....".  Tribulation or persecution is how the Christian church is deepened, the kingdom is how the Christian church is motivated and perseverance is the calling the church has to endure to the end.  Jesus promised in passages such as Matthew 16:18 and Paul wrote in passages such as Ephesians 4:11-12 that God's grace would equip and ensure the church's victory and incapability of ultimate defeat.  In today's post we want to consider how the church can take God's ordained "survival kit" and thrive in the midst of adversity.  In this post we will note two truths brought out by John concerning a thriving Christianity: Reliance upon God's Word and Revolving ourselves around Jesus Christ.  

The Church thrives when relying upon God's Word.  Revelation 1:10-11
We read these words in Revelation 1:11 saying, Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."  We must remember that the churches to which John wrote were under increasing persecution by the Roman Emperor Domitian. New Testament Scholar Merrill Tenney writes: Domitian was hard by nature and suspicious of rivals.  Lacking the geniality of his brother Titus, he made numerous enemies.  When their plots were discovered he was pitiless in his revenge.  The last years of his reign were a nightmare....". 1

What was Christ's words to John to get the churches to thrive amidst difficulty? Simply put: "write in a book".  Whenever the church of the Living God turns back to the Book, the Bible, that is when she thrives.  Dr. Steve Lawson, a Southern Baptist pastor and author notes: "Doing God's work God's way requires an unwavering commitment to feeding people God's Word through relentless biblical preaching and teaching."2  

Christianity in general and Baptists in particular have been known simply as "a people of the Book." Quite literally we believe that the Bible is the only Book on planet earth revealed from God and through which God speaks forth to call sinner's to repentance and saints to greater commitment.  The  Book of Revelation is one book in God's great encyclopedia of 65 other revealed "books" which when considered together equal "The Book", the Bible.  We turn to the Book of God to meet Jesus Christ, the chief subject of it.  The Christian church can only thrive when she is relying upon God's Word, but notice secondly...

The Christian Church thrives when she revolves around Jesus Christ. Revelation 1:12-16
Why is it that the church must turn to the living book of God? Because only when I turn to the scriptures can I meet and hear the voice of the Living Christ.  In Revelation 1:12-16 we see a seven-fold description of Jesus Christ in His post-resurrected, glorified state.  Commentator Steve Gregg notes: "The description of Christ in verses 13-16 is the only description the Bible gives of His features, though this (like the descriptions of Revelation 5:6; 14:14; 19:11-13) is without doubt a symbolic rather than a literal description."3

John would had been writing to churches composed of Christians from Jewish and Greek/Roman (Greco-Roman) background.  Revelation 1:13-15 employs the imagery of the Jewish Old Testament temple such as the Golden Lampstand (compare Exodus 25) and High Priestly garment with its golden sash and flowing white robe.  The imagery of Christ's head and hair "white like wool" fits the "Son of Man" vision from the Jewish prophet Daniel in Daniel 7:13.  Hence Christ is reminding those of Jewish background that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy and expectation.  In short - Jesus Christ is to be central to Jewish Christians.

To the Greco-Roman Christians who were familiar with the cult of the Emperor, Revelation 1:16 would had been startling.  Many of the symbols and pictures used in Revelation are purposefully revealed by God to combat the false pagan system of emperor worship that would had been familiar to John's readers.  For example, the coinage of those days had the image of Emperor Domitian's deceased son, sitting on a globe of heaven playing with seven stars.4  The following picture is of the coin in question:

The revelation given to John for the churches was saying that the one to be worshipped is Christ the Living Son of God, not a dead imitation.  John's readers would had recognized what John was saying.  Much like what Jesus did in using a coin to point people to the fact of His authority (Matthew 22:18-21), John most likely does the same here to unfold the Sovereign authority of Jesus Christ over His church and the world. 

Furthermore, Jesus Christ is Lord over His church and Lord over the Roman and Greek world.  No other deity exists and no other Supreme Ruler of the Cosmos exists save the One God who is revealed perfectly by the Son. Hence Jesus Christ is also the center of Greco-Roman Christian life.  Whether Greek/Roman or Jewish, Jesus Christ is central and Supreme (or should be) in the life of the church composed of both.  In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, and thus he is to be central to every Christian and every church - period!  

Application for you and I today For you and I living in this 21st century, Jesus Christ is Supreme Lord and center of life.  The historical details unfolded above provide the backdrop to the doctrinal truths of Christ's three-fold office of Priest, Prophet and King revealed throughout the Bible.  Revelation 1:12-16 uses these three offices to underscore why Jesus Christ is necessary for the church to thrive.

a. Revelation 1:12-13 underscores the fact that He is the High Priest who represents His people before the Father in Heaven. 

b. Revelation 1:14-15 uses the imagery from Daniel 7 to underscore Christ being the Prophet who reveals the Father's glory to His people by way of the scriptures here on earth.  Assumed in Christ's revelation of Himself is the co-equal activity of the Holy Spirit who makes the voice and Person of Christ known.

c. Revelation 1:16 thirdly shows Jesus Christ to be the Supreme Emperor or King over His church and creation.  By right He reigns invisibly and when He returns he will reign by fact and sight.  The truth of the "sharp two edged sword" is repeated again near the end of Revelation in Revelation 19:15.   

In order for the church at large and for Christians individually to thrive in the midst of adversity, we must rely upon the scriptures and revolve around Jesus Christ.  May the Lord be with us as we aim ourselves toward this two-fold goal.  
1. Merrill C. Tenney. New Testament Survey. WM.B Eerdmans Publishing. 1985. Page 12.  

2. Steven J. Lawson. Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching. Moody Publishers. 2003. Page 27

3. Steven Gregg. Revelation: Four Views a Parallel Commentary. Nelson. 1997. Page 59

4. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Page 45.  Dr. Walvoord in his commentary gives a great description of this coin which I find helpful and insightful. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

How the Christian church survives amidst adversity

Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

I begin today's post with a quote from late great Bible teacher, theologian and author Dr. John Walvoord, who writing on the above verse notes: "The exile of John to the Isle of Patmos is in itself a moving story of devotion to Christ crowned with suffering. This small island, rocky and forbidding in its terrain, about ten miles long and six miles wide, is located in the Agean Sea southwest of Ephesus just beyond the Island of Samos." Walvoord later on then writes: "It was in these bleak circumstances, shut off from friends and human fellowship, that John was given the most extensive revelation of future things shown to any writer of the New Testament.  Though men could circumscribe his human activities, they could not bind the Spirit of God nor the testimony of Jesus Christ."1

As you read and study the Book of Revelation, John the Apostle is given access by the Holy Spirit of God into two sets of realms and times: namely this present age and realm of men and the future time and the invisible realm.  In the Book of Revelation, both realms and times blend into one another.  At times you will be wisked far off to the end of history to witness of the Second coming of Jesus Christ, as described in Revelation 1:3-8 and other passages.  However you will also be brought back to here and now to understand how this present age and realm of men is directly affected by the ages to come and the invisible realm.  Revelation is as much a book about you and I today as Christians fighting the good fight of faith, as well as it is about the destinies of the saved, the lost, of history, of Christ's coming Kingdom and Eternity.

In today's post I want us to consider what John has to say to us about ways in which the Christian church will continue to survive.  Despite the many reports we here of Christianity's decline in our nation and the Western world in general, the Book of Revelation reminds us that faithfulness to Jesus Christ, not popularity in the culture, is the true measure of success.  Three terms are mentioned in Revelation 1:9 that detail for us the survival guide for the Christian Church today: tribulation, kingdom and perseverance. 

Christianity survives because of persecution
You read it correctly - the Christian individual and church survives because of persecution.  We know John is writing to the church at large because of the fact that the letter was to be circulated among the seven churches in Asia Minor. (Revelation 1:10-11; 2:1-3:22)  The word translated "tribulation" in Revelation 1:9 is not speaking of the future seven year period that John will write more about in Revelation 6:1-19:6 and what Jesus earlier termed "The Tribulation" or "The Great Tribulation" in Matthew 24:9,21,29.  Rather the idea of "tribulation" in Revelation 1:9 has to do with the persecutions that he and his readers were enduring under the tyrannical reign of Emporer Domitian at the end of the first century.  

Whether we speak of trials and tribulations endured under an hellish regime or the trials of health or normal everyday circumstance, scripture bears witness that Christianity can only survive when such persecution is present. Jesus notes in John 16:33 "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  Both James 1:3-4 and 1 Peter 1:6-7 explain that trials actually serve to purify and galvanize the Christian faith against weaknesses and the world.  2 Corinthians 4:18 reminds the reader that the "momentary and light afflictions" of this world, comparatively speaking, are working forth in us a true desire to strive toward our ultimate goal of being with Jesus for eternity.  Acts 14:22 states - "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  As one friend of mine once told me: growth never occurs on the mountain, but always in the valley.  So contrary to human reasoning, the Bible clearly states with that the church survives because of persecution.  As we already saw in Acts 14:22, persecution drives the Christian church to survive on striving to enter the Kingdom.  Therefore the Christian church survives negatively because of persecution and positively because of the Kingdom.

The Christian Church survives because of the Kingdom
John writes in Revelation 1:9 "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom ...".  The Kingdom of God is God's reign and realm expressed over and among His people.  Wherever God's reign and realm are, there is His Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God in one respect is general, eternal and everywhere, since there is not one square inch of creation that is not touched by His Sovereign reign. (Psalm 102; 145:13; 147:5; Matthew 6:9-13)  There is a second way that the Kingdom is described, namely by Jesus Himself as being the Mediator of it, in bring His Father's invisible Heavenly purposes to bear here on this earth. (Matthew 4:17) The church is not the entirety of the kingdom, but rather functions as the foyer of the Kingdom, the "front porch" into which true believers experience the wider blessings of Kingdom life.  The Kingdom of God is also that which is coming, meaning that what is mainly invisible and heavenly will soon be visible and earthly. (Titus 2:13; Revelation 19:7-21)  God's unlimited power exercised by the Son over His church ensures the church's continuing survival. (Matthew 16:18; 28:18-20) Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:33 "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." What things? Things you and I worry about or wonder whether or not God will come through and complete.  If you and I had an inkling of who we are and Whose we are in Christ, we would not worry near as much. (Philippians 4:6-9) We discover in Romans 14:17 "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."  This Kingdom element for Christian living is positive because of the Spirit's continual provision of power to live it. Consider these words from Colossians 3:2-3 "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is,seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." The church survives because of persecution - a negative, and it survives because of its kingdom relationship - a positive.  Just as a battery has positive and negative ends to produce electric current, God has ordained both the "positive" and "negatives" of persecution and the Kingdom to promote growth and life in His people.  But notice thirdly how the Christian church will continue to survive...

The Christian church survives because of endurance for the kingdom and under persecution
John writes in Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus."  I underlined that phrase "in Jesus" to remind the reader that no Christian persecution, positive kingdom blessing or effort to endure occurs outside of Jesus Christ.  As one sign I saw one time reads: "God's grace will never lead you where that same grace will not sustain you." When John wrote what he wrote, he identified himself as a "fellow partaker" in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance. The Greek word translated by "perseverance" could just be as easily translated "endurance".  The wonderful Greek Scholar W.E Vine writes concerning the meaning of this word: "it denotes to abide under, to bear up courageously (under suffering)." 2  John was not addressing his readers in pleasure but pain.  Not amidst delights but underneath extreme duress. Despite the uncertainty around John, within John was nothing but certainty.  We read in Philippians 3:13-14 that we are to "forget what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead", pressing onward to God's upward call in Christ Jesus.  Jude wrote his short little book and expressed in Jude 3 the reason: "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."  The Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 4:19 "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right."

The Christian church as a whole and Christians in particular can expect to survive regardless of current circumstances because of three truths revealed in Revelation 1:9: Persecution, The Kingdom and Endurance. 

1. Dr. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Moody Press. Page 41

2. W.E. Vine. Expository Dictionary on New Testament Words. Fleming H. Revell Company. 1966. Page 29 in Volume 2.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summarizing Top Bible Prophecies

Revelation 19:10 "Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

Over a period of time we have looked at key texts that unfold key themes and purposes of God's prophetic program in scripture.  We have termed such scriptures: "Top Bible Prophecies".  A Top Bible prophecy is characterized by its scope of coverage of time and the future, its depiction of God's glory, the number of other scriptures connected to it and the clarity we gain about the Christian identity.  Today I want to tie all of the top Bible prophecies together by attempting to offer a summary explanation of each with a concluding section on the five purposes of prophecy that we gain from these texts.  

Briefly Summarizing Top Bible Prophecies

1. Genesis 3:15 The Seed Promise
We began considering the first mention of the Gospel in the Bible, as well as the first example of predictive prophecy: Genesis 3:15.  The most important word in the text is the word "seed", a term that points ultimately to God's plan of salvation as seen in other texts such as God's words to Noah in Genesis 6:9.  The next top Bible Prophecy, Genesis 12:1-7, also includes this word "seed" and exhibits God's clarifying of His plan of salvation to being also His promise.

2. Genesis 12:1-7 God's Covenant with Abraham
From Genesis 3:15 to 12:1 is roughly 2,000 years period of time and 20 generations of humanity stretching from Adam to Noah and then from Noah's Son Shem to Abram.  God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and began to reveal to him the Promise of salvation.  Not only would God bring forth a specific "seed" from Abram, but God also promised at least two other promises: a land for Abram's descendants and blessing upon every tribe and nation of the earth due to the Promise.  This three-fold cord of land, seed and blessing would weave its way throughout the rest of scripture and through the next two top Bible Prophecies: Deuteronomy 30 and 2 Samuel 7:8-16.

3. Deuteronomy 30 The Promised Land
470 years after God first spoke to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, we find Moses and the second generation of Israelites which he led encamped on the plains of Moab East of the Jordon.  God's word to Abraham of a land promise back in Genesis 12:7 would eventually become fulfilled partially whenever the Israelites would nearly conquer the land of Canaan under Joshua's leadership in the Book of Joshua.  Despite living in the land and at times having possession of the land in large portions, historically Israel never had full-possession of the promised land.  If we take Deuteronomy 30 seriously, we can only conclude that the prophecy spoken has a future fulfillment at Christ's return.  

4. 2 Samuel 7:8-16 A shepherd and The King
From the days of Moses in Deuteronomy 30 until David's day in 2 Samuel 7 we cover over 400 years of time.  The "land" portion of Abraham's covenant back in Genesis 12:7 was spelled out in Deuteronomy 30, which meant the need to spell out further the promise of a "seed".  God's Covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:8-16 serves to amplify the "seed" promise, unfolding the truths of a royal bloodline extending from David to a second truth, the Ultimate descendant being none other than Jesus Christ.  A shepherd David was called to be King and would be used by virtue of his bloodline to be the means by which the Great Shepherd would arrive into this world.  That same Great Shepherd would give His life and raise from the dead and ascend into heaven.  That same Descendant of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, will return to take up His physical throne in Jerusalem to begin the physical part of His 1,000 year reign over His people and the earth.  

5. Psalm 110 
Psalm 110 is termed a "top Bible prophecy" by virtue of the fact it is the most quoted Old Testament scripture in the New Testament.  Psalm 110 explains how God's Covenant with David would lead Christ, and how God's Covenant with David was not just with David as it was with His own Son in eternity.  Often God will replay Eternal events and truths that He worked out within Himself by way of historic covenants.

6. Isaiah 53
As much as top Bible Prophecies cover the glories of the future surrounding Christ's second coming and conquering reign, some top Bible Prophecies also predict the sufferings of His first coming.   This prophecy tells of not only details leading up to Christs death, but it even details his death by crucifixion, a form of torture that would be invented over 300 years after Isaiah's writing and perfected by Jesus' day.

7. Jeremiah 31:31-33 The New Covenant
By reading Jeremiah's prediction of the New Covenant in concert with Hebrews 8:7-13, we come to discover the power God was going to provide for the faith-walk in a spiritual sense for believers in this age and for Israel physically in the age to come.  The New Covenant promises and prophecies serve to amplify the "blessing" portion of God's covenant with Abraham way back in Genesis 12:1-7.  For this blogger, it would appear that Genesis 12:1-7 is the theological and spiritual center of Old Testament revelation and all of the major themes leading up to the New Testament.  In a sense then, the New Covenant is a "re-echoing" of God's Covenant with Abraham that would be fulfilled and made available by Jesus Christ to all Jew and Gentiles who would by grace through faith believe on Him.  

8. Daniel 9:24-27 The Bible's greatest prophecy
The final "top Bible prophecy" of this series is the most far reaching in that it covers three main truths about God's Sovereignty, Christ's cross and Christ's second coming.  God's calendar for history is the nation of Israel as it pertains to the first and second comings of Christ. Through Daniel God predicted a 490 year prescribed period of time for the nation of Israel and really the world at large.  The first 49 of those years would cover the rebuilding of Jerusalem from the exile to the end of the Old Testament.  The second block of  434 years would stretch from the days of Malachi to the death of Christ.  Since the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, God's calendar for Israel has been put on hold in order to give room for Gentiles to be called and drawn to saving faith. (Romans 11:1-24) Such an action by God has not revoked any of His plans to restore Israel, since their remains one final 7 year period for Israel to be fulfilled.  That final seven year period called by Jesus and others "The Tribulation", will be used by God to purify Israel, call sinners to salvation and to prepare the earth for wrath before His return.  Daniel closes as a closed book or a padlock of sorts, with the Book of Revelation functioning as the key.  It is in Revelation 6-19 we find the full unfolding of Daniel's 70th week or last seven year period of time.  Thankfully, the Lord Jesus Christ will have the final word.  

Five Purposes of Prophecy gained from these texts
1. To clarify God's present and future purposes
Genesis 3:15 begins with a general statement about "the seed of the woman", with Genesis 12:7 and the New Testament clarifying by prophecy that the "Seed" would initially be Israel and ultimately Jesus Christ.  Prophecy throughout the Bible progressively clarifies in sharper and sharper detail God's present and future purposes.

2. To correct sin.  Prophecy was confrontational in that it aimed to correct sin.  Daniel was praying and confessing the sins of his nation and God revealed in Daniel 9:24-27 about the prescribed time God was going to use to bring the nation of Israel to repentance at the appearing of her Messiah.  Prophecy performs this corrective function by warning of future wrath and giving insight into the human heart. 

3. To comfort the saints.  The New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:7-13 brings great comfort to the saints.  Prophecy demonstrates that the Christian life will succeed because of God's doing and grace. (Philippians 1:6) Prophecies such as the New Covenant ensure that all true believers in this present age and for Israel at Christ's appearing will endure and have power to live for Him.  

4. To Predict the future. Prophecy certainly addresses current situations but it also predicts of things to come.  All of the Top Bible Prophecies are marked by predictions of things near to the author as well as events that have yet to take place.  

5. To point to Jesus Christ.  Every single one of the top Bible Prophecies we looked at pointed in some fashion to Jesus Christ.  The first four purposes of Bible prophecies serve this final purpose: point to Jesus.  Revelation 19:10 reminds us that the testimony of Jesus Christ is the Spirit of prophecy.  Jesus Himself reminded His disciples in Luke 24:44 that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms point to Him.  This entire study has aimed to point the reader to the soon return of Jesus Christ.  May you be blessed dear reader and be made more hungry for the study of His word and the hastening of His Soon return.