Friday, January 31, 2014

Why Jesus declared war on Satan

Luke 3:38-4:1  3:38 "the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness."

The main concern of today's post is discovering why Jesus came to declare war on Satan. Luke 4 will be the main text of this lesson. We will note the following headings as we attempt to answer the question: why Jesus declared war on Satan?

1. Defeat Satan as the New Adam. Lk 4:1-13
2. Deliver people from bondage. Lk 4:14-41
3. Declare the Gospel. Lk 4:42-44

Defeat Satan as the New Adam. Lk 4:1-13
In the opening verses of today's post, you may notice that one chapter is ending and another is beginning.  As the Holy Ghost superintended Luke's writing of his Gospel, He arranged to have Jesus' genealogy go all the way back to Adam and take the reader right into the beginning of Jesus' temptation by Satan. Such a curious feature alerts the reader to the fact that side by side we see Old Adam (Lk 3:38) and Jesus the "New Adam". The New Testament picks up this theme of Jesus Christ being the "New Adam" or the "second Adam" to show that He came to be the head of a redeemed humanity composed of those choice saints who have freely believed on Him as Savior and Lord. (Romans 5:11-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 42-49).  

Jesus acted as the New Adam and did what Adam could never do: successfully defeat Satan toe to toe. Whenever you see the genealogy prefacing the temptation account, you discover that over 70 generations of humanity represented one rusted link after another - marked by failure, sin and defeat.  Adam failed to defeat Satan in Genesis 3, as well as Abraham in his temptation (Genesis 12:10-11); Isaac in his (Genesis 26); Israel in the book of Numbers and King David in his temptation in 2 Samuel 11. From the corrosive sea of history the Holy Spirit displays the rusted chain of humanity, and on the one end is Old Adam, and on the other end is a golden link - The sinless New Adam, Jesus Christ.

According to 1 John 2:15-17, Satan's three primary weapons are the lust of eyes (2:16), the flesh (2:16) and the boasting about what one has (2:16). Satan did to Jesus what he did to Adam and his wife: he tempted in the realm of the drives, the senses or the lust of the eyes (Luke 4:1-4). Next Satan appealed to Jesus much like Adam in the realm of the visual, of the heart, or the boastful pride of life by showing him all the kingdoms of the world. (Luke 4:5-8) Then Satan appealed to Jesus like he did Adam by the lust of the flesh, the reliance of self by tempting Jesus to cast himself to the floor of the temple. (Luke 4:9-13) All three of these temptations overlapped and intertwined like newly woven ropes.  Would Satan be able to tie up Jesus like he had with the other great but sinful men of the past? Thankfully not.  Jesus was sinless, they were sinful.  Despite being in a barren wasteland in contrast to Old Adam's idyllic settings in Genesis 3, Jesus the New Adam soundly defeated Satan. Jesus as God in human flesh warred with Satan and won this first of many battles.  However there was to be further warfare, which leads us to the second reason why Jesus came to declare war on Satan, namely....

Deliver people from bondage. Lk 4:14-41
It is astonishing to consider the number of references in the four Gospels regarding Jesus' battles and warfare with Satan and the demonic realm.  Why? Why did Jesus need to wage war against Satan and the demonic realm? The New Testament epistles explain that He came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and to deliver people from bondage underneath the Devil's tyranny of fear (Hebrews 2:14-15). 

As Jesus began to teach and preach in the local Jewish meeting houses or synagogues of his day, the first sermon ever preached by Him is recorded.  In Luke 4:18 we see Jesus explaining why it is He came to wage war on the kingdom of darkness from His quotation of Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed." Following His dramatic reading and announcement of His fulfillment of that text, it is clear that the people's violent reaction shows that what He said was radical.

However what happens next in Luke 4:30-41 is truly astonishing.  Prior to the advent of Jesus as God in human flesh, no recorded successful exorcism has ever occurred. You can comb the entire Old Testament and not find one instance of any prophet casting out a demon.  However, we find two successful exorcisms performed by Jesus in Luke 4. (Luke 4:33-37; 4:41) Something indeed had been altered as a result of Jesus' coming.  A new era was dawning.  Truly Jesus' waging of war on Satan and the Kingdom of darkness was no empty threat.  Like a mighty iceberg crawling atop the surface of a mighty tract of land that clears away the terrain, Jesus' walk across the bridge of time meant the pushing back of Satan's tyranny and the diminishing of the kingdom of darkness. 

However there is one more reason why Jesus came to declare war on Satan, namely..

Declare the Gospel. Lk 4:42-44
Jesus Himself  says plainly in Luke 4:43 "But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” What was the outcome of Jesus' declaration? Note Luke 4:44 "So He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea." The battle was fought and won by Jesus for our sake.  The church's main task is to continue what Jesus came to do in declaring war on Satan: declare the Gospel, preaching wherever the lost are at and set people free from the tyranny of the evil one. (compare Acts 26:18;  2 Timothy 2:1-4).

The main concern of today was to discover why Jesus came to declare war on Satan. We will noted the following reasons
1. Defeat Satan as the New Adam. Lk 4:1-13
2. Deliver people from bondage. Lk 4:14-41
3. Declare the Gospel. Lk 4:42-44

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A short, practical overview of the Book of Acts

Acts 1:1 "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach."
Book: Acts of the Apostles

Author: Luke. A co-worker with the Apostle Paul and author of the Gospel of Luke.

Personal information concerning the author as found in the book: The book of Acts is Luke's second volume, with the Gospel of Luke being the first. It is written to Theophilus, the same recipient as the Gospel.

Theme: The Person of the Holy Spirit at work in the church to accomplish Christ's great commission.

Key Verse: Acts 1:8

Outline: Acts 1-2 The birth of the church by the Spirit
             Acts 3-8 The mission to Jerusalem
             Acts 9-12 The mission to Samaria
             Acts 13-28 The mission to the 
             uttermost parts of the earth.

Three Promises of God found in the book:
1. The Person and power of the Spirit has come. (Acts 2)

2. Christ will return just as He ascended, in physical, bodily, post-resurrected, glorified form. (Acts 1:11-14)

3. The church is able to reach unbelievers and make disciples by the power of Christ, the Person of the Spirit and the preaching of the scriptures. (Acts 2-8; 9-12; 13-28).

Three commands of God found in the book:
1. "Wait for what the Father had promised" Acts 1:4

2. "You shall be my witnesses..." Acts 1:8

3. "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved...." Acts 16:31

One thing I learned about:
God the Father. The Father has promised and sent the Spirit in the name of the Son.

Jesus Christ. He is the resurrected, ascended, enthroned King in heaven over His church who will return at the end of this age. He operates in a more profound and exalted way as the Post-Pentecost Jesus, retaining His humanity but displaying more of His Deity by the agency of the Holy Spirit through the church by the scriptures. 

The Holy Spirit. He is found roughly 40 times in the the book of Acts. He is the illuminator, empoweror and pointer to Christ. He calls, converts and applies Christ's achieved work and ensures the completion of the church's mission.

What does God want  me to do? (one specific measurable goal?)
Read and study the Book of Acts more this upcoming year. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The need to wait on The Holy Spirit

Acts 1:1-2 "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen."

We find reference to the Holy Spirit some 40 times in the book of Acts.  In this post today we aim to understand the Spirit's purposes in leading us to wait.  Acts 1:1-2 tells us that "after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen". Acts 1:3-8 proceeds to tell us what Jesus told his apostles and followers to do from the time He ascended until the Holy Spirit came - namely wait. The word "wait" is a word we Christians often do not like to hear.  We often equate "waiting" with "inactivity".  However there are times in seasons of waiting that the Lord will pour into us insights that will empower us to do His bidding.  Notice the two purposes of waiting here in Acts 1:3-8

The Spirit has us to wait for the purposes of illumination. Acts 1:3
Notice what Acts 1:3 states - "To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God."  Christian conversion is a work wrought by the Spirit of God whereby He shows Jesus to you. The Christian life following conversion is all about the Spirit of God making Jesus known in you.  By the agency of the Holy Spirit, Jesus in His physical, post-resurrection state illuminated his chosen apostles to truths hither-to-fore unrealized by them.  

They got to know Jesus in His post-resurrection power and appearances and gained greater insight about God's kingdom.  The Old Covenant era had been legally drawn to a close at the cross, however what was legally accomplished at the cross needed to be applied in the realm of their hearts and minds by the Spirit. It would be in Acts 2 that the New Covenant age would be ushered in by the full-manifestation of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The disciples were getting a "down-load" from the post-resurrected Jesus of all they would need for the New Covenant church age that was dawning upon them.  

Waiting is prescribed by the Spirit to illuminate us.  1 Corinthians 2:12 "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God". Ephesians 1:18 has Paul praying: "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." The Apostle John writes about the illuminating work of the Spirit in 1 John 2:27 "As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him." Now notice a second reason why the Spirit has us to wait...

The Spirit has us to wait for purposes of empowerment. Acts 1:4-8
As the Spirit of God has the believer to be in a holding pattern, illumination to new truths or already known truths from the word is certainly one purpose.  However its not just about information but transformation. Acts 1:4-5 states - "Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 

In those seasons of waiting there will be a time where we wonder about the purpose in the waiting.  I have heard many Christians and even myself say something to the effect: "well lets get this over with, I want to learn whatever God has to show me quickly so that I can then move forward once again." In waiting, God will illuminate, and then He will grow silent and do a deeper work of empowering.  

The disciples said to Jesus in Acts 1:6-7 "So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority."  They were ready for another theology lesson.  However Jesus' whole point in gathering them by His Spirit was just for instruction, but empowerment.

From the time Jesus would ascend into the sky before their very eyes until the Holy Spirit would come in full power would be ten days.  Until He came, the disciples were to keep on waiting in the upper room. From what we can tell, their waiting time was not one of complete inactivity.  In that time God had them united in one mind and purpose to the point where they were continually praying. (Acts 1:12-14) Evidently Peter and the remaining disciples concluded by examination of the scriptures that a twelfth man needed to be chosen to replace the traitor Judas. (1:15-23) Such an activity led to further praying and further seeking until the answer was made known. (1:24-26)

Unless the disciples and early Christians had waited, they would not had been ready.  God "scooped them out" in that waiting time in order to fill them and empower them to do His bidding in Acts 2.  As you walk the rest of the way through the Book of Acts, we see the Apostles preaching nearly 20 sermons and multiple outpourings of the Spirit's power on his people.  Such seasons of empowerment were the only explanation as to why the church was able to advance as far as she had. 

Conclusion: It pays heed the Spirit's call to "wait"
Imagine what would had happened if those early Christians had ignored Jesus' instructions by the Spirit to "wait". There would had been no illumination, no empowerment. By the Spirit's empowerment, what began as a small gathering of 120 people in an upper room exploded into the movement and phenomenon called the early church. In a span of nearly 30 years, the Gospel had come to blanket Europe and a large portion of Asia minor by the end of the Book of Acts.  The Holy Spirit will lead you and I into those seasons of waiting not to put us on the shelf, but to position us to do greater and more effective works than we could ever think or imagine on our own. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Yes dear friend, tithing is still for today

Malachi 3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows."

In today's post we will explore what is perhaps the most often confused aspect of the discussion over tithing and stewardship - namely: should Christians tithe?

Meet the Bible's first tithers

A quick survey of the entire Bible reveals that three closely related terms are used to describe the act of tithing.  We find the term "first fruits" (for crops) or "firstlings" (for animals) used over 30 times; the term "tenth" used in giving situations almost 25 times and the word "tithe" used 40 times.  Three ancient believers mentioned in Genesis could be termed "the Bible's first tithers".

The first is Abel. In Genesis 4:4 "Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering." Quite literally, God decided to bless Abel for the fact he had brought the "first" or the "best" to God.  The principle of first fruits or firstling is connected to "tithing" in passages such as Deuteronomy 18:4,12,21,24. 

Genesis 14:20 is where we see the second tither, Abraham.  This passage is significant being that it is the first mention of the term "tithe" in the Bible. God gave Abraham a mighty victory over the confederation of the five kings of Chedorlaomer. As Abraham returns from battle, he meets the mysterious figure Melchizedek, whom according to Psalm 110 and Hebrews 5-7 is none other than a pre-incarnate (before the flesh) appearance of Jesus Christ. As Melchizedek blesses Abraham, we read in Genesis 14:18-20 "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. (19) He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; (20) And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all." There we see Abram giving Melechizedek, Who is Christ in disguise, a tenth of the spoils of victory. 

The third tither in the early Biblical record is Abraham's grandson Jacob. Genesis 28:22 reads: "This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” Just as his grandfather before him, Jacob had "believed God and it was credited to Him as righteousness" (compare Genesis 15:6). Undoubtedly we can say that Genesis 28 marks Jacob's conversion.  What is one of the first-fruits that a change has occurred in Jacob's life? How he views his possessions! It is in this text where we see the word "tenth" used, which is the exact meaning of the word "tithe" and of course is associated with the term "first-fruits".  All three of these early "tithers" are significant being that they establish God's pattern for giving hundreds of years before the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.

Following tithing throughout the Bible
As you read through scripture, the particular word "tithe" or "tithing" occurs more than forty times. The last time we find it mentioned in the Old Testament is in Malachi 3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows." Now many well-meaning Christians assume that tithing was nothing more than an Old Testament regulation, given by God under the period of the Law. Often I have heard Christians say that since we are no longer under law but under grace, that means we can now give whatever we want, since tithing went away once Christ had died on the cross.

Is that true? Did Jesus' death, burial and resurrection do away with the standard of tithing? Whenever studying both the Old and New Testaments, unless God has either removed or replaced a given institution or command, we can assume that the command or institution carries forth from Old to New Testament.

For example, the Levitical priesthood was done away with when Christ came, since His priesthood is of a different order. (Hebrews 7-10) We also don't sacrifice animals due to the fact that Christ's subsitutionary death satisfied the wrath of God against the sins of those who receive His work by grace through faith. (1 Peter 3:18)

Now whenever we come to the New Testament, we discover not one prohibition against tithing. The standard of 10% was ordained by God some 400 or so years before the giving of the law. Abel, Abraham and Jacob were tithing millennia before Christ and centuries before the giving of the law. The law of God served to reinforce the standard, however when Christ came, the standard was never removed nor replaced.

In studying the over 100 passages that speak on the subject of stewardship and tithing, here is what we discover:

1. A person is free to give whatever they want (offering) only after they have been already tithing.

2. Tithing represents the most basic level of stewardship, the ground floor if you will. Whenever we begin to tithe is whenever we begin to hear God in the realm of giving.

3. Wherever the believer is told to give freely as to whatever amount He feels necessary to give, it can be assumed that the believer has already been tithing. (2 Corinthians 9:6-10)

The Bible's final mention of tithing
Remember where we first met the word tithing? Recall Abraham in Genesis 14 as the first recorded tither? In this blogger's mind, the main proof we have that tithing is still the basic standard undergirding the New Testament teaching of Biblical stewardship is found in Hebrews 7:5-10, the final mention of the concept in the Bible: "And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. 6 But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. 7 But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him."

Five times is the word "tenth" or "tithe" or "tithes" used in this New Testament text! Furthermore, the final mention of tithing in the Bible connects to the first mention! Thirdly, we who have believed on Jesus Christ are considered children of Abraham by faith (Romans 4:16). Fourthly, Christ, who lives today, received a tithe from Abraham. (Hebrews7:8) Fifthly, in a chapter like Hebrews 7, wherein the writer is showing how Christ is superior to all of the Old Testament Jewish institutions, he never once shows tithing to be abolished!

With the validity of tithing established throughout scripture, what can we conclude? Should Christians tithe? Yes, and here is why: First, tithing was instituted pre-law, hence it is a standard that was not abolished despite the doing way of the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law. Second, the New Testament never one time shows tithing as being either prohibited, replaced or removed from the Christian's responsibility of stewardship. Thirdly, tithing is the standard established by God as the starting point for stewardship. Then finally, Hebrews 7 reveals that tithing is still mentioned in the New Testament, not abolished, and thus there is no reason to prohibit Christians from tithing.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Justified! Accepted by God! - Zechariah 3

Zechariah 3:1-2 "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”

What does it mean to be justified by faith? The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 offers this definition: "Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God." Justification is by nature a legal declaration made by God to the sinner at saving faith: "Not Guilty!" "Accepted by God!" In justification the sinner is credited with Christ's righteousness that was lived and paid for in His death on the cross.  Such an exchange of one's righteousness in place of another is what Bible teachers call "imputation".  On the cross there was not just one, but two exchanges made.  2 Corinthians 5:21 states: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 

Did Christ become a sinner on the cross? No. However God treated Christ as if He was the chief of sinners. Likewise at saving faith is a sinner made actually, perfectly righteous? No. Yet God deems such a person to be "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned or stated positively "just-as-if-I'd" always obeyed.  Such a declaration on God's part is not legal fiction or God saying something that is not true. We are the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ by position. Other realities that describe our relational standing (adoption) and connection to Christ (union) are connected to God's judicial declaration of justification.  This truth is taught from Genesis to Revelation and is truly, in the words of Martin Luther, the article upon which the church stands or falls. 

To ensure that the truth of justification by faith does not remain in the realm of the abstract, scripture assigns various people and events in the Old Testament in providing concrete illustrations for what is unfolded further in the New Testament.  Every doctrine taught in the New Testament has at least one Old Testament event or person that can be used to illustrate that teaching. In today's post we want to look particularly at a man by the name of Joshua the High Priest who was in desperate need of being declared accepted by God. To walk our way through Zechariah 3 we will employ the following headings in relation to the above discussion on justification:

1. Justification's basis  - Zechariah 3:1-2
2. Justification's reception - Haggai 1:12
3. Justification's declarations - Zech 3:3-10

The reader may note in the course of this post that we will be appealing to the Books of Haggai and Ezra.  Both of those books occurred at the same time as Zechariah's book, and so aid greatly in unfolding the rich truths found in Zechariah 3.

Justification's basis: God.
In Zechariah 3:1-2 we see two possible references to the two Persons of the Godhead - the Father and the Son.  We know that scripture declares that God is One in essence and three in identity. Two of the three Persons are being alluded to here in Zechariah 3:1-2. In Zechariah 3:1 we see the Angel of the Lord in Whose presence Joshua the High Priest is standing.  Over 15 occasions in the Old Testament mention the Angel of the Lord.  Without engaging in lengthy discourse, we will simply say that the Angel of the Lord in Zechariah is a Pre-incarnate appearance of the Son.  He is defending Joshua before the prosecuting Satan.  The Eternal Son is always at work defending His people.  Without a doubt the Son in Zechariah 3 knew that He would become incarnate once walking across the bridge of time through the virgin birth.  His then future work on the cross, and Joshua's trust and reliance upon the Old Testament promises predicting such are applied by the Son even in this text.  So we can see the first basis or ground of justification - the Son's saving work.

However notice a second basis - the Father's Sovereign choice.  We read in Zechariah 3:2 that Jerusalem was His "chosen" city, and Joshua the High Priest was the "brand plucked from the fire". Joshua had done nothing to merit the Father's choosing.  He was no more useful than a burnt, charred wooden stirring stick used to stir a fire. The Father's Sovereign choice, rooted totally in His loving prerogatives, snatched Joshua from the flames of judgment. Truly the eternal character of salvation is rooted in what the Baptist Faith & Message calls "God's elective purpose of grace". Romans 9:14-15 reminds us that God has mercy upon whom He was mercy and compassion upon whom He has compassion. God's Sovereign choice is to be credited as to why anyone believes and man's sinful unbelief and freedom to reject is why anyone fails to respond to the Gospel. Only God could design a salvation wherein there is no conflict between His Sovereign choice and man's freely given choice of Jesus Christ. It is plain here that this dual ground for justification is necessary, since salvation has to be planned and paid for before it can be applied.  All in all, we can say then that justification's basis is God, however notice secondly...

Justification's reception is by faith alone
Haggai, a prophet contemporary with Zechariah, describes Joshua and others in Haggai 1:12 "Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people,obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the Lord." Let the reader note the underlined words: "obeyed the voice of the Lord". This obedience upon Joshua's part signals the presence of true saving faith already operating in his life.  Such faith is described in Romans 1:5 as the "obedience of faith" or "the obedience that comes from faith". Lest the reader think we are dispensing away with the necessity of human responsibility in salvation, nothing could be further from the truth.  The gifting of faith from Christ is what becomes the believer's faith and trust in Christ at salvation.  A person who is justified by faith has truly, genuinely and freely trusted in Jesus Christ.  Faith is the means of receiving justification, while God of course is the basis. Only when that person has trusted, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ will justification be applied. Romans 4:3 plainly says about Abraham: "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness".  

No doubt, what follows through the remainder of Zechariah 3 is due to the fact that Joshua had trusted by grace through faith in the redemptive promises of God, like Abraham.  The reception of justification is faith alone. The basis of justification is the Father's Sovereign choice and the Son's saving work. But notice thirdly...

Justification's declarations. Zechariah 3:3-10
As we peer briefly into Joshua's life, we discover how much he was in need of being accepted by God or justified.  We know that his father and family had went into exile.  We also know that upon their return to Jerusalem, some of Joshua's relatives had to be released from their priesthood due to lack of evidence for their lineage and fitness to serve.  In the book of Ezra, we read of the fear and threats Joshua had to endure from outside enemies and inside his heart. (Ezra 3:3; 4:4; 5:2) Joshua served as a representative before the people and his own life and righteousness was found wanting.  

However notice his posture in this heavenly vision: he is "standing before the Angel of the Lord." In other words, because of justification, Joshua is accepted before God for the sake of the Son.  The following declarations issued by God to Joshua are echoed in the New Testament regarding what takes place in justification:

1. Right standing. Zechariah 3:3-4; Romans 5:1-2
We see the Angel of the Lord Divinely declaring that Joshua's filthy garments be removed and exchanged for clean robes.  Romans 5:1-2 states - "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God."

2. Right relationship. Zechariah 3:5-7; Galatians 3:24-26
Next we see a second declaration wherein the prophet himself is echoing what is undoubtedly a Divine declaration to put a clean turban on Joshua's head.  That turban stood for Joshua's office, thus he not only had right standing, but right relationship with God.  A High priest under the law could only enter into the most holy place once a year.  However in this context, the heavenly temple grants in grace unlimited access and relationship.  Galatians 3:24-26 states - "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus."

3. Right representation. Zechariah 3:8-10; 1 John 2:1
Then Zechariah closes out this chapter by noting how in front of Joshua sits a mysterious stone that we know from other scriptures symbolizes the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:9ff; Revelation 5:6) 1 John 2:1 tells us - "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.'

We have walked our way through Zechariah 3 in an attempt to understand the idea of justification or acceptance with God.  We noted first of all that justification's basis is God.  The Father's Sovereign choice and the Son's saving work operate as the basis.  Then secondly, the means of receiving justification is faith alone.  Joshua evidenced saving faith by virtue of the obedience that issues forth from such faith.  Abraham and every believer justified in Old and New Testament is credited with Christ's righteousness apart from their good works at saving faith. Then finally, justification's declarations include right standing, relationship and representation. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

P2 4 impossible areas made possible

Ephesians 4:1 "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called."

Introduction & review from yesterday's post
Yesterday we began looking at 4 impossible areas that are made possible by the Person and power of the Holy Spirit.  We noted two of them and will note two more in today's post:
1. Salvation
2. Ministry
3. Family
4. Life

When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians church, his circumstances would be considered by most to be impossible. He was chained to a Roman soldier, under house arrest in Rome. At the time he wrote his letters to not only to Ephesus, but also Phillipi, Colosse and to Philemon, there was some uncertainty as to how his situation was ultimately going to turn out.  The odds were stacked against Paul and yet he did the impossible.  He wrote inerrant letters by the Spirit's Divine inspiration.  He urged his readers to consider their inheritance (Ephesians), press onto maturity in Christ (Colossians), be joyful (Philippians) and exercise forgiveness (Philemon). Paul did the impossible by the power of the Holy Spirit.  As we continue on in this theme, we will once again rely mainly on the book of Ephesians. Note the two other impossible areas that are made possible by the Holy Spirit.

The Christian family is impossible without the Power of the Holy Spirit
As one journeys into Ephesians 4 & 5, we see further mentioning of the Holy Spirit.  Christians are warned not to grieve Him, but to cultivate a rich relationship with Him by practicing forgiveness and love in relationships with others. (Ephesians 4:30-32)  Ephesians 5:18 gives us one of the most important commands in scriptures: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit." In salvation, the believer gets all of the Holy Spirit they are ever going to receive by way of His indwelling their human spirit (innermost being). (1 Corinthians 2:12) However the issue remains through the rest of the Christian life of the Spirit getting more and more of the believer to submit under His influence, leading and control. To be filled with the Spirit has to do with submitting under His leading through repeated Christian obedience.  Spirit-filled living carries with it the blessings of empowerment to achieve extraordinary things that are otherwise impossible in the flesh. (compare Romans 8:1-5)  

It is no accident that following the command to be filled or under the influence of the Spirit's control, we find immediate areas of application.  Certainly church life is one of those areas (5:19-21).  But now what composes the local church? Families.  Hence we see the two main areas that make up the Christian family: marriage (5:22-33) and children (6:1-6).  

A Godly, Christ-centered marriage cannot be possible unless the Holy Spirit is the One in control.  
To love one's wife like Christ loves the church is not possible in the domain of human love.  Unless the husband has given himself to prayer, humility and the scripture, he will not be able to achieve the commands given by Paul.  Likewise the wife too must be Spirit-filled in order to not merely submit out of duty, but out of delight.  The husbands' love is primary and is what regulates and encourages the wife's voluntary submission.  When the Holy Spirit is filling both spouses, Christ will never be more present or sensed than when such conditions are present. 

Parents and children need to be filled with the Holy Spirit  
Raising up of children with Christian conviction in this 21st century age requires more than what parents can give. As a father of four children myself, my wife and I are keenly aware of the demands.  We have two teenagers, an 8 year old and a pre-schooler.  It is more than fair to say that lest the Spirit be empowering and filling us daily, we will not be able to exercise the patience and soundness of mind needed to guide our children through their development.  Likewise too, children who are converted unto Christ must learn what it means to be Spirit filled, since their obedience is commanded in the context. (Ephesians 6:1). Unless parents model such a conviction, they can run the risk of exasperating their children and thus violating the instruction given in Ephesians 6:4.  

So we have seen thus far that salvation, ministry and the Christian family are impossibilities apart from the Holy Spirit.  There is one more impossible area that requires the Holy Spirit's power, namely....

The Christian-life is impossible without the Holy Spirit
As the reader scans through Ephesians 6:7-10 and 6:11-24, two general areas of the Christian-life can be noted: the work place and spiritual warfare. 

The Christian employee and employer need to be Spirit-filled
Again the whole point of this two-part series has been to aid the reader in identifying areas that are impossible to do in human strength, and see that only by the Spirit's empowerment can such areas be deemed possible. 

Ephesians 6:7-8 and 6:9 deal in the respective areas of what would had been slaves and masters in the setting of first century Roman culture. Slavery in the first century was different from the more familiar, brutality that was exercised during the 19th century, Civil War period.  Though there were excesses and abuses in the first century, oftentimes slaves would have it better than so-called "free-men".  Slaves often had trades and even had the option of being adopted by slave owners.  It was not-uncommon for masters to bequeath their wealth to slaves upon their death.

In looking at Ephesians 6:7-9 we can apply the principles of slaves regarding their masters and masters taking care of their slaves to what is necessary in the work place.  A Spirit-filled Christian employee can be a blessing to his boss or business owner, being that he is all about pleasing His Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1) The same type of logic can be applied in the other direction concerning a Spirit-filled employer's treatment of employees. The Christian-life in general is often no more tested than in the work place.  Without the Spirit's empowerment, Christian employees and employers will not be able to bring glory to Jesus Christ.  

Spiritual warfare requires the Christian to be Spirit-filled
Likewise the second main area of the Christian-life, spiritual warfare, undoubtedly requires the Spirit's power.  Passages such as 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 remind the reader that our warfare is not with flesh and blood.  The warfare of the Christian is not a conventional warfare.  The forces of darkness are at work against the church.  As Paul wrote these words, he undoubtedly was directed by the Spirit to gaze upon that Roman soldier to whom he was chained.  The full-length description of the spiritual armor matches what would had been standard issue Roman armory. Truly the Christian life is a call to arms. We are called to live the life of a soldier, not a civilian. Civilians aims to center their lives around convenience and comfort.  However the Christian is a soldier.  Consider what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:3-4 "Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier."

Conclusions: How 4 impossible areas are made possible
Over the past two days we have explored 4 impossible areas.  These 4 areas are regarded by most people as doable and achievable within the realm of human strength and ingenuity.  We have proposed that these 4 areas: salvation, ministry, Christian family & Christian life are impossible to accomplish apart from the Holy Spirit's power.  We have walked our way through the book of Ephesians and other texts to demonstrate this central set of assumptions. Practically speaking, the ways in which we can open ourselves to the Spirit's power and filling in our lives in these four areas is through opening our Bibles, opening our hearts to prayer and opening ourselves to be humble. When the Spirit of God is running the show in the realm of our cooperation, rather than the self in non-cooperation, the Power to achieve the impossible is truly made possible.   

Saturday, January 25, 2014

P1 4 impossible areas made possible

Felix Baumgartner & Art Thompson

Luke 18:26-27 They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”

Introduction: Meet the man who accomplished an impossible feat by being connected to the right people and power source 
Felix Baumgartner did what many would call an impossible thing.  On October 14, 2012 he was taken 128,100 feet into the area where space and the earth's atmosphere meet.  In that alien looking environment where oxygen is in short supply, Felix jumped and broke two world records: exceeding the speed of sound in a free-fall as well as completing the longest free-fall in human history.  Baumgartner had spent five years preparing for his feat and many tests had to be done before he was sent aloft.  However without an entire team of people in a mission control watching his every move and without a specially designed vehicle attached to a special balloon and without the pressurized suit, Felix would had remained grounded.  He needed the right people and power to lift him to the level whereby he could achieve the impossible.  (note: you can watch the video here by right-clicking on link, copying and pasting the link in your web-browser after reading this post. The video is over a minute long:

Christian people and the church have been called by God to do impossible things.  Unless we have the Person and the Power of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives and enabling us, we will never be able to accomplish God's purposes. 

The problem of confusing the impossible with the possible
In the opening text above, Jesus' disciples could not get over the fact that the rich young ruler had not become a disciple of Jesus Christ, just like them.  To them, if anyone was a fit candidate to follow Jesus Christ, it was the rich young ruler.  He was wealthy, leader of a local Jewish synagogue, young with much potential and knowledgeable. Their shock is evident in the question they ask Jesus in Luke 18:26 "Then who can be saved?" The disciples and most everyone in the Jewish culture had come to regard salvation as being within the grasp of human effort and thus possible.  If a man was smart enough and good enough and lived according the law of God, that was all that was necessary for salvation (according to the Jewish tradition outside the scriptures).  Yet, the rich young ruler had demonstrated absolute failure.  Jesus' response aimed to correct the disciple's confusion: "with men, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible."  Who alone can make what is impossible possible? In just a moment we will be briefly looking at four areas that many deem quite possible, however they are actually impossible.  It will be discovered that the Person and Power of the Holy Spirit, Who is God, is the One who makes impossible things possible.  We will list the four impossible things first, and then discuss them one at a time.  Our main resource for today's post will be the Book of Ephesians. 

4 Impossible things         Made Possible by
Salvation                           The Holy Spirit
Ministry                             The Holy Spirit
Christian Family                 The Holy Spirit
Christian Life                     The Holy Spirit

Salvation: the impossible made possible by the Holy Spirit
Can human beings bring about their own salvation? Can anyone achieve enough favor before God to meet Him halfway, with He in turn finishing the process with a shot of saving grace? When we come to Ephesians 1:19 we read: "and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might". A few verses later in Ephesians 2:5 it is evident that the Christian life is birthed by God in their simultaneous trust of Christ in saving faith: "even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)". Truly without the Person of the Holy Spirit's involvement in salvation, no one would be able to believe and be saved.  Sinners are not merely sick patients on a bed in need of some medicine, but are dead people in need of a resurrection. (Compare John 5:24-25; 1 Peter 1:3-4)

Falling under the impossibility of salvation without the Spirit's working is the mission itself. As we carry on our efforts to share the Gospel with people, we must remember that the Great commission is guaranteed a 100% success rate. Why? All whom the Spirit calls and convicts unto saving faith believe. (John 1:12-13) Our obedience and cooperation in the Great commission is a matter of obedience, however the Spirit's involvement is as necessary to empower the messengers as well as the message. (John 16:8-11; 1 Thessalonians 2:12-13)  I'm so glad that God sent the Spirit in Jesus' name to empower His church through the communication of the scriptures, otherwise salvation would indeed be impossible. (Acts 1:8)  So as we can see, the Holy Spirit makes this first impossible area possible.  Lets note another impossible area....

Christian ministry: an otherwise impossible undertaking made possible
The church world sometimes makes it sound like that with the right programs, right lighting, right strategy and right intelligence we can do what it takes to perform effective ministry. Think of three major parts of a given church ministry that even in and of themselves are impossible to do on human strength alone: planning, preaching and participation.  

Planning is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit's empowerment, the best laid plans of mice and men will fail. Now don't misunderstand: I follow the old tried and true adage: "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail".  To not sit down and plan what your given ministry is going to do is dishonoring to God. (compare Luke 14:28-35). However the planning aspect of ministry must include the Power of the Holy Spirit.  Here is the deal: God has called the church to do impossible things.  If we plan every activity in our churches that are well within the grasp of our intelligence, cleverness and skill-set, we will yield expected, natural and explainable outcomes.  However when a church has caught the vision to do the impossible - that is, where we know we need the One who can do all things through our willing hearts - the Holy Spirit, only then can we conclude that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us by His Spirit.  (compare Ephesians 2:20-22; Philippians 3:14). 

Finishing projects that were planned and begun (whether buildings or Sunday School growth, for example) requires the Power of the Holy Spirit.  We welcome the Holy Spirit's work by opening up our Bibles, intercessory prayer and humbly saying to Him in echo of His words: "with men, this is impossible, but with the Lord, all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26) 

Preaching is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Preaching done in human strength and wisdom can only endure for so long before the preacher, the people and the preaching become anemic.  As a preacher I can tell you first hand: preaching that makes a difference is impossible! That is of course unless the Holy Spirit is empowering the preacher and his preaching.  Ephesians 3:7 states - "of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power."  Notice the phrase - "the working of His power". 1 Thessalonians 1:5 states this clearly - "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake."  The way a preacher can directly plug into the power of the Spirit in preaching is by immersing Himself in the text and praying over his notes, his heart and the lives of His people. (Colossians 4:12-13)

Participation is impossible without the Holy Spirit. 
In our churches and ministries, there is always something to do, something to be done.  In our ministries, giving to God's work is always in need.  Guilt is the worse way to get people to get involved. How can it be that God's people get involved with what God is doing? Consider Ephesians 4:11-12 "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."  Christ is the One who grants the offices and ministry structure needed to equip people for the work. 

So then, Who is the One who empowers Christians to get involved? Consider 1 Corinthians 12:7 "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." The Person of the Holy Spirit is the one who gifts each child of God with abilities and desires to do the work laid out by the Person of the Son.  In His fully divine union with the Father and the Son, He brings God's power, presence and plans to bear on any given situation.  

All the work of the ministry is not confined to within the walls of the church.  If anything, the saints of God are equipped to do the work of ministry that lies outside the walls of the church.  For years it has been quipped that there is always those 20% of the people that end up doing 80% of the work.  What if God has so designed His ministry to be that the remaining 80% of the people are equipped to do what is needed in reaching out to others? Only the Holy Spirit's empowerment can make such an impossibility possible.  

More tomorrow.....