Saturday, December 31, 2016

P1 Why the Gospel is so powerful - Romans 1:1-17

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Romans 1:16-17 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Why is the Gospel so powerful? This theme of "the power of the Gospel" headlines Paul's letter to the church at Rome. Commentator Warren Weirsbe notes:

"No wonder Paul was not ashamed: He was taking to sinful Rome the one message that had the power to change people’s lives! He had seen the gospel work in other wicked cities, such as Corinth and Ephesus, and he was confident that it would work in Rome. It had transformed his own life, and he knew it could transform the lives of others."

Romans 1:1-17 introduces this marvelous epistle of Paul. Romans 1:16-17 is Paul asserting his stance on not being ashamed of the God due to it possessing the power of God unto salvation for everyone that believes or trusts in it. All that prefaces these key verses and all that follows serve to expound on the power of the Gospel. Today we want to know why the Gospel is powerful. We will offer a brief exposition of Romans 1:1-17 in attempting to understand why Paul and us can conclude that the Gospel is powerful. Notice the following reasons why the Gospel is so powerful as stated in Romans 1:1-17...

1. Life-changing words. Romans 1:1-2
We read in Romans 1:1-2 "Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures." The word translated "scriptures" is the Greek word "graphe" from whence we derive such English words as "graphics" and the mineral "graphite" found in the pencil leads we use to write on paper. The term "scripture" itself (from the Latin "scriptura") refers to that which is written, the words of God in the Old and New Testaments. In our English Bibles, our word "scripture" is simply a carry over or transliteration of the Latin "scriptura", which in the Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) was a translation of the word "graphe". 

When English translations appeared on the scene, translators familiar with the Latin Vulgate saw the term "scripture" as appropriate in conveying the truth of the Bible being God's very words. These words of the Bible are God's very voice in written form. When read or preached, they impart life to the soul which can raise the spiritually dead heart to life in so far as the sinner responds to such words in saving trust (see John 5:24-25; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). No other means is used by God to impart salvation other than the scriptures. The words of the Bible are powerful and effective (Hebrews 4:12). Such a repository of Divine revelation is powerful. Hence, the Gospel is powerful due to the life-giving words upon which it is based and revealed. There is a second reason though for why the Gospel is so powerful...

2. Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:3-7
Recently theologian R.C. Sproul's Bible teaching ministry (Ligonier Ministries) released a statement of faith on the Person and work of Jesus Christ that outlines His identity, natures and power as God and man. Below we find the introductory two paragraphs of the statement:

"We confess the mystery and wonder
of God made flesh and rejoice in our great salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

With the Father and the Holy Spirit,
the Son created all things, sustains all things, and makes all things new.
Truly God, He became truly man, two natures in one person."

Jesus Christ is no doubt the mystery and wonder of God personified. The late preacher Adrian Rogers once remarked: "He is so much God as not to be man and so much man as to not be God." This One person is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Who is truly and fully God and truly and fully man. Only a Person such as Christ could be powerful enough to be the focal point of the Gospel. Jesus is not only the Gospel's object but supreme subject. He is actually brought to the sinner by the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. 

In other words, Jesus is not hermetically sealed of in history or the pages of the Bible. When the Gospel is presented, Christ comes forth. The totality of His glorified humanity and endless deity are united in Himself, making His entire Person as God and man available to all who trust in Him.

This living Christ is supremely powerful. He is what makes the Gospel the Gospel. The good news of the Gospel is that God is with us, for us and in us. The good news of the Gospel is that we have a perfect human representative for us in the heavenly realms. In Jesus, in saving faith, we are more than accepted before God. In Jesus, we are united to God by the One who is God and man. His perfect humanity defines the believer's identity and ability to commune with God. 

So the Gospel is powerful due to it being based on powerful, living words (Romans 1:1-2) and the Lord Jesus Christ. In the next post we will consider other reasons from Romans 1:1-17 why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Reflecting on the names of Jesus: "Word", "Amen" & "Melchizedek"

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John 1:1-5 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."

In considering the Person of Jesus Christ, it is beneficial to consider His names and titles. The names or titles of Christ tell us something about Him. The name "Jesus" for example is defined in Matthew 1:21 "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." This name tells us that Jesus is none other than the Savior. The title "Christ", often associated with His name, speaks of the quality He possesses as "the anointed One" (the meaning of the Greek word "Christos", whence comes out English word "Christ"). As "The Christ", Jesus is the uniquely anointed One of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit in His humanity while simultaneously being truly Divine. 

It is estimated that there are some 200 names and titles associated with Jesus Christ. Meditating on even a small sampling of these names can yield great spiritual dividends. As I have been thinking through these various names of Jesus, the thought struck concerning the order of their revelation. That is, in what particular order in redemptive history or in the historical and progressive unfolding of God's revelation in the Bible are these names revealed? Noting the order in which we find the names of Jesus revealed tells us just as much about the Person who bears them as the meanings of the individual names themselves. Below, I will list a small sample of these names to illustrate what I mean:

1. He is the "Word" in John 1:1, which points us back to Genesis 1:1. 

God's creative activity is the focal point of John 1:1. We find that as "The Word", Christ is not some creature who was with the Father at the beginning o the creation, but rather a co-equal and co-sharing Person with the Father before the creation. This term "word" has a rich history in Graeco-Roman thought and Hebraic Jewish thought, meaning among other things that which gives order to otherwise chaos, order to disorder and meaning to that which is meaningless. John of course reveals that "The Word" or as called in the Greek, "logos", is a Person - a Divine Person, i.e the Son of God. A.W Tozer notes about this title of Jesus in his classic work "The Pursuit of God":

The facts are that God is not silent, has never been silent. It is the nature of God to speak. The second Person of the Trinity is called the Word. The Bible is the inevitable outcome of continuous speech. It is infallible declaration of His mind for us put into our familiar human words."

2. He is the "Yes" and "Amen" to God's promises, with the first promise illustrated in Genesis 9:12-13 

In Genesis 9:12-13 we read God's promise or covenant with Noah: God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth." Now what does this have to do with Jesus? We could certainly point to many details having to do with the ark itself and the flood as picturing Christ and His redemptive work. However, the fact God makes a promise, a covenant, a sign is indicative of Christ's work as the Mediator who guarantees God's promises. The Apostle Paul brings out a particular name or title of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 1:20-21 "For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. 21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge." The term "amen" means in the Hebrew "truth" or "so be it". Jesus Christ's activity in God's covenants is not just confined to the New Testament, but in the Old Testament revelation itself. Undoubtedly, Christ's role as God's "Amen" was not just limited to God's covenant with Noah. Nevertheless, to follow chronologically how Christ's names unfold His person through redemptive history, it is important to see how He is connected to all of God's promises and covenants.

3. He is the "King of Righteousness" or Mechizedek in Genesis 14

One last example of Christ's names as they appear in their order will be mentioned: Melchizedek. This mysterious figure is first mentioned as a literal king meeting the Patriarch Abraham in Genesis 14:18 "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High." Now on first blush, Melchizedek appear to be nothing more than a gentile King who is sympathetic to Abraham and who serves the Living God. 

The mystery of Melchizedek is heightened by his relative absence for a millennia in the Biblical text. It is not until David's writing of Psalm 110:4 that we find a cosmic dimension associated with Melchizedek: "The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110 is the most quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament. The apostles saw in that Psalm a clear identification of the pre-incarnate Christ in conversation with the Father in eternity. 

The mystery then is heightened further without another mention of Melchizedek in revealed scripture for yet another millennium. It is not until we come to the book of Hebrews that we find Melchizedek positively identified as an Old Testament cameo appearance of Jesus in some eight spots (Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:1,10,11,15,17). He is by that point revealed as the Divine, eternal High Priest Who is truly God and truly man, forever exalted in the heavens.  

Closing thoughts
Today we considered three of Jesus' names as they appear in their order in the Biblical text: the "Word"; the  "Amen" and "Melchizedek". We saw how each name reveals Him respectively as the one who brings order, structure and life (i.e the Word); guarantees all of God's covenants and promises (i.e the Amen) and Who is the King of righteousness or peace (i.e Melchizedek). Such reflections cause us to look deeper and higher at the Christ Who is deeper and higher still. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What wifi and seeking after God have in common

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Psalm 27:8 "When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.”

As I type this post today, I am accessing the internet by way of what is called "Wifi". "Wifi" involves accessible internet to any user who knows how to "sign-in" to the service. Once signed on, the user can explore the world wide web. For those who are not connected, "Wifi" signals continue through the air. When we think of the presence and glory of God, His power, glory and presence pervade the entire cosmos. His Personality and presence is unquestioned in the Bible. The parallels between "wifi" and seeking after God can be drawn to illustrate the need to seek after and deepen one's experience of God. Sadly, not everyone is "signed-on" in faith. Many, many people in our world today go about their lives without being "connected". Only in Jesus Christ can such connections be made.

When David writes about his continuing mode of ever responding to God's overtures of grace, He is exercising what ought to be the default mode of all of God's people. Great author of the past A.W Tozer writes in his classic
"The Pursuit of God":

"I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which they had in common was spiritual receptivity. Something in them was open to heaven, something which urged them Godward. Without attempting anything like profound analysis, I shall say simply that they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives. They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response."

The only way you and I can "get-connected" to God and is all-pervading power and presence is by receiving into our souls the "password" assigned in scripture for our salvation: "J" - "E" -"S" - "U" - "S". Acts 4:12 reminds us that no other name is given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved. The Christian life is a life that claims to be "connected to God". The Christian, however, cannot remain passive. 

The life of faith flowing from conversion is what the scripture calls sanctification. The Christian and the Holy Spirit cooperate in the goal of making the Christian more like Jesus. On the horizon of Christian spirituality, the Lord Jesus Christ dominates. All other truths are illuminated by His Person. He shows us the Father and the Spirit Whom was sent in His name drives the Christian to know Him more. May we today explore what there is to know about God. His Word reveals His will and Christ reveals the totality of the Personality of Presence of God (see Colossians 2:9). Let us seek Him in the upcoming year. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

God's Gospel - Romans 1:1-2

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Romans 1:1-2  "Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures."

Today's post features the above text that makes the remarkable statement concerning the Gospel. We discover that the Gospel did not make its appearance when Jesus and the Apostles came on the scene. The Gospel or "good news" of salvation has been around since the beginning. We can note three descriptions of the Gospel in Romans 1:1-2

1. Gospel of God

Whenever we see that little word "of" in the text, it is relating the word before and after it. The relationship between "gospel" and "God" could be rendered two-fold: either the Gospel is "about God" and His saving activities or the Gospel is "from God", revealed and made known to us. In so far as the Gospel does address the sinner and their sinful condition, the Gospel's true core is about God and coming from Him. The Gospel tells the "old, old story of the Savior who came from glory". As commentator Warren Wiersbe notes:

"It is “the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1) because it originates with God; it was not invented by humans. It is “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) because it centers in Christ, the Savior. Paul also calls it “the gospel of his Son” (Rom. 1:9), which indicates that Jesus Christ is God. In Romans 16:25-26, Paul called it “my gospel.” By this he meant the special emphasis he gave in his ministry to the doctrine of the church and the place of the Gentiles in the plan of God."

2. Which He promised beforehand through His prophets

Now we find out how God revealed or "made known what was previously or would-had-been-otherwise unknown" the Gospel - namely by his prophets. Amos 3:7 reminds us that God doesn't disclose His will except through the prophets. We could go all the way back to at least Enoch, the seventh from Adam. Adam himself could be deemed a prophet - since he was naming the animals as duly assigned by God. A prophet's role was to represent God's interests to man. Adam represented God's creative order to the creation. According to Genesis 1:26, he and the woman were to originally be God's co-regents, having been made in His image and likeness. Other various figures like Enoch, Noah, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah and others functions as God's torch-bearers - bearing the incorruptible light of the Gospel to men. 

3. In the holy Scriptures.

We have been observing three things Paul says about the Gospel in Romans 1:1-2. We first noted that he called it the "Gospel of God". Next, he reminds his readers of how the Gospel, having been revealed way before the New Testament, was revealed by way of his prophets. Indeed, the prophetic office was an oracular office, that is, the prophet "spoke" on behalf of God to men. However, God also used some of these prophets to write down His words by way of their own writing styles and culture. As 2 Peter 1:10-12 notes: "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look."

The Gospel is that central scarlet thread that holds together the tapestry of scripture. The Gospel and Christ are inseparable. One cannot properly understand the Old Testament apart from Jesus Christ and the Gospel. In like manner, one cannot understand life nor can one's life hold together apart from the Gospel. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

P2 - Having An Experiential Walk With God

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Ephesians 5:18 "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit"

Introduction: The post-conversion experiential walk with God is what we call sanctification

Truly, the grace of sanctification emanates from the converted heart like a stem from a root. The stem of sanctification ought to then spring forth a blooming flower that emits the sweet aroma of a life saturated with Jesus Christ. Sanctification informs the post-conversion Christian life with respect to the priority of experiencing and knowing God on a daily-basis. It's character is ongoing. Sanctification entails a process whereby the Holy Spirit and the Christian are in a cooperative work of making that Christian more-and-more like Jesus. 

The heart of one's experiential walk with God - the Spirit-filled life
The emphasis on having an "experiential walk with God" is vital. How is it that one maintains such a walk? Ephesians 5:14-18 lays out the repeated, central reality to all-post-conversion Christianity that takes serious any experience with God:

"For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit."

This emphasis of "experiencing life with God" flies as a banner over the Christian life. It is one thing to get started. It is one thing to shoot forth with that initial excitement of being redeemed and born-again in conversion. It is one thing to follow through in believer's baptism following one's salvation - as vital as such things are. Yet, with that said, the harder reality is the maintenance of "staying in the saddle" so-to-speak. 

How is it that we come to see walking with God in daily experience go from duty to delight? How can the Christian ever expect to go places with God in their prayer life, Bible reading, church attendance and lifestyle? 

Ephesians 5:18 gives the answer: "be filled with the Spirit". To be Spirit-filled has nothing to do with speaking in tongues or undergoing a second work of grace or anything of that sort. Rather, the "Spirit-filled" life has everything to do with a repeated, what would hopefully be daily surrender to and leading by the Holy Spirit in the believer. Spirit-filled living refers to both a gradual moral improvement in the Christian life and what ought to be a deepening work of supernatural power coursing through the Christian's giftings and service. Others ought to be able to sense when they are around someone who is regularly living by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:16 plainly states: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." To be "filled" with the Spirit simply means I am being "influenced" by Him. 

As I give myself to God in scripture reading, prayer, church attendance, evangelism and other means of strengthening grace - my faith will not just crawl, but soar. Paul explains the result of the repeated, post-conversion reality of the Spirit-filled life in Ephesians 5:19-21 - 

"speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ."

The Spirit-filled life is the yielded-life. The Spirit-filled life not only yields to God in submission but simultaneously acts forth with God in obedience. The heart of an ongoing experiential walk with God is the Spirit-filled life. 

Closing thoughts
This is what the Christian life is all about: knowing God and making Him known. May you and I dear reader, grow in our experience with God by being those who regularly are filled by, influenced by the Holy Spirit as we give ourselves to His word, His people, prayer and the sharing of our faith with others. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

P1 - Having An Experiential Walk With God

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Ephesians 5:1-2 "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."

How the experiential walk with God begins - conversion
What is the purpose of the Christian life? Knowing God. When a man, woman or child is born-again by trusting in Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone - initiation into an experiential walk with God begins. Paul lays out for us in Ephesians 5:1-10 what it means to have this "experiential walk with God". He uses such statements as "imitating God" in 5:1; carrying forth a "sweet aroma" of Christ in 5:2 and "trying to do what is pleasing to the Lord" in 5:10.

This initiation into the Christian life is what we call "conversion". Included in conversion is that first work of regeneration and its attendant Spirit-wrought workings of conviction, faith and repentance. The sinner responds, believes and is saved. All such works are simultaneous and instant. At conversion the Heavenly Father declares the sinner "just" or right-with-God in a judicial declaration called "justification". In justification, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is credited to that sinner - henceforth making him a "saint". The Father then, simultaneously, declares the saint of God to be an adopted child by what the scriptures call "adoption unto sonship" or more simply "adoption" (Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-6).  So the sinner becomes a saint and the old way of life is forsaken in favor of Christ. The convert is given a new heart - a heart that beats with the desire to obey its Lord. 

The ongoing experiential walk with God ought to continue on in post-conversion Christian living - i.e sanctification
The first major step of obedience following conversion is and ought to be believer's baptism (Romans 6:4-11; Colossians 2:11-12). The new convert is given the opportunity to profess their faith publicly before the local church body. Whatever had privately transacted between that convert and God in saving faith goes public. The miracle of salvation is re-enacted in the rite and symbolism of believer's baptism. Already the convert is declaring that they so desire to continue in their experiential walk with God not only as a private affair, but more so as to their public life before others. 

In Ephesians 5:10-13 we see the battle one faces against the world, the flesh and the Devil when attempting to grow in one's post-conversion, experiential walk with God: 

"trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light."

One's experiential walk with God begins in conversion. What follows from thereon is the progressive onward and upward growth in Jesus Christ. This ongoing, post-conversion life is what the Bible refers to as "sanctification" or being "set-apart" (Romans 6:12-13; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 2:9-12). Just as one "sets-apart" or "sanctifies dishes" to be ready for the next meal, sanctification is an ongoing process whereby the Christian is being made more and more like Jesus in thought, attitude, word and deed. Truly, the grace of sanctification emanates from the converted heart like a stem from a root. The stem of sanctification ought to then spring forth a blooming flower that emits the sweet aroma of a life saturated with Jesus Christ. Sanctification informs the post-conversion Christian life with respect to the priority of experiencing and knowing God on a daily-basis. Tomorrow we will continue by considering the heart of one's experiential post-conversion walk with God. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The careful planning that made Christmas possible

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Galatians 4:4 "when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law"

In just a few short hours our children will be unwrapping the presents under the tree. For months the planning of gifts has been undertaken most by my wife. She is a very strategic shopper and listener of my children's favorite hobbies and heroes. I'm always amazed at how she is able to get that "just-right" present. Time is taken to make the preparations for that special moment when our children unwrap their gifts. 

When we look at Christmas - the concept of time plays a huge role in our thinking.  My children are finding time to be moving quite slowly right now!  They can't wait to open their presents! Time is certainly a factor when it comes to planning Christmas.  But no one knew that more than God. 

God's Sovereign Timing for Christmas
God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit had determined the time in which the Son was going to enter history before the world was ever made.  Passages such as Acts 2:23-24 and 2 Timothy 1:9 speak of God the Father planning the cross, with God the Son agreeing with the Father to be the one Who would partake unto His Person full humanity in order to die and rise from the dead.  In Ephesians 1:11, we understand that the Holy Spirit was involved in this plan, agreeing to apply the benefits of salvation to all whom He would call and convict to believe on the Son. 

Before Genesis 1:1, there was nothing but God Himself.  The Trinity was not lonely.  God saw all of history in His mind.  He knew that the fall of Adam and Eve was going to occur and he knew that the cross would be necessary to redeem all of those whom He would call and convict to believe on Him.  The birth of the Savior in regards to His humanity was definitely pre-planned. 

Hebrews 10:4-7 records these words of Jesus, spoken in the eternal glory He shared with the Father:

Jesus spoke these words while preparing to enter this world from eternity!  The appointed time for His arrival was set.  God alone could perfectly time time itself. He alone is Sovereign (that is, in control of all things).  In as much as Christmas speaks about God becoming frail humanity - it also points us to the Sovereign God who, along with the One who would become man, made Christmas possible. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Music of Christmas: Reflections on the Magnifcat and Benedictus in Luke's Gospel

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Luke 1:46-47 "And Mary said:
“My soul exalts the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior."

Music and the proclamation of the scriptures go hand-in-hand. From the very beginning God had ordained praise and worship - as seen in the opening scenes of creation when the angels praise God for the laying of the earth's foundations in Job 38:4-7 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, 5 Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? 6 “On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, 7 When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?" 

We can picture music and the proclamation of the Word as two majestic steeds pulling the chariot of God's glory (I draw this thought from such passages as Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6:1-3). His glory is brought before us by a combination of Word and song - with the latter serving the needs of the former. Christian people have more songs and more to do with singing than any other religion combined. 

Whenever we come to the birth-narratives of the Lord Jesus in Luke's Gospel, we find songs of praise intermingled with the declarations of His arrival. I thought it would benefit us today to consider the place of music in the celebration of Advent.

The Praises of Jesus' birth in Luke
The infancy narratives in the first two chapters of Luke's Gospel record for us five songs and poems sung by various saints or angels that praise the arrival of God in human flesh.  The first two occurred right before Christ's birth.  They are found in Luke 1:46-56 and Luke 1:67-79. 

If you notice in some of your Bibles, these particular portions of scripture have weird sounding titles.  For instance the first song, the song of Mary, is called "The Magnificat".  The reason for this is because these are the first words of Mary's song as it is recorded in the Latin Bible - The Vulgate.  This was the version of the Bible used for 1,000 years in the Old Roman Catholic Church. The influence of that version carried over into some of the terms we use in describing details of the Bible in our English translations.  The title "The Magnificat" is Latin for "The Exultation".  You may recognize from the word our English word "Magnificent".  No doubt, what Mary sings and Who she sings about is the one who is God, coming through her womb as a virgin born human being.

The second song in Luke's record is the song of Zacharias called "The Benedictus" (meaning blessed).  Perhaps you have heard of an opening prayer where the persons asks for God's blessing on a given event as being called a "benediction".  Like the first, the meaning is profound. Zacharias is praising God for his sending of the forerunner through he and his wife, Elizabeth.   No doubt, the events surrounding the Savior's coming into the world were indeed blessed! 

Some further reflections on these songs can prove beneficial in preparing our hearts and minds for Christmas day. First, we can note three things about Mary's song in Luke 1:46-56:

1. The Savior in her womb is personally meaningful  

Notice how often Mary uses the words "my" or "me" in 1:46-49.  Mary sees the profound significance of Christ's coming for her own life.  She has embraced everything spoken to her by the angel.  She has taken God at His word and is overjoyed at the fact that in her womb is the Living word. 

2. The Savior in her womb is powerfully Mighty  

Mary rehearses how this One in her womb Pre-existed as the God of glory throughout the history of the world in Luke 1:50-53.  He is Sovereign ruler over the nations. (Psalm 2).  He is God and God alone and will not share His glory with any other.  He knows how to deliver His people.  These ideas flow from Mary's lips as the Holy Spirit gives her utterance. 

3. The Savior in her womb is prophecy's fulfillment 

In Luke 1:54-55 Mary is thinking of all the times God promised and predicted the coming of Messiah.  From Abraham down to Malachi, God kept revealing how the Promise of Salvation would one day become the Person of salvation, born in due time.  For Mary, the literal fulfillment of that truth was now living inside of her. 

In reflecting on Mary's song, we can also glean some remarkable insights from the Wonder of the Benedictus as conveyed by Zechariah. With Mary praising the wonder of Christ's soon birth, Zechariah too is praising God for the fact of the forerunner - John.  With only 6 months difference between their births, God's perfect timing was truly incredible.  This song is full of statements regarding God's promises and prophecies about salvation, redemption and the Light of Hope that is seen in the coming of Messiah.  The one who would announce that coming is spoken of in scriptures such as Malachi 4 and Isaiah 40.  Truly the power of worship was declaring that the plan of God in Heaven was getting ready to touch down here on earth.  

Closing thoughts
As we are hours away from Christmas day, it is certain that among children and adults alike, the anticipation is building. When we read these songs in Luke's Gospel, we can see how music was used by God in conjunction with the proclamation of His Word to prepare the people for the arrival of the glory of His Son in human flesh. May we have excitement as we look forward to singing God's praises and meditating on His Word this Advent season and in preparation for Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Seeing Christmas in the book of Revelation

Revelation 12:5-7 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she *had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

When people turn to the Bible to consider the meaning of Christmas, most do not realize that the Book of Revelation touches upon the theme of Christ's first coming. In today's post we will focus specifically on Revelation 12 in how it relates what Jesus did in His first coming to what He will do in His second coming. The following outline of Revelation 12 can be used to navigate the chapter:

1. The King's Cradle. Revelation 12:1-4

2. The King's Cross. Revelation 12:5
3. The King's Crown. Revelation 12:6-17

So let's explore Revelation 12 to see how it points us to Christ's 1st and 2nd comings. We will explore first how God used Old Testament history and allusions to prepare for the events hinted at or spoken of in Revelation 12.

How God used Israel through the Old Testament to lead up to the King's Cradle

Revelation 12 details the history and career of Israel, Satan and the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel was used by God to bring about the point in history where the Savior would be born (i.e the cradle), as well as having to endure the persecution of the Evil One throughout the Old Testament.  As Galatians 4:4 reminds us: "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law." Thus Revelation 12:1-2 gives us a summary of Israel's part in God's plan to bring about the King's cradle.1

So what does John first see? He sees a woman clothed in the sun. The woman in question represents Israel from the days of her beginnings in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all the way up to the days of Jesus' birth. Steve Gregg in his commentary notes: The support for this identification of the woman is found in the description of her as being clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars (v. 1). This has obvious reference back to Joseph's dream in Genesis 37:9, in which the sun and moon and twelve stars (eleven plus Joseph) represented the family of Jacob, the people of Israel."2  So the career of Israel throughout the Old Testament is presented in Revelation 12:1-2.  

The History and Career of Satan in the Old Testament 

However John sees another sign appear, and the same general period of Old Testament history is presented yet again, only this time with reference to a second major character - Satan, in Revelation 12:3-4. Satan's career began in heaven when he was initially cast out for leading a rebellion against God, as alluded to in passages such as Ezekiel 28:11-19. Throughout his Old Testament career, Satan had waged war, beginning with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), as well as Israel in her wanderings, believers like Job (Job 1-2) and David (1 Chronicles 21:1) and even launching accusations against priests (Zechariah 3:1-5).  His dragon-like character here in Revelation 12:3-4 is extensively documented in the Bible in passages such as Isaiah 27:1; Ezekiel 29:3; Revelation 13:2, 16:13, 20:1.3 

How Old Testament History led up to the cradle of Bethlehem

Thus far John has been shown two key figures that we meet in Revelation 12: 

a). the woman (Israel) 

b). the dragon (Satan).  

Now John sees a third key figure in Revelation 12:4b-5a ...."And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. 5 And she gave birth to a sona male child...".  Who is this male child? It seems pretty clear that Old Testament history, with its conflict between Israel and Satan led up to the incarnation and virgin birth of Jesus Christ. As the New Geneva Study Bible notes: The Old Testament saints are in view. Mary the mother of Jesus is included in this group, but only as an outstanding member of the whole."4

Truly this sweeping portrayal of Old Testament history serves to lead the reader up to the first major Divinely ordained event of the King's cradle.5 We have thus beheld the King's Cradle, however the cradle was ordained by God to lead to a second major ordained event alluded to in Revelation 12:5...

How the King's Cradle at Bethlehem points to The King's Cross at Calvary

The cradle of the Son served to point to the chief purpose of His first coming - the cross, whereby He would destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8), rise from the dead and be caught up into heaven as stated in Revelation 12:5. Now why are we calling this section of the post "the King's cross' when the cross is not explicitly mentioned in Revelation 12:5? Undoubtedly the passage is connecting Christ's first coming (his birth to ascension) to what He will do in His second coming (rule the nations).

Often when the New Testament authors are summing up a portion of Jesus' life, they may very well focus on one or two main points without mentioning all the details. (compare 1 Timothy 3:15-16 and Titus 2:11-15) It must be understood that without the cross, the purpose of Christ's incarnation and birth would not be understood, nor would He have the grounds for returning back to earth for a second time. When one reads back to Revelation 5:9, the link between the cross and second coming is established: "And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."

It must be recalled that in the accounts of Jesus birth and childhood, the shadow of the cross so-to-speak was ever present. Simeon, upon seeing the Christ-child said to Mary in Luke 2:35 "and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." That prediction of course came true when she stood at the cross and experienced the sorrow of seeing Jesus crucified and hearing him say "woman, behold your son" and to John "behold your mother!" (John 19:26-27) John depicts Jesus Christ ascended in heaven, awaiting to return to earth in Revelation 12:5. Truly the cradle in history had to precede the cross, which in turn meant that the cross was necessary for their to be a crown.

The King's Cross and resurrection points the way to the The King's Crown

Then of course the remainder of Revelation 12:6-17 thrusts the reader forward into the future latter-half of the tribulation period wherein Satan is waging war against Israel and ultimately Jesus Christ. Dr. John Walvoord, quoting C.A Coates, gives this insightful observation about Satan's activity beginning here in Revelation 12 and extending into Revelation 13-14: "Coates observes that Satan is seen in three characterizations in opposition to Christ. As accuser of the brethren, he is in opposition to Christ as priest; as the one who brings forth the first beast, he is in opposition to Christ as King; as bringing forth the second beast, the false prophet. he is opposed to Christ as prophet."6

The war that Satan will wage in the latter half of the tribulation period will begin with Satan attempting a final coup in heaven, only to be thwarted by Michael the Archangel. (Revelation 12:7-9) This failed effort will lead to Satan's permanent and final expulsion from heaven. This expulsion will correspond to the middle of the tribulation period and will set up the efforts of Satan to push his man the anti-Christ into the full limelight of his diabolical schemes later on in Revelation 13.

The statement of the loud voice in 12:10-12 about the kingdom and authority of Jesus Christ makes what Christ will do in defeating the Anti-Christ and Satan's forces at His second coming a forgone conclusion. The crown of the King is within view, with only 3 1/2 years remaining of the tribulation period until the King comes from heaven to earth.

The final section of Revelation 12:13-17 serves to explain the anger Satan will have in his aggression against Israel. His diabolical plot to destroy Israel in history and Jesus in His incarnation/virgin birth failed (12:1-5), and so will his plot to try to destroy Israel in the future tribulation period. (12:6-17) It is that sequence of attacks and failed plots, as well as his final expulsion from heaven that will set off a chain of events lasting through Revelation 13-14. The cradle led to the cross, which in turn led to the crown. The prediction of King Jesus' defeat of Satan and his plots serve to proving yet again that Jesus Christ is King of Kings. (especially note Revelation 19)


1. John of course is very fond of the word "sign" in Revelation 12-19, using the word to mark off portions of the various visions being shown to him. (Revelation 12:1,3; 13:13,14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20)  

2. Steve Gregg. Revelation Four Views - A Parallel Commentary. Nelson. 1997. Page 254.

3. In Jewish thought that was popular in the time between the Old and New Testament, God was believed to had set a time in which He would end history with an epic battle against Leviathan, a battle which of course God will decisively win.

4. The New Geneva Study Bible. Note on Revelation 12:1. Thomas Nelson. 1995. 

5. The passages we use in the Christmas season to understand the event of Christ's birth and incarnation (Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 2:8-50; Philippians 2:5-11) & His Kingship even as a toddler who was worshipped by the wisemen two years following His birth (Matthew 2:1-12) are certainly appropriate cross references for shedding light on the significance of what John is seeing in Revelation 12:1-4. 

6. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ - A Commentary. Moody. 1966. Page 191

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A suggested way to argue for the virgin birth

Image result for virgin birth
1 Peter 3:15 "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."

Note: Today I want to point readers to a series of posts I wrote on my other blog-site concerning the doctrine of the virgin birth. In the series, we consider how one may argue for the reality of the virgin birth. The links for all the post can be found at the following link: . To God be the glory!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

God's Perfect Timing

Image result for world map
Galatians 4:4 "when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law".

It always astonishes me how much time and effort is expended in preparing for the celebration of Christmas. People spend months preparing for the big day. Churches will spend months in choir rehearsals, newspaper ads and sermon series to make way for the focus on Jesus. These two observations pale in comparison to the great lengths God took in preparing for the entry of the Son into history. Sometimes Biblical theologians refer to the 400 year period of time between the Old Testament and New Testament eras as the "silent years". This term is used due to God not revealing further written revelation between Malachi and Matthew. As will be seen today, much activity was underway as God worked behind the scenes and in history to prepare the way for the first coming of Jesus Christ. Lets consider today God's preparation for the arrival of the Son into time. 

1. God prepared the way for Jesus by way of a particular nation - Israel
We can sketch out how God was working from the beginning of history to bring about the nation of Israel, which in turn would be responsible for providing the humanity of Jesus through Mary. In Genesis 5, we find that from Adam to Noah = 1656 years. Then, in Genesis 6-12, we discover that from Noah to Abraham = another 350 to 400 years.  Genesis 12-50 then records that from Abraham to the end of Genesis = around 250 or so years. When we turn to the book of Exodus and trace Biblical history all the way to 1 Samuel, we find that from Moses' day in Exodus to David's time in 1 Samuel is around 400 years.  Then in rounding out our survey of the Old Testament, from David's days in 1 and 2 Samuel to the prophet Malachi's day in the Book of Malachi (the last Old Testament book in our English Bibles) is roughly 600 years.  

2. God prepared the way for Jesus' first coming by the provisions of history outside of the nation of Israel

From Malachi to Matthew we see no new written revelation.  Just because God hid His face did not mean His hand was not at work behind the scenes.  As we noted already, three world empires rose and fell.  The Book of Daniel in chapters 2 and 7-11 would focus mainly on the events that would unfold between Malachi and Matthew. 

Not only was God working in and through the nation of Israel (which is the chief focus of His Old Testament revelation), but He was also working in the surrounding nations to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. God orchestrated the rise and fall of at least four world empires in between the Old and New Testaments (Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome). Amazingly, from each of these pagan empires would come detailed contributions that appear in the life and crucifixion of Jesus.

At the end of the Old Testament, Babylon was in power. It would be from the Babylonians that would derive the Aramaic language, the common language of Israel spoken in the days of Jesus.  In 539 b.c Babylon would fall to the Medo-Persia Empire led by Darius the Great.  This empire, predicted and spoken of in Daniel 2 and 7, was the first to begin the practice of crucifixion. 

Next came the Greeks, under Alexander the Great in 333 b.c.  After conquering Persia, Alexander began his program of making the whole world like the Greeks.  Everyone under his domain would speak Greek.  This language would be the language of the New Testament.  The Jews also made the world's first Bible translation - the Septuagint, in 275 b.c.

Greece gave away to Rome and the Roman empire devised the 50,000 mile roadway system throughout the Mediterranean world called "The Roman Road". It would be quite useful, especially when the early church would come to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

3. God prepared the way for Jesus' arrival through prophetic fulfillment

We've seen thus far how God used a particular people (Israel) and the provisions of history to set the stage for Messiah's first coming. Unmistakably these two theaters of Divine preparation were not hermetically sealed off from one another. Israel was situated in a specific context and place in history. Her exiles and historic battles would lead her path to cross with those of the other nations. God's program for Israel and the nations not only included their historic circumstances, but also their prophetic ones. 

When you count up all of the prophecies that predict the first coming of Jesus Christ, the grand total comes to 109!  Some of these are so extraordinary, they are worthy of mention.  Genesis 49:10 tells us what tribe in Israel the Messiah would derive - from Judah.  Isaiah 7:14 tells us He would be virgin born, with Isaiah 9:6-7 revealing Him as both human and Divine.  Isaiah 53 reveals He would suffer and die, with Zechariah 12:10 using the term "pierced" to describe the marks on his hands and feet.  Psalm 22 unfolds the words He would speak on the cross and Micah 5:2-4 uncovers the place of His birth. 

Closing thoughts

We saw how God's perfect timing worked in preparing for the first coming of Jesus. In today's post we noted three areas used by God:

1. Particular bloodline of Israel
2. Provisions of history 
3. Prophetic fulfillment

All in all, God alone can cover the scope of the timing of events, peoples and places - for He alone is Big enough, Powerful enough and knowing enough to accomplish it.  If anything, the timing of Christmas shows us that salvation is of the Lord! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How Christ's Miracle Birth Is The Basis For the Christian's Miracle Birth

Image result for nativity images
John 1:12-14 "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Introduction and Review

Yesterday we began considering the Person of the Miraculous Son. We discovered that the four gospels portray two starting points for getting to know Jesus Christ. The first is what Bible teachers and theologians call "Christology from above", meaning we start by considering Jesus Christ as the Eternal Son Pre-existing in eternity with the Father and Spirit as One Triune God. The journey the Son makes from eternity into time entails his entryway through the virgin birth/conception, his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. John's Gospel appears to offer us this starting point for considering the miraculous Son.

The other three Gospels, Matthew and Luke, as well as Mark, present what Bible teachers and theologians call a "Christology from below", meaning we begin with Jesus from the standpoint of his humanity, and based upon his virgin birth, later adult life, miracles, teachings, relationships, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, we are brought to the conclusion that Jesus is Who He said He was - God in human flesh. 

Both starting points are equally important. Considering Jesus Christ 
"from above" reminds us that God was burdened enough to provide redemption as to come down Himself in the Person of the Son to become what He came to save: His people. Likewise, when we consider Jesus Christ from the standpoint of "here below", we are reminded of how personal He is and how marvelous it is to have fellowship with the miraculous Son through faith Who is God in human flesh. 

Those were some of the thoughts we explored in yesterday's post. Today we want to consider one of the main reasons the Miraculous Son came: to achieve a miraculous birth.

Jesus Christ in his humanity had a miraculous birth so as to provide the basis for the New birth in salvation

What is Advent or Christmas really all about? The central event is the birth of Jesus Christ into this world. It must be realized that such an event was necessary if salvation's beginning point was to be established. For many years I have read and re-read John 1:1-18 and have enjoyed its profound truth. However it was not until recently that I noticed how the truth of the New birth in salvation is literally presented next to the truth of Jesus Christ's incarnation. Many others throughout church history have noted the link - a link which is undoubtedly intentional on the part of John as he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Matthew Henry, the great commentator, notes:

"Many say that they are Christ's own, yet do not receive him, because they will not part with their sins, nor have him to reign over them. All the children of God are born again. This new birth is through the word of God as the means, 1Pe 1:23, and by the Spirit of God as the Author. By his Divine presence Christ always was in the world. But now that the fullness of time was come, he was, after another manner, God manifested in the flesh." 

We can outline John 1:12-14 as follows:

The reality of the Christian's New Birth. John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13 notes about the New birth in salvation: 12 "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." The above text deals with the beginning of one's salvation - what the Bible calls "The New Birth" or "Regeneration". The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention) defines the "New Birth" accordingly:"Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."

The New Testament speaks of the beginning of Christian salvation as being that of a "New Birth". Jesus for example in John 3:1-8 discusses with Nicodemas what it means to be "born-again". Peter too talks about being "begotten" or "born again" by God in 1 Peter 1:3-5 and 23. This language of "birthing" and "regeneration" to describe saving faith is used in Titus 3:5 - "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." 

The root of the reality of the Christian's new birth - Jesus' incarnation. John 1:14

John 1:14 connects the reality of the New birth to the Miraculous Son's miracle birth - "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 239, has this to note about the significance of Jesus' incarnation: 

"The virgin birth and resurrection are signs that here we have something unique in the realm of humanity. Who or what He is can be discovered only by contrasting Him with others, and it shines out most clearly when all others are against Him. The event of his coming to suffer and triumph as man in our midst is absolutely decisive for every individual he encounters and for the destiny of the whole world. (John 3:16-18; 10:27-28; 12:31; 16:11; 1 John 3:8). 

The reflection of the Miraculous Son's humanity is to be seen in the Christian's humanity

What then are we saying? As seen in today's post,  everything Jesus came to achieve in the realm of His humanity was so that all who by grace through faith heed the call to salvation can experience everything he experienced. Jesus Christ had a miraculous birth so that all sinners Divinely affected by the Spirit through the scriptures, and responding in savimg faith, could have a miraculous birth. When Jesus died on the cross as the crucified One, this meant that the Christian could say: "I have been crucified with Christ...." (Galatians 2:20). 

When Jesus raised from the dead, guess what? Every Christian could also say they too have been raised to walk forth in newness of life! (Romans 6:4-11; 8:11) Then of course as Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in glorified, physical, resurrected humanity - the Christian now can say they are spiritually seated in the heavens with Jesus and look forward to when He returns to give them a glorified, physical, resurrected body like His own. (Ephesians 2:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58)

Closing thoughts

The Miraculous Son came, was to achieve a miraculous birth. As I heard one preacher state years-ago: "At salvation, supernatural Jesus stepped inside natural me, which in turn by faith natural me stepped inside Jesus Christ, and natural me was born-again to become supernatural!"