Monday, December 21, 2020

Advent Reflections On How Jesus Grants Access To Three Sorts Of Life


      Life. What exactly is it? We can distinguish, in general, life from non-life by what something can do or not do. "Living" is an act. "Life", though, is wrapped in mystery. In the Bible, we are introduced to three sorts of life: God's Divine life; biological life and spiritual life. God's life is without beginning, without end and eternal. Biological life, as I already mentioned, is identified by what we see it do. Spiritual life is described in terms of "new birth" (John 3:3), "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17) and "imperishable seed" (1 Peter 1:23). 

        When we describe the very life of God Himself, we use the language of attributes and the names of God, since the very life of God - though incomprehensible to finite minds - yet is knowable in saving faith (see 1 Corinthians 2:9). 

        Biological life, if defined outside the framework of God the Creator and His creation, remains undefined. With God, life is described by extra qualities which gets closer to defining it. Meaningful. Significant. Valuable. Spiritual life, at first imperceptible, sprouts into faith, followed by good works and a God-ward orientation. In this post I want us to consider how Jesus Christ grants access to God's life, physical life and spiritual life.

Jesus Christ grants access to God's life

      Now that we understand the three sorts of life that the Biblical text reveals, how is it that Jesus Christ grants us access to all three? John 1:1-18 lays out the answers for us. First, the Son of God is credited with granting access to the Divine life of God Himself, since He Himself has pre-existed as God alongside the Father and the Spirit. John 1:1-2 explains:

"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."

Before there was a "beginning", there was God alone. Before there was "Genesis 1:1", there was Isaiah 46:9-10 - 

“Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’."

        God was not lonely before the creation of the world. Part of the Athanasian Creed states: 

"Nothing in this Trinity is before or after, nothing is greater or smaller; in their entirety the three persons  are coeternal and coequal with each other."

God did not create out of need. Rather, creation came about by God simply wanting it to be. The Son of God is that Person of the Trinity which makes accessible the very life of God. John 1:18 reminds us: 

"No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him."

     Never before Jesus was it thought possible to access the very life of God. God always communicated to His people "via media" (by means or methods). Hebrews 1:1-2 states about God's self-disclosure of Himself in the Old Testament: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways."          

        Something transpired following the incarnation of the Son that made access to God a reality. Consider Jesus' words in John 14:8 "if you have seen me, you have seen the Father." The God who revealed Himself on top of the mountain (Exodus 19-20) and through a burning bush (Exodus 3) and by the symbolism of the Tabernacle (Hebrews 9:1-14) made Himself accessible through the frail frame of infancy. Even when the Son of God appeared as the "Angel of the Lord" or some other manifestation known as "theophany", such revelations were "dress-rehersal" for what would be the permanency of incarnation. Because of Jesus' incarnation, followers of Him have access to Divine life as Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:3-4,

"seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust."

More to the point, the writer of Hebrews states in Hebrews 10:19-20 

"Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh."

         This is big news! Why? To have access to God means He has already made the way of access to me! By His grace He calls me to Himself through Christ. As the old preachers put it: "His hand of grace reaches down to me, and I with a hand of faith reach up to Him." I take that quote to mean that in His grace, God grants me spiritual life wherewith I reach up and grab hold of Him through Christ (see Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:17-18). Only Christianity claims such open access - minus ritual; minus performance; minus a priesthood. Jesus grants access to the life of God.

Jesus granted access to physical life

       John 1:3-5 describes the work of Christ at creation:

"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."

         We understand that God is the Creator. As the Trinity, each Person of the God-head plays a role in the entirety of the creative drama. The Father is the One "from whom all things are made" (1 Corinthians 8:6) - The "Author" of all things. The Spirit is the One from which life itself manifests in all things that are alive (see Psalm 104:30) - "The Agent of life" in all things. The Son, however, is the Architect through which all things consist (see Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3). 

         In as much as we clearly see Jesus depicted as being truly God - Creator, Redeemer, LORD - the truth of His incarnation brings a more direct level of access to "physical life". Put another way, He Who is the Architect behind the creation of physical life came to live as a physical man! John 1:14 still astonishes me when I read it,

"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 Baptist Faith and Message 2000 expounds on the significance of the incarnation of the Son of God:

"Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin."

           In granting access to a physical human life by becoming one of us, the Son of God provides the basis for how redeemed men and women can live the Christian life. In Jesus, I not only have access to participating in the Divine life of God (2 Peter 1:3-4), but also to His perfect humanity which is the basis for Christian growth and daily living (see 1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 1:27). This truth of access to Jesus humanity, made possible by the Holy Spirit, is called "union with Christ". Such a union is at the heart of our final thought in this post: Jesus grants access to Christian spiritual life.

Jesus grants access to spiritual life

            In this post we have observed how Jesus Christ grants access to God's life (since He by His divine nature ever remains God). We also noted how Jesus grants access to physical life - particularly redeemed humanity as the incarnate Redeemer by means of His human nature. The believer in Jesus has access to everything necessary for Godly living through Jesus. John 1:12-13 states concerning how Jesus is the source of spiritual life:

"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."

        We then read later on in John 1:15-17 further truths about the spiritual life provided by Jesus:

"John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ."

             I find it interesting that John 1:12-13 and John 1:15-17 pivot on John 1:14. Why? In order for anyone to have access to the the spiritual life provided by Jesus Christ, they must be "born-again" (see John 3:3-5; 2 Corinthians 5:17; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). In other words, a "miracle birth" called "regeneration" is necessary to the beginning of the Christian life. Any Christian's "miracle new birth" is made possible by the Holy Spirit's working. When you think about it, the unique "miracle conception" of Jesus in His humanity brought forth the most significant man in all of history. This miraculous conception of the humanity of Jesus provides, by analogy, a parallel to why the Christian life requires a "miraculous conception" in the believer brought about by the Spirit and the Scripture. 

       The Apostle John's inclusion of Jesus' incarnation (John 1:14) in the middle of reference to the "new birth" of Christians to spiritual life (John 1:12-13 and 1:15-17) is intentional. Truly, Jesus is central to everything in the Christian life and, whether people acknowledge it or not, is central to the meaning of life itself. Without Jesus' "miracle-birth", the Christian could never had experienced their own "miracle birth" to new life in Him. This connection is a Biblical one, as seen in what Paul writes in Galatians 4:19 - "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you."

Closing thoughts

           We have observed how Jesus Christ grants access to three sorts of life that we find in John 1:1-18 and other passages:

1. Jesus Christ grants access to God's life.

2. Jesus Christ grants access to physical life.

3. Jesus Christ grants access to spiritual life.

Truly this is what makes Advent season so significant - true life, in its fullest, accessible because of Jesus!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Peace Of God - A Fourth Sunday Of Advent Devotion

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."


        I have devoted these last few posts to reflecting upon this current season, known on the Christian calendar as "Advent". Advent is a word which means "coming" or "arrival". For the reader's convenience, I have included links to the last three Advent Sunday related posts:




      Each Sunday of Advent prepares people to reflect on Christ's first "advent" or "coming". 

The Song of Peace sung by the angels, and how early Christians recognized the only source of true peace

      The first Sunday of Advent emphasized the theme of "hope"; the second, "faith"; the third, "joy". This fourth Sunday of Advent centers around the theme of "peace". The word most often translated "peace" in the New Testament indicates the result of reconciliation accomplished by the incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus came the first-time to live, die, rise and ascend (see John 1:14-18; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Timothy 3:15-16; 1 Peter 1:18; 2:21-22; Revelation 1:8, 17-18). He, as God, became the babe in the cradle; to be the Savior on the cross; to rise victoriously from the grave; to ascend in majesty. 

      Some have referred to the fourth candle as the "Angel's candle" due to the words we read of the angels addressing the shepherds in Luke 2:14 - 

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

       There are eight songs or lyrical poems recorded in Luke's infancy narratives of Jesus' life in the first two chapters of his Gospel. Some of these songs have names derived from the 4th century Latin Vulgate translation which was used through the Middle Ages. The particular song in Luke 2:14 is called "gloria in excelsis deo" or "glory to God in the highest" or simply "gloria". I won't go too much into the incredible story of this phrase (we sing it in our modern hymn, "Angels we have Heard on High", however, there is a far older song which had liturgical use by Christians, who used an older Latin translation which predated the Vulgate). Christians from the early centuries following the Apostles recognized that the only source of peace is when we are focused on God through Jesus Christ - thus, "glory to God in the highest". 

      Whenever we think of "peace", we consider how Christ came into our world to bring about reconciliation between believing sinners and the Father (see John 16:33). Jesus came as the Mediator of peace with God (see 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1-2). Lighting the fourth Advent candle signifies the shining forth of the peace of God into the darkened human soul in need of Him at saving faith. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 reminds us - 

"For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

       In John 1:1-5, we find reference to Christ as He was in eternity. Jesus Christ was and ever remained God. When He came into this world, He brought unto Himself a truly human nature through the virginal conception of His humanity by the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:21-23). The uniting of true humanity and true Deity in the Person of the Son signaled the essence of His mission: to make definite the meeting place of God and man within Himself.  

       Such bringing together of God and man in One Person would be the pattern for the goal of salvation - reconciliation. To reconcile sinful man and Holy God results in peace. We read in Ephesians 2:13-18 

"But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father."       

         Consider Romans 5:1-5, which speaks more poignantly about this peace applied to the sinner at saving faith: 

"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. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."

Closing thoughts

          Years ago there used to be bumper-stickers that read: "No Jesus, No Peace / Know Jesus, Know Peace". This play on words captures the heart of what this fourth Sunday in Advent is all about. Since Jesus came into our world over 2,000 years ago, hope, faith, joy and peace were made available to all who trust in Him by faith. May we look to Jesus and pray for His Second Advent. He is our hope. He is our faith. He is our joy. He is our peace.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Reflections Upon The Third Sunday In Advent 2020 - The Theme Of Joy

Luke 1:41-45 "When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy."

Introduction: Happiness and Joy

       For some readers today, it may seem odd to read a post that claims cause for joy in a time of pandemic, fear and earthly unrest. However, we must realize there is a difference between "joy" and "happiness". Happiness is a temporary state of light emotions brought about by pleasant circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is a settled state of the soul that may or may not have accompanying happiness. Happiness is fleeting, external and rooted in what is seen. True joy is enduring, internal and rooted in what is perceived beyond what is seen. Happiness finds it comfort in the moment. Joy discovers it's rest in true meaning beyond the moment. Happiness comes because of people. Joy's fountain-head ultimately arises because of knowing God.

        During these last two weeks, I have offered posts that reflect on this season of the year that Christians the world-over call "Advent". Four Sundays and Christmas Eve are devoted to reflection upon on the First Coming or "Advent" of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the reader's review, the first two Sundays of Advent were reflected upon and are found by clicking on the following links:

        As I said already, some may find it difficult to see how anyone could find "joy". However, the joy that only Christ can deliver is what we so desperately need! This weekend will commemorate the third Sunday in Advent. The third Sunday of Advent and has a special theme attached to it: the theme of "joy". Many churches today utilize what is called an "Advent Wreath", which consists of three purple candles, one pink candle and a center white candle called "The Christ candle". The candle for the third Sunday of Advent is pink in color and is deemed the "candle of joy". 

      Sometimes the lighting of the pink candle is referred to as the "Shepherd's candle". Luke 2:15-17 records the Shepherds' response to the angelic announcement of the birth of the infant Christ:

"When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child."

       The underlined phrases convey the urgency of the Shepherds. The zeal with which the Shepherds proceeded to announce the news is taken by many as evidence of joy. We can define Biblical joy as the overflow of confidence and satisfaction in God. As Providence would have it, the shepherds knew where feeding troughs were in Bethlehem, making them appropriate to first hear the news relayed by the angels. Indeed, it was not only fitting for shepherds to announce the arrival of the "Great Shepherd", but also a fulfillment of a particular prophecy. Micah 4:8 predicted that a grand announcement of God's Kingdom would first arrive at a place called "Tower of the Flock" (Hebrew "Migdol Eder"), which was a main grazing area for sheep raised in Israel. The text of Micah 4:8 reads:

“As for you, tower of the flock,
Hill of the daughter of Zion,
To you it will come—
Even the former dominion will come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

       Joy is distinguished in the Advent season from the other candles due to the fact that in the midst of winter's long, growing shadows, the light of hope kindled by Christ's incarnation lights the way for the Christian. Christians of old used a Latin verb to describe the third Sunday in Advent as, "gaudete", which means "rejoice". In the infancy narrative of Matthew, we find wise-men bringing gifts to what would had been a 2-year old Jesus. Two-years prior, the events in Luke's record have shepherds hastening back to tell everyone the joyous news of Messiah's arrival. We also note the tone of joy that pervades the song of Mary, "The Maginificat" (Latin for "Magnify" or "Make great") in Luke 1:46-55. Angels sing songs of praise over the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:14). 

Joy in Jesus Christ can chase away the shadows of gloom

      The long, dark shadows of oppression and despair had hung over Israel for centuries. The Jews longed for the coming of Messiah. A swift survey of Jewish literature composed between Old and New Testaments tells the story of their longing. Although the so-called "Apocryphal books" composed by various Jewish authors some 200-100 years before Jesus' birth are not found in Protestant Bibles (nor were they ever part of the Hebrew Old Testament canon), they nonetheless record how badly the Jews desired the coming of Messiah. Later Jewish authors (such as Josephus of the first century, the time of Jesus) tell us that the expectation was so bad that several "wanna-be" messiahs appeared and were killed. The Jewish people had a certain conception of Messiah that included liberation from tyranny. The view of Messiah by Jesus' day looked more for freedom from human oppressors (such as Rome) than redemption from sin (as predicted by the Old Testament books). Other Jewish literature (called "Pseudepigrapha", due to  their alleged authorship by well-known Old Testament figures, composed between the end  of the Old Testament into the first century) contain "Apocalyptic literature" which emphasized the appearance of cosmic signs as heralding Messiah's arrival. Such non-inspired writings gives a peak into how desperate the Jewish people wanted "joy". To hear of cosmic signs such as a star appearing in the East, angels appearing and people mentioning the arrival of a King stirred the hearts of people in those days. 

       Just as dawn heralds the arrival of a new day, so too did the angelic announcement to the Shepherds. The lack of a "Word from God" resulted in long shadows of despair in Israel and ultimately the world. Quite literally, the arrival of the "Babe in Bethlehem" would begin the inbreaking of God's Kingdom into our world.  As mentioned, Biblical joy refers to the overflow of confidence and satisfaction in God. None expected that the "King of Israel" came to undergo "death on a cross" and "resurrection from a tomb". The joy of Advent is that what Jesus came to achieve really did happen! Nehemiah 8:10 declares how the "joy of the Lord is our strength". Whatever long shadows you are facing today, joy in Jesus is the strength required to push through the darkness.

Closing thoughts

       As time marches on for me in this 21st century world, I find the need for the joy of the Lord to be rekindled in my own heart. I find an oasis in Advent season. Such a season reminds me that life is not defined merely by the possessions one has or hopes to have. Indeed, I find my own soul grappling with shadows of sadness and the increasing groanings of this fallen world. Rather, only in Christ do I find hope for this present life and the strength to hope for the world to come. The lighting of that third candle will send a message. The shadows of despair must flee. Endless joy is available. Jesus came to offer Himself in His humanity as an atonement for sin. His glorious resurrection was a resurrection of physical, glorified humanity. His ascension means I have a human representative praying for me, who is simultaneously truly God that strengthens. Such wondrous, joyous news is the possession of all who by grace through faith respond to Him. May we celebrate the joy of Jesus this Advent season as we commemorate this Third Sunday of Advent.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Lighting the Candle of Faith - A Meditation Upon The Second Sunday In Advent

Luke 1:35 "And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her."


       Today's post will offer some thoughts on the significance of the second Sunday of this Advent Season, which will occur tomorrow, December 6, 2020. For the reader's reference, the first Sunday of Advent (which was last week) had a post featuring it and is found at the following link:

Advent is the season of hope and faith

       The celebration of "Advent" (from a Latin noun, "adventus", meaning "come to, arrive") refers to that arrival of the Son of God into our world in His incarnation as Jesus. At the church I pastor, we will light the second Advent candle at the beginning of our morning church service. For our church at least, the second candle will represent "faith". In various Advent traditions, the second candle is deemed "The Bethlehem Candle", commemorating the culmination of Mary and Joseph's faith in God concerning the birth of the child Jesus, conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit.

How the virginal conception of the Son of God begins and anchors faith.

        What is "faith"? Faith is that firm persuasion that who God is and what He has said is true and trustworthy. Faith fits very well in one of Advent's overall purposes in the Christian calendar: to consider entrusting oneself to Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and Treasure. When the Son of God, being truly God, was united to a true humanity supplied by Mary, The Holy Spirit united both of those natures in His Person, in her womb. As "God-in-the-flesh", He became the object, as well as already being eternally existing Author of Biblical faith (see John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 12:1-2). Hebrews 11:1 reminds us:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

       In the opening verse of today's post, we find Mary receiving the news from the angel that she was the vessel through which the Son's humanity would be conceived. Properly speaking, Advent centers upon the "virginal conception" of the Son of God's humanity. Jesus' birth proceeded forward as any other birth, uniting the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit with the work of God in His creative handiwork (see Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Philippians 2:5-11). The virginal conception of the Son of God represents a cardinal doctrine of Christianity which, among other things, explains how Jesus' humanity could have no taint of sin, since He had no earthly father from which to inherit the sin nature (see Romans 5:15; 1 Peter 1:18; 1 Peter 2:21-22). Unless Jesus was sinless, He could not represent sinners.

        Mary received the news and all of its implications by faith. Her heart was already reconciled to God in a faith that at some point had been touched by grace (see Luke 1:30). Not only did Mary evidence outward devotion, but inward trust. The miracle conception of the Son of God is, by analogy, a reminder to us of the supernatural conception in the soul that is necessary in saving faith (see John 3:3-8). True saving faith anticipates what Jesus has done, is doing and will do. In Advent Season, Christians celebrate their "Faith".

The three "senses" of faith in the Scriptures

       Faith in the Bible takes on at least three senses in the Biblical record. First, "faith" can mean one's subjective trust in God's promises, Word and Person. Second, "Faith", or what we could call "capital 'F' Faith, refers to those body of doctrines revealed by God in the scripture. The third sense of faith has to do with where our faith is directed to and embodied: Christ Himself. Christ is described for example in Hebrews 12:2 as "The Author and Finisher of faith".

How the second week of Advent captures the total Biblical emphasis of faith

         When we consider all that Advent season represents, all three of these senses are present - however, the third sense in particular is the focus: namely, "Jesus as the Author and Finisher of Faith". By finding Christian faith embodied in Christ and explained in the scriptures, our personal faith is rooted in Jesus and formed by the text of scripture.

When the Advent Candles are lit

       When the Advent candles are lit, the light they shine, though small, illuminates the eye of everyone in the room. The light of Advent illustrates faith. How? Faith is the flame from on high that kindles the small wick of the human heart. When the life and ministry of Jesus is brought to bear in our lives, we embrace it. Even in the shortening days of Advent season, Winter's chill and darkening skies cannot quench the flame of faith. Christ in the believer is light and life, shining in this dark world (see Philippians 2:15; Colossians 1:27). 

Closing thoughts

         As we carry forth into this Advent season, may we celebrate the fact that the Eternal Son came as God-incarnate. He being ever omnipotent, world-without-end arrived as a helpless infant. His mother received the news by faith. May we receive and embrace Him in faith. May Advent curb our distraction and despair. Never have hardly any of us experienced a pandemic. We must remember that the first century Jewish world into which the Son of God was born contained the darkness of tyranny, political and religious unrest and weariness. It is fitting that when Jesus began His earthly ministry in Matthew 4, the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1 would find its fulfillment in Matthew 4:16

“The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.”

May readers either have renewed faith or experience faith by looking to Jesus, the One who kindles faith in the heart to light the path with God when times are dark, and yet, are not hopeless.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

How Christians And Churches Will Endure This Pandemic


       I was reading the morning headlines the other day to see what had transpired overnight. Morning news functions the same as the evening news. One commentator once remarked about news programs: 

"They tell you 'good evening', and then proceed to spend the next 30 minutes telling you why it is not so."

      As our nation and world continues to reel under the "second wave" of COVID-19, I reflect on how this current time present challenges and opportunities for Christians and churches. As a pastor for over fifteen years and a preacher for nearly 30 years, I have found myself needing to make challenging decisions in this pandemic. In the midst of it all, I've daily asked myself the following questions: How can I remain faithful and courageous in a time where many are afraid? How can I consistently urge everyone to remain focused-on-God while reminding myself twice-as-much? 

The Christian Faith and The Church will outlast COVID-19.

        Such questions, and many others, press on my mind. I know other pastors too may raise similar queries. I have found that despite whatever is going on globally - whether politically, socially, economically or otherwise - the Christian faith and Christ's Church can thrive and will outlast COVID-19. We have a Bible that was inspired in eras fraught with famines, persecutions, wars and diseases. If for anything, the sufficiency of God's Word becomes more dear in seasons such as this. We have a risen and exalted Savior, The Lord Jesus Christ, Who is Prophet, Priest and soon-coming-King. He prays for the persisting faith of believers and His Church-at-large. A few thoughts were impressed upon my thinking while reading my Bible and the morning news which I'd like to share today about how Christians and churches can endure during this pandemic: 

1. Look to the Bible. 
2. Look to history.  
3. Look to God.

Look to the Bible: Ever-Present Truth In Times Of Turmoil.

      I'm reminded of the words of author A.W. Tozer in his book: "The Pursuit of God", wherein he equates "looking to God" to that of "trusting God". As I read Psalm 77 that day, I thought along with the Psalmist about "how much do I trust God". 

      Psalm 77 is a great passage of scripture to look through when facing worry, fear and anxiety. Worry is when I express doubt about the future. Fear is when I express doubt about the present. Anxiety is when doubt hounds me because of the past. Doubt is when we are caught between what we know we ought to trust and the temptation to abandon what we have always trusted. The Psalmist begins Psalm 77 by describing how he was dealing with life in his prayer-time to God:

"My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; My voice rises to God, and He will listen to me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; In the night my hand was stretched out and did not grow weary; My soul refused to be comforted."

What better time to seek God than now.

       Most would say that all of 2020 has been one continuous "day of trouble". Yet, what better time to seek the Lord. For anyone that is honest, such seeking of God can often conflict with our hasty refusal to take comfort of any sort in the soul. Whenever the conventional routes of comfort are cut-off (friends, financial security, health, confidence in any sort of leadership, having ready answers) the soul grows numb. All of those "conventional routes of comfort, in the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, "lies under the sun". They are found inadequate to sooth the troubled soul, since only He that governs "over, in and through everything under the sun" can quell our inner storm. 

        The Psalmist himself pursues a line of questioning about God (Psalm 77:7-10). Yet, when we reach Psalm 77:11, the Psalmist discovered that God alone could calm his inner-anxieties by appealing to how He did it in the past. Psalm 77:11-12 expresses:

"I shall remember the deeds of the Lord;
I will certainly remember Your wonders of old. 12 I will meditate on all Your work, And on Your deeds with thanksgiving."

It is always a good thing to reflect upon God's faithfulness.

      Where then do we find the "deeds of God" done on behalf of His people? For the Psalmist, appealing to scripture itself will yield the reminders. As one reads the remainder of Psalm 77:13-20, a rehearsal of the Exodus account is brought to mind (see Exodus 3-18). Anyone who reads that section in the Book of Exodus can draw the connection between "what God did" and "what God can do again". As I peruse Old and New Testaments alike, I find out how faithful God was to His people in plague, famine, persecution and loss. Such reminders from the Scriptures prompt me to think back on how good God has been over the years. For the Christian and the church-at-large, fleeing to the scriptures to search after "all that God has done and can-still-do" gives us the anchor of truth as we ride out this pandemic.  

Look To The Past: An Ever-Present Reminder Of How We Can Respond In Times Of Testing.

      As we noted in our study of Psalm 77 above, the Psalmist had recourse to God's past deliverances of Israel as a way of  coping with his circumstances. Scripture elsewhere urges us to consider how God dealt with His people in times past and how His people responded positively (see Acts 2) or negatively (Hebrews 3-4). God's dealings and people's responses provide valuable lessons. Undoubtedly, observing how Jesus dealt with the increasing demands of life provides fuel for the Christian when their tank is nearly empty (see 1 John 2:6). Paul reminds us that the Scriptures were inspired to not only provide principles for current living, but hope for abundant living in the love of Christ (see Romans 15:4). 

Christians and churches have been down this path already, and God saw them through it all.

       Most reading this blog might recall another pandemic which afflicted our world in 1918-1919. Many in recent days have drawn parallels and lessons from how the United States and churches within it responded to the dreaded Influenza outbreak. I was reading of how churches in Mobile, Alabama and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania closed their doors during those harrowing days. Some churches decided to open their buildings for the purpose of temporary sick-wards. Others began to publish weekly newsletters with sermons and encouragements. Pastors encouraged church members to dedicate 11:00 a.m. as a time for family prayer and devotion.  A few churches, of course, remained open, believing they needed to provide ministry to those who were in need. By-and-large, whether in Ohio, or Pennsylvania or the South, the church-at-large persisted and carried-out her mission, whether or not they met. 

How God brought a greater good out of turbulent times.

      As I read some of the headlines back in 1918-1919, I was reminded of how much the United States was under the grip of not only a deadly pandemic, but also World-War I. In a "Baptist-Press" article (associated with the SBC), I learned how God used those dire circumstances to enable the church to flourish (

        The Southern Baptist Convention urged all of its churches to raise funds for missions by setting of goal of $75 million dollars within a five-year span. Although the goal fell-short, yet, from 1918-1919, SBC churches raised more missionary support in that one-year than in the ten-years prior. Remarkably, the SBC was led to reconsider how it would support it's growing number of missionaries in North America and abroad. The launching of the "Cooperative Program" in 1925 meant that every church would contribute a portion to one large fund from whence every missionary would draw support. Would such an effort, to organize around missionary support, had emerged without the pressures of a world war and world-wide pandemic? We can speculate. However, we have the past events which tell us that prevailing circumstances of that time were used by God to bring about a much-greater-good. 

      Studying the past, whether secular history or church history, can aid us in seeing how God's Providence (that work which God does in guiding, preserving and influencing people and history towards the goal of His will) is at work. To realize that our own time is not "unprecedented" gives us a much-needed "second-reference-point" which, when submitted to the Scriptures, helps navigate the difficulties with newfound hope. 

A pastor's lessons gleaned from observing God's Providence in his life.

       John Flavel, a late 17th century Christian author, wrote a wonderful book entitled: "The Mystery of Providence". Flavel was a pastor who had experienced outbreaks during his time. He had pastored for many years and experienced the loss of three wives (each to sickness) and the loss of a child (during delivery by his second wife). Flavel knew pain. More importantly, Flavel knew His God. He wrote the following words which apply to us:

"It is here supposed to be the Christian's great duty, under the apprehensions of approaching troubles, to resign His will to God's and quietly commit the events and their outcome to Him, whatever they may prove." 

    Such recollections show us how God can "work all things together for the good, to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). 

Focus on God: An Ever-Present Help In Time-Of-Need.

       Seeing God's Providential Hand at work in the past and hearing His powerful voice through His Word encourages the Christian to look to Him. Hebrews 4:14-16 gives us a word of exhortation to consider:

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let’s hold firmly to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need."

Closing thoughts.

       Our God never changes (Malachi 3:6). He is unvarying, and thus, there is no shifting nor turning of shadow within Him (James 1:17). To know I can, through Jesus, boldly approach Him in prayer means that I ought to run to Him at all times. When I am worried - He provides His perfect peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). When I am anxious, rather than making a hasty decision, I need to "wait on the Lord". Consequently, through "waiting on God", I learn to  trust that He will, in turn, "renew my strength" (see Isaiah 26:3; 40:31). When I am afraid, I need only to look to God, who tells me to "not be afraid" (compare John 14:1-3; Hebrews 13;5,6,8). When I look to God's Word and look to the lessons of the past, I can then look to God. He alone knows the future. God can gives a clear path to live out the Christian faith and for the church to pursue His mission for her during the pandemic and beyond. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Advent 2020 - The Only Hope That Can Pierce The Darkness


Luke 1:46-49 "And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name."


        This coming Sunday begins Advent Season 2020. In the traditional celebration, each Sunday of Advent carries a theme which culminates on Christmas Eve with the lighting of the "Christ Candle". Tomorrow will mark the first theme of Advent - "Hope". How we need hope! The account of the incarnation of the Son of God is centered around "hope in God", who alone can save sinners (see Isaiah 43:10-11; 46:9,10; Jonah 2:9; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:8-10). As our church will light that first Advent candle, I'll mention how the lighting is often referred to as "lighting the prophet's candle". Truly, the Word of God, as delivered to the prophets and apostles, brings hope into places where the words of men bring only despair.

       In reflecting upon how God's prophetic Word brings hope, I want us to consider how the Holy Spirit operated as the Spirit of prophecy in the Christmas narrative of Luke's Gospel. Revelation 19:10 explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit by this title:

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

      It is appropriate to capitalize "spirit", since in the Greek text the word for "spirit" has the definite article "the". The 1599 Geneva Bible follows this suggested pattern:

"And I fell before his feet, to worship him, but he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and one of thy brethren, which have the testimony of Jesus, Worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy."

         A remarkable study to undertake is the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Advent or first coming of Jesus Christ. In both his Gospel and "Acts of the Apostles", Luke mentions the Holy Spirit more often than any other Biblical writer (some 50 times or so). Understanding the Holy Spirit's prophetic ministry illuminates how God prepared history for the arrival of the incarnated Son of God (see Galatians 4:4; 2 Peter 1:19-21). An immediate life-practical application is this: to find hope in Jesus Christ now as we eagerly await His soon return. Certainly, reception of what the Bible reveals about Jesus is made possible by the Holy Spirit.

What is prophecy?

        Before we move on, a question must be answered: what is prophecy? Prophecy exhorts God's people to be alert and ready. Prophecy "foretells" or speaks about things yet-to-come. This act of God through the Bible also "forthtells", that is, it tells us how we ought to live in the present while anticipating what He will do. Prophecy reminds the Christ-follower of their true identity in Him. Prophecy speaks to the present by pointing us to what lies ahead. Prophecy reminds us from whence we came and to not repeat the mistakes of past generations of God's people. The Holy Spirit is the chief agent behind all prophetic declarations in the Bible.

The main thought of today's post

Truly then, the Holy Spirit is the "Spirit of Christmas". As Advent season starts with lighting the so-called "Candle of Hope" or "Prophet's Candle", this post will explore how the Holy Spirit brought hope through the revelation of God's "written word" in human words to point the way to God's "Living Word" in human flesh - Jesus Christ (see John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-11). The Spirit of prophecy points to Christ (see 1 Peter 1:10-12). Let us note the following truths.

1. Promises to God’s people - the basis of the prophetic hope of God's Word. Luke 1:67-80

        There are a total of five prophetic songs in Luke 1-2. The second of these is that by John the Baptist's father - Zacharias. Luke 1:67 explicitly describes his response to John the Baptist's birth:

"And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying."

        Now we don't have the time to lay out the full meaning of this incredible prophetic utterance. However, a brief outline will need to suffice for now.

a. God's promise of a king. 1:67-71
b. God's promise of a blessing. 1:72-75
c. God's promise of a people. 1:76-79

2. Person of Christ - the focus of the prophetic hope of God's Word. Luke 1-2

        The basis of prophecy is God's promises. The focal point is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The most famous song of the five songs recorded in Luke's Gospel is what is termed: "The Magnificat" in Luke 1:46-55. This title is due to the first word of the song as found in the Latin Vulgate translation, "magnificat", which means "exalts". The purpose of Mary's song is to call attention to the One who now resides in her womb. Like Zacharias' song, we will only give an outline of the contents of what Mary exclaims as she visits her cousin Elizabeth.

a. Mighty Savior. Luke 1:46-49
b. Merciful Lord. Luke 1:50-56

         Several places in the New Testament remind us of the fact that the Holy Spirit, by way of prophecy, points to the Person of Christ (Luke 24:44; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The Holy Spirit's task is to point anyone and everyone to Jesus Christ - the great Savior and great Lord (see John 16:8-12). In a world full of COVID, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, we find the Lord of Heaven and earth walking to us in the pages of scripture as truly man. He does not merely bring hope - He is Hope incarnate.

3. Purposes of salvation are revealed by the prophetic hope of God's Word. Lk 2:25-35

       We have noted how the Spirit of prophecy utilizes the promises of God to point to the Person of Christ. As we look at one more prophecy in Luke today, we consider briefly the words of Simeon. Simeon is described as having waited for the time when He would behold Israel's deliverer with His own eyes. Older generations of the past used the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible to assign a Latin title to Simeon's prophetic declaration in Luke 2:29-32, namely: "nunc dimittis". This Latin phrase corresponds to the first two words we can translate as: "now release".

        Think of how God's salvation purposes release those who receive His wonderous grace such by faith. Release from guilt (Romans 5:1). Release from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 1:7). Release from alienation from God (1 Peter 1:18). Release from future judgment (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Release from Satan's tyranny (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). Release from the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).  Such "releases" deliver the only sort of hope that transcends the bleakness of our time. 

       Simeon is expressing how beholding the Savior has set Him free. He had hoped for nearly all of his life. For a significant portion of his time on earth, Simeon's hope seem delayed. As the great Baptist preacher Adrian Rogers once remarked: "God's delays are not to be taken as God's denials". God kept His word to Simeon. Simeon not only beheld hope; he "held" hope in his arms! 

       The purposes of salvation are concentrated in a Person - a Divine Person in Whom is united truly Divine nature, able to save, and truly human nature, capable to save.  Jesus came to be human in order to reconcile sinners to a Holy God. As man, He was born, lived, died and arose from the dead. He is our hope (see Colossians 1:27). 

Closing thoughts

        The Spirit of prophecy spoke through these events and people. Luke's record captures the wondrous reality of the Holy Spirit's work to make clear the advent of the Son of God in frail humanity. Would we, this advent season, heed "The Spirit of prophecy", Who shines for the only Hope that can pierce the darkness.

Friday, October 30, 2020

A Cause For Celebration And A Challenge To Consider: Happy Reformation Day, October 31, 2020


       I begin today's post by quoting from Paul's letter to the Church at Rome in Romans 4:1-3:

"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

       This Saturday, October 31, will mark a significant date on the calendar. Many people may think of "Halloween" when I mention October 31st. However, there is a far greater set of reasons to celebrate. An event of historic proportions occurred over 500 years ago that would shape the course of Christianity even to this day - the Protestant Reformation. 

The big deal that led to the Protestant Reformation

      What was the Reformation? In 16th century Europe, cries for reform in the Medieval Catholic Church had ensued for centuries. Within the church, 14th century Christian thinkers such as John Huss and John Wycliffe were preaching sermons which urged people to "return to the Gospel" proclaimed by the first-century Christians by "returning to the Book" - the Bible. Moral, spiritual and theological corruption invaded the church in Europe through centuries of accumulated human tradition and high Biblical illiteracy. Roman Catholic scholars such as Desiderius Erasmus (who would become a major theological opponent of Martin Luther, the historically recognized initiator of the Protestant Reformation) was even urging the need for reform.  

       Early 16th century Germany was ripe for the actions of Martin Luther when he nailed a public document to the door of the church in Wittenburg Germany, challenging Roman Catholic leaders to a public debate over the abuse of Pope Leo X selling documents which promised less time in purgatory  to pay for the construction of the then new St. Peter's Basilica (Church) in Rome. This peddling of lessening people's time in purgatory was known in those days as "selling of indulgences", since the Roman Catholic Church taught that an over abundance of merit before God was "indulged" or available at the appropriate price. Many people sought to purchase these documents with the thought of their dead loved ones having an easier time in the after-life. Astute thinkers like Martin Luther knew that this idea was not taught in scripture (that is, indulgences and Purgatory itself), and thus needed addressed. 

How the Reformation got to the root of major spiritual problems and the point of this post

      The Reformation would soon get to the root of the problems abounding in 16th century European spiritual life: what has ultimate authority (the Bible or the church)? How is a person "justified" or made right before God (is faith alone in Christ sufficient to receive salvation or is participation in the church's sacramental system needed to attain righteousness)? 

      The two issues of ultimate authority for Christianity and how a person is made right with God ever remain top areas of contention in our world. As we think about October 31, all Bible believing groups, including Southern Baptists, are deeply indebted to what God did through the Protestant Reformation that began on October 31st, 1517. Today's post is aimed at issuing forth two direct challenges to Southern Baptists and all other Bible believing groups about Reformation Day, October 31st: 

1. A rejoicing challenge.
2. A take back challenge. 

1. The Challenge to Rejoice 

      So why rejoice over Reformation day, October 31st? Three reasons....

a. The recovery of "sola scriptura
    or "scripture alone"

      First of all, as mentioned already, the root or "formal cause" of Luther's "call for reform" had to do with ultimate authority in the Christian life and church. Martin Luther had become a professor of theology in 1512, tasked with the responsibility of expounding books of the Bible to theology students. As he wrestled with lack of peace in his own soul, the matter of ultimate authority would throb in the backdrop of his mind. Yes, Luther would come to terms with the "material cause" of the Reformation - the doctrine of justification or "how a person is made right with God" - in his preparation of lectures on Paul's letter to the Romans. Yet, in the years following his "Tower experience" conversion in 1515, Luther would champion the view of Jesus and the Apostles: Scripture alone. In short, "sola scriptura" affirms that the Bible, not human tradition, constitutes the grounds of authority that shapes life, explains the after-life and addresses the conscience.

To sharpen what Luther was needing to address in the Reformation, the big question was this: is it the Pope and his statements concerning who went to heaven and who did not constitute the ultimate authority for the church, or is it sacred scripture that God alone revealed to communicate matters pertaining to this life and the one to come?

As Martin Luther wrestled over such questions, his conclusion was - Scripture alone! Doubtless, other forms of authority such as church leadership, conclusions from reason and other forms of knowledge had their place in Luther's thinking. Yet, all of those said authorities were subsumed under scripture. Luther and other Reformers, such as Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox and others affirmed the "magisterial" role of scripture in its relationship to reason, tradition and church leadership.

b. The recovery of justification by 
    faith alone or "sola fide" (faith 

      The second reason to rejoice over October 31st and Reformation Day is due to the recovery of the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone (sola fide). In contrast to the man-made traditions of the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, Luther and those after him re-asserted the Biblical truth that faith by itself is both the necessary and sufficient means of receiving the gift of salvation. Old Testament passages such as Genesis 15:6 and New Testament passages such as Ephesians 2:8-9 affirm "sola fide"  or salvation by means of "faith alone". Thus, justification by faith alone became the central doctrine, "the stuff" or "material cause" driving the vehicle of the Protestant Reformation. The doctrine of scripture alone (sola scriptura) was Luther's fuel in the engine that drove His call for reform - Justification by faith alone (sola fide). Luther himself noted that Justification by Faith is the one article upon which the church rises or falls.

c. Recovering the truth about the Biblical concept of the church

      The third reason to celebrate Reformation Day, October 31st, is because the Biblical concept of the church was recovered. As Martin Luther denounced the Roman Catholic Church's system of indulgences, a second question emerged: how is a man or woman made right with God? A church that does not derive its authority from the scriptures nor teaches the Biblical concept of the Gospel - justification by faith alone, cannot be deemed a true church. 

        Roman Catholicism of 16th century Europe, as well as today, communicates faith to be necessary for salvation - however it teaches that faith by itself is not sufficient.  According to Rome, one must participate in the Roman Catholic church system of baptism, confession, penance and Mass to be deemed right by God and to stay right.  The Gospel in the Reformation's recovery of the church shined forth not as a candle but as a brilliant sun. If God had not raised up men like Martin Luther to spark the Reformation movement, then the recovery of Biblical authority, justification by faith in the Gospel and the necessary truth of the local church may had turned out quite different.
        So we need to answer the challenge to celebrate Reformation day due to what God did in calling us back to the Bible, the Gospel and the Church. 

2. The Take-Back Challenge: Let's take back October 31st and celebrate God's Word, the Gospel and Jesus' mission for His church

       It is time to take back October 31, and use this day to proclaim the truth of scripture and the reformation, sparked on October 31, 1517. Truly the message of the Reformation is a message about "after darkness, light" (post tenebras lux).  Gospel Light, not darkness, should characterize our lives as Christians.  

      October 31st has been for years a time for paganism to observe one of the so-called "spirit nights" on their yearly calendar.  Rather than promoting a day of darkness and wickedness, witches, ghosts and goblins, Christians need to take a God-centered event like the Reformation and remind themselves of how God led His church back to the Bible, the Gospel of justification by faith alone and recovery of the Biblical concept of the church.  
        The Reformation was about calling forth people from spiritual darkness into the light of Jesus Christ.  Someone once said: "It is more effective to light a candle than merely curse the darkness".  Let's light the Gospel light and shine the glory of the Gospel.  As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Envisioning Christian Spiritual-life Formation

The Potter & The Clay | The Blog of Patrick Vincent

      In recent years I've given increased thought to what entails "Christian spiritual-life formation". When I say "spiritual-life formation", I simply mean those spiritual practices which enable Christians to grow in their faith as they cooperate with God in daily-living. As one journeys back through the millennia of Church history and the Old Testament, we can find precedents for this idea. For instance, God had prescribed seven "festivals" for the Jewish people to initiate a spiritual-life cycle that would correspond to the agricultural cycle of "sowing and reaping" (see Leviticus 23). In the New Testament, we find Jesus taking one of those festivals, "The Passover", and transfiguring it into what we know today as "The Lord's Supper" for frequent observance by His church. 

      Individual Biblical-spirituality was situated within the larger framework of God's covenant-dealings with His people. The increasing secularization of society and development of non-theistic forms of spirituality demands a fresh understanding, preaching about and practice of Biblical spiritual-life formation.  

Envisioning Christian spiritual-life formation by way of a "Christian spiritual-life toolbox"

     As a pastor, I intend to begin a new series of messages that will center around an idea I call: "A Christian spiritual-life toolbox". The goal of the lesson series (Sunday night, twenty minute messages), is to provide a resource which small groups could use in future studies and to equip people in-person or online with tools for Christian spiritual-life formation. The series itself will likely contain roughly twenty messages, twenty minutes in length, followed by a time of discussion/Q&A and ending with prayer and reflection. Each time a message is presented, the rhythm of each service will begin with adoration, proclamation, exploration (the discussion time) and application (closing with prayer for renewal to exercise oneself spiritually in that particular area). There are four key areas of Christian spirituality for Christian spiritual-life formation:

1. Church-life.
2. Relational-life (i.e. small-group life).
3. Word-life (i.e. time in the scriptures).
4. Prayer-life. 

     Each of the above four areas represent four aspects of spiritual-life and development that intersect with the work of the Spirit in making the Christian more like Jesus Christ in thought, word and action (otherwise known as "sanctification"). What follows below are likely lessons and messages in the series (it is quite likely we will do the whole study in four "installments", with possible addition or deletion of messages). As I give further thought to what we will likely cover in this series, it also reflects the details of how I envision Christian spiritual-life formation.

1. Church-life.

*The benefits of congregational singing to the Christian life.

*The benefits of preaching to the Christian life.

*How evangelism with others can benefit the Christian life.

*The benefits of celebrating Lord's Supper and Baptism to the Christian life.

*The benefits of practicing giving to the local church to the Christian life.

2. Relational life.

*Christian mentoring as a must for Christian growth.

*Discipleship is at the heart of Christian growth.

*Why Sunday School is needed in the weekly spiritual diet.

*Building a strong marriage and home.

*Biblical friendship and praying for one another.

3. Word-life. 

*Knowing how the Bible is put-together.

*Basic Bible-study skills as a way of building faith.

*How to construct a soul-winner's Bible.

*What does it mean to "hear God through the scriptures"?

*The steps from meditation to application of God's Word.

*How you can know the Bible is the Word of God.

4. The prayer-life.

*How confession of sin enhances spiritual-life formation.

*The art and practice of stillness before God.

*What to do while you are waiting on God.

*How to pray the scripture.

*The power of prayer and fasting.

*The effectiveness of a thankful life.

*Steps to the Spirit-filled life.

*If revival is going to start, it must begin with me.

*The steps toward developing a daily devotional life.

*The value of praying with others to the Christian life.

      My hope and prayer is that this study would stir my heart and others toward a deeper and wider walk with Jesus Christ. As I preach the series, I intend to do future blog-posts on some of the messages, as well as provide video links for anyone interested. 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Symphony And Unity Of The Bible As Seen In "The Great Marriage Theme"

Brunette Bride & Groom Wedding Cake Topper | Party City Canada
John 3:27-29 "John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full."

Introduction: The unity and symphony of scripture

        We recently have explored how the theme of "the great wedding" ties together the Bible's message of salvation. Additionally, this same theme has shed light upon predictive Bible prophecies of Jesus' return to retrieve believers unto Himself in "the rapture of the church". It truly is amazing to see the symphony and unity of the Bible. When I say "symphony", I mean all the various strands of truth that convey God's revelation of Himself in Scripture. When I speak of the "unity of scripture", I mean the incredible consistency of the message of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The "marriage theme" is one of those themes that demonstrates both of these traits of scripture. 

          Today's post is going to explore this theme further by taking as its point of departure the early days of Jesus' ministry in John chapters two and three. John 2:1-11 and John 3:22-36 represent bookends that expose readers to the theme of Jesus Christ as the Heavenly Bridegroom that came to redeem His bride. The Bible Knowledge Commentary notes this point about Jesus and the "bridegroom" theme:

"In Jesus’ growing influence, John found his own joy fulfilled. He illustrated this for his disciples by referring to a custom at Near Eastern weddings. The friend of the bridegroom was only an assistant, not the main participant in the marriage. The assistant acted on behalf of the bridegroom and made the preliminary arrangements for the ceremony."

The commentary later notes:

"His joy came when he heard the bridegroom coming for his bride. John the Baptist’s work was to prepare for the arrival of Christ, the “Groom.” John baptized only with water, not with the Spirit. Therefore Jesus must become greater and John must become less. This was not merely advisable or fortuitous; it was the divine order. John willingly and with joy accepted Jesus’ growing popularity as God’s plan."

       The Biblical theme of the "Divine Wedding" was used by God to portray His redemptive purposes in the Bible. In a more specific way, we want to see how this overall theme applies specifically to understanding the identity of Jesus Christ in John 3:22-36.   

1. The Old Testament's use of the "bridegroom theme"

        It is no accident that the most famous passage on salvation in the Bible - John 3:16 - occurs in the same chapter as John the Baptist's declaration of Jesus as the Bridegroom for the people. In the Old Testament, God planned to marry Israel as His wife (as portrayed in His promises to the patriarchs).  His covenant with them on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19-20) and His repeated appeals for them to be faithful as a spouse to her husband (see  Hosea 2:20-23) pervade the message of the Old Testament scriptures (also see Jeremiah 2:1ff). 

       Old Testament books like "Ruth" unite the marital language of the Old Testament with the concept of a "Kinsman Redeemer" who takes on a bride that was married to a near blood-relative that passed away so as to preserve that man's bloodline (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10). In such ancient contexts, widows had no way of redeeming themselves, and so not only did the "law of the kinsman-redeemer" preserve the dead man's lineage, but also protected the living widow. Such marital language is used in the Old Testament's pointing forward to Jesus, who came to redeem for Himself a bride that, metaphorically speaking, was formerly married to the deadness of sins, trespasses and the kingdom of darkness (see Ephesians 2:1-4 and 5:22-25). 

       The Old Testament unfolds this "marital" language in many more ways as it speaks of the relationship between God and His people (see Psalm 45 and Song of Solomon). With the great "marriage theme", we do come across unexpected "twists and turns", such as  the abrupt theme of divorce representing the breach of covenant by the people to God (see Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8; Hosea 2:2). The sad treachery of Israel is thankfully not the final word. Glimpses of promises of restoration sit on the horizons of the prophets. 

       Through prophetic predictions of a new Covenant and coming Messiah (Ezekiel 36:25-26; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-31), Yahweh revealed His plan to restore unto Himself His people (see again Hosea 2:20-23). What all this means is that God's Sovereign purposes to restore His people were not going to fail. 

2. The appearance of the Heavenly Divine Bridegroom to achieve salvation for His people

      John the Baptist's remarks about Jesus being the "bridegroom" begins to unfold how it is God is going to restore unto Himself a people.  What surprises us is that God Himself, in the Person of the Son, was going to experience incarnation as the Groom who would offer Himself to Israel as her Messiah. Redemption is pictured in the New Testament as God's desire to restore broken fellowship with a people who rejected Him! 

3. The Tragedy and Triumph of the Bridegroom in redeeming His people

       As the reader journeys throughout the Gospels, we see the following thoughts developed regarding the presentation of the Son as "The Groom for His people":

A. The Divine Groom rejoices in coming for His people. Matthew 9:15; John 2:1-12

B. The Divine Groom rejected by His people. Matthew 22:1-5

C. The Divine Groom renders His life on behalf of His people. Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27

4. The surprising climax of the Bridegroom redeeming His people

       The New Testament's unfolding of this amazing theme centers almost exclusively on the Groom - The Son. However there is another twist, a surprise unforeseen by the Old Testament and faintly unfolded in the Gospels: namely, the mystery of the church (see Ephesians 3:9-10). The Son who rejoiced, was rejected, rendered His life to crucifixion and raised from the dead will return once again. Passages such as Revelation 19:7-21 portray how the Son is looking forward to retrieve His Bride - The Church. Furthermore, the current project of God the Holy Spirit involves calling forth, one -by-one, sinners to saving faith - which amounts to sinners saying: "I do" to Jesus. When we put together all that we have considered up to this point, and then consider how the remainder of the New Testament explains this theme, we discover the following:

A. The Bride is being prepared for her groom, (with Israel being set aside at this present time) - Romans 11.

B. The Bride will be presented to the Son as His bride in heaven the rapture - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 19:6-7.

C. The Bride will be presented here on earth at His second coming (at which point He will restore Israel) - Matt 25:1-13; Rom 11:25-26; 1 Thess 4:13-16.

D. The Groom will reign on earth with His Bride the church, along with Israel who will be folded into His bride to be at the end of His reign on earth - Revelation 20.

E. The Groom and Bride will be married for all eternity, thus completing God's purposes in presenting a bride, composed of all of those whom He chose, called and were converted by faith to His Son - Revelation 21-22.

Closing thoughts:

       So when we consider all of the above observations with what John says in the opening text of John 3:27-29, we can see why he was so excited. Truly the promises of redemption and restoration were decisively revealed in the life of the incarnation of the Son in Jesus. This grand "marriage theme" conveys to us the symphony and unity of the Bible, as well as the identity of Jesus. May we all fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of Faith (Hebrews 12:1-3).