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Saturday, January 18, 2020

What is the Bible all about?

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2 Timothy 3:15-17 "and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

Introduction: 

    In nearly thirty years of preaching ministry, I've had a burden to draw people's attention to the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ. What follows is an attempt to get people re-engaged with the greatest book ever written - and I may add, the only one which has demonstrated its claims as God's Divine revelation - the Bible. In April 2019, Barna Research Group released a poll entitled: "State of the Bible 2019 - trends in engagement". Readers can access this eye-opening poll by clicking here: https://www.barna.com/research/state-of-the-bible-2019/

     The poll suggests that although there is a slight increase in surface-level engagement with the Bible, the overall trend is drifting toward further disuse. The Bible, God's Word, is the chief instrument through which sinners are brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17). Furthermore, the Bible is the chief instrument for Christian growth and the church empowerment (see Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). 
     
What is the Bible about?

     What is the Bible? This question is important to answer so that we can understand what the Bible is about. We can give four answers to this all-important question.

First, the Bible is the foundation of faith and life. 

     The Bible is not just a book, it is the "Book of books". Why? The Bible, by its very title, means: "The Book". The 19th century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon produced a systematic question and answer book to take his congregants through major doctrines of scripture and systematic theology entitled: "A Puritan Catechism", which readers can access here: https://www.biblestudytools.com/history/creeds-confessions/catechisms/a-puritan-catechism.html. Spurgeon had observed in his day the rapid decline of Biblical Christianity.  He wanted to ensure that the tremendous Christian heritage he had inherited would not go extinct. The opening questions Spurgeon raises demonstrate this first point of why the Bible is fundamental to faith and life. Spurgeon notes:

Q1: What is the chief end of man?

A1: Man's chief end is to glorify God, ( 1 Corinthians 10:31 ) and to enjoy him for ever. ( Psalms 73:25 Psalms 73:26 )

Q2: What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify him?

A2: The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments ( Ephesians 2:20 ; 2 Timothy 3:16 ) is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him. ( 1 John 1:3 )

Q3: What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A3: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. ( 2 Timothy 1:13 ; Ecclesiastes 12:13 )

Secondly, the Bible is God’s final revelation of Himself to mankind. 
Image result for gifts unwrapped
     Whenever you open birthday presents, you are ripping off wrapping paper to uncover the hidden gift inside the box. Revelation is when God takes away the “wrapping paper” of His hidden purposes to uncover to us His plan for our lives (see 2 Peter 1:20-21). The only book in the world that can rightly claim itself as God’s written revelation is the Bible. In as much as we've noted the fundamental place of the Bible as occupying final authority for faith and practice of daily living, we must point out that it only has this function due to God's revelation of Himself through its words. So what else is the Bible about? 

The third thing about the Bible is that it has full authority. 
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      In addition to the Bible occupying a fundamental role in faith and life, as well as uniquely functioning as God's final revelation, we can understand why these first two thoughts lead us to see the full authority of the Bible. God revealed each book of the Bible by words through a process called: “inspiration” – which means “God’s out-breathing” (see 2 Timothy 3:16). The authority it carries as God's inspired collection of totally accurate, true and faithful words (and thus books) makes it unique. 

      The Bible contains 66 individual books, written by 40 authors, over 1500 years, on three continents, in three original languages. The Bible is God’s truth, no matter what place, time or language. Let's note one more important answer to our overall question: "what is the Bible about?". 
As a final thought on what the Bible is about, we can note....

The Bible’s focus – God revealed in Jesus Christ, to make know salvation and to point to God's glory.  
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      We could say that the Bible is: “the book of books, revealing the King of Kings”.  As the Bible focuses our attention on the Lord Jesus Christ, a focused message and goal emerges from its pages. The central message of the Bible is the Gospel. The Gospel is "good news" due to its life-changing contents. First, there is the Savior and Lord who is God and man - the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived, died, was buried and raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-6). Secondly, salvation is rooted in God's grace (that is, salvation unearned by good behavior, granted as a result of God's willing bestowal to redeem the sinner that He calls through the Gospel). Thirdly, salvation is received by a responsive trust in Jesus Christ as prompted by grace (otherwise known as, "faith, see Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is the Bible's central message, however, the overall goal of the the Bible is to make known God’s glory (God’s glory is when we can see all His goodness by what He reveals about Himself). These ideas tell us what the Bible “is all about”. 

Closing thoughts:

      Today's post aimed to introduce readers to answers to the big question: "what is the Bible all about?". We gave four responses:

1. The Bible is the foundation of faith 
    and life.

2. The Bible is God's final revelation of      Himself to mankind.

3. The Bible, as God's revelation, has 
    final authority.

4. The Bible’s focus – God revealed in        Jesus Christ, to make known          
    salvation and to point to His glory.  


Saturday, January 11, 2020

The good and bad angelic realms - a summary

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Introduction:

The Psalmist notes in Psalm 148:1-5

“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! 2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! 3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! 4 Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created.” 

The late Baptist theologian Augustus Hopkins Strong notes about the importance of studying angels: 

“The doctrine of angels affords a barrier against the false conception of this world as including the whole spiritual universe.  Earth is only part of a larger organism.  As Christianity has united Jew and Gentile, so hereafter will it blend our own and other orders of creation."

Whenever anyone explores the various creatures in the Bible’s presentation of the supernatural realm such a study is called: “angelology”. Broadly speaking, the "good guys" in angelology represent varying orders of spiritual creatures, ranging from the highest level called, "the Divine Council (see Psalm 82, "sons of God") to that of a middle tier of beings known as, "Cherubim", "Seraphim" and "the watchers", to the third tier of every other spiritual being known simply as: "angels". This assortment of "good" spiritual beings populate God's invisible kingdom. 

       On the bad-side we have two other subheadings known as: “Satanology”, or the examination of Satan (his being, rebellion and work) and “demonology” (that is, the various ranks of spiritual beings). Satan and all the various sort of malevolent spiritual beings  populate the parasitic "kingdom of darkness". Below we have a chart that depicts the Biblical supernatural realm. Notice that in the diagram, angels occupy the third or lowest tier of the spiritual creatures in God’s invisible kingdom. 
     In what remains, I want to offer a brief account of the angels as they are portrayed in the Bible. I hope this summary edifies and equips readers with a better working understanding of the Biblical doctrine of angels (known, as noted above, by the term: "angeology").

1. Angels are created beings.

       We can note first, that like the other spiritual beings in the Biblical supernatural realm, angels are created beings.  Psalm 148:5 notes that the angels were created by the command of God, just like the visible universe, stars, planets, life and humanity. Hebrews 1:7, quoting Psalm 104:4, states: “And of the angels He says,

“Who makes His angels winds, And His ministers a flame of fire.” From what we can discern from Job 38:1-7, the entire supernatural realm was created by God on either days 2 or 3 in the creative week. 

2. There are Good and Bad Angels

     When God originally created the angelic realm, they were all good. The creation of the supernatural realm was followed by the cosmic rebellion of Lucifer, which in turn influenced other spiritual beings to become the fallen angels (Isaiah 14:12-20; Ezekiel 28:13-19; Revelation 12:4). Some of those fallen angels are chained and some roam freely between here and the heavenly realms (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6; Ephesians 6:10-11). Thankfully, there are 2/3 of the heavenly angels faithfully serving God and His people (1 Timothy 5:21; Hebrews 1:14).

3. Angels are powerful beings

     Angels are dramatically powerful beings.  In 2 Kings 19:35 we read: “Then it happened that night that the angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead.”  Revelation 9:13-21 records a future time when God will release four angels to kill 1/3 of humanity in the judgment of The Great Tribulation.

4. Good Angels aid God’s people

     Is it scriptural to say that angels are deployed by God to aid Christians in their walk of faith? Absolutely! Consider Psalm 91:11 "For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways." Old Testament saints had angels assist them (Genesis 18; Psalm 37:4; Daniel 10:11). We see angelic aid of Jesus and other believers in the New Testament (Matthew 4:11; Matthew 26:53; Luke 22:43; Acts 12:6-8; Acts 27:23-24). Without a doubt, Christians today can still experience angelic assistance when they least expect it (Hebrews 1:14; 13:2). 

     Scripture reveals how angels can protect believers (2 Kings 6; Psalm 34:7; 91:11 Hebrews 1:14); help in grasping God’s truth (Psalm 68:7; Matthew 28:5-7; Acts 1:9-11; Luke 2:14) and point to Christ’s deity (Psalm 68:17; Daniel 7:10-13; Matthew 28). The Book of Revelation illustrates how angels aid believers. It contains roughly 25% of the 300 times we find mention of the good angels in the Bible. Often, the Book of Revelation describes angels announcing something or explaining to John the meaning of the various visions. 

Final thought of application:

    Today's post was intended to offer a brief treatment of the subject of angels. We noted the following:

1. Angels are created beings.
2. There are good and bad angels.
3. Angels are powerful beings.
4. Good angels aid God's people.

     The eighteenth-century preacher John Wesley once wrote the following about angels: 

"They may assist us in our search after truth, remove many doubts and difficulties, throw light on what was before dark and obscure, and confirm us in the truth that is after godliness. They may warn us of evil in disguise; and place what is good, in a clear, strong light. They may gently move our will to embrace what is good, and fly from that which is evil. They may, many times, quicken our dull affections, increase our holy hope or filial fear, and assist us more ardently to love Him who has first loved us."

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The heavenly spiritual beings that point us to God

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Isaiah 6:1-3 "In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”

Ezekiel 10:20-21 "These are the living beings that I saw beneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar; so I knew that they were cherubim. 21 Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and beneath their wings was the form of human hands."

Introduction: 

The late theologian J. Hampton Keathley, III wrote an article on the purpose of studying the supernatural beings we find in the Bible (the article is found online at: https://bible.org/article/angelology-doctrine-angels). In that article we read:

“The fact that God has created a realm of personal beings other than mankind is a fitting topic for systematic theological studies for it naturally broadens our understanding of God, of what He is doing, and how He works in the universe.”

      Today we want to dive further into identifying what the Bible teaches about various orders of spiritual beings that populate the supernatural realm of Heaven, God’s throne room and which affect activities here on earth.

1. Cherubim. 

      We find Cherubim roughly sixty places in 13 books of the Bible. As noted in our last session, we could liken Cherubim as a sort of “secret service” to God. A brief summary of what the Cherubim do follows below.

a. Cherubim first appear in Genesis 3:24“So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” Cherubim as an order of spiritual beings defend the honor of God. Consequently, their presence, more-often-than-not, signified God’s holiness in judgment. 

b. The revelation of Cherubim extends into God’s design of the first Jewish worship center – the Tabernacle. Moses writes in Exodus 25:18, “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat.” Almost ten other passages in Exodus speak of Cherubim occurring in the metal work and fabric embroidery of the tabernacle’s design. God was communicating through the design of the tabernacle that He wanted to meet with His people, and they with Him (see Exodus 25:22).  

c. By the days of King David, Cherubim were closely identified with the throne of God – a short-handed way of describing God’s Divine presence and authority. In 2 Samuel 6:2 we read: “And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim.” 

d. The prophet Ezekiel affords us the most detail description of Cherubim in Ezekiel 10:20-21, “These are the living beings that I saw beneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar; so I knew that they were cherubim. 21 Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and beneath their wings was the form of human hands.” As a final thought about Cherubim, we find them mentioned in the descriptions of the ark of the covenant in Hebrews 9:5 and the heavenly worship scene of Revelation 4-5. 

2. Seraphim. 

     Theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer describes the Seraphim from his series on “Angelogy” (that is, “the study of angels”): “The Seraphim title speaks of unceasing worship, their ministry of purification, and their humility.” These spiritual beings are defined by the Hebrew noun “seraph”, which literally means, “burning one”. Isaiah 6:2-3 is the key Bible passage that mentions these specific creatures: “Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” The only other passage that we may find Seraphim (some would classify them as similar to the “Cherubim”, opinions vary) is in Revelation 4:8.  Seraphim function like stained-glass windows in a mighty cathedral – pointing our attention to the source of their existence – God Himself!

3. Archangels. 

     There is only one archangel mentioned in the Biblical text, namely, “Michael” (see Daniel 10,12; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7). Michael’s power and abilities exceed that of regular angels. In Revelation 12:7-9a we get an idea of Michael’s power: “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, 8 and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down….”. 

4. Watchers.

For the sake of completeness, the Book of Daniel mentions what are called: “The Watchers”. We only find these beings in three verses of the entire Bible (Daniel 4:13,17,23).  The execution of God’s decree came through what Daniel 4:17 describes as: “the decree of the watchers” -  “This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men.” These “watchers” are perhaps among the most mysterious and least known of all the spiritual beings we encounter in the Bible. Most English translations will either translate the underlying Aramaic term as “watchers” or insert the term “angelic” alongside “watchers”. I won’t go into all the details of the wider background of Daniel that we can use as clues to their identity – only to say that “the watchers” are associated somehow with God’s throne and the announcing of his decrees. 

Closing thoughts:

We’ve considered four different classifications of spiritual beings that occupy various rankings in the Bible's portrayal of the supernatural realm. Time nor space does not permit comment on the remaining beings that the Bible collectively refers to as: "angels". The angels are another order of spiritual beings that, like their higher-order spiritual counterparts, function to point us to God. I will close with the following note of application from theologian Wayne Grudem: 

“As angels find it their highest joy to praise God continuously, should we not also delight each day to sing God’s praise, counting this as the highest and most worthy use of our time and our greatest joy?”