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The Kingdom

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Disciples of Jesus often struggle to understand their Master’s teaching. The same was even true of Christ’s original 12 disciples. One of the things Jesus’ original audience struggled with was the nature of the kingdom He came to establish. Yet, Jesus the master Teacher, ever patient, taught them in love (cf. Mt. 20:20-28; Acts 1:6-8).

Sadly, much of the same confusion remains today (see premillennialism, Mormonism, etc.) despite the fact that the apostles and their contemporaries, being filled with the Spirit of truth who guided them into “all truth” (Jn. 16:13), set the record straight about the kingdom in their epistles.

But why didn’t the average Jew in the days Jesus walked the earth understand what the kingdom of God was all about? The Old Testament Scriptures were rich with kingdom prophecies but the Jews only looked at them physically and nationally. They look for a restoration of Israel’s golden days under David. The Christ would liberate them from Roman oppression and sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem. These misconceptions colored their interpretation of the of the prophets and even led them to crucify the Christ.

During the dark days of Judah God did not utterly destroy Israel but preserved a remnant (Isa. 1:9). But in her destruction, Israel lost her civil sovereignty; that is, she ceased to be a nation. But God promised to put another King on David’s throne (Isa. 9:6-7) making them a nation once again. Though broken Israel would be scattered abroad, God promised they would return to Him (Isa. 10:20-23). This would happen in the days when God would send forth a King (Isa. 11:1-16). But this same Lord would be a light to the Gentiles (lit. “the nations” or non-Jews) (Isa. 49:5ff), a fact lost on some first century Jewish Christians.

As stated before, we don’t have the same excuse as the first century Jews for misunderstanding kingdom prophecy. Paul, on his first missionary journey, while in Pisidian Antioch, reviewed Jewish history (Acts 13:16-41) highlighting that Jesus Christ fulfilled the kingdom promise (Acts 13:23) and was resurrected to be the “sure mercies of David” (Acts 13:32-34). He clearly stated at the conclusion of his sermon that the deliverance provided by this Davidic King was not national or militaristic but was a deliverance from “sin” and its consequences (Acts 13:38).

Similar statements can be found in Peter’s sermon on the first Pentecost after the resurrection. He concluded that after being raised from the dead Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33), a place of rule (cf. Psa. 110).

Paul taught that first century Christians were presently in “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13-14). Therefore, we can confidently conclude that Jesus is faithful: He was successful in establishing His kingdom and is reigned even now as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).

The Jewish understanding of the “kingdom” prophecies was literal and physical but the apostles, guided by the Spirit of truth, interpreted those prophecies correctly for us, attesting to the spiritual nature of the kingdom Christ established (cf. Lk. 17:20-21). Like most things in the Old Testament, the literal and physical kingdom of Israel was a type or shadow of the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Is the kingdom the same thing as the church? “Kingdom” is just one way of describing God’s relationship to His people through Christ. We are children in His family, laborers in His vineyard, sheep in His flock, members of His body, etc. Each one of these phrases describes a unique attribute of that multifaceted relationship. The “kingdom” figure is unique in that it emphasizes the “rule” of Christ and our submission, loyalty, and service to Him as our King.

The word “church” (Grk. ‘Ekklesia’) is a combination of two words. The prefix “Ek” means “out of” and “klesia” means “a calling.” The word church amounts to “a calling out of.” This originally referred to a special group of people like a civic assembly. But the ‘Ekklesia’ that Jesus promised to build (Mt. 16:18) was a special assembly of people that belonged to Him.

So when the word “church” is used we should generally think “people.” But when the word “kingdom” is used we should think more of “rule,” for that is what the word means. “Kingdom” (Grk. ‘Basileia’) is an abstract noun denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion, etc. It comes to be defined by metonymy (or as a figure of speech) as the people over whom the king rules.

Are you part of Christ’s kingdom? That depends. Is Jesus your King? You might ask, “How do I know if Jesus is my King?” The answer to that question entirely rests upon your response to the teachings of Jesus. If you willingly submit to His rule and commandments then you have proven He is sitting on the throne of your heart. Please read Matthew 7:21-23 and then verses 24-27 while meditating on the kingdom and your place in it.

Waging War

Sunday, March 13, 2016

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:3-4)

The apostle Paul made many enemies throughout his life. At first it was his Jewish countrymen who opposed him. Then it was Jewish Christians who, in their stubborn efforts to bind circumcision on the Gentiles, became enemies of the cross. But a new breed of enemies who professed faith in Jesus stirred in Achaia. These were men who looked, spoke, and acted like they thought an apostle of Jesus ought to act. These enemies of Paul were out to discredit his apostleship (12:12; 13:3) and sought to elevate themselves in the eyes of the Corinthians in the process.

One charge leveled against Paul by these insurgents was that he walked “according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:2), that is, he conducted himself based on human terms or was motivated by self-interest. This seed of doubt was already planted in the minds of the Corinthians as Paul’s motives for changing his travel plans were questioned earlier in the epistle (1:12ff).

They attacked the substance and style of his preaching (1 Cor. 1:17; 2:1-5) while they held eloquent and professional oration in high regard. They questioned his motives for his refusal of financial support from the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 9:1-27; 2 Cor. 11:7-8) thinking he had a guilty conscience.

In short, they just plain didn't like Paul. He didn’t fit into the mold of what they thought an apostle of Jesus should be. Why was he so poor? Why was he constantly suffering, so bold in his letters but cowardly in person? They mistook his meekness for weakness, his patience for cowardice, and his gentleness for indecision. So they reasoned in their hearts that Paul was a fraud. The ramifications of their logic were severe. For, to disregard the apostleship of Paul was to disregard Christ himself, as it was Jesus who appointed him.

The war was on and the time had come for Paul to flex his apostolic muscles and exercise the full extent of his authority as a true ambassador of Christ. In the last section of 2 Corinthians (chs. 10-13) he wages an all-out battle upon the small but poisonous insurgency (10:1-2) at Corinth. He had suffered these “fools” (11:19) long enough. They were preaching a different Jesus (11:4) and were seducing the saints (11:2-3, 20).

But how did the apostle wage war? By the Spirit of God, he took up his pen and methodically refuted every charge brought against him and exposed, in the highest measure, what his opponents really were: “false apostles” (11:13), “ministers of Satan” (11:15), and “intruders” (11:3-4) who were destroying the faith of some.

He conceded to his opponents that he did live or “walk in the flesh” but certainly did not wage war “according to the flesh” (10:3). He drew a sharp distinction between walking “in” and waring “after” the flesh. Outwardly, Paul freely admitted he is a regular man, weak and wasting away in his “earthly tent” (5:1; cf. 4:1, 16), just as Jesus walked “in the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7).

Unlike Jesus in the flesh, Paul was weak in temptation and had a tendency toward rebellion, pride and passion. This being the case, he happily depended upon God’s grace in his weakness (12:9-10). But, as he walked “in the flesh,” Paul was very careful not to wage “war according to the flesh,” that is, he did not use the same tactics his opponents used against him: the carnal weapons of war, namely, judging according to appearances, using a standard of measurement other than the gospel of Jesus Christ (10:12).

This did not mean Paul did not wade into battle. He never backed down! The meek and gentle Paul (10:1) was also the mighty warrior of Christ, who defended the gospel with his very life. In this “good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12) Paul armed himself with “divine power” (2 Cor. 10:4) or weapons that were “mighty through God” (KJV) (cf. Eph. 6:11-17).

Paul understood the rapier of eloquent speech and the longbow of human logic were powerless to “pull down” the “mighty strongholds” (10:4 KJV) that men erect in their hearts to resist God’s word. If he wanted to be successful in destroying “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (10:5) he needed a bigger gun, that is, the dynamite of the gospel; God’s explosive “power unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Most importantly, throughout the defense of his apostleship, Paul exercised the love of Christ (10:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-25).

Herein lies a great lesson for us. We may be attacked for living the gospel. It is not wrong to defend yourself and your faith. In fact, it would be a disgrace to Christ not to (1 Pet. 3:15). But we must be careful not to wage war “according to the flesh” for if we do, not only are we bound to fail but we dishonor God.

Using carnal means to defend the faith (e.g. name calling, personal put-downs, emotionally charged but scripturally unsound points, etc.) might win the argument but they are powerless to win the heart of your opponent. It will not tear down the barriers that your fellow man has erected in his mind against God, these “mighty strongholds,” lofty towers of opinion “raised against the knowledge of God.”

Only when we speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) can we boldly brandish the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) with such precision that it will have its intended effect: “piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). That power belongs to God, not you and not me. Yet God has given it to us to wield in a loving and godly way in order to equip us with “divine power.”

Next time you are called to defend the faith don’t back down! Arm yourself with the same attitude and power that Paul was equipped with and watch as the walls of the opponent of the gospel fall like the walls of Jericho!

The Grace of Giving

Sunday, March 06, 2016

“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)

Throughout Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to bring their collection for needy saints in Jerusalem to completion (2 Cor. 8-9) the collection itself is called many things: “the grace of God” (8:1), “a gracious work” (8:6, 7), “this generous gift” (8:20), “ministry to the saints” (9:1), “a bountiful gift” (9:5). It is no wonder, then, that Paul likened the gracious act of giving to those in need to the work of grace performed by Jesus on the cross for sinful man (8:9). Both were works of grace, the condescending favor of one party bestowed on a less fortunate party.

Naturally, giving is much more difficult than receiving. In giving to others we feel like all the blessing has gone out feeling a little emptier than when we began. Yet Jesus has taught us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) because in the act of giving, especially when we expect “nothing in return,”  we are proving to be “sons of the Most High” (Lk. 6:25). We are taught by God’s grace (2 Cor. 8:9; Titus 2:11-14) to reflect His grace toward others.

We might expect the greatest blessing in giving to others graciously to be the positive effect it brings to the recipient. Yet, this is secondary to a greater good, namely, the glorification of God (Mt. 5:16). This is the ultimate aim of God’s children in their actions of love.

If God’s glory is at the center of our exercising grace then we are freed from the fleshly lust of giving selfishly (Lk. 6:34) to give both generously and cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:6-7). Paul explained this with the principle of sowing and reaping (v.6). What is true naturally is also true spiritually (Mk. 10:30; Gal. 6:8-10). God not only supplies the seed needed to cause the fruits of righteousness to grow but He also causes the growth as well! (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

Knowing these principles to be trustworthy, we are to be purposeful and cheerful givers. Therefore, we must make up our minds to give beforehand with deliberate purpose, not in a haphazard manner nor with any reluctance. It should not pain us to give to others because we do so “not under compulsion” or of necessity. This means we should never contribute to the needs of others because we feel it is our “duty,” as if God should have to cast some gloomy shadow of obligation upon us. Such a contribution would result in the opposite of cheerfulness or happiness: regret.

On the other hand, one who has learned by God’s grace to give with grace, that is, purposefully and cheerfully, is loved by God (2 Cor. 9:7). Those, then, who are eager to receive God’s love will be motivated to give in this way (Heb. 13:16). In fact, it ought to be our pleasure to give graciously to others.

Yet there are times we grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9) and may falter in our generosity. In those seasons of spiritual drought we are no longer serving “by the strength which God supplies” (1 Pet. 4:11) and have instead fallen back into thinking we can be gracious without God. We must have faith that as long as we are seeking “first His kingdom and His righteousness” God will take care of our needs (Mt. 6:25-33). The man of faith knows that God is powerful enough to equip him to be a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:8; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:10).

Who is the “one man [who] gives freely, yet gains even more” (Prov. 11:24)? This paradoxical proverb describes the man who believes that being gracious to others will not diminish his capacity to provide for his own or to continue in benevolence (Psa. 37:25). He understands that God both replenishes the blessing that has gone out and fills up to overflowing. He is the branch that is pruned to bear even more fruit (Jn. 15:2).

This truth was expressed beautifully by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:10, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” The harvest of the Corinthians’ righteousness was the collection for needy saints. The harvest for our righteousness is whatever work of gracious giving we are engaged in.

Just as God supplies the farmer’s seed that produces bread to eat, the same gracious God will supply us with all we need to be gracious to others. Through those who give freely, God will supply a bumper crop of blessing! “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15), His grace is truly all sufficient (12:9).

Earth: A Privileged Planet

Sunday, February 28, 2016

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)

Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise that calls attention to mankind’s privileged place in the created order. The earth was formed and filled for a purpose: to be the dwelling place of God’s crowning achievement in creation, mankind. While reading David’s psalm our minds are drawn back to the creative work God accomplished in Genesis 1-2. Continue reading Psalm 8 in verses 5-8 and you might notice it parallels Genesis 1:26 describing the dominion mankind was to exercise over all creation. The psalm ends as it began, praising the Lord’s majestic name.

It did not escape David’s attention 3,000 years ago that he lived on a planet that was uniquely positioned in the cosmos. Today, with all our powerfully precise instruments of observation, many intellectuals deny what David observed with the naked eye. Bill Nye “the Science Guy” whose popular, outspoken and often humorous views are espoused regularly in many major media outlets said, “The earth, in the grand scheme of things, is another speck [of sand]. And the sun, an unremarkable star, [there is] nothing special about the sun, the sun is another speck. And the galaxy is another speck. I’m a speck on a speck, orbiting a speck among still other specks in the middle of specklessness. I am nothing! I am insignificant!...”

The “Science Guy” is not taking on the same humility of David when, observing the heavenly bodies, said, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” No, Bill Nye, a noted atheist, doesn’t factor God into his humility. He is speaking to the air. Where Bill Nye sees the vastness of the universe and pontificates on his insignificance David sees the creative authority behind the vastness of the universe, the infinitely vast God Almighty, and is driven to praise His majestic name.

Bill Nye sees nothing special about the sun or planet earth but last week, on February 23, 2016, “Scientific American,” a popular scientific journal that jumps at any occasion to deliver low-blows to the Christian worldview while embracing naturalism, published an article entitled “Exoplanet Census Suggests Earth Is Special After All.”

A secular magazine, a staunch advocate of evolutionary principles, and enemy of the Christian worldview is actually pointing out that perhaps earth really is a privileged planet. Perhaps the naturalists have it all backwards.

Consider that the unique conditions necessary to support intelligent life on earth turn out to provide the best overall conditions for scientific discovery. The sun and moon are prime examples of this. Our atmosphere is oxygen rich for survival but also transparent for discovery. Notice that the moon is the perfect size and the perfect distance away from the earth to stabilize rotation and human habitability. Notice the relative sizes of the moon and the sun.

If you can sift through the scientific jargon of his article entitled, “The Moon and Me (and you!),” Dr. John Gribbon, an astrophysicist and no friend to Christianity, said, “The more we look, the more important the moon seems to be for our existence… Just now, the moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun, but the sun is about 400 times farther away than the moon, so that they look the same size in the sky. At the present moment of cosmic time, during an eclipse, the disc of the moon almost exactly covers the disc of the sun… It’s like a sign hanging in the sky, drawing attention to the moon and shouting, “Hey, look at me—without me you wouldn’t be here.” It worries me, but most people seem to accept it as just one of those things.”

Of course this is not “just one of those things.” To reduce the habitability and discoverability of earth and our exalted status in the universe to an accident of cosmic evolution is simply narrow-minded. As we make more discoveries about the earth’s place in the universe, let us come to the humble realization that we are accountable to God, the master Architect of all we observe.

Is Satan Lucifer?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!”

(Isaiah 14:12) KJV

“Satan,” the personal name of the devil (Mt. 4:10), means “adversary.” We see that adversarial relationship played out through the entirety of Scripture but especially when our Lord was led away to be tempted by him in the wilderness. It is difficult to come to a full appreciate of Satan’s character and history but a few things are evident.

He is the leader of disobedient, what some call “fallen,” angels (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7). Angels are created beings originally created, like everything that God made, “good” in the beginning. Like man, angels were given freewill. Like man, they “sought out many schemes” (Ecc. 7:29). But unlike man, when angels sin against God there remains no known means of forgiveness. Instead, they are “cast into hell… and committed… to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.” (2 Pet. 2:4; Jd. 1:6).

On various occasions we see Satan speaking, lying, blinding, tempting, devouring, contending and otherwise interacting with God’s creation so as to deceive them to fall away from God’s presence. He is fighting a battle he knows he will lose.

Satan is an actual personality of evil. We see his evil in the Old Testament when he deceived Eve, attacked Job, incited David, and accused Joshua the high priest. We see his evil in the New Testament in his temptation of Jesus, his entering Judas, his blinding unbelievers, and his hindering Paul.

He is depicted as the great accuser of God and man. He accused both God to man (Gen. 3:4) and man to God (Job. 1:9; 2:4). For his evil actions and intentions he is consigned, along with all who follow him, to eternity in hell (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10). He has been called the devil (Mt. 4:1), the enemy (Lk. 10:19), the father of lies (Jn. 8:44), the ruler of this world (Eph. 2:2; Jn. 12:31), the tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5) and the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19).

But such was not always the case. Satan is not deity therefore he is a created being like the angels. He would have been created good at the beginning but sometime before Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden Satan “fell” or was banished from God’s presence. Paul speaks of the danger of becoming conceited or puffed up with pride and calls it falling “into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). So evidently, Satan was cast out of God’s presence because of his pride.

When Jesus’ disciples were given the power to cast out demons, agents at the disposal of Satan, they reported back to Him that “even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Because of the great authority they were given “over all the power of the enemy” Jesus responded by saying to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from the heaven…” (Lk. 10:17-20). His fall was “like lightning” probably due to its suddenness.

Some people see this text’s shadow in Isaiah 14:12 and make the connection by calling Satan “Lucifer.” Lucifer is a name or title which means “Helel son of Shachar”, which was probably a name for the morning star (Venus) or the crescent moon. But in this text, the remnant of Israel is taunting not Satan but the king of Babylon (Isa. 14:3-21). It was the king of Babylon who fell from his lofty throne of arrogance to a bed of maggots and a cover of worms in Sheol (v.11). He tried to make himself like the “Most High” (v.14) but was humbled.

This whole section is directed to a human ruler. He is even called a “man” (v.16) with a corporeal body (vv.19-20). Although this section is speaking poetically it is obvious its subject is the King of Babylon. And although the text is describing a situation remarkably similar to Satan’s “fall” it would be unfair to the text to designate the devil as “Lucifer.” 

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