Category: Culture


May God richly bless the hurting in Charleston. May His peace be upon you in abundance. May His strength be your stay and His shadow your refuge. May His Word be your hope and His Spirit your Comforter.

As I have come to understand the nature of the gospel more completely over the years, one of the aspects that inspires, excites, humbles, and encourages me most is found in the depiction of the Body of Christ given in the Book of the Revelation. In the fifth chapter, there is a description of the Church of the Savior that is breathtaking and comforting, especially during these days of unrest. I often remind myself that this is what the people of God look like from heaven’s perspective. This is what I preach for, pray for, and long for. This is what should be in our hearts and this is what we should strive for in our personal lives and ministries.

All travelers, one final destination. All people, one supernatural Kingdom. All races, one shed blood. All sinners, one glorious Savior.

Rev. 5:6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

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This great nation may very well become little more than a footnote in a book at some point in the distant future. It will be yet another testimony to the glory of God and what happens when a nation so blessed by His manifold kindnesses and favorable Providence turns its back on Him.

 

Churches may, indeed, soon face more vicious forms of government sanctioned persecution in this country. This is not something new, nor should it surprise us. (Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:20-23) Let us be sure of one thing, however: the Church of Jesus Christ, over which He is Head (Eph. 1:18-23), will never cease to exist on the earth. (1 Cor. 15:22-28) The people of God do not have to have buildings and public meetings to carry on the work of the gospel, which is the one unique and glorious thing about this message– it does not deal only with external behavior, but is the power of God to penetrate to the very soul and no opposition, seen or unseen, will ever succeed in stopping it. (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12, 13) You can forbid people to meet and you can destroy our buildings and you can threaten us all you want, but the gospel will continue to be applied to the human race according to the sovereign decree of God and then it will be over–and not a millisecond before God has done whatsoever He pleases with this world. (2 Pet. 3:3-10) Rave on God-haters. He who sits in the heavens is laughing at you. (Psa. 2:1-4) You are only storing up wrath for that great Day. (Rom. 2:5-8)

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” (Obama at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast)

Sadly, I suspect that many Christians will see this and not realize what a distortion of truth it represents. Facts are essential so that we maintain an honest perspective on reality and, therefore, have the ability to analyze current events properly. Misrepresentation of the facts of history is a critical component in controlling contemporary opinion. Look for increasing examples illustrating deceptive rewrites of the history of the Crusades. This is only the beginning of efforts to remake Christianity in the image of radical Islam.

 

Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

Psalm 77

Introduction

One of the most difficult challenges we face is that of developing a genuinely thankful attitude. Because we are sinners, the concept of acknowledging a source outside ourselves, a source that is responsible for the things in life that we consider good and desirable, a source that gives but does not require repayment, can be most uncomfortable. To be thankful, we must first admit that we are the recipients of so much that we did not pursue and so much that we could not achieve on our own under any circumstances. The concept of giving thanks also requires us to admit our limitations, especially in light of the fact that we are spiritually crippled by sin.

I believe that developing a thankful attitude, one that endures throughout the year and one that seriously influences the way we think about ourselves and our nation and our relationship with God is of fundamental importance. Living without thankfulness in our hearts produces a false sense of security and a false apprehension of what we are able to do as human beings.

We are, by nature, selfish, self-centered people and we have to train ourselves to be grateful, not only to other human beings, but especially to our Creator. I also want to point out the Bible has a tremendous amount to say about this topic of thankfulness. Based upon this fact and the prominent place given to thankfulness in our development as Christ’s disciples, I believe it is safe to assume that God is pleased when His people behave contrary to their fallen natures and actually raise their eyes to heaven and praise Him for all that He has bestowed upon us.

You probably encounter very few genuinely thankful people when you leave your home during the week. Often, either directly or through the media, you encounter selfish people, people who want everything they have and more, people who think they deserve a better life than what they are experiencing. This is not really a surprising attitude when you remember that we are sinners; and one thing that sin does is make us complainers.

In Psa. 77, the writer provides us with steps which, if followed consistently, will gradually produce and sustain an atmosphere of thanksgiving in our hearts and homes. The historical setting for this Psalm is uncertain. Circumstances were such that the writer was emotionally overwhelmed. It could have been that the nation was experiencing a particularly difficult time or perhaps this Psalm only reflects a personal experience of the writer. Whatever the case, we can learn something about the state of the writer’s mind from the tone of this Psalm.

Psalm 77:1 My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; my voice rises to God, and He will hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted. 3 When I remember God, then I am disturbed; when I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. 4 You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5 I have considered the days of old, the years of long ago. 6 I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, and my spirit ponders: 7 Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? 8 Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? 10 Then I said, “it is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” 11 I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. 12 I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? 14 You are the god who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. 16 The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were in anguish; the deeps also trembled. 17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there. 18 The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. 19 Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known. 20 You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

We can conclude that the writer passed through a time of desperation and doubt. He speaks of seeking the LORD throughout the night (v. 2). His soul was so troubled that he could not sleep and didn’t know what to say (v. 4). The writer thought much about the past—perhaps remembering better times or times when the LORD came to his aid (vv. 6-8). Whatever happened led this writer to wonder if God had forsaken him forever. Would he ever again experience God’s favor? Had God withdrawn His grace? (v. 9) In his intense grief, this man thought that perhaps “the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (v. 10)

For us to gain the most from this Psalm, we need to understand the state of the writer, which is indicated in the verses I just cited. I want to take time, therefore, to define three of the words that are used in these opening verses. This will give us insight regarding the anguish being experienced by this writer as he turns to the LORD for help.

In the second verse, Asaph, the author of this Psalm and one of the leading figures in the establishment and use of Psalmody in the worship of God, speaks of “the day of [his] trouble.” He uses a Hebrew word (tsarah) that refers to severe anguish and affliction. This is not a case of a writer having a “bad day.” This man was experiencing deep distress and his whole life was unsettled as a result.

In the third verse, Asaph states that thoughts of God “disturbed” him. Here he uses a word (hamah) that refers to a loud roar, a frightening clamor, or a threatening growl. At this point in his Psalm, Asaph could not even think about God without great unrest in his soul because his situation made it appear that God had gone away.

And finally, in verse four, we have another word that is also translated “troubled,” but it is not the same one used earlier. This time, the writer states that he was so troubled, that he was unable to speak. The Hebrew term in this case (paam) means “to be persistently beaten.” The picture is that of a man overwhelmed by an adversary who is being crushed under the attack.

With all that in mind, we can now ask an important question: How does one recover from such spiritual and emotional depression? This writer reveals a method of dealing with his circumstances that brought stability. He was able to replace his doubt and depression with thanksgiving. The formula contained in this Psalm can serve all of God’s people. We need not be in the condition experienced by this writer before we make use of his wisdom.

What, then, did this writer do that can be imitated by us? What steps did he take that can be repeated by us? The answers are given in vv. 11-15. Just after the writer tells us how distraught he was, he also tells us what he did to relieve his fear and regain his confidence so that he could respond to his situation as a thankful man instead of a fearful man.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we remember the deeds of God (v. 11)

The writer reached the point where he thought God had deserted him. From this pit of despair come these words: “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.” (v. 11) This writer could find no comfort in his present circumstances. He had considered various explanations, including the idea that the LORD had forsaken him. But, before he is lost in total despair, he does something that turns his situation around. He begins to think about what God had done for him and his people. He reflected on the past to gain comfort and confidence in the present. Therefore, instead of continuing to dwell on his present misery, he found solace in the past works of God.

This is where the turn-around begins. God’s deeds are spectacular; they are incredible. They reveal a God who rules, loves, and provides, not a God who terrorizes, hates, and withholds. To think that this God would actually care for us while we live out our few years on this earth is also an amazing notion. This is what the writer of this Psalm does. He thinks on these and other truths about God. From this point on, the tone of this Psalm changes dramatically. This passage becomes a hymn of praise and thanksgiving.

The lesson here is obvious. If you wish to maintain the proper attitude toward life and toward God, you must remember the past wondrous deeds of God. You must not forget what He has done for you and your family. You must not forget how He has cared for you and how He has comforted you and how He has given you purpose and understanding. If you wish to create a spirit of thanksgiving, take time to remember the ways in which God has expressed His love for you in the past. Make this a regular practice now and even throughout the year.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we meditate on the deeds of God (v. 12)

An important element is added in this second step. We tend to miss the point when the Old Testament Scriptures talk about something being “remembered.” We think that means to recall something to mind and then be off to the next thought or activity. But in the Hebrew mind, to remember something involved more. And this writer explains this concept clearly when he says that beyond merely remembering God’s past acts, he will contemplate them: “I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.”

For the Hebrews, to remember something was to ponder it. The writer means that as he remembered God’s past acts, as he remembered things God had done before, he took the time to linger over them in his mind. This brought satisfaction to his troubled soul.

What is pictured here is a sincere and prolonged reflection. It’s the kind of thing we don’t do very often these days. We are too busy to linger over the promises of God and we are too busy to ponder what God did for us last year or five years ago or twenty years ago. We are not people who mediate on such things for any length of time. And, as a result, we are spiritually poorer than we need be. This man paused long enough to draw lessons from God’s past actions. This is something that takes time and dedication.

As this writer meditated on the past, he recalled that God had always shown Himself to be gracious and compassionate. He had never broken His promise. He had never forsaken His own. Based upon this knowledge, the writer was strengthened. His confidence was renewed. In spite of the trying circumstances he was facing, he was able to compose himself and control how his circumstances affected him rather than being at the mercy of that which he could not control.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we have the proper opinion of God (vv. 13-15)

This third step is actually a product of the first two. When you remember something and then ponder it, you obviously become more familiar with it and gain a more accurate perspective. The same is true with God:

13 “Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

In this Psalm, the writer takes us to the expected result of having meditated on the acts of God in his past. This exercise naturally served to remind the troubled writer of God’s character. God’s character is revealed in His works for His people; this man, who was so distraught at one point, is rescued from that condition by thinking on God’s ways and, thereby, remembering who God really is and what God is really like.

We don’t want to miss this simple truth: God’s past actions reveal truths about His nature. You’ll notice that three chief attributes stand out in these verses. First, God’s past manner showed that His ways are holy (v. 13). The writer’s circumstances are immediately put into perspective when he remembers God’s holiness. God had not been overcome; this man’s plight was not beyond the perfect awareness and control of God. Regardless of how circumstances appeared, therefore, the writer was reminded that all of God’s actions are pure. He cannot be charged with unfairness.

Second, God’s past manner demonstrated that He is a God Who routinely works wonders (v. 14). If anything is going to give you comfort during a trial, it’s the knowledge that God is a God who works wonders. As he thought about past situations, this writer remembered that it is not an unusual thing for God to deliver His people from the most threatening of circumstances. He recalled times when the nation, or perhaps he personally, had been involved in a difficult situation. How did God respond on those occasions?

Third, God’s past ways reminded this writer that God is a God of salvation (v. 15). Imagine that you are surrounded by vicious enemies and imagine that, as far as anyone can tell, this is the end for you. And then you remember that the LORD is the God of salvation. Redemption characterizes all that God does. The restoration of His fallen creation is the aim of God’s activity in the lives of human beings. Even when God’s people suffer, there is redeeming value to it.

This man is fortified with this truth. He learned from the history of the nation and his personal experiences that God brings about trying circumstances in order to refine His people and produce greater glory for Himself in their lives. Whatever the writer was now facing could be viewed in the light of God’s master plan of restoration.

Having a proper opinion of God will always lead to thanksgiving. Those who desire to be characterized by thankfulness must spend time cultivating this proper opinion. In addition to His written word, nothing better educates us about the nature of God than His actions. Remembering them, meditating on them, and drawing lessons about God from them—this is the formula that produces a reverence for God and reverence is inevitably followed by thanksgiving.

Here, then, are three steps that will create an atmosphere of thanksgiving for you and your family. Remember what God has done in past days. Remind yourself of what God has done for you. When you call God’s past acts to mind, take the time to meditate on them. Talk about God’s care with others and help them extract lessons from those experiences.

When this pattern is followed, trials become our instructors and we come away from that testing more confident in God, with a greater understanding of His nature and with a more stable hope regarding the days ahead. And that, as this Psalm teaches us, will nurture a thankful spirit in our hearts throughout the year.

Thoughts for All Saints

Commentary by Jim Bordwine, ThD

Volume 3 Number 3

February 26, 2014

The Tyranny of the Minority

 

 

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

(Isaiah 5:20)

Have you noticed how many aspects of our lives these days are governed by a minority opinion or a minority preference or a minority demand? I am not referring to race relationships; I’m referring to the upheaval that can be traced directly to the willingness of our culture to capitulate to highly vocal, consistently pushy, and well-financed groups that represent minority perspectives on issues that are, from a Biblical standpoint, definitely moral in nature.

Take the institution of marriage, for example. Some in the moral minority, in terms of the traditional ethical context that has been one of the distinguishing features of our history, have insisted, not only on recognition under the law, but also that the institution of marriage be re-constructed in order to accommodate their sexual proclivities. And a related area in which the tyranny of the minority is being frighteningly effective is in the matter of what is being called “gender identity.”

Recently, I read a news article that began with these words: “A California high school student who believes he is a girl trapped in a boy’s body just made the girls’ softball team.” A new state law, which went into effect last month, declares that “a pupil [must] be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

Consequently, a 17-year-old teenage boy, described as a “strapping senior,” is now a member of the girls’ softball team and is allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms previously designated for females only. This is just one of many examples that could be cited. To put it bluntly, as a country, we are doomed if such forced acceptance of moral perversion continues unabated. And there really is no evidence to suggest that this movement can be stopped. Politicians, educators, and entertainers, generally speaking, fully support this transition and these kinds of laws are being considered and enacted around the country.

As the prophet Isaiah warned in the verse quoted above, there is no future for those who would disregard the definitions and boundaries established by our Creator. Ignoring His Word or pretending that His will is irrelevant guarantees only one thing and that is destruction, not freedom. This will not end well for any of us, believer or unbeliever.

The Silence of God

One of the most interesting periods in history, I believe, is the period of silence between the close of Old Testament revelation and the incarnation, at which point revelation continued. After giving so much information about the coming Savior, information about His character and accomplishments, God stopped speaking. As just indicated, the last prophet to speak before this silence commenced was Malachi.

The people of Malachi’s day were steeped in sin. Some of the most serious charges ever made by God against wayward people are found in the book of Malachi. God accuses them of robbery—they were robbing God by withholding His tithe; perversion of justice—they were calling evil good; mistreatment of the needy—they were taking advantage of the poor and defenseless among them; showing contempt for God—they were offering to Him blemished animals in their sacrifices. And, in the midst of it all, God tells them He knows what they are thinking; they are thinking that God didn’t care about their wicked behavior or despicable lack of regard for Him. But they were wrong.

To say that the sin of Israel had been costly would be a massive understatement. The visitation of God’s covenant curses had decimated the nation, that nation that once had such a glorious future. About 100 years before the time of Malachi, the people had returned from the Babylonian captivity. Eventually, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the temple and city walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. But instead of gratefully and humbly living out their lives in service to Jehovah, the people continued their unfaithful ways.

When Malachi came upon the scene, the people were far from God in heart, in devotion, and in faith. The time for God to exhort Israel to obedience and the days when He would patiently receive them back after periods of rebellion were coming to an end. One of the last things they hear, however, has to do with that message that has been given again and again, that promise of God upon which the nation was founded, the promise that the majority of the people counted as insignificant. The last words spoken to them are about God’s intention to save our race from the misery of sin:

3:1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. 2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. 5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.

Interestingly, although he is speaking of the coming day of the Messiah, this prophet focuses attention for the first time on another character—not the Messiah Himself, but one who will appear at the time of the Messiah to serve as a herald of the Savior’s arrival. Speaking through Malachi, the LORD describes one He calls “My messenger.” The task of this messenger will be to “clear the way” before the LORD. We know, of course, since we have additional information, that this messenger is John the Baptist, the man who preached repentance to the Jews and called them to prepare themselves for Christ’s arrival.

In reference to the coming of God in the flesh, the LORD asks: “But who can endure the day of His coming?” This question sets the mood for what follows, which is a warning that the Messiah will come to purify the people of God; His arrival will mean judgment. He is not coming to accept the people as they are, but to make them into what they should be—and that is part of the wonderful story of our salvation

The people of Judah and Jerusalem, which is a way of describing those who follow the LORD in the day of the Messiah, will be made pleasing to Him once again (v. 4). The Messiah will ensure the acceptability before God of all who are found with Him. Those who break God’s laws, however, will have every reason to fear, the LORD adds (v. 5).

So, Malachi is the last to speak and his message is both encouraging and disturbing. As I noted already, after this, there is silence from God. And this silence was not short in duration. It lasted for more than 400 years. The faithful and unfaithful alike who were alive with Malachi went to their graves with those final words of the LORD ringing in their ears.

The Jews of Malachi’s day were under the authority of the Persians who had conquered the Babylonians, the ones used by God initially to disperse His people in response to their unfaithfulness. For the first 60 years of this period of silence, the Jews remained under Persian rule. Then, as Daniel had predicted many years before, the Greeks, under the leadership of Alexander the Great, subdued the Persians. Eventually, the Jews came under the Syrians who were the political descendants of one of Alexander’s generals. The Syrians took over Judea and the region was divided into various provinces, including Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. This period of Syrian rule was one of much calamity for the Jews.

Antiochus the Great, the leader of the Syrians at the beginning of this period, was harsh in his treatment of the Jews, but his successor, Antiochus Epiphanes began a campaign of terror against them. In 170 BC, Antiochus marched on Jerusalem under the pretense of quieting various Jewish factions He promptly destroyed the city and committed unspeakable acts against the Jews. Thousands were killed; women and children were sold into slavery. The temple was invaded and the Holy of Holies desecrated. Jewish religion was outlawed and a foreign governor was appointed. All copies of the Law that were found were burned or otherwise mutilated; those in whose possession copies of the Law were found were executed. After offering a pig on the altar of God, Antiochus erected on that spot a statue in honor of the pagan god, Jupiter Olympius.

If we understand the significance of the temple and the Holy of Holies within the temple, then we understand the stunning implications of this event. The temple represented the presence of God in Israel; the Holy of Holies was the place where He appeared to the high priests. God has left His people. This event, like few other events ever could, signaled the breach between God and His covenant people. The year was 168 B.C., and still, no word from God.

Three years later, a resistance movement emerged under the capable leadership of Judas Maccebeus, or Judas “the hammer.” The movement grew and, in time, Jerusalem was retaken from the Syrians, the temple was refurnished and on the 25th of December, three years to the day after Antiochus sacrificed that pig on the altar of God, the sacrifices of the Jews were offered once again. This resistance movement, however, was greatly hampered by fighting between the orthodox Jews who wished to preserve their heritage and those who wished to continue the assimilation of the Jews into the surrounding culture. In time, the Maccabean family died out and a rival family, the Herods, moved into a position of power. The Herods secured the support of the Romans who were, at this time, conquering that territory. From 63 B.C. onward, the Romans were in control. The Jews had passed from under the authority of the Persians to the Greeks, and from the Greeks to the Syrians, and from the Syrians to the Romans.

In about 3 B.C., Herod the Great died and his son, Herod Antipas, became king over the region in which the Jews lived. Now, God began to speak once again:

Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. –by the way, let me note here that the people had been taught to pray for the Messiah during this particular incense offering– 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

In this familiar story, we are told about Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Elizabeth and Zacharias are introduced as “both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly” before Him (v. 6). This phrase does not mean that they were without sin; it means that they were true worshipers of Jehovah. We also are told that they were childless and “advanced in years.” (v. 7) Luke means to indicate that although they wanted children, Elizabeth was barren and, at this point in their lives, the two were beyond the time of having offspring. Luke states further that Zacharias was chosen to perform a particular act during temple worship (vv. 8, 9). He was to enter the temple and offer the incense that was associated with both the morning and evening sacrifices. The interesting element here is that there were so many qualified priests at this time, that a man had an opportunity to perform this task only once in his lifetime.

We know what happened while Zacharias was in the temple. An angel of the Lord revealed that he soon would become a father (vv. 11 ff). This child, the angel explains, “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” (v. 15) And the angel applies to this child the prophecy of Malachi, that prophecy we just considered—those words that were among the last spoken by the LORD before His voice fell silent (vv. 16, 17). That prophecy, you’ll remember, told of a figure who will appear just before the Messiah, and his task would be to announce the Savior’s coming. Here, the angel adds that this messenger “will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.” This quotes from the very end of Malachi’s book where the LORD again emphasizes the ministry of the coming Messiah.

Now that the silence is broken, the news that had been anticipated for so many generations is being broadcast by God to His servants. For over 400 years, God had said nothing, but now He is speaking again and what He is saying is the most wonderful message our race could hear. The day of redemption has arrived; the day of the Messiah, promised in the Garden of Eden and longed for by the faithful, is dawning.

Elizabeth conceived and gave birth; Zacharias, having been made deaf and dumb by the angel, insisted that the boy be called “John.” His ability to communicate was restored and we are told that “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied.” His words are found in Luke 1:68-79. For four centuries, the people of God have had no communication, no assurance that God would keep that promise He made, no revelation telling them to remain hopeful. But now the Spirit moves upon Zacharias in the same way He did upon the prophets of the Old Testament. Their words were the words the Spirit wanted communicated and the same is true in this instance.

As he begins, Zacharias blesses the Lord God of Israel because the birth of his son meant that God was coming to visit His people and accomplish their redemption (v. 68). Zacharias believed that the birth of John means God is worthy to be praised—not just because John is born, but because of what is going to happen in connection with John’s birth. Additionally, two things stand out in this prophecy. First, Zacharias ties together many of the ideas and themes that are part of the story of redemption from Adam through Isaiah. The overall theme, of course, is mentioned immediately: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.” This is what the promise given by God was all about for those many centuries. God promised to save the faithful and deliver them from sin.

Zacharias says, the Lord “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant.” (v. 69) This is a common metaphor in the Old Testament. It is a symbol of power and victory. In this case, Zacharias is connecting the birth of John to the Messianic prophecies concerning the house of David. The Messiah would be a descendant of David and would come to occupy David’s throne to rule over the people of God. In vv. 70-75, he refers to God’s previous promises of redemption spoken through the prophets. The events unfolding had been foretold long ago and had been anticipated by the faithful. Above all, as Zacharias says, the coming of the Messiah would mean that we would be able to serve God without fear, serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days. This is what the faithful longed to see generation after generation; they lived for this day, they prayed for this day, they knew that the day of the Messiah would mean salvation for the world.

The second element that stands out in this prophecy is the specific information given about John, the son of Zacharias. After tying together many of the Messianic strands in his prophesy, Zacharias adds information not yet given. The ministry of John would be unique among all the prophets who ever spoke for the LORD. He is the last prophet to appear before the Messiah, who Himself is God’s final Prophet. John will be “the prophet of the Most High” and he will “go on before the Lord to prepare His ways.” (v. 76) Zacharias shows the association between John’s coming ministry and that of Christ when he says that John will “give to the people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.” (v. 77) John will declare to the people that the way of redemption has come and that in Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness and reconciliation—the very things needed by fallen man.

Notice how Zacharias closes his prophecy: the Messiah will come “to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (v. 79) This is a partial quote from Isa. 9 where that prophet characterized the people as being in spiritual darkness. So John’s ministry would be to announce that the One spoken of in such prophecies had come and with Him had come deliverance from the darkness of sin.

Here again we see how the message of hope has been one. John would not predict the Messiah’s coming, like all his brethren before him, he would announce that their predictions were realized and now the time had come to receive the Messiah, not just long for Him; now the time had come to embrace Him instead of hoping for Him; now, that which had been the focus of attention throughout history was a reality. God was no longer silent, but had come in the flesh and was preparing to save His people.

From this story of the breaking of God’s silence, we should come to an important realization: God does not ignore sin. This is one of the ironies of this season. Much of the world is celebrating its condemnation. If Christ has come, it means that sin is real and the fall of our race is real and our condemnation before God is real and our alienation from God is real. For those not found in the Savior, His arrival means judgment. His coming means deliverance for those who love Him, but just as assuredly means judgment for those who do not embrace Him.

Throughout history people have often mistaken the supposed silence of God to indicate that He is not there or, if there, cares little about the behavior of those on the earth. When God is not speaking or striking down His enemies, the wicked assume there is no accountability. They ridicule those who warn them about the coming day of judgment. Christians alone have reason to celebrate. The coming of Christ meant our deliverance from condemnation, not our confirmation in condemnation. Keep this in mind as you interact with people this season. Spend some extra time, perhaps, praying for the salvation of a friend or relative.

In Scripture, the work of redemption is described in various ways. The primary theme associated with the ministry of Christ, however, is peace. The fall of man disrupted the peace of the Garden and immediately set the human race on a course of conflict—conflict with God, of course, but also conflict with one another.

This latter issue is described by God when He confronts our first parents and the serpent. The LORD says that two lines will come forth from the woman—the line of the Deliverer and the line of the serpent. They will engage in continuing battle until the serpent’s head is crushed by the One who will be sent into the world from heaven.

From that point forward, the lack of peace is the dominant concept when man’s nature and relationship with God is discussed. Fallen man has no peace with God; fallen man has no peace with himself. The coming of the Savior, therefore, is frequently described as the arrival of peace, the cessation of conflicts, and the end of hostility throughout God’s creation. The Lord’s appearance is seen as a restoration of that harmony that once characterized God’s creation. In the Savior, fallen man is reconciled to God and enjoys peace once more.

At this time of year, we are commemorating the coming of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, Advent is a time for reflection upon the state of the world prior to the arrival of the Savior. This reflection is for the purpose of emphasizing the wonderful gift God supplied to us when He sent His Son to redeem us by giving Himself for us.

Please read Isaiah 11:1-10.

The Character of the One to Come

The prophet paints an incredible picture of a future time when One will appear who will have nothing less than a cosmic impact on creation. All aspects of creation are going to be influenced by His coming. Whenever this event occurs, given Isaiah’s description, things will never be the same in this world.

Isaiah speaks about the character of One to come. In the previous chapter, the prophet described this Figure with several titles. Already, therefore, we know this Deliverer will be unlike any other before Him. Isaiah, for example, refers to Him as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. These designations alone fill the mind with amazement and incredible curiosity. No one has ever walked the earth to whom these titles could be attributed. Now, in our present passage, the prophet adds even more.

A King is coming, one of the house of David—a rightful Ruler who will reign in perfection. If the source of much of the world’s turmoil is injustice and the mistreatment of one against another, then this prediction would be encouraging news, to be sure. Isaiah promises that One will arrive who will reign without fault.

God’s Spirit, he adds, will be upon this Individual. He will excel in wisdom and understanding—because He will have the wisdom of God! He also will be equipped with power and all knowledge; He will fear the LORD, meaning that He will relate to God in a proper manner.

Everything said about this Figure is encouraging and adds to the joy associated with this prediction. Regardless of how bleak things looked in Isaiah’s day, and the situation was most distressing for anyone who truly loved the LORD, this prophecy would revive the hope that righteousness would one day cover the earth, just as Isaiah declared at the beginning of this book.

The Distinctiveness of His Ministry

Note also that Isaiah speaks of the distinctiveness of the Savior’s ministry. Stating again that previous idea, the prophet says the delight of this coming Servant, that is, the thing that will bring Him the most encouragement, is “the fear of the LORD.” He will live to please God and God’s pleasure will be His greatest satisfaction. His work on this earth, therefore, will be marked first and foremost by concern for the will of God. His chief aim will be the accomplishment of God’s desire.

This dedication to the will of God means, of course, that the labor of this Servant will conform to God’s nature and God’s laws. Therefore, Isaiah declares that He will “not judge by what He sees, or decide disputes by what His ears hear.” (v. 3) Here is one of the fundamental issues in the human experience—justice. We are involved with some aspect of justice frequently. We may be the target of a wrongful act or we may be accused of a wrongful act. We may witness evil carried out against the innocent or we may be aware of a scheme to defraud.

Whatever the case, we desire justice—not the kind perverted by our fallen natures, but true justice, the kind that faithfully reflects the character of God. This Deliverer will be distinguished by His dedication to true justice. He will not be influenced by anything other than the pure Word of God. He will not be swayed by what He sees or hears. Instead, as the prophet says, “righteousness” will be the standard of His reign.

This Servant will apply the standard of God and only that standard in His ministry. As a King, indicated as this passage begins, He will instruct and decide and correct according to that which corresponds to the nature of God. It is this standard by which He will judge the poor (cf. v. 4). In true fairness, He will oversee the meek of the earth, Isaiah adds. What more can a poor man with no influence and no means to protect himself from injustice desire other than an impartial judge? What more can he hope for than a judge who is dedicated to truth and who cannot be swayed by bribes or lies or promises of reward?

This Servant of God will be the perfect Ruler! He will dispense justice that is untainted, justice that is pure. For that reason, the poor need have no fear of oppression in His day. All the meek of the earth will have in this Deliverer a source of defense; His reign will be so different from that to which they are accustomed. Now, justice is perverted and bought and manipulated. But the day is coming when these things will no longer be possible.

How will this coming King enforce His will? Will He come with a superior army? Will He subdue through sheer brute force? The prophet explains in a simple fashion how this coming One will assure true justice in His realm: “He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked.” (v. 4) With His words this King will establish His rule; with His words He will judge the people; with His words He will ensure that the poor and meek are treated fairly.

By God’s holy standard, the poor will be protected and justice will be guaranteed. For this reason, the wicked should fear, as I noted. In the day of this King, bribery and intimidation will be of no use whatsoever. One will sit in judgment who cannot be influenced except by God’s perfect law. That is the dread of all evil men. If they face an immovable standard of truth and justice, they are doomed.

The Legacy of the Servant

Naturally, such a King is going to create a legacy. He will affect the domain over which He presides. Isaiah gives us some insight regarding what will happen to the world when this Servant comes. He describes a fundamental change in the nature of what we know as those who are born here, live here, and die here. The influence of this Champion of Righteousness will not be limited to talk, but will bear fruit in the lives of those who follow Him; this, in turn, will affect the surroundings where those who follow Him dwell.

The prophet uses some striking images in his description: “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together . . .” (v. 6) In this sin-corrupted world, wolves eat lambs, leopards eat goats, and lions feast on fattened calves. These descriptions, therefore, are meant to indicate a change at the most fundamental level.

These phrases speak of the removal of hostility between God’s creatures. A reversal of the nature of this world will be affected by the coming of the Savior. This is a typical way in which the Bible instructs us concerning the coming of Christ. His presence marks the end of sin’s reign over God’s creation and the beginning of the reestablishment of harmony.

Moreover, Isaiah says that “a little child shall lead them.” Again, I think he is referring to a fundamental change so that innocence prevails while evil subsides. Isaiah adds additional descriptions in vv. 7 and 8 that are in line with this picture of peace on the earth and the turning back of the aggression that came as a result of the fall of man.

This portion of the prophecy concludes with a wonderful, all-encompassing declaration regarding the result of the Savior’s coming. In v. 9, after another statement describing the harmony that will be realized in that day, the text states that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Here you get the impression of a world-wide phenomenon. We saw before that the “weapon” this coming Savior will use is the Word of God. Now we are told that this Word will eventually cover the earth.

Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled as the gospel is preached and God calls His people from every time and every land. Jesus Christ, as Isaiah adds in v. 10, stands now as a signal to the nations. And as the resurrected Jesus taught His disciples in the Great Commission, He is gradually covering the earth with that glorious gospel.

Some Thoughts on the Divine Origin of the Church

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs– we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

The context of this passage is well known. Jesus has been crucified and He has appeared to His disciples following His resurrection from the dead. In the first chapter of this book, He explains to His disciples that they were going to become witnesses for Him beginning in Jerusalem, but eventually encompassing the whole world. When we look at the Gospels, we see that the same disciples were often confused about the things Jesus taught them and the things Jesus predicted. But at one point, Jesus promised a Helper who would come after Him to equip these disciples to carry out the commission given to them by the Savior.

The arrival of that Helper, who is the Holy Spirit, is recorded in the verses I just read. This happened on the day of Pentecost. This holy day occurred 50 days after Passover. Rabbinic scholars teach that Moses brought the law of God down from Mount Sinai 50 days after the observance of Passover. This particular day; therefore, came to have great significance for the Jews.

During the time of Christ, the Jews were somewhat scattered throughout the region. At this celebration, Jews would travel to Jerusalem from various locations throughout the empire. That is why so many areas were represented when this event took place (cf. vv. 9-11). The Spirit that comes on this day is the Spirit of Christ. He comes to prepare the disciples to take a new law to the world—the law of Christ or the law of liberty, as James calls it in his epistle. The law of God was given to make us aware of our sin and need for redemption. On this occasion, the One who kept the law of God perfectly for us so that we might be redeemed dispatches His Spirit to apply the victory He attained.

After this, the book of Acts records the phenomenal growth of the early Church. The disciples who were confused and timid become men of superior understanding and boldness. On this day, the transformation of the world began. And it is still going on in our day as the people of Christ speak, teach, and preach about Him throughout the world. The few thousand who were converted within days of this event have become millions upon millions over the centuries. This is the context for this passage of Scripture.

The disciples were gathered in an upper room that was used as living quarters. Based on the previous chapter, we know that they were devoting themselves to prayer and were probably discussing recent events. While contemplating their circumstances, “suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing when, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (v. 2) In addition, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” (v. 3) This event had significance, not just for this particular day, but for the rest of their lives. And this event had significance, not just for the city of Jerusalem, but for the entire world. On this day, the subjection of the world to the King of Kings begins. Everything that grew out of this event, which includes the establishment and global progress of the Church of Christ, bears the mark of the supernatural. The Church is not a creation of man, it is a creation of God. The destiny of the Church is not in the hands of man, but in the hands of God.

What does all of this imply for the ministry of local congregations? I would mention first the matter of our mission. The mission of the Church is the conversion of sinners. The mission of the Church is the conversion of nations of sinners through the teaching and preaching of the words of Christ. In a local ministry, we must understand that our mission is to preach and apply the gospel. Only the gospel can bring about the salvation of a lost soul; therefore, the gospel must be the primary concern of the local church because we exist to save lost souls. Contemporary churches are often extremely confused when it comes to articulating their mission. As result, many churches have tried to become all things to all people, with the result that their primary mission, as assigned by the Savior, suffers from neglect.

In addition to bearing on the relationship between the local church and the surrounding community, the supernatural origin of the Church also relates to the nature of our worship. If the Church is of the divine origin, then it must reflect that truth in everything it does. And one of the most significant tasks in which the local church engages is the worship of God. The local church is obligated to make sure that the way in which God is approached on the Lord’s Day is acceptable to Him. It is God’s character that we need to consider when we decide what we are going to include or exclude from our service of worship.

Once again, we must admit that contemporary local churches are often severely misguided in this important area. It is common today for churches to structure themselves in order to attract visitors. This is exactly the wrong perspective. As a divine institution, the local church must reflect its divine origin. The Church is, once again, the creation of God through the Holy Spirit. This truth was made unmistakably clear on the day of Pentecost.

In our worship, it should be evident that we are offering our praise and our service to God, which in turn means that we are to worship Him according to what He has revealed to us. The worship of the local church is not the place for innovation, it is the place for tradition, tradition stretching all the way back to the giving of the Scriptures where we find what God says is appropriate. When it comes to worship, a disregard for tradition amounts to disobedience if that disregard causes us to introduce unbiblical elements into our worship. When I speak of disobedience to tradition, I am not referring to the tradition of man, but to the tradition of doctrine given to us by God. The Bible tells us what God accepts when it comes to His worship. That is our tradition.

The supernatural origin of the Church has implications for our mission and our organization, specifically our worship. I would add one more observation. This one concerns our expectation as local congregations. Based on what we know about the origin of the Church and the equipping of the Church by the Holy Spirit, should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the impact of the gospel in this world?

Let us acknowledge that the conflict between darkness and light has been decided. It was decided when Jesus rose from the dead, which is why the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ occupied such a prominent place in the preaching of the early Church. Since Peter stood before the people gathered in Jerusalem and preached, Christ has been applying His victory through the Church to the world. And we should expect that process to continue. The divine origin of the Church guarantees that history must unfold as an amazing application of the atonement.

We live in a dark day when it comes to the expectation of contemporary churches. The optimism that should accompany those who believe the gospel has been all but extinguished by the so-called “end times” eschatology. But understand that this is not the view that characterized the Church of Christ in the past; nor will it be the view that characterizes the Church in the future. But thanks be to God that eventually the Church will escape the clutches of this view that robs Christ of His glory and the Church of Her vision.

 

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 36

October 11, 2012

Why Did Jesus Come to this Earth?

From Pastor Bordwine

 

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

(1 Timothy 1:15)

Preaching recently from 1 John, I examined John’s words concerning false teaching and the threat of antichrists. Sometimes, you don’t even have to leave your house to encounter these enemies of the gospel. With these topics still fresh in my mind, I decided to share this experience.

Early this morning, our doorbell rang and when I opened the door, there stood a well-dressed man and woman. I knew who they were immediately—or, I should say, I knew who they represented immediately.

Without delay, the man asked me a question: “Do you think that a lot of people these days are having trouble finding happiness?” Still drowsy and wearing jogging pants and a tee shirt, I mumbled something like “Yes, I would say so.” Then he added: “Did you know that Jesus talked about this problem a long time ago?” Apparently, this was a rhetorical question because he didn’t wait for my response. Instead, the man opened a book and pointed to what he said was the Gospel of Matthew.

With his finger resting on the page, the man stated that “In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: ‘Those who find happiness will be blessed.’” As he explained, the man said: “This is why Jesus came to earth—to make us happy.” Before he could ask me if I wanted to be happy, I interrupted with a question of my own: “What is that book you just read from?” Thinking he had just met the ideal candidate for proselytization, the man raised the book to eye level and replied: “This is the Bible.”

At that moment, the conversation took an uneasy turn as I said: “I don’t think so.” The eyes of the woman popped open wide as she turned to look at her friend. For his part, the man remained cool and collected. My guess is that he had faced an experience like this before. Whatever the case, I didn’t wait for his answer. Instead, I added: “Jesus never said anything like that in His Sermon on the Mount. And I know for a fact that Jesus didn’t come to Earth to make us happy.” [NOTE: The Jehovah’s Witnesses “bible” is called The New World Translation and falsely claims to be a faithful translation of ancient Biblical texts.]

The man shot back: “I assure you that this is the Bible. It was produced by a host of Hebrew and Greek scholars based on many, many ancient manuscripts.” Being quite familiar with the history of his book, I asked: “Which ancient manuscripts?” “Well, we aren’t here to debate such technical details,” the man said.

“Do you see the reliability of your book as a mere technical detail,” I responded. “No, no, that’s not what I meant,” the man answered, “My purpose for being here today is to help people find what Jesus offers.” “Happiness?” I asked. “Is that all people need—happiness? What about sin? What does your book say about sin?”

“Well, we believe that people hear enough bad news. They need to hear something encouraging,” the gentleman declared. “But wouldn’t it be most helpful to tell people how God sees them so that they could then learn about His provision of salvation?” I responded.

By this point, I was a little annoyed as I thought of the deception this man was taking from door to door in my neighborhood. I decided to end the conversation: “Jesus came to Earth because we were condemned before God. We were helpless and hopeless and faced the wrath of a holy God. As my Substitute, Jesus came to pay the penalty demanded by God’s perfect justice. I didn’t need happiness, I needed redemption. Does your book say anything about such things?”

The man did not respond immediately, but reached into his briefcase and pulled out some literature, which he handed to me. “May we leave this material with you?” he asked, “It will tell you more about us and the wonderful message we have to share.” As I took the pamphlets, I said: “After I read these, I may have some more questions for you. How do I contact you?” Already making his way down the sidewalk, the Watchtower agent said back over his shoulder: “Contact information is printed inside.”

Although this is a simple report on something I experienced, it does have devotional value. My conversation with the representative of the Watchtower Society gave me three points to ponder. First, threats against the pure gospel of Jesus Christ are still very active in this world. In fact, as long as the Church preaches the gospel, we can expect determined opposition to remain. This opposition is deceptive by nature; it consists of lies. Therefore, we should be vigilant in guarding our own hearts and those of others by committing ourselves to the defense of the gospel.

Second, we should be thankful that God has given us a gospel that is true, reliable, defendable, and, above all, supernatural. Our problem as fallen men and women was one that required divine intervention. We have that power of God in the gospel. Jesus Christ came to this Earth according to the merciful provision of God for our redemption.

Third, Christians need not be intimidated when it comes to confronting false teachers. I say that because God has given us the truth. It is not difficult to expose error when you know the truth.