Posted in 2Timothy, John, Matthew

The One Behind the Scriptures

“All Scripture is God breathed…” 2 Timothy 3:16

The Bible is one of God’s most startling revelations of Himself. It was written over a period of 1600 years by over 40 different human authors with a variety of backgrounds, from three different continents, and in three different languages, yet it is one story, one history, with one message. It is by far the best selling book in history. You probably have one, or maybe even a few, lying around your house. The question is how does one read the Bible in a way that he will find God and not just be frustrated by the seeking?

There were two major religious groups at the time of Christ that had access to the Scriptures but didn’t find God: The Sadducees and the Pharisees. To the Sadducees Jesus said, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)  They were a group that had exalted intellect and human wisdom above the word of God. They didn’t believe in angels, miracles, or the resurrection of the dead, even though the Old Testament Scriptures taught these things. Because of this grave error they lost all understanding of spiritual things. Many in America have made a similar mistake. When you put your opinion above the word of God and only believe the parts of the Bible that agree with your thinking, you make yourself out to be the final authority and end up denying the God of the Scriptures. Submit your heart to the Scriptures, humble your mind before God, and you will find yourself being changed by God’s word as you seek to apply it to your life.

The other group who had access to the Scriptures was the Pharisees. Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.” (John 5:39)  The Pharisees believed every jot and tittle of the Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi, but they had exalted them to the place of God. They lived for rules and interpretations and spent much of their time arguing doctrines and splitting hairs over who was the most right, while attacking anyone who didn’t share their insights. Unfortunately many Bible believing people get caught in this trap today. The Bible is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to reveal a living Person who is in love with us. Truth itself, Jesus said, was not a belief system, but found in His Person. He said, “I am the truth…” (John 14:6)  He is the Word that became flesh. He is the One that the Scriptures were written to reveal. Read your Bible to find the One behind it and you will find life in Jesus Christ.

Posted in 2Peter, Luke, Matthew, Philippians

Living Ready for His Return

“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealer and buy some for yourselves.’” Matthew 25:5-9

The great work of this life is to live ready for Christ’s return. He has delayed His return because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9) and is even now calling sinners to repent and turn to God. But what about the danger to those who have begun their journey but are now distracted by other things? How do we ensure we don’t end up like the foolish virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25? There are three things we can do daily, so that we’re living ready for His return.

  1. We must stay awake. Jesus said that before Noah’s flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, people were “eating, they were drinking, they were marrying…they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building.” (Luke 17:27-28) The problem was that these legitimate things were all they were doing – they had lost track of a living faith in God. The busyness of this world easily lulls us to sleep and pretty soon we are relying on past experience instead of present relationship.
  2. We must trim our wicks. Yesterday’s sins, regrets, and successes have to be trimmed away to walk with God today. Listen to Paul’s encouragement: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) 
  3. We must have fresh oil. The foolish virgins think they can get oil from other people – it’s not possible. You can’t get your relationship with God from your grandma, parents, or pastor, however godly they may be. Go to the dealer Himself. He has fresh oil for every single day. The cost is only the time and effort it takes to seek Him for it. Jesus has already paid the price, so we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your Father loves you, Jesus died for you, so all you need to do is ask each day.
Posted in John, Luke, Matthew

The Next Event

“When you see all these things, you know that it (His coming) is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:33-34

Jesus does not say His coming will be in their generation; He says it will be “at the door” in their generation. He says the sign of His coming will appear “immediately after the distress of those days…” (Matthew 24:29) Immediately, on God’s calendar, means imminently; His coming is the next prophetic event and has been since the fall of Jerusalem.

While the first rescue and judgment event was preceded by an abundance of signs so that God’s people would be prepared for the distress of their generation, the second rescue and judgment event will come unexpectedly.

While first century Christians were warned not to be trapped in Jerusalem, Jesus warns us not to be trapped in the things of this world before His coming in the clouds: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:34-35) We need to live ready for His coming!

The rescue in the first century required Christians to leave Jerusalem. The rescue at the Lord’s coming won’t require anyone to leave, we’ll be taken. “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (Matthew 24:40-41) The word translated “taken” is “paralambano” in the Greek and means: “to receive near to one’s self in any intimate act.” (Strong’s, 55) It is used in Matthew 1:24 when Joseph “took Mary home as his wife.” 

It is used of the rapture again in John 14:3 where Jesus makes this promise to His disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take (paralambano) you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus is coming for His beloved bride. If He came today would you be ready?

Posted in Ephesians, Matthew, Revelation

Choosing Jesus In The Darkness

“As I watched the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll.” Revelation 6:1

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives to us the conditions on earth while the gospel is preached: false religion, wars, natural disasters, and persecution of the truth that in some instances ends in martyrdom.

In Revelation 6, we see these same four conditions but they are seen from heaven’s perspective. They are not incidental; they are necessary before the day of the Lord can come.

Seals were not part of a Jewish legal document – they were on the outside and represented conditions that had to be met before the document could be opened or enforced. Jesus is the only One who is worthy to break the seals which lead to the coming day of the Lord, but we must ask, “Why?” Why has God insisted that the gospel be preached in such darkness before He comes to actively rule the world?

Here’s my opinion: He wanted us to choose Him in the darkness, so we never reject Him again for all eternity. The first group, the angels, chose Him in the light and eventually a third fell away. Angels have free will even as we do, and a third of them chose self-rule over God’s rule even while living in a perfect heaven, and beholding God’s beauty face to face.

By having us choose Him in the midst of darkness, in the midst of the worst conditions and the ugliness of sin and horrors of the curse, it will be almost impossible for us to reject Him when we see Him face to face in the light and glory of heaven.

Ephesians 3:10-11 says this: “God’s purpose was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” “All” means both the angels that fell away and those who remained true.

Those who fell away are judged as they see the church choose Him even while they can barely see Him, when they had rejected Him while seeing the beauty, glory, and power with absolute clarity. Those who remained loyal see through Christ’s coming and the church’s devotion more of the beauty of God’s love and humility. This strengthens them, I can imagine, and further secures them from the danger of ever falling away in the future.

When the day of the Lord begins, every eye will be able to see God’s active judgment and redemption, but right now we must choose Him in the darkness. God Himself has ordained this!

Posted in Daniel, Mark, Matthew

Daniel’s Seventieth ‘Seven’ – Part Two

“He (a coming prince) will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” Daniel 9:27

After the Messiah is put to death, Gabriel says “the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary and its end will come like a flood.” (Daniel 9:26) The next verse, quoted above, is a description of this event that will happen during the seventieth ‘seven.’ 

Jesus said that this “abomination of desolation,” spoken by Daniel the prophet (Matthew 24:15) would be fulfilled in the generation that He lived in.  “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Mark 13:30) 

Many commentators don’t believe the seventieth ‘seven’ occurred in Jesus’ generation so they put it off until the generation before the Lord’s return.  They treat the fall of Jerusalem as a foreshadowing of the events that will happen again before the coming of the Lord which is why so many are certain the Jewish temple has to be rebuilt. But all this is conjecture and not in the text.  In Mark’s gospel only one question is asked and it’s about the destruction of the temple (not about His coming or about the end times) and the sign they should look for: “the abomination of desolation.” (Mark 13:14)

Yesterday we looked at what actually happened in their generation and the abomination that was set up in the destroyed temple.  Now let’s reread Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ in light of this history: 

“And he (Vespasian) will make a firm covenant with many (Galilean Jews) for one ‘seven.’ (The war went from 66-73 AD)  In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. (The temple was destroyed at the three and a half year mark, so sacrifices could no longer be made.) And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation (the Roman ensign was sacrificed to where the temple had been), until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”  Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ was fulfilled in the first century, just like Jesus said it would be.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Daniel, Jeremiah, Luke, Mark, Matthew

Two Events of Judgment

“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.  For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.”  Matthew 24:34-37

 I have come to believe that Jesus is describing two events of judgment in His discourse on the future (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21) and that they are very different to prepare for.

One event, the destruction of Jerusalem, will happen in their lifetime, or their “generation.”  It is a time of God’s wrath on the Jewish people for rejecting Christ (Luke 21:22-24); it will feature an abomination of desolation being set up in the holy place (Matthew 24:15); and  it will be horrible but “cut short,” otherwise all of the Jewish elect would be wiped out.

  The rescue for the church at this time is to flee Jerusalem when you see these things happening.  “All these things” were to be expected within their generation and they would be as visible as a fig tree budding indicating that summer is near.  There will be a fulfillment of  “all that is written” (Luke 21:22), a reference to Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ (Daniel 9:27), and Jeremiah’s allusion to a time of Jacob’s trouble. (Jeremiah 30:7)

   The second event Jesus describes is not just in Judea, it’s world-wide (Luke 21:35); Jesus doesn’t know when it’s going to happen; the elect don’t have to flee, they are taken; and there are no signs to prepare for it, so people have to live ready.  This coming event is not a judgment on the Jews for rejecting Christ (that already happened in the destruction of Jerusalem), but on the Gentiles who have rejected Christ. (Luke 21:24) 

 By the end of their generation this second judgment will be imminent, or “at the door,” (Matthew 24:33-34) because it will occur immediately after Jesus appears in the clouds.  We are now living between the first and second judgment events in a time of God’s favor. (2Corinthians 6:2)  This is the time to respond to God’s salvation!

Posted in Matthew

A Tale of Two Cities – Part Two

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

Many began on the narrow path the king’s son had made but then became discontent. Some began to doubt if this was really the right path because they were sure that the right path would be easy, yet the son’s path had many turns in it as well as high mountains and dangerous valleys.

Others didn’t like the humility required to stay on the son’s path. They wanted to make their own way and have their own following. Many set out on their own and took others with them often with promises of pleasure and wealth people could have “right here” in Worldly Values. 

Some resented the king, and his son for making only one path and one bridge over the chasm of fire. Why couldn’t he make more bridges? Why shouldn’t all paths lead to Eternal Joy? These people accused those on the path of arrogance and self-righteousness. “Who do you think you are,” they would angrily yell, “to maintain your path is the only right one?”

Some began to shoot at those on the path, while others made laws which made it illegal to encourage anyone new to get on the path. A new religion formed which said there was only one sin and that was the sin of intolerance, therefore every path was to be tolerated except the son’s path because of its claim to be the only way to the city of Eternal Joy.

Yet even in this climate of hostility, more and more were drawn to the path and willingly gave up their pride to embrace the son’s way. The more they were shot at, mocked, or ignored, the more joyous and confident they seemed to become. No one stayed on the path perfectly, yet those who had walked on it for a long time seemed to instinctively know when they were off the path and quickly returned to it. 

The king’s son gave them writings and inspired songs from Eternal Joy that became well known to those on the path. The more these writings were proclaimed, and the more these songs were sung, the brighter the path became. In fact, one of the songs had a verse that went something like this: “Oh how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

Posted in 1Corinthians, Acts, John, Matthew

A Sign to Examine

“He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:31

Usually in church we are called to believe in our hearts something that we can’t see with our eyes. But there is one case where God encourages us to examine something we can see with the logic of our minds – the resurrection. God has “furnished proof” that Jesus is the judge of all mankind by raising Him from the dead.

In John 2 Jesus clears the temple and the religious leaders ask, “What sign do you show us as your authority for doing these things?” (John 2:18) The only person on earth that might have authority to move temple furniture around was the high priest. Outside of him, only God himself would have that kind of authority. “Who do you think you are?” is what they’re asking. Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) The sign He gave of His authority was the resurrection. In Matthew 12 again He is asked for a sign but replies that no sign will be given except the sign of His death and resurrection as prefigured in the story of Jonah. (Matthew 12:39-40)

Paul says that all of Christianity hinges on the actual, historical resurrection of Jesus. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1Corinthians 15:17-19) I’ve heard people say that they’d be a Christian “even if it wasn’t true.” Paul wouldn’t be. He’s only in if it’s true and to him it’s true because of a historical proof that God gave. Paul didn’t believe in Jesus because he was afraid he’d go to hell if he didn’t, and he didn’t ultimately believe because of the subjective encounter he had on the road to Damascus. He believed because it was the truth; not just his truth, but everyone’s. The evidence is the resurrection.

Posted in Matthew

Profitable Lives

“What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Matthew 16:26

God wants us to see the big picture and give ourselves to those things that will ultimately lead to our own profit. So what will lead us to a profitable life before God and man? Here are four observations from the passage in Matthew 16 where the verse above is taken from.

  1. It involves a revelation of who Jesus is. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17) The foundation of a profitable life is Jesus Christ. Building your life on anything else will eventually be revealed as sinking sand.
  2. It involves a personal cross. “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) Thank God that Jesus went to the cross for us, and made the payment for our sins required by a holy God. But that doesn’t change the fact that each of us will have a personal cross and a Gethsemane where we will either choose to trust God in the midst of our pain, or turn from God and reject His purpose for us. Joni Erickson Tada said: “Sometimes God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” This sounds like a good definition of the cross.
  3. It involves freedom from self preservation. “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for Me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) Don’t try to make your own life; grab a hold of Jesus and He will make you exactly who you were originally designed to be.
  4. It involves a process. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23) Shortly after Jesus speaks into Peter’s destiny, Peter must be rebuked for going the wrong way, a way that came naturally to him. We must accept the fact that our natural way of thinking is often wrong. This is not a one time event, but a way of life for a disciple. Jesus wasn’t discouraged with Peter. He was only keeping His promise to him: “Follow Me and I will make you…” He makes the same promise to you and me.
Posted in Malachi, Matthew, Philippians

The Mystery of Giving

“You (Philippians) sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more, I am amply supplied…Your gifts are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:16-19

We use giving boxes at our church instead of receiving offerings and rarely even talk about the importance of giving as part of our worship. It’s our response to a culture where many believe the church just wants their money. God loves people and He doesn’t want a system where anyone thinks you have to “pay” to stay in His grace.

Yet the self-sufficient God is mysteriously interested in our giving. He has placed, in giving, a number of incentives so His people will want to give freely to that which He values. Paul gives us three in the passage above:

  1. We increase our heavenly account. “I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” In Matthew 6:20 Jesus invites us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” in the context of giving, not to be seen by men, but by the Father in heaven. You can’t take money with you, but mysteriously, it seems we can send it ahead by investing in God’s interests.
  2. We please God by our sacrifice. “Your gifts are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Money is real to us, and God knows it. For most of us, giving more to God’s work means choosing for the present to have less stuff, or go on fewer vacations, or at least, having less in our retirement account. It is meaningful to God, a fragrant offering, when we choose to worship Him in this very tangible way.
  3. We secure future provision. “God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ.” Although we make a present sacrifice, God is committed to being the only true Benefactor in His kingdom. Those who give do not need to fear, He Himself has resources to draw on and will see to it that all our needs are provided for. He encourages all of us to test Him in the area of tithing, for instance, and promises to “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:10)