Sunday, December 31, 2017

Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the church at Colossae

You can listen to this sermon here.

He (Christ Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. This is the thesis statement, the core truth of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. A study of this epistle will reveal Jesus as the answer to life.

Nearly every New Testament letter from Paul was written to combat heresy in one or more local churches; Ephesians is the exception. While Colossians doesn’t specify what heresy had infected that church, one can almost hear the whispers, “Jesus is not enough.” Many think an early form of Gnosticism was emerging. What makes this epistle so vital for life in the church in this age, until Christ returns, is the glorious picture of our Lord Jesus is painted in words by the apostle. It is instructive for us to see the evil distractions from the gospel the enemy put into the church in Paul’s day, but it is essential for life and godliness that we grasp the gospel and the person of Christ as held forth in Scripture. In this short letter, the lord Jesus is presented as our life – quite a contrast to our drab routine; something that ought to bring renewed life to weary saints.

This introduction follows the commentary by John Kitchens and covers 5 questions we should answer:
1.      Who wrote this letter?
2.      To whom was it written?
3.      What were the circumstances?
4.      Why did Paul write it?
5.      What does this letter teach us?

1. This first topic is important but not vital. We who believe in the inspiration of Scripture know the dual-authorship of the Bible and know God is the Author of what His people wrote. Yet knowing the human author helps us when we can learn about him through other passages. This is particularly helpful in rightly understanding Proverbs, for example.

Nobody questioned Paul’s authorship of this epistle until a few 19th century scholars offered up an alternative. The first two verses seem pretty clear to us: Colossians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. But some smart people, as men see them, said the vocabulary, theology, and style of writing is too different from Paul’s other letters; that Paul works against Gnosticism which was not fully developed until the 2nd century. None of these objections stand up in light of a basic understanding of the Bible. Liberals seem to have it as their goal to cause us to doubt the Word of God.

2. Written to the saints in Colossae, a town that had been prominent but was now bypassed by the major highway that had driven its commerce; not unlike Gowen or Hartshorne – both of which were prosperous in the mid-20th century as goal mining and defense electronics provided a large bounty of gainful employment. The region Colossae is in was also severely affected by an earthquake, and commerce went with the new highway to Laodicea and Hierapolis. We see in 2:1 that, at the time of this epistle, Paul had not been to Colossae or Laodicea: For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face. What kindness of God, to have this apostle write to these people in a small neglected town he had never met, yet loved in Christ having been told of the work the Lord had been doing in their midst.
Most likely, Epaphrus had established this church, as we read in 4:12-13 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Paul’s confidence was not in his personal work, but in the work done through him and others by the Spirit of God.

One thought occurred to me –apostles were foundational to the New Covenant church (see Eph 2:20) yet most of them wrote no Scripture and are not mentioned much by those who did. Men who labor in obscurity, in man’s perspective, always are in view of our heavenly Father. Our service to one another is pleasing in His sight, even if we are not famous among men; as it is His Spirit that wills and equips us to do so. Let us never drift away from seeking God’s approval in favor of man’s.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Job – A Story About the Sovereignty of God

You can listen to this sermon here.

(Background – from ESV Study Bible) The story of Job has its setting outside Israel to the east and south (Uz is related to Edom, which may be the setting of the book), the author of Job is a Hebrew, thoroughly immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures. The time in which the account of Job is set is not known with precision – many consider the context of Job’s culture and put him in the time of Abraham.

The earliest reference to Job outside the book itself is in Ezekiel. The prophet names three paragons of virtue (chap 14:12 – 14): And the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.” It is not certain whether Ezekiel knew of these men from the biblical narrative or if his knowledge was from God. If Ezekiel knew of Job through the biblical book, then Job would have lived prior to the Babylonian exile.

The author of Job makes direct allusion to the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 8:4; cf. Job 7:17–18), and at times quotes lines directly (Ps. 107:40; Isa. 41:20; cf. Job 12:21, 24). Such precise repetition of phrases and reapplication of biblical thought indicates that Job had access to these writings, though again it cannot be certain in what form they existed. The author uses a lot of vocabulary with meanings known in later Hebrew. This does not confirm a more precise dating but may favor a date that is during or after the Babylonian exile (538 BC). It would appear that this book may have been written as many as 600 years after Job lived – not without precedent in Scripture, as Moses wrote Genesis some 2,700 years after Creation. None of this is cause for worry, as it is God Who is the primary author of all Scripture.

The book of Job asks the question – “Can God be trusted?” It is fair to say that most of our attention is on Job and his loss and the rough treatment received at the hands of his friends and wife. But the lesson we are to gain from this book is found in the reply from God; that He alone can be trusted, that He alone is creator and sovereign – He is God and He is not obligated to answer His creatures! This maddens those who deny His existence or sovereignty, but ought to comfort us who are redeemed by Christ. If God is not sovereign over all things, He cannot be trusted in anything.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

God’s Faithful Promise

In anticipation of the Christmas season, last week we reviewed the biblical account for why Jesus had to come as a man to save us. We are by nature in desperate need of a savior, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12); Christ Jesus is the only One Who can save us, reconcile helpless sinners to God – He is our peace!

Today, we review the biblical account of God’s faithful promise to provide this savior.
Several decades back, a Christian para-church organization took the nation by storm. Promise Keepers filled football stadiums with hundreds of thousands of men, listening to preaching and singing hymns. Many of those who went wanted to be better men, men who would keep their promises to lead their families rightly and walk in obedience to God. And for several years, many men were redeemed, revived, and reconciled. But the leaders of this ministry were found to be much less than their public facades portrayed. The founder confessed that he was a miserable failure and his right hand man drifted into gross theological error. And many critics and men who benefited from this ministry turned aside and followed them no more.

We read in the Scriptures that God is not like man, that He should lie (Numbers 23:19); so a promise made by God is something more sure than any promise man can make. God warns man that it’s better for us not to make a promise or vow than to make one and not keep it (Eccl 5:5 & 6). The gap between the two – creature and Creator – in keeping promises is as great as the gap between us in character. Our confidence must therefore be in God and Christ Jesus (He is the faithful witness – Rev 1:5), for they are faithful and rock-solid, while we are weak and fickle. With this reminder, let us see the awesome power of the One Who can make a promise and is certain to keep it.

The birth of Jesus and His work of redemption was not a reaction to the creature’s faithlessness. We see this in 1 Peter 1:20 & 21 - He was chosen before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the times for you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. The Fall was not unplanned; the redemption found in Christ was not a reaction. Since man’s fall was inevitable, due to our weak frame, God determined before the world was created that the Son would redeem sinners and bring many sons to glory (Heb 2:10). The main reason creation exists is to glorify the Creator. Again we turn to Peter – If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11) The first phrase shows us how the man who preaches must not speak as a mere man with an opinion, but as a man who stands in fear of God to proclaim and preach the Word of God. Next we see that all who serve in any capacity are to do so recognizing it is God who gives such gifts. Lastly we see the reason – that in all things, preaching and serving, God will be glorified. And this glory is possible because we are in Christ Jesus. The oracles of God tell us Jesus is the focus of Scripture (Luke 24:27), promised to us before the world began (Titus 1:2).

Monday, December 11, 2017

Man's Fallen Condition

You can listen to this sermon here.

Christmas is coming. People who know Jesus and those who merely know the name will be making much of Dec 25th, although their reasons differ widely. The person and cross of Christ continues to divide history and implies there’s a problem. 
We hear evidence of it every time a police siren howls. The priceless sacrifice of the Son of God makes no sense if there’s no need. The question we must address is, what is the problem that requires this act? Humanists and politicians will tell you that man is intrinsically good – all he needs is a good education and good examples. The politicians need to say this because it makes people feel good about themselves and it creates demands for their services – education and public service announcements. Humanists are the unrighteous people Paul wrote about in Romans 1 who suppress their knowledge of the truth by their unrighteousness. The Bible tells us what the problem is – man has rebelled against Holy God and is by nature at war with God (Rom 5:10) and spiritually dead (Eph 2:1), hurtling towards physical death (Rom 6:23).
We see this played out in front of us on the TV news all the time. Someone does something outright horrible and none of their family or neighbors could accept the news. It’s the same virtually every time. The murderers amongst us seem so normal. The mother whose adult son is arrested cannot admit he would do such a thing. Yet every day these normal sons and daughters demonstrate the Word of God to be true – man is, by nature, hostile towards God and sinfully wicked in his fleshly desires.
The Apostle summed this up for the fine folks in Corinth: For as by a man came death … in Adam all die … (1 Corinthians 15:21-22) and Rome: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned … death reigned from Adam to Moses … many died through one man’s trespass … the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation …because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man … one trespass led to condemnation for all men … by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners… (Romans 5:12-19).

Sunday, November 26, 2017

What's the New Covenant?

You can listen to this sermon here.

The New Covenant – Fullness in Christ.

Even a casual read of the Bible reveals several covenants. Many books have been written about them. One covenant, the New Covenant, stands as the answer to everything that is wrong, God’s final Word on making all things right. The glory of being in Christ Jesus is revealed in this covenant, which binds Christ and His church together, providing redemption and eternal salvation for sinners. The sign of the New Covenant is circumcision not made with human hands followed by water baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). The Lord's Supper is another sign within this covenant, reminding us of its Author and His return (1 Corinthians 11:25). One dear brother I count as a friend helps us see this:

Baptism serves as an outward sign of the inward grace of regeneration and union with Christ. It is less than meaningless if there is no inward grace to reflect. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). What Jesus is saying is that this cup of wine represents the new covenant he is going to ratify by shedding his blood. This cup becomes the sign of that covenant.  Every time we take communion we should rejoice that we are heirs of the new and better covenant that was ratified by his blood.

In Hebrews 7-9 the New Covenant described, contrasted with the Old Covenant, so we can see it more accurately. Chapter 9:1 even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. What follows is a description of the tabernacle of the Hebrew religion, featuring lampstands, a table and bread, the Most Holy Place with the ark of the Mosaic covenant containing the tablets of testimony, the golden vial of manna, and Aaron's staff. Levitical priests ever making sacrifices that would cover sin for a time but never able to take away sin. All of these forms of worship are summed up in verse 9 as symbolic for that age and “imposed until the time of reformation” (verse 10). There will be no re-institution of those types and symbols as the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus was sufficient, satisfying God the Father and finishing the redemptive work announced in Genesis 3:15, bringing that reformation.

when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation [speaking here of His body of flesh]) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:11-12 & 15)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Romans 16: Let Brotherly Love be Genuine

You Can Listen to This Message Here.

Verses 1-16: Greetings to those in Rome. 
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many—and of me also. Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. Not only do I thank them, but so do all the Gentile churches. Greet also the church that meets in their home. Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you.  Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow countrymen and fellow prisoners. They are noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles, and they were also in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.  Greet Urbanus, our coworker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow countryman. Greet those who belong to the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who have worked hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother—and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send you greetings.

We’ve learned a good bit about true brotherly love in this letter, and here we see evidence of one aspect of this characteristic of God’s people. Paul the apostle wants the saints in Rome, who he has not met, to embrace other saints they do not know because of their service to Christ and help to Paul in his ministry. Note the specifics of Paul’s description of each person – denoting a close personal relationship and a desire for those in Rome to accept them. Note also how each person contributed to equipping each other – benefactor, coworkers, servants, prisoners, worked very hard, risked their necks, approved in Christ; nobody along for the ride, merely showing up and being polite. This is the hallmark of a true church, saints serving one another, putting others first, knowing details about them and their service. This is a far cry from the superficial acquaintances that comprise most local churches. May it not be so with us!

Verses 17-18: Final warning.
Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them, for such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words. After a long paragraph describing a vibrant, Christ-focused group of people Paul gives a stern warning to the church at Rome. Unity in the truth is a critical trait for a local church – knowing the truth is essential. This warning comes after much teaching on gospel truths and Paul contrasts the unity and humility of the saints with the discord and selfishness of these enemies. They serve their own appetites, not caring for the best of others.

We see this same contrast, a little more clearly, in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:
Philippians 3:13-21 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.

Notice how the apostle starts off reminding us how he had not attained the end state; he pressed on and reached out for the prize and tells us all mature saints ought to be like minded. He then warns about enemies of the cross who serve their own sinful appetites, being focused on earthly things. The danger of this perspective we learned about in chapter 12 as Paul moved from theology to doctrine. He also taught us what we read in Philippians – our home is in heaven, from whence our Savior will come and on that day He will transform us from this miserable state to the likeness of Himself. We have confidence in this because Christ has the power to subject all things to Himself and on the day He comes to judge the nations and make the earth new, the consummation of all things will take place and He will make all of His enemies His footstool.

If we compare ourselves to these two groups Paul has described, here in Romans and in Philippians, we will see some of those bad traits (if we’re being honest) but we had better be seeing a growing and maturing trend in the good traits we’ve read about!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Romans 15:14-33 Growing in Grace and Knowledge

You Can Listen to this Message Here.

Romans 15:14-21 (HCSB) My brothers, I myself am convinced about you that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, I have written to remind you more boldly on some points because of the grace given me by God  to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest of God’s good news. My purpose is that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to boast in Christ Jesus regarding what pertains to God. For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed,  by the power of miraculous signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit. As a result, I have fully proclaimed the good news about the Messiah from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum. My aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation, but, as it is written: Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.

The apostle begins winding down his letter to the church in Rome. Having prayed for the God of hope and His Spirit to be their joy and hope so as not to be overwhelmed by the wicked age in which they lived, he now assures them that he is certain they are maturing in Christ – able to teach one another.  As he made note of in Ephesians 4, this is one of the major areas of responsibilities in the local church. That passage tells us God personally gave men with certain gifts to train the saints for ministry, growing and maturing in Christ so we won’t be tossed about by human cunning and deceit. The author of Hebrews made the same point in chapter of that letter, telling those saints they should have been teachers. But they were lazy and not ready or able to teach. Teaching is not given only to the men who serve in church offices – it is a responsibility for every child of God. Parents are to teach their children the things of God. We are to teach one another – and learn from one another.
But Paul indicates that he thinks the Romans need a wake-up call, a reminded of things he has already taught them; much as Peter did: 2 Peter 1:12 (HCSB) Therefore I will always remind you about these things, even though you know them and are established in the truth you have. We’ve learned about the call to humility in this letter and we cannot learn from one another if we think we have all the answers, have arrived at full maturity. As he brings this letter to its conclusion, he wants both Jew and Gentile saints in Rome to know God has called Gentiles into His kingdom. He nails the coffin shut on boasting in our own works by saying he has reason to boast ONLY in Christ Jesus and what He had accomplished through the apostle to make the Gentiles obedient in word and deed.

There are some professing Christians who believe obedience is not required, that they should “let go and let God.” The Bible is full of exhortations for Christians to be active in obedience – deed and word. Hebrews 12:12-13 Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.  Galatians 6:9-10 So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. We must be teaching one another and walking so that the name of our God is not profaned by lazy, indolent people who should be shining like a bright light on hill so everyone can see our good works and praise our Father Who is in heaven.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Romans 15:1-13, Teaching on Biblical Love

You Can Listen to The Whole Message Here.

Chapter 14 of our epistle was focused on realizing the priority of heavenly matters and being understanding and accepting of brothers and sisters with whom we have differences of opinion. Paul referred to those who cling to religious rituals as “weaker” but does not call upon them forego these as long as they do not make them essential matters.

In this chapter, the apostle builds on this, giving instruction to those who do not rely on religious rituals as “the strong.” Paul includes himself in this group. Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1) This mitigates against the world’s view of strength and how to use it, but – as we will see – it reflects perfectly the godly view of strength.

As we’ve noted, biblical love is focused on doing what is best for the other person. That’s what Paul instructs us on here. Verse 2: Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. This is the same message we’ve been hearing – remember this verse from chapter 14: So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another (Romans 14:19). The apostle’s reasoning is constant: Christ Jesus is the savior of sinners, but He also has left us an example to follow. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Romans 15:3)

In none of the teaching of how we are to live – as individuals or as the local church – do we find the answer within self. Always we are instructed to look to Another; the One upon Whom our reproaches fell. Contrary to some what professing Christians teach, we must look to the Scriptures alone to find how Jesus walked, how we are to walk. When we get discontented with what God has revealed to us in His Word, we are vulnerable to falling into error by seeking wisdom from men, self, the world. When you read of preachers who tell stories, looking to the newspaper for topics, seeking experience as the theme of abundant living you see in action one who does not follow the apostle’s teaching. We are to be willing to suffer the reproach of the world, knowing His approval is what matters.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Romans 14 - A Contrast Between Two Kingdoms

You Can Listen to the Entire Message Here.

This short chapter is comprised of 4 paragraphs that demonstrate the error in placing importance on temporal things with a reminder of why this important woven throughout and emphasized smack in the middle. Paul is addressing two groups of people, as he has often done; but this time it’s not the people of God against the people of the world. This time, it’s two groups of God’s people – who differ over matters of opinion.  Paul also addresses this topic in 1 Cor 8; I encourage you to read that chapter later, to provide more context to our passage here. These matters were part and parcel of the reason the council in Acts 15 was called.

Eating, religious days, eating and drinking, eating and drinking – contrasted with the kingdom of God within the brotherhood of Christ. When teaching on the Lord’s Supper, in 1 Cor 11, Paul begins with a rebuke to those saints over their selfish behavior with food and drink. In that passage, the unity we have in Christ, as exemplified in the Lord’s Supper, is set forth as the supreme reality for Christians and we should NOT get entrapped in disputes over food and drink. About these things, the Lord Jesus taught, So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear? ’  For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. This is not to say we are not to work for our temporal needs; it is to remind us to put spiritual things, heavenly things first and work at our jobs as unto the Lord, knowing all good things are gifts from the Father of lights.

You may recall that we were told at the end of chapter 13 that one of things we are supposed to avoid is quarreling with each other. Here we are told not to quarrel over matters of opinion. This first paragraph tells us that food must have come between saints in the early church; we see some evidence of this in 1 Cor 11. In some churches in our day, we see this in the realm of what some consider more healthy foods. Paul says neither the one who abstains nor the one who eats should look down on the other – both are children of God and neither has standing to judge the other. God is the Lord of each and He will uphold every one of His sheep; He will make us stand firm. 

It’s this end-of-the-age event that Paul drapes over this discussion, as he tells us not to pass judgment on one another; reminding us again that judging another over what he eats or drinks is contrary to walking in love. And what greater witness is there to world than seeing Christian brethren truly loving one another? The night He was betrayed, Jesus declared, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) In our text, Paul says if your brother is grieved or distressed by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not tear down, undermine your brother by what you eat. Such disregard for those Christ bought is evil! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Romans 13:8-14 A Passionate Plea to Walk as Children of Light

You Can Listen to this Message Here.

You may recall how the bulk of chapter 12 was a passionate plea from Paul that God’s children walk as those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and gave description of what that looks like.

This chapter ends in a similar fashion. Romans 13:8-10 (ESV) Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Recall last week how we were told to pay what owed, taxes, revenue, honor to whom it was owed? This section starts off confirming that – owe nothing to anyone, except love. Doug Moo points out that this is the one thing we cannot pay off, as we are to love one another as God in Christ has loved us. No matter how honestly and consistently we may truly love one another, we cannot love each other as He has loved us. So we will continually owe a debt of love – to Christ Jesus and His body – until we die or He returns. He presses this point as a lead-in to what is for some a controversial passage on the Mosaic Law.

If one rushes through this passage, it’s possible to see the familiar commandments that Paul quotes without grasping the message. Paul is making the same argument that Jesus did in Matt 22 when asked what was the greatest commandment. Matthew 22:34-40 (HCSB) When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

National Israel was commanded to love God with all heart, soul, strength, and mind – Jesus cites from their law found in Deut 5 and then from Lev 19 to love one another. We should know that even the most mature child of God is unable to love God completely as commanded; and that without His Spirit we cannot love one another rightly. And we cannot love God unless He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Biblical love, recall, is not the emotional reaction our culture calls love; it’s not something one falls into and out of. Biblical love is deliberate, informed, focused on the good (as God sees it) of another. Greater love than has no man, that he lays down his life for his friend. This is what Jesus did for us; this is biblical love. And so if we are loved by God and we actively seek to love one another, we fulfill the demands of the Old Covenant law.

Paul quotes 4 commandments from the Decalogue and refers to the several hundred others that national Israel had added, and he lines up with Jesus: that loving one’s neighbor as we love ourselves (quoting Lev 19:18 as Jesus did) fulfills the Law. Does everyone love himself, aren’t there some people who have “low self-esteem” and hate themselves? The Creator of all flesh said, through our apostle, Indeed, no one ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church (Eph 5:29). Just as there’s no such thing as an atheist (Romans 1), there’s no such thing as a person who hates himself. Lots of people hate their circumstances, based on their opinion that they deserve better. They have high self-esteem. So the ancient law, love your neighbor as yourself, recognizes what the Creator knows about us – we tend to love self above all! If we can love one another as much we as love ourselves, we are doing no wrong to our neighbor, Paul says, and we fulfill the law.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Romans 11:25-36 All Israel Will Be Saved.

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I wonder why nobody asked me why this portion of chapter 11 was left out, as I forgot to post it here in its proper sequence. Nonetheless, here it is!

Romans 11:25-27 (HCSB) So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins.

Last week we saw that Paul turned his attention explicitly to the Gentiles in the church at Rome. He argued that Gentiles have no cause of boasting, as it was grace that grafted us into Abraham’s spiritual promise just as it was for the Jews – perhaps more difficult for us as we were not in the covenant people to whom the oracles of God were given. Verse 25 continues in this thought, plainly revealing a mystery to us so we will not be conceited. The mystery, that had confounded many Jews and, no doubt, caused many Gentiles to get the big-head, was that the rejection of Israel was complete; it was a partial hardening. There has always been a remnant in Israel, the 7,000 who did not bow the knee to Baal, who were brought from spiritual darkness that enveloped the nation into the glorious light of Christ that all His redeemed enjoy. As with much of Paul’s use of the word “mystery,” here it does not mean something difficult to understand, it means something revealed that had been hidden. Jew and Gentile both thought national Israel was God’s chosen people, just as the Pharisees demonstrated – through trust in their flesh. The mystery is that most of Israel’s people were hardened and only a small number were reconciled to God. For from the beginning, God made clear that ALL nations would be blessed in Abram – not only national Israel. This partial hardening continues until all the Gentile elect – people from every nation, tongue, and tribe – have been brought into the sheepfold of Christ. As one commentator put it, “until all elect Gentiles come into Israel.” And in the same way, all Israel will be saved. What does he mean, “in the same way”? How are Gentiles saved? Paul explained to us in chapter 10 how one calls upon the Lord and is saved. In the same way means that those Jews who will be saved, the ones who were not hardened, will be saved in the same way as us Gentiles are saved. They will call upon the name of the Lord! Every one of His elect will call upon His name and be saved.

Paul then does what is fairly common in the New Testament – he cobbles together a “quote” from the Old Testament from several fragments that his audience would have been familiar with. Not a precise citation as we are accustomed to when we read books. He grabs part of Isaiah 59 (which has connections with Psalm14, Micah 4, and Isaiah 2) and Jeremiah 31. The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins. These were promises of the Messiah coming to redeem Israel. Paul applies these promises the work of the Spirit that was going on as he was writing to the Romans, and will go on until the full number – all Israel and Gentile – are saved. Those who were by nature captive to the sin we hold so dear will be liberated by the King of Zion. Freedom does not come from Sinai! This King will turn His people away from godlessness, take their sins away, and bring them into the New Covenant. All this action is of God. Our part is godlessness and sin. His part is to take those away and make us new creatures in Christ. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Romans 13:1-7 The Rub With Government

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Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Some have noted the abrupt change in content and tone that takes place here, changing subject and tone from chapter; thinking this passage was inserted later, perhaps by a scribe. However, if we consider other teaching from the New Testament, we see this as a familiar thread: render under Caesar the Lord taught (Mark 12); and pretty much thought-for-thought in 1 Peter 2:13-17: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Both passages tell us the role of earthly governments, our role in submitting to them and honoring them, and the reason we should submit to them.

Doug Moo points out that this passage in Romans 13 actually builds on what we studied in chapter 12 – where we read that we are not to take out vengeance but leave that to God. Here we are told that God has appointed civil governments as His ministers to punish those who do evil. While God will bring His vengeance to bear on dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Revelation 22:15) at the end of this age, He has given to the state the role to do so until then. Verse 4 of our text: if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Paul is not contradicting himself – saying the only wrath to be suffered is at the hand of; he is pointing out God’s provision until He returns.

One complementary point that must be made: we see in the Bible, in history, and in our times that our civil governments are most often comprised of God-haters. Yet they are appointed by God as His ministers of justice! How can this be? In this passage, Paul doesn’t say each and every person in government is appointed by God; he says God established every earthly authority. However, we see in the Old Testament that God selected the good kings and the evil kings for Israel and the Arab nations, and it YHWH Who claims this role for Himself. Psalm 75:6-7 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. So it would seem that Paul assumes his audience would know that not just the institutions are established by God, each person put in a key position is put there by Him. We see in the record of Paul’s life how we might respond when mistreated by ruling authorities.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Romans 12:9-21 Proverbs for Christian Living

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Last week we began our trek through the application portion of Romans. Everything we will be told to do in this part of this epistle is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit which means none but the redeemed can truly walk as Paul instructs. However, we all know that behaviors and speech that looks like Christian life can be imitated by false brothers, so our on-going mission is to keep an eye ourselves to make sure we see reasons for the hope we profess.

Verses 9-18 are a series of short statements of instructions, very much New Testament Proverbs as he contrasts good behavior and attitudes with those which are bad.

Romans 12:9-18 (HCSB) Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.

Love is to be without hypocrisy. These two are polar opposites. Worldly love is self-seeking and must be hypocritical, so we don’t lose face. We give birthday and Christmas gifts because we want others to think well of us much of the time; usually feeling guilty if our gift isn’t valued as highly as another or liked as much as another. This represents self-love and is not biblical love, which is to seek what’s best for the person. Love in truth can only truly be done when it’s done by the Spirit.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Do we stop and ponder what is good, what is evil? Recall how at the end of a long road filled with much sorrow, Joseph declared to his brothers that though they meant it for evil, God meant it for good. Being locked up on false charges after surviving being thrown in a hole and sold as a slave, who would have thought Joseph’s life was good? We are short-sighted, selfish people – that’s why we can’t see the good our Lord intends when we experience something unpleasant, which we think is evil. That’s why we must be people of the Book wherein our God has revealed what is good and what is evil, so we might live as wise a serpents in this evil age, not being led astray by its agents.

Show brotherly or family affection with brotherly love. There is One who is closer than a brother and He shows us what love is. He disciplined Himself, withstood temptation that would cause us to crumble, allowed creature He called into existence to mistreat and murder Him. Betrayed by those He called to be apostles. After Peter had denied Him the third time, he caught the eye of the Lord Jesus looking at him from across the courtyard. Is was not the look of condemnation but of love, knowing the frailty of the man yet loving him such that he became a stout man of God. Affirming one another is not the bedrock of this type of love, teaching, exhorting, rebuking – all with the aim of heralding Christ more clearly – is.

To out-do each other in showing honor – esteeming others more than ourselves – is another aspect of biblical love. This is what the Lord taught in Luke 14 when He advised people not to take the seat of honor at a wedding feast, but wait to see if the host invites you to that seat. What James (chapter 2) was talking about when told us not to give preference to the rich man in the assembly but associate with the poor. How is that working out in most churches? Yet the counsel of God is to out-do one another in showing honor.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Romans: 12:1-8 How Should We Then Live?

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Every good sermon will have a theological point and an action point or application. God’s people are still people and it is helpful for us to be instructed on how to apply instructions to our lives. This is the structure of Paul’s letter to the Roman saints. Having taught the theology of salvation, the apostle now turns to the application. It is a grand level application of the principle of indicatives and imperatives: having covered the theology, Paul proceeds on the reasonable assumption that his readers are Christians. Since this is true of them, they can comprehend and live in accordance with the instructions that follow.

Romans 12:1-2 (HCSB) Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

The first two words gave me the indication that I mentioned – Paul is speaking to people he considers to be brothers and sisters in Christ and he wants them to bear in mind what’s been covered as he begins the application. Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, Not content to rest on the identification of his readers as brothers, Paul pleads with them according to their standing in Christ – by the mercies of God! This reinforces their identity and the foundation for next 4 chapters. As Lamentations 3:22 & 23 reminds us, God’s mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness in providing us needed mercy is great, overly abundant! While we ought to be working diligently to be pleasing to our God in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we need His guidance and provision to do so. Those who are not in Christ have the general provision granted in Noah’s covenant (seedtime and harvest, food and shelter) but they cannot be pleasing to Him. They do not have these mercies that are shed upon the souls of the redeemed.

Having established their identity, Paul tells them the over-arching goal of whatever time each one of them has left: present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. We all know that animals that were sacrificed were killed for that purpose. This picture ought to provoke us to wonder about how serious we are in living deliberately for the glory of God in our daily lives. The animal being sacrificed has no say-so in how his life will go; it is not happenstance that Paul used this word here. He says elsewhere that we have been bought at a price and are longer our own. When we reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ, we will live more in line with Paul’s teaching here. And doing so will be pleasing to our God and Judge. The apostle says living this way is our spiritual or reasonable service. There are some who think living an obedient life is easy (they are not doing so, mind you); other say it is too difficult (they are imagining it in their own strength). And some think they are to obey the law spelled out in the Mosaic Covenant – surely those laws reveal what pleases God! Do you recall from Matt’s sermons from Galatians, this message: Galatians 3:3 (HCSB) Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? And in chapter 7 of this letter, Paul is speaking to those under the law, explaining how the law does not bind them since they have died to it by becoming alive to Christ. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Romans 11:13-24 The Penalty of Unbelief

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Romans 11:13-15 (HCSB) Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them. For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

Since the beginning of chapter 9, Paul has been mostly talking to a Jewish audience, making the case that he began in chapter 2 – that the Jews do not have an advantage over the Gentiles regarding reconciliation with God. Here, he addresses the Gentiles. This is one of the clearest clues that Paul has been focused on the Jews these past few chapters – he announces that he is turning his attention to the Gentiles. 

Notice his tentative approach to his former audience – since he was called by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul is saying that if makes much of that ministry, being very public among the Jews in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles; he might, somehow, incite his kinsmen of the flesh to envy with the result that some of them might be saved. The theme is consistent – there is not seen thus far in Paul’s letter or in the redemptive prophecies found in the Old Testament that project an unbounded optimism that all ethnic Israel will be saved. There is a remnant that will be saved, having been marked out by God from the beginning. David Gay provides a literal translation of verse 14: “‘My services I glorify if by any means I shall provoke to jealousy my flesh and shall save some from among them’. This is a far cry from any note of certainty and talk of ‘success’.” The point our brother is making is simply that there is no basis in this passage for thinking national Israel will be turning to the Lord in huge numbers.

Verse 15 is a parallel to what we saw last week in verse 12: (ESV) Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Romans 11:15 (ESV) For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? In both places Paul posits an – off-putting of Israel as bringing benefit to rest of the world. Let’s pause for a minute to recall the singular benefits Israel had as a nation, chosen to be favored by God. They were called forth from Abram, who was called from the post flood mass of humanity. YHWH began bringing a few men to Himself and provided a cultivating ground in Egypt, where their slavery kept them from polluting themselves with the pagan religions so dominant in that culture. When He considered the timing right, He raised up Moses to lead them out of Egypt – there were more than 2 million Hebrews at the time. They were given a covenant by which to live, that would keep them in God’s pleasure should they follow it. He gave them a peculiar religion and plans for a tabernacle so the whole world would know Who He was. Early on, YHWH told them they were His chosen people, not because they were big and powerful, but because He had chosen them and is faithful to the promise He made to Abram. They grew and number and wealth, though they gave God much reason to discipline them for disobedience and by the time of Christ, they had added so much to the religion He gave them, adopting much from the pagan nations, that they reflected Pharaoh. They hardened their hearts and YHWH pushed them along. That’s how we end up where we are  - with Paul’s desire that many of his kinsmen be saved but no presumption on his part that such will be the case. Recall how he opened chapter 10, be stressing his desire, contrasted with his knowledge: Romans 10:1-2 (HCSB) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation! I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Romans 11:1-12 Has God Rejected His People?

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Romans 11:1-3 (HCSB) I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel? Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars. I am the only one left, and they are trying to take my life!

Last week, we learned a little more about how bad off national Israel was. It was a gloomy picture that Paul started painting in chapter 2. So he asks another rhetorical question – Has God rejected His people? By this, the apostle clearly refers to ethnic Israel. He has been locking them, locking them out of the kingdom of God, putting their very identity as God’s people in question. Natural means cannot beget spiritual life – this is the essence of all that has gone before. This is a major point for this chapter, same as he taught in chapter 9 – Israel as a nation has no standing before God. But God has always kept a remnant and Jewish people will continue to be brought into the kingdom until New Jerusalem is complete. Has God rejected His people? Is there no hope for Abraham’s children of the flesh?

Paul rushes in to answer this rhetorical question, wanting to make sure his fellow Jews understand that they have NOT been rejected by God. His proof is himself - Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. His evidence that God has not rejected his people is simply that he, Paul, was redeemed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This evidence is indicative of one thing – God does not save groups of people, He saves individuals from every group of people. He always has His people present, in every generation – to be a witness to the world of His power and authority and redeeming love. So Paul goes back to the Scriptures to provide his support – Don’t you Jews know about Elijah, how he cried out about Israel’s disobedience, holding himself out as the ONLY one left? This is the human condition – we think we are alone.

When we moved up here from Houston, in the summer of 2014, I was called to serve as pastor in a small church near our property. 4 weeks into the arrangement, I was fired – because I preached according to how I told them I would and because I did not go along with extra-biblical traditions without explanation. People who have lived in that part of Latimer County all their lives told me they had never met a Calvinist before. We visited church after church, looking for a gathering of God’s people who know salvation is of the Lord. There were times I wondered if we were the only people in SE Oklahoma who accepted God at His Word. And these others who claimed the same Savior I do didn’t want us around. Some were angry simply knowing we believed things differently than did they. But in due time, God showed me there was a small gathering, not so close to our home, where sovereign grace was preached and taught. There was a remnant in SE Oklahoma!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Romans 10:16-21 Faith Comes By Hearing ...

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Last week we saw, as Paul quoted from Isaiah, that the gospel was intended to be proclaimed to national Israel and all people. The first century Jews had as much difficulty accepting that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the redeeming savior of Gentiles as well. They had selective learning from their biblical authors – just like we do!

And therefore, the apostle to the Gentiles works to show his kinsmen of the flesh how their standing as Abraham’s children (according to the flesh) accounts for nothing in the kingdom of God. Romans 10:16-17 (HCSB) But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. We now read what some call Isaiah’s lament – the prophets’ anguish as he realizes not all of God’s ethnic people, the Jews, believed the gospel he proclaimed. Paul brings this to his people, to make sure ignorance is no excuse. The 4 gospels in the New Testament record the Lord Jesus doing much the same thing, in the parables wherein He shows the Jews how they have persecuted His prophets and will kill Him.

We see in verse 16 the statement that not all obeyed the gospel. What does it mean to obey or not obey the gospel? Is it a law or set of laws that one must obey to be saved? Here’s where a proper understanding of the gospel is vital. We have covered the gospel before – it is a proclamation of who Christ Jesus is and how He saves people from their sin. It is NOT a set of laws or rules that must be obeyed. Here’s a short poem thought to be by John Bunyan that rightly contrasts law and gospel:

Run, John, Run! The Law commands;
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
Far grander news the gospel brings;
It bids me fly and GIVES ME WINGS!

Verse 17 sums up much of what Paul has written and all of came before in this chapter: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Recall verse 14? But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? Sinners hear Christ when we proclaim the gospel and their ears are opened if the Spirit has prepared them. In this redemptive work, we cooperate with God, we do not take the place of God.

Hear the anguish from this apostle, as he quotes the Hebrews’ prophets to them again:

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
 “Their voice has gone out to all the earth,

and their words to the ends of the world.” 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Romans 10:14 – 15 How Can a Man be Saved?

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Last week ended with verse 13: For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. We discussed a little about who was able to savingly call upon the Lord, but we will see that Paul supplies a better answer than what I provided. He does so by asking 4 more rhetorical questions; questions, the answers to which were so obvious that nobody would misunderstand him.

Romans 10:14-15a (HCSB) But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? Note the progression of these questions. The last question is the beginning point for time-bound humans. Some Christians are called and equipped to preach. All Christians are called and equipped to proclaim the gospel. While people can be brought into the kingdom by reading the Bible (it is the Word which the Holy Spirit attends to, not the human communicator thereof), we who have been bought by the blood of the Lamb are commanded to be His witnesses. We see how this was affected in the early church in the Acts of the Apostles. Those men who had hidden when Jesus was murdered on the cross, as the craven cowards they were, started turning the world upside down with the gospel. Recall Peter’s denial of Christ the night He was killed – three times he vigorously denied knowing who Jesus was. About 45 days later, read Acts chapter 2. Listen to bits of what Peter preached:

Acts 2:22-24 (HCSB) “Men of Israel, listen to these words: This Jesus the Nazarene was a man pointed out to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through Him, just as you yourselves know. Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. Acts 2:32-33 “God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear. Acts 2:36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” Acts 2:37-38 When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?”  “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Take note of the content of Peter’s message. Christ Jesus is the message. He is the promised seed, appointed by God to do wonders (proving Himself as the Messiah); crucified by lawless men – those who thought themselves righteous – according to God’s plan. God does not have a “Plan B” – this event was predetermined by God before He formed the world. This Christ was raised from the dead and approved by God the Father, Who crowned Him Lord and Messiah. Through Him along mercy and grace are available and obtained only by repentance and faith. There’s the gospel – somewhat oriented towards the Jewish people. Something like this, in agreement on the essentials of who Jesus is, what man’s greatest need is, and what Jesus did to solve that problem, is what we have been sent to proclaim to every creature under the sun.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Romans 10:6-13 - The Righteousness That Comes From Faith!

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Last week, we ended with this statement by Paul: Romans 10:5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them. We start this week right there, with a great word - “but.” Knowing his audience has not lived by the law of Moses, we knowing neither have we, this “peoples’ apostle” speaks to us more about the righteousness of faith.

Romans 10:6-7 (HCSB) But the righteousness that comes from faith speaks like this: Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up to heaven?” that is, to bring Christ down or, “Who will go down into the abyss?” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. He quotes Deut 9 and 30 in verse 6, explaining that if man were to go to heaven in this age it would be to bring Christ down to where He is needed. He is God and He came down in the right moment at the predetermined counsel of God the Father (Acts 2:23). There is a common misperception about Jacob’s ladder that his passage in Romans helps clarify. Genesis 28 reveals a dream Jacob had while he was on the run from his brother. In this dream, he saw a ladder reaching into Heaven, upon which angels were going up and down. How many times have you sang the song about climbing Jacob’s ladder? It portrays people climbing up to Heaven on the ladder – as if to bring Christ down? The ladder prefigures Christ, bridging the gap between Heaven and Earth. If it were a ladder for sinners to draw near to Jesus, we would have much reason to boast in ourselves. By this we know this is the wrong interpretation as much of this epistle has been focused on killing the desires of the flesh, including any boasting in the flesh for our relation with God. All interaction between God and man is initiated by God – Paul has made that clear in this epistle as have others quoted in the Scriptures. So we do not go up to heaven to bring Christ down.

Verse 7 then asks who will down into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead, quoting Deut 30:13 and Heb 13:20 – which tells us the God of peace brought Jesus up from the dead. In Paul’s mind, it is just as crazy that a mortal would think he could bring Christ down from heaven as thinking he could bring Him up from the dead! No matter what Benny Hinn has said (and he has claimed to raise several people from the dead!), such a work can only be wrought by the One Who creates life!

The righteousness of faith, Paul tells us, does NOT make these claims. The false righteousness of works – pictured well by the small boy who wants to show his mother every little thing he has done, and is all-too-often told how wonderful he is! No matter how young, we do not need encouragement to think highly of ourselves. The righteousness that comes from faith speaks against this notion that we can determine or influence where the Lord Jesus is. Romans 10:8 (HCSB) On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. Here, Paul continues quoting from Deut 30, this time verse 14, where Joshua is presenting the nation with the challenge to follow after YHWH and enter into promised land. When the gospel is presented to lost people, the message is very near them. We bring this message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to people, not the message of working harder. For those being called, the message resonated in their souls and is very close to them and will evidence this by being in their mouths. Just as there are two categories of people, in two very different realms, so there are two types of righteousness – one spiritual and one fleshly. In each case, the more common, larger group or trait is the one at war with God. For them He is not the God of peace spoken about in Hebrews 13. For those of us in Christ, He is the God of peace!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Romans 9:30-10:5 Without Faith, It Is Impossible To Be Reconciled To God

Romans 9:30-33 (HCSB) What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame.

Having addressed his Jewish kinsmen about their need of grace and God’s mercy in saving a remnant – a small number of the multitude of Hebrews who had lived since Abram’s time – the apostle asks a question to draw attention back to the age-old promise of including the Gentiles into God’s kingdom. The Jews didn’t get into the kingdom by law-keeping or lineage of their flesh. How about the Gentiles? They did not have the Law of Moses to pursue self-righteousness, yet they obtained the righteousness of God that comes by faith. Think of Rahab the harlot – kept the spies safe and were included in God’s kingdom. Think of Ruth – stayed with her mother-in-law, caring for her and is in the line of Christ! And Abraham – justified by faith before he was given the covenant of circumcision. Reconciled to God apart from the Law. But Israel – given the Law to lead them to Christ, instead used it to try and earn God’s favor. They could have achieved righteousness through the Law, Paul says, if they had pursued it by faith. But they, by and large, thought their feeble fleshly attempts at keeping the Law of Moses would close the gap. We know from Scripture that God is jealous, will not share His glory with another, if there were another worthy of sharing! How much less will He consider sharing with a lowly creature? This ought to call to mind the apostle’s question in chapter 3 of this letter: Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. (Rom 3:27) He went on to say, So the one who boasts must boast in the Lord. (2 Cor 10:17). The law of faith ties to our current passage, contrasted here as in chapter 3 with the Law of Moses. When one pursues righteousness by faith, he will boast in the Lord, for there is no-one else who played a part in our resurrection from spiritual death to new life in Christ.

In our day, the opportunity for men to falsely boast in the flesh comes in too many local churches to count. Any place where raising a hand, walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or any other action by the creature is heralded as what brings or helps bring a sinner into relationship with God would be in Paul’s gun-sights. Our focus is to be on the heavenlies, wherein our help comes from – and from Whom our help came from in answer to our greatest need.

Those who pursued righteousness by works stumbled over a stone. Paul calls it a stumbling stone – its mission was to cause works righteousness to stumble. This stone is the same rock that gave water to the ancient Jews, it is the rock on which the wise man builds his house, the same rock upon which the church is built, and the chief cornerstone that holds what is built on the foundation to hold together. This the stone cut without human hands that Daniel saw smashing the kingdoms of this world; and on this stone, men will fall upon and be broken or it will fall on them and they will be crushed. Of this stone, Paul tells us, As it is written: Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame. This comes from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16: He will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And Therefore the Lord GOD said: “Look, I have laid a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; the one who believes will be unshakable. Those who have faith in the Son of Man will not be put to shame, will be unshakable. These are precious promises for the children of God!