The two witnesses and Christ’s ministry – Part 2

This is the second post on the interpretation of Revelation 11:3-12 about the two witnesses. Yesterday (Nov. 1), I presented an exegesis of this passage that revealed the meaning of the events at the end of the age. In this post, I want to demonstrate how the persecution of these “two witnesses” (the faithful church) at the end of the age parallels the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE FAITHFUL CHURCH AND THE MINISTRY OF JESUS

In Revelation 11:3-6

The two witnesses, representing the faithful church, “will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:3). Notice first that the duration of their prophesying is about three and a half years. Second, the expression “clothed in sackcloth” speaks about the pain and the difficulty of their ministry. The church will prophesy at the end of the age[i] in the face of persecution and opposition. The world will be actively antagonistic to their message and will hate the witnesses (see Rev. 11:10).

From His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist to His ascension to heaven following His resurrection, the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry was about three years. Also, from His rejection at Nazareth to His opposition by the Pharisees and religious leaders to His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, Jesus’ ministry was conducted in the face of persecution and opposition. The world hated Jesus (John 15:18) and was actively antagonistic to His message.

In Revelation 11:7

When the two witnesses, representing the faithful church, “have finished their testimony” (see Acts 1:8; Matthew 24:14), “the beast will make war with them and overcome them (see Rev. 13:7; 16:14; 20:8) and kill them.” When the faithful church has accomplished the mission given to her by her King, then the beast will be allowed to overcome and kill the church.

When Jesus had accomplished the work of redemption that the Father had given Him to do (John 17:4), when His time had come (see John 12:23; 13:1), only then were Jesus’ enemies allowed to rise up against Him and kill Him.

In Revelation 11:9

After the two witnesses (the faithful church) are killed, “those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days” (11:9).

After Jesus died on the cross, He was buried and “the Son of Man was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

In Revelation 11:10

When the dead bodies of the two witnesses lie in the street, “those who dwell on the earth rejoice over them and celebrate.” The world is glad to finally be rid of the faithful church.

Speaking of His death, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice” (John 16:20).

In Revelation 11:11

After the defeat at the hands of the beast, the faithful church will be resurrected in glory. “But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet.” As was explained in the earlier post, this is the Resurrection at the end of the age.

As is proclaimed many times in the New Testament as the main message of the New Testament, after three days, Jesus was raised from the dead in His glorious resurrection.

In Revelation 11:12

After their Resurrection, the faithful church ascends from the earth to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). “And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud” (Rev. 11:12).

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven while His disciples watched. “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

SUMMARY

What we have seen in this exploration of Revelation 11:3-12 is that the ministry of the faithful church at the end of the age, “the two witnesses” of this passage, unfolds in a very similar way to the earthly ministry of Jesus the Messiah. The ministries of both face opposition and hostility. Thinly veiled hatred from the world eventually erupts in violence and destruction. Christ is crucified, while the faithful church is annihilated, and the world rejoices in apparent victory. Then comes the Resurrection and the ascension, and defeat of the Messiah and of His church is immediately turned into victory.

SDG                 rmb                 11/02/2021                 #450


Losing your life for the King (Matthew 16:25)

Back on October 26, I had begun a series of posts on how to spend life for the highest purpose. This topic is critically important because, it turns out, life can only be spent. Not one second can be saved or stored up for later, but every second must be spent. And, once gone, time can never be recovered. Therefore, the issue for every person becomes, “How shall my life be spent for the highest possible value?”

In a brief section of Scripture in Matthew 16:24-27, Jesus declares to all His would-be disciples how to spend their lives for the highest possible purpose.

In Matthew 16:25, Jesus gives His disciples the paradox that, if you want to spend your life well, you must lose your life.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

There are many who wish to save their lives. The one who “wishes to save his life” is the one who wants to keep his life for himself. He is under the impression that he is free to do with his life whatever he wants to do. He believes that his life is his own. He is the king of his own life, and no one can tell him what to do.

Before I knew Christ as Lord and Savior, I had grand ambitions for how to make my life significant. Although these schemes now seem like foolish wastes of time, without Christ to rule my life, dreams of money and mansions and impressive accomplishments were fuel for my engine. All my desires were selfish wishes for self-glory. I was chasing disappearing mirages and vanishing mists. I wished to save my life, but I was losing my life in vain pursuits.

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” I was blindly running down the way of death.

In Ecclesiastes 1-2, the author accomplishes much “under the sun,” but in the end spending his life on grand projects for his own glory and pleasure proved meaningless. “And so I hated life; everything is futility and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).

“But whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” “Loses his life” means surrendering the control of my life into the Lord’s hands. My life is no longer my own (I have been bought with a price – 1 Corinthians 6:20). My life has been placed in Jesus’ hands and He is free to dispose of it or use it in anyway He chooses. And it is here, as an instrument in Jesus’ hands, that life indeed and full satisfaction are to be found. When I lose my life, and my life becomes His life to use as He sees fit, then I find my life and find the joy and peace that a useful life brings.

Jesus Himself modeled this losing His life for the Father’s use when He was in His greatest anguish in Gethsemane. He said to the Father, “Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

The goal, then, is to give our lives away to find them.

SDG                 rmb                 10/31/2021                 #448

Trusting in chariots (Psalm 20:7) – Part 2 – Life insurance

This post is part of an ongoing series of articles considering the COVID-19 pandemic, and specifically the vaccine for that disease, and deliberating on how the Christian should respond to this situation.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine analogous to life insurance?

In my September 22 post, “Some Trust in Chariots,” I had argued that, according to Psalm 20:6-9, the Bible teaches those who are of faith to wholly trust upon the LORD when they are threatened with danger, and not to run to the protection offered by those in the world. I have received good feedback on this post and wanted to respond to some of that feedback.

A NEEDED CAVEAT

First, let me cover something that I did not address in the previous post. There are some Christians who have very limited choice about whether or not to take the vaccine. If you travel extensively for your work, or if you live in certain geographies (like New York City), or if your employer has made taking the vaccine a condition of employment (which must be illegal, but we won’t go there for now), then it is much more painful for you to decide not to take the vaccine. Your convictions in this regard would need to be very strong for you to vote “no jab.” I am not addressing Christians in these situations with this series of blogs.

FEAR IS THE REASON

But for the vast majority of Christians, the reason that you are getting vaccinated is fear of COVID-19. Deny it if you will, but if you are considering getting the vaccine, it is because you fear the COVID-19 virus more than you fear the possible side effects of the vaccine, so you go ahead and roll up your sleeve. Once you get the vaccine, you will feel safer than you did without the vaccine. Now you are safe at last, or at least safer.

I think what I just wrote is a fair presentation of the scenario as it now exists in our society. Now, as I examine this scenario, I am at a complete loss to see how this demonstrates trust in the Lord, especially since the Lord does not enter into the thought process. The Christian is to use his entire life as a witness for Jesus, to proclaim His power and glory (Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:20), but it is impossible to glorify the Lord Jesus if He does not even enter our thought process. I would suggest that, for the majority of professing Christians, to consider receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is analogous to trusting in chariots and horses to deliver you in the day of distress. Should we not consider the Lord as our first and greatest source of protection?

LIFE INSURANCE AND COVID VACCINE – ARE THESE SIMILAR?

But what about the charge that the COVID-19 vaccine is basically the same idea as life insurance? That is, the person who avails themselves of life insurance is using manmade means to protect their family from the financial effects of their untimely death. In the same way, the argument goes, the COVID-19 vaccine is just another example of using manmade means to protect yourself from the COVID virus. After all, God has allowed mankind the ability to create this vaccine, so it is okay to avail ourselves of this technology and thus to protect ourselves from this virus. God has given us a brain and so it is wise to use that brain to decide that the vaccine is a good idea.

Receiving the COVID vaccine is fundamentally different than purchasing life insurance. These two actions are not analogous. They are apples and chinchillas. First, as has already been mentioned, fear is the motivation for receiving the COVID vaccine. If there were no fear, there would be no need for action, but because you fear the COVID virus and the possibility that your infection could result in death, you need protection. The vaccine satisfies your need for protection so, in the face of your fear, you trust the vaccine to protect you. Notice, you did not trust the Lord, but you specifically chose to trust the vaccine instead. The issues at stake are fear and trust, which are fundamental spiritual issues.

But there is no fear involved in the purchasing of life insurance, and neither is there any trust involved. Life insurance is sold under the terms of a contract. One party offers the life insurance for a price and the other party pays that price to obtain the benefits of the life insurance. The person purchasing the life insurance enters into the contract willingly because they have already accepted the fact that they could die at any time and therefore they could leave the family they love destitute. The life insurance company attempts to remove as much financial risk as possible by evaluating the insured and trying to guarantee that they will not die before the contract expires. But in this kind of a transaction, the contract is written to remove all need for trust. If the insured dies while they are current on their contractual obligations, the life insurance company is legally obligated to pay the life insurance benefits. There is no uncertainty and so there is no trust needed. So, instead of fear of death motivating the insured to enter into this transaction, the certainty of death makes the transaction prudent. It is purely prudent for a person to purchase life insurance so that they can fulfill their financial obligations beyond the grave. Life insurance involves no spiritual issues.

FEAR AND TRUST

Let’s pause here. While comparing the COVID vaccine to life insurance, we have arrived at the core questions involved in this discussion. The reason that the COVID vaccine is so controversial among Christians is because, in its essence, it touches the fundamentally Christian issues of trust and fear. COVID-19 threatens us and thus evokes fear. In the face of fear, we seek a refuge, a rock, a deliverer, a stronghold, a fortress, something that we can trust, to protect us from the COVID threat. The COVID vaccine offers that protection, so we trust in it.

Can you see the danger for the Christian? The LORD declares that He is God and there is no other. He is the one who demands our trust, and it is trust in Him that opens up for us the benefits of salvation. In biblical story after story and psalm after psalm, the LORD demonstrates His power and His ability to protect His people and to overwhelm and vanquish any enemy. If the LORD is present, there is no need to fear. If the LORD is present, there is no one else that we need to trust. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. THEREFORE, WE WILL NOT FEAR” (Psalm 46:1). The one who fears the LORD needs to fear nothing else. Trust in the LORD drives out all fear.

So, we should be deeply concerned when we are experiencing ongoing fear and when the LORD is not the first, and therefore, the last Person that we will trust to protect us. What do you fear that the Lord has not already vanquished? What do you trust instead of trusting the Lord?

My exhortation is to cast all your anxieties and fears upon the Lord so that you are experiencing no ongoing fears, and when you sense that there are threats closing in on you, turn to the Lord first.

SDG                 rmb                 10/28/2021                 #445

A life spent for the King (Matthew 16:24)

Life can only be spent. Not one second can be saved or stored up for later, but every second must be spent. Once gone, time can never be recovered. Therefore, the one who would steward his time well spends his hours and minutes wisely and carefully. The issue for every person thus becomes, “How shall my life be spent?” What will be my legacy? How will my life be evaluated when I am gone, and my life is over?

In a brief section of Scripture in Matthew 16:24-27, Jesus declares to all His would-be disciples how to spend their lives for the highest possible purpose.

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus lays out for His would-be disciples the “terms of engagement.”

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

If you wish to follow Jesus, you must commit your whole being for as long as you live.

Deny himself” – My will and my ambitions have been placed permanently underneath Jesus’ will and His purposes (John 3:30). I have become a bondservant of Jesus. I have “denied” Roy Britton in the sense that he now exists only in reference to Jesus Christ. This is what it means to deny oneself.

Take up his cross” – My service to Jesus is service that only ends at my death. In the Roman Empire, when a person was convicted of a crime and thus took up his cross, he knew his life was over. The cross was an instrument of death, and the Roman cross never failed to execute its victim. The one who took up his cross knew he would soon be taken down dead from that cross.

Now Jesus calls anyone who wishes to be His disciple to take up his own cross. Thus, all disciples of Jesus are being crucified (Gal. 2:20). They no longer live, but Christ lives in them. Suffering for Christ, service to Christ, and sacrifice for Christ are accepted as expected experiences of the cross I carry. Having taken up my cross, Roy Britton has already died (Colossians 3:3), and now my crucified life is entirely poured out for Christ.

Now the disciple of Jesus consciously carries his own cross to identify with Jesus. I have met Jesus, and my life will be poured out for Him. I carry my cross so that others may know that Jesus is my Lord and Master. My life is not my own, but rather I have become a living sacrifice. Each day I remember that I am carrying my cross (Luke 9:23) so that others may see the glory and the worth of Christ.

Follow Me.” – The preceding steps must culminate in the obedience of following. The one who has denied himself proves that denial by following Jesus. The one who has taken up his cross to bear the reproaches of Jesus until death, confirms the burden he is bearing by his obedience to the Lord Jesus in all things. Wherever Christ leads me, there I willingly go.

Spending your life in service and submission to the Lord Jesus is how you spend your life for the highest possible good. But even the stated desire to live this way requires passing an entrance exam. Will you deny yourself and will you take up your cross and will you follow Jesus in obedience?

SDG                 rmb                 10/26/2021                 #443

The end of the age according to Jesus – Part 1

There are several themes that run through the gospel of Matthew, but one of the most prominent of those is the end of the age. With unrivaled authority, Jesus declares the truth about the end of the age and what will occur on that day.

This post will examine Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares from Matthew 13:37-43, a parable about the and make some observations. Below is the passage from the New American Standard Bible.

37 And Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Observation 1: There is certainly coming an end to this age.

In His first advent, Jesus came as Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet, He made sweeping prophecies about the future, which included unambiguous teaching that history was heading to an inevitable conclusion and that He, Jesus Christ, was the one who was in charge of that concluding event. While the Father alone knew the timing of His coming (Matthew 24:36), the King of kings and Lord of lords would execute the conclusion of history.

In this parable, Jesus relates the end of the age as a matter of fact in 13:39, 40. Then in 13:41-43, our Lord gives the details of the how the age concludes, so history will certainly end.  

Observation 2: Jesus is certainly coming at the end of the age.

All of Jesus’ teaching about the end of the age included His coming. The two are so inseparable as to be virtually synonymous. That Jesus is certainly returning to judge the earth is mentioned throughout the New Testament epistles and is one of the central themes of the book of Acts.

In the parable of the wheat and tares, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels.” We know from other end-times passages that He sends His angels while He Himself is descending from heaven to earth at His coming. It is certain that the Lord Jesus will come again.

Observation 3: There are two groups of people, the righteous and the unrighteous, and every human being who has ever lived is in one of these two groups.

As we read this parable, we see that there are “the sons of the kingdom” and there are “the sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). This doctrine is consistent throughout the Bible, from at least Genesis 4 on, that there are those who are part of the kingdom of heaven, and there are those who are evil. In Genesis 4 immediately after the fall, Cain was evil, Abel was righteous. So it has been throughout history, and so it is today. All humanity divides between the righteous and the unrighteous, between the wheat and the tares, and there is no third category.

And so it is for you personally. You are either seen by God as righteous, as “a son of the kingdom,” or as unrighteous, as “a son of the evil one.” The significance of this becomes apparent in the next observation.

Observation 4: At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will admit all the righteous into eternal life in heaven.

The final verse of the parable describes the destiny of those who are seen as righteous. At the end of the age, when Jesus (the Son of Man) comes in His glory (Matthew 25:31), “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” From other New Testament passages, we know that the righteous will be resurrected with glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15, etc.), and so here Jesus describes them as shining like the sun. Notice where they are shining. They are shining “in the kingdom of their Father.” Of course, this is heaven.

Observation 5: At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will throw all the unrighteous into the furnace of fire (the lake of fire), where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Now we come to the main message of the parable: “Be warned! Hear My words and heed My words! There is a terrifying judgment coming upon all the unrighteous. Therefore, REPENT! If you do not repent, I will throw you in the furnace of fire.”

This parable gives a sober warning about the final judgment of the unrighteous at the end of the age. In fact, a careful reading of the gospel of Matthew will reveal that “the judgment” or “the day of judgment” appears often in our Lord’s discourses. One of Jesus’ main purposes in His prophecies about the end of the age was to warn the unrighteous that a terrifying judgment awaited them. No one who heard Jesus could plead ignorance about the destiny that awaited the unrighteous. The message was clear and was repeated: “You do not want to be at the judgment. ‘That day’ will be an awesome day of fire and judgment. Flee from the wrath to come! Come to Me (Matthew 11:28) and repent (Matthew 4:15).”

In this parable, the majority of Jesus’ explanation (13:39-42) is devoted to telling of the destiny of the unrighteous. The end of the age has come (13:39, 40). The Son of Man (Jesus Himself) is sending out His angels to clear all the unrighteous out of His kingdom (41) and then to throw them into the furnace of fire. The horror of the event is intended to warn the unrighteous to flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:8).

CONCLUSION

The Lord Jesus, who will be the Judge at the end of the age, has given us this parable to picture for us the events of the end of the age. The parable gives the righteous motivation for persevering to the end and warns the unrighteous of the terrifying judgment that awaits them if they do not repent.             SDG                 rmb                 10/11/2021                 #440

If we confess our sins (1 John 1:9)

PURPOSE OF THIS POST: To come to a correct understanding of 1 John 1:9 and of what it means “to confess our sins.” BACKGROUND: At first glance, this verse can appear to be teaching us to regularly confess our sins so that our sins are forgiven. This is how the verse has been mistakenly taught in the past, perhaps because of some carryover from the Roman Catholic practice of confession. A careful reading of the verse, however, reveals John is actually teaching us about the nature of our salvation. When we “confess our sins,” God forgives us (all) our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, this confession of sins results in salvation. This post studies this verse to understand its true meaning.

The epistle of 1 John can be viewed as a letter that assures true believers of their salvation by walking them through a series of spiritual tests. If you pass the tests, you should be assured in your faith, but if the tests raise doubts and concerns, you need to examine your faith to see if it is real.

Before John gets into his spiritual tests, he presents a series of contrasts between the one who merely claims to be a follower of Jesus and the one who actually is a follower of Jesus. Verses 1:6 and 1:7 form one such contrast and verses 1:8 and 1:9 form another. We will examine these verses to see what they tell us about true faith.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1:6 – If we say/CLAIM “we have fellowship with Him,” but we walk in darkness, we are still unsaved and have an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12) and we do not believe in Jesus.

This is then contrasted with 1:7.

1:7 – BUT, if we walk in the Light (that is, if we believe in Jesus and walk with Him),

Result 1 – we have fellowship with one another (according to 1:3, believer has fellowship with believer and believer has fellowship with Father and Son), and

Result 2 – the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (Emphasis mine.) That means that all our sin – past, present, and future – has been washed away. This is a one-time event that occurred at salvation.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1:8 ‘we say/CLAIM “we have no sin,” we are refusing to confess our sin. That is, we will not acknowledge that we are sinners, and therefore we deny that we need forgiveness. As long as we say/CLAIM we have no sin, our sin will never be forgiven. The Lord will never forgive the one who denies their sin. The one who claims to have no sin cannot be saved.

Result: ‘we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ We are living in an ongoing state of self-deception. The truth is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but we are rejecting and ignoring that truth. Romans 5:12 declares that all sinned, but we CLAIM that “we have no sin” to confess or be forgiven.

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee is proud of his religious performance and the tax collector simply beats his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And the tax collector receives mercy from the Lord because he acknowledges his sin and begs the Lord for mercy. Just so in this pair of verses. Some claim that they have no sin and so have nothing to confess. They will perish. But there is the contrast.

1:9 – “(But) If we confess our sins”

This confession of sins has in view the acknowledgment by the convicted sinner that they have transgressed the Law of God and are justly condemned for their sin. They know they deserve the wrath of God. The person has been brought under full conviction by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) and feels the weight of their sin. The person fully and unreservedly confesses their sins to the Lord. This confession is synonymous with repentance unto salvation. It is the cry from David which said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). This confession of sins contrasts with the proud, godless refusal to confess or acknowledge sin that was expressed in 1:8. Instead, this confession to God marks the initial repentance by the sinner and so represents the moment of salvation.

Result: “He (God) is faithful and righteous to forgive us (ALL) our sins and to cleanse us (confirm in 1:7) from all unrighteousness.”

The result of this confession confirms the nature of the confession.

1:9 – “If we confess our sins,” we read of the results.

Result 1 – God forgives (ALL) our sins, and

Result 2 – God cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Notice that these results are two aspects of what God does in justification.

Result 1: God’s forgiveness – God’s forgiveness is bestowed on the repentant sinner at the moment of salvation. In justification, God declares the sinner to be forgiven of all of their sins. This is, by definition, a one-time event, for in the moment of salvation, God forgives all the person’s sins, based on their faith in Jesus. If all the person’s sins are forgiven, what is the reason to repeat this forgiveness again?

Result 2: And at that moment, God cleanses the person from all unrighteousness. Our confession and acknowledgement of our sins transfers all our sins to Christ, so that our sins were punished on the cross, and imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, so that we are seen and treated as righteous. Our sins are forgiven because they have been atoned for and our unrighteousness is cleansed and replaced with Christ’s righteousness.

CONCLUSION

What we see happening, then, is that John is establishing the necessary starting point for passing all the tests in his first epistle. If you have come to faith in Jesus and you walk in His light; if you have confessed and repented of your sins; in short, if you have been born again, relax. You will pass the tests.

SDG                 rmb                 9/5/2021                     #432

Those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12)

The Scripture is very clear that persecution should be expected by the follower of Christ. This is stated in numerous places in the Bible, but perhaps the clearest is 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

WHO ARE THESE WHO DESIRE TO LIVE FOR CHRIST?

Who are these men and women “who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus”? The following is not an exhaustive list, but it does present some of the prominent characteristics.

Their lives proclaim that they live for Christ. These people are “tall blades.” By that I mean that they faith is not a private affair hidden under a rock. Rather, their faith is evident in everything about them. If you are looking for a Christian, these are not hard to find.

The light of Christ shines out of them (Matthew 5:16). This is related to the trait above. They let their light shine before men.

They bear much fruit (John 15:5), meaning that their life is rich in good works (Ephesians 2:10). These people are intentional in focusing their energies and their resources in channels that are going to commend Christ and the gospel and that will do good to others.

It is evident that they love the body of Christ. Their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ is almost tangible.

These men and women spend time in prayer and in reading God’s word.

In summary, these men and women are born-again followers of Jesus.

EXPECT PERSECUTION

Because these are born-again followers of Jesus, these men and women joyfully accept persecution as an expected part of following Christ. Jesus Himself promised His disciples, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Our Lord also told of the blessing that comes to those who are persecuted.

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

Jesus left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). He accepted the cross and uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to God the Father, who judges righteously.

Jesus’ apostles clearly told us to expect heat and hatred from the world. Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). And so we as followers of Jesus accept persecution as a stamp of authenticity. As J C Ryle wrote,

“Persecution, in short, is like the goldsmith’s stamp on real silver and gold. It is one of the marks of a converted man.”

THE HEAT IS INCREASING

And so, as we see those who hate Christ rising to places of power, and as we watch out religious freedom being systematically demolished and our ability to worship our God specifically attacked, we must be sure our resolve to persevere to the end is firmly established. Only a very few years ago the idea of severe persecution or martyrdom in America would have been absurd, but no more. With only a little bit of imagination, we can see that what used to be a prayer for far away people has become a real possibility here.

As I was considering my own possible martyrdom and wrestling with an encroaching fear, I went to the Scriptures to again find God’s assurance and peace. Again, 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

We will all be persecuted, but we will not all be persecuted in the same way.

Some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be martyred as they persevere to the end. They will experience the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6) and will be among the dead in Christ who will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was unto death.

And some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will die before the Resurrection but will not die as martyrs. They persevered to the end, but they were not killed for their faith. They will experience the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6) and will be among the dead in Christ who will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was not unto death.

And some of those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be alive and remain until the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17). They will persevere to the end and, in the Resurrection, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. Instead, they will be changed (i.e., glorified; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52) in the Resurrection. Their persecution was not unto death.

Those are the three possible outcomes for the true believer, and they all three end in heaven. If we persevere to the end, our eternity will be glorious.

SDG                 rmb                 9/4/2021                     #431

Why are the warnings in Hebrews so severe?

There is no shortage of warnings in the Bible. God has sent His word to mankind to warn us that we are in peril because of our sin and to alert us that God, the Holy One of Israel, will surely judge and will condemn the unrighteous. And so, in each genre of the Bible and in many places in each genre, the Bible issues warnings so that men will turn from their sin and repent.

THE WARNINGS IN HEBREWS

But while there are many warnings in the Bible, there are some warnings that are particularly striking and daunting, that pierce like an arrow and slam into us like a cutlass. The warnings in the book of Hebrews are of this variety. There are multiple warnings in Hebrews and each succeeding warning seems to be more unsettling than the last. In chapter 2 we are warned not to drift away from so great a salvation (2:1, 3). Chapter 3 tells us about the dangers of an evil, unbelieving heart (3:12). Chapter 4 urges us not to come short of God’s rest (4:1). In the well-known passage in chapter 6 we read of the impossibility of renewing to repentance those who have heard the word of God and then have fallen away (6:4-8). Then in chapter 10 we have perhaps the most frightening, as we read that, if we sin willfully after we have claimed faith in Christ, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment” (10:26-27). This passage (10:26-31) is punctuated with the warning, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

WHY SO SEVERE?

Why does the author of Hebrews dramatically and repeatedly warn his readers in such alarming terms? What is it about the purpose of the epistle that warrants these strident warnings? As I have studied the book of Hebrews, I have reached the conclusion that the reason for these devastating warnings has to do with the particular people the author is trying to reach.

When you design an alarm system for a facility that stores explosive chemicals, politeness is not a design criterion. Rather, the alarms are designed to be as loud and irritating and irresistible as possible so that, if there ever appears any threat of an explosion, the people in the facility will be alerted and will evacuate and get away immediately.

If you were going on an African safari into lion country, your weapon of choice would not be a small caliber handgun. You are going after a target animal that requires potent weapons which assure a kill when they encounter the target. Best be sure that the first bullet does the job, for you may not get a second.

Likewise, the author of Hebrews has as his purpose to alarm and warn a specific type of person in the congregation, and he is determined to achieve his purpose. The last thing he wants to do is issue a so-called warning that falls short of arousing and that fails to alarm. There is nothing more pathetic than warning people who are in terrible danger with an alarm that is not capable of alerting or alarming. It is like a fire alarm that is mistaken for the music of an ice cream truck. People perish in the flames because of the incompetence of the one who issues the alarm. The author of Hebrews will not be accused of issuing such a warning.

WHO IS THE AUTHOR TRYING TO ALARM? THE MOST ELUSIVE

This epistle is intended to rouse to awareness that most elusive and stubborn of all unbelievers, the person who is comfortable with Christian words and Christian practices, who regularly attends church services, who writes checks to his church and who is generally a decent, polite fellow, but who has never been born again, who has never been personally delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. These startling warnings are for those who are merely going through the motions and who are simply doing the external works of Christianity, thinking that these are all that the Lord requires. The author’s warnings are severe and drastic because he is attempting to rouse the external “Christian.” The external, nominal “Christian” is not born again and so is not saved and has not been set free by Jesus, but they wrongly believe they are, based on their religious performance. He would, in fact, be insulted and offended if anyone were to suggest to him that his external, formal Christianity was somehow not good enough to get him into heaven. Even this person’s own pastor would be treading on thin ice if the pastor suggested to this “fine Christian man” that his walk needed to show the fruit of repentance and should display greater holiness in order to display genuine faith.

“If you were accused of being a biblical Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

The author of Hebrews must make these warnings severe and harsh and drastic so that the nominal church-goer, still dead in their sins, might be shaken from their slumber and stirred to consciousness, and might be frightened into genuine repentance. The alarm must be loud and piercing and prolonged because of the spiritual stupor of the religious once-born. The one who has been dutifully plodding through the external motions of Christianity for a long time has been lulled into a spiritual coma (confirm in Hebrews 6:4-6). A loud, piercing, prolonged alarm is needed to rouse them and, alas, even that alarm rarely rouses. The one in the coma assumes the alarm is for someone else and that their listless church experience is the real deal. So, the author of Hebrews makes his warnings harsh and direct because his intent is to rouse those who are still dead but think they are alive. (See the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.)

By these strident warnings, the author also does an immense service to the pastor who is duty-bound to preach these warning passages to those in his own congregation whom he suspects to have fallen short of salvation. These severe and stunning passages allow the pastor to preach with great boldness without stretching the text too far. The brave pastor can thus declare the warnings that lie plainly in the text and then apply the warnings to his flock without being accused of reading into the passage his own pleadings and opinions.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

So, preach boldly, my friend, with the full sanctioning of the Scriptures.

SDG                 rmb                 8/7/2021                     #428

The ordinary course for the believer (Isaiah 6:1-8)

And then the day came for Isaiah ben Amoz that defined the rest of his life. He saw the Lord, and he would never be the same or see life the same again.

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

AN ORDINARY EVENT FROM EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES

The circumstances of Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord were remarkable indeed, but what was accomplished in this encounter between man and God was very ordinary. When we step back from these extraordinary circumstances, what we see is the “ordinary” event of a sinner becoming a sent one. What I mean is that, in Isaiah’s spectacular experience with the Lord, the Lord brings about “ordinary” conversion. Isaiah began this scene as an ordinary, everyday sinner, aware of the Lord’s existence, but unaware of the Lord’s holiness and of his own sinfulness. By the end of the scene, Isaiah has been cleansed of his sins and sent out by the Lord with a mission.

But the truly remarkable fact is that Isaiah’s experience in the temple is a condensed version of what happens to every believer. Every believer experiences the same “ordinary” conversion that Isaiah experienced. Every genuine believer begins their encounter with the Lord as an ordinary, everyday sinner, but concludes their saving encounter with Him having their iniquity taken away and their sin forgiven.

THE STEPS THAT MAKE UP THIS ORDINARY EVENT

Although it is impossible to prove, it is a generally accepted fact that, of the billions of snowflakes, no two are the same. It is also true that, of the billions of people in the world, no two fingerprints are the same. The Lord of the universe has displayed His creativity and power and glory in His creation in small and large ways so that His existence is unmistakable, and men are without excuse (Romans 1:20). And since God is infinitely creative, there are no two “ordinary” conversions that are the same. The details of the paths describing believers’ journeys from sinner to saint vary in practically infinite ways, and the circumstances of their “ordinary” conversions are vastly different, but all these “ordinary” conversions follow the same basic steps. And Isaiah’s “ordinary” conversion will serve as an example.

The first step was for Isaiah the sinner to encounter the holiness of the Lord. In his vision, Isaiah sees the Lord “lofty and exalted.” The Lord is high, and Isaiah is low. The prophet must look up to see the Lord on His throne. The Lord is ruler. He is King. He is sovereign, reigning over all. He fills the temple, as He fills all things. The seraphim cover their faces because they cannot look upon the Lord’s glory, and they cover their feet because the Lord’s presence is holy ground, and they call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” The temple is shaking violently and is filling with smoke. Thus, Isaiah is overwhelmed and shattered by this encounter with the Lord. The Lord’s holiness is too much for Isaiah to bear.

(The second step) The holiness and the power of the Lord not only display the Lord’s glory, but also fully expose Isaiah’s abject wretchedness. In the presence of the Holy One of Israel, every hideous sin is glaringly laid bare and there is no place to hide. Isaiah is thus made fully aware of his sin and his condemnation before God.

With no place to run and no place to hide, all Isaiah can do is acknowledge his sin. Isaiah confessed he was a man of unclean lips, a man marked by sin and iniquity, and a man, therefore, unworthy to even come into the presence of the living God. “Woe is me!” “I am ruined!” “I am a man of unclean lips!” Having been made aware of his sin, the third step is for the sinner to confess his sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9; Luke 18:13), and to repent (Mark 1:15), and to place their faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31).

The fourth step is the Lord’s response to the sinner’s repentance and profession of faith. Isaiah confesses his sin and cries out for mercy and forgiveness, and the Lord cleanses his sin and saves him. The seraphim brings a burning coal to Isaiah to burn away his sin. “I am a man of unclean lips,” so the seraphim touches the burning coal to Isaiah’s lips. The burning coal is a symbol of the judgment of Isaiah’s sins. Because of the burning away of his iniquity, his sin is declared to be forgiven. Just so, when the sinner confesses his sin and professes faith in Christ, he receives the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).

So, after the fourth step, Isaiah has been cleansed from his iniquity and has been forgiven of his sins and he is as saved as he will ever be. And it is the same for the New Testament believer. The one who has repented of their sins and has trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior has passed from death to life (John 5:24), has been saved (Romans 10:9), has the forgiveness of his trespasses (Ephesians 1:7), and has been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). He is in Christ, and for him all the promises of God are now yes. So, that is where the “ordinary” encounter ends, right?

THERE IS A FIFTH STEP IN THE JOURNEY

But as we go back to the Scripture, we see that, for Isaiah, there is another step in the encounter. For Isaiah to come to a place of faith and forgiveness is well and good, but it is not the reason for which Isaiah was saved. And so, as soon as Isaiah has his sin forgiven, he hears the Lord’s voice calling out for laborers. It is possible that the Lord had been calling before and Isaiah was deaf to His voice, but regardless, now the prophet hears his Lord’s call. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

The fifth step, then, is the disciple’s service to the kingdom of his King. The disciple’s “ordinary” conversion experience is not complete until he has been put into service for his Savior. For this is the Lord’s purpose in salvation, not that we would come to faith in Jesus and receive all the promises of God and the forgiveness of sins and good works prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10), and then just sit down in a church pew to enjoy our salvation, but rather that, having come to faith and having been set free from our slavery to sin and having been given a mission to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8), we would joyfully give ourselves away in selfless service to the kingdom of God.

And so, Isaiah hears the Lord’s voice and says, “Here am I. Send me.”

The fifth step is the one that lasts the longest. It begins at the moment of salvation and continues until physical death. The fifth step involves the reason you were redeemed. The Lord redeemed you “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that you should walk in them.” All your fruit is obtained in the fifth step (John 15). Your light only shines before men in the fifth step (Matthew 5:16).

But I sense that most disciples are not good stewards of their fifth step in “ordinary” conversion. So, the next article will explore how we can be better stewards of the fifth step.

SDG                 rmb                 7/13/2021                   #422

Ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:15-21)

In this passage, the apostle Paul teaches how it is that the “not many wise and not many noble (1 Corinthians 1:26)” who make up the majority of the people of God are transformed into ambassadors for Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:15-21

15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

5:15 – The apostle starts by telling us that we (believers in Jesus) are “no longer to live for ourselves.” That means that “I” have moved way down the list of priorities. I am no longer consumed with the question, “How can I benefit from this?” I am not obsessed with “what’s in this for me?” My desire now is to be useful to Jesus.

I have been bought by another. My life is not my own and, therefore, my life and its preservation and pleasure are not my concern. Another now holds the title deed to my life. I am no longer the master. Instead, I serve the Master, the Lord, and do what pleases Him.

I now “live for Him who died and rose again on my behalf.” Therefore, my new first question is, “What is my Master’s will?” What is His highest priority? What has He bought me to do for Him? What has He called me to do for Him, in general and specifically?

5:16 – Now we do not assess a person based on what they are “in the flesh.” In other words, we do not judge our fellow believers on the basis of outward appearance or worldly circumstance. It is immaterial if the brother is rich or poor. It is of no consequence whether the disciple is a man or a woman, young or old. Their ethnicity is only a feature of their personhood. “We recognize no one according to the flesh.” Why?

5:17 – Now we see every believer as a new creature in Christ. Whatever came before has passed away. Were you a drunk or a drug addict? It matters not. You are now a new creature in Christ, and new things have come. Were you a homosexual or were you a prostitute? Gone! Those things have passed away and you have now put on Jesus’ white robe of righteousness. You are a new creature in Christ. Were you a thief or a liar or a cheat? Did you have a foul mouth and a fouler mind? Were you angry and hateful and vengeful and cruel? For His people, Christ has vanquished all these things by His death on the cross. “If ANYONE is in Christ, he is a new creature!” The old is GONE. The new has come.

5:18 – So we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and, having been reconciled and made new, we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Having experienced the power of the ministry of reconciliation, we are now to be participants in proclaiming reconciliation to as many as we can.

5:18-19 – God has reconciled us to Himself so that our highest priority is to fulfill our ministry of reconciliation. We have been reconciled to be reconcilers.

Since we have been saved by the gospel, we are now obligated to proclaim the gospel. God has committed us to the word of reconciliation.

5:20 – THEREFORE! What is the reason that Paul has told us about this ministry of reconciliation? Why has he declared to us the glories of the new birth, that if ANYONE is in Christ, they are a new creature? Where has Paul been headed in this passage? Well, he has been headed here! This has been his intended destination. Because we now no longer live for ourselves but now all believers live to please Christ. Because, regardless of the wreckage of our past, we are new creatures in Christ, and the old has passed away. And because we have now received the ministry of reconciliation, THEREFORE, we are ambassadors for Christ. The living God makes His appeal to lost sinners through us. THEREFORE, the disciples of Christ beg the perishing to be reconciled to God through Christ. This is our mission.

5:21 – And what is it that we are to proclaim to those who are outside of Christ? What are we to tell those who are still hell-bound? Here is 2 Corinthians 5:21 we have a one verse summary of the gospel.

21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, has died an atoning death on the cross so that all who believe in Him will receive His righteousness imputed to them and will be reconciled to God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us commit fully to our role as ambassadors for Christ and let us fulfill our ministry of reconciliation.

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2021                   #419