Beware of men, but do not fear them (Matthew 10:16-39)

Is it possible for a person to be on their guard against a very real threat without fearing that threat? In Matthew 10:17, Jesus tells His disciples to “beware of men” because they will hate you and will seek to kill you. But then later in the chapter, He says three times for His disciples not to fear (10:26, 28, 31). Isn’t this a contradiction? How can you beware of a person without also fearing that person?

In Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking as King to all His armies of all the ages and telling them about the battle conditions that His disciples will face. What is striking about the passage from 10:16-39 is the number and the constancy of the threats facing Christ’s would-be disciples. Before our Lord even begins recruiting, He clearly tells of the high cost of being one of His followers, and of how you will be hated by all because of His name (10:22), yet Jesus does not appear to mention a single offsetting benefit. This is a most unconventional means of collecting an army of followers!

In this study, we will look at Jesus’ charge to His troops in 10:16, and at the commands He issues to “beware of men” (10:17), but not to fear men (10:26, 28, 31). Our purpose is to understand these instructions from Jesus, and then see how they apply to us in our lives.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Matthew 10:16

First, then, we want to study Jesus’ charge to us as His soldiers. In Matthew 10:16, our Lord deploys His troops. “Behold, I send you out.” As disciples of Jesus, we need to be aware that we have been called into His army to be sent out. Sent out to do what? To be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). To be His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). To be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). So, we see that the King has sent us out.

Second, we are sheep in the midst of wolves. There can hardly be a greater mismatch. Sheep are utterly defenseless, and wolves are notoriously deadly. In Romans 8:36, Paul says, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” The disciple needs to understand that his is a dangerous calling of total commitment. To follow Jesus is to be a sheep among wolves. We are the hated and the hunted.

Therefore, since we are sent out as sheep among wolves, we must be shrewd (wise) as serpents and innocent as doves. Knowing that he has been sent out by his King into a dangerous combat, the disciple must be very wise. What you lack in ferocity and power you must make up for with shrewdness, with canniness. With wisdom we elude the enemy while loudly proclaiming Jesus.

APPLICATION: Although our “battle conditions” here in America still seem fairly benign, we must remember that we are called to be wise as serpents. We are still sheep in the midst of wolves and must advance the Kingdom and proclaim the gospel with shrewdness and cunning. We operate as innocent as doves as we scheme for the gospel. We use ingenuity and craft to “stay under the radar” while advancing the gospel deeper into enemy territory.

“But beware of men.” – Matthew 10:17

BEWARE OF MEN

Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not say that His disciples are to be frightened of men and, therefore, to run away from men. He does not say that His disciples are to avoid conflict by avoiding confrontation and proclamation. He simply tells them that they should “beware of men.” This is a tactical command from the King to His soldiers. When you go out under the banner of Jesus, realize you will be hated (John 15:18ff). Therefore, as a practical consideration, you need to be wary of those who hate you and seek your destruction. We are sheep among wolves, so we remain physically vulnerable to death. Jesus commands us to beware of men because He knows that, on our gospel mission, men will try to kill us (Psalm 37:32).

So, do not be naïve! “He who is not with you is against you” (Matthew 12:30). Do not trust those who speak peace with their mouths while they plot to kill you. “There are many who fight proudly against me” (Psalm 56:2). As Jesus’ soldiers, we have a boldness and a zeal for the work of the Kingdom that is tempered by a holy wisdom. We are to beware with boldness.

THEREFORE, DO NOT FEAR MEN

26 Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.” – Matthew 10:26

28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

– Matthew 10:28

31 So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:31

Now the King gives His soldiers the supreme command: “Do not fear men.” Three times in this brief section, the Lord tells us not to fear. As a tactical consideration, it is wise to beware of men, but our wariness of men must never cross over into fear of men. The only one who is worthy of our fear is the Lord Himself (Matthew 10:28). Negatively, the Lord is the One who can throw soul and body into hell (10:28), so He should be feared, but positively, the Lord is the One who has bought us at the price of His own Son on the cross. Therefore, we serve Him and worship Him in reverential fear because we have experienced His power. If we fear the Lord, we need to fear nothing else (see Luke 12:4-5). Again, only the Lord is worthy of our fear.

In Old Testament and New, the Lord displays His power and His faithfulness so that His people will trust Him and love Him with a reverential fear.

In Psalm 56:4, the psalmist asks, “What can mere man do to me?”

In Psalm 27:1, “the LORD is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?”

In Isaiah 43:1, the LORD says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.” If we are redeemed by the LORD, what is there to fear?

In Psalm 103:11, the psalmist declares, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is the LORD’s lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

In Romans 8:31, Paul testifies, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

1 John 4:18 proclaims, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

To fear man when the Lord has called us to salvation and has promised He will never leave us or forsake us is to call the Lord’s power into question. Therefore, the professing Christian must be very aware of where he places his fear. The author of Hebrews writes,

“But my righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. – Hebrews 10:38-39

The main teaching of Matthew 10, then, is that we are to faithfully proclaim the gospel with wisdom and with fearlessness. Wisdom, because we are vulnerable sheep in the midst of ravenous wolves, but fearlessness, because no threat of man can take away our eternal reward.

APPLICATION: One of the goals of our sanctification and our discipleship is to arrive at that state of mind, that settledness of soul, where we are so convinced of the truths of God’s Word and of the power of our God that no threat of man would cause us to tremble. For the disciple of Jesus, we aim for ability to say, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), without hesitation and with full conviction. We long for that place where our grip on the Resurrection is so tight that it is as if we were already glorified (Romans 8:30). We overcome fear by the power of the gospel.

Here are ways that I strive to reach that place of fearlessness:

  • Meditate on and study the Resurrection passages in the Bible until you are convinced that you personally will rise with the saints on the Last Day. The certainty of the Resurrection will drive away fear of death.
  • Spend time deeply considering the power of God as displayed in creation and as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the earliest chapters of Genesis, God makes promises, and then He keeps those promises. This requires ultimate sovereignty over all the affairs of His universe. And God has made promises to His people which He will certainly keep. Meditate on these truths until you fully believe the unlimited power of the living God. When you grasp God’s power and believe that He loves you as His child, the fear of man and the fear of death and the fear of the future will lose their hold on you.

SDG                 rmb                  10/7/2021                   #439

The Lord can heal, but do we believe He can protect?

PREFACE: This is one of a series of posts that I will be publishing over the next few weeks that offer my own perspective about issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. My purpose in these posts is to suggest ways that Christians can think about this pandemic which glorify God and draw attention to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. rmb

I cannot imagine a professing Christian not praying for the Lord to heal a loved one who has contracted COVID-19. Surely in any fellowship of any local church, when one of the members of the church has fallen ill with COVID, the other members of the body respond by offering up prayers for healing. We know that, during His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus healed many people of their illnesses. We know that the LORD “heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). For those who have walked with the Lord for a long time, we have seen the Lord heal us and heal those we love in answer to prayers. A Christian can rightly declare the Lord’s sovereign power over all disease and can know that, if the Lord is willing, He will certainly heal (Matthew 8:2-3). Our God is Jehovah Rapha, the LORD your healer (Exodus 15:26). Based on the prayers offered for healing, most Christians believe the Lord can heal.

But while there are frequent prayers and prayer requests for the Lord to heal when loved ones become ill with this disease, it seems to me that there are far fewer prayers for the Lord to protect us from COVID in the first place. If my impression is reality; that is, if there are, in fact, few prayers for protection, I would ask why that was so. It could be that we have more uncertainty about the Lord’s ability to protect than to heal. But why would we believe that the Lord can heal us from a disease, but would not believe He can protect us from that same disease? Can the Lord who heals not also protect? Is protecting me from catching COVID-19 and keeping me safe from all COVID’s variants too difficult for the living God (Jer. 32:17, 27)?

In the Scriptures, God’s people often call out to Him for protection. There are many prayers in the Psalms that cry out to the LORD for His protection against enemies and adversaries, and in each of these, the psalmist expects the LORD to answer his prayer. The psalmist expects that, since the LORD is infinitely able and since He loves His people, He will answer their cry for protection. In no sense is this “testing the LORD.” Rather, this is inspired Scripture and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The prayers in the Psalms are models for God’s people for all time. In fact, it could be argued that to not cry out to the LORD for protection according to the prayers of the Psalms is a faithless act. Based on the prayers for protection in the Scripture, then, we, too, should pray for protection and trust that the Lord will answer.

Some have suggested to me that perhaps the Lord would allow me to catch the COVID disease to teach me some important life lesson. Is that possible? Of course, that is possible. But this would be very confusing to me in these circumstances. If I openly declare to the watching world that I am trusting the living God to keep me safe from any form of COVID, and I am doing this to glorify the Lord for His ability to keep His child well, and I remind people that I have not had any trace of COVID since the disease began in March of 2020 and that God has kept me perfectly safe so far, why would the Lord allow me to catch the disease now? What lesson would He be teaching me, to not trust Him so much? How would the Lord be glorified in those circumstances?

In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus commends prayer for His followers, saying that as a human father will not give a stone to a son who asks for a loaf of bread, nor will he give a snake to his child who asks for a fish, so “your Father who is in heaven will give what is good to those who ask Him” (7:11). It would seem to me that allowing someone who is trusting Him for protection from COVID to contract COVID, would be like giving a snake to a son who asks for a fish. Instead, those who trust the Lord completely for their protection will not be disappointed (Romans 10:11).

My conclusion, then, is to suggest that those Christians who have not already gotten the COVID vaccine would wholly trust the Lord to protect them from COVID-19 and would declare to those in your circle of influence that the Lord is your protector, and He will keep you safe from COVID. The Lord is our shield and defender, and trusting Him brings Him glory.

SDG rmb 10/1/2021 #437

“What is a hyacinth breastplate?” (Revelation 9:17)

This post is part of my upcoming book on the end-times, The Last Act of the Drama, and attempts to answer the question, “Do we need to understand all the details to get the meaning of an end-times passage?”

In this chapter, we examine one of the most mysterious visions in Revelation in the hopes of answering the question, “Must I grasp all the details of a passage to understand the meaning of a passage?”

“Do I need to understand all the details to understand the meaning of a passage?”

Studying eschatology can be intimidating because, in any given end-times passage, there may be terms or expressions which we do not recognize and there may be little in the context to enlighten our understanding. Usually in Scripture, the unknowns in the text can be deduced by looking at the greater context or by considering other biblical passages, but in eschatology, there are times when the entire context is confusing and yields no solid, unambiguous starting point. An example would be something like Revelation 9:16-19:

16 The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. 17 And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. 18 A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.

Two hundred million horsemen? Hyacinth breastplates, and fire and brimstone coming out of the mouths of the horses? Heads like lions and tails like serpents? Is the “third of mankind” literal in 9:18? How are we supposed to make sense of all this?

NO NEED TO UNDERSTAND EVERY DETAIL

In passages like this one in Revelation 9, the student of eschatology can take heart, because understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of the passage. It is not necessary to unpack every single symbol in Revelation or Daniel or any end-times passage to grasp their basic messages. The inspired Scriptures have been written so that God’s main message can be understood, even if some of the supporting details remain obscure. So, not knowing what a hyacinth breastplate is will not prevent you from understanding the message of the sixth trumpet warning in Revelation 9.

THE SUBJECTIVE ASPECT OF UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE

More, however, needs to be said about this statement to make it helpful in our study of eschatology. For while it is true that understanding every detail of a passage is not necessary for understanding the meaning of that passage, we still need to discover the meaning of the passage. What I mean is that, even if we do not worry about the hyacinth breastplates or “the tails like serpents with heads,” we are still faced with the task of figuring out what in the world this passage means. “Why has God placed this Scripture in His Word?” That is the question that ever confronts the Bible student. What makes understanding eschatology difficult is that it requires greater exegetical skills and a fuller grasp of the entire sweep of the Bible to confidently make decisions about the meaning of these complex passages. So, while God has breathed into His Scripture everything needed to understand it, there may not be enough there for me to understand it. That is, my current skill in understanding Scripture may be inadequate for me to discover the meaning of this passage. This subjective aspect to understanding Scripture comes into play more frequently in eschatology than in other genres of Scripture, because, again, there is generally more skill required in discovering the meaning of end-times passages.

So, will I ever understand all the mysteries?

MYSTERIES REMAIN HIDDEN

The fact is that it may not be possible for us to understand or explain everything that is happening in John’s visions or in Daniel’s dreams. Those details may be things which the Lord, for His own purposes, has chosen to leave hidden from us. Even Daniel, who was specifically gifted by God to interpret dreams and visions (Daniel 1:17; 4:9; 5:11-12), did not fully understand what he had seen, even after he had been given an explanation by angels (Daniel 7:15-22, 28; 8:15-19, 27; 12:8). Humility would say that, if Daniel and John did not fully understand all they recorded, there is a more than even chance that I, too, will need to accept some degree of mystery. For His glory, God has written mysteries into His Bible that may remain hidden or unexplained until heaven, and we joyfully and humbly bow before these mysteries.

RESIGN OURSELVES TO MYSTERY?            

If we acknowledge that mysteries may remain until heaven, does that mean that we give up trying to understand and interpret eschatology? Absolutely not! Despite the effort involved, the disciple of Jesus continues to explore and pray through these difficult passages because these, too, are breathed out by the God he loves and are profitable for equipping him for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

SDG

Why must Satan be released from the abyss? (Rev. 20:3)

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from my book on the end-times, “The Last Act of the Drama,” a guide for the end-times that will be completed and self-published soon. rmb

and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time. – Revelation 20:3

In this article, we find ourselves in the “thousand years” of the gospel age (Revelation 20:3). As we can see from the quote of the verse above, during the “thousand years” the dragon, which is an alias for Satan, is sealed in the abyss so that he will not deceive the nations.

While Satan is locked in the abyss, the church is in a long season of relative peace. For the duration of the “thousand years,” the gospel is being proclaimed and the church is growing as Christ is building His church (Matthew 16:18). This gospel age goes along steadily “until the ‘thousand years’ were completed; after these things he (Satan) must be released for a short time (Rev. 20:3).”

Now, this is something we need to investigate. The gospel age of the “thousand years” apparently does not go on forever, but there comes a time when the “thousand years” were completed. At that time, Satan must be released for a short time. Observe that the Bible does not say that “he is released,” but it says, “he must be released.” In other words, it is necessary for Satan to be released from the abyss when the “thousand years” are completed. But why must Satan be released? That is the question.

In answering this question, we first need to keep in mind that Satan is merely a created being. Because of his arrogant words and because of some of the things he is allowed to do, some Christians can have an inflated view of Satan’s powers, but this is a mistake. Satan, like all created beings, is entirely under the sovereign control of the Lord. That means he is not a threat to the church, and he is certainly not a threat to God. He is brought onto the stage when his character is needed by the Lord, the Director of the drama, because there are some things that Satan is uniquely qualified to do.

Second, we observe that Satan is released from the abyss. Satan does not conduct a successful jailbreak. Rather, he is released. Satan was not in control. He was rotting away in the abyss during the “thousand years” when he was unexpectedly released.

So, Satan must be released because his unique talents and abilities are needed by the Director to take the grand drama of human history toward its scripted conclusion. The Hero of the Drama is preparing to make His final, glorious appearance (Revelation 19:11-16), and all the details must be made ready for His grand entrance. The church must be purified, pruned, and cleansed through the furnace of persecution. Evil and lawlessness must increase so that the unrighteous are revealed and so hatred against the church can abound. The final trumpet warnings of coming judgment must be loudly proclaimed to the unrighteous. Satan must have time to raise up the beast and the false prophet to oversee the proliferation of evil and the persecution of the church. And Satan is the only character in the drama who can accomplish these necessary tasks, so Satan must be released.

Finally, upon his release, notice that Satan is given only a short time (Rev. 20:3). He is not the one who is in control of the length of his performance. Rather, his time on the stage has already been determined by the Lord. He will burst upon the scene “having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Revelation 12:12) to create havoc and destruction. After that short time, according to the script, “he was thrown (ἐβλήθη) into the lake of fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10).” Satan, the great dragon, performs his necessary role and then is thrown into the lake of fire.

So, in simplest terms, Satan must be released after the “thousand years” because the Lord has need of him. That is the simplest answer to our question.

In Luke 19, as the Lord Jesus nears Jerusalem for His triumphal entry, He sends two disciples ahead to fetch a colt. As the disciples were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it” (Luke 19:33-34).

That is probably the best way to think of Satan in the book of Revelation. Consider him to be like this colt. He comes onto the stage of the grand drama because the Lord has need of him.

SDG                 rmb                 7/23/2021                   #425

Set your house in order (2 Kings 20:1)

The report from the doctor was not what they had hoped. The initial surgery seemed to have gone very well and all the cancer appeared to be removed. They had expected a good prognosis with some chemo and maybe some radiation and then the “all clear” as the cancer went into remission.

But that was not what they got. Instead, the doctors related that the cancer went deeper than they could reach and that it was of a particularly aggressive and malevolent variety. Instead of the “all clear” being given soon, the prognosis was that this is usually terminal, and the end will come in less than two years. So, instead of this being a temporary obstacle along life’s journey, this appears to be the cause of life’s end.

And now, what is to be done? How are they to respond? How would you respond if you were in their situation? What if you received this news?

HOW DO WE RESPOND TO BAD NEWS?

I tried to imagine myself in that doctors’ office hearing this news about what are, most likely, the details of my death certificate. What would I do?

As a believer, I would turn to the Bible and see what the Lord had to say about this. My first thoughts went to 2 Kings 20 and to King Hezekiah. After Hezekiah’s godly rule and his displays of devotion to the LORD, the prophet Isaiah comes to him with a message from the LORD saying, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (2 Kings 20:1). This passage would set the tone for my response. “What does it mean to set my house in order?”

GOD ALONE DETERMINES WHAT HAPPENS IN HIS UNIVERSE

But before I begin my “end of life” planning, I would go to the LORD and seek His face. This is the first and primary and dominant thought: God, and God alone, determines the end of my days.

3 Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.

This psalm is teaching that, while there are men who are in positions of authority, whether government or business or even medicine, they possess limited authority, indeed, derived authority. God has appointed them with authority for their sphere (Romans 13:1-2), but God retains all ultimate authority.

Applied to this situation, then, where the doctor (“mortal man”) says that my life will soon be over, I would remind myself that there is still a sovereign God in heaven who does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). Not only that, but this sovereign God has demonstrated His love for me (Romans 5:8) and has told me that I can call out to Him in any and every time of distress (Matthew 7:7-12; etc.) and that He can rescue me. Nothing is too difficult for my God to do (Jeremiah 32:17). My God has promised me that I can ask whatever I wish, and it will be done for me (John 15:7). And so, I would begin to cry out to the Lord in prayer, that He would extend my life. This is exactly what Hezekiah did when he received the bad news from Isaiah. He prayed to the LORD, and the LORD added fifteen years to his life (2 Kings 20:5-6). I would not discount the news from the doctor. I would take it seriously and consider what I should do in terms of practical steps of health, but I would not take the doctor’s prognosis as the final word. He is but a skilled mortal man of very limited abilities and powers, but the LORD made the heavens (Psalm 96:5). A doctor may tell me a diagnosis, but the LORD determines all outcomes. Again, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

OK, BUT WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

So, what would I do regarding the doctor’s diagnosis and God’s sovereignty? In the case where I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I would assume that the doctor was correct, that without divine intervention, the cancer would kill me, and so would begin immediately a program of strict fasting and extended prayer. In my times of prayer, I would ask God to heal me of the cancer for His glory. I would engage in strict and radical fasting because I have heard that fasting is the body’s best defense against cancer. I do not think that I would take chemo or radiation but would rely upon God’s power to heal through the means of fasting.

SET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER

But now, having accepted the fact that, unless God intervenes, my time on this earth will be over, I would strive to set my house in order (2 Kings 20:1). As I think about this now in the clear light of day, there are two components to this setting the house in order. First, I would make sure that I had finished my work, and second, I would prepare to meet my God.

STRIVE TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR WORK

As in every aspect of His life, Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of finishing the work God has given you to do. In John 17:4, our Lord says,

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Jesus was given the assignment to live a sinless life and then to die an atoning death as the sacrifice for all the sins of His people, and this He did perfectly. Then, when the work had been accomplished, His triumphal cry sounded from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

But we have other examples of those who finished their God-given work. In the Bible, we see that Paul finished his work (2 Timothy 4:6-8), and Peter finished his work (2 Peter 1:14-15). Noah completed his work of the ark, Moses completed his assignment of bringing Israel out of Egypt, as Jacob and Joseph and David completed their journeys. Their work was done, as was Stephen’s work done (Acts 7). Many others have likewise finished their work and then have joyfully gone on to glory. I think of John Owen and George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon and D. L. Moody. Accomplish your work! Determine the great work (Nehemiah 6:3) that the Lord has assigned to you and, in the time that you have left, pour all your energy into that work.

PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD – AMOS 4:12

Since the end of the race appears to be somewhat definite and seems to be in sight, the time has come to prepare to meet the Lord. One of the blessings of a doctor giving you this kind of news is that the mystery about when you will go home has been solved. Now you can plan how you will exit this life, at least to some extent.

Resolve to hit the finish line at full speed. This may sound like an impossibility, since your physical strength will be fading as the disease takes its toll, but spiritually you should be growing stronger and stronger. My mother had 2 Corinthians 4:16 over her sink in her home as a constant reminder:

Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

This enabled her to continue to grow spiritually while her “outer man” grew weaker.

But how do I hit the finish line at full speed? Make sure that my sanctification is greatest in the last week of my life. Pray for and strive for greater and greater holiness and radiate evidence of purity in heart and mind.

Manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Strive for people to be able to tangibly see joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control.

Repent of all known sins. Turn from them and walk in holiness.

Read the Word. Spend as much time as possible in the Bible. Memorize whole books of the Bible. Meditate on the psalms. Know the whole Word, because some of the folks in heaven are going to want to know what you thought of their writing.

Seek to spend time with your brothers and sisters in Christ, hopefully in person, but at least on the phone.

Proclaim the gospel to every unsaved person you know and urge them to come to Christ. You have nothing to lose! If they reject you and think you are crazy, who cares! You will be dead in a few months. Don’t go to your grave with unused gospel tracts.

Serve your local church as long as your physical strength holds out.

Be able to say without reservation, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Be able to say with all sincerity, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Run down the home stretch so that you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21) “Enter into the joy of your Master.”

As I imagine myself being confronted with the end of my mortality, I think these are the things that I would do.

WHY NOT START NOW?

But, if I would act this way if I were given two years to live, surely the obvious question would be, “Well, why wait until you have a terminal cancer diagnosis?” Why not start now? If “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” then why would I wait to live that out until I was a short distance from the grave?

In other words, why not “set my house in order” and keep my house in order so that the Lord can take me at any time, and He will be satisfied with my work?

SDG                 rmb                 7/16/2021                   #423

Can wisdom produce purpose? (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23)

Is there any value in wisdom? And if so, how is that value obtained?

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon mentions “wisdom” or “wise” more than fifty times, yet never does he find any satisfaction or peace or joy in wisdom. For Solomon, wisdom is a god who cannot speak (Psalm 115:5), a scarecrow in a cucumber field (Jeremiah 10:5). For wisdom you can seek, but wisdom cannot speak. Solomon has put all his chips on the spot called “WISDOM,” and when wisdom fails him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23), his only course of action is to hate life (2:17). Solomon believed that wisdom could promise him purpose, but that is not true. Wisdom does indeed have value, but the value of wisdom is only available to the one who already has a purpose.

PURPOSE IS THE MAIN THEME OF ECCLESIASTES

The study of Ecclesiastes has long fascinated me. Although a relatively short book, it is nevertheless profound in the questions the author asks about life and about death and about meaning. I have concluded that the dominant theme of this wisdom book is the search for purpose. Until a person lays hold of their God-given purpose in life, they will be forever restless and dissatisfied.

In Ecclesiastes 2:21, we read

When there is a person who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then gives his legacy to one who has not labored for it; this too is futility and a great evil.

Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill only yield a legacy to one who has purpose, because these are mere tools to be used to reach a goal. Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill are never an end in themselves, but are deployed to fulfill a meaningful desire. Of what value is all the knowledge in the world if that knowledge is not useful in accomplishing your purpose?

The main point is this: Labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can never yield purpose. These will support a purpose, but they can never produce a purpose. For all his immense wisdom, King Solomon missed this point, and so do many others. All the resources in the world will not benefit the one who has no God-given purpose.

PURPOSE MUST PRECEDE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE AND LABOR

Purpose precedes labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill as automobile precedes gasoline.

A map is only necessary when you have an intended destination. Just so, you need only employ wisdom when you are moving toward a previously chosen purpose.

How do you set your GPS if you have not decided where you are going? And the world’s best GPS will never determine your destination. In the same way, you must already have a purpose if you are to get any value out of wisdom.

It is “vanity” and a “striving after wind” to believe that labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill can give you a fulfilling purpose.

It is foolish to ask a caterpillar or a turtle to fly. Just so, it is foolish to ask labor, wisdom, knowledge, and skill to produce your purpose. You are asking the impossible. It is not a question of discipline or effort or determination. It is a matter of ability. The most disciplined turtle will never fly. The turtle may plummet but fly he never will. Just so, all the labor and wisdom and knowledge and skill in the world will never produce purpose.

SOLOMON MISSED IT

Solomon invested all his time and effort and determination to develop his wisdom and knowledge, and only when he had grown old does he realize that, without a God-given purpose, all his most keenly developed wisdom is mere “vanity” and “a striving after wind.”

How do we make sure that we do not make the same mistake that Solomon made? How do we make sure that, as we approach the end of our days, we do not decide that we hate life (Ecclesiastes 2:17), and that “everything is futility and a striving after wind?”

A LIFE OF PURPOSE

Avoiding a meaningless life begins with bowing down before the Lord Jesus Christ and crying out to Him for salvation. He who would have a life of purpose must first embrace the God who gives purpose. So first, repent and believe.

All those who come to the Lord Jesus in repentance and in faith have received a new purpose for their life. As a believer, you now have a Bible which guides you into new obedience so that you glorify God with your redeemed life. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, so you are now able to hear God as He speaks to you and guides you. With all the rest of God’s redeemed people, you have the purpose of glorifying God in all you do. All believers have this purpose, and this purpose is fulfilling and satisfying and lifelong.

But the Lord who saved you is also the Lord who saved you for His unique purpose. That is, every believer has been chosen and saved for a purpose that no one else can accomplish (Ephesians 2:10). Among the great joys of being a follower of Jesus is finding that unique place where you sense that you are fulfilling God’s unique purpose for your life. After years or even decades of searching and sanctification, the Lord has sovereignly placed you in a place of great usefulness and service. I believe this is what “purpose” means, to find that place where God is most glorified by the life that we live for Him.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

The elect, the believing, and the one the Father draws (John 6:39, 6:40, 6:44)

NOTE: This article is a detailed study of three verses from John chapter 6 about those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day in the Resurrection. The result is fascinating, as my study revealed how God the Father ensures that all His elect will certainly come to believe in Jesus, the Son, and be raised up on the last day. I hope you find it an edifying study. rmb

Who are the ones that Jesus will raise up on the last day?

John 6:39 – “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

Who are “all that He has given Me?” These are all the elect (righteous) of all time whom God has chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). These have been given to the Son by the Father.

What will Jesus do with all those whom the Father has given to Him? He will raise them all up on the last day. This “raise up” is certainly the Resurrection. Jesus even adds emphasis by saying that, of all that the Father has given Him, He will lose nothing. All the elect will be raised up on the last day. All the elect who are living will be resurrected, and all the elect who have died will be resurrected. Jesus makes no distinction between the living and the dead in terms of whom He will raise on the last day. “All that He has given Me” will be raised up on the last day. Thus, the Resurrection of all the elect occurs on the last day.

John 6:40 – For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is just repeating Himself, but that is not the case. Jesus is teaching that the Resurrection of the righteous is two sides of the same coin. In John 6:39, our Lord stated that He will raise up “all that the Father has given Him” on the last day, and it is clear that the expression “all that He has given Me” refers to all the elect. Thus, in John 6:39, Jesus is talking about God’s sovereign decree of election and declares that He will raise up all the elect on the last day. But in John 6:40, we are looking at the righteous through the lens of believing unto salvation.

Notice that in both verses we read of the “will of the Father.”

In John 6:39, “the will of Him who sent Me” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day all that the Father has given Him (all the elect). This is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

In John 6:40, “the will of My Father” is that Jesus will raise up on the last day everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him. And this is the Resurrection of all the righteous.

ALL THAT GOD HAS GIVEN JESUS” EQUALS “ALL WHO WILL BELIEVE IN JESUS

We know that the will of the Father will always come to pass (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11). Now, since it is the will of the Father, we know that all that He has given Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:39), and, since it is also the will of the Father, we know that everyone who believes in Jesus will be raised up on the last day (6:40). What Jesus is teaching here is that “all that the Father has given the Son (6:39)” is identical with “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him (6:40).” Everyone who will ever behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life was given by the Father to the Son in eternity past, and all whom the Father has given to the Son will behold the Son and believe in Him unto eternal life. In simpler terms, we could say, “All the elect equals all who will ever believe.”

But this presents us with a difficult question. “How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” For election does not save. While it is true that God chose us, the elect (all the righteous), in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), it is also true that a sinner must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. So, again, how do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life? Consider John 6:44.

John 6:44 – “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

LOOKING AT THE VERSE:

COMMENTS: What does it mean in this verse “to come to Jesus?” For Jesus says, “No one can come to Me.” In most contexts, but especially in the gospel of John, we should understand “come to Me” as meaning “believe in Me,” because to come to Jesus has no significance unless the one who comes to Him also believes in Him.

But Jesus says, “No one can come to Me unless. . .” This word, “can,” speaks about ability. In fact, the original Greek could be written, “No one has the ability to come to Me.” In other words, “It is not possible for anyone to come to Me.” Then, if we added our interpretation, it would read, “No one has the ability to believe in Me.” This is an alarming verse, but we must remember that Jesus added a condition. “No one has the ability to believe in Me UNLESS the Father who sent Me draws Him; and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

From this, I have three ideas:

  1. Since no one can come (has the ability to come) to Jesus unless the Father draws them, it means only those that the Father draws will come to Jesus. (By the way, we can see here God’s sovereignty in salvation. If He does not draw you, you are not saved.)
  2. On the last day, Jesus will raise up all those whom the Father draws. John 6:44 implies, “If the Father draws them, I (Jesus) will raise them up on the last day.”
  3. From our previous work in John 6:39 and 6:40, we already know those whom Jesus will raise up on the last day. From John 6:39, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all the elect. And from John 6:40, we know that, on the last day, Jesus will raise up all those who believe in Him.

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

I know that I have been going very slowly through this passage, but now we are ready to put the pieces together. Earlier in our study, we asked the question, ““How can the Father make sure that all those whom He has given to the Son will actually believe in the Son?” Then we asked that question another way, “How do the elect become those who believe in Jesus unto eternal life?”

Now in our study of John 6:44 we have the answer: The Father draws all those that He has given to the Son so that they all come to the Son to behold the Son and to believe in the Son.

Here is a simpler way to understand these verses: Jesus will raise up all the elect on the last day, and Jesus will raise up all those who behold the Son and believe in the Son, and Jesus will raise up all those the Father draws.

So, the Father draws (John 6:44) all the elect (6:39) to the Son so that they behold the Son and believe in the Son (6:40).

            SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021

When is disappointment a sin?

My friend and I had talked for a long time over breakfast on Saturday morning about how crazy the real estate market is in Charlotte. When a house comes on the market, there are usually twenty showings the first day and then fifteen offers are made, all of them over the asking price, and within 48 hours the house is under contract. Davis and his wife, Natalie, had found a house they wanted, and Davis and I were talking about what they should offer. My advice was, “Go all-in, Davis. When God sent His Son to earth to save us, He went ‘all-in.’ So, we should live as ‘all-in’ people to demonstrate our trust in the Lord.” We had prayed about the house, and I had asked the Lord to provide the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4). Then I had prayed, and I know that Davis and Natalie had prayed, throughout Saturday and Sunday, that their “all-in” offer would win the house.

Early Tuesday morning I received a text from Davis that their offer did not win the house. He said, “it is tough, but the Lord did what was best for us.” I replied, “Amen! The Lord has revealed His will in the matter. Romans 8:28.”

NOT DISAPPOINTED

Now, what is significant is that neither of us used the word “disappointed” in our conversation. We did not use the word “disappointed,” because we were not disappointed. We had prayed to our God and our God had given a clear answer. There was no ambiguity at all. The sovereign Lord of the universe inclined His ear to us (Psalm 116:1-2). He heard our supplications (Psalm 6:9) and the King of kings answered us (Psalm 99:6, 8)! And our loving God said, “No.” It was not the answer that we had requested, but we acknowledged that the Lord is infinitely wise, and He knows what is best. And, after all, He is the Lord. He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). But we were not disappointed.

UNDERSTANDING DISAPPOINTMENT

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.”

There is a lot of truth in this common expression. And this applies to believers as well as unbelievers. When our expectations are not met, we feel let down and we may even feel a little cheated, like somehow the world is obligated to meet our expectations. If that is our attitude, we will need to accept the advice from the dread Pirate Robert in the movie, “Princess Bride:” “Get used to disappointment.” Most (all?) of our expectations are baseless and unrealistic. “Why did you have that expectation?” “I don’t know, I just did.” “Oh. Well then, get used to disappointment.”

So, that is a little about disappointment from the world’s perspective. But there is also a disappointment that applies uniquely to the Christian when we request and the Lord answers, but we do not like the answer we received, and thus we are disappointed. This disappointment is sin because it means we are not satisfied with God’s performance. In this case, our prayer “requests” were really veiled demands and God did not do our bidding. To put it another way,

“Disappointment comes from unmet prayer requests.”

You had prayed fervently about a job opportunity, and someone else got the job, and you remain unemployed. Like Davis and Natalie, you prayed that your offer would win the house, and you came in second. You prayed for healing and your friend died. You have prayed for a godly spouse and yet you remain alone. And so, you feel something inside. Is it disappointment?

DISAPPOINTMENT IS A SIN

In these cases, I would suggest that disappointment is sin, because the “request” was really a demand. When we are disappointed with a clear answer to our prayer, have we not treated God as our servant?

Isn’t our thinking a lot like this? “After all, we did what we were supposed to do. We made our request according to the formula (Matthew 7:7; Philippians 4:6), we even prayed, ‘In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ We put our prayers in the correct slot of the prayer machine, and we expected the right answer, but out came an answer we did not request.” In essence, our disappointment says that God got the answer wrong. God did not do our bidding, so we are disappointed.

The truth is that when we experience disappointment, it means we were not seeking God’s will on a matter and then accepting His answer as the perfect answer, but instead we expressed our demand in a “prayer request,” and then pouted when God gave us the wrong answer. (See Jonah, chapter 4, for a good example of this.)

This is the very essence of sin. We, the creatures, are disappointed with the Lord God, the Creator of the universe. Brothers and sisters, we must be very cautious when we make demands of our God. Like Job, we should repent of this in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE IN PLACE OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Alan had been a pilot for American Airlines, when he contracted a rare disease that robbed him of his eyesight. Some years after he was blinded, Alan was having a conversation with his mother. His mother is a strong Christian who has walked with the Lord a long time, but she was asking Alan how he felt about being blinded. Didn’t he wrestle with God about this? Alan simply said, “We accept what the Lord allows.”

Queen Esther understood what it was to go before the sovereign king and make a request. She was not making a demand, but rather a humble request. And she accepted the possible answers and their consequences: “If I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).”

Likewise, we should replace disappointment with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will.

CONCLUSION

The Lord invites His children to come boldly to His throne and He calls us to make our requests to Him as our Abba, Father (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16), but He remains ever and always the One who sovereignly “works all things (including all answers to our prayers) after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11)” to the praise of His glory.

Therefore, I will repent of disappointment and will replace it with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will, and I will rejoice in the love of the Lord my God. Replace disappointment with contentment (Philippians 4:10-13).

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2021

Man, the fearful creature (Isaiah 41:10)

Man is a fearful creature. Although he was originally created to enjoy fellowship with God and to walk with Him, today we know that the human being is a fearful creature. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned in the garden, all mankind has known fear as the most basic of all emotions. We feel all alone in a hostile world where death is a constant threat and an inevitable eventuality, and we are exceedingly small facing challenges that are enormous.

THE SOURCE OF OUR FEAR

The source of our fear is our sin against the God who created us and to whom we are accountable. Adam and Eve had enjoyed sweet fellowship with God until they ate the forbidden fruit, and fear followed immediately after their sin. In their guilt and shame, they hid from God, and we, as the children of Adam, have been doing that ever since. Through Adam, all sinned (Romans 5:12), and so also through Adam all of us know the fear that comes from our guilt. Whether we know it or not, we sense that we deserve God’s judgment and punishment, and so we put on our own personal fig leaves and we go into hiding.

WE RUN AWAY, BUT THE LORD PURSUES

And what does the living God do in response to our sin and our hiding? We have broken His commandments and we have run away from any fellowship or relationship with Him. How does the Lord respond to our sin and fear? Remarkably, the Lord pursues us. As we turn the pages of Scripture, we encounter a God who pursues the sinner, any sinner, and offers that sinner reconciliation and restoration and relationship. In response to our running away in guilt and fear, the Lord commands us to “fear not”

“Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

There is no human solution to the problems of guilt and fear. Your guilt is because you have sinned against the Holy One, the living God, and your fear is ultimately a fear of God and His terrifying judgment of your sin. And yet the God whom you have offended is the very one who pursues you to offer His forgiveness and His strength.

The Bible is full of commands from the Lord for His children to “fear not.” And why is it appropriate for the one who has been reconciled to God and who has been forgiven by God to no longer fear?

“But now thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are Mine.’” Isaiah 43:1

It is inappropriate to fear when the LORD the Creator of the universe, has redeemed you. The One who formed you and called you to Himself in Jesus Christ is the One who is always for you and is ever at your right hand. So, fear not! Claim your freedom from fear that is the right and blessing of the twice born, of all those who confess Jesus as Lord!

“I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered my from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4

How can the psalmist be delivered from all his fears? Because the LORD, the all-powerful One, is his God! When the living God is your protector, there is no reason for fear.

THE LORD GOD, THE CONQUEROR

But not only is the Bible full of exhortations to “fear not,” but the Bible is also full of examples of our God overwhelmingly conquering adversaries and enemies against seemingly impossible odds. The children of Israel were backed up against the Red Sea and the most powerful army in the world was bearing down on them. Then the LORD split the Red Sea so Israel could walk through on dry ground and the Egyptian army was drowned. Gideon had 300 men and some pitchers and lanterns and trumpets, yet 150,000 Midianites were defeated by the 300. David had nothing but a slingshot and confidence in the LORD, and the giant Goliath was struck down and his head taken off. Jerusalem and King Hezekiah were under siege from the Assyrians, who had conquered all the other countries around the nation of Judah and had boasted that they would destroy Jerusalem as well. Then the angel of the LORD struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians in one night, and the contest was over.

In the most glorious example of all, one Man was called upon to endure the agonies of the cross so that He could bear the full wrath of God against sin and could defeat death by rising from the dead. One solitary Man was pitted against the sin of the world and the horrors of death, and on Sunday morning sin and death lay vanquished at Jesus’ feet.

These examples show us that the God who pursues us for reconciliation is worthy of our confidence and trust.

JESUS SPEAKS ON WORRY

In one section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His disciples of the futility and folly of worry. Five times in Matthew 6:25-34 our Lord mentions worry and instructs us why it does not make any sense. In simplest terms, what is the reason the disciple of Jesus should not worry? It is because you have a heavenly Father. Simple as that. Your heavenly Father is in control of all things. He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers of the field, and He is completely aware of your physical needs. You have a heavenly Father who knows you and loves you. What could you possibly be worried about?

SDG                 rmb                 3/30/2021

Why must Satan be released from the abyss (Rev. 20:3)?

In this article, we parachute into the “thousand years” of the gospel age in Revelation 20:3. Things are going along splendidly with Satan locked in the abyss. Now for the duration of the “thousand years,” the gospel is being proclaimed and the church is growing, and Christ is building His church (Matthew 16:18). This all goes along swimmingly “until the ‘thousand years’ were completed; after these things he (Satan) must be released for a short time (Rev. 20:3).” And there need be no ambiguity about the intention of the Greek in this sentence. John uses the Greek word δεῖ, which is accurately translated by the NAS as “must.” It is necessary that Satan be released from the abyss. But WHY must Satan be released? That is the question.

In answering this question, we first need to keep in mind that Satan is a mere created being. He is not a threat to the church, and he is certainly not a threat to God. He is brought onto the stage when his character is needed by the Director, because there are some things that he is uniquely qualified to do.

Second, we need to observe that Satan is released from the abyss. This was not a successful jailbreak. Rather, he is released. Satan was not in control. (He never is.) He was rotting away in the abyss when he was unexpectedly released. Who released him? We are not told, but it would be reasonable to assume that the one who locked him in the abyss (the risen Christ) is the same one who released him from the abyss.

So, Satan must be released because his unique talents and abilities are needed by the Director to take the drama toward its scripted conclusion. The Hero of the Drama is preparing to make His final, glorious appearance, and all the details must be made ready for His grand entrance. The church must be purified, pruned, and cleansed through the furnace of persecution. Evil and lawlessness must increase so that the unrighteous are revealed and so hatred against the church can abound. Although they will be ignored, the final warnings of coming judgment must be loudly proclaimed to the unrighteous. Satan must have time to raise up the beast and the false prophet to oversee the proliferation of evil and the persecution of the church. Satan is the only character in the drama who can accomplish these tasks, so Satan must be released.

Finally, upon his release, notice that Satan is given only a short time (Rev. 20:3; μικρὸν χρόνον). He is not in control of the length of his performance; rather, his time on the stage has already been determined by the script. He will burst upon the scene “having great wrath (Rev. 12:12)” and will create havoc and destruction, but he has only a short time (Rev. 12:12; ὀλίγον καιρὸν). And after that short time, “he was thrown (ἐβλήθη) into the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:10).”

So, Satan must be released after the “thousand years” because the Lord has need of Him.

In Luke 19, as Jesus nears Jerusalem for His triumphal entry, He sends two disciples ahead to fetch a colt. As the disciples were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it (Luke 19:33-34).” That is probably the best way to think of Satan; consider him to be like this colt. He comes onto the stage of the grand drama when the Lord has need of him.

SDG                 rmb                 3/13/2021