Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 2

In the previous article (Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1 – Roy’s Reflections), we had begun a fairly deep dive into Colossians 3:1-12 in an attempt to answer the question, “If, for the believer, the ‘old self’ has died (Colossians 3:3) and our sin has been atoned for and forgiven because of Christ’s death on our behalf (Colossians 1:13-14), why does sin and the ‘old self’ continue to plague us?” This passage in Colossians had been chosen because we discovered that here, in these verses, the apostle Paul gives doctrinal teaching and exhortations that directly address these issues. The first article covered Colossians 3:1-4. This second article will look at the commands we can now obey since we have been raised up with Christ (Colossians 3:5-9). Then the third article will focus on the doctrinal truths about salvation that give the believer the power to obey His Savior’s commands (Colossians 3:9-12).

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST (3:1)

In the first article, we saw the crucial importance of the first phrase in the passage, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if you have, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing, at best. But if, by God’s grace, you have, Paul will teach you doctrinal truth about what it means to be raised up with Christ and will issue commands that you are now able to obey.

SINCE YOU HAVE DIED, PUT SIN TO DEATH (3:5) COMMAND #1

In our last lesson, we discovered that “raised up with Christ” means that “we have died (3:3).” When anyone hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies. Now, we must understand that, while our “old self” was living, it loved sin and so it accumulated an ugly collection of sins in which to indulge, and our physical body (our “members” – NASB; our “flesh”) became accustomed to this sinful indulgence. Now we have been raised up with Christ and the “old self” has died, but our “members” are still craving the old sins. What are we to do? Since you have died, you are to put to death! “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you (3:5 – ESV).” Now that the “old self” has died, your former ugly sins are to be killed. Hunt them down. Shoot to kill. Make them become extinct. Starve them from all nourishment. Drive them away. Take no prisoners. Give no quarter. Celebrate the death of the “old self” by putting to death all its old friends. Yes, because you have been raised with Christ, you have the responsibility to put your sins to death.

PUT YOUR SINS ASIDE. THROW THEM OFF (3:8) COMMAND #2

In 3:5, Paul gives us instruction about what to do with our more fleshly sins, our former sexual sins, but we know that our former sins included much more than these. Now that we have been raised up together with Christ, we are a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) who walks in newness of life (Romans 6:4) and who walks in the same manner as Christ walked (1 John 2:6). That means that now we are also to be done with our sins of anger and our sins of the tongue. Paul commands us to “put them all aside (Colossians 3:8).” For many believers, our anger is barely contained inside us, lurking just below the surface, ready to burst forth without warning like an exploding pressure cooker. Before we met Christ, we had no interest in containing our anger and were unconcerned about who was wounded by it. But now we have been raised up with Christ. Now we have died (3:3) and we no longer walk as the Gentiles walk. Now, therefore, we must put aside all these sins. Anger is a sin that must be thrown off like a soiled coat. The angry tongue must be silenced, and its slashing edge must be dulled, because we have been raised up with Christ.

DO NOT LIE TO ONE ANOTHER (3:9). COMMAND #3

Paul issues his third command in a row, and then tells doctrinal truths which empower the believer to obey the commands. “Do not lie to one another (3:9).” There may be times when we think that these instructions from Paul are new and that the Holy Spirit has revealed to Paul a new mark of holiness, but that is certainly not the case here. In Leviticus 19:11, in the Old Testament Law, the LORD commands His people, “You shall not lie to one another.” Also, the ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Deuteronomy 5:20).” Truthfulness has always been a mark of God’s people, because our God is a God of truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6).” Since Jesus is the truth, those who have been raised up with Him must speak truth.

We may wonder where we are supposed to find the ability to obey all these commands. Paul has given us these commands, but these are anything but trivial, especially if we were in the “old self” for a long time. Putting sins to death and putting other sins aside and stopping my habits of lying; that is a pretty tall order. How do we do this? That will be the subject of the next article in this study.

SDG                 rmb                 3/1/2021

Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1

If I have died to sin (Romans 6:2), why do I still struggle with sin (Romans 7:15-25)?

If he was a slave of sin, but is now a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18), how can it be that Paul, the model Christian, laments his wretchedness in his struggle against sin (Romans 7:24)?

If the “old man” has been crucified, why does he still influence my behavior to sin?

I was musing on these and other weighty issues this morning and was led to consider Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As I meditated on Colossians 3:1-12, I discovered that the apostle Paul deals with several of these meatier matters here in this passage, so I decided to devote two or three articles to teaching on this.

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST

What Paul is going to now teach in Colossians 3:1-12 is all contingent on his implied assumption in the first verse, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if the person described has, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing. But if you have been raised up with Christ, Paul’s teaching will be amazing and encouraging.

TWO QUICK COMMANDS

To his “raised-up-with-Christ” audience, the apostle issues two commands: seek and set. Since you are a born-again (John 3:3) believer in Christ, “Keep seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1b).” Keep hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Keep thinking about your heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Keep eagerly waiting for our Savior from heaven (Phil. 3:20-21). And again, since you have been raised up with Christ, “Set your mind on the things above (3:2).” Your sight is to be fixed upward. Allow your mind to dwell on noble things (Phil. 4:8). Renew your mind through the Word (Eph. 4:23; Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 2:2). These blessings are only possible if you have been raised up with Christ.

DOCTRINE: SPIRITUAL DEATH AND LIFE, AND GLORIFIED WITH CHRIST

Now Paul adds doctrinal truth to his teaching. A word about doctrinal truth: Doctrinal truth is universal in that it applies to all persons in a defined group without exception. Our “defined group” is all those who have been raised up together with Christ. The doctrinal truth is, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3).” So, we see that, according to Paul’s teaching, all true believers have “died.” In some real sense, we have died, and yet it is obvious that we also live. How do we untangle this knot? This is a complex subject that we will attempt to address briefly. Because of the sin of Adam and the Fall of man, all people without exception are born into the world with a bent toward sin and with a love of sin. This “old self” (Colossians 3:9) is a slave of sin (Romans 6) and, unless and until this person is raised up together with Christ, they continue to be under God’s wrath and judgment because of their sin (Romans 1:18). If they physically die in this state, they will spend eternity in the lake of fire. But the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the news that when anyone who is living in the “old self” hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies, their “new self” (3:10) comes to life, and that person is raised up together with Christ. At that moment, that person has died to their old life of sin and they have been raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Their “old self” has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), but they live to the glory of God. So, in that sense the believer has died, yet they live. And since Paul is teaching doctrinal truth, this “died-yet-living” is true of all believers.

Finally, in Colossians 3:4 we learn still more doctrinal truth about those who have been raised with Christ. Since you have been raised with Christ, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Paul speaks unambiguously about that time in the future when Christ will be revealed. It is an undeniable fact that Jesus Christ is going to appear from heaven in blazing glory to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). It is a certainty that Christ will be revealed, but “When Christ is revealed,” what will be true of those who have been raised up together with Him? “Then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” This is the doctrinal truth that the apostle here declares: All those who have been raised up with Christ in life will be revealed with Him in glory in the resurrection. Those who have been raised with Christ will be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:30). (See also Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17.)

SUMMARY OF RAISED TOGETHER WITH CHRIST (COLOSSIANS 3:1-12) PART 1

Here is what we have discovered so far, in Colossians 3:1-4. “Therefore, since you have been raised up together with Christ:”

  • Keep seeking the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • Set your mind on the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • You have died in a spiritual sense, because the “old self” that loved sin and that lived a life of sin, has died (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • Your new life of holiness and obedience to God has begun (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • When Christ is revealed in glory, you also will be revealed in glory (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)

The next lesson will continue with this passage and will see more of what Paul is teaching in Colossians 3:1-12.

SDG                 rmb                  2/27/2021

A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

SDG                 rmb                 2/25/2021

Crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 9:3)

When I was younger, it was a lot easier for me to believe that people were a pretty noble lot and that, if a person applied themselves and made the effort, then life would turn out pretty well. But as I have gotten older and have seen so many of my own best efforts amount to nothing as plans disappear like mist, and as I have watched those with promising beginnings become mired in mediocrity, I have wondered if maybe I overestimated our nobility. Maybe the truth is that we are broken and crippled in both feet and need someone to lift us up out of our futile existence.

MEPHIBOSHETH, THE CRIPPLE

In 2 Samuel 9 we are introduced to Mephibosheth. It is an odd name that he was given. His name in Hebrew means “dispeller of shame,” which is ironic because Mephibosheth’s life is marked by brokenness and shame. When we meet him in this story, “he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar (9:4).” The most noticeable feature of Mephibosheth is that he is crippled in both feet (9:3).

“How did he become crippled?” you ask. Mephibosheth was the grandson of the king of Israel, King Saul. One day when he was five years old, the report came that his father Jonathan and his grandfather Saul had been killed in battle. His nurse took him up and fled, and in her haste, Mephibosheth fell. He fell and became crippled. In one day, Mephibosheth became crippled and orphaned. When he was five years old, all reasonable prospects for a happy future were irreversibly shattered. His father was killed, his legs were crippled, and the nurse he trusted failed him. And so, eventually, he drags himself out to Lo-debar, into the house of Machir the son of Ammiel. There in this dusty, backwater town, he ekes out his existence; forgotten, crippled, and orphaned. Helpless. Hopeless. End of story.

But it is not the end of the story, because there is an anointed king, King David, who is seeking for Mephibosheth. From his house in Jerusalem, King David “sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar (9:5).” David calls Mephibosheth by name (Isaiah 43:1) and, for no reason other than to show him kindness, the king makes promises to Mephibosheth, extravagant and astonishing promises of kindness and of lands and of a place at the king’s table where Mephibosheth can eat regularly as one of the king’s sons. In one day, Mephibosheth exchanged the miseries of Lo-debar for the glories of Jerusalem, and the house of Machir for the house of the king.

How does Mephibosheth respond? First, he “fell on his face and prostrated himself” before King David. What else would a person do when entering the presence of the king? Then Mephibosheth confesses his own unworthiness to receive such mercy and kindness. “Why do ‘you regard a dead dog like me?’” This is not self-loathing or self-pity, but an acknowledgement by Mephibosheth that he deserves none of David’s kindness. All he can bring to the king is his homage and unworthiness.

Through David’s kindness, Mephibosheth, who once was living in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar, crippled in both feet, now lived in Jerusalem and he ate at the king’s table regularly as one of the king’s sons. Oh, and he was lame in both feet.

THE GOSPEL IN THE STORY OF MEPHIBOSHETH

As fascinating as this story of Mephibosheth is, it is the “normal” story of everyone who has trusted in Jesus the Messiah. The sober truth is that we are all broken from birth. All of us are victims of the fall, ruined because of the sin of Adam. We are figuratively hiding out in Lo-debar, waiting for someone who can be a “dispeller of our shame.” All our reasonable prospects for a happy future have been shattered or have evaporated. Like Mephibosheth, we are forgotten, crippled, and orphaned. Helpless. Hopeless. It feels like the end of story.

Then one day, we hear about an anointed king, King Jesus, the Son of David, who is seeking for us (Luke 19:10) and who is calling us by name. As we listen to His voice, this King makes promises to us, extravagant and astonishing promises of forgiveness of sins, and of joy in this life and eternity in heaven, and of a place at the King’s table where we can eat regularly as one of the King’s sons or daughters. According to this gospel of good news, in one day, in one moment we can exchange the miseries of our brokenness for the pleasures of His holiness. Jesus the Messiah is the great dispeller of our shame.

How do we respond? We fall on our face and prostrate ourselves before the glorious Messiah Jesus and we confess our sins and our unworthiness, and then we give Him our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) so that He can make use of even our lameness and our brokenness.

Yes, we are Mephibosheth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/20/2021

Old Testament stories: Genesis 22 – “Where is the lamb?”

The Bible contains many genres, different types or styles of literature that communicate the Bible’s essential truths. “Narrative” is one of those genres. Narrative is simply a way of saying “a story.” The Bible, both Old and New Testament, is full of stories that are inspired and written so that they convey spiritual truth through the dialog and the events of the characters in these narratives. I am now writing a series of articles that look at stories from the Old Testament which foreshadow the coming of Jesus the Messiah. That is, these stories about characters and events which happened centuries or even millennia before Jesus was born, nevertheless unmistakably picture the Messiah in His life and ministry. The hope is that we will see Jesus a little more clearly through these stories. This story from Genesis 22 is the first article in the series.

GENESIS 22:1-14 – ABRAHAM AND ISAAC GO TO MORIAH TO SACRIFICE

Our story for this article will come from Genesis 22, when Abraham is an old man and his son, Isaac, the son of promise, is probably in his late teens. Abraham is called by God to go to the land of Moriah to make an unusual sacrifice. The format for these Old Testament studies will be to go through the narrative once, pointing out what is going on in the story and highlighting some features of the narrative that are particularly significant and that will be explored later. Then we will go through the passage a second time pointing out how the story gives us a foreshadow of the Messiah who is promised in the Old Testament.

Because this article is long, I decided to place it on my “Roy’s Reflections” site as a ‘page’ rather than a blog post. Follow the link below to read the entire article.

Old Testament stories: “Where is the lamb?” (Genesis 22) – Roy’s Reflections

Who is the first horseman in Revelation 6:1-2?

OVERVIEW – This article presents a step-by-step exegesis of Revelation 6:1-2. This exegesis employs techniques that are helpful when studying biblical eschatology, especially in the book of Revelation. The article also presents an overview of the flow of the book of Revelation and introduces the idea of three phases: the “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last day.

A tour through the book of Revelation can be a bewildering journey, as visions of dragons and beasts and serpents writhe in our head, and angels blow trumpets and pour out bowls of wrath. What does all this mean? And how are we to interpret all this so that it makes sense?

To help shed some light on how to understand the apocalyptic language of Revelation, I wanted to look at a sample passage and seek to interpret it so that we know what it says.

GETTING OUR BEARINGS

Before we begin looking at the details of Revelation 6:1-2, the specific verses under consideration, we must do our preparation work. We must establish where we are in redemptive history. In what “phase” are we? To answer this question, and thus to complete our “homework,” some background is needed.

BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 4-20

The contents of Revelation chapters 4-20 speak about the events in heaven and on earth during the time-period from the ascension of Christ after His resurrection to His return on the Last Day, when He will judge the earth. Then Revelation 21-22 describes the new heavens and the new earth. While Revelation 4-20 addresses the entire time between Christ’s advents, the great majority of this section of Revelation focuses on the end of the age, a period called “the end-times,” shortly before the return of Jesus Christ from heaven.

So, earlier I mentioned “phases.” What do I mean when I say “phases?” After Jesus commissions His church (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20), He ascends to heaven. Christ’s ascension inaugurates a long phase called the “thousand years,” which is explicitly mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6. This is not a literal “thousand years” but is a figurative expression simply meaning a long period of time when the church is fulfilling its mission of proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18). During this “thousand years,” the church is relatively unhindered in its task of being Jesus’ witnesses.

But history is linear and is moving toward a definite end. Jesus is certainly coming back and all the prophecies about the end of the age and about His return must be fulfilled. Therefore, at a time determined by God, the “thousand years” will end, and the final phase of history will begin. Revelation 11-13 gives three different expressions for this final phase: “time, times, and half a time,” “forty-two months,” and “1,260 days.” Since these three expressions all equal a literal forty-two months, I refer to this phase as the 42 months*. Again, this is not a literal 42 months, but is a figurative expression simply meaning a fairly short period of time. It is during the 42 months* that the prophecies about the end of the age are fulfilled and the world is made ready for Jesus’ Second Coming.

After the 42 months* are completed, the world experiences the Last Day, also known as “the Day of the Lord,” when Jesus returns, the righteous are glorified, and the unrighteous are forever condemned to the lake of fire. Thus, there are three phases in the Revelation 4-20: The “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last Day.

TACKLING THE PASSAGE

Having gotten some orientation to the overall flow of Revelation, we now encounter another difficulty in interpreting portions of the book, which is determining where a specific passage is located in redemptive history. In the previous section we defined three phases, but how do we turn to Revelation 6:1-2 about a rider on a horse with a crown and a bow, and fit this passage into the right phase and how do we understand the passage’s meaning? We will tackle this step-by-step.

First, a little more context is needed. Back up to Revelation 5 and notice that chapter 5 is about the Lamb, who is the Lion from the tribe of Judah, who “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals (5:5).” This Lamb is worthy because He “purchased with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).” This is obviously the victorious Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, risen from the grave and now ascended to heaven. He is worthy to break the seals.

From earlier study, we know that Jesus’ ascension to heaven inaugurates the “thousand years.” The breaking of the first seal in Revelation 6:1-2, therefore, must be at the start of the “thousand years.” As a reminder, during this phase, the church is proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18).

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. – Rev. 6:1-2

 Our attention will now focus on the second verse, since it contains the information needed to interpret the meaning. The questions are, “Who is this rider? What does this rider symbolize?” In interpreting Revelation, it is crucial to find the clues that are placed in the text to aid in discovering the meaning. What do we observe in this text? We see a white horse, and its rider has a bow. He has been given a crown, and his mission is conquering and to conquer.

There are two more important clues that are not in this immediate context. The first clue is to note that, in Revelation 19:11-12, which is the climax of the entire book of Revelation, there is another Rider on a white horse, and on His head are many diadems (crowns). This is the glorious Lord Jesus Christ in His awesome Second Coming. A Rider on a white horse with many crowns. The comparison should be obvious.

The second clue is contained in the Greek word for “conquer” (from “conquering and to conquer”), which is nikao. In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, all seven churches are given a promise from Jesus Christ if they “overcome.” The Greek word for “overcome” is nikao. Yes, that is correct: “overcome” and “conquer” are the same Greek verb, nikao. This suggests that what Jesus declares to the seven churches (to overcome) is what we see happening in the first horseman (conquering and to conquer).

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

In Revelation, white always symbolizes righteousness. This is without exception, so white is a huge clue. A white horse is, therefore, determinative in associating this rider with Jesus and His saints. We have also just pointed out that Jesus Christ will return on a white horse, crowned with many diadems (Revelation 19:11-12). This identical symbolism of the white horse confirms that the rider on the first horse (6:2) is related to Jesus and His church. These are obvious clues that cannot be ignored or dismissed.  

The rider is given a crown. It should be noted that this is the only one of the four riders (Rev. 6:1-8) who receives a crown. In Revelation, who else is given a crown? In Rev. 2:10, the church at Smyrna, representing the persecuted church, will be given the crown of life, if they remain faithful until death. In Revelation 12:1, there appears “a woman clothed with the sun,” representing the faithful saints of the Old Testament. “On her head was a crown of twelve stars.” Thus, we see that it is the faithful church that is given a crown. It is the same thing in the case of the first horseman. He represents the faithful church and receives a crown.

Notice that this horseman in Revelation 6:2 only has a single crown. “A crown was given to him.” By contrast, remember that Jesus had many diadems (Rev. 19:12). And this is as it should be. Jesus, the victorious Conqueror, is worthy of many diadems, while the faithful church, the representatives of the Conqueror, receive only a single crown.

What is the mission of this horseman on the white horse? His mission is “conquering and to conquer.” “Conquering” speaks of the ongoing, steadfast pursuit of the mission. “Conquering” conveys the idea of determination and persistence. “To conquer” declares the goal in uncompromising terms. The faithful church persistently, steadfastly continues in its mission, and the church will continue until the mission is decisively accomplished.

The rider also “had a bow.” Notice that the rider has the mission of conquering and to conquer, but his only weapon to accomplish this colossal mission is a single bow. The mission seems impossible, with too little ammunition to defeat even the weakest enemy. But although the bow appears to be weak and ineffective, it is actually “mighty before God for the pulling down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4).” For the bow represents the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The faithful church wields the bow of the gospel to conquer the hearts of men and women and bring them into the church.

THE MEANING OF THE FIRST HORSEMAN – SUMMARY

All the pieces have now been explained and the clues have been examined. Now we are ready to both correctly place this first horseman in redemptive history and declare what he is picturing for us. When the Lamb (Jesus) breaks the first seal, one of the four living creatures calls the church (the rider on the white horse who has been given a crown) to begin her task of proclaiming the gospel (using the bow) for the ingathering of the elect into the church (conquering and to conquer). This task of proclaiming the gospel will continue throughout the “thousand years.”

SDG                 rmb                 2/14/2021

Means of Spiritual Growth (Romans 8:29)

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:29

Spiritual growth is almost synonymous with being a disciple of Jesus. When a person repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus as Savior and Lord, they pass from death to life (John 5:24) and are made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). Once blind, now they see (John 9:25). All this means that when you and I came to faith in Christ, we knew little about what it meant to walk with the Lord. We began our journey like newborn babies (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2), and now we grow in spiritual maturity until we are received into glory. So, all believers long to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). But what is the means of spiritual growth?

The Lord has given the believer three primary means of spiritual growth:

  • The Word of God / the Bible
  • fellowship with other believers
  • prayer

In this blog post I will talk about these means of growth. I also want to say that, since spiritual growth is vital to a disciple of Jesus Christ, these means of growth should also be high priorities. These activities should appear on your daily and weekly schedules (explicit) and should also lodge in your brain as a non-negotiable part of your mindset and lifestyle.

THE WORD OF GOD AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Of the three means of spiritual growth, the Word is primary, because the Word of God informs all aspects of our spiritual life, including our fellowship and our prayer. The Bible is our spiritual food (Matthew 4:4). The Word is the primary means of our sanctification (“Purify me with hyssop.” Psalm 51:7) and allows us to see our sin (Romans 3:20; Psalm 119:9, 11, 67) and then guides us into repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10).

The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. As such, it is the source of all truth because God’s word is truth (John 17:17). When you are reading the word of God, you can trust what you are reading because it comes from the God who can never lie (Hebrews 6:18). The entire word of God is God-breathed and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).” It equips you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Perhaps the most important thing about the Word of God is that it is the source of the gospel of our salvation. The Bible declares to man the holiness of God, a holiness that manifests itself in wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The Bible repeatedly warns man that he is a sinner in danger of eternal condemnation because of his sin (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23). Then the Bible proclaims God’s supreme act of His mercy and grace when it announces the Savior and the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent to earth to die on a cross for the sins of His people. Finally, the Bible urges us to be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40) by believing in the Lord Jesus as our Savior and following Him wherever He leads.

One final comment: there is a direct correlation between the time spent in God’s Word and spiritual growth. If you want to grow in spiritual maturity, you must commit to spending significant time in the Word.

FELLOWSHIP AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

First, we need to be clear by what is meant by “fellowship.” Fellowship, as I am using the word, necessarily involves other believers (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 John 1:3, 6-7), other people who are indwelt by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22), and therefore excludes nonbelievers. Also, spiritual growth from fellowship depends on the quality and the intentionality of the time. It is fellowship when it is understood that “spiritual benefit” is one of the main reasons for the interaction. Fellowship, then, is any interaction between believers where spiritual benefit/growth is implicitly or explicitly the intended result.

The New Testament is full of “one another” verses which urge us to encourage one another and to interact with one another for our spiritual good. The idea is that, as I spend time with other believers, the Holy Spirit within us is going to cause spiritual growth. This fellowship is hard to describe, but it is commonly experienced. As I spend time with other believers, I hear how they talk and how they respond to life’s joys and challenges, and the Holy Spirit shapes me. As we discuss theological topics or examine a Bible study, ideas are presented and challenged and debated, and truth is indirectly instilled. As I interact with brothers and sisters different than me, the Spirit incrementally changes me into a person who understands others and loves them despite our differences. This is how we grow by fellowship. If Christ is at the center of the interaction, and we are longing to pursue Him more closely and to be conformed more and more into His image, we will long for more times of fellowship when other members of the Body can pour into our lives.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. – Proverb 27:17

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

PRAYER AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Prayer certainly is the most mysterious of these three means of spiritual growth. In prayer, the creature is allowed into the presence of the Creator, and the unholy draws near to the Holy One. In the time spent in prayer, as we offer up worship and praise and confessions and repentance and thanksgiving and supplications, the Lord is imperceptibly but irresistibly transforming us day by day.

Prayer is learned. The disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray, and He taught them the “Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:1-4).” Just so, we must patiently learn to pray. Often in prayer, our mind drifts. There are long silences in the dialog. We do not know what to ask for. We do not know how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). And how do we listen to the Lord in prayer? These are all things that every disciple must learn for themselves as they spend time with the Lord.

In prayer, we have the undivided attention of the most fascinating Person in the universe. The Bible declares to us that the Lord delights in His people (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4) and He has chosen gladly to give us the Kingdom, so He is patient as we learn to talk to Him in prayer. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).” We also have His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, so as we spend time in His presence, the Spirit within us is molding us into greater Christlikeness. Like any relationship, the more time that we spend together, the better our communication. Therefore, it is wise to include times of prayer on your weekly and daily schedules. The more we “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17),” the more we will see spiritual growth from our prayers.

SUMMARY

As we spend time fully engaged with the word of God and intentionally interacting with God’s people and wrestling with the Lord is prayer, we will experience spiritual growth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/4/2021

Sow your seed morning and evening (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

To be a witness for Jesus Christ is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus has called His disciples to be witnesses to Him. In fact, the last thing that Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection was, “You shall be My witnesses . . . to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).” Thus, being a witness (“martyr” in the Greek) for Jesus is virtually synonymous with being a disciple. And what is the best means that we have, as His followers, to witness for Him in this world? The best means we have been given is the gospel. We are called to sow the seed of the gospel so that Jesus Christ is glorified.

AGRICULTURAL WISDOM

Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether this or that will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. – Ecclesiastes 11:6

The author of Ecclesiastes gives us simple wisdom about successful agriculture in chapter 11, verse 6: Scatter the seed! And then continue to sow the seed. Morning and evening (an expression that means “all the time”) sow the seed, because you have no idea which will sprout, but we do know that you will not have a good harvest if you do not scatter any seed. Of course, God gives us this wisdom for more than just agriculture. When considering the seed of the gospel, what wisdom can we take away from this? Scatter the seed! Morning and evening and all the time sow the seed, for we do not know which of them God will use to change a heart.

Matthew 13 is a chapter that is full of “kingdom parables,” which tell us about the kingdom of heaven through stories of everyday life. In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-8, Jesus tells the large crowds, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” Then we see the sower scatter the seed indiscriminately on roads and among weeds and on the rocks and in good soil, apparently indifferent to where the seed is going. Yet, despite the sower’s careless sowing, Jesus makes no mention about the need for greater skill on the part of the sower. The sower is not rebuked. Why not? Because the sower is not called to evaluate the condition of the soil, but is called to sow the seed, and trust that the seed will yield a crop. The sower’s confidence is in the seed. Just so, we cannot see the condition of the human heart and so we cannot know what the Lord will do when we sow the seed of the gospel. We have been called to sow the seed indiscriminately and extravagantly and then trust the Lord to bring the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

FAITHFUL SOWERS AND WASTED SEED

The sower who does not sow is a contradiction in terms. How can it be that the one who is defined by his task does not do the work that defines him? A sower is obviously hired to sow seed. If he does not sow seed, shouldn’t his compensation be in jeopardy? Indeed, his very identity is in jeopardy! Now, the believer is called to be a sower of the seed of the gospel. If we do not sow the gospel seed, shouldn’t we be concerned about our identity? Therefore, since Jesus has called us to be sowers of the seed of the gospel, let us be sure that we are laboring at our defining task.

If some of his master’s seed is “wasted” by extravagant and indiscriminate sowing, the sower will still be praised as faithful to his duty, because the master has called the sower into the field to sow. Now, we know that the seed of the gospel is potent seed and that the master has an ample supply, but we also know that the sowers of the seed are few (Matthew 9:37). Finding faithful sowers of the seed is the limiting factor.

The only “wasted seed” is the seed that is never sown.

The unfaithful sower is the sower who has been given seed that he does not sow (Matthew 25:24-26).

Let us, therefore, be faithful sowers who extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 1/22/2021

Behold, he is hiding in Lo-debar (2 Samuel 9)

            The last day of the year is a good day to reflect on the glories of Christ and on His unlimited merit before God, and how He came from heaven to earth so that unworthy sinners who merited nothing but God’s wrath could be saved and seated at the Lord’s table through faith in Jesus. The story of David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 is always fascinating to me.

HIDING IN LO-DEBAR – A STORY

The day dawned just like every other day in Lo-debar had dawned, probably since time began. His name was Mephibosheth, which in Hebrew meant “dispeller of shame.” “What a twist of cruel irony!” he thought to himself, as he dragged his crippled feet off the cot and onto the floor. “The great ‘dispeller of shame,’ the man from Lo-debar!”

It would be difficult to find a less likely ‘dispeller of shame.’ Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul had failed as a man and failed as a king. He was defeated by the Philistines and then, in defeat, had committed suicide on the battlefield. Saul, his grandfather, was then beheaded by his enemies, and his body was nailed to the wall of Beth-Shan in an act of ultimate humiliation (1 Samuel 31). Jonathan, Mephibosheth’s father, was also killed by the Philistines and nailed to the city wall alongside Saul. All Mephibosheth’s worldly inheritance vanished that day, dying with his father and grandfather, and he was left humiliated and destitute. The only thing that he inherited from his father was defeat and shame.

As if adding insult to injury, when Mephibosheth’s nurse heard that Israel had been defeated and that Jonathan was dead, she had fled with Mephibosheth to find refuge. As they were fleeing, he fell and was crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 4:4). Thus, on one day when he was five years old, Mephibosheth had become an orphan and a cripple, and the course of his life was set.

Now, years later, Mephibosheth is far away from Jerusalem, safely forgotten and hiding out in a desolate village in Gilead, in the town of Lo-debar. The town’s name means “no pasture,” which accurately describes the dusty village and its forlorn surroundings. Each today in Lo-debar is like yesterday, and tomorrow will be more so. In Lo-debar there is no future and there is no hope, but the village’s desolate obscurity provides Mephibosheth with a strange sense of security. No one asks about his past, so he does not need to deal with the shame of his family’s failures. The fact that he is crippled is actually an asset, because while he cannot work and cannot be a soldier, he can receive alms from people out of their pity for his misery. Most of all, he will never be found by the great warrior, King David. The misery of the monotonous life of Lo-debar is a small price to pay to remain hidden from the eyes of the great king in Jerusalem. Mephibosheth could not bear the thought of having to face the great king.

Then suddenly Mephibosheth’s safety is shattered. Messengers have come all the way from Jerusalem to Lo-debar and they have come looking for him. Ziba, the faithful family servant, has betrayed his location and has told David exactly where he has been hiding (2 Samuel 9:3-4). The messengers take Mephibosheth and bring him all the way to Jerusalem, into the very presence of the man he fears most, King David. Of course, David will kill him. He is the only remaining heir from the line of Saul, and conquering kings do not long tolerate rivals, even rivals as pathetic as Mephibosheth. So, no doubt David has brought him to Jerusalem to slaughter him personally. As he is brought into the king’s presence, Mephibosheth falls on his face and prostrates himself before King David. Perhaps the king will feel some sense of pity and will show him a moment’s compassion before he dispatches the miserable Mephibosheth.

EXALTED ON THE BASIS OF ANOTHER MAN’S MERIT

            But Mephibosheth does not receive the king’s wrath and he does not experience the king’s vengeance. King David does not speak of the fact that Mephibosheth is crippled in both feet nor does he remind Mephibosheth of his shameful past, that he is the lone survivor of a failed monarchy. Instead of trying to find Mephibosheth so that he can kill him, David has made a diligent search for Mephibosheth and has called him by name (2 Samuel 9:6) so that he can bless him and show him the kindness of God (2 Samuel 9:3).

            And why does Mephibosheth receive all these blessings? Is it because he is really a pretty spectacular guy and deserves to be showered with blessings? Were all his thoughts of humiliation and shame just the results of poor self-esteem, and has David seen that Mephibosheth is really a “diamond in the rough?” Despite being physically crippled and emotionally damaged and financially destitute, isn’t Mephibosheth basically good?

            No. Mephibosheth’s assessment of himself was accurate. There is nothing in Mephibosheth himself that merits anything from David except contempt. If Mephibosheth got what he deserved, then he would be destroyed at once.

            Mephibosheth receives grace and blessing from King David, the Lord’s anointed king, because of the merits of another. You see, Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s son, and David loved Jonathan as his own soul (2 Samuel 1:26). David goes in search of Mephibosheth because Mephibosheth was related to Jonathan. Because of Jonathan, David summons the “dead dog (2 Samuel 9:8)” from Lo-debar in the wastelands of Gilead to his own house to eat at his own table as one of his own sons. Because of Jonathan, all that belonged to Saul and to Saul’s house is restored to Mephibosheth. Because of Jonathan, all of Mephibosheth’s weaknesses and shame and faults are concealed under Jonathan’s merits and worth. Mephibosheth is treated as if he himself possessed all the merits of Jonathan, because he is associated with Jonathan. David pours out his favor on Mephibosheth not because of anything in Mephibosheth, but because David loved Jonathan. Mephibosheth can offer nothing to King David. He has no merits. He can only bring his lame feet and his shameful past, and he can plead for mercy based on his father, Jonathan. And that plea for mercy based on the merits of another will place him at the king’s table to eat regularly as one of the king’s sons.

A MODERN-DAY MEPHIBOSHETH

Like Mephibosheth, I, too, once dwelt in Lo-debar, far from the King, hiding in my shame and fear. I was ashamed of my sin and my weakness and failures, and I was fearful of God’s judgment and His punishment. Oh no, of course I did not know these things at the time. I only knew the misery of my wretchedness, being convinced of having ghastly, oozing flaws which, though invisible to me, were immediately and glaringly obvious to others, and these flaws caused others to be repulsed by me.

But then the King sought me out. The One who owned everything and who knew everything, including all my sin and shame, the King who ruled the universe from His eternal, heavenly throne began His search for me. “Is there someone for whom My Son has died whom I can now bring into My house to dwell with Me forever?”

Then the King sent messengers to me in “Lo-debar” to tell me about the Lord Jesus, the one who was worthy of all glory and honor, the one who had merited God’s perfect favor based on His perfect life. I saw the beauty and the power and the glory of Jesus, but I could not understand how that had anything to do with me. “Surely, O King, You do not mean for me to dwell with You! I am flawed and full of shame. I could never merit Your love.” But the King said, “I do not need for you to merit my blessing, for Jesus, My Son, is the favored one. He has merited My favor, and if you will love Jesus, then His merits will be credited to you. You see, you could never get to heaven on your own merits, so I have sent My Son to earth to give you His righteousness. He is the great ‘dispeller of shame.’ Believe in Him, and His merits become your merits and His righteousness becomes yours. Because of Jesus, you can be fully accepted. By believing in Jesus, you can put on His perfect robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Because of Jesus, you can eat at My table as one of My adopted sons. Because of Jesus, you can dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Because of Jesus, even though you are lame in both feet (2 Samuel 9:13), you will live with me as My child.”

And so, this “dead dog” was raised up with Jesus and seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7).

AS WE END 2020

            As we end 2020 and head into a new year, I would encourage us to think more deeply about all that God has accomplished for us through the Lord Jesus. He has done the impossible. He has brought those who deserve His wrath into His presence as adopted sons and daughters based on faith in the Lord Jesus.

“that He may be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).”                        SDG                 rmb                 12/31/2020

Call upon Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6)

“We are still young, and we have lots of things that we want to do. There are girls and beer and experiences. When we are older, then maybe we will think about this religious stuff.” Thus Kostya, a Russian student, explained to me his thoughts about the gospel. In so many words, he said to me what many people believe: “The offer of the gospel can be received anytime, and when I am good and ready, I will accept God’s offer.”

Indeed, the Lord’s offer of salvation through the gospel seems to be always available to the sinner, at least that is what we are led to believe. It appears that the sinner, once informed of the gospel of salvation, is free to accept God’s offer whenever they choose to accept it, either today or tomorrow or on my deathbed.

This appearance, however, is a lie from the pit of hell. It is the devil’s lie that the creature is free to ignore the Creator’s offer of salvation until the creature decides to act. Satan propagates this idea because he knows that when a person postpones their gospel response, they effectively smother their gospel response.

But consider this from the standpoint of human experience. Is there ever a situation where a serious offer can be accepted at any time? No. No serious offer is made without an expiration date. In practice, an offer is made, and if there is no acceptance of that offer, the offer is withdrawn.

Now, if it is true in our experience that offers between people for mere earthly things are either accepted or they are withdrawn, how much more true is it that the Lord’s offer to sinful man for forgiveness and for eternal salvation must be accepted or it will be withdrawn. There is an urgency that accompanies the hearing of the gospel, and if the sinner does not respond, the Lord may withdraw the offer.

How, then, are we to respond? In Isaiah 55:6, the Scripture says,

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.

            We are to seek the LORD, but it is clear from this verse that He is not always available. There is a time element to our seeking the LORD. We are to seek the LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND. And since we do not know when the LORD may be found, we are to seek Him with all our heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13) THE INSTANT WE HAVE A DESIRE FOR HIM. When the gospel has kindled our desire for the LORD and has given us a hunger for cleansing and for righteousness, THEN we are to seek the Lord.

            And we must call upon Him, but again we see that He is not always near. How do I know when HE IS NEAR? If the gospel has been proclaimed and you have been convicted of your sin and have felt a longing for forgiveness, you can know that THE LORD IS NEAR. It is THEN that we are CALL UPON THE LORD. “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).”

            In Acts 17, the philosophers in Athens heard Paul declare to them the truths of the gospel and the glories of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul urged them to seek God (17:27) and to repent (17:30), but they sneered at him and said, “We shall hear you again concerning this (17:32).” But they never heard Paul speak again. Instead, “Paul went out of their midst (17:33)” and left Athens. They had heard the gospel, but they did not seek the Lord, nor did they call on His name, and the offer of salvation was withdrawn, and they perished.

            By contrast, in Matthew 13 we read two parables about seeking in 13:44 and 13:45-46. In the first parable, a man finds a treasure hidden in a field. He realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and that he must act now and seize the moment. And so, “he sells all that he has and buys that field.” That is the attitude of the person who hears the gospel. “This is the moment of my life. I will seek the Lord and call upon Him until I receive His offer.”

            The second parable is similar to the first. In this parable, a pearl merchant finds a fabulous pearl of immense value. He realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime and that he must act now and seize the moment. And so, “he sold all that he has and bought it.” That is the attitude of the person who hears the gospel. “This is the moment of my life. I will seek the Lord and call upon Him until I receive His offer.”

            When God, in His infinite grace, chooses to bring the gospel near and to stir our heart with a desire to know Him and to be freed from our sin, then at that moment we must respond, for we do not know if God will ever do this again.

SDG                 rmb                 11/24/2020