Persevere in the New Year

For many people, including yours truly, 2021 has been a year of ongoing disappointments as earthly sources of pleasure and comfort and contentment have been systematically compromised or eliminated. As a follower of Jesus and, therefore, as a person with a God-centered worldview, I believe that the Lord is taking away the temporal comforts of this world and is withdrawing His common grace from the earth so that His people will long for their heavenly, eternal dwellings which will come when the Lord Jesus Christ returns on the clouds in power and glory. Yes, God is allowing the world to experience the ugliness of its sin so that God’s people will more eagerly await the coming of our King. And I think that this pattern will continue and actually intensify in 2022.

In light of this, how is a Christian to respond? How will we as Christians respond to the deteriorating moral climate and to the ongoing flood of disappointments?

I suggest that we respond with perseverance. In fact, I suggest that the key word for 2022 will be “PERSEVERE.” I am establishing the mindset that I will persevere in this new year. That is, that I will continue steadfastly along the path that God has given me to walk.

Can we be more specific in carrying out this goal of perseverance? That is, can we put a little more “shoe leather” on this objective? Here is my proposal:

Persevere in faithfulness, in hope, in fruitful labor, and in joy no matter the earthly, visible circumstances.

FAITHFULNESS: Continue to fulfill your roles and your responsibilities and your commitments. If you are an employee, continue to do your work heartily as to the Lord and not to men (Colossians 3:23). Be a light in your workplace (Matt. 5:16). Are you married? Then, love your wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) or submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24) and let your marriage be a picture of Jesus Christ and His church to the watching world (Ephesians 5:31-32). Are you single? Use your freedom as an unmarried person to serve Christ with undistracted devotion (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). In all things, act with integrity, honesty, and purity. Each day is another day to live for Christ and to shine your light for Christ, so be faithful with your days. Be a good steward of your money and especially of your time by spending both wisely. When spending your money, be sure that you could tell Jesus about that expenditure with a clear conscience. Time cannot be saved but only spent, so be careful how you spend your time. Walk intentionally through your days, fixing your eyes on the end goal of glorifying Jesus. In other words, persevere in faithfulness!

HOPE: There is a reward promised to the follower of Jesus. God has made promises to His children that He will certainly fulfill. It is these promises that have been cast together as our hope, “an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19). Our hope is that no matter the trials of this earthly life, God will certainly be faithful to His promises. God’s children await the certain fulfillment of God’s promises. So, when there is grief or sorrow or sadness, we remember that we have been promised a resurrection when we will receive a glorified body, and we persevere with hope. When confronted with disappointment or pain, we remember that these are temporary, but our home in heaven will last forever, so we persevere in hope. As we walk through “the sufferings of this present time,” our mind is fixed on the hope of the “glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Persevering in hope means casting our minds out into the future when we will forever be with Christ in glory so that our anticipation of God’s promises overwhelms our concerns about today’s trials. So, in 2022, we will persevere in hope.

FRUITFUL LABOR: This term is taken from Philippians 1:22 when, after saying, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21), Paul declares that, even though he would prefer to depart and be with Christ (in other words, he would prefer to die), he remain because he has “fruitful labor” to do. It is evident that Paul is referring to kingdom work, to direct gospel ministry. Paul chose to persevere in fruitful ministry with its trials and pains rather than departing for his deserved heavenly reward. And so should we. So, during 2022, I urge you to find your place of “fruitful labor,” to discover your role in gospel ministry, and to persevere and “to spend and be expended” (2 Cor. 12:15) in that role for the glory of Christ.

JOY: This is that characteristic that most dramatically distinguishes the believer from the rest of the world. The follower of Jesus is not just happy when all his circumstances are favorable, and all his paths are clear. Rather, the believer has a persistent internal joy that beams out regardless of circumstances. Let 2022 be the year that we amp up our joy and persevere in obvious Christ-filled and Christ-honoring joy in all twelve months. Think of all that the Lord has done for us and all that awaits us in heaven when we are with the Lord forever, and let the joy pour out of you until the corners of your face start to break. “The joy of the LORD is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

SUMMARY:

I anticipate that the future is going to be difficult for followers of Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Judging by the signs we see in our world, there is reason to believe that our days are those days. But the follower of Jesus has no reason to be discouraged. The mission given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself goes on (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), and we continue to proclaim the gospel. We accept whatever persecution may come, considering it an honor to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41) and knowing that those who are persecuted are blessed (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Peter 4:14). In a word, we PERSEVERE until our Lord calls us home or until He catches us up with Himself in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). The word for 2022 is persevere.

SDG                 rmb                 1/1/2022                     #478

Thoughts on baptism from Matthew 28:19-20 – Part 1

“Buried unto death in Christ, rise again to walk in newness of life.” – my pastor when I was baptized thirty-one years ago at the age of thirty-one.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus Christ giving the Great Commission to His church in Matthew 28:19-20.

Yesterday morning, our church celebrated the baptism of three new disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. One was a lady in her early thirties who had lived an immoral life before Christ. In her testimony, she herself compared herself to the “woman at the well” in John 4. But then she met Jesus, and had professed faith in Him, and had now found a good church where she could grow in her relationship with Jesus and could be taught what it means to be an obedient disciple of Jesus. As a testimony to her faith in Christ, she was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where she will be nurtured and grow.

The next person baptized was ethnically Vietnamese. He was a young man 17 years old who had been raised in a Bible-believing home where Christ was honored as Lord. His parents were strong believers and had taught their son that he must personally place his faith in Jesus. And so, there came a day when this young man repented of his sins and placed his faith in Jesus. Now, as a testimony of his faith in Jesus, he was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where he will be nurtured and grow.

The third person baptized was a Chinese man in his thirties. He had been born in northern China and, five years ago, had come to the United States to earn his PhD. When he came to this country, he was under tremendous stress. He and his wife had a newborn and there were issues with his visa and his job was stressful. As a result, he had almost experienced an emotional breakdown. At that time, he had met some Christians from our church and had begun to hear about Jesus. He committed to read the Bible from cover to cover to find out about Christianity. Then there came the day when he told his friend, “I believe in Jesus.” And so, in obedience to the command of Jesus, he was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where he will be nurtured and grow.

These three stories are very different and are about three very different people. Externally they are about as different as people can be. Their journeys varied widely, as the Lord drew them to Himself (John 6:44). But the destination was the same. They were journeying toward Jesus and toward the salvation that Jesus offers to anyone who will repent of their sin and believe in Him.

THE BEAUTY OF THE GREAT COMMISSION

This is the beauty that is contained in the Great Commission which Jesus has given to His church. A person is far from God, living their life separated from Him by their sins (Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 4:17-19). They may be living in open rebellion against God, or they may be outwardly “good” people who simply do not believe in Jesus, or they may be people who have never heard of Jesus and so remain ignorant of their sin and ignorant of His salvation. But regardless of why they are lost, and regardless of where they are in their wanderings, the path to salvation is clear and is the same.

First, a follower of Jesus proclaims to the sinner the gospel of salvation and tells the sinner of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, at some point, the sinner’s ears are opened so that he hears the gospel and trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation. Now the sinner has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and has been born again (John 3:3, 5), and has been saved (Acts 16:31). Thus, the sinner has become a disciple of the Lord Jesus.

Now that this person is a disciple of Jesus, what happens next? He is to be publicly baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit as a testimony of his new faith in Jesus. This is explicitly stated in Matthew 28:19, and there is absolutely no ambiguity. And the disciple is to join themselves with a local church where she can be taught “all things that the Lord commanded us.” The proper place for every disciple of the Lord Jesus is the local church. The church is where the new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) grows into a mature and obedient and reproducing believer.

The beauty of this transformed life was pictured for us Sunday in our church when these three disciples testified to their faith in Jesus and told of their journey to Him. From different directions they had entered through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14) of faith in the Lord Jesus, and they had been publicly baptized into Christ, and now they were in the place of nurturing and teaching where they would grow into “oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3). This is such a beautiful picture of what Jesus came to do, “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) by bringing them to faith and then placing them in healthy local churches.

TWO DIFFERENT VIEWS AND PRACTICES

Having talked about the biblical picture of what happens when a person comes to faith in Christ, I wanted to talk about two different views and practices that occur in many churches which do not correspond to the teaching of the Great Commission, and which thus result in great confusion in even identifying disciples and determining if they are obeying what Jesus commanded. The first practice that I will discuss is Paedobaptism, which is the practice of many Protestant churches of sprinkling infants with a little bit of water and calling that baptism. The second practice that we will explore is what I will call “revivalism.” Revivalism is a particular practice of evangelism which assumes that, when an “evangelist” proclaims a standard message, there will be instantaneous conversions, which will be punctuated by “praying the sinner’s prayer” and thus guaranteeing the sinner an eternity in heaven.

I will expand on these ideas in two future articles.

SDG                 rmb                 12/20/2021                 #471

The local church as the disciple’s most accessible marketplace

INTRODUCTION: For the disciple of Jesus Christ, their local church is their most accessible marketplace for growing in spiritual maturity. This article will explore factors in the local church that affect discipleship and that largely determine how quickly and how much the disciple can grow in Christlikeness.

NEW IN CHRIST

Through the miracle of the new birth, a sinner comes to faith in Christ, passes from death to life (John 5:24), becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and begins his walk with the Lord. Now this sinner has become a saint. He is pointed toward Christ, and he hungers and thirsts for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). And so, his journey in discipleship has begun. Even before he recognizes it, the Lord is purifying him with hyssop (Psalm 51:7) and is beginning to flush out the old man with his evil practices (Colossians 3:9) and is beginning to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). And the result of a healthy new birth is that the disciple has a zeal to grow in practical holiness. Having been declared righteous through his faith in Jesus, the disciple now seeks to make his practical righteousness look more and more like his declared righteousness. But where is the best place for the disciple to grow?

THE LOCAL CHURCH

The answer to that question is, “In a good local church.” For the disciple of Jesus Christ, the best place to grow in practical righteousness and in Christlikeness is in a good local church. No matter where the person is in their spiritual journey, whether still a spiritual toddler or a spiritual grandfather and role model to others, the local church is God’s appointed vehicle for growing the disciple to greater maturity as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having established the fact that the local church is the place where disciples grow, it must also be acknowledged that, among local churches, there is a wide range of effectiveness in making mature disciples. Why is that? Why are some churches known for the maturity and fruitfulness of their disciples while most churches seem to have no fruit at all? I believe there are several factors that determine how effective a church is in making disciples.

THE FACTORS FOR EFFECTIVENESS

ARE THERE MATURE DISCIPLES THERE? The first factor I will mention is the actual maturity of the local church. Are there mature disciples in the church from whom younger disciples can learn? In a given church, there may be those who are physically mature, and there may be some who have been professing Christians for a long time, but that is not the question. It is very possible to be a member of a local church for a long time and to have not grown much. Does the church have a robust theology that they live by? Are there members of the church who are steeped in the Bible? Does the church pray a lot? Are there members of the church who have been with Christ in their times of testing? Have they seen God’s faithfulness in suffering or in loss or in waiting? Are there any people in the church who could be role models, about whom you would say, “I want to be like him”?

What is the “maturity density” in the church? This is a question about the average maturity that would determine growth by means of “random discipleship,” what we might call “drive-by discipleship.” In churches that have a high “maturity density,” there are ongoing opportunities for discipleship in ordinary encounters on Sunday mornings or in community groups or in breakfasts or lunches. In these sorts of churches, “Iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) on a regular basis in ordinary conversations, but in churches that lack spiritually mature disciples, ordinary conversations remain ordinary. So, the first factor is the actual spiritual maturity of the local church.

CHURCH’S ATTITUDE TOWARD DISCIPLING: The next factor that influences the progress of the disciple is the overall attitude of the church toward discipling. Is the church motivated by 2 Timothy 2:2ff, that there are to be generations of disciples “teaching others also”? Does the church practice and even prioritize discipleship, as opposed to people who merely profess to be Christians but never really grow or show any meaningful fruit? Would the church be described as a country club or as a gymnasium? Is the church a place where many different spiritual growth opportunities are constantly being presented, or are real spiritual growth opportunities hard to come by? Is discipleship and spiritual growth championed by the lead pastor from the front? Is the lead pastor constantly talking about the expectation that church members will grow spiritually? Does the church expect members to be helping others grow in maturity or to be actively seeking their own spiritual growth, or is there no real expectation that anyone would be actively seeking spiritual growth?

A church that is serious about discipleship will manifest that attitude in many growth opportunities, such as theologically rich sermons, one-on-one discipleship, training classes like Oakhurst’s Equipping classes, Bible studies, small groups like OBC Community Groups which focus on Word and prayer in a fellowship context, and Spirit-filled worship. In a discipling church, there will be opportunities for sacrifice, suffering, theology, missions, evangelism, encouragement, prayer, and so on.

If you want to grow as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, look for a church the gives evidence of these kind of qualities. Look for a church that is serious about discipling its people.

ZEAL OF THE DISCIPLE. The third factor that will determine the rate of spiritual growth and the upper limit of spiritual growth is the zeal of the disciple himself. In the final analysis, your discipleship is 100% your responsibility. Although a mentor or a pastor may be personally invested in your spiritual growth, at the end of the day, growth is the disciple’s project. The disciple is the one who must be motivated to grow and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Are you hungry to grow in your faith? In the richest discipleship environment on earth, a disciple can languish and backslide and stagnate in their spiritual life is they will not put out the needed effort. Do you actively seek growth opportunities? Do you prioritize your spiritual growth? There are many things, even many good things, that can distract a disciple from the path of spiritual growth and of increasing usefulness to the Master. If you are not willing to act on discipleship opportunities, and if you are reluctant to take risks and to try new things and to exercise your faith, then you should not expect to ever make much progress in practical holiness or Kingdom usefulness.

SDG                 rmb                 12/07/2021                 #466

The Muslim view of the crucifixion of Jesus

INTRODUCTION: Several groups have invented their own versions of the crucifixion of Jesus and how it “really” happened. In this post I want to explore the Muslim view that Jesus did not die on the crucifixion, but Judas was crucified in His place. Is that possible?

NOTE: My purpose in these blogs is to seriously consider alternative views. As such, I am not intentionally portraying any of these views falsely or as caricatures. I apologize in advance if what I present here is not consistent with the real alternative idea. Let me know if I have inaccurately presented a view and I will endeavor to correct it. rmb

THE MUSLIM VIEW

The Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified at all. Rather, they believe that the person who appeared as Jesus was actually Judas. Yes, that’s right, the Muslim account of the crucifixion says that Judas was crucified at Calvary, not Jesus. Is this possible? Could Judas have been the one crucified instead of Jesus?

THE INSURMOUNTABLE DIFFICULTY: The first and greatest difficulty with the Muslim view is that it contradicts every foundational teaching in the New Testament about Jesus. Every book of the New Testament insists on or necessarily assumes not only that Jesus was crucified, but also that He rose from the dead in glorious resurrection, ascended into heaven where He is ruling and reigning now, and is going to return at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead. The suggestion that Jesus was not crucified on the cross of Calvary renders the entire Bible as the most intricately and miraculously fabricated lie imaginable. No. The indisputable historical fact is that the Man that we know as Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem as a criminal by the Roman authorities around AD 30. Considering other problems with the Muslim view will only be done after unapologetically stating that the basic Muslim premise that Jesus was not crucified is in error.

CLAIM: “It was Judas, not Jesus, who was crucified.”

PROBLEMS WITH THIS CLAIM (not in any order):

  • Judas was the person who led the soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane when they arrested Jesus (Matthew 26:47-50). Judas specifically identifies Jesus to the soldiers by betraying Him with a kiss (26:48-50). Why would the soldiers crucify Judas instead of Jesus when they knew Judas and Jesus had been clearly identified?
  • Judas was known to the chief priests in Jerusalem (see Matthew 26:14). The chief priests hired Judas to betray Jesus to them. Why would the chief priests crucify Judas instead of Jesus? Jesus was the Man they wanted dead, not Judas.
  • The gospel of Matthew describes exactly how Judas died (Matthew 27:3-5), so there is no doubt that Judas was not the one who was crucified. (NOTE: Again, it is clear from this text that the chief priests and the elders knew Judas well and would never have crucified him instead of Jesus.)
  • Jesus made three clear predictions of His upcoming crucifixion during His earthly ministry well before there was any possibility of crucifixion (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19), and these predictions were fulfilled by His crucifixion. Jesus declared that He would give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He predicted that He would lay His life down for His sheep (John 10:11-18). All these predictions required His crucifixion.
  • Jesus was crucified in public and in broad daylight. All the crucifixion accounts attest to this. There was no possibility of mistaken identity. It was certainly Jesus who was on the cross.
  • His executioners were trained Roman soldiers whose job it was to crucify Jesus. They could not have been mistaken about whom they nailed to the cross.
  • Also, His executioners had already scourged Him and mocked Him (Matthew 27:26-31), so they knew for certain that this Man was Jesus, not Judas. (Also, by this time, Judas has already hung himself (Matthew 27:3-5).)
  • Jesus spoke throughout His trial and continued speaking while He was on the cross, even up to His last breath. The human voice is unique and instantly recognizable, and virtually everyone in the crowd around the cross had heard Jesus’ voice when He had been teaching in the temple in the days prior to His crucifixion. It was certainly Jesus whom they heard speaking from the cross, not Judas. The people heard Jesus’ voice when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
  • More regarding His face and His voice: Jesus’ ministry lasted for about three years, so tens of thousands of people knew His face and His voice. Both the face of a person and the sound of their voice is unique to them. Both are instantly distinguishable and cannot be duplicated. The thousands of people who had heard Jesus and had seen Jesus knew that it was Jesus, not Judas on that cross.
  • His disciples who had been with Him day and night for three years saw Him die and testified that it was Jesus whom they saw die.
  • From the time that Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane until He was finally sealed into the tomb after He died, Jesus was always in the presence of other people, and usually was surrounded by people who were hostile to Him and were eager to see Him crucified. The Muslims suggest that at some point Jesus and Judas swapped places, but there was never an opportunity for that to happen. (And we must remember that Judas hung himself shortly after he betrayed Jesus (Matthew 27:3-5).)
  • Why would Judas willingly switch places with a Man who was destined to be crucified, a Man whom he himself had that very night betrayed to the Roman guards? In other words, why would Judas betray Jesus to His enemies and then take Jesus’ place on the cross? I cannot conceive of any answer to those questions.
  • God’s plan of salvation as revealed in the gospel requires that the Messiah offer His life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of His people. Jesus’ death was required.
  • The chief priests and the elders were with Jesus throughout His passion, and they made sure that it was Jesus who was on trial and that it was Jesus who was crucified. The chief priests did not create their plot to kill Jesus and then somehow have the wrong guy crucified. No, the chief priests were sure that Jesus was crucified.

That’s enough for starters. If there are some Muslim scholars out there who can explain or give answers to these questions and issues, I welcome your comments. More tomorrow.

SDG                 rmb                 12/3/2021                   #464

For the Son of Man is coming (Matthew 16:27)

This is the final post in the short series, “A life spent for the King,” based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:24-27. The one who desires to come after Jesus must willingly take up his cross and follow Jesus (16:24; October 26). The one who would find meaning and peace and joy in life must lose his life for Jesus’ sake (16:25; October 31). Every person faces the choice of deciding they will live for this life, or they will live for eternity. What will you give in exchange for your soul? (16:26; November 5)

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels and will then repay every man according to his deeds.” – Matthew 16:27

This verse is the fitting culmination of Jesus’ teaching, for He now reveals the reason for His implicit warnings and exhortations. Jesus offers salvation now because there is coming a day of recompense and judgment when there will be no place to hide. Soon Jesus will be crucified (Matt. 16:21) as an atoning sacrifice for sinners and His death will finish and accomplish His work of redemption (John 19:30; 17:4). Then He will be raised up on the third day and will ascend to heaven to await His triumphal return.

So, if you desire to be protected from “that day,” then deny yourself now, and take up your cross and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24). Learn today what it means to carry your cross so that you will not be forever judged on that day when the Son of Man comes.

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father.”

Make no mistake about it. The Son of Man is certainly coming on the Last Day in power and “in the glory of His Father” to judge all the unrighteous (Psalm 96:13). It is futile for you to try to save your own life (Matt. 16:25) because you do not have the power. If you try to save your life, you will certainly be consumed in the judgment. But if you surrender your life to Christ, then He will save you and you will find life indeed.

“For the Son of Man is going to come and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”

Yes, He is surely coming to judge the earth. He will tread out the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Rev. 19:15). Jesus will judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). And how can you be spared this terrifying judgment? For, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). The prophet Micah considered offering rams and rivers of oil, even his firstborn. “Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul” (Micah 6:7)? Elsewhere, the writer of Psalm 49 acknowledges that he knows of no suitable ransom for redemption. “No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him. For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever.” Where then is the answer? What is a man to do on the day of judgment?

The apostle Peter proclaims that there is salvation in Jesus, and in Jesus alone.

“Jesus Christ the Nazarene He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:11-12

Peter declares the good news that on the Last Day, at the coming of the Son of Man, there are those who will be rescued. But that salvation must be put into effect now in this life. Therefore, Paul says, “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor. 6:1-2). The apostle is urging one and all to come to faith in Christ now.

Thus, Jesus tells us what it is to spend our life for the King. We will take up the cross that Christ gives us, and we will follow Him where He leads. We will give our life away for His sake. We will forfeit the treasures and pleasures of this world for the joys and riches of the Kingdom of heaven. And we will do this knowing that, when the Son of Man comes in the glory of His Father with all His angels, He will repay us with all the riches of heaven.

SDG                 rmb                 11/12/2021                 #454

Work out your salvation – Part 1 (Philippians 2:12)

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12

SERIES INTRODUCTION: In preparation for a future book project, I have been spending time recently considering the twin ideas of “disciple” and “discipleship.” Over the next few weeks (or months?) I will be posting a series of articles on discipleship – what it is and how we bring the making of disciples into the life of the local church.

WHAT IS A DISCIPLE? WHAT IS DISCIPLESHIP?

What is a “Disciple?” What is “discipleship?” These are surely two of the foundational questions that must be answered before we can have an extensive discussion on discipleship, but these two questions are difficult to answer. Along these lines, some would suggest that discipleship is “an intentional, deliberate effort to do spiritual good in another believer’s life.” While this definition is accurate as far as it goes, in my opinion it is not sufficiently narrow. It does not adequately separate helpful activities of disciples of Jesus from those encounters designed to grow someone in Christlikeness.

What I mean is, with this definition, how do we distinguish ordinary encouragement, fellowship, praying with another believer, Bible studies, and the discussion of sermons or Christian books, from discipleship? Or are all these also discipleship? Are most of us actually deeply involved in discipling others without knowing it? And are the ones we are discipling likewise unaware that they are being discipled? I don’t think so. In my view, if some activity is intentional and deliberate, the participants must be aware of what they are doing. If discipleship is, indeed, a distinct Christian activity, then we need to be able to determine if we are or are not doing that activity.

A TIGHTER DEFINITION OF DISCIPLESHIP

While it is true that there should be spiritual encouragement and even edification and growth from unstructured Christian fellowship, I would suggest that the term “discipleship” necessitates intentionality and structure and energy (or “intensity”). Ordinary Christian fellowship and Christian living are not meant to hold the attention and concentration of believers long enough or intensely enough to affect significant change in believers.

NUCLEAR BOMB ANALOGY

I am not an expert in nuclear devices, but I have been told that, in a nuclear bomb, one slug of enriched uranium must be in very close proximity with another slug of enriched uranium for a definite period of time before the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion can take place. If the uranium slugs are not enriched enough, or if one sufficiently enriched uranium slug is not in close enough proximity with another sufficiently enriched uranium slug, or if the sufficiently enriched uranium slugs are not in close enough proximity for a long enough time, then the conditions are insufficient for a nuclear reaction. In other words, there is a potency requirement, and there is a proximity requirement, and there is a duration requirement, and if any one of these is missing, there is no nuclear explosion.

ENERGY, INTENTIONALITY, AND DURATION

Corresponding to this example, I would suggest that, for meaningful spiritual growth and transformation to take place in the life of a believer, there is an energy requirement, an intentionality requirement, and a duration requirement.

The energy requirement says that, for the disciple to be transformed, the disciple must enthusiastically desire to change and be motivated to change. The disciple must bring his own energy, he must bring his own “heat” to the encounter. Sustained zeal is a needed component of spiritual transformation.

The intentionality requirement means that there is a purpose for the encounter (the encounter is not random or haphazard) that creates movement toward a definite goal. Thus, there is an element of design in each encounter whose goal is to move the disciple toward greater Christlikeness in knowledge, in obedience, in holiness, or in usefulness.

The duration requirement acknowledges that transformation into greater Christlikeness requires spending significant time in that activity. Time must be expended, both in individual encounters (think sixty to ninety minutes rather than fifteen minutes) and in all the collective encounters over a lifetime. In discipleship, we adopt “the long view.” Having committed to the path, we likewise commit to spending the necessary time to follow the path to the end. This means that, while no single encounter is transformational by itself, each individual encounter is a necessary link in the transformational chain that is “producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Hopefully that gets us started into this exploration of discipleship. Next time, we will dig a little deeper and find out what activities make up discipleship encounters.

SDG                 rmb                 11/12/2021                 #453

An exchange for your soul (Matthew 16:26)

This is another post from the series “A life spent for the King,” based on Matthew 16:24-27. We have already looked at Matthew 16:24 (October 26), where we saw that the disciple who would follow Jesus must submit to Jesus, must willingly take up the cross that Jesus gives him, and must obediently follow Him wherever He leads. In Matthew 16:25 (October 31), we discovered that finding meaning and joy and peace in life depends upon surrendering our lives into Jesus’ hands. Thus, paradoxically, we find our life by losing it for Jesus’ sake.

Today we will examine the next verse in the passage, Matthew 16:26.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Whatever you are pursuing in life should be evaluated in light of these two profound questions.

Consider Jesus’ first question:

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

A CHOICE TO MAKE

Jesus’ question makes clear that everyone has a choice to make. Will you live your life to gain much in this world, or will you live your life to gain the kingdom of heaven? Will you gain the world and forfeit your soul, or will you forfeit the world and gain your soul? There are two, and only two, options. You either gain the world and forfeit your soul, or you forsake the world and follow Jesus Christ. One or the other, and the choice is yours. And you must choose.

Now, some will say, “I don’t know what you are talking about. You say that I must make this choice between ‘the world’ and my soul, but I have never done that.” Oh, but you have made the choice, and you have chosen the world. The default position is to seek to gain much in this world and to be indifferent to the state of your soul. We are all born into this world as natural people with a love for the world and, unless there is a life-altering encounter with Jesus, we continue that way until death. So, for the one who is not aware of making a choice, you are gaining the world and forfeiting your soul. And this is most people. A look at their lives reveals that they are consumed with the pleasures and concerns and activities of this life and are indifferent to their eternal destiny and to the state of their own soul.

But Jesus is not speaking primarily to those who are gaining the world and who are indifferent to Him. We remember that Jesus’ first question here is directed at those who wish to come after Him (16:24) and so, Jesus is telling them what it will cost to follow Him.

16:24 – Deny yourself. Take up your cross (Will you suffer for Me?). Follow Me (wherever I lead).

16:25 – Surrender your life (soul) into My hands. Lose your life (soul) for My sake.

Now (16:26) He says that all your priorities must change. Your desires for material gain in this life must be forfeited. “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7). Your natural desire to preserve your own physical life must be exchanged for a love for Christ. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). The desire to have material wealth and to accomplish impressive things and to indulge in the world’s pleasures (1 John 2:15-16) will endanger your soul (life). Jesus must reign as unrivaled King of your life so that you willingly forsake this present world. The one who would come after Jesus must “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and trust that “all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

So, Jesus’ first question asks, “Does the evidence of your life affirm that you are ‘fixing your eyes on Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:2), that you are living in this world, but you are not of this world, ‘having confessed that you are strangers and exiles on the earth’ (Hebrews 11:13)?” This is Jesus’ first question.

Now consider Jesus’ second question:

“Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

A POOR EXCHANGE

The Lord’s second question reveals the spiritual and eternal nature of the choice every person makes with the way we choose to live our lives, and also implies the disastrous consequences of a life without Christ.

As we have already said, the way you choose to live your life is eternally significant. For what are you exchanging your soul? To live your life without Christ as you pursue your own kingdom is to gain nothing and to forfeit your soul. You have exchanged that which is most precious for rubbish that will burn up at the Judgment.

THE JUDGMENT

And it is toward the final judgment on the Last Day that Jesus is pointing. Jesus will speak about the Judgment in our next verse in this series, Matthew 16:27. For we must be certain of this: a day is coming when all will stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). Jesus warns about this terrible judgment throughout His earthly ministry, telling us in advance that everyone must be ready because everyone will certainly be judged. Are you living your life in light of “that day,” or are you living your life at the expense of your soul?

SDG                 rmb                 11/5/2021                   #451

The two witnesses and Christ’s ministry – Part 2

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

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE FAITHFUL CHURCH AND THE MINISTRY OF JESUS

In Revelation 11:3-6

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

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

In Revelation 11:7

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

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

In Revelation 11:9

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

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

In Revelation 11:10

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

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

In Revelation 11:11

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

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

In Revelation 11:12

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

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

SUMMARY

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

SDG                 rmb                 11/02/2021                 #450


The two witnesses in Revelation 11:3-12 – an interpretation

This post offers a possible interpretation of Revelation 11:3-12 and a way of seeing the significance of this passage in discussions about the events of the end of the age.

The first time you read through the eleventh chapter of Revelation and read the account of the two witnesses (11:3-12), there will be confusion and mystery. Pretty much guaranteed. What do these two witnesses symbolize and what is the significance of the events that occur in this passage? Where does this take place? When does this take place? How are we to interpret this section of Scripture? I have explored these questions over the course of the last year as I have carefully studied the end-times passages in the Bible, and an understanding of this passage has slowly emerged.

The exegesis that follows will show the meaning of the events at the end of the age. In another post, I will also demonstrate that the persecution of the two witnesses at the end of the age closely parallels the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry.

EXEGESIS SHOWING THE MEANING OF PASSAGE

Revelation 11:3-6 – The two witnesses represent the faithful church proclaiming the gospel at the end of the age[i] in the face of persecution and opposition. Note that the two witnesses prophesy (proclaim the gospel) for 1,260 days.[ii] The faithful church is the rightful place where the gospel is proclaimed. The church is the outpost of gospel witness in every location where it exists, giving testimony to Jesus in that place. The two witnesses are called the “two olive trees” (11:4), which are the trees of Jew and Gentile together in the church, according to Romans 11:17-24. The church is the true olive tree. During the days of their prophesying (11:6), they “shut up the sky so that rain will not fall” and they “strike the earth with every plague.” This is a reference to the church’s authority with the word of God, that the church has all the authority of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the prophets. So, again, the two witnesses are the faithful church during the tribulation.

Revelation 11:7

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them and overcome them and kill them. – Rev. 11:7

First, notice that the two witnesses (the faithful church) “finish their testimony.” There will come a time when the faithful church has accomplished the mission given to her by her King, a time when all the elect have been gathered in, when “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). The church has fulfilled its purpose and has finished its testimony. Only then will the beast be allowed to overcome and kill the church.

“The beast” here is the same beast mentioned in other parts of Revelation. This is THE beast, the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, the second person of the evil trinity. He is allowed to make war on the faithful church and to overcome them and kill them. This event occurs at the very end of the 42 months*. The beast has overcome and killed a significant portion of the visible church, such that the church appears utterly defeated.

Revelation 11:8-10 – There is much imagery in these three verses. The faithful church (“the two prophets” in 11:10) is visibly seen as dead (“their dead bodies will lie in the street;” “dead bodies” is mentioned three times in these verses for emphasis). Peoples and tribes and tongues and nations (the world of the unrighteous) will rejoice and celebrate (11:10) as they “look at their dead bodies for three and a half days” (11:9). The beast appears to have destroyed the church, and the world rejoices and celebrates for three and a half days. Is all lost? Has the church been annihilated? Has evil triumphed?

Revelation 11:11 – This verse is carefully worded to ensure that it alludes to Ezekiel 37:10. After the dead bodies of the two witnesses lie in the street of the great city for three and a half days (Rev. 11:11), “the breath of life from God came into them.” This is certainly pointing to the Resurrection that is described in Ezekiel 37:10: “So I prophesied, and the breath of life came into them.” After this, “they stood on their feet” (Rev. 11:11), which again refers back to Ezekiel 37:10, for there we read, “they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” What is occurring in Revelation 11:11 is the Resurrection of the dead in Christ that was foreshadowed in Ezekiel 37. Then “great fear fell upon all those who were watching them.” Well, I guess so! The reason great fear fell upon them is that they realize this sudden turn of events spells their doom. The church appeared to be safely annihilated and the beast had won the battle. Then suddenly the world’s victims rise from the dead. The people of the world realize their doom is sealed.

Revelation 11:12 – After the Resurrection, “they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’” The loud voice calls to mind 1 Thessalonians 4:16, when there will be “a shout with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God.” These two verses are certainly describing the same event. “Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them” (Rev. 11:12). Again, John writes the verse to remind the reader of other New Testament passages. We can see clear parallels to Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:9, where “He (Jesus) was lifted up while they (the disciples) were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Also, in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, we read that “we will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” What we see, then, in this verse is the ascension of the glorified saints after their Resurrection.

SUMMARY

The faithful church will prophesy for (relatively literal) 1,260 days in the face of fierce opposition during the tribulation at the very end of the age. When they have accomplished their mission and the preaching of the gospel has gathered in all the elect, the beast will be allowed to kill a large portion of the visible faithful church. The world will rejoice and celebrate since it seems that evil and the beast have had the final victory. The church appears dead and Christ has been defeated. But then, when all appears lost, Christ’s church is resurrected with glorified bodies and stands on its feet as a great army. These ascend to meet Christ in the air in preparation for the final battle and the slaughter of all the unrighteous.

Next time, we will look at how this parallels Christ’s earthly ministry.

SDG                 rmb                 11/01/2021                 #449


[i] This proclamation occurs during the 42 months*, the relatively literal period of time between the “thousand years” and the Last Day. Refer to my book, The Last Act of the Drama, for these definitions.

[ii] Note that 1,260 days is the equivalent of forty-two months, and is equivalent to “time, times, and half a time.” A combination of these three expressions appear five times in Revelation 11-13. Elsewhere I refer to this time period as the 42 months*.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SDG                 rmb                 10/26/2021                 #443