Mystery of the Trinity, Part 4

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There are plenty of things people get wrong about the Holy Spirit, and I’m not talking about just Pentecostals. Christians of all stripes can’t seem to think rightly about Him. A large contingent of Christians seem to think the Holy Spirit is a gift. True enough, Jesus did put that idea in the heads of His disciples, but the Holy Spirit is so much more than just a gift. He is a Person; a divine Person. The Holy Spirit is a much a divine Person as God the Father and God the Son.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is one of the most important doctrines in the Bible and is a major component of what the Bible teaches about Redemption. He is mentioned in every book of the New Testament except for 2 and 3 John. All the Gospels begin with a promise of His outpouring. So why is He so misunderstood? The fact is, the Holy Spirit is neglected by most churches because of either formalism or the fear of fanaticism. But the very simple truth is that when we have the Spirit in our lives, we have God in our lives.

His Work

By the time we get to John 16, the end was near for Jesus as far as His earthly ministry was concerned. Things were about to get very uncomfortable for the disciples, so Jesus warned them.

They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the hour is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering a service to God. (John 16:2 | TNIV)

Talk about getting it all backwards! The so-called religious leaders would stoop to persecuting and sometimes killing followers of Jesus Christ thinking they were doing God a favor! Sin deludes people into believing the craziest things, which leads to actions that are inexcusable and unthinkable in a sane world. To comfort His friends, Jesus said this:

but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. (John 16:5, 6 | TNIV)

Those are a curious two verses. It’s a little hard for us to make sense of them. The disciples were overcome with a sense of sorrow and dread, not so much because Jesus was leaving them, but because their world was about change. None of them had the courage to ask where He was going, probably because they had been down that road before and at least one of the bunch got an answer he didn’t care too much for.

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:36 – 38 | TNIV)

That was bad enough for Peter, but now it sounded like everybody’s future was just a grim as his was going to be. They didn’t care where Jesus was going; they were concerned about their own futures. To calm their fears, our Lord mentioned the coming of an Advocate.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7 | TNIV)

Wescott remarked:

The withdrawal of His limited bodily Presence necessarily prepared the way for the recognition of a universal Presence.

Some Christians sentimentally think how wonderful it must have been to walk with Jesus, but they don’t understand that today His Presence is within them, in the Person of the Holy Spirit. One scholar noted,

The braver and more perfect disciple is he who can walk by faith, and not by sight.

That perfectly describes believers after Jesus left the scene and sent the Holy Spirit. We can have a far more intimate relationship with the Lord than the disciples ever had while He was with them during His earthly ministry. Not only is the Holy Spirit the abiding presence of God in believers, He has some very specific things to do for us and in us.

When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:8 – 15 | TNIV)

In all, there are three aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work:

• To the world–conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
• To the disciples–direction and truth.
• To Jesus–revealing him more perfectly to and through those who represent Him.

As far as the world is concerned, the Holy Spirit’s work is to “prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” That seems to be an awkward way to describe what other translations call “convict” or “reprove” the world in regards to sin, righteousness, and judgment. In the Greek, that all springs from a Greek word that refers to a legal term meaning to pass judgment on a guilty party. It’s not just that the Holy Spirit accuses man of sin, He actually brings to them a sense of guilt and helplessness before God. So the Holy Spirit is like a prosecuting attorney who presents God’s case against sinful man. By creating an awareness of sin in man, He places man in the position of being unable to justify himself before God. To help you understand this role, think of the prophet Nathan and his interaction with King David after exposing the King’s sin.

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.” (2 Samuel 12:1 – 7 | TNIV)

That brought David to the place where he finally acknowledged his dreadful sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:3, 4 | TNIV)

The attitude behind a life of sin (or any sin a man may commit) is unbelief. This makes sense, for if a man truly believed in God and Christ, he would live accordingly. When that man continually rejects the conviction of the Holy Spirit, he is essentially telling Him that He doesn’t exist.

Also in relation to the world, the Holy Spirit convicts people of righteousness. That’s another way of saying that somehow, in a way that we don’t fully comprehend, the Holy Spirit enforces the standard of God’s character so that a man may compare his thoughts and actions against God’s standard. In other words, a sinful man knows deep down in his heart of hearts that what he is doing is wrong and that his life not what it should be. You may consider that his conscience talking, but it’s a subtle work of the Spirit. Paul in Romans advances this thought using other words:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18 – 20 | TNIV)

And when man continues to reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit; when he continually turns his back on God, what results is not unlike what happened to Pharaoh when he kept refusing to release the Hebrews. Exodus says that, “God hardened his heart,” but Paul put in terms that seem a little more reasonable:

[24] Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. [26] Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. [28] Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24, 26, 28 | TNIV)

With respect to the disciples, the Holy Spirit would enable them to grasp the teachings of Jesus that so far they seemed unable to. And that’s one of the wonderful things the Holy Spirit does for all believers, not just the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking. The Spirit doesn’t teach anything new, He helps us to understand the Word of God and its teachings. Furthermore, the Spirit, though His gifts, broadens the spirituality of believers, helping us to do things spiritually that we normally would be unable to do. He deepens our understanding of spiritual matters and helps us to discern the world around us, enabling us to have clarity of thought, especially in regard to the future.

And the last function of the Holy Spirit relates to Jesus Christ. The Spirit doesn’t draw attention to Himself, but rather glorifies Christ. He makes the teachings and the Person of our Lord real to us.

He lives in us

The Holy Spirit and His work in our lives is completely indispensable. It’s sad that He is so ignored and misunderstood. Paul, in writing to the Romans, did his best to illustrate the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. In discussing those who live by the sinful nature versus those who have been born again, he makes this crucial observation:

You, however, are not controlled by the sinful nature but are in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:9 – 11 | TNIV)

The non-believer is controlled by his sinful nature – the base desires that lead to sin. The believer, by contrast, is no longer controlled by his sinful nature but by the Spirit because the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – dwells in them. Your body may constantly feel the effects of sin, but inwardly you are made alive by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is powerful; His power is the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

In fact, by using different titles to describe the Holy Spirit, Paul is teaching something very deep about the Trinity and the nature of the fellowship we have with it. He uses these titles interchangeably: “the Spirit,” “the Spirit of God,” and “the Spirit of Christ” to convey the thought that with the Holy Spirit residing in believers, the Godhead resides there also. That’s an incredible thought showing the closeness of the relationship God wants with His people. It’s mind boggling to consider the singular privilege afforded only to Christians! To be able to daily live in the presence of the three members of the Trinity.

Many of us have been Christians for so long, we have forgotten how it felt to be outside of the family of God; we don’t remember being alienated from God because of our sin. We’ve been very comfortable with God’s presence – so comfortable that sometimes we take it for granted. In writing to the Corinthians, encouraging them to stay away from sexual immorality, Paul gave a piece advice that we would do well to practice, whether or not we are involved in sexual immorality.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 | TNIV)

 

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Mystery of the Trinity, Part 3

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The First Person of the Trinity is God, the Creator of all and the Father of His children. The Second Person of the Trinity is the Son, the Savior of sinners. That’s who we’ll study today, as we try to understand the nature of the Trinity. Remember, there is one Trinity, made up of three separate and distinct Persons, who are one. Yes, it’s hard to understand, but hopefully, the more we understand each Member of the Trinity, the more we’ll appreciate its unique nature.

The Son of Man

Jesus is known as both the Son of Man and the Son of God. The phrase, “Son of Man,” means one born of man. It follows that “Son of God” means one born of God. So that title, then, speaks to the deity of our Lord. Jesus is always referred to the Son of God, never a Son of God. There is only one divine Son of God. He is unique in all the universe. He has a relationship with God the Father that none other has or can have. As Christians, we are able to have a relationship with the Heavenly Father through Christ, but even then, it’s different than that of the Second Person of the Trinity.

An interesting thing to consider is when did Jesus become aware that He was, in fact, the Son of God? He is both God and man; fully God and fully man. Babies and infants and even toddlers have no self-awareness; they don’t recognize themselves in a mirror until they’ve grown some. It may well have been that way with Jesus. It’s all speculation, of course. We know for sure that by 12 Jesus knew full-well who He was and what His mission on earth was.

When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:48 – 50 | TNIV)

That’s a fascinating exchange. First, take a gander at what Mary said as he scolded her Son. She’s refers to herself and Joseph, her husband, as Jesus’ mother and father. This in spite of the fact that she was told something else back in Luke 1 –

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35 | TNIV)

So Mary still wasn’t quite sure about her Son. But, Jesus was very sure who His real Father was. He was in the God’s house, the Temple, and that’s how He referred to it, “my Father’s house.” By 12, our Lord was old enough to put two-and-two together, and even thought it wasn’t quite His time yet, He apparently was ready to get down to work; His Father’s work.

And finally, neither Mary nor Joseph understood what their Son was talking about, further suggesting that Mary either forgot about her angelic encounter (not likely) or that she just didn’t quite get it.

It would be years later before Jesus would receive startling confirmation of just who He was.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”. (Matthew 3:16, 17 | TNIV)

And even Jesus’ mother, Mary, would eventually come around to realize that there was something different about her Son. It happened during a wedding celebration. This would be our Lord’s first public miracle, but it’s what she said that’s so important.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1 – 5 | TNIV)

“Do whatever he tells you.” Yes, she knew her Son had the solution, though she may not have had His particular one in mind. She somehow, by now, had heard enough and perhaps seen enough to know that her Son was not like every other mother’s son.

For His part, Jesus frequently aligned Himself with God’s work, suggesting that God’s work was His work.

No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (John 16:27, 28 | TNIV)

Late in His ministerY, Jesus spoke very highly of something Peter said of Jesus’ Deity and Messiahship.

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16, 17 | TNIV)

It took His mother and His disciples some time to realize who Jesus was, and even then, Peter needed divine revelation to understand. That Jesus knew who He was and that those close to Him did is indisputable. But, even those who weren’t particularly close to Jesus would come around.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 | TNIV)

Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God; the Second Person of the Trinity, is the One the Father sent to earth, full of the Holy Spirit, to redeem sinful man. That’s a difficult concept to wrap your mind around, so it’s helpful if you sing it. Charles Wesley’s famous lyrics have helped many generations of people get this doctrine deep down in their hearts:

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

The Word

Jesus Christ is the the Son of man and the Son of God. Both of these titles refer to His nature and character. He is a Man – the perfect man, sinless in every way – representing all men before the Father. He is the Son of God, not that God the Father gave birth to Him in some weird way like the mythological Greek gods procreated. That title is a way of describing the relationship that exists – that has always existed – between the first two Members of the Trinity. As a Son has a special relationship with his father, so the Second Person of the Trinity has a special relationship with the First Person of the Trinity. Confused yet? Well, let’s look briefly at another title used of the Second Person of the Trinity. He is called “the Word.” That title tells us something else of His nature and character.

You and I as human beings communicate by means of words; we say them or write them down. Sometimes we draw them. We assign words to pictures; we think in pictures, but words describe the pictures we see in our heads. We use words to express our thoughts and our feelings. They can be inadequate, but words are all we have to communicate to others. The words a person uses reveals a lot about them; a lot about their education and upbringing, and even their character is revealed by the words they use. One scholar has rightly noted that:

A man’s word is his character’s expression.

Similarly, the “Word of God” is how God communicates with us. That phrase relates to two things in our lives, the Bible and Jesus Christ. Let’s deal with the latter. The Second Person of the Trinity is the expression of the First. Everything true of the words we use is true of the Word of God; He reveals something of God’s character and nature.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3 | TNIV)

The Son is “the exact representation of his being.” John in His Gospel makes sure we understand that this “exact representation of God’s being” is the Word; but not just any word, the Word who is a Person.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1 – 3 | TNIV)

Those opening words of John’s Gospel remind us of Genesis and the Creation. That’s appropriate enough considering how Jesus Christ recreates sinful human beings; remaking them into God’s children. God is eternal, and so is the Word. The Second Person of the Trinity has always been. The English verb “was” comes from a Greek word that describes and continuous action, without beginning or ending. Greek scholar Westcott helps us non-Greek scholars out:

The imperfect tense of the original [Greek word] suggests in this relation, as far as human language can do so, the notion of Supra-temporal existence.

The eternal Word – existing outside of time and space – is described as being “with God.” The power of the original language is lost in translation because there is no adequate way to describe the intimacy of the the fellowship that exists between the first two Members of the Trinity. Again, going into the Greek for a second, the word is more suggestive of “a forward motion” or “face-to-face.” The Word, then, is pictured as existing eternally moving toward the First Person of the Trinity, living face-to-face with Him.

As John used the term “word” in describing the Second Person of the Trinity, he was wanting the reader to understand that the essential nature of the Word is Deity – that is, God speaking to man; God revealing Himself to man through the Word. What we know about the Word – the Second Person of the Trinity – is that He always has been. He did not come into existence. He has always been “face-to-face” with the Father.

We get a very slight glimpse into how the Son is the expression of the Father in these opening verses of John. First, He has always co-existed with Him. Second, John tells us that everything was made by Him.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15 – 17 | TNIV)

Those are some pretty significant things Paul wrote about the Son. He existed before all things, and He created all things for Himself. Not only that, He sustains all things. So the Son quite literally is the Word, the creative Agent of God, as God “spoke” all things into existence.

And then there’s this:

In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. (John 1:4 | TNIV)

The Word, the Son, is the Source of all life. Of course, as the creative Agent of God, the Son is the source of all biological life. But the word John used here is zoe, not bio, which is the usual word for biological life. Zoe is used by John numerous times and it refers to “life from above,” or we might call it “spiritual life,” or “eternal life.” But it also means “abundant life,” referring to the quality of life in the here-and-now. The Son of God is the only Source for the “good life” today.

Not only that, but He is also the Source of all light. The first thing God created was light (Genesis 1:3). And the psalmist gives us a vital piece of information about this creative light:

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9 | TNIV)

Now, this is a very challenging verse to get the meaning of. The Good News Translation, renders it like this:

You are the source of all life, and because of your light we see the light. (Psalm 36:9 | GNTCE)

And from the The Living Bible, paraphrased for us by Ken Taylor, it looks like this:

For you are the Fountain of life; our light is from your light. (Psalm 36:9 | TLB)

And finally from The Message, odd paraphrase, Psalm 36:9 sounds like this:

You’re a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light. (Psalm 36:9 | MSG)

So, you can see the challenge. What did the psalmist mean? There is a definite connection between light and life; between the life the Son imparts to us as believers and the light that we receive when that happens. In the Son, we are able to see His light; we can relate to Him on an intimate level the unsaved man cannot. In the Son, there is spiritual and moral clarity; His light reveals truth and error and enables us to distinguish between them. His light guides us through life.

The Second Person of the Trinity is the Son of God and the Son of man and He is the light of our lives.

Mystery of the Trinity, Part 2

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There is one Trinity, made up three separate and distinct Persons, who are one. Sound baffling? It should. The Trinity is not easy to understand but the Bible does reveal aspects of each Member of the Trinity to help us understand it better.

The Father: He’s the Creator

In the opening verses of the Bible, we learn something of great importance about God: He is a Creator.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 | TNIV)

God is the uncreated Creator of our material universe. When we think of the scope and majesty of universe, and even of the earth on which we live, we are humbled by God’s amazing creation. And yet He is greater than what He has created. So great is our Creator-God, that not only did He create our material universe, but He also sustains it!

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15 – 17 | TNIV)

Those three verses tell us even more about our Creator-God: He has a Son, and the material universe was created through Him and for Him! Everything that is; everything that ever was; and everything yet to come is a result of God working through His Son.

Our God is the Creator, and He is the loving Heavenly Father. In describing our “invisible God” this way, we mortals are supposed to be getting the slightest glimpse into the nature and character of the first Person of the Trinity. He is the Father and He creates. He created us and with infinite care He created the world around us. When you think about our world, it’s perfect for us. Looking at nature, you can see the hand of God. In fact, that’s one of the purposes of the nature: to manifest God’s power and His care.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 | TNIV)

That’s an incredible verse. Since the dawn of creation, the universe and the world around us has revealed something of the mind of God for those who would take time to notice. Paul told the Corinthians that God cannot be known by reason alone:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21 | TNIV)

Yet God can be known. The thing we learn about God the Father is that He doesn’t force anybody to get to know Him. Man must receive the knowledge of God that is available to Him. Creation exists, not just to keep man alive, but to show Him something of his Creator. One Bible scholar wrote this about creation:

Creation exists as an invitation to dialogue with God.

That’s an excellent way to put it. Certain aspects of creation teach the curious individual something about God, namely, God’s eternal power and the Godhead. We’ve all heard the phrase “greater power,” and that’s precisely what nature shows us about God. The more the curious, critically thinking man looks at nature, the more he becomes aware of how small and powerless he is and how completely dependent upon that greater power he is.

As to the Godhead, when human beings consider the majesty of creation – the world and the universe – they realize that they are not alone. It’s not about aliens, though. It’s about the fact that the universe didn’t come into being by itself and that it is superintended by a great divine power. The universe reveals something of God’s character. Nature, in all its wonder is perfect. It reflects God’s perfection.

In poetry and song, the Bible portrays God the Creator as the God of nature. Man somehow understands this. Think about what the psalmist wrote here:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1, 2 | TNIV)

He looked to the mountains and the mountains focused his faith on God. The psalmist saw something in the mountain that brought his mind to bear on God and God’s power of deliverance. That’s what Paul was getting at in Romans. Nature was designed by God to at the very least show man that there is a God and to reveal certain aspects of His divine nature and character. While nature can’t save anybody, it can point a sinner in the right direction.

The all-powerful God

In Isaiah 40, we are reading pure prophecy; everything in it was about the future of the citizens of Judah. From the prophet’s vantage point, the coming Babylonian captivity was so certain, he wrote as if it had already happened and they were about to released.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:2 | TNIV)

The “hard service” Isaiah referred to would be the 70 years of exile in Babylon; an exile brought about because of their sins. Remember, it hadn’t happened when Isaiah wrote this. The prophet is writing as if had happened and was coming to an end. It’s a literary technique he employed to teach his readers some things they needed to know about the nature and power of God.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. (Isaiah 40:12 – 15 | TNIV)

The main point is that God is greater than His creation. He is greater than man because He would exile an entire nation because of their sin. He would use another nation as His tool of discipline. But look at this group of verses. They show the unbelievable magnitude of God’s power in relation to His what He has made. Nobody could have done what He did and no matter how hard we try, man can’t quite comprehend how God did it all.

In the Book of Job, we read something very similar. Job has nothing to do with the Babylonian captivity, rather, it has to do with the arrogance of men who presume to understand God and understand man. You’re always on very shaky ground presuming that you’ve got God figured out or that you can know another man’s heart. Job was suffering greatly and he essentially blamed God for that suffering – he was sure he was being treated unfairly. But his friends all blamed him. In the end, though, everybody was wrong.

The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”. (Job 40:1 – 5 | TNIV)

Job realized that he was “unworthy” to even talk to God. What made Job feel that way were the things God had said in the previous two chapters. Things like this:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:4 – 7 | TNIV)

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? (Job 38:22 – 24 |TNIV)

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth? (Job 39:1, 2 | TNIV)

You get the idea both Job and Isaiah were trying to get across. God is so much great than that which He created. As you read those verses, you get the impression, and rightly so, that God not only created all there is but that He watches over creation. In Jeremiah, there is recorded for us a prayer the prophet prayed:

Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the parents’ sins into the laps of their children after them. Great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to the ways of all; you reward everyone according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve. (Jeremiah 32:17 – 19 | TNV)

God the Creator and the Father is truly all-powerful, and we should stand is silent awe of that part of His character.

Merciful Father

But you shouldn’t get the impression that God is only all-powerful. He so much more than that. God is also a merciful Father.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4 – 7 | TNIV)

God is “rich in mercy,” meaning that He has more than enough mercy to go around. He will never run out of it. Hodges gives a decent definition of “mercy:”

God’s mercy is the divine goodness exercised with respect to the miseries of His creatures, feeling for them, and making provision for their relief, and in the case of impenitent sinners, leading to long-suffering patience.

God’s mercy is astounding. For believers, the Father feels our misery and He provides what we need to relieve our feelings of misery. For the unsaved (“impenitent sinners”), God’s mercy is expressed in patience. What a beautiful picture of mercy. Leaving Hodges, here’s a Biblical description of what mercy looks like:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8 – 12 | TNIV)

God is love, but sometimes He gets angry. But because He is full of mercy, His anger dissipates. He doesn’t hold grudges. He doesn’t treat us as we deserve to be treated. That’s mercy! But tucked away in those verses is a profound truth some people don’t like to talk about. God’s love is NOT indiscriminate. His great love is reserved only for those who fear Him. Yes, God loves His creation. As the Creator, why wouldn’t He love what He made? As our Heavenly Father, He loves those who “fear” Him; those who revere Him and respect Him and, sometimes, fear Him.

The first Person of the Trinity is “the Father.” He’s the perfect Father.

Mystery of the Trinity, Part 1

If you like mysteries, then you’ll enjoy studying the Trinity! There is only one God and only one Trinity and it might well be the most difficulty concept to explain. It is, however, a vitally important doctrine to get right. Church history is littered with churches and groups that got it wrong. There’s an obscure verse is Psalm 50 that shows us why we all need to think correctly about our God:

When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you. But I now arraign you and set my accusations before you. (Psalm 50:21 | TNIV)

It offends God when we think wrongly about Him. In fact, it’s idolatry to worship a God we have invented in our minds, no matter how sincere we may be. Thinking rightly about God leads to eternal life:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 | TNIV)

And knowing God should be the life-long goal of every Christian, not just the eggheads and theologians among us:

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24 | TNIV)

You may wonder how it is possible to know and understand God, after all, He is God and the finite mind cannot possibly hope to comprehend that which is infinite. Paul taught as much when he wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” [36] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33 – 36 | TNIV)

But at the same time, God is understandable to man.

However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—these things God has prepared for those who love him”—for God has revealed them to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit within? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9 – 11 | TNIV)

Clearly, there are some aspects of God’s nature and character that will never be known to us, at least as long as we are on earth in the flesh. But God has revealed as much of Himself as He deemed necessary and it’s up to us to study the Word to discover the wonder of our God. The more we know about God, the easier it will be to live in obedience to His will.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 | TNIV)

Only one God

The Jews call these verse the Shema and they form the foundation of the Jewish and Christian faiths:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 | TNIV)

As we try to understand the Trinity, we need to keep these verses mind. There is only one God, not three. In fact, the word “trinity” means “tri-unity.” But there are different kinds of unity; absolute unity and compound unity. For example, here is an example of compound unity:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 | TNIV)

The “one flesh” is a compound unity because we know that when a man and woman get married, two people are involved but they don’t really become a single person in the literal sense.

A completely different word is used to describe an absolute unity, which suggests absolute oneness. Here’s an example:

Put on sackcloth, my people, and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing as for an only son, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us. (Jeremiah 6:26 | TNIV)

And another:

For I too was a son to my father, still tender, and cherished by my mother. (Proverbs 4:3 | TNIV)

Can you see the difference? “Absolute oneness” refers to a son, for example. He is related to both his parents; he came from both his parents, but he is his own person. That particular Hebrew word is never used to describe the Trinity.

The unity referred to in Deuteronomy 6:4 is compound unity because the word used for “our God” is Elohim, a Hebrew word written in the plural. So our “compound God” is “one God.” The doctrine of the Trinity teaches the unity of God as a compound unity, made up of three Divine Persons united in an eternal, essential unity.

The Shema was key in Hebrew theology and philosophy. Everything descended from the fact that there was only one God, not many gods. Jesus was confronted by some religious folk who intended to trap Him. Read the exchange, and remember that Jesus is the Son of God:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Mark 12:28, 29 | TNIV)

As a member of the Trinity, Jesus was telling the religious leader that there was only one God, not multiple Gods. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, helps us understand what Jesus was getting at.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:4 – 6 | TNIV)

A problem had popped up in the Corinthian church concerning some members eating food (meat) offered to idols. Other members thought they shouldn’t be doing that because it was offered to idols. As far as Paul was concerned, where the food came from was of no import because the idol it was sacrificed to represented nothing because, as the Shema says, “there is no God but one.”

People may think there are other “gods,” but in truth there is only one. Other pagan religions have their so-called gods, but they are unreal and they are all subordinate to the only real, supreme God. The one real God is the Father, the source of all there is, and Jesus Christ is the one through whom creation sprang.

Three persons

There is an incident in the life of Jesus that gives us a glimpse into the working of the Trinity and the relationship that exists between its Members.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”. (Matthew 3:16, 17 | TNIV)

The things that jump off the page are the vision and the voice. The vision was the Spirit of God, in the form of a dove, coming down from heaven and lighting on Jesus. The voice boomed out, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The former showed where the power Jesus would exercise during His earthly ministry would come from, and the latter an assurance that He was truly the Messsiah. The audible voice of God showed that the Father was pleased with His Son’s obedience, both to His will in being baptized by John, and ultimately in the Cross, the culmination of our Lord’s earthly ministry.

As far as the vision of the Holy Spirit goes, it’s debatable whether anybody but Jesus saw this. However, there is very compelling evidence that suggests Jesus saw it and John the Baptist saw it. The latter so that he would truly believe that his cousin was indeed the Messiah. It’s fitting, really, for the Holy Spirit to appear “as a dove.” The Holy Spirit, as mighty and as powerful as He is, is gentle.

The unity of the Trinity may be a bit of a mystery, but it should be something we believe in. Paul gives us an idea of this mysterious unity in his benediction to the Corinthian church:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14 | TNIV)

As you can see, Paul knew that the members of the Trinity were all involved in various aspects of the lives of God’s people. Keep in mind that Paul wrote his letters and this benediction long before the Church wrote up any kind of formal doctrinal statement concerning the Trinity. From the Son comes grace. From the Father, Love. And the Holy Spirit creates a partnership in life among the believers. The members of the Trinity – all working together to support believers, both individually and corporately.

Distinctiveness

The fact that there is a union of three distinct Persons working together as Paul noted in passing is an important bit of theology. In the early 1900’s, a movement was spreading through the Church known as the “Jesus Only” movement. It was particularly strong in some Pentecostal denominations, where it was known as the “Oneness doctrine.” This doctrine stressed that there was only one person in the Godhead, Jesus. One version of the heretical “Oneness doctrine” held that the Father became Son who became the Holy Spirit. In other words, instead of three separate and distinct Persons who exist simultaneously, the Oneness people viewed the three Persons as consecutive, not simultaneous. A variant of this idea said that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all just manifestations of one God that take place different times and situations.

Though initially this heresy thrived in Pentecostal churches, many of those churches have vanished and others have renounced this heresy.  However, there are still evangelical churches today that preach a version of Oneness Pentecostalism. TD Jakes is a well-known denier of the Trinity. People like Jakes often use the word “trinity” but they don’t hold a traditional, Biblically orthodox view of it. Many Apostolic and holiness churches are non-trinitarian.

The Bible teaches that the Trinity is three separate and distinct Persons, yet one. Each member of the Trinity is the Godhead, yet conscious of the other Two. The Trinity is an eternal fellowship that has existed before the universe was created. God was never alone. That’s not to say there are three Gods. There aren’t. There is only one. The three members of the Trinity work together with a single mind and purpose. In that sense, the three are truly one. While the Father creates; the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies, all three are present and working at the same time.

Yes, the Trinity is a mystery. It’s like trying to grasp a ray of sunshine. But at the same time, the word “trinity” is a product of man, concocted to try to understand this part of God’s nature. Before the Church invented the word, the Trinity was alive and well. It is in that sense, a revealed doctrine. How else could man understand it if God Himself hadn’t revealed it to him?

for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16 | TNIV)

 

 

 

 

 

Glory, Part 7

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We’ve reached the end of our series of “glory.”  Used some 500 times in Scripture, it’s been interesting to note how the writers of the New Testament used it.  In Titus, we read this:

we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…. (Titus 2:13 | TNIV)

What did Paul mean when he wrote to his friend about “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ?”  Of course, he’s referring to the Second Coming, but the context of the statement makes it very relevant to Christians today.

Titus chapter 2 is a true gem among all the chapters of the New Testament.  It not only serves as a worthy summary of the Pastoral Epistles (the letters written by Paul to pastors), but also as a guide for living through all the ages of your life.  Some Bible readers think the Bible is all like the first half of Paul’s letter to the Romans:  Pages and pages of heady doctrine, theology, and philosophy; difficult concepts for the average person to grasp.  That view isn’t entirely wrong, but the Bible is its best interpreter.  The Bible will tell you about what you’ve read if you just give it a chance.  Titus is a great example of this.  The doctrine of the Second Coming is a doctrine that some Christians have a problem wrapping their minds around.  Looking at it in the context of life today was a stroke of genius on the part of Paul.  So, let’s do just that.

Tomorrow is all about today

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.   (Titus 2:1 | TNIV)

In the first chapter, Paul laid down the standards by which church leaders are supposed to live by.  Principles like these:

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.  (Titus 1:6 – 9 | TNIV)

That’s what you want in an elder – a leader in the church of Jesus Christ.  None of this Is difficult to understand, is it?  Like all Bible doctrines or teachings, this teaching about elders just makes common sense.  You want people of sterling character to lead your congregation.  And you want leaders who are able to lead and teach – offer Christ – to others.  An elder needs to know the Word of God inside and out; he needs to be able to teach it to those who don’t know it and an elder needs to be a defender of the Word of God.  It’s not a job for just anybody who might be available.  

As we have seen, the world isn’t always a good place for Christians – as Paul put it another letter, “these days are evil,” and the man of God needs to be able to ably communicate Biblical teachings to a lost generation.  And he does that through righteous living and through preaching and teaching the Word.  

Mature men

But before you think it’s all on the elders of a church, chapter two comes along:

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.  (Titus 2:2 | TNIV)

This is what Titus was to teach to men of maturity.  The Gospel has the power change a person’s whole way of thinking.  But that new way of thinking, or maybe it’s a new perspective on things, must lead to a new way of living; it must lead to an obviously transformed life.  And  it was this genuine transformation of lives which made the Early Church virtually invincible. How else can you explain the supernatural growth of the church and its triumph over the entrenched paganisms of the Roman Empire? 

T. R. Glover, fellow at Cambridge, tells us that:

The Christian ‘out-lived’ the pagan, ‘out-died’ him, and ‘out-thought’ him.

By every measure you can think of, the Christian exceeded by far the highest standards the pagan world knew. Just look at the first three character traits Paul mentions: be temperate or sober, be worthy of the respect of others, exercise self control. The idea of “temperance” is to be understood in the sense of being “sober”— in the use of wine, to be sure, but also an attitude of moderation in all of the areas of life. The term rendered “grave” in the KJV and “worthy of respect” in more modern translations, suggests a seriousness of purpose, not a gloomy outlook, but rather an attitude of seriousness in the important issues of life.  The third term, “self disciplined,” is like “temperate,” meaning at a certain age, a man becomes the “master of himself,” that is, “the master of his emotions.” In other words, he doesn’t let other people or his circumstances determine how he thinks or how feels about things.  

Mature women

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.  (Titus 2:3 – 5 | TNIV)

You’ll notice that mature women were to develop virtues similar to those in mature men.  Paul was wanting women to be genuinely holy in the way lived.  Here is pictured the mature woman who is dedicated to godliness and godly living. A good example of the kind woman Paul had in mind is “the mother of Israel” in Judges 5:7 – 

Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.  (Judges 5:7 | TNIV)

This kind of mature, strong, holy woman has all but vanished from the Modern Church. This is a very politically incorrect thing to say, but the strong, godly women of a bygone era are in desperately short supply today. Women who know Christ, who love Him, who are dedicated to knowing Him, and who consider serving Him to be life’s highest calling; women like Mary and Martha—such women are desperately needed in the Church today.  

Keep in mind that Paul wrote this in the first century, to a people of particular culture.  Women back then had no choice but to marry and have children; they didn’t work or have careers.  In our era, times are different and our culture is different.  God’s Word, though, contains principles that most certainly apply to our day and culture.  Mature women should be leading the way, in terms of behavior and attitude and holiness of life and conduct should be the rule at home or at work.  The key is that no matter where you may be, you should be conducting yourself in such a way as as to glorify God and not cause others to, as Paul put it, “malign the Word.”

Young men, Titus, and slaves

Young women are to learn from mature women within the church, and as far as young men is concerned, Paul put the onus on young pastor Titus to set an example for them:

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.  In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.  (Titus 2:6 – 8 | TNIV)

That was how Titus was to act.  Live right, speak clearly and righteously, and never give anybody the opportunity to criticize the church.  That’s a heavy responsibility for a young pastor to bear, but if it’s what you’re called to do, then you’ll do it.  For pastors and church leaders, though, there is a frightening word in Paul’s admonition:  Everything.  Pastors are to set an example “in everything” they do.  And that’s more than just sermon preparation!  

Paul has dealt with older men and women and younger women and men and pastors, but now he turns to, essentially, others within the church:

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.  (Titus 2:9, 10 | TNIV)

Once again we read the word, “everything.”  Slaves were already subject to their masters, but Paul adds “in everything.”  In other words, the slave – or we might use the word “employee” today – must go above and beyond what is expected of them.  Recall the words of T.R.. Glover:  

The Christian ‘out-lived’ the pagan, ‘out-died’ him, and ‘out-thought’ him.

That includes the area of working for other people.  The Christian shouldn’t be a good employee, he should be the best employee.  The reason, though, is kind of surprising:  To make the Gospel of Jesus Christ look good. Do you you see the responsibility the average Christian has?  You thought the pastor had a tough roe to hoe!  When you go to work every day, whether it’s in a factory, in an office, or out in the field, you must be better than your co-workers in every way.  In being the absolute best, you are making Jesus Christ look good and that’s what you are called to do.

The way we live demonstrates God’s grace

Paul’s summary of his teaching begins with God’s grace:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  (Titus 2:11 | TNIV)

Christians are to live right because God’s grace has appeared and offered salvation to all people.  That’s a curious statement, and it seems to forever settle the boring discussion about “limited or unlimited grace.”  God has offered salvation “to all people.”  Here is a universal solution for our universal need. Though some may reject this grace and refuse to have any part in Christ, the provision has been made for their salvation and they may claim it if they will.

But how does that relate to how Christians are to live their lives?  It’s simple, actually.  God is offering His grace to all sinners, and Christians, if they live right and make Jesus Christ look good, the sinner may be more apt to consider accepting God’s gracious offering!

And God’s grace is truly remarkable.  It not only enables the sinner to accept God’s gift of salvation, but it works in the redeemed life, transforming it!

It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…. (Titus 2:12 | TNIV)

It’s amazing, isn’t it?  After all the verses Paul devoted to teaching different groups of people how to best live out their Christian lives in a sinful world, he informs his readers that they won’t be doing it alone; that God’s grace actually does the teaching which leads to a transformed life.  Or, another way to look at it is this:  Evidence that a sinner has accepted God’s grace is a changed life.

It’s important to live righteous lives even while we wait for Christ to return.  And His return should also be a motivating factor in living the good life.

while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  (Titus 2:13, 14 | TNIV)

A changed life is why Christ came in the first place.  He died to rescue us from the monotony and mediocrity of our sinful lives.  God wants you to experience a tiny bit of glory on earth by living right before He comes in full glory!

Glory, Part 6

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When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.”   (Matthew 25:31 | NIV84)

In our sixth study of the how the word “glory” is used in the New Testament, we turn to The Olivet Discourse, so called because Jesus gave a series of teachings while on the Mount of Olives.  The Olivet Discourse is found in all three Synoptic Gospels and most of it deals with the the Second Coming of our Lord and of the end of the age.  

Setting the scene

Jesus began this lengthy teaching in Matthew 24, as He left the Temple grounds for the last time.   He had been soundly rejected by the leaders of Israel, and His word to His people was a solemn one:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  (Matthew 24:1-2 | NIV84)

Herod’s Temple was a magnificent structure, which took a long time to build.  Herod’s desire was to build a religious edifice as great and as glorious as Solomon’s temple.  He began to restore the old Temple around 20 BC and believe it or not, work was still in progress during the days of Jesus!  It must have been a shocking thing for Jesus’ disciples to hear that this great Temple would be laid waste.  The literal fulfillment of this prediction occurred in 70 AD.  Jewish historian Josephus was an eyewitness, and here is his account:

The Temple area was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.  

For their part, the disciples were befuddled; they needed more information, so they asked Jesus three questions related to His prediction:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  (Matthew 24:3 | NIV84)

For some reason, Jesus started off by answering the third question first:  “What will be the sign of…the end of the age?”  Actually, in the verses that follow, the great Teacher gives no less than 10 signs of the end of the age.  

  1. False messiah’s will appear, verse 5, declaring that they are the Christ – the Messiah.
  2. Wars and rumors of wars will abound, verse 6.   Of course, there have been wars in every generation, though apparently near the end they will increase, probably in intensity and frequency.
  3. Famines,
  4. Plagues,
  5. Earthquakes, all in verse 7.  Famines and plagues frequently go together and, as in the case of war, while there have always been earthquakes, at the end there will be more of them in strange places.
  6. The sixth sign is persecution, found in verse 9.  The followers of Christ will face mounting stress and pressure as they seek to live out their faith in the face of constant persecution.
  7. The seventh sign, found in verse 10, goes like this:  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,  (Matthew 24:10 | NIV84). That’s a frightening thought, that at some point in the future there will be a great “falling away” from the faith.  But read how the KJV translates this sign:  And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.  (Matthew 24:10 | KJV).   You begin to see what the end times will look like; a time of lawlessness when people both inside the church and outside will be “offended” or “scandalized” and many will just give up on God and the good life altogether.  
  8. In verse 11, the eighth sign is given:  false prophets.  This makes sense.  In a time of hopelessness and despair, devious people will come along with words of false hope.
  9. The ninth sign is a disturbing one:  In the last days, there will be a decided lack of love, verse 12.  
  10. The final sign is the evangelization of the world, verse 14.  

Conditions in the world just prior to the return of Jesus will be dreadful.  As we read through these verses in Matthew 24, we can see parallels in the book of Revelation.  Much of what Jesus predicted is what John saw in his vision:  the state of the world during the Tribulation.  

That brings us to this verse, which is linked to what Jesus had spoken about in regards to the Temple:

So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand…(Matthew 24:15 | NIV84)

That phrase, “abomination that causes desolation,” is seen three times in the Old Testament prophetic book of Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11) and refers simply to an unholy, detestable thing that will cause the Temple to become useless or unusable.  In the far future tense, this prophecy of Daniel’s is seen when the Antichrist sets up an image of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem in Revelation 13:14 – 

Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.   (Revelation 13:14 | NIV84)

But here is a prophecy with several fulfillments throughout history.  In 168 BC, an altar dedicated to Zeus was set up on the sacred altar in the Temple, rendering the Temple useless for the Jews.  It was also fulfilled in 70 AD, some four decades after the Olivet Discourse, when Rome desecrated the Temple before it was destroyed.  But the final fulfillment of this prophecy will be happen during the Tribulation period of the end times.

The Second Coming

If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.   (Matthew 24:22 | NIV84)

This is another one of Jesus’ predictions that carries a dual fulfillment.  In 70 AD, when the siege and fall of Jerusalem took place, Josephus tells us that over one million Jews were killed and up to 100,000 were sold as slaves.  But there will be a future fulfillment during the Great Tribulation at the end of the age.  

The main theme of the second half of this very long chapter is a call to remain faithful to the Lord no matter what; in the face of dangerous persecution and in the wake of many false messiah’s.  

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.  For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.  See, I have told you ahead of time.  (Matthew 24:23-25 | NIV84)

There has always been and will always be a very real temptation for Christians to “latch onto” the “next best thing or person” that comes along in the Christian sub-culture, especially during rough times.  During the Tribulation, that temptation will be all the more intense.  But Jesus described what His coming will be like.  He won’t be like the false teachers and false Christ’s.  When He returns, it will be miraculous, sudden, and surprising:

Immediately after the distress of those days “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  (Matthew 24:29-30 | NIV84)

It’s certain that the Lord will return and it is certain that difficult days are in store for believers.  And in His wisdom, Jesus gave His followers, both the disciples and us, these teachings so that we won’t ever be ignorant.  Nobody can know for sure when Jesus will return, so believers need to be ready all the time; no believer wants to be caught off guard at the moment of Christ’s glorious return.

Three parables

In chapter 25, Jesus keeps going with His end times teachings with three parables.  The first one, the parable of wise and foolish maidens (25:1 – 13), is a story emphasizing the need for believers to be prepared for His return.  Jesus could come back any time, and His people need to be ready – watching and waiting.   

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 | NIV84)

The parable of the talents, 25:14 – 30, deals with the believer’s responsibility to use his God-given gifts in the days prior to the Lord’s return.  While you’re watching and waiting for the Lord to return, you shouldn’t be sitting around, twiddling your thumbs.  Remember what Paul wrote:

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  (Ephesians 5:15-16 | NIV84)

And that gets us to the parable of the sheep and the goats, 25:31 – 46.  Of the three, this one is, to my mind, the darkest.  It’s simply about the final judgment.  In the parable, Jesus is the Judge, King, and Shepherd.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  (Matthew 25:31-33 | NIV84)

Why sheep and goats?  Sheep were prominent animals in the Jewish sacrificial system.  They were also very valuable sources of food and clothing.  Goats, on the other hand, are very destructive animals – they gorge themselves on vegetation, often ruining fields and contributing to erosion as they simply rip up plants out of the soil, roots and all.

The interesting thing about sheep and goats is that they grazed together in the same pasture, and freely mingled together so closely that from a distance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart.  At some point, though, the shepherds would have to go and separate the two because invariably the male goats would turn very hostile toward the sheep.

In the final judgment, Jesus as Judge, King, and Shepherd, will separate the sheep (His people, true believers), from the goats (non-believers) and the sheep will be invited to share in the Kingdom.  For the sheep, it will be a beautiful moment.  They lived lives, not just doing good deeds for people in need, but ministering to the Lord in how they lived.  Everything the sheep did, they did for the Lord.  People were just the beneficiaries of their Christ-centered living.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  (Matthew 25:35-36 | NIV84)

But not so for the goats:

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  (Matthew 25:41-43 | NIV84)

The goats will be people who were so busy, they never gave a thought for Jesus.  God will  judge the people and nations of the world, based on their response to the Gospel and how they lived out their faith on earth.  

Glory, Part 5

So far in our look at a handful of uses of the word “glory,” we’ve discovered that, for the most part, as far as the believer is concerned, “glory” is something in the future.  For example, we may experience “the glory of God” in the here-and-now, but compared to what we will experience of His glory in the future, what we may experience today is the barest sliver of what’s to come.

We’ve considered the believer’s “hope of glory,” when we studied Colossians 1:27.  That hope is the one thing all believers, from all dispensations, from all of the world, have in common.  It’s the hope that one day, our faith will become sight and be completely vindicated in the light of His glory.

We also looked at our “glorified bodies,” that Paul mentioned in Philippians 3:21.  When Christ comes, He will transform our fleshly body into a “glorious” body like His own.   That refers not only to the end of death and decay and corruption, but also the end sin.

We found out that according to Ephesians 1:18, believers are considered to be “God’s glorious inheritance!”  That’s a fact that’s hard to swallow.  You and I, by virtue of our relationship with Jesus Christ, have become extremely valuable to God – an inheritance.

And we studied these amazing verses in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  (Romans 8:20-21 | NIV84)

When Jesus returns and our redemption is made complete, our freedom from sin and the the grip of this world is finally broken and we, along with all of creation, will be made right.

And that gets us to the fifth use of the word glory, and it’s from the very brief letter written by a man named Jude, which is just one chapter long:

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy–to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.  (Jude 1:24-25 | NIV84)

We call those two verses a “doxology,” and among all the doxologies in Scripture, Jude’s is truly unique and majestic.  And it fits his short letter perfectly; a letter warning its readers of the dangers inherent in entertaining false teachers and adopting their corrupt teachings.  

A brief overview of the letter

The author of this letter is self-identified:  Jude, the brother of James.  Theories abound as to who exactly this person was, but it seems reasonable to conclude that Jude, the brother of James and the half-brother of Jesus, was the writer of this letter.

Jude starts out stating his purpose in writing this letter:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.   (Jude 1:3 | NIV84)

He started out wanting to talk about “the salvation we share.”  And why wouldn’t he?  No matter where a believer is from, his salvation is something he has in common with all believers, everywhere.  Styles of worship may differ, sometimes practices and even doctrines may vary slightly from culture to culture, but we all share a common salvation.  

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:12 | NIV84)

“Under heaven” means everywhere.   Jesus Christ is the only way to God.  From Him alone comes the free gift of salvation of all people.  This is what Jude wanted his letter to be about.  But something changed his mind, and so instead of writing about our common salvation, Jude wrote about “contending for the faith.”  So he went from wanting to talk about salvation to fighting for it.  Sometimes a Christian has to “contend for the faith.”  Sometimes he doesn’t have a choice but to defend the salvation he possesses.  Here are a number of verses about this very topic:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….  (1 Peter 3:15 | NIV84)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.   (2 Corinthians 10:5 | NIV84)

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.   (Titus 1:9 | NIV84)

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  (Ephesians 5:11 | NIV84)

False teachers, false teaching

We don’t have any of the details, but somehow Jude found out that the people to whom he was writing had gotten themselves into a little trouble:

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.   (Jude 1:4 | NIV84)

Some false false teachers had wormed their way into the church Jude was writing to.  The way Jude wrote this is telling.  There were “certain men,” or just a few of them, but there would be more coming.  False teachers are like cockroaches.  There’s never just one.  And they’re a crafty lot – they literally “creep in” and “insinuate themselves” among the true believers; they pretend to be something they are not.  

As you read through the New Testament, you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to get the drift that this problem was not just something that Jude wrote about.  Paul, Peter, and John all wrote letters earnestly trying to “contend for the faith.”  It seems almost impossible to conceive that mere years from the the ascension of Jesus, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the founding of the Church, that this was such a big problem.  There were false teachers everywhere, threatening every congregation with their weird, aberrant philosophies that were more often than not a mixture of Christian, Jewish, and Eastern theologies and philosophies.  And, sadly, these early Christians were just a gullible as this present generation is.  These days it seems like Christians will believe just any teaching that barely approximates the truth.  There’s a definite lack of wisdom and discernment among the members of the Body of Christ.   

Here’s Jude’s estimate of the ones he was concerned about:

These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm–shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead.  They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.  (Jude 1:12-13 | NIV84)

It sounds like there’s plenty of hyperbole going on in those two verses, but there are facts in behind the hyperbole.  These false teachers were an embarrassment to the church.  They were gluttons at the church dinner.  In fact, they were worse than that.  The early church had “love feasts,” an odd name by today’s standards to be sure, but they served a real purpose back then.  A “love feast” really was a church dinner that celebrated and promoted a sense of community and brotherly love within a congregation, but it also helped out the poorer members of the church – they got a good free meal.  Yet these heretics took advantage of these “love feasts” to promote gluttony and immorality.  They were blowhards who talked a blue streak but were really saying nothing.  These false teachers pushed their ridiculous but dangerous heresies and because Christians want to believe the best about people, many members were falling hook-line-and-sinker for what they were peddling.  They turned a blind eye to the sinful behavior and embraced their vain philosophies.

But even worse than all that is this:

These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.   (Jude 1:19 | NIV84)

False teachers are divisive persons.  God is a God of order, and wherever in the church or in society where you see lawlessness and disorder, you may be sure God is not in it. 

A true response

So what exactly is a good Christian supposed to do with guys like this?  Well, as we already saw, Christians ought to be ready to defend and refute the truth whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.  But there’s more.  The ultimate judge of all false teachers is God and their fate is already decided:  “Blackest darkness has been reserved (for them) forever” (verse 13b).

But we who are mature, grounded believers have a responsibility to make sure what we believe is true and defendable.

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.  (Jude 1:20 | NIV84)

We also have a responsibility to watch for those who aren’t mature:

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.   (Jude 1:22-23 | NIV84)

We need to care for each other and when we see a weaker brother or sister slipping away, we need to “snatch them from the fire and save them.”  

And that gets us to the “great benediction” of Jude.  As it began, so this letter ends:  With words of assurance for the people of God living in these dark days.  These are dark days for the believer.  Christians are the most persecuted people on earth, according to recent studies.  Almost 100,000 Christians killed worldwide in 2016 alone.   (http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/748061/Christians-world-s-most-persecuted-religious-group-Vatican-Radio-Massimo-Introvigne-Islam)

But you don’t have to be killed to be persecuted.  You can be mocked, derided, and made fun of.  You can be tempted to adopt all manner of false teachings that will put your salvation in jeopardy.  How can you live rightside up in an upside down culture like this?  Jude makes it clear that you can live rightside up because the One who died for you is able to keep you from falling.  

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy….  (Jude 1:24 | NIV84)

Centuries before Jude wrote verse 24, Solomon gave us the secret to never becoming an apostate:

By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.  My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.  Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble….  (Proverbs 3:19c-23 | NIV84)

If you don’t want to be taken in by false teaching; if you want to stay above the strife and division that characterizes our culture today, make it your purpose in life to seek the wisdom of God and be guided by Word of God, which will bring understanding and knowledge of His will to you.  

Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.  I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.   (Proverbs 4:10c-12 | NIV84)

Nothing can take the place of the wisdom that comes from the pages of the Bible.  That’s how God is able to “keep you” from stumbling.  But, if you do, all is not lost:

If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.   (Psalms 37:23c-24 | NIV84)

We will be kept safe and we will be presented to God in the glory of His presence.  That’s a promise. Today, we walk the narrow path of faith, sometimes straying, sometimes stumbling, sometimes being tempted by false teachings.  But one day, like Enoch, we will be translated into God’s glorious presence, never to fall again.  

 


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