The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Part 4

img_0520

The story of Jesus’ meeting with a Pharisee known as Nicodemus is, perhaps, one the most famous encounters in history. It is certainly a favorite of preachers and Sunday School teachers. And it’s a classic story. Here was man, whose very soul was in darkness, who came to Jesus in the dark of night to talk about spiritual realities. It was during this encounter that the well-known phrase, “you must be born again” is seen for the first time.

A private meeting

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. (John 3:1 | TNIV)

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, whose name means “conqueror of the people.” His name is in stark contrast to his seemingly timid character. John adds that Nicodemus was also a member of Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. He was a teacher and interpreter of the Scriptures. That he was a Pharisee shouldn’t be held against Nicodemus. Not all members of that group were hypocrites. Here was one who took his faith seriously.

And this man had everything: prestige, respect, power, and position. All that, yet he felt the need to visit Jesus under the cover of darkness.

He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2 | TNIV)

It’s noteworthy that his first word to Jesus was “Rabbi.” Jesus wasn’t formally trained; He didn’t attend Rabbi College. But Nicodemus heard enough of what Jesus had been teaching and seen enough of His ministry to know that God was a part of everything this Rabbi was doing. The compliment that he paid Jesus was genuine, and apparently he wasn’t the only Pharisee that could tell there was something different about this itinerant rabbi.

Nicodemus cites the “signs” or “miracles” Jesus was performing as indisputable proof that Jesus was a man from God. What’s really interesting about that single sentence is that the people of that time, including the Pharisees, didn’t doubt the miracles of our Lord. As Dr McGee noted, you have to be a professor in a seminary today to do that. Neither the friends of Jesus or His enemies doubted His miracles.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again. ” (John 3:3 | TNIV)

When you read that verse, it seems like Jesus is talking to somebody else. Nicodemus came to Jesus and, so far, just paid Him a compliment. So why did Jesus say what He said here in verse 3? The key to this, and in fact the key to chapter 3, is something John wrote back in chapter 2:

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need human testimony about them, for he knew what was in them. (John 2:24, 25 | TNIV)

Nobody knows any man like Jesus does. John made the observation in chapter 2, and in chapter 3 He gives Nicodemus as His example; His “Exhibit A.” He knew exactly why Nicodemus came to Him, even though Nicodemus himself wasn’t sure.

It should also be noted that what applies to Nicodemus applies to all people. The word John used in both 2:25 and 3:1 (translated as “people” and “man”) is anthropos, a general, all encompasing word. So what is said about this anthropos Nicodemus is said of all anthropos. This is just one of several “universalizations” that can be found in John’s Gospel. Salvation is for “whosoever” (3:16), but all people are in need of being “born again,” or “born from above.” But this isn’t something only John wrote about:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23, 24 | TNIV)

Nicodemus was pretty sure Jesus came from God, but with a single sentence Jesus informed Nicodemus that only He (and no human being) can see God without being “born from above,” which was really God’s goal for Nicodemus and remains so for all human beings. Westcott made this observation:

Without this new birth – this introduction into a vital connection with a new order of being, without a corresponding endowment of faculties – no man can see – can outwardly comprehend – the kingdom of God. Our natural powers cannot realize that which is essentially spiritual. A new vision is required for the objects of the new order.

That statement from Bishop Westcott sheds a light on this exchange:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. (John 14:8 – 11 | TNIV)

This is exactly what was happening this night with Nicodemus. The theologian whose natural eyes were unable to see God were able to see Jesus, and that brought him one step closer to the Kingdom of God. But in order to get this man into the Kingdom necessitated a “born again” experience. That phrase comes from the Greek anothen, a word that has several meanings, including “from above,” and “again.” However it’s translated, what Jesus meant couldn’t have been more clear. If a person – Nicodemus in particular but all people in general – is to have eternal life, that life must come into that person. Put another way, we receive our biological life from our earthly parents and that life enables us to live in this world, but God’s life can only come from Him and it’s a “new life” from “above.”

An explanation

Nicodemus seemed to understand Jesus’ admonition as being “born again,” as his response indicates:
“How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4 | TNIV)

The learned Nicodemus, for all his theological education and knowledge of the Scriptures, could not grasp what our Lord was getting at. Paul was somebody who would have understood exactly what was happening between the Pharisee and Son of God:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 19 | TNIV)

In order for Nicodemus to pass from being one of “those who are perishing” into one who is “saved,” he would have to experience this new birth Jesus was talking about, and at that moment, his spiritual eyes would pop open. But for now, what Jesus had said was, as Paul noted, simply “foolishness.” Nicodemus had no way to understand what spiritual rebirth was all about. He, like all unbelievers, didn’t have the capacity to comprehend it.

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5 – 8 | TNIV)

These verses are a restatement and explanation of what Jesus had just said. You can’t read verse 5 without wondering what in the world Jesus meant by the phrase, “being born of the water and the Spirit.” The “Spirit” bit is easy. Obviously Jesus is referring to spiritual rebirth – a regeneration initiated by the work of the Holy Spirit. But “being born of water” is a little more difficult to understand. It could be that our Lord is referencing water baptism, especially since the Pharisees understood water baptism and were familiar with John the Baptist’s baptism, a baptism of repentance. Or it may be that Jesus was talking about physical birth, contrasting it with being born of the Spirit.
We’ll likely have to wait to ask Him personally to get His intended meaning, but what is clear is that every human being must, at some point in his life, be born of the Spirit if he wants to enter into the Kingdom of God. Some kind of “conversion experience” needs to occur; our spirits need to be set free and our flesh brought into submission to the Holy Spirit. Again, Paul helps us understand why this must happen:

The sinful mind (the flesh) is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature (flesh) cannot please God. (Romans 8:7, 8 | TNIV)

There is no future for our flesh, that is, our old and sinful nature. God has no plan to fix it or improve it. That old nature must be done away with because it cannot get into the Kingdom of God.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:6, 7 | TNIV)

That’s what Jesus was trying to tell Nicodemus. And He used an illustration about the wind blowing. You can’t see the wind, but you can certainly tell when it’s blowing: You can feel it against your skin and you can see it moving tree tops and flags and so on, and you can hear it. What you can’t tell is where it started out from or where it will eventually end up. That’s Jesus’ way of saying nobody can control the wind; you can’t make it do what you want it to do, and you can’t really explain it or its behavior. The wind, as it were, has a mind of its own.

There’s a clever play on words here. The word Jesus used for “wind” here is pneuma, which also means “spirit!” The fact of wind is undeniable – even though you can’t see it or control it, you know it’s there. But there is also an element of mystery to the wind – there are things about it nobody can explain – yet that doesn’t stop people from noticing it or commenting on it or even making use of it, like in sailing a boat, for example. That also applies to the Spirit. Sure, it’s hard for anybody, even Jesus, to adequately explain the Spirit or things of the Spirit so that a sinful man may understand it. But that shouldn’t stop that same sinful man from experiencing what the Spirit can do for him. As one scholar noted:

The great mystery of religion is not the punishment, but the forgiveness of sin: not the natural permanence of character, but spiritual regeneration.

The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Part 3

img_0515

Does God have a plan for your life? Sounds like a simple question, but you’d be surprised how few Christians have ever thought about it. Truth is, a lot of us don’t even have a plan for our own lives, so it makes sense not to think too hard about whether or not God has one or not. Most Christians, like most people in general, let life happen to them; they react to things that are happening around them, much like a shirt blowing in the wind.

But life never just “happens” to anybody. God really does have a plan for you. He has a plan for everybody, by the way, not just for His people. Keith Green used to say this about the whole issue:

God has a plan for everybody’s life. If you’re an unbeliever, God’s plan for you is hell.

He wasn’t wrong about that. But for His people, God’s plan involves work for Him. Let’s take a look at Aaron. God had a plan for his life that had nothing to do with that whole golden calf thing, proving anybody can make a mistake.

Doing it the wrong way

Speaking of God’s plan for His people, that plan isn’t always sunshine and buttercups. Case in point:

The sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Genesis 15:12 – 14 | TNIV)

That was some plan. But, after those four centuries had run their course, God revealed Himself to a man named Moses and God gave Moses His plan for that man’s life.

Now I going to send you to Pharaoh, to demand that he let you lead my people out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:10 | TLB)

As with all of God’s plans, God had involved himself with the plight of His people. He saw them, He heard them, and He knew what they were going through in Egypt. Why wouldn’t He? That they were even there was part of His plan! It may have seemed to them that He had abandoned them, but that was never the case.

God is constantly aware of what’s going on around us, and He is always acting in the world, as Paul taught in Acts 17:

His purpose in all of this is that they should seek after God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him-though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and are! As one of your own poets says it, ‘We are the sons of God.’ (Acts 17:27, 28 | TLB)

But, the Lord moves in history when He will, not when we may want Him to. And in this case, the Lord was moved to deliver His people and He was going to use Moses to do that. True, God could have delivered Israel by His word alone, but He chose to work through a man. Moses, though, wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of being drafted, and to say he was reluctant would be an understatement. He believed he lacked the abilities to do the work and he believed the task was all but impossible. God reassured Moses over and over and over, and Moses kept on bringing up reasons why he was the wrong man for the job. Had you or I been God, we likely would have passed on Moses altogether. But the Lord is patient, as evidenced by this exchange:

But Moses pleaded, “O Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now, even after you have spoken to me, for I have a speech impediment.” “Who makes mouths?” Jehovah asked him. “Isn’t it I, the Lord? Who makes a man so that he can speak or not speak, see or not see, hear or not hear? Now go ahead and do as I tell you, for I will help you to speak well, and I will tell you what to say.” (Exodus 4:10 – 12 | TLB)

But even that wasn’t enough. Enter Aaron:

Then the Lord became angry. “All right,” he said, “your brother, Aaron, is a good speaker. And he is coming here to look for you and will be very happy when he finds you. So I will tell you what to tell him, and I will help both of you to speak well, and I will tell you what to do. He will be your spokesman to the people. And you will be as God to him, telling him what to say.” (Exodus 4:14 – 16 | TLB)

Doing the right thing in the wrong way?

If Moses tried the Lord’s patience, Aaron must have been a pleasant surprise. Apparently Aaron was on board from the get-go; at least we have no record of any hesitation on his part.

Now Jehovah said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So Aaron traveled to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, and met Moses there, and they greeted each other warmly. Moses told Aaron what God had said they must do, and what they were to say, and told him about the miracles they must do before Pharaoh. So Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt and summoned the elders of the people of Israel to a council meeting. Aaron told them what Jehovah had said to Moses, and Moses performed the miracles as they watched. (Exodus 4:27 – 30 | TLB)

There are rare people like Aaron; people who seem never to question or struggle with the will of God. But it should be noted that while Aaron didn’t go through the doubts Moses went through, and though he didn’t argue or debate with the Lord either, he did easily yield to the wishes of the people in forging the golden calf. It is possible to “leap without looking” when it comes to our service to the Lord. Even Jesus advised His followers to “count the cost” of following Him.

Together, these two brothers shared what God had told them and what God had done with the people, doing exactly what the Lord wanted them to do.

Aaron told them what Jehovah had said to Moses, and Moses performed the miracles as they watched. (Exodus 4:30 | TLB)

The response of the people was not unlike the response of Aaron:

Then the elders believed that God had sent them, and when they heard that Jehovah had visited them and had seen their sorrows, and had decided to rescue them, they all rejoiced and bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 4:31 | TLB)

These folks were absolutely ready for the Lord to deliver them, but they had no idea the magnitude of the sacrifice they would be called to make; no idea of the self-denial, the self-control, and even the suffering that was to come. Yes, these people were desperate for their freedom, but wanting and admiring freedom in the abstract is very different from doing what it takes to get it and keep it. It’s the same way with people today. Sinners hear the gospel; they hear what Jesus can do for them and clamor for salvation, not realizing the life of discipline and commitment that lay ahead.

Fearless and faithful

So Moses told the people what God had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore because they were too dispirited after the tragic consequence of what he had said before. (Exodus 6:8b | TLB)

Chapter 6 of Exodus is an interesting chapter. It begins on a kind of sour note. So far, the two brothers hadn’t had much success. The more they confronted Pharaoh, the harder he made things for the Hebrews in Egypt. The Living Bible says they had become “dispirited,” but that must surely be an understatement! All their hopes were pinned on these two brothers.

Yet just as the story takes off, it is interrupted by, of all things, a genealogy! And beginning with verse 14, we have to wade through yet another genealogy. And yet, it wasn’t just “another” genealogy. It begins with the three oldest sons of Israel, but the real purpose of this genealogy is to stress the priestly tribe of Levi. Kohath is the head of that particular line, and two of his sons are important: Izhar (father of Korah) and Amram (father of Aaron and Moses). Through Aaron, the family line carries on to Eleazar and through him to Phinehas – who served in the Tabernacle. Keep in mind Aaron and Moses are some four generations from Israel. It’s not insignificant that the line does not carry on through Moses but through Aaron. Moses was the prophet of his day, through whom the Lord spoke during the foundation of the nation. But it would be the priests, through Aaron, who would build upon that foundation.

That’s not to say Moses wasn’t an important figure in Hebrews history.  He was.  Dwight L. Moody quipped,

Moses spent 40 years in Pharaoh’s court thinking he was somebody, 40 years in the desert learning he was nobody, and 40 years showing what God can do with a somebody who found out he was a nobody.

That’s the truth! In Pharaoh’s eyes, Moses had become as God, due to the miracles he performed in the royal court. Moses wasn’t acting on his own strength, but he was trusting on the power of God.

But I will cause Pharaoh to stubbornly refuse, and I will multiply my miracles in the land of Egypt. Yet even then Pharaoh won’t listen to you; so I will crush Egypt with a final major disaster and then lead my people out. The Egyptians will find out that I am indeed God when I show them my power and force them to let my people go.” So Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three at this time of their confrontation with Pharaoh. (Exodus 7:3 – 7 | TLB)

And the really amazing thing is that these two brothers were doing all this when they were over 80 years of age! Age is never, ever a factor is serving the Lord. And a servant of God never retires from that position!

Chosen and anointed as priests

God chose Moses’ brother Aaron and his descendants to serve as priests.  Until this time, only Moses was the mediator between man and God. But now, that duty would fall upon Aaron’s family.

Consecrate Aaron your brother, and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, to be priests, to minister to me. Make special clothes for Aaron, to indicate his separation to God-beautiful garments that will lend dignity to his work. Instruct those to whom I have given special skill as tailors to make the garments that will set him apart from others, so that he may minister to me in the priest’s office. This is the wardrobe they shall make: a chestpiece, an ephod, a robe, an embroidered shirt, a turban, and a sash. They shall also make special garments for Aaron’s sons. (Exodus 28:1 – 4 | TLB)

The priests had special clothing that served to set them apart from all other Hebrews. This is holiness manifested. This is typical of the inner purity of all of God’s people. But these special clothes were also designed for glory and beauty. For anybody to go into God’s presence without taking the time to care for his appearance would be inconsistent, given the beauty of the Tabernacle. God, the author of all that is good and all that is beautiful, wants his people to reflect that glory and that beauty in their worship of Him.

The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Part 2

img_0506

Our first greatest story was the story of Noah and the Flood. In that story we read about the very first covenant God made with a man:

Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22 | NIV84)

That was the first of many covenants God made with people over the centuries, but the greatest covenant in the Bible is the one He made with a fellow named Abraham:

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3 | NIV84)

Some ten generations had elapsed between those two covenants and both Noah and Abraham were men of distinction. Noah, of course, because was the only decent man alive on the whole face of the earth at the time, and Abraham remains one of the most important figures, not only in Scripture, but in the overall history of the earth. He was the father of the Israelites through Isaac and the father of the Arabs through Ishmael. He is the ancestor the Messiah and the spiritual father of all believer who share in his faith.

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11-12 | NIV84)

And God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17, etc.) is far reaching. It promises the preservation of Israel as a nation, the Millennial hope, and even the ordering of world affairs at the end of the age.

Hearing and obeying

The story of Abram, later Abraham, begins at the tail end of Genesis 11 –

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. (Genesis 11:31 | NIV84)

So verse one of chapter 12 was probably the second time God came to Abram to call him to leave his relatives and the pagan culture in which he was living.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1 | NIV84)

The first call came while he was in Ur, this second call while he was in Haran, after the death of his father, Terah. Some people find it amazing that God would actually speak directly to human being, but what’s truly amazing is that this human being not only heard God speaking to him, but did what he was told!

So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. (Genesis 12:4 | NIV84)

Just like that, a 75-year-old senior citizen started life all over again, based on a covenant made up of three essential components. Two of those components sounded pretty good and would have made complete sense to old Abram: (1) Abram’s name would be great. Who wouldn’t want to be considered “great” among all the people of the world? Abram was already wealthy, but if he kept up his end of the covenant, he would become influential for all time; (2) God would make Abram a blessing to others. That’s a good thing too. It must have made Abram feel good to be told that he would a blessing to others! But it’s the first stipulation of the covenant that would have been a little hard for this senior citizen to swallow: (3) God would make Abram into a great nation. From the purely human perspective, that seems ridiculous. Now, it is true that Pierre Trudeau, a former Canadian Prime Minister, fathered a daughter in his early 70’s, but that’s an exception. Or exceptional, if you like. So the fact that God would think that Abram would go along with that part of covenant speaks volumes about how God viewed the man’s character. Abram was by no means perfect, but his heart was right.

Paul viewed justification by faith as the key blessing Israel has given the world. Yet wherever the Jewish people have traveled and lived, they have been a blessing to those around them. Think about this:

  • There are some 18 million Jews worldwide, or about 0.2% of the world’s population. Yet Jews make up 54% of the world chess champions, 27% of the Nobel physics laureates, and 31% of the medicine laureates.
  • In America, Jews make up a mere 2% of the population, but 21% of the Ivy League student bodies, 26% of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37% of the Academy Award-winning directory, 38% of those on a recent Business Week list of philanthropists, and 51% of the Pulitzer Prize winners for non-fiction.
  • Within Israel itself, Tel Aviv has become one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurial centers – a new Silicon Valley in the Middle East! For example, Intel is the number one employer in Israel, with more than 8,000 employees. The Israelis are responsible for much of the microprocessor innovation over the last two decades.
  • According to David Brooks: Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any nation on earth. It ranks second behind the US in the number of companies listed on the NASDAQ. Little Israel, with 7 million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined. During the most recent world-wide economic downturn, Israel thrived by raising some consumption taxes but lowering the rest. Barclay’s stated that: “Israel is the strongest recovery story in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
  • Finally, the nation of Israel is nothing short of astounding in terms of its creativity, scientific genius and technological savvy. For example, between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the US. Saudis registered 171. Israel registered 7,652 patents!! The current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that Israel will become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with its economic benefits spilling over into the Arab world. There is indeed some evidence that this is already occurring in Jordan and in the West Bank. An astonishing example of this innovation is the Israeli company Netafim, a company that produced the world’s first drip irrigation system, which consists of a series of plastic pipes with small holes that lie on the ground. This system revolutionized the way Israel made its desert bloom so that it became a leading supplier of fruits, vegetables and flowers to the European market. Today, Netafim is the number one provider of drip irrigation to the world and conducts business in 110 countries spanning five continents. This highly efficient system has helped nations produce 50% more crop yield while using 40% less water. Nations such as India, Vietnam and Philippines all benefit from this technology. However, nations such as Iran and its terrorist allies, Hezbollah and Hamas, despise the success and innovation of Israel and seek to destroy it. (http://graceuniversity.edu/iip/2013/06/13-06-01-1/)

Israel, one of the smallest nations on the planet, has made incredible contributions to humanity. Is it because the Jews are smarter than the rest of us? Or is it because of the covenant God made with Abram?

Abram stepped out in faith, but it was an imperfect faith to be sure.

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit a my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1 – 3 | NIV84)

It’s hard to believe the same man said this:

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (Genesis 14:22 – 24 | NIV84)

Yes, Abram had faith but time was marching on and, at least in private, Abram began to have his doubts. But he did exactly right by confessing them to the Lord. It’s not unusual for God to delay an answer to prayer until a situation appears utterly hopeless; then a solution will have to be of God’s doing and all the glory will be His and His alone.

Confirmation

In chapter 15, Abram addressed the Lord as “Adonai Yahweh,” or “Master Covenant Keeper.” The NIV translates the name as “Sovereign Lord,” and it tells us that even though the man had doubts, he still viewed God as trustworthy and dependable. And yet, Abram’s faith was conditioned by what he saw, or rather, what he didn’t see. He still had no children. Given that, he reasoned that one of his servants would have to do. How often do we limit God by our own reasoning? When we do that, we really short change God because we limit Him, or we put limits on Him. God is so much bigger and so much more powerful than we imagine.

Instead of chastising Abram for what seemed like a lack of faith, the Lord did something astonishing:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:4 – 6 | NIV84)

God would do something for Abram that the man could never conceive of: Give him natural descendants as numerous as the stars.

The patriarch trusted that God would keep His word and God considered that an act of righteousness – Abram was righteous because he simply trusted the Lord. This wasn’t the first time Abram exercised extreme faith in God. Here’s what Hebrews says:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8 – 10 | NIV84)

Abram, who later became Abraham, was a man of simple faith. He may have been had fleeting doubts which led to bad decisions, but his act of trusting the Lord’s word is legendary, and is considered righteousness, and as Paul would later write, an example of what justification of faith is all about (Romans 4 and Galatians 3). Salvation is an act of simple faith, just as Abram’s trusting God to keep His word was.

The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Part 1

img_0499

The Bible is not only the greatest, most influential book ever written, it contains the greatest stories ever told. In fact, it’s not much of a stretch to say that the greatest stories in literature all find their basis or inspiration in the Bible. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some of those stories you may know so well and hopefully you’ll learn some new things about the greatest stories ever told.

Our first story occupies four chapters in the Old Testament book of Genesis but is summarized over in the New Testament:

Noah was another who trusted God. When he heard God’s warning about the future, Noah believed him even though there was then no sign of a flood, and wasting no time, he built the ark and saved his family. Noah’s belief in God was in direct contrast to the sin and disbelief of the rest of the world-which refused to obey-and because of his faith he became one of those whom God has accepted. (Hebrews 11:7 | TLB)

The story of Noah and the ark is familiar even to people who have never cracked open the Bible. Every culture has it’s “flood narrative,” meaning that somewhere in the collective memory of every culture in the world, resides the story of one man who defied the odds and survived a catastrophe.

In the case of Noah, we’ll focus on his single-minded obedience to God. And that’s where the story begins.

The only just man

When the Lord God saw the extent of human wickedness, and that the trend and direction of men’s lives were only towards evil, he was sorry he had made them. It broke his heart. And he said, “I will blot out from the face of the earth all mankind that I created. Yes, and the animals too, and the reptiles and the birds. For I am sorry I made them.” (Genesis 6:5 – 7 | TLB)

Things were bad back then. How bad? These verses serve to illustrate how far the descendants of Adam and Eve had fallen. The story of Noah isn’t so much about Noah, although it is that, it’s really about God’s relationship with mankind, especially with the one who listens, pays attention to, and obeys Him.

The contrast between these verses and those of the creation narrative is obvious. In the beginning, God looked at the earth and all was “good,” but now all was wicked. Every impulse of man was continually evil. Nobody ever described man’s sinful condition better than Paul:

I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. (Romans 7:18, 19 | TLB)

In terms we understand, God “regretted” that He created man and He determined to wipe out all life on earth because of man’s evil. In some translations, it sounds as though God “changed His mind” that He had made man. Before you think He did, you should know this:

God is not a human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19 | TNIV)

Man may indeed have been “rotten through and through,” to use Paul’s words, but the source of evil on the earth at this time was actually something even worse:

Now a population explosion took place upon the earth. It was at this time that beings from the spirit world looked upon the beautiful earth women and took any they desired to be their wives. In those days, and even afterwards, when the evil beings from the spirit world were sexually involved with human women, their children became giants, of whom so many legends are told. (Genesis 6:1,2,4 | TLB)

That’s how The Living Bible translates it, and it may or may not be exactly what the author of Genesis intended to convey (he may have been referring simply to intermarriage between believers and non-believers). Regardless, the corruption that entered the human race due to those relationships spread throughout the whole human race, touching almost every person.

Then Jehovah said, “My Spirit must not forever be disgraced in man, wholly evil as he is. I will give him 120 years to mend his ways.”. (Genesis 6:3 | TLB)

But, God did set up a grace period of 120 years, during which time Noah would act like a prophet, warning the people about the impending judgment. In spite of how evil people had become, God liked Noah – the man “found favor with God” according to the KJV – because Noah was a man of unimpeachable character. Apparently the only one on all the earth at this time. His family was also free of the spiritual corruption that had touched all the rest of mankind, and God established a covenant with Noah and his family:

But I promise to keep you safe in the ship, with your wife and your sons and their wives. (Genesis 6:18 | TLB)

Noah’s response to God’s covenant (which was expanded in 9:8 – 17) was to build the ark. In all, 120 years elapsed and all during that time, Noah was mocked and jeered as he built a boat on dry land with no rain in sight. It begs the question: How is it possible to obey God in a sinful world? Obedience to God is independent of your circumstances; regardless of what’s going on in your life or around the world, if you call yourself a Christian then you must do all you can to live in obedience to God’s Word.

The rains came down, the flood came up

One week later, when Noah was 600 years, two months, and seventeen days old, the rain came down in mighty torrents from the sky, and the subterranean waters burst forth upon the earth for forty days and nights. (Genesis 7:10 – 12 | TLB)

Old Noah was obedient right till the day the rains came. As far as we know, he never wavered in his commitment to get that boat built and get the word out. 120 years he preached and for 120 years his warnings went unheeded. You have to admire Noah’s devotion to God’s Word. The day came to bring the animals into the ark, which was quite a task.

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. (Genesis 7:2 | KJV)

This is the first time in the Bible we are introduced to the notion of “clean” and “unclean” animals. We don’t know how Noah knew the difference between the two; it wasn’t until the Tabernacle in the wilderness was built that the idea of this kind of separation was codified in the Jewish law (Leviticus 7:19 – 21). Somehow he knew which animal was which and the job got done.

The idea of separation is an important idea throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, the stress was on separating clean and unclean animals, clean and unclean people, and Jew and Gentile. In the New Testament, the necessity of separation continues, but this time, it has nothing to do with food. Here’s an example of separation as expressed by Paul:

Don’t be teamed with those who do not love the Lord, for what do the people of God have in common with the people of sin? How can light live with darkness? And what harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a Christian be a partner with one who doesn’t believe? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For you are God’s temple, the home of the living God, and God has said of you, “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” That is why the Lord has said, “Leave them; separate yourselves from them; don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.”. (2 Corinthians 6:14 – 18 | TLB)

It’s unfortunate that the people of Noah’s day didn’t have access to that paragraph! This whole catastrophe might have been avoided had they.

As He always does, God kept up His end of the covenant.

But Noah had gone into the boat that very day with his wife and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives. (Genesis 7:13 | TLB)

He held the rain off until Noah and his family were safe and secure within the ark.

When you read the account of Noah and his building of the ark, the faith and obedience of Noah are astounding. Look at these verses:

And Noah did everything as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22 | TLB)

So Noah did everything the Lord commanded him. (Genesis 7:5 | TLB)

But at the same time, so were the sovereign initiatives of God:

And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him. There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah. (Genesis 7:5, 9 | KJV)

And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the Lord shut him in. (Genesis 7:16 | KJV)

And that’s the way it should be; Noah should serve as the perfect example of a faithful, submissive believer who does what God tells him to do. This was something the mother of Jesus understood:

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to.”. (John 2:5 | TLB)

God sealed the ark, the rains came, and flood waters rose, and all life on the earth perished. It may surprise you, but there is far more space devoted to the story of Noah’s flood than the creation of the universe – 56 verses compare to 81 verses. The theological significance of the flood is important to note because without it, we’re missing some important history. Over in the New Testament, we read this:

First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of and laugh at the truth. This will be their line of argument: “So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? He’ll never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation.” They deliberately forget this fact: that God did destroy the world with a mighty flood long after he had made the heavens by the word of his command and had used the waters to form the earth and surround it. And God has commanded that the earth and the heavens be stored away for a great bonfire at the judgment day, when all ungodly men will perish. (2 Peter 3:3 – 7 | TLB)

The flood is seen as a foreshadow of a greater judgment to come; a judgment for essentially the same reason. And Noah and his family are seen as the faithful believers who will enter into a re-created world where Jesus Christ will rule and reign. The world as we know it today isn’t the same world Noah lived in before the flood. The flood began a new epoch of history, which was something Peter understood.

For God did not spare even the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell, chained in gloomy caves and darkness until the judgment day. And he did not spare any of the people who lived in ancient times before the flood except Noah, the one man who spoke up for God, and his family of seven. At that time God completely destroyed the whole world of ungodly men with the vast flood. (2 Peter 2:4, 5 | TLB)

So also the Lord can rescue you and me from the temptations that surround us, and continue to punish the ungodly until the day of final judgment comes. (2 Peter 2:9 | TLB)

 

The Gospel: Glory

1484740369140

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 | TNIV)

So far, we’ve look at two aspects of the gospel, a word that simply means “good news.” They were:

Grace. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24 | TNIV)
Power. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 | TNIV)

God’s “grace” and “power” are good news to man. In fact, they are better than just “good news,” they are GREAT NEWS! The fact that because of the good news of God’s power contained in His wisdom, revealed in both the Living Word of His Son and within the pages of the Word of God, sinful man’s life is transformed – changed to the point where his sins and sinful past are separated from his person so that God can treat that new man better than he deserves to be treated, which is the good news of God’s grace.

This time, we’ll look at the third and final aspect of the gospel: The good news of the glory of Christ. What did Paul mean when he wrote that? Getting inside the head of the human authors of the Scriptures is the goal of Bible students. To that end, we need to look at the context in which Paul used that phrase.

A troubled church causes trouble

Paul genuinely loved the church located in the Roman province of Achaia, in a hustling, bustling commercial metropolis known as Corinth. It was the center of worship for the goddess Aphrodite, whose temple women – prostitutes, really – were also busy entertainers in the city’s night life. Generally speaking, the people of Corinth were highly educated and prosperous, yet simmering beneath this veneer of sophistication, was a city full of sin. All kinds of sin.

But Corinth was also a place where all kinds of people lived, worked, travelled to, and travelled from. It’s strategic location made it the logical location to start a church, and so on his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul went there to do just that.

In Corinth, Paul stayed with Priscilla and Aquilla and he began to make tents because, of course, he had to support himself until the church got up and running. We don’t know a whole lot about these two except that they were exiles from Rome. No matter where Paul went and no matter what he did, something always reminded him about going to Rome!  A year-and-a-half later, Paul left Corinth, the church established. But that wasn’t the end of it.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. (1 Corinthians 5:9, 10 | TNIV)

So before he wrote 1 Corinthians, he actually wrote another letter to correct moral laziness within that church. It was, by all accounts, a very painful letter, which we don’t have. Verse 11 gives us an idea what the Christian culture was like in Corinth:

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with any who claim to be fellow believers but are sexually immoral or greedy, idolaters or slanderers, drunkards or swindlers. With such persons do not even eat. (1 Corinthians 5:11 | TNIV)

That’s some Christian culture, right there! Imagine the sexually immoral, greedy, idolaters and slanderers, drunkards and swindlers calling themselves Christians! And the only church in town not doing anything to straighten them out! That’s what was getting all over Paul’s last nerve. And that’s why he wrote this letter, that we call 1 Corinthians, but was really the second letter he wrote to that church.

Not long after that, the Corinthians were behind a sort of campaign against Paul. The integrity of his motives, of his behavior, and even of his apostolic ministry were all brought into question. Even his courage (10:1,10) and abilities were attacked (10:11; 11:6).

For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” (2 Corinthians 10:10 | TNIV)

So you can see that the large church in Corinth was a troubled church that got into trouble, but it was also a church caused trouble.

Paul identified the problem

To his credit, Paul identified the real problem in the Corinthian church. It wasn’t necessarily the shifty characters that made up the “roll of rogues.” Here’s who Paul thought was behind all the problems in the Corinthian church and beyond: The god of this age.

We modern believers, living in the sophisticated 21st century would do well to understand those five words. Satan is God’s great and eternal adversary; he stands opposed to God’s plan at every turn. He has, however, been given temporary and limited lordship over this world. Because of this, the world today is not a good place:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father… (Galatians 1:3, 4 | TNIV)

Satan’s dominion covers anybody who aligns himself with any cause that stifles or compromises God’s eternal purpose. That’s why even the Law, which was given by God to His people, was eventually twisted, abused, and misused by the Jews so that it became a demonic force. And why Saul actually thought persecuting and murdering Christians was a good idea for his religion! He was blinded by “the god of this age,” as so many are today.

If you’ve ever heard anybody say something like this: “I don’t understand the Gospel. I’ve heard it all my life and I still don’t get it,” then you understand what it’s like for a person to be blinded by Satan. If you’ve ever tried to share your faith with the lost and all you get a blank, empty stare back for all your trouble, then you understand with it’s like for a person to be blinded by Satan. The light of God’s glory is shining brightly, but Satan has blinded their eyes so they cannot see it.

You and I as Bible believing, church-going Christians may bemoan the sorry state of the church these days, but the fact is “the god of this age” has made it very difficult for the non-believer to see and hear the Gospel of God’s grace. The problem isn’t all with the church; it’s not with the Bible. The problem is a combination of “the god of this age” and the non-believer buying into his worldview.

The good news of the glory of Christ

So if you, like Paul, are serious about serving the Lord, it’s easy to get discouraged. We’re plagued with our own human weaknesses and imperfections that chip away at our self-confidence. And on top of that, we have to constantly deal with the disinterest and indifference of people to the Gospel, and that makes us wonder if the so-called good news is really all that good! Here’s what Paul wrote about that:

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1 | TNIV)

Paul refused to “lose heart” because it was God who gave him “this ministry” in the first place. When Jesus Christ captured Paul’s heart on the dusty road to Damascus, He gave the man a new heart full of mission and purpose. But Paul’s not exception; he’s the pattern! We all have been given a new heart and a mission and a purpose – a ministry to perform for the Kingdom of God. Before Christ, we all lived aimless, self-seeking, purposeless lives. But Christ came in and He gave us something to do, and as we do, we find encouragement and hope.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2 | TNIV)

And that’s how we should fulfill God’s calling on our lives. There’s always the temptation to take the simple Word of God and dress it up; to embellish it; make it more interesting or acceptable to the lost. Thing is, we aren’t supposed to be “clever” in the worldly sense of the word. We aren’t supposed to use worldly means to reach the lost. We are to do what Paul did:

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5 | TNIV)

Those two words, Jesus Christ, are what the Gospel, the good news, is all about. Paul and the early church didn’t preach about having a happy marriage or how to succeed in life! They preached Jesus Christ because He alone is the solution to anybody’s problems, and that’s good news. Paul was encouraged by the fact that the Gospel did not have to be accepted by everybody who heard it to be valid. Satan has blinded the lost; veiled their understanding, but he has not harmed the Gospel in any way.

And that gets us to the verse that began this message:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 | TNIV)

What is “the gospel that displays the glory of Christ?” What is “the good news that displays the glory of Christ?” Sadly, “the glory of Christ” is what sinful man doesn’t want to see. The glory of Christ is that He is “the image of God.”

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15 | TNIV)

The word for “image” is eikon, which is more than just a painting or statue, but rather, “the illumination of its inner core or essence.” What that means is stunning: Jesus Christ, the Man from Heaven, is the very image – the representation – the fulfillment – of the image of God in man. And it is through Jesus Christ that the Christian is being transformed into the exact same image!

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 | TNIV)

Therefore, in Christ, the Christian is restored to the image of God. No wonder Satan has blinded the eyes of the lost! Who wouldn’t want to remade into the image of God?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 | TNIV)

The Gospel: Power

lid5rloet

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 | NIV84)

Ask almost anybody what “the gospel” is and they’ll most likely reply, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” That response is wrong on a couple of counts. First, those four men were apostles, not gospels. Second, they wrote things called “the gospels,” but that’s not what “the gospel” refers to. The word “gospel” really means “good news.” The apostle Paul frequently used the phrase “the gospel” in his writing, and he certainly wasn’t thinking about the four documents written by the apostles that refer to as “the Gospels.”

We’ve looked at “the gospel of grace,” and now we will turn our attention to “the gospel of power,” or, “the good news of power.” What did Paul have in mind when he penned Romans 1:16? Just what is this power the gospel possesses? Let’s take a look.

Paul’s desire

It’s a trick question: What was Paul’s greatest desire? A lot of seminary smarty pants get it wrong, but by his own testimony, here’s the right answer:

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong… (Romans 1:11 | NIV84)

Paul was desperate to get to Rome, for a number of reasons, but this one being the primary one. He wanted “impart…some spiritual gift” to the believers there. Obviously this doesn’t mean Paul wanted to just visit and pray for them. He could pray for his Roman brothers anywhere, which he did.

God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you. (Romans 1:9 | NIV84)

Paul wanted to preach to them; he wanted to teach the Word of God to the Romans. Look at the apostle’s testimony here: He served God with his whole heart. Paul was all in for Jesus Christ, and while a lot of believers claim to be praying for a lot of other believers, Paul linked his prayer life to what God knew about him! God knew Paul so well, He knew how often the apostle prayed for the Romans. That’s quite a statement to make. But Paul had that close a relationship with his Lord. Verse 10 shows us how close a relationship he had:

I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. (Romans 1:10 | NIV84)

Paul had his desires, but he subordinated them to God’s will. What a perfect example of man and God working together! Think about this for a minute. Paul really, really, really wanted to get to Rome to do a very good thing: Preach the gospel. He could have gone any time; nothing was stopping Paul from going to Rome. He went everywhere else! The man was always on the road preaching. What kept him from going to Rome? God’s will, that’s what. Paul always deferred to the Lord’s will in a situation. He knew he could have preached in Rome any time, but if he was patient and went at the right time (God’s time), he would have had God’s blessing and much more success. How many of us, I wonder, rush ahead of God, falling out of God’s will in the process, all the while trying to do something for God. It’s always a toss-up when you do that. Sometimes you’ll have success, sometimes not. There are no guarantees. But when you stay in the mainstream of God’s will, you can never lose. Never! And Paul did just that; he was waiting for God to give him the word. And it appeared like he would be going Rome sooner rather than later:

This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you… (Romans 15:22 – 23 | NIV84)

Yes, as one scholar noted:

Paul was the author of his purposes but not of his circumstances.

It’s the same with us, by the way. You and I make our plans but no matter how carefully we do that, circumstances often have their way us.

If you glance at verses 14 and 15, you’ll get a sense of what Paul thought about the gospel – that is, the “good news” in a general sense:

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. (Romans 1:14, 15 | NIV84)

Because God had saved Paul and called him to take the “good news” to those who needed to hear it, he had a moral obligation – literally a debt – to preach it to anybody and everybody. “Greeks, non-Greeks, wise, and foolish,” all people needed to hear the Gospel. And all people need to hear it today, too. You and I as Christians 20 centuries removed from Paul, are under the same obligation, and while you may not be called to preach or teach as Paul did, you owe the lost of your generation that same Gospel! There’s no other way to put it: We owe the Gospel to the lost. But how many of us are as committed as Paul was? He literally waited years for an open door to take the Word of God to Rome. Would we have just given up? How many of us care to take the Gospel to halls of a university or those of Congress? Would we take our lives in our hands to take the Gospel to South Side of Chicago?

But what was it Paul would preach in Rome and in Jerusalem? What is this “good news” that applies to anybody and everybody; senators and scoundrels alike?

It’s the good news of power

The answer to those questions lie in verses 16 and 17:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16, 17 | NIV84)

It wasn’t Johnny Cash that first recorded the classic, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” It was actually written in 1959 by an Aussie named Geoff Mack. It was made famous down under by Lucky Starr and then the immortal Hank Snow, a Canadian, got hold of it and adapted it for North American ears. But Lucky Starr, Hank Snow, and Johnny Cash never traveled as extensively as did the apostle Paul. And in his travels he preached and taught the Gospel to very educated people. There were many egghead philosophers in cities like Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and you can be sure there were intellectual giants in Rome. In spite of them, Paul boldly declared that he was NOT ashamed to the gospel. Period. End of discussion. He was not ashamed of the Gospel no matter what the eggheads thought or said. He had confidence in the “good news” because he discovered two very important things about it related to its inherent POWER.

First, the Gospel itself IS the power of God. That is, the “good news” about God is the power. That phrase, “…the power of God…” is not insignificant. The Greek word for “power” is dynamis, and refers to a power within itself. The Gospel has power – it is power – regardless of who is preaching it. In other words, a powerful sermon is such not because the preacher is so great but because the Gospel is.

But just what is “the dynamis of God?” As Paul uses the phrase, the power of God often refers to God’s wisdom, especially as contrasted with man’s wisdom. For example:

but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24 | NIV84)

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5 | NIV84)

God’s wisdom is what changes lives; the Bible, a compendium the wisdom, changes lives. A clever sermon based on the popular ideas of the day may sound good, and may contain very good and helpful ideas, but it won’t change a life. How can that be? It’s because the very revelation of God Himself is contained in the Gospel. But the Gospel isn’t just the story of God; it is a living revelation of God that changes a life – that implants salvation in life of a man.

Speaking of salvation, the Greek word is soteria, and it’s a very broad word that includes all the things God has done for us, does for us, and will do for us. In Romans alone, salvation includes the forgiveness of sins and acceptance before God, deliverance from the future wrath of God, the present life of the believer which is lived in the life of the Spirit, and salvation also includes the future resurrection of the body!

This divine power which infuses every word and phrase of the Gospel is not dependent upon human wisdom or expertise or virtue or action. The Gospel IS simply the power of God. Ceremony, good works, fancy words have nothing to do with the power of the Gospel. Paul makes it clear that it is the power of God alone that saves a sinner when that sinner expresses faith. Salvation is freely given, not earned in any way.

But second, Paul’s confidence was also in the substance of the Gospel, which is what verse 17 is all about. The substance of the gospel is simply “a righteousness from God.” Volumes have been written over the centuries about what Paul meant by that phrase, and even today there is some debate about what that phrase means. Because this is a key point, so let’s distill all the opinions into this simple paragraph.

Paul was a Jew, and therefore he thought like a Jew. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s righteousness is portrayed by the way He acts, especially they way He acts in maintaining His covenant. So the gospel, then, shows us what God does in the lives of His people, for His people. That’s good news! Yet it goes beyond just His action. God’s righteousness is also His character, because one’s actions descend from one’s character. God acts righteously, He performs righteous deeds, because His character is righteous. He is completely righteous in His Person and in His acts. That’s more good news about God because it means the way God treats you can never be swayed by anything or anybody. Not even yourself. That’s why when you mess up and sin or treat God poorly, He still loves you and He still treats you as His child because He is altogether righteous.

The power of the gospel is, as explained by Paul, that its scope is universal; it is for all people, from all times, from all places. The good news about God, when it is heard by people, will change their lives for all eternity. That’s power.

The Gospel: Grace

1482936958451

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24 | NIV84)

Human beings are God’s ultimate creative expression and His only creation made in His image.  All other aspects of creation were created by God to serve the needs of human beings just as human beings were created to serve God. In that sense, all people are theocentric. Being created in God’s image, is it any wonder why He went to such great lengths to save man?

The apostle Paul was such a man. He was created in God’s image but as it has done to all men, sin yanked Paul farther and farther away from his creator, distorting God’s image within his heart to the point where even though Paul became a master at handling the Scriptures, he neither understood them nor resembled his Creator in any way.

It took a shocking encounter with the risen Lord for Paul to be convinced to his lost condition:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. (Acts 9:3-8 | NIV84)

And it was while he was cooling his heels in Damascus that Paul received his commission from the Lord:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”. (Acts 9:15-16 | NIV84)

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. (Acts 9:19c-20 | NIV84)

And so the “Gospel of grace” did to Paul what it does to everybody who hears it and accepts it: It radically changed his life and set him free to do the same for others.

Let’s look a little closer at this “Gospel of grace” and discover what it’s all about.

The image of God in man

Grace, we’ve been taught, is “God’s unmerited favor,” meaning that God treats those who have placed their full faith and trust in Him better than they deserve. That’s a good definition, and if that’s all you know about grace, it will serve you well. But for those of us who think too much, we wonder about the whole issue of God’s grace. For me, I wonder what it is about sinful, rebellious human beings that moves God to treat them with grace. The answer is simplicity itself, and it all boils down to these two verses:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him;male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 | NIV84)

Human beings – men and women – were created in God’s image. Both as individuals and corporately, we have been created in the image of God. Actually, if you read Genesis 1:26 a little closer, we see that men have been created in the image and likeness of God. While that sounds like human beings “look like God,” that’s not what’s being taught in those verses. Men and women, because they have been created in the “image” and “likeness” of God, share His morality, His ability to be rational, to be thoughtful, and especially to be able to relate to Him and other human beings on a spiritual, emotional, mental, and intimate level. Beyond nebulous things like those, there’s really no single aspect in any human being you can point to and say, “That looks like God.”

Psalm 8 gives us a sense of what being created in God’s “image” and “likeness” means:

what is man that you are mindful of him,the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds,and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air,and the fish of the sea,all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalms 8:4-8 | NIV84)

Those verses could never be applied to any other thing God ever created. Only men and women have been created in God’s “image” and “likeness.” Contrary to what too many people think, the Bible teaches equality between the sexes; neither sex is given prominence over the other. This fact should be obvious since both men and women have been created in God’s “image” and “likeness.” Now, of course, there are different roles assigned to each sex and men and women are different; they are not the same and should never be regarded as the same or treated as the same.

While it’s true we are all created in the “image” and “likeness” of our Creator, sin has marred and seriously distorted that image. It has become so warped that you’d be hard-pressed to find God’s image in sinful man. For example, man’s dominion over the earth has been challenged because of sin. Apart from Jesus Christ, human beings cannot live at peace very long with anybody. That’s why we fight and argue and “discuss” with the very people we claim to love! And that’s why no human being can ever hope to relate to God outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter how good a person tries to be, he can never be good enough – he can never be clean enough – to come into God’s presence.

All of us have become like one who is unclean,and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 | NIV84)

But God still sees His image in every human being, no matter how good or how sinful they may be. And that’s why He yearns to repair the damage caused by sin.

How serious was sin of Adam and Eve? What they did was no moral lapse – a mistake in judgment – but outright, deliberate rebellion against the will of God. They deliberately rejected God’s way for another. They day they disobeyed God, they began to die. The consequences of that rebellion – not the guilt – were passed on to the descendants of Adam and Eve. Consequences like these:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… (Romans 1:18 | NIV84)

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20 | NIV84)

God’s crowning achievement – man – created in the very “image” and “likeness” of his Creator, now lost and hurting, not knowing how bad off he is, unable to help himself, is actively pursued by God so that He may repair His “image” and “likeness” within that man, thereby restoring that man to his rightful place as a son of God (not THE Son of God).

That’s the Gospel of grace; the same Gospel that changed Saul, the persecutor of Christians, into Paul, the man who would preach that Gospel of grace that changed him so that others may be changed as he was.

Why everybody needs to hear this Gospel of grace

And this is why everybody – EVERYBODY – needs some kind of “conversion experience.” No church can educate anybody’s sinful nature out of them. The apostle Paul spent three years alone with the risen Lord in the desert, learning from Him, but that was AFTER his conversion experience. Going to church won’t save you. Having a “church-going” spouse or parents won’t do you a wit of good. Every human being, like Paul, needs a change. A change that occurs from the inside out, not the outside in.

Because of the sinful nature we inherited from Adam and Eve, we are by nature as hostile to God and as rebellious as Adam and Eve were. Our sinful nature colors every decision we make and influences every relationship we have. That sinful nature makes us sinful people who cannot change on our own. We may, from time to time do the right thing, but we have wills that generally won’t obey God, eyes that cannot see, and ears that cannot hear the truth because we are dead to God. That’s why no human being who has ever lived has “found God” because he was looking for Him. He wasn’t. No human being is looking for God because he can’t. He may be looking for goodness and justice and peace – all the things that come from God – but that sinner isn’t looking for God Himself. Man’s depraved nature – our gift from Adam and Eve – forbids us from looking for God. Being totally depraved does NOT mean we are as bad as we could be, but rather it means that every good thing we may do, while it may help other people, can’t help us with God. We need something else, outside of our tainted, untrustworthy, deprived sinful nature to point us to God. That “something else” is God’s grace. It is God’s grace that draws sinners to Himself. Jesus put it this way:

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32 | NIV84)

Salvation – coming to Christ in response to His call – is a gift from God that has nothing to do with our behavior but everything to do with God’s grace:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24 | NIV84)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 | NIV84)

This Gospel of grace is the most remarkable thing! No sinner can lose when he responds to God’s grace. Don’t’ misunderstand what I’m saying here. God does all the work in saving a sinner; He takes the initiative. When people receive the grace of God, their lives necessarily change and that is a testimony to the power of God’s grace. But when they reject God’s grace, that is also a testimony – a testimony of a hard, sinful heart that refuses to accept the best gift they’ve ever been offered.

God’s grace comes to us while we are still sinners and once accepted, that “image” and “likeness” of God becomes more defined and obvious. God does not accept us because He sees us making an effort to change. Grace comes into our lives while we are at our worst, and as we allow God’s grace to work in us, He changes us. God takes us, just as we are because He is a merciful God.


Bookmark and Share

Another great day!

Blog Stats

  • 153,613 hits

Never miss a new post again.

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 136 other followers

Follow revdocporter on Twitter

Who’d have guessed?

My Conservative Identity:

You are an Anti-government Gunslinger, also known as a libertarian conservative. You believe in smaller government, states’ rights, gun rights, and that, as Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Take the quiz at www.FightLiberals.com

Photobucket