Posts Tagged '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.  

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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.  

 

Glory, Part 4

Because the word “glory” is used so often in the Bible, it would be a good idea to see how it’s used. I’ve chosen a handful of examples, and so far here’s what we’ve discovered:

In Colossians 1:27, we read about the “hope of glory,” which is the hope all believers have. The world in which we live has little interest in Christ and frequently Christianity is mocked and Christians are rarely taken seriously, but we have the certain hope that in the future, our faith will become sight and our beliefs will be vindicated.

In Philippians 3:21, Paul talks about our “glorious body.” This is an exciting thought; the moment Christ completely transforms us – changes our earthly body into a glorified body like our Lord’s. This is more than just an end to death and pain and illness. It’s an end to our struggle against the flesh; no more to be pestered by the temptation to sin.

Finally, we discovered in Ephesians 1:18 that Christians are the Lord’s “glorious inheritance.” We have become valuable to God; our worth in Christ in incalculable.

Now let’s consider a couple of verse 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)

“The glorious freedom of the children of God” is an interesting phrase that captures both our attention and our imagination. What is our “glorious freedom?” Believe it or not, it all starts back in chapter 7 with the cry of Paul’s heart:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24 | NIV84)

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever looked at the sorry state of your life in the light of God’s Word and realized how truly “wretched” you are? Paul may have written that verse, but any one of us could have. It’s the cry for help from those who see the need to be more than what they are, yet have no power to make the necessary changes.

Fortunately, for both Paul and us, the answer to the cry of his heart is given in the very next chapter:

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2 | NIV84)

This “new law” applies to those who have been acquitted in Christ – those who no longer stand condemned by God – and who are consequently enabled to live in such a way as to:

Fulfill the moral law of God;
Live beyond the reach of sin and death;
Enjoy life and peace.

Romans 8 really is a remarkable chapter and reading it should encourage your heart as a believer. We learn, for example, that the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit enable and empower the Christian to experience the tiniest sliver of what will be ours in full at Christ’s return. It begins “in Christ” at verse one and ends “in Christ Jesus our Lord” at the last verse. It begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation.

No condemnation

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. (Romans 8:1 | NIV84)

This is really a phenomenal verse, and it was accomplished by the work of Jesus Christ. Keeping the Law didn’t do it. Obeying the rules can’t do it. Your standing before God was achieved wholly by the work of Christ. You stand free and clear of any condemnation in God’s presence solely because of what the Lord did for you. This is spite of how you might feel, by the way. From time to time, you may feel condemned or guilty on account of your behavior, but if your heart is right, and you live in a state of forgiveness, then there’s no condemnation coming from God’s direction, only forgiveness and grace.

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2 | NIV84)

Notice that there are two laws here:

The “law of the Spirit of Christ,” in 8:1;
The “law of sin and death.”

The law of sin and death

If you glance back at Romans 7, you’ll see what the “law of sin and death” is all about:

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19 | NIV84)

This insidious, sinister law is always lurking near by, always challenging your earnest desire to right; always positing a sinful alternative. This nefarious law is so cunning and so clever that before a hapless Christian notices, he’s held captive by it.

The law of the Spirit

It seems like all is lost when you think about the power of the law of the sin and death, yet there is a law able to break the influence and dominion of that old law. Through Jesus Christ and the law of the Spirit, you are set free.

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man…. (Romans 8:3 | NIV84)

That’s the very foundation of the Gospel of grace. Thanks to Jesus Christ – the Son of God – becoming a man, God is not an angry and ready to bring the hammer down on His misbehaving subjects. Because of the sacrificial intervention of His loving, obedient Son, God becomes our compassionate, loving Heavenly Father. Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful man.” In other words, remaining sinless, Jesus became one of us to save us.

Through His atoning death on the Cross, God was able to deliver us; to set us free from the law of sin and death, leaving us free to live a new life, led and empowered by the Spirit of God.

Now, that’s true freedom! To be set free from the awful addiction to commit sin is what Paul is talking here. You can’t kill that addiction by grit and determination or by obeying a written “code of conduct.” Some poet somewhere put it like this:

To run and work the law commands,
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands;
But better news the Gospel brings:
It bids be fly and gives me wings.

That’s exactly what God does! He wants you to live a certain way and He enables you to do it. This is the beauty of serving God through faith in Jesus Christ. You are not bound by rules and regulations impossible to keep and unreasonable to demand. You are able to live up to God’s expectations because Who is living in you.

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 through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:11 | NIV84)

There is no greater power in the universe than the power to raise the dead, and that’s the power resting in you because the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your heart. The Christian, who has slipped and sinned, cannot say, “The devil made me do it.” The incredible resurrection power of God is in you; the devil can’t make you do anything. If you stumble and sin, it’s because you wanted to; you took your eyes off the prize for a moment. But fortunately for us, we don’t stop being God’s child because we occasionally sin.

Sonship

Now, all that is well and good, but it’s up to us to implement the power of the Spirit in our lives. To put it another way, the Holy Spirit won’t force us to live right. Paul, again:

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it (the will of the Holy Spirit). For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14 | NIV84)

So the Christian has an obligation to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and when he does that he will be free from sin. Think of it as a test. If you are truly a child of God, then you will live by the leading of the Spirit on a day-to-day basis. This is crucial to understand, and is often missed by the emotion of these verses. It is a privilege to have been adopted by God; it is a privilege to call God your “Father.”

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15 | NIV84)

It’s a singular privilege that has been afforded to Christians ONLY. Only Christians have a right to refer to God as their “father,” or as Paul put it, “Abba, Father,” which is really just an informal, intimate way to address your Father. But with that privilege comes a heavy responsibility. If you want to continue calling God your “Father” and you wish to have that familial relationship with Him, then you have a responsibility – an obligation – to be led by the Spirit of God and not by your sinful nature.

But it’s a great blessing to be a child of God. And sometimes you may doubt that – sometimes, depending on your day, you may not feel like a child of God. God has a remedy for that:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17 | NIV84)

What a blessing it is to know beyond the shadow of any doubt that you are a child of God. God wants you to know it and to remember it, and God wants you understand the ramifications of being a child of God: You are an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ. What that means is nothing less than staggering, given what we read in the book of Hebrews:

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:2 | NIV84)

Jesus Christ is heir of all things, and so are we! There’s no other way to interpret what Paul wrote to the Romans. It sounds too good to be true, but here it is in black and white. We are co-heirs with Jesus Christ, simply by virtue of our faith in Him.

The now and the not yet

Obviously, God has done so much for us. Yet much of what Paul has written is in the future tense. Our future is full of glorious promises, but in the present, not so much.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18 | NIV84)

Life isn’t so glorious right now. Sometimes we suffer on account of our faith. But whatever suffering we encounter today is nothing compared to the life God has prepared for us in the future. What is involved in that “glorious” future? Consider:

No more sin and decay and death;
All of creation will be released from its captivity to corruption and death and restored to perfection, as in the days of Eden.

The final restoration of all of creation hinges on our final redemption. So great will be the glory of our final redemption, that all of creation is longing for it take place. Nature, as it exists to day is, to use Paul’s word, “frustrated,” in verse 20. That’s the English translation of the Greek word mataioteti, which means, “to no purpose,” or “against the norm.” Nature today is in a discordant key, but when we are finally glorified along with our Lord, nature will be like a harmonious symphony once again.

Glory, Part 3

The word “glory” and variations of it are seen well over 500 times in the Bible. In this series, I’d like to look at a handful of those uses. For example, we looked at how Paul used the word one Colossians:

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 | TNIV)

This “hope of glory” is something Christians have been looking forward to since the time Paul first used the phrase. The “hope of glory” is the hope of a glorious future in Jesus Christ. Your present is probably like mine: Less than glorious! There’s no glory in taking out the trash in the rain, or driving to work on pothole-laden roads, or pumping your own gas. There’s no glory in dealing with lazy, incompetent employees or getting chewed out by the boss for your incompetence. But, that our glorious future is assured in Jesus Christ is the hope we all have. One day, our faith will become sight and our beliefs will be vindicated.

Paul used the word again in his letter to the Philippians:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20, 21 | TNIV)

Most people see verse 21 and get excited because they see the promise of a “glorified body,” which means no more pain or suffering or any kind of physical shortcomings. But Paul’s meaning is much deeper than that. In the body, you can never please the Lord completely. You can never “measure up” to God’s righteous demands as long as you are living in your body. But one day, you old body of flesh, which is so easily led astray by sin, will be done away with – transformed in the twinkling of an eye – so that you will be actually like Jesus Christ.

In writing to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul used the word again like this:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18, 19a | TNIV)

There’s plenty going on in those verses, so let’s read it from another version of Scripture:

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to him! I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great his power is to help those who believe him. (Ephesians 1:18, 19a | TLB)

That may help a little, and hopefully you will see your significance in God’s sight. “God has been made rich because” we belong to Him. Bet you don’t think about that much, do you? Too often, you hear and sing phrases like this:

Would He devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?

Isaac Watts wrote than in 1885 of Christ dying for sinners. But a Christian isn’t a worm anymore; he’s been changed. Yet so many Christians cling to that “I am a worm” theology. You’re not! A worm isn’t valuable; you are! You have made God rich because you belong to Him. God has benefitted in some way because you have become His child.

The letter

The letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus has been called “sublime” and “grand” by Bible scholars for centuries. John Chrysostom (345-407) had this to say about Ephesians:

This Epistle is full to the brim of thoughts and doctrines sublime and momentous. For the things which scarcely anywhere else he utters, there he makes manifest.

Chrysostom is right. Paul covers ideas and notions in Ephesians he doesn’t mention elsewhere.

Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world during Paul’s day, and the church there attracted some pretty big name preachers. Paul was the first Christian preacher to bring the Gospel to its half-million citizens during his second missionary journey. After Paul, the very eloquent and refined Apollos took over the church for a while until Paul returned during his third missionary journey. Eventually, young Timothy assumed the pulpit in Ephesus, and near the end of the first century, John, the last surviving apostle, lived in Ephesus and preached in the church there.

Ephesus, with its large population, it’s bustling economy, it’s arts and culture, it’s medicine, and its great church would eventually vanish off the face of the earth. Nothing lasts forever; kingdoms, and great cities, rise and fall and sometimes disappear. Archaeologist’s have discovered the ruins of this once great metropolis, but today in the 21st century, we know about Ephesus and its great pagan temple and its glorious history largely because it was mentioned in the Bible.

Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome around 60 AD. In all, the apostle wrote three letters from Rome while awaiting news from Caesar about his release. Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians were delivered to their respective destinations by the greatest mailman who ever lived, a fellow named Tychicus.

A powerful opening

The first few verses of this letter are among the most glorious doxologies found in Scripture.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:3 – 6 | TNIV)

We learn something of great significance in that first sentence. Let’s look at it the KJV:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ…. (Ephesians 1:3 | KJV)

God has blessed us. We bless God because He first blessed us. As one Bible scholar noted:

Our blessing is a declaration. His blessings are deeds.

To be “blessed” in the Bible means to be filled with a sense of joy or happiness. We cause God to rejoice because He saved us and because He blesses us. We don’t often think of it that way. But God causes us to rejoice because we receive so much from Him and He rejoices when we turn around and bless Him on account of His blessings to us! That’s some power you have there, my friend! The power to bring a smile to your Heavenly Father’s face.

You’ll notice, though, that the blessings to which Paul is referring are not the temporal blessings you are given here – like the blessings of a good job or a family. These blessings are “in the heavenly realms” and are “spiritual” in nature. They are special blessings we receive because we are “in Christ,” because we are born again. Among those blessings would be things like: salvation, justification, sanctification, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so on. When you pause in your busy day to bless the Lord for those kinds of gifts, you’re making God’s day.

Verse 4 is one of those verses nobody really understands or likes. The sinner hates this verse because it speaks of being “chosen by God,” and that’s a repulsive thought to people who either don’t believe in God or think more of themselves than they do of God. The Christian usually gets it wrong because they don’t read every word, stopping after being told they were “chosen by God.” What Paul is saying here really is quite phenomenal. God’s way of salvation was planned in eternity past. God chose believers in Christ before He created the world, which means you and I didn’t do the choosing, God did the choosing. He didn’t choose us because we were worthy or because we were good. He chose us because we couldn’t choose Him. He chose us so we could do good in this world. The always quotable Charles Spurgeon wrote this:

God chose me before I was born into this world because if He’d waited until I got here, He never would have chosen me.

The point of verse 4 is simply this: We were chosen by God in Christ. That was the plan and God is sticking to it. There’s no other way to be chosen by God except to be in Christ. But the plan has a purpose, in addition to the obvious: To be holy and blameless in His sight. God chose us in order to sanctify us – to make us holy people – to separate us from the rest of the world. And God chose us to be “blameless.” Think about that for a moment. God sees us in Christ as being without blame. This means it’s God’s choice to change you, and that choice was made before He made anything else – including you, by the way.

Of course, that means if you’re a Christian, you have to manifest that change; you have to demonstrate that you are “in Christ,” that you are different person. If there’s no evidence that God has chosen you – if you haven’t changed – then you can’t be one of the elect. John, in a letter he wrote, put it this way:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:1 – 6 | TNIV)

Succinct and to the point. Who says the Bible is hard to understand? “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

God’s glorious inheritance

It’s obvious that we, Christians, have been blessed in, as President Trump may say, “an incredibly huge way” by God. He has given us so much and done so much for us. And yet, in verse 18, out of the blue we read this:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people… (Ephesians 1:18 | TNIV)

There’s a lot to digest in that verse. The thing that jumps off the page is that we, Christians, are “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance.” Have you ever thought of yourself in that way before? You, like me, have always been taught that we bring nothing to God. That’s true, there’s nothing we have that God wants or needs. However, in Christ, we become valuable to God; we are worth something to Him, as long as we remain in Christ.

That concept is so deep and so profound, that Paul tells his friends in Ephesus that he will “pray that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened” so that they may understand their worth in Christ. In the Bible, the heart is the seat of the intelligence and will. Paul prays that their minds and wills may be “enlightened” so as to grasp what he’s telling them. You, my friend, are extremely valuable to God. You may wonder what your value is. It’s simply this: As you live right; as you live like the changed person you are in Christ, you will begin to reflect God’s glory in the world around you. You see, nobody can see God. But they can see you. You become valuable to God because you become His reflection on earth, pointing the lost to Him.

That’s a big deal, and hard to do. That’s why Paul went on to write this:

and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:19a | TNIV)

You have a power deep down inside of you, put there by God, to help you become the changed person He had made you to be. That power is “incomparable,” that is, you can’t compare it to any power on earth; there’s nothing in all the world like the power you hold. It’s the power to become the person God wants you to become; a person who reflects the light of His glory.

Now that is, as Chrysostom might have said, a “sublime and momentous” thought to consider!

The Gospel: Glory

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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)


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