1 and 2 Thessalonians

I would like to take the next several weeks and invite you to join me in a study of two amazing and very practical short epistles that we find in our New Testament, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. How can letters written over two thousand years ago be helpful to us? How can they possibly relate to what is going on today in my life, my world? That’s the cool thing about the Bible, it is timeless. Its truth’s are eternal and unchanging because it’s Author is eternal and unchanging and therefore authoritative and instructive in any generation (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17).

Although two thousand years have passed since this church was founded and these epistles were written, Christianity and its teachings have spread across the world, just like our Lord said it would (Acts 1:8)! The world that Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, and this young church were apart of has dramatically changed over the centuries (1 Thessalonians 1:1-2), just like it will in the centuries to come, Lord willing. Even so, there is a vast array of similarities between us and them that make this writing helpful, useful, and worthy of our time and attention!

If you take a glance at any solid outline in our study bibles today you will promptly see how little has really changed since then. Maybe we are not facing the things that they were in exactly the same way, but we also need encouragement from others. We need people praying for us (chapter 1). Paul’s integrity stands out in the way in which he served these people. His example serves as a reminder to us that we also need to be people of integrity (2:1-16). The encouragement and instructions to love, keep hope, to live godly lives in our current circumstances, to be at peace with one another, and the exhortation to live a virtuous life, are all found within the pages of these small, yet profound letters, written to a group of people in a newly formed church that needed instruction in the basics of the Christian life.

Another observation that I think should draw our attention to these short letters is their emphasis on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! At the end of each chapter you will find a statement about this event (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11,23). Paul wrote this letter with the return of Christ on his heart and mind. He wrote to correct some misunderstandings that the Thessalonian believers had in regards to the Lord’s return, and he wrote to comfort and encourage them by reminding them of His promise to return (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11).

No matter what day and age we live in, we all need these practical reminders and loving exhortations to persevere until our Lord returns. My prayer is that you will join me in this study, and together, by God’s grace we will grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)! See you next week.

THE GOSPEL OF GOD Devotional

Photo from Freely Photos

Long reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13

Quoted verse: 1 Thessalonians 2:13

“And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (NASB).

The Open Air Campaigners have an evangelistic ministry that has at its core the burden of preaching the gospel to lost people anywhere and mobilizing the body of Christ to do the same. I had the pleasure of learning from these men, many years ago, the skills that were needed to do well in open air evangelism. Using a sketch-board, painting a gospel message, rope tricks and other illustrations; as well as spiritual discipline, faithful study of God’s word, earnest prayer, teamwork, and compassion for the lost. But there is one thing that I learned from them that has affected my gospel witness more than anything else, and that is this: God working through His word performs His will in those who hear and believe!

You and I cannot save anyone. Our flattering speeches, or supposed superiority with words; our perceived wisdom or persuasive rhetoric, never did and never will save anyone. God uses people to proclaim His word, this is true, but He uses weak people led by His Spirit, so that when He opens up minds and hearts to His truth’s, it will always be a demonstration of the working of His Holy Spirit and power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)!

This truth should be encouraging and reassuring to God’s people. Just as the word of the Lord sounded forth from these believers in every place they went (1 Thessalonians 1:8), so too it should from us. You and I can faithfully share the gospel of God with others (vs 9), confident that He will do what He will in those peoples lives that have heard the truth from us. This means that you and I can share the gospel and then go home and sleep in peace. If people are to come to faith in Christ, such faith cannot rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God!

                                                                                                                                    Larry Stump Jr.  

Daily prayer: Help us O God, to trust in your Spirit and power in the salvation of the lost. Grant to us thy peace which surpasses all understanding as we pray and seek to win souls for Christ. Amen.

New Year’s resolutions

Welcome to 2021! What a year it was that we just passed through. As we progressed through last year we faced the normal up’s and down’s that we expected to face, and some we didn’t. Add to the normal, the abnormal; Covid 19, mask wearing, social distancing, virtual schooling, businesses closing, and the election mayhem for starters. Sounds like a great time to make a New Year’s resolution, after all, “what didn’t kill us can only make us stronger,” right?

Each year many people, including Christians, make New Year’s resolutions. We recognize that in certain areas of our life we need to do better. So, we commit to start doing or not doing something in the new year that will make us a better person. The idea is that if we get started off on the right foot at the beginning of the year, we will continue on the right path for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions usually fail. One article I read online in People magazine, stated that in their study they found that most Americans are ditching traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2021. Here is one snippet from the article: “The top planned New Year’s resolutions for 2021 aren’t focused on going to the gym or losing weight, but rather saving money for the future (62 percent) and learning a new skill (50 percent) Seven in 10 Americans are tossing out their materialistic New Year’s resolutions for 2021, according to new research.”       

That makes sense to me. People are planning ahead not knowing what the future may hold in these unsettled times. But, should that stop us from resolving to be better people, to be more Christlike? The fatal flaw of resolutions is that they generally seek to modify a particular behavioral pattern without addressing the heart issue behind the behavior. If we would be honest about ourselves, we would quickly attest to the fact that our heart is “more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?

But thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ that our bibles contain these words: “Therefore if any man is in Christ (born again), he is a new creation; the old things passed away; new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means that as a “new creation” spiritually speaking, the quality of what we now are as forgiven, justified, redeemed sinners has changed; we have been given a new nature. The old nature no longer controls us. Those value systems we once held, those beliefs, desires, and plans have now been changed within us because the Spirit of God now indwells us (1 Corinthians 6:19; Romans 8:9)!

This change, as John MacArthur notes: “This newness is a continuing condition of fact. The believers new spiritual perception is a constant reality for him, and he now lives for eternity.” This divine, dramatic, and life altering change that has taken place within us changes the way we view the temporary world and its temporal things. It should be true of us that we do not want to focus our time trying only to modify our behavior, rather, we ought to use our time to grow more in Christlikeness. Growing in this way will automatically affect our behavior!

Peter, begins his 2nd epistle, by sharing all the blessings given to believers by God. He writes that all believers have received the same faith as the Apostles, a faith that comes through the righteousness of our God and savior, Jesus Christ. He states that, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,” and that “He (God) has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” 

This means that true Christians are secure in Christ forever and they will grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ because they have received all that is necessary to live reverently and obediently towards their Father in heaven! There is nothing more that we should ask for or expect to receive to help us, we already have everything we need. True believers have, right now, every spiritual resource they need to live godly in Christ Jesus, and that is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and His Word, which He uses to conform us more into the image of our savior!

Because of those very truth’s Peter say’s in verse 5, “giving all diligence (or make every effort), add to your faith or supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. As Christians (new creations) you and I cannot be indifferent to the manner in which we live our lives. We have been saved by faith, and in that same faith we walk forward seeking to, in God’s power, put off the old man and put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24). 

Who would argue that these are not wonderful things to pursue? Who would be bold enough to contradict God Himself in the matter, especially after the clarity of Peter on the topic? Who might try to, still, after reading these words, bring up excuse after excuse in order to continue living in blindness? “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (vs, 9). In other words, a professing Christian, citing MacArthur again, “who is missing the virtues mentioned above is, therefore, unable to discern his true spiritual condition, and thus can have no assurance of his salvation.” This does not mean that he is not saved, but that such a person will live in doubt and fear even though he possess the benefits previously listed. His walk of faith will be weak, his growth in Christ restrained due to his lack of understanding and confidence in his savior.

If you are making any resolutions this year, put personal holiness at the top of your list, you won’t regret it. Below are two books that I think you will find helpful. As an Amazon Associate I receive funds for qualifying purchases, this helps support the ministry, thanks. Happy New Year!

WORD’S MATTER: A THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

What is it about something that is “new” that makes us happy and satisfied? Well, at least for awhile, and then the new becomes old and we look for the next new thing. Is it the smell or the shine; the freshness or the cool update to the technology that consumes us?  New cars, new houses, new cell phones, new careers, and even new relationships are often great for a season, but eventually the promised benefits of the new thing tend to fade away and what once drew our attention, eventually subsides.

The manner in which people of any culture think and relate to their language often times transfers itself into the way in which they read and understand the Bible. As a people, we are prone to imply on the scriptures definitions that are not necessarily correct, linguistically or otherwise, and in so doing we miss out on the varied nuances and meanings of the original writers.

For example, when we employ the word new in reference to a car, we are using that word to describe its newness in relation to time. If we compared the 2018, 2019, and 2020 models of a particular vehicle we understand this to be true. The 2020 model is the younger, fresher, or we can say the most recent. We understand that the “nature” of the car has not changed, it is still a car. It has wheels that move, an engine that gives the axles the power they need to rotate the wheels, and it has new seats, modernized technology, and a host of other things that make us desire to own it. But its nature always remains the same.

Now, if we take that understanding of the word new into our bible study and place only that definition into every text that speaks of new things, we quickly run into some serious problems. For example, Revelation 21:1 talks about a new heaven and a new earth. By importing our definition into those texts we would be led to believe that these things are only new in relation to “time,” but not “nature.” That would be a serious mistake. John, In Revelation 21:1 states that the first heaven and the first earth passed away, being utterly destroyed, and were replaced by a “new” heaven and earth (cr. 2 peter 3:10-13). This is actually promised in the Old Testament (Psalm 102:25; Isaiah 66:22)!  Peter, in his epistle, is speaking about the same thing as John, and both Apostles use the same Greek word for new (Kainos) which is the word used for something that is new in quality and therefore of a different nature from the old. 

The Bible uses several words in relation to new, newness, to make new or even renew. Not understanding which word is being used within a specific context can quickly lead us away from the original point of the author. Our English language is no different. According to Merriam Webster, the word new has various definitions and those meanings our defined by how the word is used within a sentence or particular context. The word new can be used as a noun with various meanings, or as an adverb. It can also be used as an adjective (newness, newish). Throw “Knew” and “anew” into the mix and you begin to see how important it is for us to understand that words are important; they mean what they say and say what they mean. I am using this example of word usage to quickly and simply bring to light the point I am making, i.e., we need to go a bit deeper in our study of God’s Word in order to understand what He is saying to us, based on the word usage within its own particular context. Thankfully there are many bible study aids available to us today!

Two Greek words of importance for our study are the words “Neos,” and “kainos.” Neos is the word used by the New Testament writers when speaking of something that is new in time, fresh, such as the “new lump” of 1 Corinthians 5:7, or the new wine being put into old wineskins in Mark 2:22. It is used less in the New Testament than the word kainos. We see it being used to contrast the new with the old in Colossians 3:9-10 and Hebrews 12:24. And it does not appear to have any eschatological (end times) content in the New Testament, but rather refers to a new reality or present salvation.

Kainos, is however a key theological term in eschatological promises. I mentioned this above in relation to the new heavens and new earth of Revelation 21:1 and 2 Peter 3:10-13. It is used in reference to the New Jerusalem as well in Revelation 3:12; 21:2. It is also used by Mark in his gospel (14:25) speaking of Jesus not drinking of the fruit of the vine “until the day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” This speaks of a different quality or nature of the event. 

Let’s go back to the new car example mentioned at the beginning of this post. If the amazing miracle of regeneration, by the Holy Spirit, in the life of a person that is “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), is understood to mean something that is only new in relation to time, space, and matter without a different, better quality about it, than what makes it something to be desired? Why would a sinner look unto God for forgiveness if He/she is still going to be strapped down with their old nature? What would make them believe that there is “victory in Jesus?”

Thankfully, God led Paul to write 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Both Greek words for “new” are kainos! Paul had the choice between the words Neos and kainos and he chose the latter because it is the word that expressed his point well. Not recognizing this distinction hinders our ability to fully grasp the meaning of the writer and affects our ability to rejoice at the miracle of regeneration.

Because of the supernatural work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, redeemed sinners now have the Holy Spirit indwelling within them. A new divine nature and life are given to them (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5). Now, with their new life and new nature, they can resist temptation and flee evil because of the Holy Spirits work within them to conform them to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18)!

This is only one example of many related to word usage in the Bible that we could study. I am purposely not being exhaustive here because my goal in writing this is simply to encourage the reader to seek the understanding of the biblical writers as they intended themselves to be understood, and not to insert our own definitions into the text. Our newer translations are great, but still at times require us to look deeper into the Word to understand how the writer is using a particular word within the  portion of scripture that we are reading. My hope is that you have a better grasp of the importance and value of seeking to understand the Bible in relation to how the God inspired writers intended to be understood.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is a must have for any one seeking to understand the Bible better. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This helps support the ministry, thanks.

COVID VACCINES AND THE MORAL AND ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS

What a day and age that we live in. A year that began with the the infamous novel virus we know intimately as Covid 19, is now set to come to its closing with the prospect of several vaccines being made available that will inoculate us from the dreaded disease! This is very good news for humanity. The fact that we as a people came together to combat this frightening foe, is an amazing testimony within itself, much more the “warp speed” in which it was all accomplished!

There are many and varied forms of vaccinations that seem to have promise and are being spoken of in numerous science journals, as well as being touted on the daily news shows we watch. The Washington Post printed an article with the headline, “First 6.4 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine could go out in mid-December.” See article here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/11/24/vaccine-plan-first-doses/

This is just astounding and certainly a cause for celebration when we think about the potential within these vaccines to save lives; lives of our loved ones, friends, and neighbors. Many people will take this vaccine as quickly as they can, others, a bit more skeptical, will wait a bit and see how it goes. As a Christian however, I think that there is more to consider than just the potential protection the vaccine may afford us. As Christians we have to consider the moral and ethical implications, if any, involved in our decision to use or not use the various vaccines that will be made available to us soon.

Before moving on I want to explain my reason for writing about this topic. It is not to persuade you the reader in any one direction; all of us have to exercise faith and wisdom in our decision making process. It is not to shame or belittle anyone for coming to a conclusion that may be different from my own. It is however, for the purpose of bringing into your decision making process, information that you may not have thought about or even heard of in the current discussion regarding Covid 19 vaccines.

One of the first things I usually wonder about in regards to any medication that I am being told to take, is what are the potential side affects of the drug? I am often astounded when I hear all the potential side affects of a new drug being advertised on a television commercial. You know what I am talking about. After telling us for a few minutes how great their drug will be at giving us our physical lives back, the last few seconds ramble off, rather quickly if you noticed, the serious side affects that we could experience; some far worse than what we are already dealing with.

So, the first question we need to consider is this: Are there side affects to the vaccines and how serious are they? According to an article written in CNBC’s online Health and science section found here:  https://cnb.cx/39dL6RZ  The writer seems to think so: “Doctors say CDC should warn people the side effects from Covid vaccine shots won’t be a walk in the park.” Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association said “both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines require two doses at varying intervals. As a practicing physician, she said she worries whether her patients will come back for a second dose because of the potentially unpleasant side effects they may experience after the first shot.”

Participants in Moderna and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine trials told CNBC in September that they were experiencing high fever, body aches, bad headaches, daylong exhaustion and other symptoms after receiving the shots. While the symptoms were uncomfortable, and at times intense, the participants said they often went away after a day, sometimes sooner, and that it was better than getting Covid-19.

Both companies acknowledged that their vaccines could induce side effects that are similar to symptoms associated with mild Covid-19, such as muscle pain, chills and headache. So, side affects are certainly something to mull over, especially if you are a person that has other health related conditions to consider.

But what about the moral and ethical considerations? I am not thinking along the lines of the “morality” of taking vaccines in general, but rather, the morality and ethics involved in the process and  production of the various vaccines. Much has been written that verifies the use of aborted stem cells in the making of some, not all, of the vaccines being brought forward. For example:

“At least five of the candidate COVID-19 vaccines use one of two human fetal cell lines: HEK-293, a kidney cell line widely used in research and industry that comes from a fetus aborted in about 1972; and PER.C6, a proprietary cell line owned by Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, developed from retinal cells from an 18-week-old fetus aborted in 1985. Both cell lines were developed in the lab of molecular biologist Alex van der Eb at Leiden University. Two of the five vaccines have entered human trials” (see table, below). This is an excerpt from an article by Merideth Wadman, found in Science Mag.org. See full article here:https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/abortion-opponents-protest-covid-19-vaccines-use-fetal-cells


Developer
Vaccine typeFetal cells usedHuman trialsPotential U.S. fundingWarp Speed pick
CanSino Biologics, Inc./Beijing Institute of BiotechnologyReplication-deficient adenovirusHEK-293Yes (phase II)NoNo
University of Oxford/AstraZenecaReplication-deficient adenovirusHEK-293Yes (phase II/III)$1.2 billionYes (short list*)
Janssen Research & Development USAReplication-deficient adenovirusPER.C6No$456 millionYes (short list*)

Multiple companies, for many years, have been using stem cells from elective abortions to produce vaccines for varied diseases. This, believe it or not, is true of Rubella, Hepatitis A, and Chicken pox. That is something I just learned about in doing the research for this post. Granted, all of these vaccines have been beneficial in saving lives, but what about the lives “electively” aborted? Isn’t it important for us as a society to have access to vaccines that are morally and ethically produced? I don’t know whether or not Prentice and Sherry are christians, but take notice to what they wrote in a position paper published recently: “The use of cells from electively aborted fetuses for vaccine production makes these five COVID-19 vaccine programs unethical, because they exploit the innocent human beings who were aborted.”  

But let’s be fair in our treatment of this topic. There is another view and that is represented here by Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the New York University School of Medicine: “There are better ways to win the abortion wars than telling people not to use a vaccine. These are long-over abortions. These cells are decades old,and even major religious leaders like the pope have acknowledged that for the greater good it’s not worth the symbolism to put the community at risk.” 

So, should a person who believes that life is given by God and needs to be protected from fertilization on through to death, have to violate their conscience and their faith to utilize current vaccines that can potentially save their own lives?

If we believe that all human life is a sacred gift from God, and Him alone the only one who has the authority to end it; if we believe that at the moment of fertilization a life has begun; If we believe that we are, by God’s word, accountable to preserve and defend life at any state (new life or our elderly), how are we to navigate the ever changing world of medicine, bio-ethics and the like while holding to a biblical worldview (Genesis 1:26-27; Exodus 20:13; Psalm 139:13-16; Isaiah 44:1-2)?

Is this a “mute” point that we are discussing because as Arthur Caplin stated these are “long-over-abortions?” This next reference comes from the website of a Christian organization that holds to traditional biblical teaching. You can read the full article here: https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-acceptance-of-a-covid-19-vaccine-represent-endorsement-of-abortion/

The title of the article is, “Does acceptance of a Covid 19 vaccine represent endorsement of abortion?” Here is the situation as seen from Megan Best, the writer of the article:

“While some may see no ethical problem here, for others a straight line can be drawn from the ending of a human life in an abortion to a vaccine created using cells derived from the harvesting of the fetal tissue. Despite the cells having been propagated for years in the laboratory far removed from the abortion, for some that connection line remains. My own view is that the key consideration in whether using a vaccine which is manufactured using tissue from an aborted fetus is licit or immoral is whether there is material cooperation with the evil act of abortion. If the abortion were conducted in order to harvest tissues that were to be used for the vaccine, then it would clearly be immoral. But in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines created from the HEK-293 cell line, the abortion was carried out for other reasons, and the tissue was acquired after the child’s death for the purpose medical research. The use of the vaccine now will not promote further abortions for this particular purpose. It can therefore be argued that we are not morally complicit with the original abortion.”

A few questions to consider arise from Megan’s view. First, does the time elapse of years lessen or relinquish our moral obligation? Second, is the reasoning behind the abortion, whether intentionally to harvest tissues or for “other reasons,” a valid criteria for determining the morality of the use of these tissues? Third, Megan writes, “The use of the vaccine now will not promote further abortions for this particular purpose.” But what about other abortions? Other purposes?

As you can see, morality and ethics can be complicated in an ever changing world. But there is good news! Various articles have stated that Pfizer’s vaccine was developed without using fetal cells! The Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life organization, has listed this vaccine as “ethically uncontroversial.” See full update here: https://lozierinstitute.org/update-covid-19-vaccine-candidates-and-abortion-derived-cell-lines/ And Moderna’s vaccine is also stated as not using fetal cells in the design or production of their vaccine!

There is one other thing to consider in making a decision for or against taking a vaccine for Covid 19. “It could be argued that to refuse vaccination (in the event that only an unethical COVID 19 vaccine were available) would also be wrong as it increases the risk of prolonging the pandemic and is not a loving way to treat our neighbor. When comparing the competing ethical obligations of avoiding the vaccine in view of the wrong done in the past or refusing to protect the vulnerable in society today, it could be argued that the latter is the more immediate responsibility” (Megan Best ).

However you land at the end of this, one thing is sure, Christians should be holding our government accountable in regards to the moral and ethical regulations that need to be put in place to regulate current and future use of stem cells and any other material that is harvested from human beings. Christians should also be advocating, within the structures of our government, for the creation and access to vaccines and other medicines that are produced morally and ethically. People of faith should not be put in a position of having to choose between violating their conscience or possibly dying without the use of a vaccine.

THEOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS (PART TWO)

In part one I laid the foundation of the Christmas story by tracing the will and word of God throughout the Old Testament, specifically the many prophecies foretold about the Messiah, Jesus Christ. THEOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS (PART 1) In this post I will show how those prophecies have been fulfilled and can only be fulfilled in one person: the man Christ Jesus! The true reason Christmas is to be celebrated.

The prophets prophesied throughout hundreds of years that this seed of a woman, heir of the throne of David, would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). They gave the time of His birth and revealed that it would be a supernatural one (Daniel 9:25; Isaiah 7:14). They foretold various events that would happen as a result of His birth: the slaughter of the innocents and Mary and Joseph, with baby Jesus, fleeing to Egypt (Jeremiah 31:15; Hosea 11:1). 

They also revealed that many people would not believe that Jesus was the the Son of God (Isaiah 53:1), that He would be betrayed by a close friend for thirty pieces of silver (Psalm 41:9; Zechariah 11:12), and be hated without reason (Psalm 35:19). There is a mountain of prophecies foretold by the prophets that all speak directly of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel (God is with us), and His first coming to deal with sin and defeat Satan; the death blow that was spoken of back in Genesis 3. We find that all these prophesies, spoken hundreds and hundreds of years before there fulfillment, are fulfilled in Jesus Christ as attested to in the New Testament. Many of these fulfillment’s are manifested in the gospel’s but some are evidenced in the Epistles as well (Hebrews 5:5-6; Romans 5:6,8; 15:3; Ephesians 4:8).

As the New Testament unfolds, after four hundred years of prophetic silence, we find that the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, appears on the scene. The angel of the Lord appeared to a man named Zacharias and informs him that, “your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John” (Luke 1:13). He is told that John would act in “the spirit and power of Elijah,” preparing the way for the Messiah (vs.17). This birth in itself was a miracle. The idea of two people who are very old conceiving a child is preposterous, when you leave out the divine intervention of God (Luke 1:11-20; 57-80)! The birth of John is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Micah 3:1, and yet the story gets even better! Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy the angel Gabriel was “sent by God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph. . .” (Luke 1:26-27). He tells her that she is richly blessed and that by an act of the Holy Spirt, she will conceive in her womb, a son, and His name shall be Jesus (Luke 1: 31-32). 

This is exactly what happens. The miracle is not the birth itself, birth’s happen everyday. What makes this birth different is that Mary had no relations (intercourse) with a man. The normal act of procreation did not take place in this instance. Mary remained a virgin even though she was pregnant! By a creative act of the Holy Spirit life is created and implanted within her womb (Luke 1:35). The life implanted in Mary’s womb is the very life that God said would come to redeem all things unto Himself (Romans 8:18-25)! This body is the one God specifically prepared for the Messiah (Hebrews 10:5-6: Psalm 40:6-8). It is the body God foreordained to fulfill His will in defeating the devil and his power over death (Genesis 3:15). The Son of God was not by nature “flesh and blood,” But He took upon Himself our nature so that He could provide redemption for mankind (Hebrews 2:14-18).

This is what makes Christmas so special. This is why we have baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by animals and shepherds on our lawns during the Christmas season. This is why Christians celebrate the incarnation of their savior. Believe it or not, the story of Christmas doesn’t end here!

Ultimately, the birth of Christ is about the cross of Christ (John 3:16)! Jesus came to reveal God to man, redeem man, and ultimately rule over the Fathers Kingdom in righteousness and truth (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:29; Revelation 20:11-22:21). Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would die as a “substitute” for sinners (Isaiah 53:5). That is what was on display on the cross of Calvary (Romans 5:6-8). Because of the finished work of Jesus believing sinners are freed from the punishment, the penalty, the power, and one day, the very presence of sin (Romans 3:25; 5:8-9). Through Christ redeemed sinners are declared righteous, are adopted into the family of God, and are given eternal life (Ephesians 3:20; John 10:27-28)!

  But He didn’t only die, He rose again (Mark 16:6-7; 1 Corinthians 15:4)! In resurrecting Jesus, God the Father confirmed that Jesus is His beloved son in whom He was well pleased (Matthew 3:17). His resurrection supplied proof that the Father had accepted His sacrifice, accepted His atoning work on the cross, and is a guarantee that there will be a future resurrection for all those who trust in Him (John 5:26-29; John 14:18-19; Romans 6:8-11)!

The Bible tells us that 40 days after His resurrection He ascended “physically” to be with His Father and will one day return to this earth the same way (Acts 1:9-11; Matthew 24:29-31)! No one knows exactly when He will return except the Father alone (Matthew 24:36), and so we are exhorted to be ready because that day and hour will come at a time when we are least expecting it (Matthew 24:43-44). Unlike His first coming (seeking and saving the lost), His second coming will be one of judgement (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

What a joy it is to know that our sins can be forgiven through Jesus. The greatest gift ever given was wrapped up in linen cloths and found lying in a feeding trough. Proclaimed by the angel to be the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Have you received this amazing and priceless gift? Do you know Jesus as your savior? Go here GOSPEL to learn more about this most precious of gifts.

THEOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS (PART 1)

Driving around my hometown this past Veteran’s day, I noticed that people were already putting up their decorations for Christmas. Lights were being wrapped around trees and fences. Plastic images of santa and snowmen were placed on display encircled with reindeer and elves. As time went on manger scenes began to appear as well along the landscape. Seeing all these things emerge on lawns for the fiftieth time (at least times I can remember seeing with understanding), made me reflect on what Christmas is truly about. 

Perhaps, for most in our secular society, Christmas is about the things I mentioned above; with the added enjoyments of giving and receiving presents, and the football games on television to watch as the stomach settles from our overindulgence in the holiday feast.

For many who hold a Christian worldview Christmas begins with the birth of a little baby named Jesus. A baby who was born of a virgin (Luke 1:26,27,30,31), in a place called Bethlehem (Luke 2:4,5,7), and who was declared to be the Son of God (Matthew 3:17). We reflect on the  shepherds in the fields that were visited by the angel of the Lord proclaiming the good news: “A Savior has been born which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:8-11), and the angelic choir praising God and saying, “peace on earth and good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). We marvel at the humble birth; baby Jesus being found in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them at the local inn.

All of these things are true and worthy of our acceptance and praise. But is this it? Is this all there is to the Christmas story? Why did Jesus come to earth the way He did at the time He did? Was His birth foretold in the scriptures, and what was the mind of God in sending His only begotten Son to earth in this way; through the supernatural conception within a virgins womb (Luke 1:31)? Does this story or God’s purpose end at Christ’s birth, or was it the catalyst for even greater things to come?

The birth of Christ is a vital part of the story of Christmas, but it’s not the beginning! Let’s look into our bibles and see what we can learn or perhaps be reminded of as the days draw nearer for us to celebrate our Lords birth once again.

The story begins with Isaiah’s account of Lucifers rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-14; see also: Ezekiel 28:11-19). Isaiah, in writing of the fall of Satan which we know of as a fact (Jesus Himself cited these scriptures describing Satan’s fall in Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:8-10), uses this inspired writing in addressing the king of Babylon and the devil that energized him. Both fell as a result of pride. Lucifer was cast out of heaven along with all the fallen angels after they rebelled against God. Shortly thereafter we find him on the earth seeking to destroy anything good that God has created.

In the book of Genesis we read that God, the creator of the heavens and the earth and everything in them, made mankind in His image and likeness to rule over His creation as His representative (Genesis 1:26). Adam and Eve were to have children and multiply mankind upon the face of the earth. They were to exercise control over their environment as faithful stewards of the One who created it. But they were to do this in acknowledgement of His authority; honoring and obeying Him in all things. 

But Eve, Adams wife, fell into temptation. Eve being tempted by a “serpent” in the garden one day, believed the lies of the serpent and took of the fruit and ate, and then gave it to her husband and He ate of it as well (Genesis 3:6). This serpent is none other than Lucifer himself! There is more to this snake than meets the eye. Lucifer, being a fallen angel, a supernatural spirit, not flesh and bones like us, possessed the body of this snake and used it to challenge God’s authority (Genesis 3:1-6). As a result of their disobedience their “eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7), and so they sought to cover themselves using fig leaves. Now, as one commentator observes, “Adam and Eve see good and evil from the standpoint of sinners, from the low level of sin.”

 God comes to the garden seeking to deal with their sin against Him, but they are trying to hide from Him. When confronted about their sin, Adam and Eve play the blame game that we are so familiar with (Genesis 3:7-13). God then tell’s them the consequences for their disobedience. Not only do Adam and his wife suffer consequences for their sin, God curses the ground  because of them, and till this day “the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. . .  In hope that the creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:18-22).

In respect to the serpent, God curses it; some form of external change has now taken place. Its role is now diminished among the creation. Once, perhaps exulted among it, now is reduced to slithering on its belly throughout all generations (Genesis 3:14). A greater curse upon the serpent is placed upon the one behind its actions, Satan (Genesis 3:15)! This theologians refer to as the “Protevangelium,” the first mention of the gospel found in our bibles. Herein lies the first proclamation of a Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will destroy the works of Satan. In this first gospel we see that there will be a conflict between Satan and Christ; a conflict that involves the people of God and the followers of Satan (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10). The “seed” of the woman is a direct reference to the Messiah to come, Jesus, who will deliver a fatal death blow to Satan, while Satan will only “bruise Christ’s heel” (vs. 15). 

This is a message of hope, good news for mankind; the declaration that mankind will not always have to remain in a fallen state, but through the Messiah to come, he can be “redeemed,” bought back from sin and its curse (Ephesians 1:7)!

Adam and Eve are then expelled from the garden because of their disobedience. But this expulsion is also as an act of love by their creator, to protect them from eating of the tree of life and therefore remaining in their “pitiful cursed condition.” Mankind’s relationship to his creator has been temporarily changed by the actions of our first parents: Adam and Eve suffer the killing of one child by another (Genesis 4:1-8), sin grows and grows in the hearts of men until its abundance leads to the Lord declaring that He will: “blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land . . .” (Genesis 6:1-8). God brings a universal flood upon His creation and the end result is that only eight people, Noah and his family, along with the animals that came to the ark, survived God’s judgement upon the wickedness of mankind. After the flood, Noah, his family, and all the animals step out onto dry ground once again! Through Shem, Ham, and Japheth the world will be repopulated (Genesis 9:1).

That is not the end of sin upon the earth, however. After the flood, as the population grew, mankind determined that they would not obey God and multiply upon the face of the earth, but rather, would just stay in one place, the plain of Shinar. Here they stop to establish a city as a monument to their pride; the tower was a representation of their sinful pride. Here again, we see the the same root of sin, pride, come into play in rebellion against mankind’s creator (Genesis 11:1-4). God then confuses their language so they could not understand each other and scatters them over the face of the earth (Genesis 11:7-8). On and on we could go, the Bible is replete with account after account of mans rebellion against Him. 

As mankind’s sinful heart raged on and on, so did the kindness and mercy of God. In Genesis 12:3 God makes a covenant with Abraham promising him that, “in you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This has its fulfillment in none other than the Christ child, Jesus (Matthew 1:1)! God also saw fit to reveal to the patriarch’s that the “seed of a woman,” spoken of back in Genesis 3, will come from the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12:3; 17:19; Numbers 24:17). That He will be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and be anointed as an heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7). 

All of these things are part of the Christmas story. They supply the background information we need if we are to fully grasp and appreciate what God had given us, what He has done for us in the person of Jesus Christ. I invite you to come back next week for part two of this theology of Christmas, where we will begin to see the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament come to their fruition in the Christ child!

For more reading about the wonder of Christmas and what it is truly about, click the picture below. Pastor MacArthur does a great job at leading the reader through scripture to help them see “baby Jesus through the eyes of those who saw Him first.” As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases, this helps to support this ministry, thank you.

THE GREATEST GIFT

As I sit here at my desk reflecting on previous blog posts, I am amazed at how many biblical themes are present within each one (See Blog ). Themes such as faith, perseverance, hope, truth, sovereignty, joy and sanctification are embodied within each writing. Oh, I know, not outright as if each were the main point, but interwoven, within each storyline, you can observe these elementary truth’s. Why is that? To some it may seem odd, to others unimportant, but to those with “eyes to see and ears to hear,” it is obvious.

All of these topics have one thing in common. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ! Each of them, not only individually but collectively as well, find their origin in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let me illustrate. In order for a person to be born again, he must “believe” in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). It is also true that the believer (Christian) is then exhorted to live from that point on by faith (Colossians 2:6).

What then encourages and equips the believer to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) is the truth of God’s word, which is all about His Son Jesus, and the hope of His coming again (John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 3:12, 4:13-18). And in that daily walk of faith believers will deal with opposition, persecution, trials and the like, and the Bible teaches that those who are His will persevere unto the end (James 1:12; Matthew 24:13; 1 John 2:19). One truth that overshadows all the above is this: God is in complete control and will complete, for His glory, what He has begun (Philippians 1:6; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:10)!

So you see, the gospel is important. The gospel saves and is the foundation for all that is to follow in the life of a believer. The rejection of the gospel, the good news about the atoning work of God’s only Son, as a substitute for sinners like us, will result in God’s wrath remaining on such a person and they will perish (John 3:16,36). Ultimately, to be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

The gospel, believed and received by faith forever changes a person. It is good news that begins in a very bad place. We all have sinned and deserve God’s righteous judgment (Romans 3:23). No amount of good works can pay the penalty of our sins, which is eternal separation from God (Ephesians 2:8-10; Revelation 20:11-15). God in love sent His eternal Son Jesus to take on human flesh and die in the place of sinners (Luke 2:1-40; Hebrews 10:5; Mark 15). He offers eternal life and forgiveness of all sins to everyone who turns from sin and trusts in Jesus’ death and resurrection (John 3:16). Salvation is not a reward for human works, but is God’s free gift to all who truly believe in Jesus alone for forgiveness (Ephesians 2:8-10).

This offer of forgiveness is made free to all (Matthew 11:28-30; John 3:16), it is right before you as a precious gift from your creator (Ephesians 2:8-9). Will you receive this gift of love? Or will you turn away from Him who made visible, in the greatest of ways, His love for sinners, for you (Romans 5:8)? You can go here to find more about the GOSPEL

THEOLOGY OF THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving day is just around the corner, and the thought of being with family and friends over the holiday elicits many fond memories of amazing food, laughter, game playing, football, and yes, a stomach in turmoil from overeating. I can remember all the meals that I enjoyed at my grandparents: uncles and aunts, cousins and the like, all gathered in one place to share a smorgasbord of tastebud tantalizing family specialities. As I think back on those days my mind flashes with picture after picture of the scenes, the people, and the happiness I felt at being together with loved ones in a warm home, while the chill in the air, and the trees all along the mountains, with their leaves wrestled away from their spot on the branches, forewarned us that winter was on the way.

I also can remember how my understanding of “thanksgiving” was more related to a day, that particular day on our calendar, rather than thankfulness for gifts received or any number of blessings I was enjoying in my life. “Thank you” was  an expected statement after receiving something and an ignorant sentiment at the kitchen table before we were able to indulge ourselves, at least for me it was.

Now that I am much older, hopefully far wiser, I have come to understand the importance of a thankful heart and the theology behind it. Biblical thanksgiving or thankfulness is not just a mere response to things that we have been given; God’s kindnesses towards us, but it is also our response to what we have learned about Him by receiving those kindnesses in our day to day living. We should be thankful for the gifts and the acts of kindness God chooses to bless us with, but we should also look beyond the gifts to the gift giver and think on what we can learn about Him, because it is there that we will find true thankfulness in our hearts.

Whether God blesses us directly or through others, we can, if we take the time, learn more about His Heart towards us. We can learn more about Him by seeing His attributes on display, His character and nature presented before us in ways we might have missed, if it were not for His benevolent spirit towards us.

This is what we find in the Bible. In any of the prayers that Paul offers in his epistles, specifically those of thankfulness, we find his joy and thankfulness are due to the grace, wisdom, and power of God working in the lives of people for their salvation and spiritual growth (Philippians 1:1-6; Ephesians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:3-5, for example). Another telling illustration of this is found in Luke 17:11-19, in the story about the ten lepers. One of the lepers, a Samaritan, when he realizes that he had been healed from this dreadful disease: “turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him” (v.16). This man fell down at the Lords feet in gratitude. His thankfulness became an act of worship! Yes, he is very happy at becoming clean again, but his greater joy seems to be in what he learned about Jesus through the healing.

Jumping back into the Old Testament, we see thanksgiving as a part of God centered worship, especially in the Psalms. I will share only two examples for the sake of time. Psalm 9 appears to be the first Psalm of thanksgiving. In it David praises God for His attribute of justice, and through this hymn of praise worships Him. In Psalm 30, David, through cycles of lament and praise, expresses his thankfulness toward God for healing him, protecting him, comforting him, hearing and answering him. Meditate on that a bit and you should quickly recognize some of the attributes of God that led David to worship Him though this Psalm.  

God is pleased when we recognize and acknowledge His kindness towards us in the things He provides. But I think He is even more pleased when we worship Him because of what we discovered about Him through His provision. Another writer, Pastor Trevor Bates, writing on the theology of thanksgiving, made this statement: “As we give thanks to God, we not only confess we should have nothing good apart from him (James 1:17; 1 Corinthians 4:7), but we also consider who he is.” Jesus should always be the “centerpiece” of our thanksgiving.

I have benefited from this book in my study on the topic of thanksgiving. For a small book, 82 pages, Pastor Bates has done an amazing job of bringing out the theology behind thanksgiving. By focusing on the Psalms he shows that in them are countless times in which thankfulness is mentioned and explained. You can check it out by clicking the picture above. As an Amazon Associate I earn commission from qualifying purchases, this helps to support this ministry, thank you.

You can also check out my review of this book by going here: https://7waysfromsunday.com/book-reviews/

COLTON’S STORY

“I remember back when I was eight years old, I asked Jesus into my heart.” This is how Colton began our conversation together. He told me about how he was raised in a Christian home, went to church almost every Sunday, and how he was involved in something called “Boy’s Brigade” at his church. Colton went on for awhile, sharing his story, his testimony, and as he revealed more and more about himself to me, I began to recognize a pattern: His story was like so many others, like mine.

Colton spoke about how, shortly after this experience, he drifted away from the church, the Bible, and from Jesus. He got involved in almost everything imaginable that was pleasing to his flesh; he “sinned like the devil,” and happily so for many years. As he spoke, he mentioned that there were times when he would feel guilty for the way he was living and would ask Jesus into his heart again, and again, and again. According to his recollection, a hundred or so times.

   He said this went on for many years, until about the age of 32. It was then, sick and tired of his life, guilt and shame weighing him down; knowing there had to be more to this life then what he was experiencing, Colton Acknowledged his sinfulness and with repentant faith trusted Jesus Christ to forgive and cleanse him of his sins!

The pattern I recognized is disturbing. Countless numbers of people have the exact same testimony, myself included, and many fail to realize that nowhere in the Bible are the experiences of people who trusted Christ for salvation ever like this. If you doubt what I am saying, go the scriptures for yourself and find one, just one. I can save you some time, there isn’t any. But there are many examples of people who turned from their sin to Christ and had their hearts dramatically changed by the inner working of the Holy Spirit (The Apostles, Timothy, Lydia, Ethiopian eunuch, Nicodemus, and Zaccheus to name a few). Nowhere in the Bible do we find any one who was truly “born again,” with the Spirit of God dwelling within them, living like they always lived, as enemies of God (Romans 5:8-10; James 4:4).

Perhaps the gospel isn’t being clearly and faithfully taught in our churches. Perhaps our cultural Christianity has corrupted the gospel with some form of error, impurity, or by way of deceit (1 Thessalonians 2:3). Maybe it would be worth the time to open our bibles together and read what the Lord says about, “so great a salvation.”

While thinking through this it became apparent to me that I should qualify the particular issue I am writing about so as to limit any confusion along the way. I AM NOT talking about how a person becomes “born again,” or the order of salvation, as many sound faithful Christians like to debate. What I am reflecting on in regards to salvation is the fruit of it in a persons life; the change the Holy Spirit makes in a redeemed sinner!

Shouldn’t there be some kind of evidence that our heart has been changed if a divine work of God has truly taken place within us (John 3:3-8)? Don’t it make sense then, that after a repentant sinner responds in faith to God’s amazing gift of salvation, that there would be a manifestation of that change in his heart, IN HIS LIFE? Things like a different attitude towards sin, God, and His word. A change of conduct, putting off the old man and putting on the new and living in a manner that is pleasing to Him (Ephesians 4:22-32; Colossians 3:12-17)?

The Bible teaches that at the moment of salvation a believer is sanctified, set apart unto God, and is then identified as one of His children. This aspect of our sanctification is instantaneous and positional, it has to do with our new standing before God. Another aspect of sanctification is known as experiential. This has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit within us, in which He conforms a believer into Christlikeness. He makes them more like His Son through obedience to His written word by the enabling of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Corinthians 3:18). As a new believer moves forward in faith, the old man (the rebel) is left behind and the new man (forgiven) emerges. All things become new now that he has peace with God (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

This, my point, is how we ought to evaluate whether our salvation is the real deal or not. Has your thinking changed? Has your conduct changed? Are you growing spiritually? Are you desiring God and His word? Do you long to be with your savior? These are a few of the questions we should ask ourselves, if we are serious about the character and effect of true biblical regeneration.

Do you know Jesus as your personal savior? Is your testimony like this one? Perhaps the Lord has been merciful towards you by working in your heart over the years drawing you unto Himself, lovingly helping you to see your hopelessness and need of Him. Maybe it’s time to forsake all else and “look unto Him and be saved” (Isaiah 45:22).

Go here for the GOSPEL

“Little children, make sure no one deceives you, the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous (1 John 3:7).”