LIFE CYCLE

Guest post by: Connie Faust

The cycle spins on relentlessly;

From promise of life to final death,

So few are the years allotted to one

From the moment of first fragile breath.

An infant is born-happiness reigns-

Parents applaud a new life.

Fast forward through childhood, on to maturity,

Struggling through heartache and strife.

The hour and day when we leave this old world

Is a guessing game won by no man.

We feel our mortality closing the gap,

And ponder how short is life’s span.

Another friend dies, a bond is dissolved,

The memories over us flow,

And we ask how much time is left on the clock

Until it is our time to go.

How God marks the day of departure

Is a mystery that’s His to reveal;

How we use every minute we’re given to live

Will confirm if our faith is for real.

THE SYNAGOGUE SITUATION

MARK 1:21-28

Brief intro: Previously, in my last posts, we discussed how Jesus had been prepared for His ministry (baptism and the temptation in the wilderness). We then observed Him gathering followers (2 sets of brothers who were fishermen) to become part of the “12” men that would make up His whole group of disciples. With these four by His side, they travel into Capernaum, “a prosperous fishing village on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee,” and on the Sabbath, enter a synagogue where Jesus begins to teach.

I see two different aspects of this visit within this next portion of scripture that we will be meditating on, but they point to one thing! Mark shares this historical account for a reason; let’s go find out what it is!

21 They *went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 And they were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

FOCUS ONE: The first aspect: His teaching

Here is an idea of what the synagogue might have looked like in Jesus day.

We read that Jesus, along with Simon, Andrew, James, and John, travels to Capernaum in these verses. He (Jesus) went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and began teaching as will become His custom. Luke also shares this account in His writing (Luke 4:31-32). What is rather interesting about both reports is that they are very brief. Neither has seen fit to elaborate on what Jesus said in His teaching.

All we can gather from these testimonies is that:

  1. He went into the synagogue 
  2. It was the Sabbath 
  3. He taught them
  4. His teaching had authority, not like the scribes
  5. And, the results of His teaching: they were amazed (astonished)

So, what is the one central element of this short account that the reader, then and now, ought to observe? HIS AUTHORITY!

We do not know what He said, but it is apparent that He said it far differently than the scribes and Pharisees did. We do not know what facial expressions He made or what His body language might have conveyed. But, we do know all of it personified authority!

Jesus, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, had “authority” over all mankind, and that was given to Him by the father (John 17:2). This authority was not a secret or only perceived by those who heard Him, not at all; He verbalized it at times to those around Him (Matthew 9:6; John 7:16; Matthew 28:19-20). And as we will witness shortly, He manifested it to the people through miracles! His words, those given to Him from His Father, He gave to His disciples and others (John 17:8).

FOCUS TWO:  The results

What is apparent is that Jesus and His teaching were noticeably and radically different than the people were accustomed to. The people were “amazed” at His teaching. The verb used here in Greek for “astonished or amazed” has a powerful meaning. It is not used superficially, as we might express amazement today. Instead, Seeing that Jesus did not have to quote other rabbis as His authority to say what He was saying, the people noticed that what He said had behind it real, authentic authority. And why? Because His power came straight from God.

“His authority was inherit within Himself.”

Mark used two different Greek words for “astonished” (v.22) and “amazed” (v.27). This isn’t obvious in our various translations because most translate them both as “amazed.” So, there is no reason to elaborate on them here since there is no significant value in it for our understanding of the text.

BUT, by using them, Mark does emphasize an important reality: what they heard and witnessed was so much better and higher and impactful that the only response to it was utter amazement (great wonder)!

This contrast between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day is expressed elsewhere in scripture. Places such as Matthew 7:28-29; Mark 2:6-17; 7:1-13; 14:1- the ultimate contrast: Christ taught the truth, they rejected it and sought to kill Him.

23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, “What [a]business do you have with us, Jesus [b]of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are: the Holy One of God!” 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 After throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding region of Galilee.

FOCUS THREE: The second aspect, rebuking the evil spirit

We read in these verses that a man appears in the synagogue who had an unclean spirit (morally and sexually impure). Notice how Mark relates it to his reader, “just then.” One commentator observes: “The spirit HAD control of this man. He was in his possession; He led him captive to his will. The man was there but not to be taught or to be healed!” He was there but not causing any disruptions until Jesus was present! His teaching and authority sparked this man, and he cried out.

The unclean spirit recognizes who Jesus is (holy one of God). Sad to say, that many in our day do not. This unclean spirit acknowledged Christ’s name and where He is from (humanly speaking v. 24). He also professes that “I know who you are-the Holy One of God!” Friend’s, not only do demons believe that there is one God and tremble (James 2:19), they also know that their time to do such things in this fallen world is short (Matthew 8:29).

Observations: 

  1. Jesus then rebukes him (personal pronoun), not an “it,” force, or illusion, but a created being with personality. 
  2. He commands him to come out of the man, and the spirit obeys, but not without causing distress in his victim (convulsions, loud voice)!
  3. The spirit despairs being saved by Him and dreads being destroyed by him!

And, in this encounter, we have the second aspect of our study. The first related to Christ’s teaching; the second to His ability to cast out demons. We see this in verse 27. 

The people in the synagogue were astonished at what had just happened. This “amazement” led to a debate among those in the synagogue regarding a new (not like the scribes) teaching with authority and His casting out unclean spirits. “What is this?,” is the response of many. These folks are stupefied at all that just transpired in the synagogue. “New teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (v.27). They do not know how to react to what they just heard and seen. 

So, the question posed at the beginning of our study was: what do the two aspects of the synagogue story point to? What do they teach us about Christ? What is Mark’s purpose in n sharing this?

  1. A signal that warfare on earth with the Son of God present has begun between the Son of God and Satan.
  1. Who are said to be hypocrites by Christ (Matthew 7:5), and add man-made rules to the Law. Jesus speaks from the core of His character and nature as God! As such, He has authority, which is very apparent to all. But, he teaches as “one sent from God,” He displays His deity by revealing His sovereignty over all things, including the spiritual realm! Unlike the scribes and the Pharisees who reference other scribes and the like as their authority.

The things that happened in the synagogue (both aspects) were meant to display the power, authority, and deity of this “Jesus of Nazareth!”

So, what were the results of this complete encounter? People started spreading the news about Jesus EVERYWHERE in the areas surrounding Galilee. Many concluded He was a teacher sent by God. It raised Christ’s reputation!

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STAND FIRM

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2 THESSALONIANS 2:13-17

STUDY 3

RECAP: Have you ever felt shaken in mind, deeply, even fearfully alarmed by a thought or statement that seemed to challenge your understanding of God and His grace, or God and His ultimate plans for you? In our previous study, Paul began to correct the church’s misunderstanding regarding the Lord Jesus Christ’s coming again (2:1). It was being propagated among them that the day of the Lord had come, and they missed it (2:2-3a)! They were being “shaken from their minds” and were “disturbed” within their souls at the prospect of such a thing. Why didn’t they remember what Paul previously taught them when he was with them (2:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:9)? How quickly rumors and deception can knock us off our feet!

With such a message discouraging these believers and perhaps weakening their faith, Paul reminds them of what he told them when he first came to them (2:5,6). 

BRIEF INTRO: With all said he felt needed to be said, the Apostle begins to focus on his reader’s spiritual growth. He wants them to be strengthened and comforted in God’s choosing or “electing” them for salvation (2:13). Paul lays out how this salvation has come to them and the results of God’s grace upon them in these following two verses.

13″ But we should always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you [a]from the beginning for salvation [b]through sanctification [c]by the Spirit and faith in the truth14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, [d]that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

FOCUS ONE: Verse thirteen begins much like verse three in Chapter one began. But, there is a slight difference in emphasis in each one. In chapter one, Paul was led to thank God for their faith growing and maturing. In our text, Paul expresses thankfulness for the work begun in them by the Holy Spirit, which He is still doing in them and will until their faith becomes sight (Philippians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 5:7)!

He gives thanks to God for His choosing them for salvation (2:13). In eternity past, God in love chose those Thessalonians for salvation. His purpose in election is always “salvation!”

What Paul is speaking of here is the (1) “act of God by which, before the foundation of the world, He chose in Christ those whom He graciously regenerates, saves, and sanctifies (Romans 8:28-30; 2 Timothy 2:10; Ephesians 1:4-11). 

The means God uses to achieve this purpose are:

  1. The sanctifying work of the Spirit
  2. Belief in the truth

The regeneration of sinners and their sanctification is God’s will (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Regeneration happens when the Holy Spirit convicts a sinner of his/her sinfulness and need for forgiveness and then opens up their hearts to respond in repentant faith (Acts 16:14). Personal or experiential sanctification is a process that begins at salvation and continues in this life until Christ returns (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 5:23). (1) “Every saved person is involved in a daily conflict—the new creation in Christ doing battle against the flesh—but adequate provision is made for victory through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.”

Positional sanctification is accomplished at salvation and can never be undone! It has to do with the believers standing before God, not his/her walk (Acts 20:32; Hebrews 10:10). And it is accomplished by the finished work of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11). What a great source of comfort for believers to know that God’s Holy Spirit is actively working in their lives, transforming them more into the image of their savior!

But it is not by the Spirit’s work alone that a sinner is redeemed; He uses His written Word to convict sinners of their sins and need for Christ’s righteousness (John 16:8-11; Romans 10:17).

Now, take notice of the first word in verse thirteen, “BUT.” That’s important because it signals to his readers that he is changing his focus. The wrath, the judgment, the pain and anguish of soul, just spoken of, is NOT FOR YOU dear Thessalonians, NOR YOU dear Christian! Ultimately one day, we will gain possession of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will enter into His glory at His parousia, presence!

15 “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter [e]from us.”

FOCUS TWO: So then, or because of the truthful facts just mentioned, Paul gives them a command-stand firm. What an exciting appeal to make in light of the things just mentioned. (2) “If God’s call to salvation and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit underscore the divine initiative, this imperative (command) to stand firm puts the emphasis on human response!” These Christians were already urged to stand firm in the face of persecution (1 Thessalonians 3:8), now they are being told to stand firm regarding sound teaching.

John wrote in his first epistle: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Paul wrote the believers in Rome: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17).

He also wrote his beloved son in the faith, Timothy: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine. . . “(2 Timothy 4:3-4).

If these believers needed such an exhortation to stand firm regarding sound teaching, we more so. As much as things change, they remain the same. The false teachings we deal with today are not “new inventions,” just the same ole lies dressed up differently! The media and internet, our technology, allow for a broader, more attractive presentation of false teachings. More people can be deceived today faster than in any other age. So, stand firm dear Christian, hold to sound doctrine, and expose what is not.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.

FOCUS THREE: These verses appear to be Paul’s prayer for these believers based upon all that he reminded them of and encouraged them with when he was with them. In his prayer, he addresses both the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father, who has graciously bestowed His love upon them. The words “who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace,” are possibly a reference to the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is there where such “eternal” comfort and good hope would find its supreme manifestation by His grace (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; John 15:13). Our hope is good in that it is not only our hope in this life but a hope that reaches beyond the grave and into eternal life (Romans 8:24; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Psalm 71:5). Biblical hope is a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5).

In verse seventeen, we read Paul’s petitions for the Thessalonians, and at this time, he has only two requests of the Lord for them. This prayer is the second of four small prayers throughout this letter that the Apostle employs (1:11-12; 2:16-17; 3:5; 3:16). His petitions?

  1. That God would comfort them
  2. That God would strengthen their hearts

And that the Father would do this for them in “every good work and word.”

“Paul has just assured them that God the Father has given them eternal comfort and good hope,” but it appears that he wants them to experience it more fully while they are suffering under persecution. God has various ways in which He can comfort and strengthen believers. He can work through His Spirit, His Word, and even His redeemed children to answer Paul’s prayer! 

Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would comfort them (John 14:26).

Paul wrote the Ephesians “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).

The Psalmist wrote that God’s steadfast love comforted him because of the promises He gave him in His word (Psalm 119:50;76).

The writer of Hebrews explains how God’s word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12), and Paul told Timothy how it benefits believers in their daily walk in (2 Timothy 3:16).

And Paul explained to the Philippians how they are to comfort, encourage, and strengthen one another by having the same attitude as Christ had when He was on the earth (Philippians 2:1-11).

Believers of any generation need God’s help to do the good works that He has prepared for them to do (Ephesians 2:10). And in case you think it is odd that words and works are coupled together in this prayer, think again. We see this often throughout scripture (Luke 24:19 regarding Jesus; Acts 7:22 regarding Moses). Read through the book of Acts, and you will find that one always accompanied the other in the early days of Paul and others’ missionary efforts!

The Bible clearly shows that our works and our words go hand in hand in our walk of faith in Jesus Christ as we seek to share the gospel with others. Live it out, but also speak about it as well.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

  1. 1. What Bible verses strengthen and comfort you? How can you use them to pray for others to be strengthened and comforted?
  2. 2. Look up the verses given in focus one regarding “election” and write down what they teach us about God’s sovereignty in our salvation.
  3. 3. What have you learned, or are reminded of in our study so far, that has comforted and strengthened you in your walk-in Christ?
  1. (1) John MacArthur
  2. (2) David Ewert Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians

PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE THESSALONIANS

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1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Study 5

Brief Recap:

At the end of our last study we found Paul excited at the return of his friend and co-worker Timothy from Thessalonica. Timothy had a good report to share with Paul and he was comforted with the news of their faith, love, and desire to see him again. Paul’s earnest desire is to be able to return to them again and “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs. 10). He has such a burden for the spiritual progress of these people that it just frustrates him that they had to prematurely depart their company (Acts 17:5-10). 

11 “Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you;”

Focus one: As Paul continues his letter (vs 11), he uses the word “now” to transition into explaining the petitions that he just mentioned in verse 10: “that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith.” In verses 12 and 13 he will elaborate on them, but first, let’s take another look at how he begins what seems to be a prayer, in which he expresses his concerns for these believers.

Take notice to how Paul addresses the prayer to “God our father” and “Jesus our Lord” equally! It is very clear in these words that Paul ascribes full deity to Jesus and therefore sees Him equal with God the father in power and ability to answer his prayer! In other words, “Two persons viewed as one (John 10:30) possess power to open the way to Thessalonica once again (cr. John 14:7,9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).” Another thing to take special notice of in this verse is the personal pronoun “our” that Paul uses. By utilizing it here Paul is expressing the sense of belonging to something or someone or being in someway associated with someone. He is not only Paul’s God, He is their God and our God as well Christian!

Paul petitions God to “direct our way to you” (vs. 11). He is asking God to open the way back to them by removing all the obstacles that have hindered them so far. Some of these obstacles may be the pledge Jason had to make (Acts 17:9), The Jews that followed him and caused him much trouble (Acts 17:13), and Satan working against them (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Paul is asking God to “clear the way” of all these hindrances and allow him a direct path back to this young church.

 “and may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you;”

FOCUS TWO:

In my studies on these verses I had found a question in one article that should cause us to pause for a moment and seriously contemplate our own ideas, conceptions, or misconceptions of the purpose and power of prayer. “What if your church began to seriously, soberly, and consistently pray (enabled by the Spirit of grace) for love to increase and abound for each of the members of your congregation? I mean really prayed with sincerity and expectancy of an answer?” What might the consequences be? Certainly only good ones! Supernatural ones! Would such a church become a powerful instrument in the hands of God in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15)?”

Who wouldn’t want such a congregation? There is no question as to the love that already abounds within this young church (1:2; 3:6; 4:9-10). But Paul desires that this love already growing and flourishing within their church would “increase and overflow” not just within the confines of their congregation, but outside of it as well. The idea is that their love for others would keep growing because they have not yet been glorified, or to say it another way, they have not yet gone home to be with their savior! That means that there is still room for growth in this area!

This type of love is not superficial or self serving, rather it is unconditional, sacrificial love. The word Paul uses here for love is “agape” and it means the “highest kind of love,” a benevolent love that seeks to do what is best for the one loved, not what the one loved deems is best (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10). This is not a love based on “attractiveness, emotions, or sentimentality,” rather on the willing submission of our hearts to the leading and working of the Holy Spirit within us as He seeks to produce such an abundance of His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-25)! And Paul does not hesitate in holding him and his co-laborers up as examples of such a love.

This love should first express itself in their relations with one another but then should overflow and be expressed in other areas and with other people that our not believers, such as their enemies! (1)“For these persecuted Thessalonians this meant also loving their enemies, as Christ commanded (Matthew 5:44). To show love to their persecutors was the true safeguard against the natural tendency to retaliate when mistreated by outsiders. Such a love is not natural to man, it can be known and practiced only as it is received as a gift from the Lord and made to increase and abound by Him.”

FOCUS THREE:

“so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the [a]coming of our Lord Jesus with all His [b]saints.”

These verses reveal Paul’s goal in his prayer: their progress in personal sanctification. Since this process is not completed until believers stand in the presence of their savior, they would need strengthening by the Holy Spirit to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) and persevere in godliness knowing that “he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Paul knows that this is a daily battle that the Christian must fight, but he is not alone (Philippians 2:12-13)!

It is important for us to notice that Paul does not pray for them to be “sinless,” he prays for them to be “blameless” before God. To be sinless in this life is impossible but to be “free of any reasonable charge from their fellowman” is not. Let’s take an (2)SOS and determine what Paul is saying by the word he chose to use here. Several Greek words are used in the New Testament to express this idea, and as I wrote in a previous blog on the importance of the usage of words (Word’s matter), I will take sometime to explain the difference and application here.

(3) “Amomos” means faultless, without blemish, free from imperfections. It refers especially to character. “Amemptos” is strictly unblamed, one with whom no fault is found. This of course refers to the verdict of others upon one. “Anenkletos” designates one against whom there is no accusation, implying not acquittal of a charge, but that no charge has been made. And lastly, “Anepilemptos” has the idea of “irreprehensible,” designating one who affords nothing upon which an adversary might seize, in order to make a charge against him. Let’s go back to our verse now.

It is the word anemptos that Paul chose to use in our text because he was speaking in regards to what others might be able to say against them if their was a lack of love and submission to the Lord in their daily lives. But how could they or even us today be blameless in God’s sight at His coming? Keep in mind that Paul is not speaking of “positional” blamelessness because that is solely achieved through the saving grace of God Himself in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:22)! He is however talking about experiential (practical) blamelessness. 

In speaking about the Lord’s coming Peter asks the question “since all these things will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be” (2 Peter 3:11)? He then answers the question, “in holy conduct and godliness. . . Be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless”(2 peter 3:11,14).

So, here the blamelessness that Paul is referring to is not positional but practical. It involves living a life that is above reproach and in line with God’s will revealed to us in His word, so that no reasonable charges from our contemporaries would stick to us and reveal any guilt. It also relates to our consciences, in that they would be clear and free of any known guilt when the Lord returns. It is exciting to know that we can cultivate such a character in our lives that manifests the reality of what has taken place in our hearts. This is a work of the Holy Spirit within us. A work He does with us not despite us!

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

  1. What other verses in the New Testament can you find that express the deity of Jesus Christ?
  2. What our the character traits of love expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8?
  3. What do these scriptures teach in regards to the Holy Spirits ministry among us (John 14:26; Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 4:30; Romans 8:16)?
  4. In what areas of your life may you need to confess a lack of conformity to the will and word of God and by faith seek His Spirits help in producing fruit that leads to “hearts that our unblamable in holiness” at His coming?
  • 1 and 2 Thessalonians: BMH Book, 1996
  • Step out Study
  • Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Zondervan, 1991