Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It's All About Jesus

Part 2 of Witnesses

Text: Acts 1:41

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). 

The Start of Something New

Jesus told his followers that after he ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit would begin to do a new thing. [1] The Holy Spirit would “come upon [them]” and give them power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8)—witnesses of what God had done through the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The events of Acts 2:1-41 took place on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after the start of Passover (during which Jesus was crucified) and ten days after the ascension.

Confusion About the Holy Spirit

Luke writes that his “first book” (i.e., the Gospel of Luke) was about what “Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The book of Acts is about what Jesus continued to do and teach through the church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There’s a lot of confusion about the Holy Spirit. Many people think the Holy Spirit is merely a force, not a person. But the Bible refers to the Spirit as a “he,” not an “it.” He’s the third person of the Trinity. [2]

And there are different views among Christians on the gifts of the Holy Spirit (also known as spiritual gifts). A spiritual gift is an ability given by the Holy Spirit for service. The two basic views about spiritual gifts are cessationism and continuationism. Cessationists believe that some of the spiritual gifts are no longer in operation today (e.g., the gift of tongues). Continuationists believe that all of the spiritual gifts are still in operation today.

In Acts 2, we read about how the followers of Jesus “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v. 4). What was the main purpose of the Holy Spirit’s activity on the Day of Pentecost? And what is the main purpose of the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives today?

Pointing People to Jesus

On the Day of Pentecost, Jerusalem was filled with people who were visiting the city from other countries (vv. 8-11). The people were “bewildered” (v. 6), “amazed” (vv. 7, 12), “astonished” (v. 7), and “perplexed” (v. 12) that the followers of Jesus (“Galileans,” v. 7) were able to speak in many different languages. Some thought they were drunk (“They are filled with new wine,” v. 13). The apostle Peter explained to the people that the gift of tongues was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” v. 17; cf. Joel 2:28-32).

What Peter really wanted to do was point people to “Jesus of Nazareth” (v. 22). [3] He proclaimed to the people six truths about Jesus.

1) Jesus was “accredited” (v. 22, NIV).
2) Jesus was “delivered up” (v. 23).
3) Jesus was “crucified” (v. 23).
4) Jesus was “raised” (v. 24).
5) Jesus was “exalted” (v. 33).
6) Jesus was made “both Lord and Christ” (v. 36).

 After hearing what Peter had to say about Jesus, the people ask, “What shall we do?” (v. 37). Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized [4] everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). Sometimes what people need to hear is not what they want to hear.

The Main Purpose of the Holy Spirit

During the Last Supper, Jesus declared, “[The Holy Spirit] will glorify me” (John 16:14). Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon “The Holy Spirit’s Chief Office” said, “It is the chief office of the Holy Spirit to glorify Christ.” [5]

The Holy Spirit’s main purpose is to point people to Jesus. 

We can point people to Jesus through both our words and deeds. Acts 2 is mainly about the words of Jesus’ followers, but Acts 2 also says that the followers of Jesus had “favor with all the people” (v. 47). They were pointing people to Jesus through the kind of lives they lived. Our neighbors or coworkers should say of us, “He/she is a good person.” If they say, “He’s a jerk,” or “She’s a gossip,” they’ll disregard any words we say about Jesus.

The new thing that the Holy Spirit is doing in these days is all about Jesus.

[1] This doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit was inactive prior to Acts 2. The second verse of the Bible says, “The Spirit was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).
[2] A person is not necessarily a human being (e.g., an angel is a person but not a human).
[3] Preaching is not really Christian preaching if it doesn’t point people to Jesus. If someone from a different religion can agree with everything a preacher says, it’s not Christian preaching.
[4] Baptism is not something we must do in order to be saved. “The willingness to submit to baptism is an outward expres-sion of inward faith in Christ” (ESV Study Bible).
[5] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Holy Spirit’s Chief Office.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In the Meantime

Part 1 of Witnesses

Text: Acts 1:1-11

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). 

Living Between Two Great Events

The Acts of the Apostles is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. [1] Luke writes that his “first book” (i.e., the Gospel of Luke) was about what “Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The Acts of the Apostles is about what Jesus continued to do and teach through the church.

We are living in the time between two great events: the ascension [2] and the second coming. You could say that we’re living in the meantime.

The One Thing We Must Not Do

In the meantime, there is one thing we must not do. What is the one thing we must not do? We must not do nothing. [3] After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles were mildly rebuked by the two angels: “Why do you stand looking into heaven?” (v. 11).

 Jesus went up to heaven, and one day he’ll return; in the meantime, we have work to do. 

People Like Us

Though they lived in a different time and culture, the apostles and the other followers of Jesus were people like us. Like us, they struggled with fear and doubt.

The resurrection of Jesus was not something that was easy for them to believe. [4] This is why Jesus gave them “many proofs” (v. 3). [5] What kind of evidence would you need in order to believe in the resurrection? That’s the kind of evidence that they were given.

The Ascension and the Return

“As [the apostles] were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (v. 9). We shouldn’t downplay the significance of the ascension. Jesus is now “exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33; cf. Psalm 110:1). The apostle Paul writes, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34; cf. Heb. 7:25).

The two angels said to the apostles, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (v. 11). Jesus will one day return bodily [6] and visibly. As we await the return of Jesus, we are to be doing the mission he gave us.

The Mission

After Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to indwell his followers. [7] The Spirit would provide the necessary power for mission. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (v. 8). [8] The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period…” the message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him—his ways, his salvation, his glory, his greatness—known among all nations.” [9] We can be witnesses anywhere—on the other side of the world (e.g., as a missionary in China) or here in Halifax.

Many of us have probably heard the saying, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” [10] There are some Christians who talk about the gospel too much and live the gospel too little. But most Christians wouldn’t fall into that category. And the truth is, people need to hear (or read) words in order to be saved. Justin Taylor has said, “The Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.” [11]

Time Is Precious

We are often guilty of wasting time--even "killing" time. We would probably waste less time if we could see the time of our lives ticking down.

We are living in the time between two great events: the ascension and the second coming. Jesus went up to heaven, and one day he’ll return; in the meantime, we have are to be witnesses of what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to live the gospel, and we need to share the gospel.

[1] Both books were written by Luke to a man named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1).
[2] The Gospel of Luke ends with the ascension (24:50-53); Acts begins with it (1:6-11).
[3] Yes, I know this is a double negative. In other words, we must do something.
[4] Some of them even doubted right up until the time of Jesus’ ascension (Matt. 28:17).
[5] Jesus was with his followers for “forty days” (v. 3) between his resurrection and ascension. If the resurrection had happened on the date of this year’s Easter Sunday (March 27), then the ascension would have happened on May 6.
[6] Jesus did not cease to be human when he ascended. He will return as a man.
[7] This is why Jesus leaving his followers was not a bad thing. The risen Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Do not cling to me [i.e., hold on to me], for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17).
[8] “The geographical scope of Acts 1:8 provides a rough outline of the entire book: Jerusalem (1-7), Judea and Samaria (8-12), the ends of the earth (13-28)” (J. B. Polhill, Acts, 86).
[9] David Platt, Radical, 70-71.
[10] This saying is commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi.
[11] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/mayweb-only/120-42.0.html?start=2

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We Are All Witnesses

Part 3 of Unexpected

Text: Luke 24:39-53

“You are witnesses of all these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothes with power from on high” (Luke 24:48-49). 


In 2005, Nike introduced a new marketing campaign featuring basketball superstar LeBron James and the slogan “We Are All Witnesses.” Fans were able to access an online “Witness Board” featuring shared testimony about James. Nike selected notable testimonials each day from a fan as the prize-winning “Witness of the Day.”

After his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus told his followers, “You are witnesses of these things [i.e., his death and resurrection]” (v. 48). Though we haven’t seen these things with our own eyes, we too are to be witnesses of what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

People Like Us

The original followers of Jesus lived in a time and culture very different from ours, but they were like us in many ways. For example, they were fearful people. When the risen Jesus appeared to a group of them in Jerusalem, they were “startled and frightened” (v. 37). [1]

It was these fearful people who were to be “witnesses” (v. 48). How can fearful people share the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus? 

A Daunting Task 

The followers of Jesus were to spread the gospel “to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (v. 47). Remember what had happened in Jerusalem earlier than weekend: (1) Jesus had been arrested; (2) ten of the disciples had deserted Jesus; (3) Peter had denied knowing Jesus; (4) Jesus had been crucified. The gospel would have been a very unpopular message in Jerusalem—and a dangerous one to share! The task that Jesus gave to his followers wasn’t an easy one. And it's still not easy!

Power Supply

Jesus said to his followers, “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you” (v. 49). This promise was the promise of the Holy Spirit, who would indwell believers after the ascension of Jesus. To be effective and courageous witnesses, they needed the Holy Spirit’s presence: “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (v. 49; cf. Acts 1:8).

If God wants us to be witnesses, he will give us the power to be witnesses. 

Peter probably seemed like an unlikely person to be an effective and courageous witness. He had a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth, and he denied knowing Jesus. But in Acts 2, we see that Peter had been transformed. He is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus on the streets of Jerusalem. The only explanation is that the Holy Spirit made him a changed man.

Maybe you don't think you're able to be a witness. Most of us are not theologians. But we all can simply tell our story--the story of what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

[1] The original followers of Jesus were also skeptical people. They thought that the risen Jesus was a “spirit” (v. 37), and Jesus had to prove to them that he had a real physical body: “Touch me, and see” (v. 39); “Have you anything to eat?” (v. 41).

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

From Despair to Hope

Part 2 of Unexpected

Text: Luke 24:13-35

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21). 

Life Without the Resurrection

In Luke 24, we are introduced to two followers of Jesus. The name of one of the men is Cleopas, and the other is unnamed. They are walking home from Jerusalem, the city where Jesus had been crucified on Friday. It’s now Sunday.

Before they their departure from Jerusalem, they had heard the reports about the tomb of Jesus being empty. But the two men don’t believe a resurrection has happened. That’s impossible!

They once had great hopes for what Jesus could do. Now he’s dead, and they are left feeling disillusioned and disappointed.

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

The two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t understand the death of Jesus and didn’t believe in his resurrection. [1] The crucifixion of Jesus had crushed their dreams. They said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v. 21). [2] They knew the tomb of Jesus was found empty (v. 24). And they had heard the women say that they had “seen a vision of angels, who said [Jesus] was alive” (v. 23). But the women’s story sounded like “an idle tale [i.e., nonsense]” (v. 11). [3]

We who are Christians understand the significance of the death of Jesus, and we believe in his resurrection. But as we go about our daily lives, it’s possible for us to forget about the cross and the empty tomb. The death and resurrection of Jesus tell us truths we need to hear each day.

What We Need to Hear

The apostle Paul writes that the gospel is “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). The most important truth we need to understand is the gospel. The basic facts of the gospel are (1) “that Christ died for our sins,” (2) “that he was buried,” and (3) “that he was raised on the third day.” The gospel is the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What do the death and resurrection of Jesus say to us?

1. The death of Jesus tells us that we are valued by our Creator. 

The psalmist asks, “What is man that you [God] are mindful of him” (Ps. 8:4). Not only did God create us, but he also died to save us. Tim Keller writes, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves that we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” [4] J. D. Greear states, “There is nothing we could ever do that would make God love us more, and nothing we have done that makes Him love us less.” [5]

2. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that there is hope for a better tomorrow. 

C. S. Lewis writes that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” [6] We long for something more because we were made for something more.

One popular view of death is that it’s simply a natural part of life that we must all embrace. But no matter how often we tell this to ourselves, death never becomes easy for us to accept. Death is an unhappy ending to life, and we naturally crave happy endings.

When we are a fan of a baseball team, we long for a happy ending to the season. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we want the story’s main characters to live “happily ever after.” Years ago, instead of “happily ever after,” stories ended with the words “happily until they died,” which doesn’t sound quite as happy. But it’s true that every life ends in death. And death is sad. It’s not a happy ending.

Thankfully, God did not accept death but sent Christ into the world to defeat it. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection began the countdown to when God would rid his creation of the curse. When “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4). 

Recapturing the Excitement

In my opinion, the story of Jesus appearing to the two men on the road to Emmaus is one of the most exciting stories of the Bible. They were walking and talking with the very one whose death they were grieving. When they realized Jesus really had risen from the grave, they went from despair to hope! [7] “They rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem” (v. 33). “What they had seen [three days earlier] is not the end of hope, but its beginning.” [8]

We need to recapture the excitement that comes from understanding and believing the gospel. The resurrection of Jesus is not merely a great event from the past, but it is something that can changes our futures!

[1] In the Gospel accounts, the first skeptics of the resurrection are Jesus’ followers. If the story of the resurrection was a lie invented by the followers of Jesus, it would have been told in a way more flattering to the inventors of the lie.
[2] They were looking for someone to lead them to victory against the Romans. They saw the cross as a defeat.
[3] Observation: It was the women who went to the tomb to finish the work of Jesus’ burial. Even today, it’s the women who are often willing to do undesirable jobs.
[4] Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 48.
[5] J. D. Greear, Gospel, 57.
[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope.”
[7] The two men recognized Jesus when he broke the bread (v. 30). This is reminiscent of when Jesus broke the bread during the Last Supper (Luke 22:19). As the two men didn’t “see” Jesus even though he was with them, during the Lord’s Supper Jesus is with us even though we can’t see him.
[8] Darrell Bock, Luke, 614.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Empty Tomb

Part 1 of Unexpected

Text: Luke 24:1-12

But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened (Luke 24:11). 

Totally Unexpected

Have you even seen something totally unexpected? Sometime we see something totally unexpected in a picture we took. The "Solway Firth Spaceman" is an example of this.

In Luke 24, we read about some other people who saw something totally unexpected: a tomb with no body.


The women were “perplexed” (v. 4) when they found the tomb of Jesus empty. The empty tomb still causes people to be perplexed. [1] Some people are perplexed (like the women) because they don’t know what to think of the empty tomb. Other people are perplexed (like the apostles) because to them the story of the resurrection sounds like an “idle tale” (v. 11). How should we respond to the empty tomb? 

He Has Risen!

As the perplexed women stood in front of the empty tomb, two angels appeared to them. They said to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (vv. 5-6). Then the angels reminded the women that the resurrection shouldn’t have been a surprise to them: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (v. 6).

This is what we call the gospel—the good news. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. Our hope is based on these two events. But often when we share our good news with others, it doesn’t get a positive response.

A Story That's Not Easy to Believe

The women returned to the rest of Jesus’ followers and told them what they had seen (i.e., the empty tomb) and what they had heard (i.e., “He has risen”). But when their words “seemed to them an idle tale [i.e., nonsense], and they did not believe them” (v. 11). If the followers of Jesus didn’t respond positively to the story of the resurrection, we shouldn’t be surprised if people today don’t. The story of the resurrection isn’t easy to believe. When we share the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we shouldn’t expect people to immediately believe. Patience is needed.

Two details in Luke’s account of the resurrection provide evidence that it’s not a made-up story. First, the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. “Not only is [the story of the resurrection] hard to accept, but culturally such a story from women would be viewed with suspicion. One of the main proofs that the resurrection story is credible is realization that the first-century church would never have created a story whose main first witnesses were women.” [2]

Second, the first skeptics of the resurrection were the disciples. Thomas wasn’t the only disciple who doubted. “If someone created the story of resurrection, would the apostles have been made to look so incredulous? The account’s honesty has an air of reality, which points to its truth.” [3]

Responding to the Empty Tomb

When Peter heard the women’s story, he “rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened” (v. 12). Did Peter fully believe in the resurrection after he looked inside the empty tomb? Most commentaries on Luke say that “marveling” doesn’t indicate complete faith. Instead, Peter probably experienced the “first steps of faith.” [4] How should we respond to the empty tomb?

Because the tomb is empty, we must marvel at it. 

Maybe you don’t believe in the resurrection. Maybe today you, like Peter, could take the first steps toward belief in the resurrection. Or maybe you’re a Christian who has some doubts about the resurrection. Those who have doubts about the resurrection should spend time thinking, “What happened?” It can’t be denied that something happened. [5] The empty tomb of Jesus shouldn’t be ignored. Why? Because if the tomb is empty because Jesus rose from the dead, everything changes.

[1] Most scholars—Christian and secular—think that the tomb of Jesus was empty.
[2] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, 607.
[3] Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1899. The NIV says “wondering.”
[4] Grant Osborne, The Resurrection Narratives, 114. The enemies of Jesus claimed that the disciples of Jesus stole his body from the tomb (Matt. 28:13).
[5] In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that this lie was still being circulated in his day (Dialogue with Trypho).

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

God Is Good

Part 4 of the God Is series

Text: Psalm 118

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps. 118:29). 

Getting What's Needed, Not What's Wanted

Five days before his crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We call this day Palm Sunday. The event itself is known as the Triumphal Entry. [1]

 The excited crowds recited Psalm 118. The psalm says, “Save us, we pray, O LORD!” (v. 25). [2] They wanted salvation from the Romans. But what the people wanted on that day wasn’t what they really needed.

What a Good God Gives

Psalm 118 begins and ends with the following exhortation: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (vv. 1, 29). Because God is good, “all that God is and does is worthy of approval.” [3] But it’s easy to doubt God’s goodness when he doesn’t give us what we want.

God doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what we need. 

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt. 21:9). “The Son of David” was a messianic title. John writes that the people called Jesus “the King of Israel” (John 12:13). The people also “took branches and went out to meet [Jesus]” (John 12:13). About two hundred years earlier, a Jewish rebel group known as the Maccabees liberated Judea from Antiochus and the Greeks. One of their victories was celebrated with palm branches (1 Macc. 13:51). It’s clear that the people thought that Jesus could be a king to lead them against the Romans. But what the people needed was a different kind of salvation.

We Need Jesus

Psalm 118 says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22). Originally, the rejected stone referred to Israel, but several NT writers apply this verse to Jesus. [4] Peter declared to the people of Jerusalem,
Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:10-12). [5]
What we needed came at an amazing cost to God. 

Five times Psalm 118 states that “[God’s] steadfast love endures forever” (vv. 1, 2, 3, 4, 29). We can trust a good God who loves us this much.

The Best Gift

When thinking about God’s goodness, we could list all of the good gifts from God. But the gift of Jesus is really all we need to prove God’s goodness.

[1] All four Gospels give an account of the Triumphal Entry (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19).
[2] When the people cried out “Hosanna!” they were saying, “Save us!” By the first century it had become a cry of praise to God.
[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 197.
[4] Psalm 118:22 is quoted in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7. 
[5] “There is no warrant here for the preacher’s favourite comment on the fickleness of a crowd which could shout ‘Hosanna’ one day and ‘Crucify him’ a few days later. They are not the same crowd. The Galilean pilgrims shouted ‘Hosanna’ as they approached the city; the Jerusalem crowd shouted, ‘Crucify him’ (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, 430).

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

God Is Jealous

Part 3 of the God Is series

Text: Exodus 20:1-6

“I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5).

Good and Jealous?

We probably have all heard about a jealous husband who committed murder. With that in mind, it might distrube us when we read in the Bible that God is a jealous God. How can God be a good God if he is a jealous God?

The first time that God is said to be a jealous God is in Exodus 20. In this chapter, God gives the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel.

The Idol Factory

The first two commandments prohibit idolatry: (1) “You shall have no other gods before me” (v. 3); (2) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything…. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (vv. 4-5). Idolatry is the worship of a God-substitute. [1]

We all know what pagan idolatry is, but there’s another kind of idolatry that could be called idolatry of the heart. [2] The apostle Paul writes that a “covetous” person is “an idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). The covetous person’s god is materialism.

Tim Keller defines idolatry of the heart as “the making of good things into ultimate things.” [3] He writes that an idol is “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [4] MMA fighter Ronda Rousey is an example of this. After losing her championship belt, she contemplated suicide. She thought, “What am I anymore if I’m not this?” [5] The human heart is an idol factory.

A Good Kind of Jealousy

After prohibiting idolatry, God declares, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (v. 5). Is jealously always wrong? What if a man never got jealous no matter what his wife did? There’s a good kind of jealousy that could be defined as “zeal to protect a love relationship.” [6] This is a jealousy that’s caused by love, not by insecurity. In the OT, God is described as the husband of his people, and idolatry is likened to adultery [i.e., unfaithfulness]. In Jeremiah 3:20, God says, “Like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me.” Paul asks, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (1 Cor. 10:22).

God’s jealousy is his passion to protect his rightful place in our hearts. 

God expects exclusive devotion. Jesus said that the most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). [7]

First Place

Why does God deserve first place in our hearts? God said to the people of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (v. 2). Before God gave to the people the Ten Commandments, reminded them who he is and what he had done for them.

God deserves first place in our hearts because of who he is and what he has done for us. 

What has God done for us? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God Is What We Need

When people are devoted to an idol, they are looking elsewhere for satisfaction. People who are devoted to idols say, “If I only could [fill in the blank], then I’d be satisfied.” But idols always end up disappointing us. God declared, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

Some people will say that God is being selfish be demanding first place in our hearts. But God is not being selfish because (1) God deserves first place in our hearts; and (2) God knows that we need him in order to be truly satisfied—to fill the emptiness in our hearts.

It's Good that God Is Jealous

Every baby is born with a desire for milk. What would happen if you gave a baby a bottle of Coke instead of milk? Nothing good. Whether we realize it or not, everyone is born with a desire for God. We are all worshipers. We either worship God or a substitute. As a baby’s health would be harmed by drinking Coke instead of milk, our lives are harmed when we worship a false god. For this reason, we can say it’s good that God is jealous. If he wasn’t jealous, it would mean that he really doesn’t love us.

[1] Romans 1:25 states that idolaters “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” 
[2] God says in Ezekiel 14:3, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts” (cf. v. 4, 7).
[3] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 162.
[4] Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xviii.
[5] http://espn.go.com/mma/story/_/id/14785901/ronda-rousey-says-considered-suicide-loss-holly-holm
[6] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 192.
[7] This commandment is stating positively the negative commandment “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

God Is Merciful

Part 2 of God Is _____.

Text: Lamentations 3:1-33

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23). 

The God of the Old Testament

There are some parts of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, where God might appear to be severe and unloving. In his book The God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins writes,
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. [1] 
Is Dawkins correct? Is the God of the Old Testament a merciless monster?

A Book of Sadness

Lamentations is not one of the most popular books of the Bible. A “lamentation” is “an expression of great sorrow or deep sadness.” The author of Lamentations [2] mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The reason for the destruction of Jerusalem was the people’s sin: “the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (1:5).

A book like Lamentations gives extra credibility to the Bible. The Bible is not a book of propaganda. If it was, it wouldn’t include Lamentations—a book that might cause some people to question God’s love. “The Bible leans against our tendency to construct a god after our own image. We cannot approach the delicatessen of God’s person like we approach a buffet—taking a heaping of this and a dollop of that, while passing over what we deem unpalatable.” [3]

Rich in Mercy

Lamentations frequently mentions the anger of God, but God is not a merciless monster. For example, 3:1 says, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath.” Many people don’t want to believe that God gets angry, but would God be good if he didn’t hate sin? The New Testament also mentions the anger of God. The apostle Paul writes that we “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.

God does hate sin and will punish sin, but he always desires to show people mercy. 

The writer of Lamentations says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). God’s mercy is his “goodness toward those is misery and distress.” [4] God is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:3), evidenced by Christ being punished for our sin on the cross. This is why there is hope for us!

God will always show us mercy if we repent of our sin. “He does not afflict from his heart” (v. 33). “God’s first instinct is not to punish. He does so only when his patience with sinner does not lead to their repentance.” [5]

Our Response

How should we respond to the mercy of God? [6]

1. We should seek mercy from God. 

“Good” people don’t go to heaven. If it were possible for us to earn salvation by our goodness, why did Christ die? The cross shows us our desperate need of God's mercy and the foolishness of thinking we could ever be good enough to gain salvation. We are unable to do anything to save ourselves, but if we call out to God for mercy, he will give it to us.

2. We should show mercy to others. 

For Christians, there is always the danger of losing sight of what is most important. This is what happened to many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were very good at doing religious things, but weren’t good at showing mercy to others. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite—two religious men—chose not to show the injured man mercy.
“Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan], do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robber?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “you go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 31.
[2] The traditional view is that Jeremiah was the author of Lamentations.
[3] Mark S. Gignilliat, “Not Just a New Testament God,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/exorcising-marcions-ghost.html. 
[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 200.
[5] ESV Study Bible.
[6] We should always ask, “So what?” when studying a biblical doctrine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

God Is Holy

Part 1 of God Is ______.

Text: Isaiah 6:1-13

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3). 

A Life-Changing Experience 

Imagine reading the obituaries and seeing your name! It actually happened to someone—his name was Alfred Nobel. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, and the newspaper described him as a man who had made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else who had ever lived. This is not how Nobel wanted to be remembered, so he decided to use his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes.

Seeing his obituary while still alive changed Nobel’s life. In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah also saw something that change his life.

We Need a Vision of God 

Isaiah experienced this vision of God “in the year that King Uzziah died” (v. 1). It was an uncertain time for Isaiah and his nation. Like Isaiah, we are living in an uncertain time. During uncertain times, we need a vision [1] of God. In Isaiah’s vision, the holiness of God is emphasized. The seraphim cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts” (v. 3). What is the holiness of God, and how should we respond to it? 

Holy, Holy, Holy

If you were asked, “What do you think is God’s best attribute?”, what would you say? I’m guessing most Christians would say the love of God. But the angels seem to be most impressed by God’s holiness. In the Hebrew language, a word is emphasized by repeating it. [2] When the angels say, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts,” they are saying that no one is holy like God is holy. He isn’t just holy; he’s holy, holy, holy.

What did the angels mean when they said that God is holy? “Holiness implies absolute moral purity and separateness above creation.” [3] “God’s absolute holiness reveals how separate, different, or totally other he is in comparison to all other aspects of the created world.” [4]

When the Bible says that God is holy, it means that no one compares to God.

Isaiah 40:25 says, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.” In our culture, holiness is often thought of as a negative attribute (e.g., people complain that someone has a holier-than-thou attitude). But the Bible describes true holiness as beautiful: “Worship the LORD in the splendor [beauty, KJV] of holiness (Ps. 96:9).

Our Response 

When we have a vision of God’s holiness, our lives can’t remain the same. That was true of Isaiah after his vision. We, like Isaiah, should respond to God’s holiness in two ways.

1. We should have an overwhelming desire to repent. 

Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v. 5). Our sin is never so ugly as when we sense the holy presence of God. [This is sort of like how we feel when we think we’re good at something, and then we see how we match up against an expert.]

What’s amazing is that the holy God is quick to forgive. One of the seraphim “touched [Isaiah’s] mouth [with a burning coal from the altar] and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’” (v. 7). 

2. We should have an overwhelming desire to serve. 

In John 12:37-41, John twice quotes the book of Isaiah: he quotes Isaiah 53:1 in verse 31, and he quotes Isaiah 6:10 in verse 40. Then in verse 41, John says something amazing about Isaiah’s vision: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41). In other words, Isaiah spoke of Jesus in Isaiah 53 and saw Jesus in Isaiah 6.

Earlier in John 12, Jesus says that he will be “lifted up from the earth” (v. 32). In Isaiah’s vision, the prophet sees the Lord (Jesus) “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). And in Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant, he says that the servant (Jesus) would be “high and lifted up” (Isa. 52:13). Put it all together and John is saying that the one who was “high and lifted up” in Isaiah’s vision is the same one who was “lifted up from the earth” (i.e., crucified for our sins).

God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8). Isaiah answers, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8). How could we not want to serve the holy God who died for us?

[1] I’m using the word “vision” loosely: seeing with the eye of faith through what is written in Scripture.
[2] For example, Jesus often began an important statement by saying, “Truly, truly.”
[3] ESV Study Bible, 1251.
[4] G. V. Smith, Isaiah 1-39, 190.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Living Without an Explanation

Part 5 of Why?

Text: Job 38-42

You can listen to this sermon here.

“‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). 

God Is Not Our Personal Assistant

In the 1960s, Elisabeth Elliot wrote a fictional novel entitled No Graven Image. The story is about an American missionary in South America named Margaret who devotes her life to translating the Bible into the language of an indigenous tribe. To make a long story short, Margaret fails to finish her translation.

Elliot had difficulty getting her book published because publishers didn’t think God would allow Margaret to fail. They must have forgotten about what had happened to Elliot’s husband Jim. He was a missionary who was killed trying to contact a tribe in Ecuador. In the book, Margaret’s only consolation is stated on the final page of the book: “God, if He was merely my accomplice, had betrayed me. If, on the other hand, He was God, He had freed me.”

Margaret had been worshiping a God of her own creation—a God who was supposed to act like her personal assistant. Many Christians have this same concept of God. To them, God exists to do what they think is best. What the book of Job tells us is that the all-wise, all-powerful, all-good God is not our personal assistant.

No Explanation

When suffering comes into our lives, we ask, “Why? Why me? Why this? Why now? Why?” And Job wanted an explanation from God. [1]

God did finally answer Job: “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind” (38:1). But God didn’t give Job an explanation. (He never told him about dialogue between him and Satan.) The reason for Job's suffering remained a mystery to him. The same is often true of us when we experience suffering. How can we endure suffering without an explanation? 

God Is Greater Than We Can Imagine

God asks Job, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?” (38:31). The answer, of course, is no. God is not only sovereign over the earth; he is sovereign over all the universe. The psalmist declares, “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Ps. 147:4; cf. Isa. 40:26). Do you know how many stars are in our galaxy? Some astronomers say 100 billion; others say 400 billion. And do you know how many galaxies are in the universe? At least 100 billion. God’s is greater than we can imagine!

Questioning an Immeasurably Great God

Some people say, “If God is so great, why doesn’t he prevent suffering?” But if God is so great, maybe we shouldn’t question God. We aren’t as smart as we think we are. We’re like little children who say silly things (e.g., “Dad, if you really loved me you’d let me play on the street!”).

God said to Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (38:2). In other words, Job wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. God spoke to Job twice (38:1-40:2; 40:6-41:34). After God finished speaking the first time, Job said, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (40:4). And when God finished speaking the second time, Job said, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). Job was saying, “I’m not as smart as I thought I was.” And he repented of his pride: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6).

The Immeasurably Great God Loves Me

God asked Job, “Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (40:8). The NIV says, “Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” But isn’t that what happened? Jesus was condemned so that we could be justified. “For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

God is greater than we can imagine, so we can trust him when we don’t have an explanation for our suffering. 

Not only is God’s wisdom and power great, but his love for us is great! God is not only a sovereign God (“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted,” 42:2); he’s also a suffering God. If I suffer and say, “I don’t deserve it!”, I should remind myself that Jesus suffered without deserving it.

God Loves Me and He Knows What He's Doing

Most people want a complete answer for the question of suffering. Answering the question of suffering is like knocking down bowling pins. We can knock down a few pins [i.e., give some answers], but we’re not going to knock them all down. [2]

Even if I don’t get an explanation for my suffering, I can have confidence that God loves me and he knows what he’s doing.

[1] Job also wanted vindication, which he got in 42:7-9.
[2] There are several biblical answers to the question of suffering, such as (1) God allows people to make evil choices; (2) God can use something bad to do something good; (3) suffering can make us better.