Monday, March 27, 2017

Pray the Right Way

Part 2 of Talking to God

Text: Matthew 6:7-9a




“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” (Matt. 6:9a).


Where's the Manual?

Instruction manuals are becoming obsolete.

When the disciples of Jesus asked him how to pray (“Lord, teach us to pray,” Luke 11:1), he didn’t give them a prayer manual; he gave them a prayer model. This model prayer is known as “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4).


Do I Have Your Attention?

Before Jesus tells his followers how they should pray (vv. 9-13), he tells them how they should not pray (vv. 5-8). They should not pray “as the Gentiles [i.e., the pagans] do” (v. 7). [1] “They think that they will be heard for their many words” (v. 7). In other words, they think they won’t get their god’s attention unless they keep pestering him.

The pagan’s god is like a landlord. To get a landlord’s attention, you often need to keep pestering until he finally gets your leaky faucet fixed. Our God is not like a landlord; he’s our Father. [2] He won’t ignore us. We are his children, and he loves us. To pray the right way, we must pray believing that we are talking to a Father who loves us. 


Father?

What right do we have to call God our Father? We can call God our Father because he has adopted us into his family. To all who have put their faith in Jesus, “[God] gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

God didn’t simply snap his fingers and say, “You’re in my family.” He brought us into his family through the death of Jesus on the cross. The cross is the proof of God’s love for us. We know that God loves us because he “did not spare his own Son but gave him us for us all” (Rom. 8:32). “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 shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

J. I. Packer writes, “As God’s adopted children we are loved no less than is the one whom God called his ‘beloved Son.’” [3] “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).


We Know Our Father Loves Us

Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Pray then like this” (v. 9). [4] In other words, pray like you are talking to a Father who loves you. We don’t have to scream for God’s attention. He is “always more ready to hear than we [are] to pray.” [5]

When we approach God in prayer, we are approaching a Father who wants what is best for us. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:9-11). Sometimes God’s children ask him for stones and serpents, and God says, “No.” Sometimes God grants his children’s requests for bread and fish, but he says, “Wait.” Sometimes God’s children ask for bread and fish, but God says, “I have something else planned for you” (e.g., Paul’s request in 2 Cor. 12:7-10).


Just Show Me!

Some people find it difficult to learn something (e.g., how to play a board game) by reading instructions. In frustration, they finally blurt out, “Just show me!”

This is what Jesus did. He showed us how to pray. And he began by showing us that we are praying to a Father who loves us.

__________________

[1] In this context, a Gentile refers to a pagan (i.e., someone who worships a false god).
[2] Many people’s fathers are/were not good, so it can be difficult to relate to God as his child. We must remember that God is a perfect Father.
[3] J. I. Packer, Praying the Lord’s Prayer, 28.
[4] R. T. France writes, “The connecting ‘then’ indicates that the following words will express the trust in a heavenly Father which has been stated in verses 7-8 to be the basis of true prayer” (The Gospel of Matthew, 244).
[5] Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Listening Before You Speak

Part 1 of Talking to God

Topic: Bible reading and prayer




Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Ps. 119:97). 


A One-Sided Conversation

Have you ever been in a conversation in which the other person wouldn’t stop talking? It’s not very enjoyable. You want to speak, but you never get a chance!

Prayer is talking to God. But God doesn’t want us to do all the talking. He wants to speak to us. And how does God speak to us? Through the Bible (also know as the word of God).


Struggling to Pray 

Many Christians struggle to take the time to pray. Maybe we don’t take the time to pray because we underestimate the importance of prayer. We will usually make time for things that are important to us.
Maybe we don’t take the time to pray because we’re very busy. D. A. Carson, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Cut something out.” [1]

We believe that food is essential, and we make time for it everyday. If we believe that prayer is essential to the Christina life, we must make time for it. Maybe we have good intentions to take time to pray, but we never end up doing much praying. We are like the disciples Peter, James, and John. Jesus said to them, ““Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

It’s probably a good idea to designate a quiet time and place. Jesus often withdrew to “desolate places” to pray (Luke 5:16).


Prayer Is Not a One-Sided Conversation

Before we speak to God, God wants to speak to us. God speaks to us when we read and meditate on his word. Meditate? J. I. Packer writes, “We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation? Well may we ask, for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.” [2] A mind meditating on God’s word is like a sponge absorbing water.

Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind. Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind. With what do we fill our minds? God’s word. Several times in Scripture we are urged to mediate upon God’s word.
  • “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night” (Josh. 1:8). 
  • “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). 
  • “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). 
  • “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Ps. 119:148). 
  • “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Ps. 143:5). 
Busyness and distractions are the enemies of meditating on God’s word. Stillness and solitude are the friends of meditating on God’s word.

The need for mediating on God’s word is illustrated in the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (v. 39), but Martha “was distracted with much serving” (v. 40). Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42).


Meditating and Praying

Here are a few basic steps for meditation upon God’s word and prayer. [3]
  • Think of the privilege of prayer. Realize God is present. Ask him to help you pray. 
  • Read a Scripture passage. Pick one or two truths you find in the passage. Choose the one that most impresses you and write it in a sentence. Now ask: How does this truth help me praise God? How does it show me a sin to confess? How does it show me something to ask for? 
  • Now turn the answers to the three questions into a prayer—adoration, petition, and suppli-cation. 
  • Pray about whatever needs are on your heart. Also spend time thanking God for the ways you see him working in your life and caring for you. 
  • Take a moment to thank and admire God for what he has showed you today. End with a note of praise. 
This plan only takes about 15 minutes. (Of course, that makes it sound easier than it actually is.) But taking time to meditate upon God word and pray will make a huge difference in our lives.

____________________

[1] D. A Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 114.
[2] J. I. Packer, Knowing God.
[3] This plan is taken from Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (254-255).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Made to Work

Part 16 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18




As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good (v. 13).


Out of Order 

A machine is made to work. When a vending machine doesn’t work, what do we do? We put an “out of order” sign on it. The phrase “out of order” means “not working properly or at all.”

Some people in the Thessalonian church were “walking in idleness.” The Greek word translated “idleness” (ataktos) literally means “out of order.” [1] They were “out of order” because they were refusing to work. It wasn’t that they couldn’t work; they wouldn’t work.


The Sin of Hardly Working

During my younger years, I was often asked, “Are you working hard or hardly working?” Some of the Thessalonians were hardly working. To make matters worse, they weren’t exactly idle. They weren’t “busy at work,” but they were “busybodies” (v. 11).

This wasn’t something that Paul took lightly. He writes, “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (v. 12). If they don’t obey this command, Paul tells the Thessalonians to exercise tough love: “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness” (v. 6). What’s the desired outcome of this tough love? Paul writes, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (v. 14). Is shame the desired outcome? No, Paul writes, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (v. 15). The “brother” is warned so that he will acknowledge his sin and turn from it.


Why Do We Work?

What’s the first thing that the Bible says about God? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God is a worker! “But,” you say, “God doesn’t get tired from his work like we do.” That’s true. Isaiah 40:28 says, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.”

But let’s not forget that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Jesus shows us what God is like. When Jesus lived on this earth, he worked. The Gospels tell us about his days as a rabbi (i.e., a teacher), but what did he do before he was a rabbi? In Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth (Jesus’ hometown) referred to him as “the carpenter.” The Greek word translated “carpenter” is tekton. The word was used for “someone who could work with wood, metal, or stone.” [2] Jesus didn’t refuse to do hard work. (This was before the invention of power tools!) And don’t think that Jesus didn’t get tired. [3]

God is a worker, and he made us to be workers. God “created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27). When we work, we act like God. Work was part of God’s original plan for humanity. God commanded Adam to “work [the garden of Eden] and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But work became difficult after sin entered the world. God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen. 3:19)—which sounds similar to the command Paul mentions in verse 10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”


Reasons for Working Hard

Paul mentions that he worked hard with his hands—his trade was tent making—while he was with the Thessalonians (vv. 7-9). He was worthy of receiving money from the Thessalonians for his preaching and teaching, but he decided that the gospel would be better received if he supported himself.

There are many reasons why Christians should work and do their best at their work: (1) so that we won’t be an unnecessary burden to others (vv. 8, 12), (2) so that we will have money to share with those in need (1 Thess. 4:28), and (3) so that we may win the respect of those outside the church. How we work can affect how people view the gospel. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul urged them to “to work with your hands…, so that you may walk properly before outsiders” (4:12). 

Notice that all four reasons are other-oriented rather than self-centered. The motive is love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).


Don't Grow Weary in Doing Good

Paul writes, “Do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13). This is similar to what Paul says in Galatians 6:9-10: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The NIV says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” We might get tired from doing good, but we’re never to get tired of doing good. Remember the good that God has done for us, especially giving his Son to die for us.

____________________

[1] The King James Version translates ataktos as “disorderly.”
[2] David E. Garland, Mark, 231.
[3] John 4:6 tells us that Jesus sat down because he was tired (“wearied as he was from his journey”).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Evangelism ... Is It Up to Us?

Part 15 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5




Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you (v. 1). 


Is It Really Necessary? 

Some people argue that making their bed is an unnecessary task. (“I’m going to mess it up again tonight anyway.”) An argument in favour of making your bed: Studies suggest that those who regularly make their bed are happier and more productive. An argument in favour of leaving your bed unmade: Leaving a bed unmade allows dust mites to die off. So do you want to be happier and more productive or not sleep with dust mites?

Earlier in the apostle Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote, “God chose you … to be saved” (2:13). Now he writes, “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord [i.e., the gospel] may speed ahead and be honored” (v. 1). If God has already chosen who will be saved, is it really necessary for us to evangelize (i.e., share the gospel with others)?


Go, Gospel!

In verse 1, Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for his ministry (“Finally, brothers, pray for us”)—specifically, that the gospel (“the word of the Lord”) would (1) “speed ahead” (i.e., be unhindered) and (2) “be honored” (i.e., be accepted). In this prayer request, Paul uses the imagery of a runner in the ancient games. (The runner would “speed ahead,” and, if he won the race, he would “be honored.”)

Sometimes the gospel is accepted (“as happened among you,” v. 1b; see Acts 17:1-4), but other times it isn’t (“and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith,” v. 2; see Acts 17:5-9). So Paul wants the Thessalonians to pray for more occasions of acceptance of the gospel and fewer occasions of hostility to the gospel.


Incompatible Doctrines?

The Bible presents two doctrines that appear to be incompatible: divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

  • “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). • “For 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). 
  • “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The people were “appointed to eternal life” (divine sovereignty), but they also “believed” (human responsibility). 
  • Jesus declared, “No one can come to me unless the Father who send me draws him” (John 6:44). But earlier he said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). 

How should we handle the apparent incompatibility between divine sovereignty and human responsibility? J. I. Packer, in his book Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, offers the following counsel:
Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put does the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but, in some way that at present you do not grasp, complementary to each other. Be careful, therefore, not to set them at loggerheads, nor to make deductions from either that would cut across the other… (p. 21).
Paul obviously didn’t believe that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are incompatible. If he did, he wouldn’t have traveled from city to city to preach the gospel and he wouldn’t have asked for prayer that people would accept the gospel. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon was once asked if it’s possible to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He replied, “You don’t reconcile friends.”


Avoiding Extreme Views

When it comes to evangelism, we must avoid two extreme views. First, we must not think, “I have to do nothing.” This view puts all the emphasis on divine sovereignty and waters down human responsibility. Second, we must not think, “I have to do everything.” This view puts all the emphasis on human responsibility and waters down divine sovereignty.

From Paul’s preaching and prayer request, we can find two principles for evangelism.

1. We must evangelize, believing that any person can be saved (i.e., the gospel invitation is open to all). 

The invitation to salvation is genuine: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:12). And evangelism is necessary: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching [i.e., sharing the gospel]” (Rom. 10:13).

2. We must pray for people to be saved, believing that God is sovereign. 

The person who prays for someone to be saved reveals that he or she believes in the sovereignty of God. Can prayer change the mind of God? No, but God can choose to use our prayers to accomplish his sovereign plan.


Is It Up to Us?

So is evangelism up to us? It is and it isn’t. We are commanded by God to share the gospel, but only God can save people.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Standing Firm in Unstable Times

Part 14 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17




So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (v. 15). 


Standing Firm 

When my family and I are in Fredericton, NB (my hometown), one of the places we sometimes go is Wilmot Park. At the park there's a balance beam--one that moves up and down depending on where you step. That balance beam—with its ups and downs—could be a good analogy for life—with its ups and downs. If you’re going to remain on the balance beam, you need to stand firm.

The Christians in Thessalonica also lived in unstable times. They were facing persecution, some of them had been deceived by false teaching (vv. 1-3). [1] So the apostle Paul exhorts them to “stand firm” (v. 15). There’s always the temptation to give up (“jump off”) during unstable times. How can we stand firm during unstable times?


Avoiding End Times Errors

When it comes to biblical prophecy, there are many errors we need to avoid. [2] As we’ve gone through First and Second Thessalonians, I’ve addressed a few of these errors: (1) avoiding the topic of biblical prophecy for fear of controversy; (2) making a particular view of biblical prophecy a test of orthodoxy; (3) not being Christ-centered. [3]

Here’s another end times error to avoid: disconnecting what the Bible says about the future with how we are to live in the present. Our focus needs to be less on identifying “signs of the end” and more on standing firm until the end. 


Thanks God!

One of the ways we can gain inner strength during unstable times is by remembering the blessings we have from God. Paul thanks God for two things that he had done for the Thessalonian believers (“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord [i.e., Jesus], because…,” v. 13). We also should thank God that he has done these two things for us: “God chose you” (v. 12), and “[God] called you” (v. 14).

First, God has chosen us to be saved. “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through the sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (v. 13; cf. 1 Thess. 1:4). [4] God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God loved us before the world began (“beloved by the Lord,” v. 13). [5]

Second, God has called us to share Christ’s glory. “[God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14). Two weeks ago, I--as a New England Patriots fan--shared in the team's glorious Super Bowl victory. That victory was uncertain (especially when they were losing 28-3 in the second half). But if we believe that God is faithful to his word, then we also believe that in the end, Jesus will win. Every believer will experience that glorious victory.


Different Destinies

There’s a contrast between the destiny of those who believe the lies of “the lawless one” (vv. 9-12) and the destiny of those who believe the truth of the gospel. (Notice the word “But” in verse 13.) They will be “condemned” (v. 12), while we will be saved.

Why did God choose us to be saved and not them? Is that fair? We can’t fully understand how divine election works. What we do see in Scripture is that people are responsible for believing the truth. Those who will not be saved are those who “refused to love the truth” (v. 10). Those who will be saved are those believed in the truth (“belief in the truth,” v. 13).


Hold On!

Paul writes, “So then, brothers [and sisters], stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (v. 15). What Paul taught them (i.e., the gospel) gives us “eternal comfort and good hope” (v. 16). Having comfort and hope helps us to live as we should (“establish them in every good work and word,” v. 17).

Thinking again about that balance beam, it would be easier to stand firm on it if you had something to hold onto. To stand firm, we must hold onto the truth. We must continually recall the gospel of God’s grace (“through grace,” v. 16).

____________________

[1] They had been deceived about “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). They had been “shaken in mind” and “alarmed” (v. 2).
[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/13-end-times-errors-to-avoid
[3] In the previous sermon (“In the End, Jesus Wins!”), I said that it’s said when we give more attention to a doomed Antichrist than to the victorious Christ.
[4] Some manuscripts have “chose you from the beginning.”
[5] The Father chooses, the Son (i.e., “the Lord”) loves, and the Spirit sanctifies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Is Love?

A Valentine's Day Sermon

Text: 1 John 4:7-21




In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (v. 10). 


Defining "Love"

[When I preached this sermon, I looked up the word “love” with the Oxford Dictionary app on my phone and read a few of the definitions.] 

The word “love” has many different meanings. How does the Bible define “love”?


God's Love Revealed 

The apostle John writes that “love is from God” (v. 7). If we want to know what love is, we should examine how God has revealed to us his love. Verses 10 begins with the words “In this is love.” In other words, “This is real love” (NLT). John also states that “God is love” (v. 8). That’s who he is. The death of Jesus was a public demonstration of God’s love for us: “The love of God was made manifest among us” (v. 9). How was God’s love “made manifest among us”? By the cross. God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us. John emphasizes the depth of God’s love by stating that “God sent his only Son into the world” (v. 9) and that God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10).

God’s “only Son” was sent into the world “so that we might live through him” (v. 9). [1] The Greek word for “only” is monogenes. It’s found nine times in the NT. The word is used to described the widow of Nain’s “only son” (Luke 7:12; cf. 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17). Colin Kruse writes, “In each of these cases the expression is used to add poignancy to a story by highlighting that it was the person’s ‘one and only’ child who was in dire need, threatened, or had died.” [2] The word is found four times in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus, including 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:18). 

The Greek word for “propitiation” is hilasmos. In the NT, it’s found only twice—both times in 1 John (2:2; 4:10). In paganism, a propitiation was a sacrifice that appeased the wrath of a god. Christian propitiation is different. God is the one who provided the propitiation: his only Son. And God did not force his Son to die for us. Jesus willingly died: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16.)


Moved by God's Love

God showed us he loves us by sending his Son to die in order to save us. Love is the giving of oneself to help others. Love is sacrificial. It gives. It helps. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another” (v. 7). Love is not an option for a follower of Jesus. Loving others is something we know Christians should do. How can we more consistently show love to others?

We must always remember God’s love for us. John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). He also states, “We love because he first loved us” (v. 19). God’s amazing love moves us to love others. 

Love is the right motivation to obey God’s command to love others. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Fear is the wrong motivation to obey. “Whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (v. 18). “Perfection in love here involves a love for God which is based upon our sense of God’s love for us, and this love relationship is what removes our fear as we face the day of judgement.” [3] “There is no fear in love, but [God’s] perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment” (v. 18).


God Is Love and We Are to Be Like Him

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Sometimes when people at a charity event are asked, “Why are you here today?”, they’ll often answer, “Because it makes me feel good to help others.” Our default setting is self-centeredness. We’re naturally more concerned with how other people can help us than how we can help other people. But when we act in love, we feel better. Why? Because we have been made in God’s image, and God is love. When we act like God (i.e., when we reflect his image), we feel good—because this is how we have been made to live.


Preach to Yourself About God's Love

Did you know that every Christian should be a preacher? If you’re a Christian, you should preach daily to at least one person: yourself. We must daily preach to ourselves the gospel. When it’s difficult to give of ourselves to others, we need to remind ourselves that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son to die for us.

____________________

[1] We must keep in mind that Jesus is not the Father’s Son in the same way that Connor is my son. God is triune. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal. The Father didn’t somehow bring the Son into existence. We must not think that it was easier for the Father to give up his Son than it would be for us to give up our son.
[2] Colin Kruse, The Letters of John, 158-59.
[3] Ibid., 168-69.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

In the End, Jesus Wins!

Part 13 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12




And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming (v. 8). 


Who Will Win?

[This sermon was preached on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday.] Tonight is Super Bowl LI. The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will battle for football supremacy. Who will win? According to a report by Public Policy Polling, 52% of football fans think the Patriots will win, but only 27% want them to win.

Biblical prophecy is often difficult to interpret. But there’s one thing that’s absolutely clear: in the end, Jesus wins!


The Day of the Lord

For some reason, the Thessalonians had come to believe that the day of the Lord had already arrived (v. 2). The day of the Lord will take place when Jesus returns to earth (“the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” v. 1; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

In verse 3, Paul writes that two events must occur before the day of the Lord: (1) “the rebellion” and (2) the revelation of “the man of lawlessness.” The man of lawlessness is presented in Scripture as the Antichrist (“you have heard that antichrist is coming,” 1 John 2:18) and the “beast” of Revelation 13. The Antichrist is a future world leader who will put himself in the position of God (“proclaiming himself to be God, v. 4; cf. Dan. 11:36-37).

Paul writes, “Let no one deceive you” (v. 3). The Thessalonians had been deceived. We must not believe everything we hear! We must make sure that we don’t believe any teaching that’s contrary to Scripture.


Huh?

For centuries, people have tried to identify the Antichrist. In the 1980s, some people thought that Mikhail Gorbachev was the Antichrist. The birth mark on his forehead was thought by some to be the mark of the beast (cf. Rev. 13:16-17). Other people thought that President Ronald Reagan was the Antichrist. Reagan’s full name was Ronald Wilson Reagan—six letters in each name…666 (cf. Rev. 13:18). Those two examples illustrate how wrong our speculations about biblical prophecy can be.

In this passage, there are several interpretive challenges. What does Paul means when he writes that the man of lawlessness “takes his seat in the temple of God” (v. 4)? [1] What is the identity of “he who now restrains” (v. 7)? Sometimes we need to have the humility of Augustine, who wrote, “I frankly confess I do not know what [Paul] means.” [2]

What we do know is that the Antichrist will be no match for Jesus: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (v. 8). The lawless one is called “the son of destruction” (v.3), which means that he is “doomed to destruction” (NIV).


Now Is the Time to Believe the Truth

The day of the Lord will be a day of judgment (“the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,” 1 Thess. 5:2). Those who will face judgment will be those who “refused to love the truth” (v. 10). [3] “Our fate then will be determined by how we respond to the truth of the gospel now.” [4]

Is it fair for God to send people “a strong delusion” (v. 11)? Yes, God is simply giving them what they want. They hate the truth and love breaking God’s law (“had pleasure in unrighteousness,” v. 12). They want to believe a delusion (like a person wants to believe an ugly rumour about someone they don’t like). People are responsible for their own fate.


It's All About Jesus

When it comes to biblical prophecy, we can commit several errors. When we went through 1 Thessalonians, I shared two errors we need to avoid: (1) not talking about biblical prophecy due to the fear of controversy; (2) making a particular interpretation of biblical prophecy a test of orthodoxy. Today I want to address a third error we must avoid: not making Jesus the focus of our study of biblical prophecy.

Does anyone remember the backmasking controversy of the 1970s and 80s? Backmasking is a recording technique in which a sound or message is recorded backward onto a track. There were allegations from Christian groups that backmasking was being used for Satanic purposes by rock musicians. For example, it was claimed that when you play Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” backward, you can hear the message “Here’s to my sweet Satan.” After the backmasking controversy erupted, many musicians deliberately used backmasking on their songs to poke fun at it. The Christian rock group Petra used backmasking on their song “Judas’ Kiss.” When you play the song backward, you can hear the words “What’re ya lookin’ for the Devil for, when ya oughta be lookin’ for the Lord?” I think that’s a great message for those who study biblical prophecy.

It’s sad that when we give more attention to a doomed Antichrist than to the victorious Christ. We must not lose sight of what biblical prophecy is all about: in the end, Jesus wins! 

What we believe about the future should influence how we live in the present. We should live with hope in our hearts. How would living that way affect your daily life?


Victory! 

I never get tired of watching the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX—the Patriots versus the Seattle Seahawks. With only seconds remaining in the game, the Patriots are ahead by 4 points, but the Seahawks are on the Patriots’ 1-yard line. A Seattle touchdown and victory seem to be a foregone conclusion. The ball is hiked to the Seahawks’ quarterback. He throws the ball toward one of his receivers for the winning touchdown. Seattle wins, right? Wrong. Amazingly, the pass is intercepted by Patriots’ defender Malcolm Butler, sealing a Patriots’ Super Bowl win! As I like to say, the Butler did it! I love watching that game because I know that in the end, the Patriots win.

In the end, Jesus wins!

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[1] There appears to be a connection between what Paul writes here and “the abomination of desolation” that Jesus mentioned (Matt. 24:15; cf. Dan. 11:31).
[2] Saint Augustine, The City of God, 667.
[3] “The truth to which the author refers is not some abstract concept but rather the gospel itself…” (G. L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 323).
[4] Michael W. Holmes, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 243.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hope for the Afflicted

Part 12 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12




This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering (v. 5). 


Affliction

Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Each month, 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christians properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages). [1] In 2015, more than 7,100 Christians were killed for “faith-related reasons,” up 3,000 from the previous year. [2] More Christians have been martyred in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than during the previous nineteen combined. [3]

The Christians in Thessalonica were being afflicted. The apostle Paul writes, “We ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (v. 4). In Canada, we don’t face the same level of persecution that other Christians do (e.g., Christians living in North Korea). But sometimes we do experience persecution (e.g., ridicule). How can we remain steadfast and faithful when we are afflicted for being a Christian? [4]


Give Up? 

When difficulty comes into our lives (especially when difficulty comes because we’re Christians), there is the temptation to give up. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said that some people are like seeds that are cast on rocky ground. They “receive [the gospel] with joy” (Mark 4:16). But “then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (v. 17). In order to remain steadfast and faithful when we are afflicted for being a Christian, we must remember three truths.

1. Affliction can reveal the genuineness of our faith. 

In verse 5, Paul says something unexpected: “This [the affliction that the Thessalonians are enduring, v. 4] is evidence of the righteous judgment of God.” Huh? Usually we think of “judgment” in a negative way. But a judgment can be a good thing (e.g., a judge can pass a judgment that benefits us). Affliction can be beneficial if it shows us to be “worthy of the kingdom” (v. 5; cf. v. 11). Worthy? Aren’t none of us worthy? Isn’t that why we need grace? Paul isn’t saying that we’re saved by faith plus good works. He’s saying that not giving up when facing affliction is evidence that our faith is real. [5]

2. Affliction will not go unpunished. 

“God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (v. 6). The afflicters will be afflicted. This will happen “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vv. 7-8; see also v. 9). We must not forget that Jesus endured affliction: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). We are to imitate Jesus: “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). God is the Christian’s avenger. [6]

3. Affliction will not last forever. 

Paul writes that God will “grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us” (v. 7). The affliction that Christians are enduring now is temporary. There is hope for every afflicted Christian. There is a better day coming (“when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed,” v. 10).


Glorifying Christ

There is hope for the afflicted Christian. We have this hope because Christ was afflicted on the cross. He suffered in our place. We don’t give up because he didn’t give up. And not only do we look back at what Christ has done for us. We also look forward to what Christ will do for us. Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians is that Christ would “be glorified in [them]” (v. 12). We have reason to glorify Christ in every situation—even in the midst of affliction.

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[1] https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/
[2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/17/world/christian-persecution-2015/
[3] http://www.christiantoday.com/article/one.christian.is.martyred.every.five.minutes.persecution.watchdog.reports/65368.htm
[4] Much of what Paul writes in 1:5-12 can be applied to any type of affliction.
[5] Gregory Beale gives this analogy in 1-2 Thessalonians (pp. 184-185):
You must pay money to obtain entry to a professional football game. In order to enter the stadium, however, you must present a ticket at the gate. Is it the money that provides access to the game or the ticket? Both! But are the money and the ticket equal “causes” that get you in? Ultimately, the money paid is what really gets you in, but you must have the ticket as evidence that you really paid the price for the game. Likewise, true Christians are those on behalf of whom Christ has paid the penalty of sin, but they must have the badge of good works as evidence that Christ paid their purchase price in order to be considered worthy of passing through final judgment and entering the kingdom. Therefore, both faith in Christ’s work and human good works are absolutely necessary for being considered worthy of salvation, but the former is the ultimate cause of the latter. At the last judgment people will not be able to say that they have benefited from Christ’s redemptive work only because they have believed; they will have to show evidence of their belief through their good works (Mt 7:21). 
[6] We must keep in mind that God doesn’t enjoy punishing the unsaved. The cross proves to us that God delights in saving people (illustrated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Real Christianity

Part 11 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4




We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing (v. 3). 


Is This All There Is?

Was there ever a time when you said to yourself, “Is this all there is to life?” The Bible’s answer is “No, this is not all there is to life.” Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is hope for a better future—a future in which no one will say, “Is this all there is to life?” [1]


Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians

Second Thessalonians is a letter that written by the apostle Paul (2 Thess. 1:1) [2] to Christians living in Thessalonica. [3] It was probably written between A.D. 49 and 51 while Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17), [4] shortly after First Thessalonians was written.[5] Second Thessalonians has the same theme as First Thessalonians: the second coming (1:7, 10; 2:1, 8). [6]

The church in Thessalonica began as a result of Paul’s preaching of the gospel (1 Thess. 1:4) during his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). The Thessalonians had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). They possessed a new hope—a hope that would be fulfilled at the second coming of Jesus.


What Is Real Christianity?

What is real Christianity? How are Christians supposed to live? There are lots of people who call themselves Christians but don’t act differently than anyone else.

The Christian life begins when we accept the gospel. When we put our trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. And he gives us a new heart—a heart that desires to please God. And God is pleased when we live out real Christianity.

In verse 3, Paul points out two qualities of the Thessalonians that show that they are living out real Christianity. First, they have a growing faith: “your faith is growing abundantly.” Second, they have a growing love: “the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” Real Christianity is having a growing faith in God and a growing love for others. This is not how we become Christians; this is how we live as Christians. We are to have the kind of faith and love that affects how we live.


A Growing Faith and Love

How did Paul know that the faith of the Thessalonians was growing? Faith in God affects more than just our thoughts (which can’t be observed). It also affects our actions. “By grace [we] have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Our salvation is “not a result of works” (v. 9). But we have also been saved “for good works” (v. 10). “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

Have you ever thought, “It would be a lot easier to live as a Christian if I didn’t have to interact with anyone.” But Christianity is not meant to be lived in isolation. The love that Paul refers to here is a love for other Christians (“for one another”). Notice the phrase “our Father” in verse 2. God is not only my Father; he is our Father (cf. Matt. 6:9, “Our Father in heaven”). In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul mentioned that he gave thanks to God for their “work of faith and labor of love” (1:3). We are to have a faith that works and a love that acts.  


It's the Gospel, Stupid!

It’s important to know that the Thessalonians were facing persecution for being followers of Christ: “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (v. 4). It’s more difficult to have faith and love when we’re going through a difficult time. How did the Thessalonians do it?

During the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election, Bill Clinton faced a difficult challenge. According to Wikipedia, “In March 1991, days after the ground invasion of Iraq, 90% of polled Americans approved of President Bush’s job performance.” So how did Clinton end up defeating Bush? A recession hit the U.S., which led to Americans identifying the economy as their nation’s biggest problem. Clinton’s lead strategist James Carville coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid!” to remind Clinton to focus on economic issues. He did, and the rest is history.

I won’t use the word “stupid,” but for us, it’s the gospel. In other words, we must continually focus our minds on the gospel. If we do, it’s more likely that we will have faith in God and love for others. The apostle John writes, “By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Our Christianity has to be more than just talk. “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (vv. 17-18).

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[1] In the apostle John’s vision of the new heaven and earth, he is told, “The former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The “former things” include “crying,” “pain,” and “death.” Then God announces, “Behold, I am making all things new” (v. 5).
[2] Silvanus and Timothy are also mentioned as senders of the letter. They had been coworkers with Paul during his second missionary journey when the Thessalonian church was planted.
[3] Thessalonica was located in Macedonia. When 1 Thessalonians was written, the city had a population of over 100,000 people.
[4] Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (NICNT), 5.
[5] The previous letter (“our letter”) mentioned in 2:15 could be First Thessalonians.
[6] The second coming is mentioned in every chapter of 1 Thessalonians (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23).
[7] The faith and love of the Thessalonians is praiseworthy (“we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God,” v. 4). But Paul thanks God for their faith and love (“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right,” v. 3) because it was God who was ultimately responsible for their growing faith and love.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Simeon's Song

Part 4 of The Original Christmas Playlist

Text: Luke 2:22-40




“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (vv. 29-30). 


A Sword Will Pierce Your Heart

Mary proudly holds her newborn baby boy as she and her husband Joseph enter the temple court in Jerusalem. Forty days ago, she had given birth to her firstborn son. Today, they have made the short trip from Bethlehem to dedicate Jesus to the Lord. As Mary and Joseph make their way through the crowd, an elderly man spots them. His name is Simeon. God has revealed to Simeon that he will not die until he sees the Messiah. That day has come.

Simeon takes her baby in his arms and praises God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (vv. 29-30).

The old man’s words amaze Mary and Joseph. But Simeon isn’t finished. He looks at the boy’s mother and says, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (vv. 34-35a).

Then Simeon says something that Mary will never forget. “And a sword will pierce your very heart” (v. 35b).


About His Father's Business

Let’s fast forward about 33 years.

Now Mary understands Simeon’s prophecy. The little baby that she had once held in her arms is hanging on a cross. And her heart is pierced.

The sign above his head reads, “This is Jesus of Nazareth.” But Mary weeps as she thinks, “This is my son.”

She remembers kissing her boy’s forehead as she put him to bed. Now that forehead is marred by a crown of thorns. She remembers guiding his tiny hands and feet as he learned to walk. Now those hands and feet are nailed to a cross. She remembers rubbing his back to console her crying son. Now that back is bloodied and beaten.

As Mary surveys the heartbreaking scene, her mind goes back to a happier visit to Jerusalem. It was 22 years ago. Jesus was twelve. It was the first time Mary and Joseph had taken Jesus on their pilgrimage from Nazareth to observe the Passover. She recalls how excited Jesus was to see the temple. But most of all, she remembers the journey home. They had assumed Jesus was with the group traveling back to Nazareth, but when they looked for him, they couldn’t find him. In a panic, she and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem. They finally found Him in the temple. “Son,” Mary scolded him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”

Jesus replied, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Mary didn’t understand what he meant. But as the years passed by, she began to realize that Jesus’ life would be shaped more by God’s will than her dreams.

Now as Mary stands beside her son’s cross, she wonders if Jesus is now finishing the final task of his Father’s business. But still, her heart is pierced.


God's Salvation

When Simeon looked at baby Jesus, he said to God, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (v. 30). Salvation from God would come to us through the death of Jesus. Mary didn’t know what would happen to Jesus, but God the Father did.

It’s one thing to watch your son die (as Mary did); it’s another thing to sacrifice your son (as the Father did). [1] In this we see the love of God for us. There is no greater gift that the gift of Jesus. There is no greater love than God’s love.

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[1] But Jesus wasn't forced to die. He chose to give up his life for us.