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!

____________________

[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.

____________________

[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).

____________________

[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.

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Angels' Song

Part 3 of The Original Christmas Playlist

Text: Luke 2:8-14





“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased” (v. 14). 


What Is Christmas All About?

My favourite Christmas special is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It begins with Charlie Brown depressed about Christmas. He says to Linus, “I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I might be getting presents and sending Christmas cards decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” Finally, as Charlie Brown is trying to direct a Christmas play, he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” His friend Linus responds by reciting Luke 2:8-14. [1]

Unlike Charlie Brown, the majority of people in North America know that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth. But I think most people miss the significance of his birth. Why does the birth of Jesus matter?


Good News! 

There are many surprising parts to the Christmas story. One surprise is that the first people to be told about Jesus’ birth is a group of lowly shepherds. God cares about ordinary people. These shepherds are “keeping watch over their flock by night” (v. 8). Imagine the shepherds’ surprise when “an angel of the Lord appear[s] to them, and the glory of the Lord [shines] around them” (v. 9). As we would expect, “They [are] filled with fear” (v. 9). The angel says to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news” (v. 10). The good news that the angel brings to the shepherds is news “of great joy” (v. 10). [2]

The good news is that a baby has been born in Bethlehem. The angel announces, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11). The good news of Christmas is that a Saviour has been born!


Praise in Heaven, Peace on Earth

After the angel tells the shepherds the good news, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host” (v. 13). All of the angels are “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (vv. 13-14). [3] “In the highest” refers to heaven. God in heaven is given glory, and people on earth are given peace. “Those with whom [God] is pleased” are those who have put their trust in Christ as their Savior. Peace “is essentially a synonym for salvation.” [4] We need peace with God.

When we understand what Christmas is all about, we should be filled with praise! The angel had given to the shepherds a “sign”: “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). “What is amazing is not that the child is wrapped up, but who the child is and where he is. One hardly expects to find Messiah in an animal room. One would expect a palace…. Messiah’s life will contain an unusual bookend for a king, since he was born in an animal room and will die with robbers.” [5]

____________________

[1] Network executives didn’t want Linus to recite Scripture, thinking that viewers wouldn’t like it. But Charles Schulz was determined to keep the scene in, saying, “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?”
[2] We could contrast the lasting joy of this good news with the temporary joy that most Christmas presents bring.
[3] This is the third Christmas song in the Gospel of Luke—though it does say that the angels said these words (“saying”). This song is often called the Gloria because Gloria is the first word of the song in the Latin Vulgate.
[4] R. H. Stein, Luke, 109.
[5] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, 219.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Zechariah's Song

Part 2 of The Original Christmas Playlist

Text: Luke 1:67-79




“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (vv. 68-69). 


Leaving Home for Christmas

People like to go home for Christmas. Many popular Christmas songs talking about going home for Christmas. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was originally written to honour soldiers who longed to be home at Christmastime. The BBC actually banned the song in the UK because they feared that the lyrics might lower morale among British troops. [1]

I’ll be home for Christmas 
You can count on me 
Please have snow and mistletoe 
And presents on the tree 

I’ll be home for Christmas 
If only in my dreams 

But Christmas is really about leaving home. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus left home for Christmas. He came to this world to visit us. [2] Jesus traded his throne in heaven for a manger in Bethlehem. He exchanged the praise of angels for the mocking of his enemies. He gave up the glory of heaven for the suffering and shame of the cross.


The Birth of John Foretold

Zechariah is a priest, married to a woman named Elizabeth (v. 5). They have no children. Elizabeth is “barren” and both she and Zechariah are “advanced in years” (v. 6). [3] As Zechariah is serving in the temple, the angel Gabriel appears to him. He announces to Zechariah, “Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and you shall call his name John” (v. 13). He will prepare people for the coming of the Christ (v. 17).

Zechariah doesn’t believe the angel’s news. It’s just too amazing to be true. He says, “I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (v. 18). The angel tells him, “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (v. 20).


Salvation!

Zechariah has been unable to speak for at least nine months! When he’s finally able to speak, he praises God: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel” (v. 68). [4] Zechariah praises God for three things God will do through the Christ (i.e., Jesus). He uses the past tense because he’s certain that God will do these things: “He has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us” (vv. 68-69). [5]

How would God visit us? Later in the song, Zechariah declares that “the sunrise shall visit us from on high” (v. 78). “The sunrise” refers to Jesus who would “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (v. 79). “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light shone” (Isa. 9:2; cf. 60:1-2; Mal. 4:2). God would visit us through the coming of Jesus to earth! [6]

How would God redeem us? When the Jews would think of redemption, they would think of their deliverance from Egypt. They has been slaves, and God freed them. In Zechariah’s day, the Jews were looking for a new exodus. They were looking for freedom from the Romans. But Zechariah was looking for more than political redemption. He was also looking for spiritual redemption because he says that his son would “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (v. 77). Freedom from sin is our greatest need, though most people don’t understand this. God would redeem us through the death and resurrection of Jesus!

How would God raise up “a horn of salvation” for us? A horn is a symbol of power (e.g., the horn of a wild ox as mentioned in Deuteronomy 33:17). “The LORD is…the horn of my salvation” (Ps. 18:2). The phrase “raised up” is often used in the OT of God putting a person in a special position (e.g., a king). In Hannah’s prayer, she says God will “give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed” (1 Sam. 2:10). Jesus is the King of kings. God would raise up “a horn of salvation” through the salvation achieved by Jesus!


Saved to Serve

Salvation has come to us because of God’s remembrance, his faithfulness to his covenant, and his mercy (v. 72). The main characters in Luke 1:57-80 are Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, and Jesus. Zechariah means “Yahweh has remembered.” Elizabeth means “My God has sworn.” John means “Yahweh is merciful.” Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” The truth of verse 72 is summed up in the names. Coincidence? I think not!

“The essence of worship is responsiveness to God’s demands.” [7] If we, like Zechariah, are praising God, we should be willing to serve him. (What if I praise my wife for how great she is but refuse to help her out?)

God saves us to serve. God wants us to serve him “all our days” (v. 75; cf. Eph. 2:8-10). God saved us by serving us! [8] As God chose to save us because he loves us, we should choose to serve him because we love him.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I'll_Be_Home_for_Christmas
[2] See Luke 1:68, 78.
[3] I don’t know how old you need to be in order to be considered “advanced in years,” but I’m sure Zechariah and Elizabeth are well past the age of thinking about having children.
[4] Zechariah’s song is known as the Benedictus because Benedictus (“Blessed”) is the first word of the song in the Latin Vulgate.
[5] These words are prophetic: “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,” v. 67). The prophecy of Scripture is certain to be fulfilled.
[6] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, 178.
[7] Ibid., 186.
[8] See Phil. 2:7.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mary's Song

Part 1 of The Original Christmas Playlist

Text: Luke 1:46-55




And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call be blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (vv. 46-49).


Christmas Is a Time for Music

A few years ago while jogging in my neighbourhood, I found a record collection on the side of the road. I took the records home and kept the ones I liked best. I actually didn’t own a record player at the time, but two years ago Marsha gave me one for Christmas. My favourite Christmas albums are Elvis’ Christmas Album, Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. They say that there’s nothing like the sound of music on a record player.

 
In the Gospel of Luke, there are four Christmas songs: Mary’s song (1:46-55), Zechariah’s song (1:68-79), the angels’ song (2:14), and Simeon’s song (2:29-32). [1] Mary’s song is known as the Magnificat. [2] In our current sermon series “The Original Christmas Playlist,” we’re going to take a look at each of these four songs.


A Song of Praise

Mary’s song is a song of praise. [3] Mary’s praise comes from her “soul” (v. 46) and her “spirit” (v. 47). It comes from deep inside her. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Ps. 103:1). God isn’t interested in praise that doesn’t come from our hearts. God said that the people of the prophet Isaiah’s day “draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13).

Mary “magnifies the Lord” (v. 46). To magnify means to enlarge (like a magnifying glass enlarges an object). Mary wanted an enlarged vision of God. We should regularly stop to think about how big God is. He is “mighty” (v. 49) beyond description!

Mary calls God her “Savior.” She might have been thinking that the birth of the Messiah would result in the deliverance of Israel from the Romans. But Mary’s son would bring a different kind of deliverance. The angel Gabriel had told Mary to name her baby “Jesus” (v. 31). Why the name Jesus? “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” Jesus would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).


A Gracious God

Mary praises God because “he has looked on the humble estate [i.e., the low status] of his servant” (v. 48). This implies that he has shown her grace. Isn’t it amazing that God looks on us? (We think it amazing if some celebrity notices us.)

Mary is a nobody from nowhere. She isn’t yet married, so she’s probably a young teenager—maybe 15. And she lives in Nazareth—a small town with a population of no more than 2,000 people. Luke states that Nazareth is a “city of Galilee” (v.26) perhaps because no one would know what it was otherwise. Years later, when Nathanael is told that Jesus is from Nazareth, he asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

Mary acknowledges that she is blessed because of God’s grace. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). God has “exalted those of humble estate” (v. 52). Reversal of fortunes is one of the themes of the Gospel of Luke (e.g., the thief on the cross). Jesus “humbled himself” (Phil. 2:8) by dying on a cross for us. But then was “exalted” (Phil. 2:9).

Mary says, “Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (v. 48). Why will people call her blessed? Mary declares, “For he who is mighty has done great things for me” (v. 49). Mary would not be remembered today unless God had shown her grace. What would life be like without God’s grace?


God Has Done Great Things for Us!

“He who is mighty has done great things for me.” We need to be careful because “sometimes even our worship of God can be somewhat self-centered, as if the really important thing is what God has done for us. We need to look beyond this to see God as he is in himself, and to praise him for being God. Then, when we speak about what God has done for us—as we should—it will be more about him and less about us.” [4]

Each one of us should sing our own Magnificat because the mighty God has done great things for us!

In the book of Isaiah, the child to be born (i.e., the Messiah) would be called “Mighty God” (Isa. 9:6). The mighty God became a man to die for us! In an amazing act of grace, Jesus came to serve us—nobodies!

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[1] The opening two chapters of the Gospel of Luke are sort of like a Christmas musical.
[2] In Latin, the first word of the song is Magnificat (“magnifies”).
[3] Mary’s song is similar to Hannah’s prayer (1 Sam. 2:1-10).
[4] Philip Graham Ryken, Luke, vol.1, 47.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How Long Until the End?

Part 8 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 12




“How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (v. 6). 


How Long?

This time of year, children often ask the question, “How many days until Christmas?” We are often like impatient children, asking God, “How long?” “How long?” is actually a common question in the Bible.

  • “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1). 
  • “How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from [my enemies’] destruction, my precious life from lions” (Ps. 35:17). 
  • “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Hab. 1:2). 
  • “[The martyrs in heaven] cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). 

At the conclusion of Daniel’s visions, the question is asked, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (v. 6). We believe that God is sovereign. The end will come when God decides it will happen. In Daniel 12, we see how God answers the question, “How long until the end?”


The End Will Come 

When people are experiencing suffering, they naturally ask “How long?” How much longer until this is over? Daniel is told that there is be “a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (v. 1). Many Christians believe this refers (at least in part) to a time of great tribulation prior to the second coming of Jesus. [1] Though the suffering will be great, Daniel is promised that “[his] people will be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (v. 1). 

The end will come. And when it comes, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (v. 2). This is “the first and only Old Testament reference to double resurrection.” [2] This is our hope! God’s people will live happily ever after!

Daniel is told that up until the time of the end, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (v. 4). [3] Knowledge will be abundant, but wisdom will be scarce. “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above” (v. 3). If we desire to be raised “to everlasting life” we must believe “the word of the cross” which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Before the end comes (either to our lives or this age), we must put our trust in Christ. This is true wisdom.


Go Your Way

Daniel is told, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book until the time of the end” (v. 4). In ancient times, scribes would make two copies of a document: one would be sealed for posterity, and the other would be open for the public. [4]

Then the question is asked, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (v. 6). This is a question we all ask. Daniel is given a time period of “1,290 days” (v. 11). And then he is told, “Go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days” (v. 13). We might not know exactly what the period of 1,290 days means, [5] but it indicates that God has determined an exact time when the end will come. Like Daniel we are to “go [our] own way till the end” (v. 13), trusting that God is in control. Until the end, I need to do the good that God’s word tells me to do.


How Much Longer, Dad? 

My kids often ask, “How much longer, Dad?” Sometimes I try to get creative when I answer them. (“It’s going to be about three episodes of [their favourite TV show].”) But sometimes I don’t know how long it’s going to be.

I don’t know how long until the end, but I do know that God is in control. It’s not my job to worry when the end might come. God has decided when the end will come. I need to trust that he will do what is right according to his perfect wisdom.

____________________


[1] This “time of trouble” probably refers both to the past time of trouble (during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes) and a future time of trouble (before the second coming).
[2] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 272.
[3] “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine in the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord’” (Amos 8:12).
[4] See Jeremiah 32:9-12.
[5] A period of 1,290 days is about three and a half years (“a time, times, and half a time,” v. 7), perhaps referring to half of a seven-year tribulation. Seven years might be symbolic of a complete time of tribulation.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Son of Man

Part 7 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 7




“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him” (v. 13). 


The End Is Coming

Some people have said that Donald Trump becoming President is a sign of the apocalypse. People have all sorts of ideas about how the world might end (nuclear war, zombies, aliens). It’s true that one day this world as we know it will come to an end. But it won’t be zombies that will bring the world to an end. God is in control, and he will be the one who will put an end to this world as we know it. The book of Daniel can be broken into two parts.

The first half of the book (chapters 1-6) contains stories. The second half of the book (chapters 7-12) contains visions. [1]


Daniel's Nightmare

In Daniel’s vision, he sees “four great beasts [coming] up out of the sea” (v. 3). What is the meaning of these four beasts? Daniel is told that the “four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth” (v. 17). [2] People often try to identify the four kingdoms, [3] but perhaps it’s best to see the kingdoms as simply four kingdoms that will succeed one another.

Daniel is especially curious about the four beast and the little horn. Out of the head of the fourth beast grows “a little [horn],” which has “eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things” (v. 9). Many scholars believe that the little horn is the antichrist. “He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High” (v. 25). But his kingdom, like the other kingdoms of man, will be destroyed.


One Like a Son of Man

When God finally puts an end to the kingdoms of man and establishes his eternal kingdom, he will give authority of that kingdom to someone whom Daniel describes as “one like a son of man” (v. 13). Who is this person? Those of us who are familiar with the Gospels know that Jesus often referred to himself as “the Son of Man.” What does this title mean?

When Daniel describes the person in his vision as “one like a son of man,” he means that the person looks like a man. “Son of man” and “man” are synonymous. For example, Psalm 8:3 says, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” But the “one like a son of man” is obviously more than just a man. In Daniel’s vision, the “one like a son of man” comes “with the clouds of heaven.” In the OT, God is the one who rides on the clouds. “[The LORD] makes the clouds his chariot” (Ps. 104:3). “Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud” (Isa. 19:1). “The clouds are the dust of [the LORD’s] feet” (Nah. 1:3).

When Jesus was questioned by Caiaphas the high priest regarding his true identity, Jesus finally declared, “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). Jesus was saying, “I am the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision!” [4] What was the high priest’s reaction? He accused Jesus of blasphemy (v. 65). By calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus was claiming to be both human (“one like a son of man”) and divine (“with the clouds of heaven”). 

In the Old Testament prophecies, we often only see the mountain peeks. We see the mountain peek of the Messiah's coming into the world. And we see the mountain peek of the Messiah's reign. What we often don't see is the valley into between those two mountain peeks of prophecy. Jesus' followers were shocked when he was crucified. Before Jesus would come “with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26), he would come as a humble servant. He declared, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).


Remain Faithful

The book of Daniel encourages God’s people to remain faithful. We are sometimes tempted to give up. Why should we remain faithful?
  1. God is in control. 
  2. God loves us. The Son of Man died for us! 
  3. God will have the final victory. The Son of Man will come again!
Before this year, the Chicago Cubs had not won the World Series since 1908 (108 years ago!). But people remained faithful to the Cubs, hoping that each year would be the year the Cubs finally would win. Faithful Cubs fans (including 108 year-old Cubs fan Mabel Ball) were finally rewarded this year with a World Series victory.

We should remain faithful because God has promised (Cubs fans had no guarantee of victory) that one day he will have the final victory. The chaos and evil of this world will come to an end. Jesus will reign. And we will reign with him!

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[1] The genre of Daniel 7-12 (like Revelation) is apocalyptic. Apocalyptic writings are filled with symbols and often difficult to interpret.
[2] The vision of the four beasts is similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image (Dan. 2).
[3] One popular interpretation is that the four beasts represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
[4] “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man” (Rev. 14:14; cf. 1:13).nbsp;