Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in 50 Words

We showed this video in our Christmas Eve service.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Promise of the Righteous Branch

Listen to the sermon here.

The Promise Fulfilled 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer.23:5).

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

What was the significance of the promise of the righteous Branch? (1) The promise was given during days of injustice and righteousness. (2) The promise foretold that the Messiah would be a descendent of David. “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). (3) The promise was given to provide hope. 

Jesus Is the King 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be one his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isa. 9:6-7).

Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:1-2).

[Pilate] asked [Jesus], “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matt. 27:11).

And twisting together a crown of thorns, [the soldiers] put it on [Jesus’] head…. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matt. 27:29-30).

And over [Jesus’] head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews(Matt. 27:37).

He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14).

One of mankind’s greatest desires is to experience peace on earth. President John F. Kennedy declared, “...peace does not rest in the charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people. So let us not rest all our hopes on parchment and on paper, let us strive to build peace, a desire for peace, a willingness to work for peace in the hearts and minds of all our people. I believe we can. I believe the problems of human destiny are not beyond the reach of human beings.” Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. He died without seeing the goal of world peace accomplished.

Guitarist Jimi Hendrix said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will finally know peace.” Hendrix overdosed on sleeping pills and died on Sept. 18, 1970. He died without the world finding peace through love.

Musician John Lennon stated, “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.” One of Lennon’s most famous songs says, “Imagine all the people living in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” Lennon was murdered in New York City on Dec. 8, 1980. He died without experiencing the peace he had imagined would come to earth.

And in despair I bowed my head: 
“There is no peace on earth,” I said, 
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.” 

Why do we need King Jesus? (1) Without King Jesus, our world is a mess. (2) Without King Jesus, our lives are a mess.

Has the Kingdom Come? 

“Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10 KJV).

The kingdom of God has come and is coming

 (1) Jesus is reigning over his church. (2) Jesus will reign over all the earth. 

Is Jesus your King?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Promise of the Birth in Bethlehem

Listen to this sermon

The Promise Fulfilled 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2).

And assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’” (Matt. 2:4-6).

A few years ago, I was intrigued by a Christmas gift from my sister. It was shaped like a box of chocolates, but when I shook it, it didn’t sound like a box of chocolates. What was it? On Christmas morning I discovered that it was, in fact, a box of chocolates. But why didn’t it sound like a box of chocolates? Apparently, before she gave it to me, it had been set on something warm, and the contents had melted together into one big blob of chocolate. Christmas morning is often full of surprises—sometimes good and sometimes bad. The biblical Christmas story is also full of surprises. One big surprise is that Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem.

What do we know about the ancient town of Bethlehem? (1) It was located in the hill country of Judah. (2) It was about 8 km south of Jerusalem. (3) It was the setting for the story of Ruth. Ruth was the great-grandmother of David (Matt. 1:5-6; cf. Ruth 4:21-22). And Jesus was a descendent of David. In the NT, He is called the “Son of David” (Matt. 1:1). The angel told Mary that God would give her Son “the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32). As a woman from Moab, Ruth was a surprising choice to be an ancestor of Jesus. (4) It was the birthplace of David. David was a surprising choice to be king (1 Sam. 16). The prophet Samuel assumed that one of David’s older brothers would be chosen by God to be the next king, but God told him, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (v. 7). Bethlehem was known as the “city of David” (Luke 2:4, 11). And Joseph went to Bethlehem to be registered “because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4; cf. 1:27; Matt. 1:20). (5) It was the birthplace of Jesus.

Born in Obscurity 

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:4-7).

Jesus was born in obscurity:

1. The baby Jesus was born in a little town. 

2. The baby Jesus slept in a feeding trough. 

3. The baby Jesus was visited by lowly shepherds. 

This was the promised Hero! This was the “woman’s seed” who would crush the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15). This is Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa. 7:14). This is the one who was to be “ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2). This is the coming king (Zech. 9:9). This is the one who would be called “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). And yet He was born in obscurity. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Born for You 

And the angel said to [the shepherds], “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Throughout Scripture, we read that God shows His grace to unlikely people—people like Ruth, David, and the shepherds.

Though you might be insignificant to many, Jesus was born to be your Savior. 

Jesus was born for all people ("for all the people"), and he was born for you ("unto you").

This is “good news”!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

God's Image Bearers

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).

Recently, I taught a 5-week Bible study series called "God's Image Bearers." Below are links to the notes from all five studies.

1. Created in God's Image

2. Created to Reflect God's Image

3. Created as Male and Female

4. Created as Worshipers

5. Re-Created to Be Like Jesus

Re-Created to Be Like Jesus

Part 5 of the Bible study series God's Image Bearers

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).


Jesus alone has imaged God perfectly. “Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). “Whoever sees me [Jesus] sees him who sent me” (John 12:45). “Whoever has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Therefore, when we follow the example of Jesus, we are reflecting God. 


In Jesus, we see human likeness to God as it was intended to be. In His life, how did Jesus image God? 


Read Rom. 8:29. God saves people so that they may be “conformed to the image of his Son.” How does this truth help you better understand v. 28? 

In Scripture, there are four stages in the doctrine of the image of God: (1) We were originally created in God’s image. (2) Because of sin, there was a distortion of God’s image. (3) Presently, redemption in Christ provides a progressive recovery of God’s image. (4) Finally, at Christ’s return there will be a complete restoration of God’s image. “We must constantly choose to believe the truth—that this reflecting God alone is a great life. It is not an easy life, or a simple life, or a perfect life. But it is a wonderful life in that it is filled with evidences of God’s grace, healing from our past, and hope for our future. Furthermore, because mirroring God is the essence of our true humanity, as we reflect his glory we discover the source of our deepest joy, even when life hurts most” (Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, p. 139).

Read 1 Cor. 15:49. “The amazing promise of the NT is that just as we have been like Adam (subject to death and sin), we shall also be like Christ (morally pure, never subject to death again)” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 445). How does the restoration of God’s image give us hope for the future? 


Read Phil. 2:3-8. The apostle Paul urged the Philippians to follow the model of Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves” (v. 5). How can you better image Christ in your relationships? 

Christmas is supposed to be a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. How would Christmas be different if we all imaged Christ as we observed it?

Created as Worshipers

Part 4 of the Bible study series God's Image Bearers

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).


Harold Best, in his book Unceasing Worship, describes the Trinity as the Continuous Outpourer who continually pours Himself out between the persons of the Godhead in unceasing communication, love, friendship, and joy. It follows that human beings created in God’s image would also be unceasing worshipers as continuous outpourers.


We were not created to worship; rather we were created worshiping. All of life is ceaseless worship. We are continually giving ourselves away or pouring ourselves out for a person, cause, experience, achievement, or status. While the object of worship varies, the act of worship does not. What do people in our culture worship? 


Read Heb. 13:15-17. What does worship include?

Read Exod 20:1-3; Deut. 4:23-24. The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (v. 3). The opposite of worship is idolatry. Idolatry is by far the most frequently discussed problem in the Bible. How does God view our idolatry? 

Read Exod. 32:1-9 (see also 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6, 13; 10:16; 31:27). “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, p. 16). We are either reflecting God or a god. How did the Israelites reflect the god they worshiped? How do we see this today?


“The primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God, p. 162). How do we turn good things into ultimate things? How can we avoid this? 

“For most people, their proverbial ‘tell’ happens when they introduce themselves: they first say their name and then say something to the effect of ‘I am a [blank].’ How they fill in the blank (e.g., education, vocation, number of children, neighborhood they live in) often reveals what they have deified and are building their life on” (Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, pp. 347-348). Honestly, how would you introduce yourself? Do you need to rid your life of an idol?

Created as Male and Female

Part 3 of the Bible study series God's Image Bearers

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).


Read Gen. 2:18-25. The creation of humanity as male and female reflects the image of the triune God in three ways: (1) harmonious interpersonal relationships, (2) equality in personhood, and (3) difference in role and authority (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 454).


God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). How would life on earth be different if God had not made the woman (other than the inability to reproduce)? 


The woman was made to be a “helper” for the man (Gen. 2:18, 20). Does the term “helper” denigrate the woman? 

Read Gen. 3:8-20. Before the fall, the man was made the leader in the marriage relationship: (1) Adam was created first, then Eve (Gen. 2:7, cf. 1 Tim. 2:13-14); (2) Adam named Eve (Gen. 2:23; 3:20); (3) God named the human race “man,” not “woman” (Gen. 5:2); (4) the serpent went to Eve first (Gen. 3:1; cf. 1 Tim. 2:14); (5) God spoke to Adam first after the fall (Gen. 2:15-17); and (6) Adam, not Eve, represented the human race (1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:1). After the fall, there was a distortion of the original marriage roles. God said to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (v. 16). It’s possible that “desire” means “desire to conquer,” and “rule” means “rule harshly.” How do we see this struggle for control in marriages today? 

Redemption in Christ reaffirms the original marriage roles. “The first woman was taken from the side of the man, which beautifully illustrates that she belongs alongside him in partnership, not behind him in denigration (as chauvinism teaches) or in front of him in domination (as feminism teaches)” (Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, p. 122). According to Eph. 5:22-23, what are the God-ordained roles for the man and woman in marriage? 


Read Mark 10:2-9. God created the covenant of marriage; thus, He alone defines what it is. What does our culture accept or tolerate that goes against God’s design for marriage? 

How can men and women in a church reflect the triune God?

Created to Reflect God's Image

Part 2 of the Bible study series God's Image Bearers

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).


To be created in God’s image means to be made to be like God and to represent Him. We are like broken mirrors that need to be put back together by God. We were created to reflect God.


“Why are we here?” “What is life all about?” “Is there a reason to live?” What are some common answers to these questions? 


Read Eph. 1:11-12; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rev. 4:11. According to Scripture, what is the purpose of our lives?

Read Acts 12:21-23. Why is it wrong for us to seek glory for ourselves but right for God to seek glory for Himself? 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Is there a connection between glorifying God and enjoying Him? 

Read Exod. 34:34-35; 2 Cor. 3:12-18; Col. 3:8-10. Because of sin, the image of God has been distorted, but not completely lost. How does the restoration of God’s image take place in our lives? 


The gospel is the story of God’s plan to put us back together. To accomplish this plan, Jesus needed to be “broken.” How does this make you feel? Who does this make you want to act? 

Read Matt. 5:14-16. What can you do reflect God and bring glory to Him?

Created in God's Image

Part 1 of the Bible study series God's Image Bearers

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).


Our purpose in life is rooted in the fact that we were created in the image of God. The Hebrew words for “image” and “likeness” refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents. Being created in God’s image means we were made to be like God and represent God.


Read Gen. 1:26-31. What does it mean to be human?


We are not empty cups that need to be filled by God. Rather, we are broken mirrors that need to be put together by God. Read Gen. 5:1-3; 9:6; James 3:9. How has God’s image in us been affected by the fall?

Nearly every error in anthropology puts us up to be like God or pushes us down to be like animals. How does Gen. 1:26-31 present both the humility and the dignity of humanity? 

God has two kinds of attributes: unshared (omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence) and shared (holiness, love, truth). How are we like God morally?

“God is spirit” (John 4:24), and He has given us immortal spirits. How are we like God spiritually?

We have an ability to reason and think logically that sets us apart from the animal world. How are we like God mentally? 

We were created by the Trinity. God did not need to create us because He was lonely. In eternity past, there was perfect fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How are we like God relationally? 


What are the dominant views about humanity in our culture?

How are these views in opposition to Scripture?

How does the truth of being created in the image of God affect the way you view your life?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Promise of Immanuel

Listen to this sermon

The Promise Fulfilled

One of the best Christmas traditions is going home for Christmas. Naturally, one of our favorite Christmas songs is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

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

But in reality the biblical Christmas story is about leaving home. Luke 2 tells how Mary and Joseph left their home town of Nazareth to travel to Bethlehem where, of course, Jesus was born. And, more significantly, Christmas is the story of how Jesus, God the Son, left his heavenly home to be born as a human baby and become Immanuel—God with us.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) (Matt. 1:21-23).

The promise of Immanuel was given through the prophet Isaiah in around 700 B.C. and was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus. 

It's also possible that the prophecy may have been doubly fulfilled. There may have been a near fulfillment (the birth of a son named Immanuel in Isaiah’s day) and a far fulfillment (the birth of Jesus, who was literally God with us.).

The promise of Immanuel was given during a time of fear. 

This prophecy was given “in the days of Ahaz” (Isa. 7:1). King Ahaz and the people of Judah were afraid because of a threat from Syria and Ephraim (v. 2). The “sign” the Lord gave the people was meant to give them hope and to encourage them to trust him. The prophecy went on to say that when the child was old enough to choose between right and wrong, the threat from Syria and Ephraim would be gone (v. 16). Instead, Ahaz put his trust in Assyria, which eventually led to Judah’s loss of sovereignty.

Born of a Virgin 

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:34-35).

In Isaiah 7:14, the Hebrew word for “virgin” is ‘alma. In Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27, the Greek word for “virgin” is parthenos.

“Although some claim that the word translated ‘virgin’ (Hb. ‘almah) refers generally to a ‘young woman,’ it actually refers specifically to a ‘maiden’—that is, to a young woman who is unmarried and sexually chaste, and thus has virginity as one of her characteristics (see Gen. 24:16, 43; Ex. 2:8, ‘girl’). Thus when the Septuagint translators, 200 years before the birth of Christ, rendered ‘almah here with Greek parthenos (a specific term for ‘virgin’) they rightly perceived the meaning of the Hebrew term; and when Matthew applied this prophecy to the virgin birth of Christ (see Matt. 1:23), it was in accord with this well-established understanding of parthenos (‘virgin’) as used in the Septuagint and in other Greek writers” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1254).

What does Scripture tell us about the virgin birth?

First, Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary. 

Some theologians prefer the term virgin conception, rather than virgin birth. But we probably don’t need a new term because Mary was still a virgin when Jesus was born. Matthew 1:21 states that Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son.”

In Scripture, Jesus is called the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Adam was made from dust (Gen. 2:7). He was not made ex nihilo (“out of nothing”), and neither was the baby Jesus. It could be said that Christ’s humanness was made ex Maria (“out of Mary”). Jesus was “the fruit of [Mary’s] womb” (Luke 1:42). And he developed within his mother’s womb like every other human child.

Second, Jesus was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. 

While the birth of Jesus was natural, His conception was not. The angel told Joseph, “That which is conceived in [Mary] is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). Donald MacLeod writes, “The virgin birth is posted on guard at the door of the mystery of Christmas; and none of us must think of hurrying past it. It stands on the threshold of the NT, blatantly supernatural, defying our rationalism, informing us that all that follows belongs to the same order as itself and that if we find it offensive there is no point in proceeding further” (The Person of Christ, p. 37).

Third, Jesus was conceived without a human father. 

Luke writes, “[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph” (Luke 3:23 NIV). Galatians 4:4 declares, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman” (KJV).

Why is the virgin birth so important?

The virgin birth made possible the unity of full deity and fully humanity in one person. 

God Is With Us 

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

When Jesus came to earth, God was physically with us. 

“The Word [Jesus, who is declared to be “God” in v. 1] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). 

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; 
Hail th'incarnate Deity, 
Pleased as man with men to dwell, 
Jesus, our Emmanuel. 

Now that Jesus has left earth, God is spiritually with us. 

Do Not Fear 

Throughout Scripture, God promises to be with his people.

Moses told the Israelites, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of men, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).

God promised Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:5-6).

“Then David said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. For the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you’” (1 Chron. 28:20).

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Ps. 46:1-2, 11).

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

Notice that these promises of God’s presence were given to people who were afraid. (And remember that the promise of Isaiah 7:14 was also given to people who were afraid.) These people were told, “Do not be fear. Be strong. Be courageous. Be not dismayed.” Why? Because God is with you. The same promise is given to every child of God in this world today.

In every circumstance of life, God is with you. 

God will not always remove our difficult circumstances, but He will always supply us with what we need to go through adversity: strength, courage, comfort, peace, and hope.

To the one who is afraid, God is with you. To the one who is lonely, God is with you. To the one who is grieving, God is with you. To the one who is discouraged, God is with you. Jesus is our Immanuel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Promise of the Woman's Seed

Part 1 of B.C.: Before Christmas

Listen to this sermon.

The Protoevangelium 

“I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring [seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).

This prophecy is often called the protoevangelium, which means “first gospel.” In the midst of all of the bad news of Gen. 3 (the fall and the curse), God revealed good news.

Unfortunately, some of the gifts we give this Christmas will soon break (especially toys). And they will be thrown away.

When we became broken because of sin, God had a plan to restore us. 

Who are the serpent and the woman’s seed? (1) The serpent is Satan. Satan is called the “ancient serpent” in Rev. 12:9. (2) The woman’s seed is Christ. According to biology, a woman does not have a seed, so there is a hint of the virgin birth in Gen. 3:15. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal. 4:4).

The word “offspring” (or “seed”) can refer to one descendent or many descendents. Paul pointed out that God’s promise to Abraham regarding his “offspring” was fulfilled by one person: Christ. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Gal. 3:16). The same is true of God's promise in Gen. 3:15.

The woman’s offspring also refers to the children of God. Throughout history, there has been “enmity” (hostility) between the children (followers) of Satan and the children (followers) of God. This hostility was first demonstrated by Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the first two children in Scripture (Gen. 4). 

Crushing the Head of the Serpent 

[Christ] himself likewise partook of [flesh and blood], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14).

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).

Christ’s victory of Satan comes in two stages:

1. Satan’s doom was guaranteed by Christ’s death and resurrection. 

“The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it” (Rev. 12:4). Satan attempted many times to sue people to kill Jesus (e.g., King Herod). Finally, Satan succeeded when Jesus was crucified. He crushed His heel. But through the cross, Christ defeated sin and death and crushed Satan’s head (a fatal blow).

2. Satan’s doom will be completed by Christ’s second coming. 

We will join Christ in His victory. Paul writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).

Restoration Through Christ 

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

“So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Num. 21:9). Why was Jesus pictured by a serpent on a pole? Because when He was on the cross He was made to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).

Because Christ was broken for our sin, we can be restored.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Christmas Greetings from Poland

Ben & Krista Taylor are missionaries serving in Poland. Our church recently began to support them financially. Here is a Christmas video they sent us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bibles for Christmas

This Christmas, three people in our family are getting a Bible as a gift. All three are in the English Standard Version (ESV), which I've been using recently. If you are considering to purchase a Bible for yourself or someone else, here are three that I would recommend.

(If you're wondering if I have spoiled the surprise of these gifts, don't worry. Marsha already knows she's getting this Bible, and my boys don't read my blog.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Series: B.C.

This Sunday, I am beginning a new 4-part Christmas series called "B.C.: Before Christmas." This series will examine four different OT prophecies and how each were fulfilled by the birth of Jesus. And over the next four weeks, I will also share this series here on this blog.
  1. The Promise of the Woman's Seed (Gen. 3:15)
  2. The Promise of Immanuel (Isa. 7:14)
  3. The Promise of the Birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
  4. The Promise of the Righteous Branch (Jer. 23:5)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Faith and Love

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A Personal Letter 

Do you look forward to checking your mail each day? I do. Unfortunately, all I usually find in my mailbox are bills and junk mail. In this age of email, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s rare that you ever receive a personal letter.

A quick introduction to the book of Philemon:

  • Written by: Paul. When? Around A.D. 60. The letter to Philemon is the shortest book in the NT in the original Greek (355 words). Timothy is mentioned in verse 1. Why? He is not a co-author. Paul probably mentions Timothy because he is present as Paul is writing the letter. And perhaps Philemon knows Timothy. They may have met in nearby Ephesus (see Acts 19:22). 
  • Written from: Prison. Where? Probably Rome. Paul describes himself as a “prisoner for Christ Jesus” (v. 1). Technically, Paul is under house arrest, chained to a Roman guard (see Acts 28:30). Philemon is one of the four “prison epistles.” The others are Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. 
  • Written to: Philemon. Who? A wealthy Christian in Colossae. The church at Colossae met in Philemon’s house (v. 2). This indicates that he was probably wealthy since his house is large enough to be used for church meetings. Philemon was saved as a result of Paul’s ministry: “you owe me your very self” (v. 19). Three other recipients are mentioned in verse 2: (1) “Apphia our sister” (probably Philemon’s wife); (2) “Archippus our fellow soldier” (probably Philemon’s son); and (3) the Colossian church. Philemon is the primary recipient because his name is listed first and “you” is singular in the Greek (except for vv. 3, 22, 25). 
  • Written about: Onesimus. Who? A runaway slave. At some point, Onesimus, one of Philemon’s slaves, fled to Rome after having stolen money (or property) from Philemon. Somehow Onesimus met Paul in Rome and was converted. His life was changed, and he became a great help to Paul. He had been reconciled to God, and now he needs to be reconciled to Philemon. [Note: In the sermon audio, I briefly address the issue of slavery in the NT.] 

A Man of Faith and Love 

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints (vv. 4-5).

Real Christianity is real faith expressing itself through real love

We can see a picture of salvation in verses 17-18. First, Paul was willing to pay Onesimus’s debt (v. 18). “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” Second, Philemon was asked to welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul (v. 17).

Christ paid the debt of our sin so that we could be welcomed into God’s family. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ’s death on the cross made it possible for our sin to be put on Christ’s account and His righteousness to be put on our account. What must we do? Put our faith in Him.

Real Faith

What is real faith?

1. Faith is not just an intellectual thing; faith works. 

The faith you have toward the Lord Jesus (v. 5).

Jesus is our “Lord.” The Greek word for “Lord” is kurios, which means “master,” or “he to whom a person belong.” Philemon was a slave owner, but he belonged to Jesus. This means that faith includes both belief and commitment.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is by grace through faith, not by works. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). We are not saved by works, but we are saved to do works. 

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17 NIV).

2. Faith is not just an individual thing; faith connects. 

I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ (v. 6 NIV).

So if you consider me your partner (v. 17).

The Greek word for “partnership” is koinonia and means “fellowship” or “communion.” Faith in Christ not only brings us into fellowship with God; it also brings us into fellowship with other believers. We are all brothers and sisters in God’s family.

Real Love

What is real love?

1. Love is not a selective thing; love accepts. 

Your love…for all the saints (v. 5).

Receive him as you would receive me (v. 17).

The Bible doesn’t say love some of the saints or most of the saints or all of the saints except that really annoying one. Someone named “Mark” is mentioned in verse 24. This is probably “John Mark,” the son of a woman in whose house the Christians met in Acts 12. He was a “cousin of Barnabas” (Col. 4:10). He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. However, Mark didn’t complete the journey (Acts 15:38). As a result, Paul refused to take Mark on the second journey. This led to a falling out between Paul and Barnabas. “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company” (Acts 15:39 NIV). Eventually, Paul was reconciled with Mark (and Barnabas). About five years later, Paul tells Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11 NIV). And now—about twelve years later—Mark is working alongside Paul (Col. 4:10). It was this Mark who became the author of the second Gospel. Paul had welcomed back Mark and was an example to Philemon.

2. Love is not a sentimental thing; love acts. 

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you (v. 7).

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you (vv. 8-9a).

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 NIV).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Faith Test: True Religion

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Worthless and True Religion

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:26-27). 

We are not saved by religious works, but we are saved to do religious works (see Eph. 2:8-10).

What is the difference between worthless and true religion?

  • Worthless religion is knowing God's Word but disregarding it.
  • True religion is knowing God's Word and doing it.

Doing the Word 

James gives us three characteristics of a “doer” of God’s Word.

1. A doer of the word controls the tongue (v. 26). 

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things out not to be so (3:10; see vv. 3-12).

2. A doer of the word helps the needy (v. 27a) 

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (2:15-16; see vv. 14-17).

3. A doer of the word resists temptation (v. 27b). 

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4; see vv. 4-10).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Faith Test: Trials

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An Introduction to the Book of James 

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, 
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: 
Greetings (v. 1).

Genre: Letter.

The letter of James lacks many of the usual characteristics of a letter. It is called a “general epistle” because it wasn’t written to a specific person or church. It could be classified as a book of wisdom (similar to the OT book of Proverbs).

Author: James, the brother of Jesus.

James was not a follower of Jesus until after the resurrection (John 7:5; 1 Cor. 15:7). He became a leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:8; Gal. 2:9, 12) and was executed in A.D. 62.

Date: Probably around A.D. 45.

Recipients: Jewish Christians living outside Palestine.

Theme: Living out one’s faith.

Joy in Trials 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (v. 2).

Depending on the context, the Greek word for “trials” (peirasmos) can be translated either “trials” or “temptation.” Trials are troubles. In our lives, we face “various kinds” of troubles (illness, loss of a loved one, financial difficulty). What are the normal responses to trials? Sadness, discouragement, and anger. But what does James say? “Count it all joy.” (This, of course, does not mean that we should desire trouble or that we should not be sad when a loved one dies.)

Why should we “count it all joy” when we face trials?

Trials can help us reach our goal: spiritual maturity. 

Trials are like difficult, strenuous physical exercise. When you exercise, you often have a goal (lose weight, lower blood pressure, get in shape for a sporting event). Of course, exercising is voluntary; trials are not.

To be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4) is to be spiritually mature. To be spiritually mature means to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus, is a goal we won’t be able to fully reach in this life, but we shouldn’t “lower the bar.” Paul wrote, “Not that I…am already perfect, but I press on….” (Phil. 3:12).

James gives us three facts about trials:

1. Trials test our strength (v. 3a). 

A physical fitness test shows us how physically strong we are. Trials show us how spiritually strong we are. The Greek word for “testing” (dokimion) is used only one other time in the NT. “In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). The fire shows what is pure gold and what is not.

2. Trials can increase our endurance (vv. 3b-4). 

It’s sometimes said, “No pain, no gain.” Trials cause us to exercise our faith and the result is spiritual endurance (“steadfastness”). Verses 9-11 also teach us that our trials (such as poverty) are temporary.

3. Trials can be rewarding (v. 12). 

The type of “crown” that James has in mind is the laurel wreath that was given to winners in the ancient athletic games. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:24-25). We need to “commit to be fit.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gratitude or Greed?

Grateful Giving

Chronicles 29:1-20

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you (v. 14).

In David’s prayer, he gives three reasons why we should give gratefully:

First, everything I have comes from God. 

“O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own” (v. 16).

Many people will not acknowledge that everything good comes from God. Paul writes, “Although they knew God [through creation], they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). Mankind refused to give thanks to God for His blessings. Instead, they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25). It’s sad that many people are now saying “Turkey Day,” rather than “Thanksgiving Day.”

Before the Israelites entered the promised land, Moses warned them, saying, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:17-18). As James writes, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

On January, 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed…is to be observed on the second Monday in October.” The purpose of Thanksgiving is to thank God for all of the blessings that come from Him.

Second, God is the owner, and I am the manager. 

For all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all” (v. 11). The manager of McDonald’s doesn’t say to the owner, “Sorry, you can’t have a hamburger.” The owner has entrusted the manager with his business, but everything still belongs to the owner. The same is true with us and God. I can give nothing to God that doesn’t already belong to Him.

Third, my ability to give is a gift from God. 

“‘Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the LORD?’ Then the leaders of fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work” (v. 6).

The people gave 5,000 talents of gold (v. 7). What is the current value of 5,000 talents of gold? One talent is about 75 pounds, which means 5,000 talents would equal about 374,000 pounds. The current price of gold is $1,637/oz (USD). So 5,000 talents (374,000 pounds) of gold would be worth $9,822,000,000!

“Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced” (v. 9). God could force us to give, but He allows us to give willingly.

If something like this happened today, what would be the focus of the new reporters’ stories? Probably the generosity of the people. But to whom did David give the glory? God, not the people. “Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: ‘Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever’” (v. 10).

Are You Grateful or Greedy?

“I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you” (v. 17).

We can either be grateful for God’s grace or greedy for our own gain. Whether we are grateful or greedy affects our lives in many ways.

Money: The grateful person says, “God gives. Therefore my money is His, and I use it to glorify Him.” The greedy person says, “I earn. Therefore my money is mine, and I use it however I please.”

Possessions: The grateful person says, “I have enough” (contentment). The greedy person says, “I never have enough” (coveteousness).

Service: The grateful person says, “I want to serve.” The greedy person says, “I want to be served.”

Giving: The grateful person says, “How much can I give?” The greedy person says, “How much must I give.”

After asking the Corinthians to contribute to an offering to help struggling Christians in Jerusalem, Paul exclaims, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15). God’s gift is the sacrifice of His Son (“gift”). God’s gift is too amazing for words (“inexpressible”). God’s gift is worthy of our utmost gratitude (“thanks”). And God’s gift should inspire us to give (cf. 2 Cor. 9:1-14). Does only 10% belong to God. No, everything belongs to God. And this truth applies not only to our money but also our time and energy. Giving flows out of gratitude.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Who Cares?

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God Cares!

You probably remember the “Miracle on the Hudson.” On Jan. 15, 2009­, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 began a routine journey that ended as anything but. Shortly after taking off from New York's LaGuardia Airport, the Airbus A320, which held 155 people, lost power to both engines after they were struck by birds.

Rather than panicking in a moment of sheer terror, pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III decided to land the plane in the Hudson River in an attempt to avoid crashing in the densely populated area. Amazingly, no one was killed.

After landing in the Hudson, nearby ferry boats, police boats, fire boats, and tugboats picked up passengers who were standing up to their waists in 35 oF (1.6 oC) water and 18 oF (-7 oC) air temperatures. What could have ended in a disaster turned out to be one of the most amazing flight rescue stories ever. For his quick thinking and skill, Sullenberger was lauded as a hero (“5 Amazing Rescues,”

The book of Jonah is a rescue story. But it’s more than a story of God rescuing a prophet from drowning. It’s a story of God rescuing a city from destruction.

“That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster (4:2).

Why did God send Jonah to Nineveh? Because God cares. 

Why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh? Because Jonah didn't care.

The book of Jonah shows us the great lengths to which God will go to bring salvation: 
  • God commissioned a prophet to confront a sinful city. Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh....” (1:1-2). 
  • God caused a storm to stop a runaway prophet. But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up (1:4). 
  • God prepared a fish to swallow a drowning prophet. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah (1:17). 
  • God directed the fish to release a trapped prophet. And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land (2:10). 
  • God recommissioned the prophet to confront a perishing city. And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh....” (3:1-2). 
  • God used the prophet to save a repentant city. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (3:10). 

The Hebrew word shuwb (translated as “turn”) is found four times in verses 8-10. When the people of Nineveh turned from their sin, God turned from the judgment He threatened. The KJV says, “God repented of the evil [disaster]” (4:10). To “repent” means “to feel sorry.” God felt sorry for the Ninevites and spared them. The NIV says, “He had compassion.”

Jesus once compared Himself to Jonah. “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Like Jonah, Jesus shared a message that brought salvation. But unlike Jonah, Jesus fulfilled His mission willingly. And unlike Jonah, Jesus was filled with compassion.

God so loved the Nineveh, that He sent his prophet Jonah, that whoever believed in his message should not perish but live. And “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).

Do I Care?

“You pity the plant.... And should not I pity Nineveh…?” (4:10-11).

Why did God spare the Ninevites when they repented? Because God cares. 

Why was Jonah angry when God spared them? Because Jonah didn't care.

A Hebrew word frequently found throughout the book of Jonah is ra‘ah (translated as “evil,” “disaster,” and “discomfort” in 1:2, 7, 8; 3:8, 10; 4:1, 2, 6). “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil [ra‘ah] way, God relented of the disaster [ra‘ah] that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased [ra‘ah] Jonah exceedingly” (3:10-4:1). An alternate translation of 4:1 is “But it was exceedingly evil to Jonah.” To Jonah, it was a disaster than Nineveh escaped disaster.

Another key word in the book of Jonah is “perish.” Jonah was not concerned about the sailors and the Ninevites who were in danger of perishing (1:6, 14; 3:9) but was angry when the plant perished (4:10). Jonah cared more about a plant than the people of Nineveh. Do you care more about your things than your neighbors?

Do you care like God cares? If I desire to care like God cares, I must constantly remind myself of three truths:

1. God loves me, and God loves them.

Don’t think that you deserve God’s love more than anyone else. No one “deserves” God’s love. But God is merciful and gracious (4:2). Through Christ, He has made a way to withhold from us the punishment we deserve and give to us the salvation we don’t deserve (just like He did with Nineveh). “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (2:9). Thankfully, it didn’t belong to Jonah or Nineveh would not have been saved.

2. God wants me to be filled with compassion for them.

“As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). The Lord is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

3. God wants me to play my part in His rescue plan.

Most of us would do everything we could to rescue someone in physical danger. If someone was drowning, you would do something to help (jump in the water, throw a life preserver, yell for help, call 911). What about those who are in spiritual danger? There is something every Christian can do.

The purpose of the book of Jonah is to show us that God loves all people and to lead each one of us to ask ourselves, “Do I care?”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Free Bible Study Resources

Here are three places where you can find free online Bible study resources:

Based on a quick comparison, it looks like offers the most for free. (Several of the free books are not in the public domain.)

In God We Trust

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Have you ever played the game Frustration? (There is a more popular version of the game called Trouble.) Frustration can be a frustrating game. In order to move your pieces out of the start position, you need to “pop” a one or a two. Sometimes you can pop the dice over and over again and never get a one or a two. Meanwhile, everyone else’s pieces are quickly moving around the board. In frustration you cry out, “How much longer until I get a one or a two!” Then sometimes when you finally do get a one or a two, another player’s piece lands on yours sending you back to start. And you complain, “That’s not fair!”

Habakkuk the prophet was a man filled with frustration. In the first two chapters of Habakkuk, the prophet brings two complaints to God (1:2-4; 1:12-2:1). Each time, God answers Habakkuk’s complaint (1:5-11; 2:2-20).

  • Habakkuk’s first complaint: How much longer? O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (1:2).
  • God’s answer: Trust me. I am working on a plan you can neither see nor understand. “I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (1:5b).
  • Habakkuk’s second complaint: That’s not fair! You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? (1:13).
  • God’s answer: Trust me. I know what I’m doing. “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him (2:20). 

Habakkuk’s complaints are childish complaints. Children often complain to their parents: “How much longer?” and “That’s not fair!” But good parents usually know best. And certainly God our Father knows best. We need to trust Him.


The righteous shall live by his faith (2:4).

These words are “quoted in the NT to emphasize that people are saved by grace through faith (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; cf. Eph. 2:8) and that Christians should live by faith (Heb. 10:38-39). The kind of faith that Habakkuk describes, and the NT authors promote, is continuing trust in God and clinging to God’s promises, even in the darkest days” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1724).

In the third chapter of Habakkuk, the prophet offers a prayer of faith to God. How can I trust God even in the darkest days? Remember three facts about God:

1. God is amazing. 

O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear (3:2a).

2. God never changes. 

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (3:17-18).

3. God gives strength. 

God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places (3:19).

Sometimes when I play a game like Frustrated, I can get quite frustrated. I like to win. But sometimes while playing a game I remind myself, “Who really cares if I win or lose? It’s just a board game!” I often need a change of perspective. Spending time with family and friends is more important that winning a game. 

Habakkuk was a man who went from frustration to faith. What caused this change? His circumstances had not changed. And he says that even if his circumstances get worse, he still will rejoice in the Lord. What happened? Habakkuk stopped focusing on his frustration and started worshiping God. When God is worshiped, perspectives change and people change. Trust Him.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Follow Jesus

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Are You a Follower?

Do you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus? You might say, “Weren’t the disciples those twelve guys who followed Jesus? I’m not a disciple; I’m a Christian.”

Perhaps you aren’t aware that the word “Christian” is found only three times in the Bible.

And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26b).

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian (Acts 26:28).

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name (1 Peter 4:16).

These three verses suggest that the name “Christian” was invented and popularized by non-believers. In Antioch they may have said, “Look at those strange people who follow that man Jesus. Wasn’t he crucified? And they still believe he is the Christ? That’s insane! Let’s start calling them Christians.” So “Christian” was originally an insulting label that was later embraced by the church (like “geek” and “nerd” today).

Whether you call yourself a “Christian” or a “disciple,” you are a follower. Why? Because “disciple” means “follower,” and “Christian” means “Christ-follower.”

In today’s world, when you talk about “following” someone, people might think you’re talking about Twitter. (For example, our Prime Minister Stephen Harper has 167,960 followers on Twitter. President Barack Obama has 10,083,001.) It doesn’t take much to follow someone on Twitter—just a click on the “Follow” button. But it is sometimes very difficult to be a follower of Jesus—a Christian (as 1 Peter 4:16 states and Acts 26:28 implies).

The earliest recorded use of “Christian” outside the NT is by the Roman historian Tacitus when he wrote that Nero blamed the “Christians” for the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64. Some Christians were forced to confess by means of torture, and these “confessions” led to the persecution of Christians.
…Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians…by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired (Annals XV.44). 
Don’t expect the benefits of salvation without the demands of discipleship. 

Salvation isn’t like a burger at some fast food restaurant. (“Yeah, I’ll get the salvation burger. But can I have it without any adversity and with some extra blessings?") You can’t “have it your way.”

Three (Not So Simple) Steps to Being a Follower of Jesus 

What do followers of Jesus need to do? In Acts 2:36-42, we find three steps for Jesus’ followers.

1. Be converted.

Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

The word “conversion” means “turning.” Biblical conversion is “a turning from sin to Christ. The turning from sin is called repentance, and the turning to Christ is called faith” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 709).

“Repentance, like faith, is an intellectual understanding (that sin is wrong), an emotional approval of the teachings of Scripture regarding sin (a sorrow for sin and a hatred of it), and a personal decision to turn from it (a renouncing of sin and a decision of the will to forsake it and lead a life of obedience to Christ instead” (ibid., p. 713).

2. Be baptized. 

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).

Baptism is the way we publicly identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. Our church’s statement of faith says that baptism “is the immersion of the believer in water, whereby he obeys Christ’s command and sets forth his identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.”

Baptism is an outward, physical symbol of the inward, spiritual conversion of Christians. It pictures person being “buried” with Christ (submersion under water) and being “raised” to new life with Christ (emergence from water) (ESV Study Bible, p. 2167).

Is baptism necessary for the forgiveness of sins? No. But some verses (e.g., Acts 2:38) might seem to say this. Why? Because baptism usually happened immediately after conversion. In the early church, there were probably no unbaptized believers. 

Baptism is not necessary for the forgiveness of sins, but baptism is still a big deal. To remain unbaptized, is to disobey Jesus!

3. Be devoted. 

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).

This third step is really a series of many steps. We will not reach perfection, but we should see progression. Here is what Jesus said about His disciples. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Communion Meditation - The Cup

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:26-28).

During His last supper with His disciples, Jesus "took a cup" and said that the wine in that cup was symbolic of His blood. He then stated that His blood would soon be "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

The Lord's Supper is intended only for those who have experienced the forgiveness that comes from the blood of Jesus. How does a person receive this forgiveness? On an earlier occasion, Jesus declared, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:53-54).

Jesus was obviously not speaking literally when He talked about people drinking His blood. How are we to "drink his blood" so that we may be forgiven of our sins? Each one of us must individually "drink His blood" into our hearts by faith. (A cold glass of your favorite drink does you no good until you drink it.) "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36).

When you drink of the cup of the Lord's Supper, you are demonstrating that you personally have received by faith the forgiveness that is available through Christ's shed blood.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Cup

Read Matthew 26:36-46 and 27:45-46.

(This post is based on chapter 3, “Looking Below the Surface,” in The Cross of Christ by John Stott.)

The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

"My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39).

In Gethsemane, Jesus was "sorrowful and troubled" (v. 37). Luke writes, "And begin in an agony he prayed more earnestly; his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). "Though the word 'like' may indicate that this is to be understood metaphorically, there are both ancient and modern accounts on record of people sweating blood—a condition known as hematidrosis, where extreme anguish or physical strain causes one’s capillary blood vessels to dilate and burst, mixing sweat and blood" (ESV Study Bible, p. 2007). On another occasion, Jesus said, "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour" (John 12:27).

In Gethsemane, Jesus was "sorrowful and troubled" (v. 37). What was the "cup" that He dreaded to drink?

The "cup" was not physical suffering.

There are two reasons why the cup Jesus dreaded was not physical suffering. First, if the cup meant physical suffering then Jesus would have been guilty of not practicing what He preached. He once told His followers that when insulted, persecuted, and slandered, they were to "rejoice and be glad" (Matt. 5:11-12).

Second, if the cup meant physical suffering then Jesus would have been outdone by His followers. The apostles, leaving the Sanhedrin with backs bleeding from a merciless flogging, were actually "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffering dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41). In the postapostolic period there was even a longing to suffer martyrdom. In the middle of the second century, Polycarp, the eighty-six-year-old bishop of Smyrna, having refused to escape death either by fleeing or by denying Christ, was burned at the stake. Just before the fire was lit, he prayed, "O Father, I bless thee that thou hast counted me worthy to receive my portion among the number of the martyrs" (The Cross of Christ, p. 77).

The "cup" was spiritual suffering.

In the Old Testament, the Lord's "cup" was a symbol of His wrath. "In the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs" (Ps. 75:8). "Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering" (Isa. 51:17). "The LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: 'Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it'" (Jer. 25:15). "The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!" (Hab. 2:16). On the cross, Jesus would experience the wrath of God. That was the cup Jesus dreaded to drink.
We turn back to that lonely figure in the Gethsemane olive orchard—prostrate, sweating, overwhelmed with grief and dread, begging if possible to be spared the drinking of the cup. The martyrs were joyful, but he was sorrowful; they were eager, but he was reluctant. How can we compare them? How could they have gained their inspiration from him if he had faltered when they did not? Besides, up till now he had been clear-sighted about the necessity of his sufferings and death, determined to fulfill his destiny and vehement in opposing any who sought to deflect him. Had all that suddenly changed? Was he now after all, when the moment of testing came, a coward? No, no! All the evidence of his former teaching, character and behavior is against such a conclusion. In that case the cup from which he shrank was something different. It symbolized neither the physical pain of being flogged and crucified, nor the mental distress of being despised and rejected even by his own people, but rather the spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world—in other words, of enduring the divine judgment that those sins deserved (The Cross of Christ, p. 78).
In the end, Jesus was determined to drink the cup. When He was arrested, Peter tried to fight against the soldiers. But Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (John 18:11).

The Cry of Dereliction on the Cross

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46; cf. Ps. 22:1).

There have been many ideas about the significance of this cry from the cross: (1) it was a cry of anger, unbelief, or despair; (2) it was a cry of loneliness (He felt forsaken, but really wasn't); (3) it was a cry of victory (He quoted the first verse of Psalm 22 in order to represent the entire Psalm, which ends in triumph; cf. vv. 22-24). The best explanation is that Jesus actually was forsaken by the Father.

People sometimes refer to a place as "godforsaken." The cross really was a "godforsaken place." Why was Jesus "forsaken"? It was because of our sin.
“An actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntary accept by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled” (The Cross of Christ, p. 84).

 "For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).

While Jesus hung on the cross, "there was darkness over all the land" (Matt. 27:45). "It seems that the darkness of the sky was an outward symbol of the spiritual darkness that enveloped him. For what is darkness in biblical symbolism but separation from God who is light and in whom 'there is no darkness at all' (1 Jn. 1:5)? 'Outer darkness' was one of the expressions Jesus used for hell, since it is an absolute exclusion from the light of God’s presence. Into that outer darkness the Son of God plunged for us. Our sins blotted out the sunshine of his Father's face. We may even say that our sins sent Christ to hell…." (The Cross of Christ, p. 81).

The cross enforces three truths--about ourselves, about God, and about Christ:

1. Our sin must be extremely horrible.

The cross strips us of our self-righteousness. It shows us that we need a Savior.

2. God's love must be wonderful beyond comprehension.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). We can't understand the intensity of love that impelled God to give Jesus to bear the wrath we deserve.

3. Christ's salvation must be a free gift.

"[Christ] 'purchased' it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now 'finished,' there is nothing for us to contribute" (The Cross of Christ, p. 86). Salvation is by grace through faith.

"Your Will Be Done"

"My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done" (v. 42).

"Although in theory 'everything is possible' to God, as Jesus himself affirmed in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), yet this was not possible. God's purpose of love was to save sinners, and to save them righteously; but this would be impossible without the sin-bearing death of the Savior" (The Cross of Christ, p. 79).

Are you willing to say to Jesus, "Your will be done"?

Whatever "cup" Jesus gives us, we must be willing to drink it.

How can you say no to Jesus after what He did for you?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What I'm Reading - The Cross of Christ

One of the books I am presently reading is The Cross of Christ by John Stott. It is "the work of a lifetime, from one of the world's most influential thinkers, about the heart of the Christian faith" (back cover).

It was selected by Tim Challies of as the latest book for his Reading Classics Together, so I decided, since I recently purchased the book, that this would be a good time to read it. So far, I have read four chapters, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this book. The third chapter, "Looking Below the Surface," has been a great help to me this week in my sermon preparation. I'll be preaching on "The Cup" (the agony in Gethsemane and the cry of dereliction on the cross).
"John Stott rises grandly to the challenge of the greatest of all themes. All the qualities that we expect of him--biblical precision, thought-fulness and thoroughness, order and method, moral alertness and the measured tread, balanced judgment and biblical passion--are here in fullest evidence. This, more than any book he has written, is his masterpiece."--J. I. Packer