Monday, December 28, 2015


  The Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1:

“The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christ Rebukes

Sinners ought to take the rebukes of God's word and rod, as tokens of his love to their souls. Christ stood without; knocking, by the dealings of his providence, the warnings and teaching of his word, and the influences of his Spirit. Christ still graciously, by his word and Spirit, comes to the door of the hearts of sinners. Those who open to him shall enjoy his presence. If what he finds would make but a poor feast, what he brings will supply a rich one. He will give fresh supplies of graces and comforts. In the conclusion is a promise to the overcoming believer. Christ himself had temptations and conflicts; he overcame them all, and was more than a conqueror. Those made like to Christ in his trials, shall be made like to him in glory. All is closed with the general demand of attention. And these counsels, while suited to the churches to which they were addressed, are deeply interesting to all men.


Sunday, December 20, 2015


Letter to the Church in Laodicea

The 7th and last letter is to the church in Laodicea.

Laodicea was a prominent and wealthy city. It sat on both a river and a highway. It was known for banking, commerce, and wool. When the city was damaged by an earthquake, the wealth citizens rebuilt it without help from Rome.

the road into town
They build a stadium, a gymnasium, heated and covered walkways, public baths and massive city gates with towers. The city also had a famous medical school that invented an eye salve which was effective in treating diseases of the eye.

the stadium

They built temples to Zeus, Apollos, and the emperors

The letter begins, as the other letters, with Christ revealing himself with different names. (14) The names for Christ revealed to Laodicea are:
The Amen;
The faithful and true witness; and
the beginning of God’s creation.

The word  “Amen” is a Hebrew word, where the “e” is pronounced with a long “a”. The  New Testament writers transliterated it, rather than translate it. So does the English Bible. It occurs many times in the Bible. However, this is the only time in the New Testament it is used as a name.

It is also used as a name only one time in the Old Testament. That verse is Isaiah 65:16. Most translations translate it in that verse as “of truth”, referring to the God of Truth.

Isaiah 65:16 in the English Standard Version says:
“So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.”

Most translations use “God of Truth” to translate the Hebrew word “amen”. Jesus, by calling himself the Amen, was applying Isiah 65:16 to himself, that he is God and he is truth. Since he is truth, he can tell this church a hard truth it needs to hear. He is also the “faithful and true witness” as he also said in 1:5.

He is the beginning of God’s creation. It might be that he means a reference to the creation of the world, as described in Genesis 1 and John 1. But it may be a further description of the term “first born of the dead” used also in 1:5., where it also followed the words “faithful witness”.  God’s new creation starts with Jesus. He started it and he rules over it.

Sadly, this church is the only one about which Jesus had nothing at all good to say. Although there was no persecution or heresy to put pressure on the church, it had become complacent and worldly. It had been seduced by wealth. Despite receiving letters from Paul, it had not continued to diligently seek the Lord. (Colossians 4:16) They were complacent, saying “I am rich”. (17) Jesus did not see it that way.

In verse 15, Jesus proceeded to his admonition, or correction, of the church at Laodicea. He said they were lukewarm,neither hot nor cold. We might call it tepid. No one likes cold drinks more than us Texans. We drink iced tea in the coldest weather. We also drink hot coffee, even in the hottest weather. But we do not like lukewarm drinks. Neither did Jesus, evidently.

The legend behind this analogy is that Laodicea water came from a long way away, channeled by pipes. By the time it reached the city it was lukewarm and not that tasty. In contrast, nearby Hierapolis had hot springs and Colossae had cold mountain water.

It is so easy to be lukewarm. The fact is, if you come to church regularly and sit there looking pious, people think you are good. You do not have to burn hot to be well thought of in the average church. But that is what Jesus wants. Jesus said, since you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. He would reject them. (16)

The reason this church was lukewarm might have been that they were rich. (17) They did not feel that they needed anything. They were self sufficient in their own thinking. Riches can do that to us. They make us feel we have it made, that we do not need anything from Jesus except heaven when we die.

Jesus disagreed. He counseled them to seek spiritual riches based in holiness. He told them to buy gold refined by fire and white garments. (18) By this he means to seek Christ rather than riches and holiness rather than riches and a place of honor in the pagan community.

He also encouraged them to get salve for their eyes so they could see spiritually. This is a reference to the salve made at the medical school, of which the city was proud. What Jesus was saying is, you have become spiritually blind and complacent because of your material wealth. You need to wake up and discern the need to pursue Christ in holiness.

In verse 19, Jesus reminded them that he reproves and discipline those he loves. This is a threat. He encouraged them to repent and seek the Lord zealously so that they would not be disciplined. Jesus wants zeal, not complacency. It is also a reference to Proverbs 3:11-12, which says “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. The writer of Hebrews also quoted the proverb in Hebrews 12:5-6 as he discussed struggling against sin.

Verse 20 is one of the most abused verses in scripture. Jesus told them he stood at the door and knocked, and would come into anyone who opened the door to receive him. This verse is often used to preach an evangelistic sermon. But Jesus was not addressing the unbelievers. He addressed the church. His message was for the church to repent and re-enter intimate fellowship with him. He is warning of his return and their ability to participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb.

This may also be a reference to Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:35-40. There Jesus said to remain dressed for action and keep your lamps burning. He refers to servants who wait for their master to return from a wedding feast. They want to be ready when he knocks on the door to let him in immediately. Christians are to be prepared for the return of Christ so that he will find us faithful, not complacent. We must stay ready every day because we do not know what day he will return. (Luke 12:40)

As with all the churches, Jesus reiterated his promise that all who conquered will rule with him. (22)

This letter seems to me particularly relevant to the American church. By the world’s standards, we are so wealthy. We have many beautiful buildings with beautiful furnishings. We must not lose our zeal for Christ because of the comfort and cost of our surroundings.

All of the letters to the churches remind us of pressures that are exerted upon the church today. There is the interference of the state, paganism, economic pressure, social ostracism and harassment. On the other hand, there is also comfort and prosperity. In the face of these, it is easy for a church to retreat and find peace with the community by compromising its message or cooling its passion for Christ. Christ’s messages to these churches, though, show that compromise and retreat are not acceptable to him. He still requires passionate faith and practice. If not, he is willing to come in discipline.

I do not want him to come to my church in disciple, taking away our lamp or bringing disease and death. I do not want him to spit us out. I only want him to come at his second advent, taking up the church in victory to be with him forever.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Astounding! A Christmas Devotion

Manger scenes are popular at Christmas time. They are made of all kinds of materials. We have one made of bark. There are blow up mangers in people’s yards. There are living manger scenes. I have seen many kinds and had many reactions to them. Some I thought, why did they do that? Others, I thought, that is cute. For some, I thought, that is just weird.
          Then one day, looking at the baby in the manger, I thought: it is none of these; it is astounding (causing a feeling of great surprise or wonder). It represents an astounding event: God became man.
          Why is it astounding? I can think of 3 reasons.
First, it is astounding because of who God is. God is the creator of all things. The Bible starts with that very thought: in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He is not part of this creation, this world we know. He is outside of it because he created it. He is holy, majestic and powerful. Yet, he entered this creation as Jesus, the only begotten Son. God became man.

Second, it is astounding because of how he did it. He caused Jesus to be born of a virgin. It was impossible by human standards. It is a little theme that runs through this passage. That is why Mary asked the question “how can this be?”.  Gabriel told her nothing was impossible with God and he offered evidence to prove it: Elizabeth, who was barren and past child bearing age, was pregnant.
The whole Trinity was involved in this birth. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary, the Father (Most High) overshadowed her, and the Son was born. His divine conception meant that, not only was he man, he was God, the holy Son of God. (35) He was fully man and fully God. 

Third, it is astounding because of who he came to. He came to a world in rebellion against him. The very first man rebelled against God, believing Satan’s lies and attempting to elevate himself to the status of God. Every man and woman since that time rebelled against God. It was so bad that, at one point, God destroyed every living thing by water, preserving only a remnant with which to start over.
          Isaiah said “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way…” (Is. 53:6) Paul wrote “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Rom. 3:23) Mankind constantly rebelled against God’s authority and his law. We are a race of rebels.
          Yet this holy God, in the form of Jesus, inserted himself into this rebellious humanity. He was born into a nation and race that, despite receiving the special blessing of God, perverted his law and rebelled against him repeatedly. But, God came anyway. It is astounding. 

          Fourth, it is astounding because of why he came. He came to save those very rebels. Gabriel said “you shall call his name Jesus”. It means “savior”. Matthew 1:21 adds, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 1 Timothy 1:25 says “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” The Holy God inserted himself into sinful humanity to save sinners. He saved us from the wrath of God, the ultimate consequence of sin.

          There are many things to enjoy at this time of year. There is way too much food, fellowship, decorations and entertainment. It is okay to enjoy that. But, why limit yourself to enjoyment? Be astounded! And let that lead to worship.

Sunday, December 06, 2015


Letter to the Church at Philadelphia

Philadelphia was established in 189 B.C. by King Eumenes II of Pergamon. He named the city for the love of his brother and successor, Attalus II.

Philadelphia was greatly damaged by an earthquake in A.D. 17. The Roman emperor Tiberius aided the city by relieving it of its annual tribute. In gratitude, the city erected a monument to Tiberius and renamed the city “Neocaesarea”.

Jesus described himself to this church as the holy and true one. He took the title of the Father in the Old Testament: the Holy One of Israel. He has the key of David and has the power to open doors which no one may shut. The Jews would have told the converts that they were locked out of the kingdom of God as long as they followed Jesus. One of the benedictions recited in the synagogue each Sabbath said “For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and may the Nazarenes perish and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed.” Jesus says he, not the Jews, decides who enters the kingdom and no one can undo his decision. The “open door” is the door to the kingdom. Only Jesus has the key. No one comes to the Father except through him. (John 14:6)

This is the second church that receives no admonition, only praise and encouragement. Jesus acknowledged that the church had little power. (8) They had not denied his name. It must have been a church of Jews who believed in Jesus and became the target of Jewish persecution. That is why Jesus referred to the Jews as the synagogue of Satan. (9)

Despite its lack of power, this church remained faithful. They kept God’s word and did not deny him. (8) This was likely in the face of pressure from the Jews to coerce Jewish converts to come back to Judaism. The fact that Jesus refers to it as the synagogue of Satan again indicates he views his followers as the true people of God and not the Jews. We know this because Jesus said they say they are Jews but are not. This is in line with Paul’s teaching that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”. (Galatians 3:29)

As Jesus promises vindication to all believers, he promised it to this church. He said the Jews who persecuted them would come and bow down before them and know that Jesus loved them. (9) This is a picture of our vindication, and a picture of believers reigning with Christ. It refers also to Isaiah 60:14, where God promised that the oppressors of God’s people will bow at their feet and acknowledge that they are the city of the Holy One of Israel. Paul said that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, even those who do not confess it on earth. (Philippians 2:10-11)

Jesus also promised the would keep them from the “hour of trial” coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on earth. (10) This usually means to protect them in the time of trial rather than to remove them from it.

It is a sort of side note, but I am impressed with the similarity of the messages to the 7 churches with the message of the book of Hebrews. The two major admonitions in Hebrews are for faithfulness and endurance. Chapter 11 is often called the faith chapter, for it lists Old Testament believers who were known for their faith. Believers in the churches to whom Hebrews was written were encouraged to be like the Old Testament heroes of faith as the looked forward to the final fulfillment of God’s promises for the deliverance of the saints into eternal glory.

To what “hour of trial” does he refer? He could mean Roman persecution. Especially if you accept the early date for the writing of Revelation, you could see this as Nero’s persecution of Christians that the Lord would protect this church from. It could mean the destruction of Jerusalem as described in Mark 13. That would not really affect them in Asia, though. It could mean the final, intense period of tribulation before the end of the world. If the latter, means they would not experience judgment. The problem with this view is Jesus says he is coming soon. (11) Since we still await the tribulation and judgment, he hardly came soon in that sense. So, it appears to mean a time of trial this church will experience. Jesus’ coming soon may mean he will increase his presence and power with them to keep them from falling from the faith during the trial.

Jesus also promised they would become a pillar in the temple of God if they held fast to their faith and conquered. This is a sign of permanence. Since Philadelphia experienced many earthquakes that caused buildings to fall, this is a relevant promise to them. God’s temple is where his presence is. In this age, it is in the church. In the age to come, it will encompass the new earth.

Other signs of permanence are that the believer will never go out of it, will have God’s name written on them, and the name of the New Jerusalem from heaven. They are God’s in Christ, sealed by the Spirit, and no one takes them out of his hand.

Jesus taught this before, in John 10. He used the metaphor of the sheep and the shepherd. He said “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)

1 Peter 1:4 says believers have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in seven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Believers are preserved for eternal life.

Believers will be vindicated.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Foretelling 2 Advents - Isaiah 11

Isaiah 11:1-10
God’s Word to Isaiah on the Future of the World

What an honor God bestowed on Isaiah. He told him the entire future of the world with Jesus at the center. And, indeed, Jesus is the focus of God’s plan for the world.

In Isaiah 10, God spoke of judging nations by way of the metaphor of chopping down a forest. He continued with this metaphor in chapter 11, referring royal house of Israel as a stump. The line of David would be cut down in the exile. The stump is Jesse, King David’s father. The prophetic word of the Lord is that, out of Jesse’s line, would come another king, a shoot or branch, that would be the greater David. This is a prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus.

The New Testament shows us this prophecy fulfilled. Matthew 1 traces the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, who was the son of Jesse. He ended the genealogy with the birth of Jesus, “who is called Christ”. (Matt. 1:16) Christ is the transliteration of the Greek word “christos”, which is a translation of the Old Testament word for “anointed” or anointed one. “Messiah” is our transliteration of that Hebrew word.

Then we are told things about this Messiah. First, the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him. He would be anointed with the Spirit. This prophecy was fulfilled at Jesus’ baptism. Matthew recorded the event. The Spirit of God descended like a dove and came to rest on him. (Matthew 3:16)

The Father said the Spirit would endow the Son with three specific things:
wisdom and understanding;
counsel and might; and
knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Is. 11:2)

With wisdom and understanding, Jesus would lead his followers to know and obey God. With counsel and might he would carry out the mission given to him by the Father. With knowledge and fear of the Lord, Jesus would do the will of the Father completely. In fact, he would delight in this fear of the Lord, enjoying the holiness and might of the Father as a holy and devoted son.

Jesus, as the descendant of David, was the promised king. (2 Samuel 7:14-17) He inaugurated, or began, his kingdom while ministering on earth. His first message was “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. (Matt. 4:17) He said “the kingdom of God has come near to you”. (Luke 10:9) But Jesus did not complete his kingdom work, for he came the first time to save rather than to judge.

But God gave Isaiah an even greater vision of the kingdom. For God revealed that the day would come when Jesus would judge and rule the nations. He would destroy the wicked with his word, the “rod of his mouth” and “ breath of his lips”. (Is. 10:3-5) This will occur when Jesus returns, resurrects the faithful and judges the world.

Then the Lord revealed even further into the future. After the resurrection and the judgment will come a new earth, a restored creation, inhabited by believers of all the ages in the presence of the Lord. Isaiah described it as a time when predator and prey are no longer at odds. (Is. 11:8) It will be a time when children need not fear any animal, when there will be no hurt or fear. (Is. 11:9) Revelation 21 describes the new creation as one where no evil exists, where everything is made beautiful for the church and where the Father and the Son dwell in the midst of their people.

The scope of the prophecy given to Isaiah is breathtaking! Three hundred years before Jesus is born, God described him to Isaiah. Two thousand three hundred years later, we still await the consumption of the kingdom, the return of Christ and the new earth. Yet, God revealed it to Isaiah.

Yes, Jesus came to earth as a baby as we celebrate during Advent and Christmas. As the faithful waited for him then, we await his return now. This Jesus who lived for us and died for us will return for us.

The word “advent” is an English transliteration of the Latin word “adventus”, which meant “coming”. In our time, we think of it as celebrating Christ’s coming as a baby. But early Christians celebrated it in anticipation of his second coming, his return to gather the faithful to himself for all eternity. There is nothing wrong with celebration the coming of Christ as a baby. But as we do, we can look forward as well as backward, for “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven”. (Acts 1:11) As the Apostle John said, at the end of his vision of the end of this age, “amen, come Lord Jesus”. (Rev. 22:20)