Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Jesus, full of compassion and tenderness, wept over His enemies, and prayed for His actual murderers! A feeling of this kind seems essential to that new nature which characterizes the children of God; and where itis not in habitual exercise, it is a sufficient evidence that the soul, if truly alive to God at all—is at least in a lean and distempered state.

When we look at the ungodly, we are not to hate them—but to pity them, mourn over them, and pray for them. Nor have we any right to boast over them; for, by nature, and of ourselves, we are no better than they.

    "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" 1 Corinthians 4:7

From The Letters of John Newton 


Sunday, August 28, 2016


Mary’s Visit To Elizabeth
Luke 1:39-45

In the last passage we saw that the angel gave Mary assurance of her miraculous pregnancy by telling her that her relative, Elizabeth, was pregnant in her old age.

This news evidently prompted Mary to visit Elizabeth and share the joy. So she traveled from Nazareth to the hill country of Judah, anywhere from 60 to 80 miles. That is adventurous for a young, pregnant woman.

An unusual thing happened when Mary arrived and greeted Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s baby, John, leaped in her womb. The baby who was predestined to be the forerunner and herald of Jesus leaped upon coming into the presence of the baby Jesus. This could happen because John was filled with the Holy Spirit from conception and the Holy Spirit always points to Jesus.

Elizabeth was then filled with the Holy Spirit and led to cry out at blessing. She blessed Mary and she blessed Jesus. Then she remarked at her own blessing that she should be visited by the mother of her Lord. This is Elizabeth’s confession of faith, brought about by the Holy Spirit.

How did Elizabeth know Mary’s baby was the Lord? Her husband, Zechariah could not speak to tell her what the angel said to him. Again, it must have been the Holy Spirit pointing to Jesus through Elizabeth.

The last point of Elizabeth’s blessing was to bless Mary for believing the Lord’s message to her, through the angel, that she would give birth to the Son of God. Her words reflect God’s promise to Israel in Deuteronomy 28 that he would bless them for obedience. In 28:4, he specifically said the fruit of your womb will be blessed, as Elizabeth does here.

The faith of these two women is on display. They both believe the word of the Lord. They both believe Mary carried the Messiah.

This is a sweet picture of joy in the Lord. Both mothers rejoiced. Mary said “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Baby John also rejoiced. The coming of Jesus to bring salvation is the cause of great joy for all who believe in him.  This reminds me of the first question of the Westminster Catechism, which says the chief aim of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

The Magnificat
Luke 1:46-56

Mary responded to Elizabeth’s blessing with a praise to the Lord. This is often called the Magnificat. That title comes from the words of verse 46 in the Latin Vulgate: “magnificat animus mea Dominum". In English it is “my soul magnifies the Lord”.

Her words remind us of Psalm 34. It says:
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!.
(Ps. 34:1-3)

Mary magnified the Lord by praising his attributes, making large of his character and work.

First, Mary praised the Lord’s gift to her because he looked upon her for the blessing of being Jesus’ mother though she was poor (of humble estate). (48) She repeated the words of the angel, that all generations would call her blessed. He did great things for her, blessing her with the baby Jesus.

But Mary looked beyond the gift to praise the giver. She magnified God, not herself. She rejoiced in the character of God.

She praised God for being holy. Saying his name is holy is a way of saying he is holy. She praised his power for bringing forth the virgin conception.

Yet, though God is holy, he shows mercy to generations of men and women who are not holy. Those who fear him, who believe in the salvation he provides through Jesus, receive mercy instead of justice.

And his mercy is not based on the social status of men and women. In fact, he shows his strength by scattering the proud thinkers, by bringing down mighty rulers like Herod, and exalting instead the humble. He brought down Nebuchadnezzar and exalted Daniel. He defeated the powerful Pharaoh to deliver a bunch of powerless slaves. He humbled the proud to show mercy to Israel.

He will feed the hungry while sending away the rich. God abhors pride because pride is man lifting himself up against God. It means taking credit for what God has done, robbing him of his glory. In contrast, humility is submission to God, keeping man and God in their proper positions, resulting in glory to God.

These are all things Jesus did in his ministry. He opposed the Pharisees who were proud in their self righteousness. But he ate with tax collectors and sinners. He healed Gentiles, cast demons from the poor, and fed the hungry.

Mary concluded her praise with a theological statement. She proclaimed that God was showing mercy and helping Israel by bringing the Messiah in fulfillment of his word to Abraham.

His word to Abraham was blessing not only his offspring, but all nations. He said “in you (Abraham) all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. (Genesis 12:3) God’s plan was never to limit salvation to the Jews. He intended all along to bring salvation to all races of people, starting with the Jews.

This is a praise of God’s faithfulness. He made a covenant with Abraham and he kept it.

Mary’s praise reminds us of Hannah’s praise when Samuel was born. (1 Samuel  2:1 and following) She exulted in the Lord as Mary rejoiced in the Lord. She proclaimed the holiness of the Lord. She proclaimed God’s disdain for the proud and his mercy on the humble. That theme runs all through the Bible. James 4:10 says “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you”.

Jesus came to establish his rule and his kingdom. He started the process of overthrowing every proud person, leader and nation. He will end it, as we saw in Revelation, in overthrowing the proud fallen angel, Satan.

Some people missed that because Jesus himself was humble. That was seen as weakness instead of power. He exalted those who were humble. He condemned those who were proud.

We would say he turned the world system on its head. That was necessary because the world system operates in opposition to God and God’s values. In this sense, not in a political sense, Jesus was a revolutionary.

We must come to Christ humbly, repenting of sin and desiring his salvation and lordship. If so, he will give it to us as he feeds the hungry. If not, if we are swelled with pride and self sufficiency, he will send us away empty, as Mary said he did to the rich.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Receiving Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King
by Thomas Brooks

The terms upon which Christ is offered in the gospel are these: that we shall accept of a whole Christ with a whole heart. Now, mark—a whole Christ includes all His offices; and a whole heart includes all our faculties.

Christ as mediator is prophet, priest, and king.
Christ as a prophet instructs us.
Christ as a priest redeems us and intercedes for us.
Christ as a king sanctifies and rules us.

A hypocrite may be willing to embrace Christ as a priest to save him from wrath, from the curse, from hell, from everlasting burning—but he is never sincerely willing to embrace Christ as a prophet to teach and instruct him, and as a king to rule and reign over him. 

Many hypocrites are willing to embrace a saving Christ—but they are not willing to embrace a ruling Christ, a commanding Christ. "But those enemies of Mine who did not want Me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of Me!'" Luke 19:27
Hypocrites love to share with Christ in His happiness—but they don't love to share with Christ in His holiness. They are willing to be redeemed by Christ—but they are not cordially willing to submit to the laws and government of Christ. They are willing to be saved by His blood—but they are not willing to submit to His scepter.

But a true Christian receives Christ in all His offices. He accepts Him, not only as a saving Jesus—but also as a Lord Jesus. He embraces Him, not only as a saving Christ—but also as a ruling Christ. He received Christ as a king upon His throne, as well as an atoning sacrifice upon His cross.

A hypocrite is all for a saving Christ, for a sin-pardoning Christ, for a soul-saving Christ—but has no regard for a ruling Christ, a reigning Christ, a commanding Christ, a sanctifying Christ; and this at last will prove his damning sin.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Holy Bible, Book divine, Precious treasure, thou art mine;

Mine to tell me whence I came; Mine to teach me what I am.

Mine to chide me when I rove; Mine to show a Savior's love;

Mine thou art to guide and guard; Mine to punish or reward.

Mine to comfort in distress; Suffering in this wilderness;

Mine to show, by living faith, Man can triumph over death.

Mine to tell of joys to come, And the rebel sinner's doom;

O thou Holy Book divine, Precious treasure, thou art mine.

Hymn by John Burton

Monday, August 22, 2016


This Man Receives Sinners!

by Octavius Winslow


Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law murmur, saying, "This man receives sinners, and eats with them!"  Luke 15:1-2


The beings whom Jesus sought out,

and drew around Him, were . . . .

 the burdened,

 the bowed down,

 the disconsolate,

 the poor,

 the friendless,

 the helpless,

 the ignorant,

 the weary.


He loved to lavish upon such the fullness of His benevolent heart, and to exert upon such the skill of His wonder working power.


Earth's weary sons repaired to His outstretched arms for shelter, and the world's ignorant and despised clustered around His feet, to be taught and blessed.


Sinners of every character, and the disconsolate of every grade, attracted by His renown, pressed upon Him from every side. "This man receives sinners" was the character and the mission by which He was known.


It was new and strange.

Uttered by the lip of the proud and disdainful Pharisee, it was an epithet of reproach, and an expression of ridicule.


But upon the ear of the poor and wretched outcast, the sons and daughters of sorrow, ignorance, and woe, it fell with sweet music.  It passed from lip to lip, it echoed from shore to shore, "This man receives sinners!"


It found its way into the abodes of misery and poverty; it penetrated the dungeon of the prisoner and the cell of the maniac; and it kindled a celestial light in the solitary dwelling of the widow and the orphan, the unpitied and the friendless.


Thousands came, faint, weary, and sad; and sat down beneath His shadow; and thousands more since then have pressed to their wounded hearts the balsam that exuded from His bleeding body, and have been healed.


Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law murmur, saying, "This man receives sinners, and eats with them!"  Luke 15:1-2




From Octavius Winslow "Evening Thoughts"

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Last week we studied the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist. This week Luke shows us the foretelling of the birth of Jesus.

Both of these messages were brought by Gabriel, the angel who stands in the presence of God. He is one of only two angels who are named in the Bible.

Gabriel was sent by God to tell about the birth of Jesus, as he had been to Zechariah. He was sent in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. (Luke 1:26)

Who did Gabriel go to with his message? He went to a virgin. (27) This is the first thing told to us about the recipient of the message. Luke did that for emphasis. It is important that she was a virgin.

This virgin was “betrothed” to a man named Joseph. “Betrothed” means she was pledged to marry him. It is similar to being “engaged to be married”, but more restrictive. The betrothal could only be broken by divorce. Joseph was a descendant of King David.The last thing we are told is that the virgin’s name was Mary. It was not as important as the other things.

The emphasis is not on Mary, but on the manner of the conception of Jesus. This is not a slight of Mary. She obviously was a Godly young woman. But, again, the most important item for Luke is the conception of Jesus.

She lived in a small city named Nazareth. It was located in Galilee, the northern part of the country. Nazareth was a small place, a village, devoted to agriculture.

The angel appeared to Mary and said “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you”. (28) In other words, the Lord bestowed favor on her and was with her.

Anyone would like to hear that message. But, most people would ask “why are you telling me this now?” Mary, likewise, was troubled. Verse 29 says she tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. She wondered why this message was brought to her.

So, the angel told her why. He began, however, by reassuring her that she did not need to be afraid and that God favored her. The Greek word for “favor” comes from the word translated “grace”.   It means to be treated with undeserved kindness.

MartinLuther said it was like the angel said “O Mary, you are blessed. You have a gracious God. No woman has ever lived on earth to whom God has shown such grace.”

Because of this favor, she would conceive and give birth to a son. She was to call the son “Jesus”. That name means “God saves”. Mary received grace from God. Scripture does not portray her as the dispenser of grace. She shows us that God gives grace to even the most insignificant people.

The angel went on to tell Mary some things about her son. First, he would be great. Zechariah was told that John would be great before the Lord. But Jesus is great without reservation because he is the Lord. In the Old Testament, greatness is often attributed to God. Jesus, as deity, as God, would also be great.

It is an interesting paradox, isn’t it? Jesus would be born to humble people in humble circumstances, yet he would be great. He would be humble on earth, but exalted by God. He was an example for us in this. We are to be humble. In fact, Jesus said the one who is the least among us is great. (Luke 9:48)

Second, he would be called “Son of the Most High”. This is a way of saying “Son of God”. Third, God the Father would give Jesus the throne of his father, David. “Father” here means ancestor. Fourth, Jesus would reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever. His kingdom will never end.

These titles are important. We saw in our study of the book of Hebrews, that Son of God is an exalted title. It puts Jesus above everyone else other than the Father. As the Son, Jesus is the heir of all things. He is the exact imprint of the nature of the Father. That is why he has the ability to lead us to the Father. He is above angels, all men and women and all creation. In fact, it was through Jesus that the creation was created. (Hebrews 1) He is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.

The giving of the throne of David refers us back to God’s promise to David that he would have an heir, or son, on the throne forever. That promise is recorded for us in 2 Samuel 7:16. God fulfilled his promise in Jesus. The Jews understood that the person who came to fulfill that promise was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. This kingdom of the Messiah is eternal. It never ends.  

The first contrast we see between Zechariah and Mary is status. Zechariah was an elderly priest and ministered at the temple. He was married to a woman whose ancestors were priests. He was a somewhat important person.

Mary, on the other hand, appears as insignificant. She was a young woman, maybe a teenager. Historians say that women were betrothed between 12 and 13 years of age at that time in Israel. She was poor and uneducated.

She lived in a small town far away from Jerusalem. Her town was not thought well of. Nathaniel, upon hearing Christ came from Nazareth, said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

By choosing Mary, poor and insignificant, God also began to show us the humiliation Jesus would experience in order to bring salvation to us. Jesus would be humbled from his birth to his death on the cross.

The second contrast is in the way the two received the message of the angel. Zechariah, though much older and a priest, doubted the message of the angel. Mary, though young, with no important position, believed the angel. As world changing as the message was, Mary accepted it. She accepted it because it was the word of God. She may also have thought of God’s promise in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel”. Matthew specifically applied this verse to Jesus. (Matthew 1:21-23)

Mary’s only question was the mechanics of the event. She asked how she could conceive a child since she was a virgin. (34) Gabriel, the angel, gave her an answer. The child would be put into her, conceived, by the power of God (the Most High) through the Holy Spirit. This would be a supernatural conception.

Because his birth would be a supernatural act of God, Jesus would be called holy and the Son of God. He would be holy for he would not inherit the sin nature passed on to all of us by our parents. He would not have the guilt of “original sin”. He would literally be the Son of God, not just by title granted to him, but because of the manner of his conception.

The doctrine of Jesus’ virgin birth would later be a problem for some of the Pharisees. It is a problem for many today. Some people always want to explain away the supernatural events of the Bible and replace them with natural explanations. This was an emphasis in 19th century theological liberalism.

We who believe the Bible is true believe the virgin birth is true because the Bible tells us it is. But, also, God is a supernatural being. He is above the rules of nature. He made those rules to govern us and this creation. But, as God, he transcends them. If God did not transcend the natural, he would not be God.

To further show Mary that the miraculous was involved, the angel told her that her relative, Elizabeth, was pregnant in her old age, after a lifetime of barrenness.

Another contrast between Zechariah and Mary is that Zechariah asked for a sign because he did not believe. Mary believed and did not ask for a sign, but God gave her one for reassurance. He pointed her to the miracle he had already performed.

To sum it all up, the angel reminded her that “nothing will be impossible with God”. (35) We should remember this also.

Mary’s reaction to this fantastic message was one of faith and obedience. She said “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”. In other words, since I serve the Lord, he may do with me as he pleases.

This statement is neither casual nor insignificant. Pregnancy for Mary could have had grave consequences. Getting pregnant before marriage would mark Mary for life with her Jewish neighbors. Sex before marriage was considered a grievous sin. She would be shunned. Her children would be marked as well.

Not only could Mary be shunned, she could be killed. The Old Testament punishment for adultery was death by stoning. Remember how Jesus saved the woman caught in adultery from being stoned by the Pharisees.

Even if not killed, pregnancy could also cause her to lose her husband to be. She would be considered an adulterer. Joseph could divorce her and shame her.

Knowing these possible outcomes, Mary accepted the message of the Lord in obedience.

We should all strive to be like Mary: hear the word of the Lord and obey it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

John Stott said, “The church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history.”

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Luke 1:1-4

Luke addressed his book to “most excellent Theophilus”. Theophilus must have been an important man to have the title “most excellent”. This is the same title given to the Roman governor Felix in Acts 23:26. He was likely a political figure and government leader.

Luke also set out the purpose of his writing. He wanted to write an orderly account of things “accomplished  among us”. Since it is the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we know Luke intended to write a record of this based on his knowledge and research. He also had many other writings to consult as he said in verse 1. And he was inspired by the Holy Spirit. He wanted to write so that Theophilus might have certainty concerning the things he had been taught.

Theophilus either had questions or doubts about the story of Jesus. Luke researched and wrote to answer those questions and remove those doubts. His version of the gospel can do the same for us. Even if we have no doubts, the story will remind us of the wonders of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Who was Luke? He was a Gentile, not a Jew. His name is Greek. He was a companion of Paul for some of his travels. In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul indicated that only Luke was with him. Paul was in prison in Rome after his fourth missionary journey.

He was a physician. In Colossians 4:14, Paul wrote “Luke the beloved physician greets you”. As a physician, he would have been educated, literate and thorough. That is why his account is full of detail not in the other gospels. It is the longest of the gospels.

Luke makes it clear he was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. But he had knowledge learned from eyewitnesses, probably had the gospels of Mark and Matthew, and may have also interviewed witnesses. Only he records the details of the births of John and Jesus, suggesting he interviewed their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary.

Putting all of these things together, Luke wanted to write an account for Theophilus to give him certainty of the things he had been taught. We will also learn things about Jesus from Luke’s account and have our faith strengthened. Those who have not committed their lives to Christ will come to understand his mission to bring salvation to men and women.

Foretelling the Birth of John The Baptist

John was an important figure because he was sent by God to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. So Luke begins his gospel with the message of his impending birth.

This story serves two purposes. First, it ties the story of the life of Jesus to the Old Testament prophecies. Second, it sets up a comparison between the way Zechariah received news from God about the special role of his son in redemptive history and how Mary received news from God about the role of her son as the redeemer.

The time was during the reign of King Herod in Judea. He was king from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. John’s father, Zechariah, served as a priest during this time. That means that John also could have become a priest. Interestingly, Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, was also of the priestly line. She was “from the daughters of Aaron”. Aaron was the first high priest and brother of Moses. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth kept the law.

The priests were organized into divisions. King David set this up.  Zechariah was of the division of Abijah. You can read about that in 1 Chronicles 24. He likely ministered in the temple twice per year.

On this occasion, Zechariah was chosen to burn incense in the temple. This was done twice per day. The priests were chosen by drawing lots to do this. It was considered great privilege. And once you did it, you were ineligible to draw lots again. It was really a once in a life time privilege.

He did this at the altar of incense in the Holy Place. The altar was just outside the curtain that closed of the Most Holy Place.As he faced the altar, the golden lamp stand of life was on his left, providing the only light in the room. The table of the show bread was on is right. The altar was in front of him.

The burning of incense was a symbol of prayer, so people would gather outside the temple and pray during the time of burning so that their prayers would go up to God with the incense.

While Zechariah offered incense, he prayed for Israel. Since Israel considered itself still in partial exile, being under Roman rule, he likely prayed for the redemption of Israel and the coming of the Kingdom. He evidently prayed also for a son of his own, since he and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children.

So, while Zechariah was burning the incense, and praying, an angel appeared on the right side of the altar of incense. Zechariah was afraid, a common reaction to the appearance of angels. But the angel told him not to be afraid and had a message for him. The message was that his prayer had been heard and answered.

Before the Lord would come to Israel, there would be a herald, one who would prepare the way. Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son who would be that herald. He was to be called John. HIs name means “God has been gracious”. It was fitting since God was gracious to give this old couple a son. And this son would bring God’s grace to Israel and then to the world.

The angel also told Zechariah several things about his future son:
many would rejoice at his birth;
he will be great before the Lord;
he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth;
he would not drink alcohol to show he was set apart like the Old Testament Nazarites (Numbers 6)
he would bring repentance to many, turning their hearts to the Lord;
he would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah;
would prepare a people to receive the Lord.

These characteristics are not accidental. They were prophesied by Malachi. He was the last prophet of the Old Testament until John the Baptist.

Malachi’s prophecies are based in the covenant. He preached against Israel’s violations of the covenant. He declared God’s covenant love. He also spoke of a messenger of the covenant, and a messenger who would prepare the way of the Lord.

Malachi 3:1 records the word of the Lord, who said  “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me.”

Then, in Malachi 4:5-6, God said “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their father lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction”. This is a word of promise and a word of judgment.

The angel was telling Zechariah that his son, John, would be that messenger, prophet like Elijah, who would prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus later stated this plainly as Matthew recorded in Matthew 11:7-15. Zechariah, as a priest and devout Jew, would know the scripture and understand the references.

That is exciting news, is it not? Not only is Zechariah having a son, but his son will be a prophet who will bring repentance to many in Israel and prepare the way for the Messiah. Zechariah should have jumped for joy.

Instead, Zechariah doubted and questioned the angel. He said “how can I know this, my wife and I are both old”. He is a priest, he is offering prayers in the temple and an angel appears with an answer to his prayer, but Zechariah did not believe. He was looking at the physical signs: his age and Elizabeth’s inability to conceive. It was the human point of view, not the supernatural view He did not believe in God’s supernatural power. In effect, he asked the angel to give him a sign that this message was true.

The angel, who identified himself as Gabriel, said he stands in the very presence of God and was sent by God to bring this good news. (19) This was good news for Zechariah and Elizabeth, for they would have a child. It was good news for Israel because the Messiah was soon to come.

In other words, Gabriel was saying you prayed, God answered, and sent the answer by way of an important angel; how could you not believe.

So, the Lord gave a sign, but also disciplined Zechariah for his unbelief. He was made silent until the day of John’s birth.(20) Since Zechariah could not speak in faith and thankfulness, he would not be able to speak at all, even though he would have had a great message to tell.

It is a bit humorous to see that Zechariah tried to explain his delay in coming out of the temple by using hand signs to tell people an angel had appeared to him with a great message.

What Gabriel said came true of course. Elizabeth became pregnant. She interpreted this as a favor the Lord did for her. He looked upon her and removed her reproach. (25) It was considered a sign of the Lord’s disfavor to be barren.

It is interesting that God has several times used a woman who could not have children to do something big. Sarah had no children in old age, then God gave her Isaac, the child of promise. The wife of Manoah had no children until God have her Gideon. (Judges 13) Hannah had no children until God gave her Samuel, who became a prophet and the last judge in Israel.

And now, in this story, we see how Elizabeth goes from barren to having a child who will prepare the way for the Messiah. God made these women unable to have children to bring glory to himself by giving them special children who would be great for the kingdom of God.

Little did Elizabeth know the Lord did so much more than remove her reproach for not having children. He started the process to remove her sin and the sin of all who believed in Jesus.

So, we see in this story, that what God says he will do, he will do. He wants us to accept his word in faith no matter what the circumstances are.

We also see that God cares about those who are broken. Women had a secondary status in that day and age. A woman with no children had even less status. But God cared about her and answered Zechariah’s prayers for her, giving her a child.

And, finally, we see God continuing to complete his plan to bring salvation through Jesus, preparing the way for his arrival.

You can put your faith in this God who has supernatural power. You can trust this God who cares about those who have problems, no matter their social status. He is faithful and his is compassionate.

Believe in him and trust him. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Strangers and Exiles

Revelation shows us that God designed us to live in his presence. The final picture of Revelation is that of redeemed men and women living in the presence of God on the new earth. (Rev. 21-22) As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, God created us to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

This gives us something to look forward to. It gives us hope.

It also creates a tension in us. Being redeemed, we want to know God and be in his presence. We want the world to be put into submission to him. Instead, we see rebellion against God everywhere and everywhere the effects of that rebellion. 

God does not resolve this conflict for us in the present age. Instead we live with constant reminders that this world in this age is not aligned with God or us. This conflict keeps us from getting too comfortable with this world. It redirects our focus to God from material things. It makes us long for the new creation.

That is why the Bible refers to us as strangers. We see Old Testament pictures of this in the exile. The Israelites lived in Babylonia, but it was not their home. They never fit in there completely if they worshipped God, not conforming to Babylonian standards and religions. They were strangers longing for another home. That home had a temple where God’s presence dwelt in their midst (before it was destroyed).

Peter understood this and used it as a metaphor for the Christian life. He wrote to Christians in Asia as “elect exiles”. (1 Peter 1:1) He also called them sojourners. (1 Peter 2:11) A sojourner is someone staying someplace temporarily. If you take a business trip to Los Angeles from your home, you are a sojourner there. You dwell there for a time, but it is not be your home. Peter was reminding them that the world of the Roman Empire was not their home. They needed to look forward to the future home and live according to the standards of the one who makes that home for them. Therefore, Peter says, as sojourners and exiles abstain from the passions of the flesh. In other words, do not adopt the standards of this world. Rather live as a citizen of the next world, one dominated by the presence of God and complete holiness. When we read this text, we read it as Peter telling us this world, and whatever country we live in, is not our home. We must not adopt its ways. 

Hebrews 11 speaks of the faithful as “having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. It says “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had the opportunity to return. But as it is they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16

There are two ways to deal with this tension. One is to give up and surrender to the standards of this age. It resolves the conflict, gains you acceptance with those devoted to this age, and provides some temporary relief. 

This is not the Biblical way. Paul told us not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds to know what is good, acceptable and perfect in the will of God. (Romans 12:2) 

Instead of giving up, of conforming, or even hiding away, let the conflict drive you to focus on God and to experience his presence. You do this in prayer, Bible reading and in worship. Long for the next world. Recognize your status as a stranger, exile and sojourner.

And remember your hope: eternity in the presence of God in the new creation.



Tuesday, August 09, 2016

On The Last Day

You who believe will stand before God, not in terror, but in joy! 

Sunday, August 07, 2016


The Epilogue

At this point in the book, the vision is over. These verses are an epilogue. An epilogue is a part of a book, at the end, that brings matters to a conclusion or drives home the point. In Revelation, the epilogue brings up the same themes as the prologue (introduction).

The first point of the epilogue is to vouch for the truth of the visions that have been given to John. The angel says we can trust these words and they are true. He gives us a chain of transmission of this truth.

In a criminal prosecution, the state must show a chain of custody of all evidence it offers to the court. For example, a crime scene technician may lift a finger print off of a glass. He puts the glass in a bag, seals it and signs it. He takes it to the lab. He gives it to the fingerprint expert who lifts and analyzes the print. The expert opens the bag, runs the test, puts the glass back in the bag, seals it and signs it. Then at trial, each person testifies to what they have done. That way the court knows the evidence is true and has not been tampered with.

This is sort of the same thing. We are given the history of the transmissions to know they are true. The Lord gave the visions, or the power to reveal them, to an angel. The angel showed them to John, and through him to us.

This statement references the statement of Jesus at the beginning of the book (in the prologue). Jesus called himself the “faithful witness”. (1:5) He also stated how the vision would be transmitted. He said Jesus sent an angel to John and John bore witness to it (1:1-2) John bore witness by writing it down.

The angel also said the purpose was to show his servants, believers, what must soon take place. Jesus followed this up by saying “and behold, I am coming soon”. (7) These days you seem to hear people put all the events of Revelation in the future. But it was, first of all, a word to those first century churches in Asia which were beginning to suffer under Roman persecution. Jesus showed them what would happen, and shows us what will continue to happen in this age, until God brings all matters to a conclusion at the end of the age with the return of Jesus. We do not know when that will happen, but we are told to live expectantly, as if Jesus could return at any time. This is the point of the Parable of the Ten Virgins. (Matthew 25:1-13)

Jesus also said “blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book”. ((7) This is the seventh and final blessing of the book. The first blessing was for the reader. (1:3) The last blessing is for the keeper.

Although parts of Revelation may be difficult to understand, we have seen many truths emerge. Foremost among those truths is that Jesus will return for us. We must keep these truths just as we keep the truths of other part of the Bible.

John also vouched for the visions. He said that he heard and saw those things. (8) Since John was the last living apostle and a revered elder in the church, believers are convinced to believe him. He even included his mistake of attempting to worship the angel as evidence that he told all of the truth.

The angel also gave John an instruction. He told John not to seal up the words of the prophecy. (10) The reason is that the time is near. In contrast, after Daniel saw visions, he was told “the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end”. (Daniel 12:4, 9) God revealed more to us in Revelation than he did in Daniel. He did it because it was closer to the end and God’s people needed to know more.

You would think that, having read the horrible end of God’s enemies, everyone would read this book, repent and be saved. But the Lord knew that would not happen. Thus, he says in verse 11, let the evildoer still do evil. In every decade, every century, every millennium, men and women will continue to sin and do evil. This is a reference to Daniel 12:10, which says “many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” Those who reject Christ will continue in sin and fail to understand the need for salvation. Paul wrote “The natural (not spiritual) person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) He also wrote “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived”. (2 Timothy 3:13)

We certainly see this in our age. Although the gospel goes out regularly by television and radio, although books and articles about Christ abound, although songs are continually written proclaiming the way of salvation, people continue to commit evil. Abortion, slavery, pornography, sexual immorality, lying and theft are as common as ants.

But, while the evildoers continue to do evil, the righteous must continue to do right and to be holy. The brothers and sisters of our Lord must constantly reflect God’s holy nature with our own holy conduct. This is for his glory and to bring others to the saving knowledge of Jesus. (11)

Although the evil doers will continue, Jesus reminds us that he is coming and will judge sinners when he does. He will repay each one.  He will bring “recompense”. (12) Recompense is reward or compensation. That is why he also says repay. He will repay the evil with eternal suffering. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus said the will go away into eternal punishment”.

They will not outlast him, for he is the first and last. He says this three ways for emphasis: Alpha and Omega; first and last; and beginning and end.

This statement is a proclamation of Christ’s uniqueness. He is the only God and the living God. He claims to be God as the Father is God, using the same language with which the Father described himself in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 41:4, God said “I, the LORD, the first and the last; I am he.” In Isaiah, he said “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

After speaking of judgment of the wicked, Jesus reminds us of the reward to the righteous. They are blessed. They are those who wash their robes. (14) Earlier we were told that those in heaven were those who washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. We wash our robes by receiving Jesus as savior, having his righteousness imputed to us. The bride (the church) wears fine linen, bright and clean, that has been given to her. (19:8)  These have the right to eternal life, symbolized by the right to the tree of life. They have eternal communion with God, shown by their right to enter the city by the gates. (14)

All the nonbelievers, the wicked, will be outside the gates. He gave a representative list of sorcerers, the sexual immoral, murderers, idolaters and liars. (15) This is the same list that appeared in 21:8 in the vision of the new creation.

We believers have committed some of those sins, but received forgiveness from Jesus. Those who have not received Jesus are outside the heavenly city. In fact, they are in the lake of fire since their names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (21:27)

In 22:16, Jesus again verifies the truth of the message of Revelation. He said he sent an angel to testify to these things for the churches. This shows us again that the original recipients of this message was the Asian church in the first century. Jesus claims to be the Messiah. He is the root and descendant of David. This relates to the Old Testament promise of God to David that a king would sit on this throne forever. It is also a reference to Isaiah 11, where God promised to raise up a king from David’s line, a shoot from the root of David, who would be wise and just and mighty.

Jews understood that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. That is why Matthew, writing primarily to Jews began his book with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David. (Matthew 1:1) He knew that he must show Jesus was of the line of David before any Jew would entertain the thought of his being Messiah. It is why blind men proclaimed him “Son of David” when they asked to be healed.

Jesus also said he was the “bright morning star”. (16) I think there are scriptural references here. First, Numbers 24:17 said a star would come out of Jacob. 1 Peter 1:19 speaks of the morning star rising in our hearts as metaphor for the second coming of Christ. The morning star is Venus. You can see is shining brightly in the east before the sun rises. It is the sign of a new day when the light of the sun dispels the darkness of night. Christ’s return is the beginning of a new day when darkness is forever dispelled and the light of his glory illuminates the new creation for us.

Having given a description of the fate of the lost and the reward of the saved, Jesus issued an invitation. He said let the one who is thirsty come and receive the living water. It is the invitation Jesus gave in John 7, at the Feast of Booths, when he said the thirsty should come to him and drink living water. It is the same invitation of Isaiah 55:1 for everyone who thirsts to come to the waters. No money was required; it was furnished without cost.

We, the church, long for Christ’s return. We long to see his face. We long for the removal of sin and the end of persecution. We long for eternity in his presence. And so the church, the Bride, says “come”. And the Spirit joins us and says “come”, for the Spirit lifts our prayers to God and intercedes for us. The word for “come” in Aramaic is “maranatha”.

There is a warning attached to this book in addition to the blessing. (18) The warning is to anyone who would add to or take away from the prophecy of the book. The warning is dire. Anyone who adds to the book will receive the plagues described in the book. Anyone who takes away will not receive eternal life.

This is a principle of God’s word. The Old Testament contained a warning not to add or take away from the law. Deuteronomy 4:2 says “you shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord that I commend you.” Deuteronomy 12:32 says “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”

We do not have the authority to say something is not a sin if God says it is. Churches and denominations who bow to the culture and deny parts of God’s law sin by doing so.

Likewise, we do not have authority to say something is a sin if God does not. The Pharisees were guilty of this and Jesus condemned them. Legalistic denominations which add sins to God’s law are likewise sinning by doing so.  

And, we do not have the authority to deny the prophecies of the Book of Revelation. It says Christ will return, so we must believe it. It says there will be a new heavens and new earth, so we must believe it.

The last words of Jesus were “surely I am coming soon”. John said “amen, come Lord Jesus!” This book was written to give us hope for the future. It was also written to sharpen our focus on Jesus and to long for his return.

Come Lord Jesus!