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Entries in Glory (10)

Tuesday
Apr182017

Jesus, The Suffering Servant

Isaiah 53:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Resurrection Sunday, April 16, 2017.

The death and the resurrection of Jesus is one of the most substantiated facts from ancient history.  So generally it is not because of the facts that people reject its veracity.  On one hand it seems impossible to our minds, especially in this modern age.  On the other hand, if it is true, then I would have to admit that I am a sinner and guilty before a holy and just God.  Thus this moral claim upon a person’s life is not always acceptable. 

Written about 700 years before the life of Jesus, our passage today is mid-stream in a series of visions and revelations that God gave to Isaiah.  The truth that Isaiah reveals was and still remains a shocking thing regarding the Messiah.  The Messiah was to be the Anointed One that God would send to save Israel and eventually the whole world.  Israel had been waiting for this heaven sent savior and had given lip service to the promise since at least 700 years before Isaiah.  Thus Isaiah makes several things clear:

  • God would be faithful to send the Messiah.
  • But Israel would not be faithful to receive Him.

The story doesn’t end there because God always has the last word.  Thus the unjust death of Jesus becomes the means by which we can be saved from our sins, and even more, that we can become the children of God.  Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Yes, Jesus would be rejected.  But our Lord’s acceptance of this rejection becomes the very demonstration of God’s love for us.  He cares even for the sinner, and makes a way back to Him for those who will yield to the graceful drawing of the actions of His Son and the work of His Holy Spirit.  So let’s look at this passage in Isaiah 53, where we see God’s Anointed One coming forth as the Suffering Servant.

His Life, vs. 1-4

Isaiah starts out verse 1 with the question, “Who has believed our report?”  This question is somewhat rhetorical. The rejection of Jesus makes sense when we see it on the backdrop of the lives of the prophets who predicted his coming.  They were generally rejected during their lives and many times killed by the leaders of Israel.  Later, after their word proved to be true, they honored them as prophets and kept their words.  This highlights a strange tension within us as humans.  We want a word from God, but we tend not to like what we hear.  So there has been an ever-present conundrum that God is faithful to speak and reveal Himself to mankind, but our flesh tends to push back against what He has to say.  There is a sense of frustration in Isaiah as he opens up this passage.  He has an unbelievable revelation to make clear to His people.  Yes, the Messiah would come, but we will mistreat Him and put Him to death.  Jesus came as the final word of God before Judgment Day.  Christians carry on this tradition of speaking this final word to the rest of the nations.  Here we too see a somewhat stormy welcome.  So let’s face the reality that our natural self doesn’t want to believe the message of Jesus.  We need to have our eyes and ears opened spiritually before we can see who Jesus really is.

In verse 2 Isaiah uses the image of a tender plant growing out of a hardened desert.  This spiritual imagery shows Israel to be a place devoid of any moisture.  Typically it is strong, prickly plants that can endure in such harsh environments.  However, the Messiah would be like a tender plant.  Somehow it miraculously grows in this harsh environment.  He is not what they expected.  He was humble, gentle, and not on the warpath against Rome.  Or, at least, he wasn’t in the way they expected.  Even today we must recognize that Jesus is not what most people are looking for.  We want something that changes the world and its systems they way that we want it, rather than a humble, gentle Jesus.

Isaiah goes on to point out that the Messiah would be without physical attractiveness.  One of the weaknesses of mankind is that we are easily drawn by that which is outwardly extraordinary.  We want to be on the team of the powerful athlete, the savvy business person, or the beautiful and glamorous of this world.  This is not meant to be a slam against those who find themselves to be powerful and beautiful externally.  Rather, it is a recognition of how easily we are seduced by that which is beautiful on the outside, and yet, a world of horrors on the inside.    We are often seduced by that which is strong and powerful on the outside, and yet, filled with every weakness imaginable on the inside.  So don’t get Isaiah wrong.  Jesus is strong and beautiful, powerful and desirable.  But these were all internal virtues.   God was not sending a Greek demi-god to wow the crowds and win them over through external, fleshly means.  God refuses to seduce mankind, or deceive mankind into following Him.  He presents the Messiah in a way that stands all the hopes of our flesh on their head, and forces us to turn away from them.  Of course, Satan and the world that he controls has no problem manipulating us in these ways.

Then Isaiah says that the Messiah would be a man of sorrow from whom we hide.  Jesus technically held the rights to the throne of Israel and the throne of heaven, and yet, he would live a life of sorrows.  He would know the sorrow of a leader trying to help his people, who refuse to be helped.  He would know the sorrow of a teacher trying to teach students, who refuse to be taught.  He would know the sorrow of a rich man whose wealth and power could not fix the problem.  He would know the sorrow of the poor man who has nowhere to lay his head.  He would know the sorrow of an innocent man unjustly maligned by people with wicked intentions.  When someone is being executed, you tend to keep your distance from them.  Thus when Jesus is seized and crucified, all those who claimed to follow Him hid their faces from Him.  The cross and the resurrected savior that God offers us can only appeal to our souls.  No one gets excited about picking up a cross and following Jesus.  If we are to do so, it will be because our inner man is made aware who He is.

Lastly in this section, Isaiah points out that the Messiah would look more like God is against Him rather than for Him.  To those who rejected Him, the death of Jesus would serve as proof that God was not on his side.  They believed that they were being used of God to strike this blaspheming heretic down.  There is no way that God would allow the Messiah to be killed.  However, not only in Isaiah 53, but many other places like Daniel 9:26, we are told that the Messiah would be executed.  And so, the sign of the cross and what happened on it, the picture of Jesus as he goes into the grave, each of these are abhorrent to our flesh and something that we will seek to avoid at all costs.  Yet, verse 4 also has a change to it.  Yes, he is a man of sorrows.  But, he is bearing “our” grief, and carrying “our” sorrows.  If you have ever felt like God doesn’t understand your grief and sorrow, you only have to look to Jesus and quickly you will see that He more than understands it.  He has done more than just join us in our grief and sorrow.  Even more, he dove headlong into it, and that is what scares us about Jesus.  Our flesh does not want to follow Him, but our spirit knows that he is the only way.

His Death, vs. 5-9

In verse 5 Isaiah moves to talk about the death of this Suffering Servant that God would send.  Verses 4-6 have two sides to them.  First is the aspect that this is happening because of our sins.  He is wounded because of our transgressions, and bruised because of our iniquities.  The Lord has laid on Him all of our iniquities.  In our pride we are tempted to reject such a message.  But if we think that we have been good enough, or that somehow we should be acceptable to God on our own merits, then recognize just who it is you are arguing with (i.e. God).  Can you really win an argument with Him?  Are you not just holding up a pretense to Him in hopes that He won’t see through it?  We only need to read the words of Jesus in the New Testament in order to recognize that even the best of us fall short, and that we are sinners in the end.  We want to redefine sin so that we can tell ourselves that we are good.  But that kind of logical magic will not work when we stand before our Maker.

The second side to verses 4-6 is that his death is for our benefit.  Yes, it is because of our sins, but it is also for taking our sins away from us.  Yes, he is wounded for our sins, but so that we may be healed from their wound.  This word “healed” in verse 5 applies to both physical and spiritual things.  It is a healing of everything that is wrong with us.  Yes, in the garden, a spiritual entity (the devil) tricked our ancestors into rebellion against God, and so has inflicted the wound of sin upon all mankind.  But, in Jesus God has provided for the healing of our lives, both between each other, and with Him.  God would rather do what Jesus did than let us die with an eternal wound.  He has provided for your healing in every way.

The sheep imagery in verses 6 and 7 is important because Jesus is the Lamb of God who is being offered as a sacrifice for our sins (vs. 10).  But, he does so without protest.  In a world that rages against the authorities and demands justice, as we dictate, before God, there is Jesus.  This tender lamb is not just being sacrificed against his will and over the top of his bleating protest.  Rather, in a surreal manner, he unflinchingly takes the bitter pill and puts his faith in this plan of salvation.  He is not silent because he is broken and knows it will do no good to protest, like some kind of Hebrew Socrates standing before the men of Athens.  Rather, he is silent because this is his plan and his heart.  This is why he came down from heaven and took on flesh, to do this for us, to save us.  He is not sitting aloof in the heavens, untouched by the things that ail us.  Instead, he has come down and done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  This is the Savior that God offers to the world, and to you.

In case it wasn’t clear yet, vs. 8 slams the point home.  He would be cut off, or executed.  It is shocking enough that he would suffer, but that he would also be executed is unthinkable.  As I said earlier this is an unbelievable story to our flesh.  But it is the Truth.  Not only would he be humiliated with death, but he would unjustly be associated with the wicked and the rich in his death (vs. 9).  He would be treated as a criminal.  Even though he is without sin, he is crucified between two thieves.  He ends up buried in the tomb of a rich man who was a secret follower of Jesus.  Yet, he is no criminal.  He is crucified because he testified that their deeds were evil and unacceptable to God.  He did not have great wealth in this life and yet he ends up in the tomb of a rich man.  Yes who ever said life was fair?  But in the end we would not want it to be fair.  If life were fair then we would all be held accountable for our sins and punished.  Yet, Jesus steps forward and pays the price for our sins and willingly associates himself with those sinners who will simply repent and put their faith in Him.  This isn’t fair, but, it is love.

His Glory, vs. 10-12

Praise God that the death of Jesus is not the end of the story.  This is what Resurrection Sunday is all about.  It is the reversal of the most heinous event in history.  The savior of the world is killed, but God overrules the wicked and their plots against him.  And, yet, even the glory of Jesus is something we don’t always understand.

The words in verse 10 seem horrific, “it pleased the LORD to bruise Him.”  However, we must understand that both Father and Son are in agreement and unified in this plan.  Thus, just as it pleased the Father to bruise, so it pleased the Son to be bruised.  It is pleasing because of what it will accomplish and not for the sake of bruising and death alone.  The age of animal sacrifice comes to an end with God’s sacrifice of his own perfect lamb, His Son, for our sakes.  Thus the glory of Jesus is that he becomes that One who fully pleased the Father, the perfect Son.

Verse 10 also says that these things will prosper in His hands.  Thus it is the glory of Jesus to prosper over the top of all that is done to him and done against him.  They can kill him, but he will be resurrected.  They can reject him, but God will accept him.  They can put him with the criminals and even in Hades, but God will raise him up to sit at the right hand of the throne of God.  They can use their authority to punish him, but God will take their authority from them and give it to Jesus, who waits for the day when he will be sent back to earth in order to remove the powers of wickedness, both natural and spiritual.  Yes, Jesus is enjoying the glory of prosperity and it is only going to increase.  The question is, “Will you join him in that glory?”  Or, will you side with the wicked against him?

Verse 11 shows that it will be to the glory of Jesus that he will justify many through his knowledge.  No one else understood how to save Israel and even the whole world, but Jesus.  The beautiful truth is that though I am not righteous, I can be justified.  And, though I am a sinner, I can be made righteous by what Jesus did all those years ago.  All I need to do is to confess my sins and repent of them.  Then I must turn towards Jesus and put my faith in him, not just that he died, but also in the words he spoke.  He must become both savior and Lord of our life.  Jesus wants to share his glory with whosoever will.  Won’t you surrender to his call today?  “Come follow me!”

Jesus, Suffering Servant audio

Tuesday
Dec272016

Truth

John 1:14-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 25, 2016.

The Bible tells us in Romans 5:6 this, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (NKJV).  The writer goes on to say, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The timing and the way in which God loves us is not always the time and way that we want.  If it were up to us to pick the “when” of the incarnation we would choose our own time, and so would every other generation.  Also, none of us would choose the cross as the demonstration of God’s love.  In light of all of this we are told that Jesus came in “due time.”  The word translated here has the sense of a seasonal time.  So when the fruit is ripe, it is the season or right time to harvest it.  So spend some time thinking about how the 21st century is not better than the 1st century as a season for God’s greatest act of love.  If Jesus were to come in our day we would not be more inclined to accept him, and probably less.  Yes, our technology could spread his message quicker, but it could also cause it to be lost in a sea of counter-claims and conspiracy theories.  There would be just as much resistance to his message and to him.  The truth is that it would not make any of us any more likely to believe.  For every time that I have thought in my heart that I would believe if God would just prove it to me personally and right now, there are countless examples of those who did see and yet still didn’t believe.  This doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t worth believing.  Rather, it points us to the stark reality that the logic we often lean on (God didn’t do it this way…) is very flimsy.  It cannot hold up to the truth that God has demonstrated His love toward us and in an incredible way.  All people who hear the truth are accountable to search it out for themselves because it is by this that we show ourselves to be those who truly want the truth.  However, the “search for truth” can itself become an intellectual cover for an aversion to it.  So let’s look at Jesus today and remind ourselves of the truth about who He is.

The Word Became Flesh

You will want to read John 1:1-18, but I am going to focus mainly on verse 14.  John introduces several titles or descriptive words for Jesus in this section.  The name Jesus comes from a Hebrew word that means “God Saves, or God’s Salvation.”  This would be an appropriate name for the one who would be God’s Messiah (the one Anointed by God to deliver Israel and the Gentile nations).  But in verse 1 John reveals an even deeper truth about this one they knew as Jesus.  He existed before all of creation as “The Word.”

Now, “The Word” could be translated as the reason, the logic, or the saying.  However, John’s use of the phrase “in the beginning” coupled with a consequent creation is a direct allusion to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He is more than describing Jesus as a current representation of the logic or truth of God.  John is revealing that another person was hidden within the creation story.  So Genesis 1 tells us that God said, “’Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  Thus God speaks and the effect of that word is a creative event.  Jesus is revealed by John to be not just the first created being, but rather as co-existent and in union with God.  In verse 3 he says that all things that were made were made through Jesus and without Jesus nothing was made that was made.  Before he ever took on flesh and became the human called Jesus, he was the eternal and divine Word.  He was a part of the eternal Godhead: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.  The truth about Jesus begins with his greatness and majesty.  He is the very means of creation.  He is that which brought all things into being.

It is in light of such an amazing statement that the incarnation (becoming flesh) of The Word is revealed.  The incarnation is the opposite of the greatness of his past existence.  It becomes the time of great humbling, humility, and even humiliation of the uncreated one.  Throughout history, mankind has struggled with the sense that God is removed and separated from our existence.  How can he care about us and seem so removed?  Yet, in the incarnation, God responds that He knows what we are dealing with, how hard it is, and how easy it would be to give up.  Though we may not “feel” like He cares, we can “know” that He does because of the day that The Word became flesh.

There is a scene in the new movie, “Greater.”  There is a character that is struggling with understanding why God would let his brother die in the prime of his life.  There is a scene where he stands beside a football field in which there are a bunch of potted flowers.  His struggle with not wanting to blame God and yet feeling like God is to blame, eventually leads him to walk up near the press box of the stadium.  From that high vantage point he looks back to the flowers on the field to recognize that the flowers spell out the words, “We Trust.”  This is a powerful metaphor for life.  We are often like the players down at field level, not understanding why the coach calls us to do something.  But God has a view of this world and your life that is much higher than any press box in this world.  In the incarnation God is saying to us us, “Trust me, instead of your pain.”  In fact, if we are truthful with ourselves, the worst decisions are often made in the midst of pain and anger.  The truth is that God does care and He has even humbled Himself to step down into our difficult circumstances, not as some Titan who cannot be touched.  But, rather, He comes as a man who can be hated, rejected, and killed.

The Word did not just become a man and Lord his divinity over all mankind.  Instead, John says that “he dwelt among us,” in verse 14.  Just as God’s Spirit had dwelt in the tabernacle with Israel in the desert, here again is God in an even greater act of closeness dwelling among mankind.  He did not come to the palaces of Rome, but to the conquered people of Israel.  He did not come to the palaces of the Israeli people, but to the sticks of that nation in Galilee.  The men that he lived with for 3 and a half years were mostly fishermen and lowly.  The Word comes to become the lowly Jesus and reminds us that God Saves.  Throughout the New Testament the family terms of Father and Son are used to demonstrate the closeness of God.  Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but he has come that we too might become sons of God.  The truth is that God is never far away, but is as close as the mention of His name.  Though I demand that he demonstrate His closeness at a specific time and in a specific way, it can never diminish the truth that He loves me, is close to me, and understands how difficult it is.  He dwelt among us!

We Beheld His Glory

The disciples of Jesus gave witness to what they saw in him.  In fact the word used in verse 14 for “beheld” means more than that they saw the glory of Jesus.  It has the idea of inspection and looking into a matter.  Jesus didn’t just appear on earth and look like something.  He lived with people and his life purposefully brushed up against others so that men could inspect his character, life, and his very being.  When we live 24/7 with someone it is most generally then that we see them in all their “glory,” (Yes, I am being facetious).  Quite the opposite, it is then that our flaws are most obvious.  Yet, John says that they inspected this man and what they found was glorious.  They saw the public and private Jesus.  They saw Jesus during the good times and the bad.  They saw Jesus when the crowds wanted to make him king and when they were crying out, “Crucify him!”  The disciples did not believe Jesus simply because of the claims he made.  They believed because of what they experienced when they lived with him.  So why does God often seem hidden?  Why doesn’t he do something like this for every one of us in every generation?  The short answer is because men most generally do not want to live with absolute truth.  We tend to want only certain aspects of truth.  The hiddenness of God is a challenge to our very character.  Do I want to know the truth, or do I simply want to feel like I know the truth?  To know the truth is to enter into a loving and trusting relationship with it.

John further describes this glory with two words and the first is Grace.  In inspecting Jesus they saw that God is gracious, even further, “full of grace.”  They watched as the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) was thrown before Jesus.  Here we are given witness to the exquisite grace of God in that he is not looking for reason to punish and destroy us.  Rather, he is looking for reasons to forgive us.  In our day and age, grace becomes a trite method of declaring that nothing is really sin, or that sin no longer matters.  However, Jesus both confirms that the woman is a sinner and yet encourages her to quit being a sinner.  He knows that unless she changes she will be judged by God.  Why remove any chance of her making amends?  The grace of God is that humanity does not deserve to be saved, and yet he gives us a chance.  More than that, He guarantees that whoever wants to do so can join that part of humanity that will be victorious over the devil and reign with God in his place.  Satan will be cast down and we will be lifted up.  This is the grace of God.  But, do you trust him?

We are told of his interaction with the thief on the cross in Luke 23.  This man had lived a life of sin and stealing from others.  In the last moments of his life, in which he can really do nothing for God, he simply asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  Such a simple statement of faith, and yet it was all that God was looking for.  Put yourself in God’s shoes for a moment.  Can you imagine pouring out your heart in love for another person, only to have it thrown back into your face?  It’s not enough, it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t the right way…. Yes, we can all learn how to love others.  But, if our every attempt to love is criticized and never simply received as the love it is, then what?  Does the other person really love you?  The sad truth is that God has loved all mankind more than we deserve.  More than this, instead of throwing us away, He has simply put the ball in our court.  He is simply looking for us to trust Him.  This is the grace of our God.

This was not a New Testament idea.  The Old Testament clearly demonstrates that Israel and mankind did not deserve saving.  It reveals the moral warts and ugliness of our sin, and yet God’s plan to save mankind kept marching on.  No, it was not what you asked for or are even now asking for.  But it is love nonetheless.  So can you say no to such love?

The second word that John uses to describe the glory of Jesus is Truth.  Jesus made very exclusive claims.  In fact, truth by its very nature is exclusive.  In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  In John 8:39-40 we are told, “They answered [Jesus] and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’  Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this.’”  In John 3:16 we are familiar with the statement that “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whosoever would believe on Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Yet, the sad thing is that 3 verses later (John 3:19) we are told that “this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.”  Yes, all of us have an inner aversion to truth because it exposes not just our “failures” but also those things that we would call our “successes,” but He shows to be evil.

The world today struggles under the task of finding a way forward in which it can reject the exclusive claims of Jesus and still have a moral world.  But by removing the Truth from the foundation of this endeavor, we ensure its future crumbling demise.

So the ball is in your court.  God has heard you, and He has come near to you.  God has loved you, and He has done so in a miraculous, amazing way.  The real question is not has He done enough.  The real question is can I accept the truth and let go of the lie?  Let go of the lie today and embrace the truth.

Truth audio

Tuesday
Jul192016

The Coming Day of the Lord 4

Isaiah 24:21-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on July 17, 2016.

As we finish this look at the Day that God has appointed in which all the nations of the world will be judged, we will see that this leads to a time of blessing for those who are left.  It is typical for unbelievers to scorn the Bible’s warning of judgment.  Yet, at the same time they will complain that if there really was an all-powerful and good God why hasn’t He dealt with all the bad stuff in the world.  When you put these two complaints together you recognize that there is no way God can “win” with such a person.  On one hand we want Him to deal with sin and evil (i.e. bring justice) and yet on the other hand we don’t want Him to judge.  God must deal with evil because He is the creator and He is good.  However, the answer that God gives in the Bible is this.  If He brought judgment to all that was evil we would all be guilty.  He does not want us to receive judgment.  So He has provided a way for us to have grace.  Jesus took God’s judgment of our sin upon Himself so that we could be pardoned.  God has given two millennia of goodness and mercy, pleading with the nations to turn from judgment and into the grace of Jesus.  Thus His judgment is not a barbaric thing, but rather, something that has been a long time coming.

In the death of Jesus we see the love and character of God.  In the resurrection of Jesus we see the reality and power of God.  In the Church we see the faithfulness of God to send ambassadors of this Truth throughout every generation.  God will not be found wanting in any kind of trial that men may wish to convene.  Lay down your complaints and find the truth of God’s love for you in His Word.

The Lord Will Reign On Mt. Zion

Starting in verse 21 we see the completion of God’s judgment upon the rebels and the subsequent rule that He will have upon Mt. Zion.  Now Mt. Zion is a reference to a physical place on earth in the city of Jerusalem.  It is the old city of David that also contains the area of the temple.  Mt. Zion was the physical place of God’s rule over Israel.  However, in the prophets we find that Mt. Zion often comes to represent the spiritual throne of God in the heavens.  Thus the earthly object is a symbol that points to a greater heavenly reality.  Thus believers in Hebrews 12:22 are told, “But you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”  We also see this in the book of Revelation.  There it is revealed that there will be a day when these heavenly realities (the throne of God, New Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, etc.) will come down to earth and no longer be merely a spiritual concept.

Before this happens though, the Lord’s wrath will punish the rebels.  They have refused His attempts to draw them into grace and now the day of punishment is here.  If He does not judge, He appears to approve of the damage they have done among themselves and to the faithful believers.  Thus verse 21 points out two classes of those being punished.  The first is the “Host of Exalted Ones.”  This phrase is a reference to the spiritual beings (typically called fallen angels) that had been in charge of the nations after the Tower of Babel, and yet had rebelled.  They led the nations into worshipping them as gods and throwing off the Truth of God.  The judgment of these spiritual beings is further revealed in the book of Revelation.  They will be forced out of the heavens and onto the earth where they will be punished by either being put in the Lake of Fire or into the Bottomless Pit.  The second class that is mentioned is the kings of the earth.  The leaders of mankind have been following the lead of these wicked, spiritual beings.  They will be judged as well, along with their armies as we see in Revelation 19. 

We are then told that they will be imprisoned.  Since we are dealing with  natural and supernatural beings the imprisonment brings up several questions that are answered by Revelation 19/20.  In the Old Testament the pit is often a reference to the grave, or the place where the spirits of men go to await judgment.  It is the place of the dead.  Thus the kings of the earth and their armies are going to die and go into the grave.  Yet, we see Satan, the ultimate fallen angel, imprisoned in the Bottomless Pit.  Since angels cannot physically die and thus go into the grave, God has designed a place called the Bottomless Pit where they can be restrained from interacting with the material world.  Read Revelation 19:17-20:3 for more information.

Isaiah then says after many days they will be punished.  Of course Revelation reveals that there will be a 1,000 years of peace on earth under the reign of Christ and His saints.  At the end of this however, Satan will be released from the pit and cause another great rebellion.  When this rebellion is destroyed by God, the heavens and the earth are melted down and all spirits are brought before the Great, White Throne.  There all receive their judgment.  The wicked are put in the Lake of Fire, which is referred to as the second death.  Think of it this way.  At the first death our spirits are separated from our bodies and thus can no longer interact with the physical world.  We can still interact with the spiritual world, however.  At the second death the spirit is separated from all of creation physical and spiritual.  There will be no coming back.  God creates a new heavens and a new earth that they will never be able to see or influence again.

In verse 23, Isaiah switches from the devastation and punishment to look at the result.  The Lord will dwell with His people.  The sun and the moon will be ashamed in His presence.  This is a personification that is intended to show how gloriously Jesus will be at His second coming.  It can also include a slam against those fallen angels (false gods) who had been associated with the sun and the moon (Apollo, Helios, etc.).  No matter how great they tried to magnify themselves, they will be ashamed when the true God of the earth arrives.  The key here is that the long awaited Anointed King that God was to send would arrive and in fact would actually be the Lord Himself.  This same theme is mentioned in Revelation: God will dwell with His people.

Notice the descriptions.  First He will reign.  He is not just a king, but the King of kings.  Yes, currently Jesus reigns over believers of the earth spiritually.  But in the millennium his reign will become a physical reality over the whole earth.  This kingship will lead us into the new heavens and the new earth, or Creation 2.0, if you will.

Then He will reign upon Mt. Zion within Jerusalem.  The millennium involves a spiritual reality taking its place upon the physical earth.  Thus Jesus will reign from Jerusalem over the earth.  However, in the new heavens and new earth, we see a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven that will cause the earthly “old” Jerusalem pale in comparison.  Thus the physical places in the middle east today are only a shadow of the greater physical and spiritual realities that will be in the New Creation.

He will be before His elders.  The people of Israel would have seen this as the rulers of national Israel.  However, in Revelation we see that it is something more than this.  There are 24 elders that surround the throne of God.  Most scholars point out that the word “elders” is only used of humans.  Since their origin is not explained we are left with conjecture.  The number (2X12) has led most to believe that they are representatives of National Israel and the Church (12 from each).  In fact Jesus promised His disciples that they would sit on thrones with Him.  Thus the elders represent the righteous of all the nations who have finally been united into one body before the Lord.

Lastly, we are told that he will reign in glory.  This has two facets to it.  Jesus will no longer be cloaked in mere human flesh.  Rather, as the disciples saw on the Mt. of Transfiguration, and as John saw at the beginning of Revelation, Jesus will shine in a brilliance that is majestic and glorious.  Thus He reigns in a glory that emanates from Him.  Yet, we will also glorify Him.  Our natural response will be to bring honor and glory to Him in all that we do, which will no longer be tainted by our sin nature.  Yes we will worship Him in song and praise.  But we will also worship Him in the projects that we perform and do.

Let me close by recognizing that heavy things lie ahead for this world.  When and exactly how it will all play out, you cannot completely know.  However, you can know that you are ready for it.  Put your trust in Jesus today.  Cling to His words to you in the Bible with all your heart, and shine the light of the Gospel of Jesus to everyone that you meet.  Maranatha!

Day of Lord 4 Audio

Tuesday
Dec152015

Lessons of Christmas- The Miracle of it All

John 1:1-3, 14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 13, 2015.

The modern, scientific world basically rejects the idea of miracles.  Unless one is a strong Christian and a scientist, miracles sound like the antithesis of sound reasoning.  However, much of this is a matter of semantics.  The common argument against miracles will go something like this. Miracles are against the laws of science and cannot be duplicated upon demand.  Therefore they are mythical, whether through insincerity or not.

So what do Christians mean by the word miracle?  Well, we do not mean the “miracles” of nature, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly.  As amazing as many of the processes of nature are, they are not technical miracles.  Scientists can observe and test to determine the underlying fundamental principles that enable metamorphosis.  In fact all over the world metamorphosis is happening all the time.  There are two main concepts behind the words that are often translated as miracle.  The first has to do with the observation of something amazing.  It is a memorable thing that sticks out among the stuff that naturally occurs.  Another word has the concept of being a sign.  This memorable thing points to something about God and the world. 

This leads us to three main parts to defining a miracle.  First, it is something for which God is immediately responsible.  Everything of nature follows certain laws and operations (physics) that God hardwired into the creation.  Thus he is technically responsible for all actions of nature, but this is a secondary responsibility.  In a miracle, something happens that would not have happened if God had let nature run its normal course.  The red sea parting or Jesus walking on water were not things that would have happened naturally.  There is a supernatural source to the happening of this event.  Second, though the event has a supernatural cause, this does not mean that it breaks scientific laws.  Miracles are not magic.  Rather, God Himself introduces power and laws that are generally above our understanding of physics.  Even if we could completely understand the physics of our world, we can’t completely understand God and how He interacts with it.  Thus miracles would always be beyond mankind’s ability to comprehend.  Plus God does not intend to give miracles in order to extend our knowledge of physics.  He doesn’t owe us an explanation.  Third, miracles always occur in a religious context.  They are given to God’s people, or to substantiate God’s Word.  Thus the struggle between Moses and Pharaoh is accompanied with miraculous signs in order to help Pharaoh see the truth about God and His people.

Now at Christmas we have several miracles among which some are: the virgin birth and the angelic visitations.  However the greatest miracle of all time is the incarnation.  Just when it looked like mankind was doomed to failure and destruction under the wrath of God, God becomes a man.  This was a cosmic game-changer.

The Word Became Flesh

In chapter one of the gospel of John Old Testament wording and imagery is used throughout in order to connect it with Jesus.  He starts out by referencing something called “The Word.”  This is an allusion back to Genesis 1, where God is seen speaking things into existence.  “And God said, let there be…”  The Word is the purpose, logic and reasoning of God coming from within Him and going out from Him.  John begins to define this Word in a way that makes clear it is not just words and it is not just a force.  As we walk through the first two verses, John establishes the preexistence of Jesus in a sequential manner.

First, he establishes that The Word existed at the beginning of creation.  “In the beginning” is the title of the Book of Genesis in Hebrew.  In Genesis 1:1, The Word existed already.  Second, The Word was in relationship with God the Father, “with God.”  It didn’t just exist.  It existed in relationship with God.  Third, we are told that The Word was divine.  It may appear that he is just equating them.  But he is clearly distinguishing two that are both God (and divine).  In verse two this is restated.  Lastly, John states that The Word was the agent or means of creation.  The Father speaks and the Word goes forth to accomplish it (in verse 14 & 18 it is clear the word is a personality).  What is not made clear in Genesis 1 is being revealed here in John 1.  Thus John describes two distinct persons existing together and yet God.  Later in verse 14 and 18 he defines this further as God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son.  All created things were made through Jesus in his divine capacity.  The Son is not a created person, but a reality that had been kept secret until the incarnation.

Thus the birth of Jesus is more than a man that God chooses to use.  Rather, it is the eternal Word and divine Son stepping into the world and taking on the additional nature of humanity.  This all happens when Satan had all but captivated all the nations of the world, Israel included.  The knowledge of God was all but extinguished either by outright rejection, or by perversion.  Thus in verse 14, John says that The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.  The word “dwelled” is the same word used for the tabernacle in the wilderness with Moses.  God has always tried to teach us that He longs to dwell with us.  It is as if God waits until the last seconds to bring out His secret weapon.  He is going to suit up on our side.  It is a miracle because mankind couldn’t have done it.  No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to produce God, much less make ourselves Gods.  The more we try the less like God we will become.  It is a miracle because it can’t be explained by mere natural means.  Yes, Jesus could have been just a baby, but then what about the miracles he did as a man?  If you reject those, what do you do with his prophecies about Jerusalem and the rest of the world?  If you reject that what do you do with the resurrection?  And, if you refuse to believe that then you are open to what God is trying to show you.  This is all history and yet it can’t be explained with the natural.  Also, it is a miracle because it fulfilled all that God prophesied and underscored all He had been trying to teach.  What if God was one of us?  Well in Jesus He has become one of us.  He has become our champion.  He has stepped in between us and our enemy the devil.

He Humbled Himself

In some ways it goes without saying.  But the point is too important to skip over. The humility of this miracle is mind-boggling.  The divine becomes human and the immortal becomes mortal.  This miracle of God taking on the nature of a man is unexplainable.  These are things that only the designer of creation and mankind could fully comprehend.  However, that is not what is important.  The “how” is incredible, but it is the “why” that truly blows your mind.  While we are busy trying to become gods, God a long time ago became one of us.  This humility is explained in Philippians 2:5-8.  Jesus was not just moving to a lower station.  He is choosing to embrace those who had lost and deserved to die.  He is identifying with that which was crushed and captivated by the devil.  He would rather hang out with the losers than with the winners.  Why?

In Philippians 2 we are told that Jesus did not consider his prior state, being God, as something to be gripped tightly.  His nature is such that He is not clambering to be on top, but is the one to choose lowly things.  He voluntarily cooperates with the limitations of being a man, who is also under the law of Moses.  The phrase sometimes translated as “made himself of no reputation,” would be better translated “he emptied himself.”  It is not clear what exactly he emptied himself of.  He doesn’t cease to be God, but he does cease to operate as only God.  He takes on limitations and chooses to suffer pain, hunger, rejection, and death.  He submits not just to death, but to death on a cross, which was a social shame and excruciating.  He obeyed the will of the Father to the point of death on a cross.  Part of the miracle of the incarnation is the depths to which God is willing to lower himself in order to lift us up.  Jesus reveals to us that it is those who lose according to this world who are desired by God.  We are always looking at what is possible and how to get ahead and move up.  But Jesus is God’s word to mankind, “Let me defeat your enemy for you.”

He Came Full Of Grace And Truth

In verse 14, John describes what they saw when the incarnation came into the world to dwell among men.  “We beheld his glory.”  Of course John had seen the transfiguration of Jesus when he had been transformed into a glowing being.  But he is speaking of more than that.  Here he is referencing the whole experience of dwelling with Jesus.  His glory was constantly being revealed for those who had eyes to see it.

It was especially displayed in that he was full of grace and truth.  God shows compassion to those who are captivated by sin and whose lives have been devoured by the devil.  He comes like a gift from heaven to heal, set people free from demons, and speak words of truth that cut through all the confused and deceived wisdom of mankind.  Even more amazing, He does so regardless of the fact that we do not deserve it.

Rather, we deserved him to come into the world full of wrath and judgment.  The miracle of Christmas is that instead of flaming judgment raining down from heaven, we are given aid against our enemy and victory over him.  This is not the story of underdogs overcoming at the end and winning.  This is the story of mankind losing the battle to the devil and his angels.  And, yet, God chooses to have a celebration with the losers and despises the “winners.”

Have you lost in life?  God is calling you to stop trying to win the game of this life and come into relationship with Him.  Are you winning in this life?  Beware that you are not caught up in the judgment that God is going to pour out on the devil, his angels, and all those who have joined his rebellion against God’s Son.  Choose this day, whom you will serve.

Christmas: Miracle audio