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Weekly Word

Entries in Hope (9)

Sunday
Nov122017

The Provision of the Lord

1 kings 17:18-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 12, 2017.

Today we continue looking at the prophet Elijah.  Last week we saw that Elijah had prophesied to King Ahab that a famine would come on the land and would not be broken until Elijah said so.  God had then provided for Elijah to retreat into the wilderness.  When we stopped at verse 7 last week, the stream by which Elijah was staying went dry.  Today we will see the new way that God had planned to care for Elijah and learn from it that we need not fear when things go sideways.  God is always looking out for us, whether we are someone as important as Elijah the prophet or a widow in a foreign land who has nothing.  However, He doesn’t always use the same things to provide for us.  Let’s look at the story.

The Lord is our source of provision

As I said earlier, Elijah has hit a transition point.  The way God had been taking care of him has now dried up.  What now?  Has God forgotten about me?  Has God failed or no longer cares about me?  These are the normal questions when such a time happens in our life.  We can begin to doubt God’s care and fear what lies ahead.  However, the same God who provided the stream of water and the food-bearing ravens now had a new plan.  This new plan involved a widow who lived in another country, the widow of Zarephath (Zair-uh-fath).  If we step back and think about Elijah’s life to this point we will recognize that God is not letting him get comfortable.  He presumably starts out at whatever his home was.  Then he ends up living in the wilderness next to the brook Cherith.   Now things are changing again and he is going to have to move again.  It is clear that God is testing Elijah to see if he will keep obeying and trust God.   However, He is also teaching Elijah that God is able to take care of him, no matter where he goes.  It is easy for us to think of God caring for Elijah, but not necessarily caring about us.  Who am I?  I am no great prophet.  Why would God even give a second thought about me?  Well, pay attention to how God is both taking care of Elijah and this widow from a foreign country, who no doubt is not a worshipper of Him.  When God has been using something or someone to help us, we must not look to those things desperately, as if they were the source of provision.  We must always recognize them as only the means of God’s provision.

On a side note, we have a good piece of information here.  Elijah is not some powerful guy who says whatever he wants and God backs him up.  If so, he could have just commanded the stones around him to be turned into bread (like the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness).  No, Elijah is a man under the direction and command of God.  Thus, that is not an option.  He could have tried to do so, but it wouldn’t work.  God had a different plan.  God then gives Elijah the instruction and the leading that he needed to get to the next channel of God’s provision.  Now in our lives, it seems that we don’t get clear and quick instruction from the Lord.  I would say, however, that we do not know how long Elijah was at the side of the dry stream bed praying and waiting for an answer.  Regardless, God can give us instructions quickly or after a time of waiting.  We must be faithful to seek His instructions and leading, by reading the Word and seeking Him through prayer.  It is part of trusting God, to keep looking to Him even though it seems to be taking a long time.  No matter how long we may need to wait, the answer of the Lord will always become clear eventually.

So let’s talk about God’s plan.  Why is he going to use a widow from Zarephath?  Zarephath was a village on the outskirts of Sidon and under its control or dominion.  Remember that King Ahab had married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon.  There are at least two ways to look at this plan.  In Luke 4, Jesus had been healing people in the area of Galilee and then had come home.  There was resistance and jealousy of him there.  In fact, Mark 6:3 says that they took offense at him.  They wondered why he didn’t do lots of miracles in Nazareth as well.  Jesus answers by reminding them of our story today.  He asks why God sent Elijah to a widow near Sidon.  Weren’t there enough widows in all of Israel to pick from?  At this point in time, northern Israel had fallen into idolatry, led by King Ahab.  God was not doing powerful things through Elijah for the material benefit of his hometown, or Israel, or perhaps for the churches today.  No the miracles are for God’s purposes and benefit those whom He chooses.  He sees the needs of everyone, and those who are full of themselves and quick to offense will typically not be His first choice.

Another aspect of this new plan has to do with Spiritual Warfare.  King Ahab of Israel had fallen into idolatry and an alliance with the enemies of God.  This was a blow to God’s work through Israel.  There is some irony that God sends Elijah into the backyard of King Ethbaal of Sidon.  This counter-attack is not of the same kind, but it is a spiritual advance into a territory under the dominion of darkness.  Here Elijah will plant the seeds of truth in the life of a woman and her child.  The God of Israel was the only god that cared for her, and even in a miraculous way.  These seeds would grow and bear fruit throughout that area.  I can imagine that later, when the apostles went through that area, they may have found some remnants of those seeds that were open to the Gospel.

Now we can also recognize that this new plan of God is very different from the previous.  In the previous, Elijah was by himself and the provision came from nature, at God’s command.  But, the new plan is to use a person who can provide for his physical needs.  God often uses other people in our life to care for us and to help us.  It is not always in material needs.  It might be someone who knows the Word of the Lord and can share it with us.  Or someone who understands what we are going through and can comfort us.  Regardless, all of our connections to others in life, especially within the Church, are used by God to provide something in our lives.  Sometimes we can be too stubborn to receive it.  Now, this works the other way as well.  God wants you to care for others even as they care for you.  Our gifting are not the same.  God intends that we help each other in different ways.  It can even be in the same way, but at different times.  I can help you today, and find I need your help in the same area tomorrow.  God can always cause something to come into our life without the help of another person.  But, He often chooses to use people and relationships with others.  He does so because relationship is what He wants most with us.  A relationship with an unseen God can be fraught with self-deception.  But a relationship with a flesh and blood person requires us to be real.  When we are constantly faced with reality by our relationships with others, it helps us to be real with God.

It is interesting that God tells Elijah in verse 9 that He has “commanded” the widow to provide for him.  It is clear from the story that the widow did not get the memo, as they say.  The word here most likely has the sense of an appointment.  God had decreed or appointed that Elijah would be helped through this woman, but He doesn’t tell her, except through Elijah.  Often, God has appointments for us that do not make sense at the time.  Imagine, this widow being asked for food and water by Elijah.  How insensitive that must has seemed to her at the time.  “You picked the wrong person, buddy.”  She was a widow and thus very poor.  Worse than that, a famine was upon the land, and so she couldn’t even forage for more food.  Worse than that, she was at the end of her food and fixing her last meal with just a handful of flour for her and her boy.  How heavy her heart must have been as she prepared to starve to death.  Yet, in the middle of all of this lack, God has a plan for her to be the one who takes care of the prophet Elijah.  He didn’t pick a widow from Elijah’s hometown, or from Israel.  Instead, God picked her.  She didn’t know that she would meet a prophet that day.  She did not know that her response to the prophet would be death or life for her.  Instead of being eaten up with bitterness and anger, even now she is gracious to the man who bothers her for some water and a small cake of bread.  Instead of anger she responds with brokenness.  She tells him her dire straits, but then goes and makes a small cake for Elijah.  Why would we choose to be stingy when we have little?  Some who have more than they need are stingy.  It is not really a matter of what you have.  It is a matter of your heart.  If I have nothing left than why not share it with another person?  Poor people can often be the most giving because they have empathy and know what it feels like to have nothing and no one.  Her sacrifice makes all the difference.  Don’t look to your circumstances to determine what God is doing with you.  Don’t get bitter and resentful.  Instead, keep doing the little that you can do and trust the Lord who has appointed you for His work (whether you know it or not).

Yet, we also see that Elijah doesn’t just ask for the bread.  He gives her a word of hope.  If she sacrifices in order to give Elijah some bread, then her bin of flour will not be used up, nor her jar of oil run dry until rain falls upon the ground.  God does test our faith, but He also gives us a word of hope.  Yes, pick up your cross and follow me (to die).  But if you do, you will gain eternal life.  When obeying God’s word isn’t easy, we are tempted to disobey and go our own way.  But our way leads to death, and God’s leads to eternal life.  There is always a blessing in doing it God’s way.  Whether in generosity, or obedience in another way such as honesty or sharing Christ with others, the word of God tests us to see if we are going to be offended and miss out on the blessing, or sacrifice our flesh and receive a blessing from the Lord.  The blessing is not always something like a bin of flour that doesn’t run empty for three years.  However, even our material provisions in life are truly from the Lord.  Yes, God has appointed this widow who has nothing to care for Elijah, but it was the Lord who was actually doing the providing.  She simply had to keep trusting the Lord.  Instead of creating a dam and storing up all the provision for herself, she shared it with Elijah and experienced a miracle unheard of by anyone in her country.  Today, we are being tested by the word of the Lord in our country.  Let’s trust God’s way and walk in the blessing that may not always feel like a blessing.  Yet, it always leads us to great things with God.

Yes, God cares about little old you.  Regardless of what you have been through in the past and may be suffering in the present, He has a plan through it, if you will only cry out to Him and wait in trust for the answer.  The Lord is our source and will provide for us though the whole world be under a famine.  Amen!

The Provision of the Lord audio

Sunday
Jul092017

Our Great Joy in Jesus

1 Peter 1:3-9.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 09, 2017.

Today we will spend some time in a passage that focuses on the joy that we have as believers in Jesus Christ.  It is easy to let the things of the world around us drag our hearts down into a dreary drudgery.  We see individuals rejecting the gospel and plunging down the “wide way,” and we see the nations of the world rejecting the ways of God and pursuing their own ways.  In the midst of this is the onslaught of both individual and political evils that continue to tear the world apart and create massive suffering.  So I want us not to forget about the world’s plight, and yet not to be infected by a spirit of hopelessness.  The follower of Jesus has nothing to hang their head over.  We are never defeated or losers.  We are the true overcomers as we keep our eyes upon Jesus and the mission that He gave us.

We Give Thanks to God

In verses 3-5, Peter starts out by thanking God for His blessings and yet he is also reminding the believers of the blessings that they have.  And so, we do have much to be thankful for, and it all finds its source in God the Father.  He is the architect of creation, and the giver of life and all its wonderful aspects.  Am I thankful?  And, do I take time to thank God?  We should wake every morning and recount the amazing blessings with which God has surrounded us.  He has been good to us and grateful thanks should be the foundation of our daily life.

In fact Peter uses the phrase, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It could also be translated as “Praise the God…”  Our praise is the proper acknowledgment that is actually due to God.  All creation should praise Him, but not all of creation does.  Of course giving God His due praise speaks to those who are not doing so.  But to us who do praise Him, it should not be about duty and obligation.  It should be about gratefulness and thanks.  Our thanks and praise rises up to God in the midst of a world that takes God’s goodness for granted, and a spiritual realm that has a rebellion against Him.  The devil and his angels believe that they can do better than God and are ungrateful for His decisions.    We are those who have rebelled against the rebellion, and have put our faith in Jesus.  We are not under the shadow of judgment, but can see and recognize the goodness of God.  Because of this, we are the recipients of the greater treasures that God is in the middle of giving to those who trust Him.

Peter particularly points out the “abundant mercy” of God.  He is not obligated by justice to give us mercy.  However, He is kind, loving, and merciful.  Salvation always begins with the mercy of God and we must never forget that.  His holiness and justice would come against our lives and bring us to account and to punishment.  But in His mercy, God makes a way for us to be saved from punishment.  He holds out the offer of eternal life to those who will trust Him.  So what are some of these mercies?  Peter lists some for us.

He uses the phrase, “He has begotten us again.”  This is very similar to the phrase used by Jesus in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  We are all born physically and because of the will of two humans.  Yet, we are not spiritually alive.  Thus all humans are in need of being “born again,” but not physically.  This second birth is a spiritual birth and is because of the will of God, not man.  Even though we are alive to the world around us, we are spiritually unable to recognize and interact with the God who created us.  If we were to use the analogy of a still birth, we can think of it like this.  Though a still born physically exists, they cannot interact with the physical world around them.  Similarly, though we do have an inner spirit, it is still born towards the Holy Spirit of God.  It will never be able to sense and interact with God unless a spiritual miracle occurs. The analogy is not perfect, but it does help to see what the Bible is saying.  This is called being born again.  So to compare the two births we have this.  Physical birth is the first birth, caused by humans, in which we are able to interact with the physical world.  Being born again is Spiritual birth, a second birth, caused by God, in which we are able to interact with the Spirit of God.  What a blessing and mercy this is.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  In John 1:12-13 we are told that such a birth makes us the children of God.  “But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So why has God made us spiritually alive?  Peter says it is for the purpose of receiving a “living hope.”  Regardless of what our lot is in life because of our physical birth, our spiritual birth leaves all of that in the dust.  All that we might hope for in this life will one day be taken away from us.  Thus it is a hope, but a dying one.  Our spiritual birth gives us hope of things that cannot be taken away, even in physical death.  If a person is born into royalty or a family of great power, that is nothing compared to being born again in Jesus.  Even, if I have been born into squalor and have little hope in the things of this world, in Christ I have a living hope that is so much greater than anything this world can offer.  Peter further describes this living hope.  It is a living hope because of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  It is living because it is based upon the living Jesus.  He is alive and can no longer die.  Similarly because our hope is in Him, even if we die physically our hope cannot die because it is in one who cannot die again.  Even more than this, we believers in Jesus are promised a day of Resurrection in which we will fully join Christ in that state of eternal life through a body that cannot die and a spirit that dwells in the presence of God every second.  Thus even our physical death because an entering into the presence of the Lord of Life.  What a living hope we have in Jesus!

Peter also describes this living hope as “incorruptible,” and “reserved in heaven” for us (vs. 4).  It is called an inheritance because there is a future aspect to what God is giving us.  Yes, I have eternal life already, but I have not received all that eternal life has to offer, yet.  Thus he uses the word “hope.”  We are already experiencing some of His promises now and thus the hope that is future is already “living” within us and blessing us.  Peter uses several words to show that this hope is secure for the ages.  It is incorruptible, and will not decay or go bad.  There is no expiration date on the promises of God.  It is also “undefiled.”  It is a hope that is untainted by the sin and rebellion of this world.  No matter how much the rebels of this world hope in a Utopia, it is a defiled hope.  They will continually slam up against the reality that the hope is tainted by the sin of mankind and the fallen angels.  Lastly, Peter says that it doesn’t “fade away.”  It is a hope that will not lose its luster and beauty.  This world fades and dims, but our hope does not.  It is reserved in heaven for us.  Thus it is safe in God’s hands, and guarded by none other than God Himself.  If God be for us who can be against us?  On this earth our inheritance and blessings are always in danger of others who may want to steal it, but the inheritance of God cannot be touched by any, not even the devil himself.

However, God does more than just guard our inheritance.  In verse 5 it says that we ourselves are guarded by the power of God.  The same God who guards our inheritance is also insuring that we can make it to that inheritance.  The word “kept” in verse 5 is similar to the word “reserved” in verse 4.  They both have the sense of guarding something.  However, the word in verse 5 adds the sense of a military guard.  It has a higher sense of protection to it.  Thus God stations His forces around us, to ensure that we make it to the day of inheritance, which is the completion of our salvation (notice the future sense of salvation in this verse- more on that later).  The only thing that can derail it is our own faith.  Satan cannot win by destroying us physically, financially, or emotionally.  But, he uses those things to try and destroy our trust in God.  Now, God doesn’t just put a carrot in front of us.  He also protects us along our way to make sure that we will be able to dine upon it.  All of this is “through faith,” our faith in Him.  This living hope and inheritance from God cannot be earned or purchased by the power of this world.  It can only be the gift of God to those who trust Him.

Our Thanks Endure Even Our Various Trials

In verses 6-9, Peter acknowledges that Christians go through difficult things, even though they have much to be joyful.  It is easy to be so focused on making people look happy that we can forget that there is a time to cry, and a time to mourn.  We must deal with the difficult things of life, not by shutting them down, but by overcoming them.  They devil is trying to disqualify us through those trials and tests of life.  But God allows them for the purpose of proving that we qualify and ultimately making us stronger.

So let’s look first at how the trials of life can grieve us for a little while.  Do not make light of the emotional side of trials.  They are difficult and tend to weigh us down with an internal heaviness.  God does not call us to be unfeeling automatons, or robots.  As we grieve and yet remind ourselves of the goodness of God, our faith in God can be deepened.  We can also understand the depths of God’s love towards us.  Trials also help us to see the depths to which our enemy will stoop in order to try and disqualify us.  If we shed tears in this life, then we can shed them knowing that God sees them and will keep a record of them.  He will right every wrong and then bring us to a place where we will cry no more and have pain no more.  And, on that day, He will reward us for those tears and pains of this life that we endured while hanging on to the promise of eternal life, our living hope.  The enemy, however, wants to drown us in our sorrows and difficulties.  He wants us to blame God for our pains, so that we will lose faith in God and walk away from our inheritance.

Peter reminds us in verse 7 that these tests prove our faith.  Have I really trusted in God?  If God stepped in and removed every difficult thing in our life then we would never truly know if our faith is founded on solid ground.  In a sense many people say, “God I trust you, if You keep everything from hurting me.”  This is not trust.  Yet, Job said, “Even if God slay me, yet I will trust Him!”  Some follow Jesus because of what they obtain in this life: people who care for you, and love you, among other comforts of life.  But what about when I lose all of those things?  Like John the Baptist sitting in prison about to lose his head, we can begin to question and waver in our faith in Jesus.  Thus the picture of trials being a refining fire is used by Peter.  The trials are called various because there are innumerable ways to be tried in this life.  Some are seductive, with hidden motives, and we can enjoy their presence to some degree.  Others are brutish, with the obvious motive to overwhelm and destroy us.  Typically we do not enjoy these.  But our faith, Peter says, is more precious than gold.  We are tempted by things that are really not as precious as we think.  The truth about our faith will be made clear at the “revelation of Jesus,” which is His Second Coming.  This will be our glory and honor in the day that He returns: we world will see that we belong to Him.

In verse 8 He commends them for their faith and love for Jesus.  They are keeping their eyes on Jesus even in the face of trials.  Peter had seen Jesus with his own eyes.  But then Jesus was taken into heaven and now Peter no longer can see Jesus.  He must use the eyes of faith, trust.  Even harder it is for those who had never seen Jesus in the flesh.  They are taking the witness of Peter, and the Holy Spirit.  They have come to love this Jesus that they have learned about.  They are not about to be scammed out of the inheritance they have in Jesus.  So also, keeping our eyes upon Jesus, we await that day when He will split the clouds and return to earth.  Even if I die, I do so keeping my trust upon the one who said, “He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.”  Our love for Jesus is birthed in the love that He had for us.  He died in my place even while I was still a rebel against Him.  He did so to make an inheritance for me with Him.  He paid the price that I might sit with Him at the Father’s table.  He purchased us back from the place of slavery to which we had sold ourselves.  And, He does this to make us His beloved ones.  In the words of Paul, “[love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. 

So this love that Jesus has for us and that we have for Him fills us with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.  In the face of our own death, His death and resurrection assures us that He loves us and will keep His word.  The daily joy that we have as a Christian should never be based upon the earthly joys and comforts that we have.  Yes, we should be thankful for any such things that we experience.  But they must never be the foundation of our joy.  The foundation of our joy is the relationship of love that Jesus has given to us.  As the old song says, “I’ve got something the world can’t give, and the world can’t take it away!”  It is called inexpressible or unspeakable because it goes beyond the ability of words to fully express.  Not that we don’t express our thanks, but that they too fall short.  “O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemers praise, the glories of our God and King, the triumphs of His grace.”  So we continue to describe to people that which can never be fully expressed.  Such is the joy of the believer.  It is also described as “full of glory” because it is given by God Himself.  Glory is often described as brilliant light in the spirit realm (within Scripture).    God has given us Himself and the glorious shining of God sits at the center of our heart and life like a blazing sun.  Thus our joy and faith in Him, which is set on fire by the blazing glory of God, cannot be extinguished by the devil. 

In the midst of such glorious joy, Peter says we are receiving the salvation of our souls.  In fact this is part of the joy.  I may endure a difficult trial, but it is part of me receiving something much better.  Verse 5 speaks of our salvation in the future, but verse 9 speaks of it as a present thing.  That is because we are in the process of receiving a salvation that will one day be completed at the second coming of Christ.  Thus we can look back to the day that we began receiving salvation, we can look around at our current salvation, and we can look forward to its completion at the Second Coming of Christ!  Amen!

Our Great Joy audio

Tuesday
Mar292016

There is Hope

Romans 8:16-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday.

Hope is a word that we use to refer to the anticipation of something good in the future.  This seems to be the default position of the human heart.  When we are young and innocent we have a basic sense of good things ahead.  However, through difficult experiences in a fallen world and our own moral failures, we can lose hope.  In Jesus God has restored hope by demonstrating the depths to which His love is willing to go for fallen humans.  Yes, we may give up on hope, but God will never.  He is the creator of hope.

It is also important to recognize that we are not talking about hope in the sense of wishing for something.  “I hope I win the lottery,” is a statement that is more about wishing for something.  In the Bible the hope in our heart is instigated by the object of hope that God has promised in our future.  It would be more like the hope a young person has of graduating from college because their parents have promised to pay for it.  Today we are going to remind ourselves of the hope that God has anchored in the future for all who put their faith in Jesus and follow him.

We Are Children Of God

In verses 16-22, Paul reminds us that we are children of God.  Now we all belong to God by the fact of creation.  Thus all humans are children of God in that sense.  However, in the Bible it has a more narrow sense.  It is referring to those who have been born spiritually.  When you were physically birthed you were the child of two human parents, i.e. a child of man.  In order to be a child of God you must also be born spiritually by putting your faith in Jesus as your teacher and the one who covers your sins.

As a child of God we are also heirs, and joint heirs with Jesus.  Technically it is Jesus who stands to inherit all/ things because of what he did while he was on this earth.  He lived the perfect, sinless life and yet was unjustly attacked.  Instead of fighting, Jesus puts his full trust in the God of heaven.  Though the cross may seem to show his trust was ill-placed, the resurrection proves that Jesus knew what he was doing.  God has declared that those who put their trust in the work of Jesus and his commands will be brought into the Family of God and allowed to inherit with Jesus.

Notice that Paul states at the end of verse 17 a conditional phrase.  We stand to inherit with Christ, “if” we are willing to suffer with Jesus.  Just as Jesus suffered in the hope that the Father would answer him so too, we must pick up our cross and follow him.  Now we will not all suffer the same things or in the same way.  But we will experience many hardships in this life that will challenge our decision to follow Jesus.  His commands are very clear and cause us to have to choose between trusting him or making our own way.  Some people walk away from the faith when they encounter suffering.  But, this seems strange because we are going to have pain and suffering whether we follow Jesus or not.  This world is filled with them everywhere you go.  Thus Paul states that those who will follow the way of Jesus will suffer on this earth, but they will one day be glorified with Jesus.  Just as Jesus was glorified with an immortal, indestructible body and was glorified in his position over all creation, so we too will receive glorified bodies and a glorified position beside Jesus.  To illustrate this, I would point us to the Basketball tournament that the NCAA is putting on right now.  These teams are in the middle of a great struggle to be the champions.  As each game is played one team walks away saddened because they lost, but the other team is rejoicing because they have won.  As the final championship game ends with the blare of the buzzer, the time of blood, sweat, and tears will be over and one of the teams will enter into a time of glory, the time of enjoying the fruit of your labor.  This is what it will be for all believers at the Resurrection.

This is what is being referred to in vs. 19.  All creation awaits the revealing of the Sons of God.  This is the moment when believers are glorified and revealed to the world in glorified form and position.  Most people don’t recognize how critical mankind is to the universe.  Through our moral fall, all of creation was put under the curse of sin.  In the Old Testament the term Sons of God is a reference to the angelic beings.  They were direct creations of God and they were immortal.  However, through Jesus, God is raising up lowly humans to join the heavenly Sons of God.  This is referenced in Hebrews 2: 9-10, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angles, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”  Yes, we are in a time of difficulty, blood, sweat, and tears at this time.  Yet, a day has been appointed in which all who have believed upon Jesus Christ will be raised up immortal.  We will be revealed as the Sons of God, along with Jesus the One and Only Unique Son of God.

In verses 20-22, we are reminded that the curse was given for the hope of what was to come.  We might be tempted to look at the effects of the curse and sin on the Earth and accuse God of doing a terrible job, perhaps even being evil.  The truth is that we were not cursed for the sake of vengeance, but for the hope of what would one day come.  The triumph of mankind over the devil would be a long time in coming, but come it would.  At the cross, the devil was disarmed.  The truth was given to the world and the law was satisfied.  For the last 2 thousand years people have been plundered from his control, people from every language and nation.  One day all of those people will stand immortal beside the Lord, while the devil is captured and removed from the scene.  This is the victory that the Lord has assured us.

Jesus Is The Hope Of Mankind

Starting in verse 24 we see the hope that Jesus makes possible for mankind.  First it states that this is what we have been saved for.  Putting your faith in Jesus is not about simply trying to get something better in this life.  It is about so much more.  Sure, following Jesus will change the way you live and bring many good things into your life.  But it can also bring some bad things into your life as well: suffering, pain, rejection, and even death.  But the apostles knew that they were not dying for a lie.  They had seen the resurrected Lord and had been told by him that they too would experience resurrection if they followed him.  It would be good for American Christians to recognize that our greatest hope is not in fixing America, as great as that would be.  Our greatest hope is to reign with Jesus over a new earth and a new heavens that is not tainted by sin, pain, and suffering.

In verse 28 we are told that all things are working together for the good of those who are called by God.  It may seem impossible to understand that such a thing could be true.  Yet, even for a person who is not an unbeliever, this can be true the second they believe in Jesus.  Until that moment, everything that happens in their life is a sad story.  But once they believe in Jesus, it all becomes part of a glorious story of overcoming an enemy that was far too strong for us.  Don’t push faith aside.  By doing so you will only allow your pain and suffering to remain meaningless and evil.  But when you embrace it, all that difficulty becomes full of meaning and goodness.

Verses 29-30 show us that God’s plan is far greater than ours.  It is greater in effect and greater in scope.  From the beginning of time before he created, He foresaw all that would be.  In the moment that he chooses to create, He also chooses a destiny for all who would trust Him.  This is what is meant by Predestined.  He destined those who would trust him to be transformed and made like Jesus (morally and physically).  Then, in the course of time, He Called us to join His family.  All of us who are followers of Jesus had to hear the call of God by the Spirit and through a human being.  When we responded in faith that destiny became our own.  Then, those that responded to the call were Justified.  They were made to be righteous by the work of God.  No one will be able to stand before God and make a case against them receiving such a destiny.  They have been justified by the judge himself.  Lastly, those who have been justified will one day be Glorified.  The justified will be clothed with immortal glory and enter into the inheritance of a new creation.  This is the hope of mankind that Jesus has made available to whosoever will believe upon Him.  If you haven’t already, please do so today.  If you hear the call of the Spirit to join the ranks of the redeemed then respond today and let God justify your claim to the glory He has for you.

hope audio

Thursday
Dec272012

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Today we will look at the Angel’s message to Joseph before the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:18-25.  He faced a difficulty that in many ways he probably wasn’t prepared for. 

We often face difficulties, but it is very different when we have the tools to deal with them.  So the person who has to go to work in the snow can be more confident if they have snow tires and 4-wheel drive.  The person who is lost in Seattle can be more confident if they have a 4-G cell phone with a data plan. 

But, Joseph wasn’t the only one with a tough problem.  We will see that all mankind had a problem, in fact still has a problem, and that problem is sin.  No matter how many tools we create and assemble we won’t be able to remove that stubborn bane of mankind—sin.  It is not just the sin in others, but even the sin within us personally that mankind cannot remove.  Christmas is the celebration of the truth that we have not been left alone in this impossible battle.  God is with us.

Jesus Comes

The central point of this passage is that Jesus, who is the long-awaited messiah, has come.  This is the moment that Israel had been waiting for since its inception.  In fact, we could say that even the Gentile nations with their twisted theologies and religions had longed for “the gods to come down.”  Thus Jesus who is God comes down in a miraculous way: He is born of a woman who had never been with a man.  Though we might be quick in this modern era to scoff at such an idea, we must recognize that if God can create man in the first place, then surely he can cause a egg to be fertilized in the womb.  In fact what is the insertion of the sperm but an insertion of information?  God did not even need a sperm.  The Holy Spirit was able to activate the egg by the same creative power he had at the beginning.  You either believe in God or not.  But don’t pretend that the reason you don’t believe in him is because of such miracles.

Jesus came in a way that looked shameful.  Though Joseph and Mary were betrothed, they had not tied the knot, so to speak, yet.  For Joseph to go ahead with the marriage would be to confess simultaneously that he is the father and that he was not a righteous man.  His only option seemed to be calling off the wedding in as discrete a way as possible.  Thus Jesus would be born with the social stigma of a shameful conception to unrighteous parents.  Of course this is nothing in our society today.  However that is not to our honor.

Jesus comes to earth accompanied by angels.  We see much activity of angels with Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds, and here, Joseph.  Didn’t Joseph believe Mary?  We are not told.  However as he is determining his response to the news of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph has a dream.  The angel tells him that Mary’s story is true.  As wonderful as that news may have been to Joseph, he still has a tough decision because no one else will believe the story.  However, Joseph becomes a picture of God.  He is innocent, yet marries a bride that the world sees as unfaithful.  In fact, unlike Mary we have been unfaithful.  We are more like Gomer in the story of Hosea.

Jesus also comes as an answer to prophecy.  In verses 22-23 Matthew points out that the virgin birth had been spoken of in Isaiah chapter 7.  The messiah would be recognized as God with us, Immanuel.  But his “name” would be Jesus.

Jesus Saves Us From Our Sins

Jesus is an English version of a word that begins in the Hebrew or Aramaic tongue.  It was some form of Yeshua or Yahshua.  This was transliterated into the Greek language as Iesous.  The name literally means Yahweh is Salvation or Yahweh Saves.  This is the central point of who Jesus is: He is the salvation of God. 

The problem of mankind had been fully explored by mankind.  The Gentiles had continued down the road of creating their own path of salvation.  The Jews had proven that even if God gave us His perfect laws it would not make us righteous.  We all needed a miracle.  We needed God with us in this battle.  In fact we needed him to fight for us.  We were not just bound in slavery to sin.  But this slavery had even infiltrated our mind.  We self-justified those pet sins that we liked and thundered against those we didn’t.  This ever evolving, ever-changing definition of righteousness only protected sin.  This same problem is just as bad today.  We may shrink in horror at a gunman in Conneticut who shoots 20 kids in cold blood.  But then turn around and angrily defend a woman’s right to have a cold-blooded doctor rip apart the life within her.  Over 1 million babies a year are aborted in America.  But few choke up over such infanticide.

In Isaiah 1:18-20, God called to Israel to reason with him.  Though their sins were as scarlet and crimson, he would make them white as snow.  The picture is one of blood.  Sin causes our life to be stained with a stain as difficult as blood.  No matter how hard we try our white righteousness will never look the same.  It will only become more and more stained.  But, God promises to help us.  He says to those who are willing and obedient, rather than rebellious and refusing, that He will make them white.  This is precisely what Jesus was coming to do: to save us from our sins.

“He will save His people from their sins.”  Does this just mean Israel only?  In Matthew 12:50 Jesus had revealed to his disciples that, “whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Thus Jesus was stating that his people were not identified by biology, or what town they lived in, or what culture they shared.  Rather, they are identified by their desire to God’s will.  What is God’s will?  John 6:29, “This is the work of God; that you believe in him whom he sent.”  That one is Jesus.  Our faith in Jesus makes us a part of the people of Jesus.  He promises to save each one.

Final Thoughts

Without Jesus we have no hope against our sins, much less those of mankind.  We can continue to lie to ourselves.  But the stakes only continue to go higher and we have more and more to lose.  We cannot create enough rules or technology to protect ourselves from the effects of sin.  Only Jesus can.

Jesus is God’s proof that he has not abandoned us.  He will cleanse those who trust him and his ways.  But, how can an innocent baby save us?  Only because he is Immanuel; God with us.  With God on our side we cannot fail.

This Christmas make it a truly white Christmas by putting your trust in Jesus alone as the one who covers your sin and makes you white as snow.

dreaming white Christmas audio