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Entries in Judgment (45)

Monday
Oct082018

Your Personal End Times- The Millennium Part I

Various Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on October 7, 2018.

Last week we established from Revelation 20 that Christ will rule with the resurrected saints over the earth for 1,000 years.  However, that passage gave us practically no description of what the millennium would look like.  This is most likely because the rest of the Bible is full of descriptions of what the millennium will entail.  Today we are going to go back into the Old Testament and fill in some of the picture of what we will experience as resurrected saints during this 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ upon this earth.

Of course, the real question is this.  Where do you start?  It is like swimming in the ocean.  There is no way we can do justice to the multitude of passages that speak of the coming kingdom of God.  So let me briefly summarize a few passages in this light.  We could go back to Genesis 3 and see God’s promise to Eve that one of her seed would crush the serpent’s head.  The idea is that the one who deceived them and tricked them out of paradise would eventually get his from a particular human.  We could also look at Genesis 11 and 15, where God makes a covenant with Abraham.  Basically God tells Abraham that all the nations of the earth will be blessed by what God does through Abraham’s offspring.  There is also 2 Samuel 7 where God makes a covenant with David, promising that one of his offspring would sit on the throne of David forever.  There is also Psalm 2 where God states that He has anointed a king who is to rule over the whole earth.  Also, it is stated that the world will rebel against this choice and challenges people to put their trust in God’s king.  Thus we see that God has a vested interest in helping mankind against Satan, our spiritual enemy.  He has promised to bless the whole world by anointing a particular individual to be a righteous king over all the earth and crush the serpents head.  This will be a king and a kingdom that lasts forever.

However, today we are going to start in the book of Isaiah, while keeping in mind this backdrop of promises that God has made to mankind.  Here we will see that the Millennial rule of Christ is the promised hope that has been given to the saints of every century and will be established at His Second Coming.

The reign of the Messiah- Jesus

Let’s start in Isaiah 2:1-4.  Though the Old Testament does not explicitly state the name of the Messiah, we now know that it is Jesus.  Of course Jesus is an anglicized transliteration of a Latin/Greek transliteration of a name that is either Hebrew or Aramaic in form.  It would be something like Yeshua or Yoshua, but let’s not get sidetracked.  All these prophecies are pointing towards Him.  He is the one whom God has anointed King of all kings, Lord of all lords. 

In our passage Isaiah describes this coming kingdom and states that it will be a global kingdom.  The language is very clear with phrases like: “established on top of the mountains,” “exalted above the hills,” and “all nations shall flow to it.”  Mountains and hills were often used as symbolic descriptions of kingdoms and empires.  Powerful kingdoms were like mountains towering over the surrounding area, dominating it on every level.  Later in Daniel 2, God gives Nebuchadnezzar a dream in which all the kingdoms of the world are crushed and smashed to pieces by a kingdom that is sent from God.  This kingdom is described as a stone that is cut by God (without human hands) and grows to become a mountain that fills the whole earth.

Now, we are going to see throughout this study that a person can give everything in these passages a spiritual meaning and say that it is already fulfilled or still being fulfilled.  Thus a person can say that Isaiah 2 and Daniel 2 are just talking about a spiritual kingdom, which is the Church today.  Clearly the Church has spread to fill the whole earth, hasn’t it?  I would say that there is a clear spiritual fulfillment of these passages, but that does not mean they will not be physically true as well.  The same God who made humans composite beings of spirit and body, also works among us both spiritually and physically.  When Jesus says in Luke 13:28, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out,” he clearly envisions a day when this will happen.  The plain sense of the passage is that Abraham and the others will be just as physical as those listening to Jesus (that is, a resurrection will have occurred).  Also in Acts 1:6, the disciples ask Jesus if he will restore the kingdom to Israel at this time.  Jesus does not tell them that the kingdom is only spiritual and will never be physical again.  Rather, he tells them it is not for them “to know times and seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”  Thus, there is going to be a day when Israel and Jerusalem will be the hub of the world and all the nations will flow to this place on earth where Jesus will be physically reigning.

Verse 4 makes it clear that it will involve a judgment of the nations.  Of course, we saw this in Revelation 19 and chapter 20.  However, Jesus does not just judge the nations.  He also judges between them.  Think of all the disputes that have built up through the years between many different ethnic groups.  Those who miraculously survive the Great Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ will come before Christ.  There he will separate the sheep from the goats.  Those who are allowed to come into the millennial kingdom will also have long standing disputes with other settled by Jesus.  In fact, it is said that he will rebuke many nations.  Often our bloody feuds with others are nothing but pride masquerading as piety.  Jesus will put an end to these disputes.

He will be so effective that we are told that there will be no more war.  The nations of the world will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  It is clear that the United Nations will not stop war in its present condition.  It also beggars belief that it could be reformed in any way that would get rid of war.  However, God promises that Messiah will be able to cause war to cease, and not just for a few years.  The only hope for a world that rejects the One Anointed by God is to put a “superman” in power who will represent the greatest wisdom of man.    Whether this is some kind of artificial intelligence or a combined link with “ascended masters,” we cannot know.  Yet, that really is the only path forward for a world in rebellion that refuses to repent.  This man who will supposedly have all the answers will pretend to want peace, but in the end the God of heaven describes him as a beast.  Mankind cannot force peace upon the world.  Only the Spirit of God can bring it.  I find it interesting that the United Nations has a sculpture given to it by Russia in which a naked man is hammering a sword into a plowshare.  It seems to give tribute to the Bible, but in truth it represents a humanistic rebellion.  Yes, mankind has no problem with the goal of no war.  However, they will attempt to accomplish it through humanist means, not divine.  Thus the naked man represents the Greek ideal of mankind doing in the flesh the wisdom of its mind.

It is also easy to get stuck on the terminology used.  Yes, we do not typically use swords anymore (or not nearly as much).  However, the point is clear.  During the millennium mankind will recycle all the weapons of war (tanks, missiles, guns, etc.) and use them to make farming equipment.

The wisdom of Jesus the Messiah

Next let’s go to Isaiah 11:1-2, 6-9.  Here we see the wisdom of the Messiah on display.  In verses 1-2 the image of a menorah (the seven-branched candlestick in the temple) is brought to mind.  The seven lights were a picture of God’s complete wisdom giving complete light to the world.  Each of these seven lights is given a name which makes even clearer that the source of the light (knowledge/truth) is the Spirit of God Himself.  No matter how wise mankind becomes or how great an artificial intelligence we create, when we cast off God’s word and forge a path of our own, we have become fools and our path is folly.  Jesus was and will be successful because He operates from a wisdom that has its source in God.  Notice that verses 3-4 highlight his judgment.  He will not judge by the sight of his eyes or the hearing of his ears.  No one will be able to manipulate him, and he does not have an ulterior motive.  Rather, He judges with righteousness and equity, which is bad news for the wicked and great news for the righteous.

In verses 6-9 we are told that the animal kingdom will no longer be deadly either.  Just as humans were not created to kill one another, so animals were not originally made to destroy one another.  When sin entered the world, it brought a curse and drastic changes to the world itself.  Scripture tells us that the whole of creation groans in expectation for the manifestation of the Sons of God.  The wisdom of Christ will turn back the effects of sin and the curse.  Isaiah gives a list of things that we would not leave alone together in this world because one of them would kill the other: a wolf with a lamb, a leopard with a young goat, a calf with a young lion, a child near a cobra’s hole, or sticking its hand in a viper’s den.  All of these things would strike fear into the owner or parent’s heart.  Yet, they will lie down in peace together.  Their nature will have been changed.  How Jesus will accomplish this is not described, but it seems that, if these things were a judgment of God upon wicked mankind, such judgments are simply being lifted by God Himself.  We are also told that the lion will eat hay like an ox.  Whether such is possible in today’s conditions is irrelevant.  The whole point is that the nature of things is going to change.  The statement may be just as much about the hay itself as it is about the lion.

Now let’s go to Isaiah 35:1-7.  Here we see descriptions of the desert places blooming with life.  Again, we could spiritualize this whole passage to be a blooming of a spiritual desert.  When Jesus came to Israel, it was spiritually a desert, but he caused it to bloom with spiritual life.  The gospel has the ability to bring life into the most spiritually dead of lives.  Again, this would be true, but there is also a natural aspect to this as well.  Through his knowledge and divine power we will see the curse upon Adam turned back.  There will be an increase in the fertility of the earth and an increase in places where water will “burst forth in the wilderness.”  Amos 9:13 says it this way, “’Behold the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Many skeptics have scoffed over the years at the idea of Israel being a “land flowing with milk and honey.”  However, it looks like it does because the land is under a curse, much like the whole earth is under a curse.  In that day, the curse on the land and on the earth will be lifted and we will know fruitfulness as we have never known.

Verses 3 through 6 speak to the condition of mankind that has struggled under the heavy load of disease and poverty.  These things will become a memory as Messiah heals.  Some think that this only points to the miracles that Jesus did when he walked on the earth in the past.  However, the miracles he did then were so that we could recognize that he really is the Messiah.  When he comes again, he will have just as much healing power as he did before. 

Just think that the saints of every age will be resurrected so that they can participate in this exciting period of humanity’s existence.  I will close our time today by giving a reminder.  This is just a small part of the plan and hope that God has put before us.  We will take some more time next week to keep looking at this amazing period called the millennial reign of Christ.  However, even then what can we say about the New Heavens and the New Earth that lay beyond it?  Christians are to be those who live today in the light of this coming kingdom because its king is already living in our hearts.  Is Christ living within you by the Holy Spirit of God?  Turn from any wickedness, turn towards Christ, and put your trust in Him.  Then you will be blessed by God with all these things.

Millennium part 1 audio

Tuesday
Oct022018

Your Personal End Times: After the Resurrection

Revelation 20:1-10.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 30, 2018.

Last week we established that at Christ’s Second Coming believers will either be resurrected, or they will simply return with Him having been resurrected earlier (pre-trib, mid-trib, or pre-wrath).  For many reasons I lean towards the view that sees the resurrection happening prior to the tribulation.  However, it has been humorously pointed out by others that perhaps the best view is those who are “pan-trib,” that is who believe that it will all pan out in the end.  Our salvation has nothing to do with our ability to completely understand the timing of these events, and therefore, we should be very careful to avoid being overly dogmatic about our opinions in this matter.

Today we will pick up after the point that Christ has had the Beast and the False Prophet thrown into the Lake of Fire.  Also the kings of the earth and their armies have been destroyed by Christ and His armies.  Remember, they had been gathered together to try and thwart the coming of Christ.  We will continue to follow the Apostle John’s narrative in chapter 20 of the book of The Revelation.

However, before we do, let me say a word concerning how we interpret Revelation.  Even though Revelation has symbolism in it, I still believe it is intended to have a literal meaning.  What I mean by this is that we should take its words at face value.  If they point to symbolism then we take it symbolically, and if they don’t then we don’t.   Of course it is easy to want to take everything as symbolism.  I think Dr. Ron Rhodes of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries says it best.  He was a regular on the Christian Research Institute’s “Bible Answer Man” program while Dr. Walter Martin ran it.  He says, “My policy is that when the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest you end up in nonsense.”  If we make everything a symbol (even allegory) and nothing is taken at face value, then there is no end to the imaginary interpretations that we can come up with and torture the text to agree with them.  Thus we look for clues and direction from the text whether something is symbolic or literal.

Satan is bound in the bottomless pit

As chapter 20 opens we find the familiar Satan being chained in the bottomless pit.  Some try to interpret this as something that happened in the past and that the events of chapter 20 only describe the Church Age.  However, it stretches the imagination to believe that the Second Coming of Jesus and the jailing of Satan is only a symbol for something that happened in the first century.  It has been stated that if Satan has been in prison over the last 2,000 years then “His chain is too long.”  Yet, this view does not make sense in light of Scripture.  Believers are cautioned against an unchained enemy.  1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Thus Revelation 20 gives us the assurance that once Jesus physically returns to earth, Satan will be imprisoned in what John calls the Bottomless Pit.  This is most likely synonymous with Tartarus of Peter’s letter (2 Peter 2:4-6).  Though we have not studied through Revelation in this series, Revelation 9 and 11 both state that the Beast rises up out of the Bottomless Pit.  Now whether that means the Beast is a manifesting, fallen angel, or that a spirit that comes out of the Bottomless Pit will inhabit a willing human, it seems to be the place in which God imprisons spirit beings.  It is also interesting to note the irony that Satan tried to hold Christ prisoner in the grave.  Now the tables are turned.

In Revelation 12:9 and here in verse 2 several things are tied together.  The serpent of old is a reference to the Garden of Eden.  It wasn’t just a snake that tricked Eve.  It really was an inter-dimensional being from among the Sons of God who was speaking to her that day.  Satan is also called the dragon, which connects with serpent and dragon passages of the prophetic books in the Old Testament.  The serpent-dragon-sea creature is an image of evil that goes back to the beginning of mankind and points to this being, Satan or the devil.

We are told that the purpose of this imprisonment is so that he will no lo longer be able to deceive the nations while Christ is physically ruling over the nations of the earth.  Scripture does indict mankind for its rebellion and sin.  However, it also points out that man’s sin has been made worse through the spiritual interference of Satan and his angels.  We really are being played and spurred on by supernatural forces.  This is seen in the Garden of Eden where Satan himself tempts Eve to rebel against God.  In Genesis 6 we again see the spiritual interference as the Sons of God (a class of spirit beings) come down to mankind and lead them in wickedness.  After the flood we are once again confronted with spiritual interference as God judges the Tower of Babel project and rejects the nations.  Deuteronomy 32:8 and Psalm 82, make it clear that the spiritual powers who were supposed to help mankind, forsook their proper duty and encouraged mankind in wickedness.  The New Testament often refers to the powers of the air and the prince of this world as spiritual forces.  What a groan of relief will come from the collective mouth of mankind as Satan and his spiritual forces are removed from the earth.  It is hard to conceive of what that will be like since it is all we have ever known.

Next we are told that he is bound for 1,000 years and then he will be released for a little while.  We will come back to that later.  Now in the Old Testament many passages speak of the Messiah’s reign over all the earth and how it will be a time of peace.  Passages like Zechariah 14, Isaiah 11, and Isaiah 65 are just a few.  However, none of them give a length for it.  In fact, we could say that even in Revelation it doesn’t end after 1,000 years.  Rather, it goes into a new stage.  It is here that it is twice stated that there will be a period of 1,000 years in which Satan is bound and Christ rules.  This is where we get the term “Millennium” for the time of Christ’s earthly rule.  It means one thousand years.  Some try to make this a symbolic number by saying that it only means a long period of time.  But 1,000 years makes complete sense and there is nothing in the text that requires us to make it symbolic.  Most nations or empires last hundreds of years.  Thus the Messiah’s rule lasting a thousand is most likely literal and points to his wisdom and power.  It is even more insulting to the intelligence of the average person to say that we are in this period right now.  We are not in the Millennium and the earthly rule of Christ has not yet begun, regardless of those who say it is symbolically occurring right now.

Jesus reigns with his saints in the millennium

Starting in verse 4 we turn away from Satan and towards the governance.  It is interesting that we are not given much description of life during the 1,000 years.  We are only told about its setting up and its ending.  However, the Old Testament passages that point to Messiah’s reign do give us a flavor of what it will be like.

We are told that thrones are set up and “they sat upon them.”  The “they” does not have a clear antecedent, but I believe it points back to Christ and His holy ones, or saints.  We are told that we will be in charge of judging angels in 1 Corinthians 6:3.  Thus the beginning of this period will no doubt include the judgment of those angels who have worked with Satan to abuse mankind, and also would include the judgments of Matthew 25 where the nations are judged and separated into the sheep and the goats.

Verse 4 also directly references that the souls of those beheaded during the Beast’s horrible, but short, reign will live and reign with Christ.  Some people think that this must be when the resurrection happens.  However, it doesn’t actually say it happens at that time.  And, even if it does, it doesn’t preclude an earlier resurrection.  I think the point is the same as that in 1 Thessalonians 4.  It is easy to fear that those who are killed or die before Christ’s coming will somehow miss out.  Here our minds are set at ease that even those who were dying in those last years will be able to reign in the millennium.

In verse 5 we are told that this is the First Resurrection.  Now this must mean something more than just first in sequence because Jesus was the first to be resurrected and this happened many years before the events of Revelation 20 (John clearly knew this).  In Matthew 27:52-53 we are also told that some of the Old Testament saints were resurrected at the same time as Jesus and even went into the city and “appeared to many.”  In Revelation 11, we also have the resurrection of the two witnesses who even ascend into heaven.  We have also talked about the clear possibility that there is a wholesale gathering together of believers in immortal form in heaven.  Thus in relation to Revelation 20, this is the first resurrection (Note: that the second resurrection is in verses 12-13 and involves the wicked dead being brought before God for judgment).  However, in relation to the previous resurrection it is of the same kind.  Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).  The First Resurrection is the Resurrection of the righteous and there is an order and timing to it that involves at least two events (the firstfruits and the gathering) and perhaps more.  The First Resurrection is a class of resurrection in which those who belong to Christ are raised up in the order that God has decreed.

Some seem to get the idea that only saints who are killed in the tribulation get to participate in the millennium, but this is not what John is trying to say.  Rather, he is emphasizing that they will not miss out.  They too will be resurrected and participate in this millennial kingdom.  As it says, the saints will be priests who reign with Christ throughout this 1,000 years.

The final rebellion occurs

Verse 7 begins another transition in the text.  We now jump to the end of the 1,000 years and Satan is released from his prison in the Bottomless Pit.  Of course, as if on cue, he immediately begins to deceive the nations.  I would assume some time elapses here.  However, it seems that he is able to gather an army that surrounds the capital city of Jesus and the saints.  This is presumably Jerusalem, though it is not named in the passage.  There is not much fan fare.  Rather, John describes a fire coming down from God out of heaven to destroy the army (verse 9)  Because verse 11 has the earth and the heavens fleeing away from the presence of God and the emergence of a New Heaven and a New earth, some connect this fire from God with 2 Peter 3.  This seems to be a cosmic melt down in which the elements completely dissolve.  This creation is doomed to be consumed by a fiery conflagration.  Of course such a fire is not a problem for those who are immortal. 

Lastly in verse 10 we are told that the devil is thrown into the Lake of Fire where he is to be tormented night and day forever.  Finally the arch-deceiver will come to an end as God separates him from all of creation and especially the creation which is to follow this event.

As we bring our time today to a close, it is good to ask ourselves why God would allow Satan another shot.  Why not throw him in the Lake of Fire to begin with?  There seems to be a point that God is making with the millennium and the final rebellion.  Even when God steps in forcefully, removes evil, and enforces good, many people will still choose evil.  Man is not basically good, and neither is his evil only from his environment.  No we are capable of choosing evil even when we have enjoyed the good life and perfect peace.  So check your heart today.  Where are you spiritually?  Don’t let the devil and his lies deceive you into thinking that God is something to be cast aside or attacked.  In the end God’s plan will happen.  The only question is where you will fit in that equation.  Choose life!

After the Resurrection Audio

Tuesday
Apr032018

The Victory of the Cross

Mark 8:34-38.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Easter Sunday, April 01, 2018.

It is no secret that Christians see the cross of Jesus as a moment of incredible victory for Him and for us.  It is that moment of overturning what looks like sure defeat.  It is truly a snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat.  However, it is easier to get excited about His victory at the cross than it is to think about what that victory would mean in my life.

In this life it is ingrained into us by our own thoughts and desires that winning looks a particular way.  Young people who want a particular yummy item and continue to whine and beg for it are filled with the elation of victory when an adult finally surrenders and gives them what they want.  When that special someone agrees to go on a date, a young person feels that joy of success.  When our job application is accepted for that job we have wanted so badly, we are pumped and on cloud nine.  Marriage, children, cars and houses, all of these things are arenas in which our mind and body seek to be victorious and feel the joys of winning.  In all of these, we fall into the trap of believing that success is getting what our flesh desires and wants.  But Jesus taught us that to live for such a purpose, and to “win” by such a definition, is no victory at all.  It is only a deeper and deeper entrapment of our soul into a prison cell from which we will never escape, that is unless we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This is why the Apostle Paul could rejoice when he said, “Now thanks to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”  2 Corinthians 2:14.  When Christians actually pick up their cross and follow Jesus, it brings forth a different kind of victory that has little to do with how our flesh “feels” about things.  So as we think about the victory that Christ obtained at the cross during Easter weekend, let us recognize that Jesus is asking us to walk with him in this new, strange victory that He is giving us.

Jesus has called you to Himself.

Verse 34 opens with the phrase that Jesus called the people to Himself.  Now the story of Jesus and His coming into the world is a miraculous story all the way around.  But the biggest miracle is not the virgin birth, or a resurrection from the dead, although these are amazingly great.  The greatest miracle is that the Creator steps down into our world and comes to our side as someone that we can see and with whom we can identify.  Yes, I can’t identify with a virgin birth.  But, I can identify with a child who is under the threat of people who hate his existence and call him an illegitimate child.  I can’t identify with a resurrected Lord, but I can identify with the man who was hated, pilloried, and publicly crucified by those around him.  Maybe I cannot identify at the same level of experience, but definitely I can identify with the same level of vulnerability. 

Having stepped into our world, Jesus calls us to Himself.  He draws us to Himself.  This is the heart of God.  It may appear that He has not cared about you and has given all the gifts to others.  But the reality of Jesus and the cross forever calls us away from envy, jealousy, and the striving of this world.  In Jesus God is calling us to Himself.  But, why does He call us to Himself?

First we see Jesus giving those who came to him teaching or understanding.  God is a teacher at heart.  In Jesus He has stepped into a world of people who keep striving to win, but have little understanding about how to truly win in life.  He steps in and offers us teaching, understanding, and wisdom.  But God wants to do more than download information into our heads.  There are many who only see the teachings of Christ as a kind of ideological virus.  Yet, being a Christian is about more than a particular understanding about life.

Jesus calls us to Himself because He also wants to have a relationship with us.  We were not created by God to live in isolation of Him.  When we live our lives only to please ourselves, we become like a little child with our head down at Christmas playing with the toys and ignoring the parents who sacrificed to buy those toys.  God has created a world full of pleasures and joys.  But it is our selfishness and lack of relationship with The One who created it all that fills such a world with pain and suffering.  Come and have a relationship with The One who redefined what it means to win, The One who took the things of this life to a whole new level, a level that included The Creator who made it all.  You were not intended to go through life alone, and that is why The Creator is calling you to Himself.  He wants you to know His love for you.

Jesus has called you to follow Him.

Relationship is not just emotions and feelings.  It is also a continual, living connection.  Our relationship with God through Jesus is not intended to be a once a year thing at Easter, or a once a week thing on Sunday.  Jesus is calling us to become followers of Him, to follow Him to a particular destination.  Such a connection will affect the physical places to which you go throughout the week, but it is more than that.  Jesus is going on to victory, and he invites us to join Him on this journey.  Last week I said that Jesus offered Himself as the King of Israel, but not in a way that satisfied their fleshly desires.  The same is true in this situation.  Jesus offers Himself as a captain or leader who will take us on to victory, but not in a way that satisfies our fleshly desires.  He says that He will lead us to victory, but He marches towards a cross.  Can you trust such a leader?  Your flesh can’t and won’t.  Are you more than your fleshly desires?  It is as if Jesus walks through a cross-shaped doorway and then beckons you to follow Him through it.  Every part of your flesh shrinks back, not because it doesn’t want victory, but because it cannot conceive of such a doorway leading to any victory that it wants.

Jesus tells the people gathered that if they want to follow Him then they are going to have to do some things first.  They will have to deny themselves in order to follow Him.  It would be appropriate to use the situation where the disciple Peter denied Jesus to analyze this statement.  On the night that Jesus was arrested, Peter followed the soldiers to the High Priest’s compound.  He stayed out in the courtyard trying to find out what would happen to Jesus.  Someone recognizes Peter as a follower of Jesus, which leads him to declare that he did not know the man.  Remember that earlier Peter had boasted that if everyone left Jesus, Peter alone would stand beside him.  Here was his moment.  The moment where the dreams of Peter’s flesh (to be the faithful disciple that is better than all the rest) meets the hard reality of what it really takes to be such a person.  Such a person has to make a hard choice about what desire to satisfy.  Yes, the flesh wants fame and glory, but it doesn’t want suffering, hardship, and crucifixion.  Denying ourselves is seeing Jesus and the desire of our flesh side by side and choosing to stand with Jesus, not our fleshly desire.  Denying ourselves is to allow the desire that we want so badly to be drug off and crucified, instead of Jesus.  In life, when I encounter a problem in following Jesus, like when my flesh want to choose the easy path, but Jesus is telling me that victory lies on another path, precisely at that point is where I will either deny Jesus or myself.  It is not enough to agree with Jesus on 99 points, but refuse to follow on 1.  It is not a denial of our flesh to follow Jesus in the areas where we agree with Him.  No, it is only a denial when my flesh pulls the other direction and tempts me to say that we are done with the man Jesus.  I can’t have both Jesus and the desires of my flesh.  When Jesus says to love your enemy, my flesh laughs and calls such things foolishness.  My flesh says that I can’t win by going that direction.  To follow Jesus and live by His principles or mindset is to say no to ourselves and to say yes to Him.  It is to take our place beside Him and say, “Crucify me too.”

This is why Jesus adds that we will need to pick up our cross in order to follow Him.  This image was literal for Him and many disciples in that first century.  However, the cross is a metaphor for our own personal death to self.  Each person will have to pick up their personal cross (notice he does not say that we will need to pick up his cross).  Denying yourself is not some kind of asceticism where we remove all sensory pleasures from our life.  Rather, it is about picking up that particular cross that has our name on it.  It is about denying those things that are standing in the way of following Jesus and obeying Him.  So what was standing in the way of Jesus’ victory?  Perhaps the desire to raise up a mob and throw out the corrupt religious leaders.  He would also need to raise up an army and miraculously lead it to victory over the Romans so that Herod could be deposed, and Jesus take his place.  He had to die to taking over the world and becoming its emperor and forcing the world into His thinking underneath a boot to the face.  Jesus had crucified such fleshly desires internally before He was ever nailed to the cross.  He had to die to all those natural desires to stay alive, vindicate yourself, and strike down your enemies.  Instead he loved his enemies and blessed them even as He was dying (Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.)

But the real question for each one of us is this.  What is standing in the way of me following Jesus?  Clearly it is not a Roman oppression and worldly-minded Pharisees/Sadducees.  Perhaps it is your reputation that you will have to die to.  Perhaps the things that you know you will have to quit doing or even start doing that are standing in the way of following Him.  Is it forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply?  Your flesh tells you that victory in these areas cannot possibly be found in following the cross-path which Jesus has blazed.  If you are trying to hold on to both Jesus and these conflicting desires then you will find that the tension will increase until you are about to be pulled in two.  At some point you will choose one master and hate the other.  Which will you deny?  Can I choose the path that looks like losing, simply because Jesus is going there?  That is the challenge.

Jesus has called you to victory.

Even though we are called to follow Jesus to our own particular cross, the cross is not our final destination.  It is only a critical waypoint.  Jesus does have a real victory that He is offering us, both in this life and in the life to come.  Thus one of the favorite descriptions used of Christians in the book of Revelation is “overcomer.”  To deny ourselves, pick up our cross and persevere in following Jesus throughout this life is called overcoming the world.  Yes, our victory is mainly a spiritual victory over the lies of our flesh and the lies of this world.  However, it leads to something much more.

But, let’s look at the spiritual part first.  Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man to obtain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  Think about what he is implying.  Every time that a person chooses the path of pleasing the flesh over the top of pleasing our Creator, we lose a little piece of our soul.  We were not designed to have “pleasing the flesh” as our purpose in life.  The body was to be a tool that our soul used in this life, rather than our soul becoming a tool of the body.  When we live that way, we little by little give up a piece of our soul.  Something inside of us dies and we lose the freedom and authority that we had over ourselves.  We find ourselves, little by little, coming under the tyranny of this body that is slowly wasting away.

Another way to think of this is to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 21:19.  “By your perseverance, take possession of your souls.”  Jesus uses terminology that hints at Israel coming into the Promised Land.  It had giants that had taken over the territory.  If they wanted it, they would have to trust God to help them win the battles.  Similarly, we have lost territory in our souls by serving the flesh.  When we come to Christ, He challenges us to fight these giant strongholds of fleshly desires by His Spirit.  By persevering with our faith in Christ, we will have the victory, which is to have back our own soul.  The truth will set you free.  Now, even when the teacher has taught you how to win, it is not easy to follow through.   Perseverance is that part that keeps going when every other part wants to quit.  It is easy to start following Jesus, but it is difficult to stay with Him all the way.  Yet, in so doing, you will find that God gives you back your soul.  There will be a life within you that replaces the deadness inside.  This is a true victory that we can have in this life.

But the victory is not just a spiritual or unseen victory.  Jesus has called us to receive glory and honor at the day of Judgment.  Jesus actually rose up out of the grave, presented himself to over 500 people at various times over the course of 40 days, and then ascended into heaven in front of their eyes.  In verse 38 Jesus puts the stakes in a negative light.  If we choose to satisfy our flesh then there is a day of judgment when Jesus returns with His holy angels.  Those who lived for their flesh and denied Jesus will find shame and disgrace.  But those who picked up their cross and followed Him will find glory and victory.

The cynic will reply that Jesus hasn’t come back yet, and chances increasingly are that He never will.  But life teaches us that there is always a day of reckoning.  You can avoid it your whole life, but eventually the truth catches up with you.  Only a fool tells themselves that they can cut the corners, serve only their self, and get away with it (i.e. be victorious).  Jesus stands on the other side of the cross and beckons us to walk through it to victory.  This strange door causes our flesh to fear, but it is the path to true victory.

Victory of the Cross Audio

Tuesday
Mar202018

The Fire of God's Judgment II

2 Kings 2:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 18, 2018.

Last week we saw how the fire of God was a symbol of the judgment of the wicked, that is, when they are found to be lacking before God.  This week we will see that the fire of God can also be seen as a judgment of the righteous, in that they are found to be acceptable to God.

This amazing story of Elijah’s ascension into heaven may raise the hackles of all cynics and skeptics.  However, it is in the Scripture for a reason.  It challenges our understanding of what is possible, but it also teaches us the ultimate purpose of God.  Though mankind knew that each person would one day die and go into the grave, in the persons of Enoch and Elijah, the righteous are given the hope, even the understanding, that the grave is not their final destiny.  God is able to take whom He will into the heavens with Him.  It is in the examples of Enoch and Elijah that we see that God does not intend the righteous to share the same fate as the wicked, even though our experience tells us that they all end up in the same place.  God will do what is necessary in order to lift the righteous into His presence.  

Let me encourage you today.  Even though our Heavenly Father is a consuming fire, we need not fear Him if we are walking in faith in His Son, Jesus.  The same power that takes the wicked down in judgment is the power that will lift you up into the presence of God, according to His judgment.

Elijah’s last mission

We are told right off the bat that Elijah is going to be taken into heaven in a whirlwind.  So if you pictured Elijah riding in the fiery chariot, you will see later that this is not the case.  This is to be Elijah’s last mission and as he follows the instructions of the Lord, he is led to the place where he will leave this world.

It is clear that it has become common knowledge that Elijah is to be taken by God, at least among the prophets and those who served them.  Either Elijah has made God’s plan known to the other prophets or it was another prophet who public ally prophesied that Elijah would be taken on a particular day.  Nevertheless, we see the “sons of the prophets” warning Elisha of what is about to occur.

Who are these “sons of the prophets?”  This is metaphorical language, which speaks of a person (like Elisha was to Elijah) who serves a prophet.  In some cases this would function much like we see with Jesus and his disciples.  They followed him around, lived with him, and learned from him.  It was often done in the hopes that eventually they would become like their masters, i.e. prophets.  The proven, elder prophet would be training those who came to them.  In Elijah’s case there is only one servant, but it is clear from this passage that some of these groups were quite large with 50 people mentioned at Jericho.  Now we do see a resurgence of the idea of a “school of prophets” today.  People will take classes and learn how to be a prophet.  We do need to be careful with this idea.  Not everyone who served the prophets became prophets themselves.  A person could not call themselves to be a prophet by just showing up.  To be a prophet was made clear by the fact that God was clearly speaking to them and through them.  Thus it might seem cool to be a prophet, but going to a school or hanging out with a prophet does not necessarily make you one.  This is up to God.  Even then, even those with the calling of becoming a prophet, and who will become people of great faith, need to learn and grow in the area of hearing God and representing Him.  

Now we see Elijah going from town to town.  In each town he tries to get Elisha to stay there while he goes on.  Now this could be seen as Elijah wanting privacy in this intimate time of his life.  However, it is more than likely that Elijah is testing Elisha, in order to see if he will stay the course.  It is important in life to do more than just want to do something.  We must also learn to follow through.  Of course, it is important what your target is, and Elisha desires a good thing: to be with Elijah when he is taken by the Lord.  Sometimes God does not give us what we want immediately to see if we will persist.

When Elijah and Elisha get to the Jordan River, we are told that 50 sons of the prophets are watching in the distance.  At this point, Elijah performs an amazing miracle, he strikes the river with his rolled up mantle and it parts in two that he and Elisha can walk through on the ground.  Why would God instruct Elijah to do this?  It is not like they couldn’t cross at the fords.  One thing to see here is that it will give credence to the fantastic story that Elisha will tell when he gets back.  Second of all, it will demonstrate that the power of God that was with Elijah has not left.  It is now with Elisha.  But more on that later.  

Suffice it to say that this miracle of parting the waters is a signature act of God.  The Jordan River was parted three times: by Joshua, by Elijah here, and as we will soon read by Elisha.  We also see in the Bible that Moses parted the Red Sea so that all of Israel could escape from the armies of Pharaoh.  Why all this parting of water?  It harkens back to the creation account where we are told that God separates the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.  It is a way of God saying, “I’m here!”

On the other side of the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha what last thing he can do for him before he leaves.  Here Elisha asks for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.  Many teachers have made a big deal about Elisha performing exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah.  That may be true.  However, Elisha is not asking to do twice as many miracles or to be twice as powerful as Elijah.  A double-portion is terminology that goes with matters of inheritance.  Elijah is about to be taken from the earth.  Typically one would put their affairs in order and have a will to bequeath all their effects to their inheritors.  In Israel the estate would be divided between the sons in a way where the eldest would receive two portions compared to the other brothers.  For example, if there were three sons then the estate would be divided into 4 parts.  The eldest would get two (50%) and each of the other brothers would get 1 part (25%).  This was a picture of the blessing of God upon the eldest who would now be taking the place of the family patriarch.  Elisha is not worried about getting a material inheritance because Elijah did not amass any estate in this life.  What Elisha wants is a spiritual inheritance, and is essentially asking to take Elijah’s place, or to be used by God in the same way.  IT is interesting that God has given His Spirit to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.  As Elisha looked to Elijah, the man of God, and hoped to have the same Spirit, so we must learn to look to Jesus and ask the Father that the Spirit of Christ would rest upon us and empower us for what we need in order to face this life.  May we become the spiritual inheritors of Christ.  In fact, in Christ we can all inherit a “double-portion” of His Spirit.

At some point as they are talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses speeds between the two, separating them.  Then Elijah is caught up by a whirlwind that supposedly is in the wake of the chariot.  What Elisha actually saw is not told to us, we simply have his description of what it looked like.  Regardless, we see Elijah ascending into heaven in a fiery whirlwind.  This is not quite as grand and majestic as the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1.  But it is amazing, nonetheless.

I mentioned in the opening that Elijah and Enoch are unique in the Old Testament in that it is not said that they died, and that they do not go into the grave, but up towards heaven.  In fact Hebrews 11:5 tells us that Enoch did not see death.  This raises all sorts of questions.  Is it possible for a material being to be in heaven?  Isn’t it supposed to be a place for spirits only?  Well, Jesus has a material body and He is seated at the right hand of God.  I know that his is a glorified body, but I want us to see that there is much we do not understand about the physics of the material world and the spiritual world.  Because these two men of the Old Testament do not see death, and Malachi prophesies that Elijah will return before the coming of the Messiah, some have speculated that perhaps they are the two witnesses of Revelation 11.  We don’t have time to go into this today.  However, I would just say that it is clear that we are leaving the strong foundation of biblical witness and crawling out on the thin limb of speculation or opinion, at this point.  Regardless, of the full extent of its implications, the ascension of Elijah gives the righteous the hope that we too shall dwell with God by His mighty power.

Elisha begins his new ministry

As Elijah is taken up into heaven, we see the shock and amazement of Elisha as he cries out, “My father, my father, the chariot and the horsemen of Israel.”  Father here is a metaphorical term of endearment that is the complement to “son of the prophet.”  This spiritual chariot and horsemen convinced Elisha that the real defenses and protection of Israel came from God Himself.  In 2 Kings 2:6, Elisha and his servant Gehazi will be surrounded by the king of Syria.  We are told that Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servants eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  We must never look to the things of this world as our true defenses and help.  It is God’s spiritual defense and help that is our true source.

Elijah’s mantle had fallen to the ground as he was snatched up.  A mantle was often designed in such a way that was indicative of both the profession a person had, and the individual themselves.  Thus Elisha taking up the mantle of Elijah is symbolic of him stepping into the shoes of Elijah.  God would now work powerfully through Elisha as He had with Elijah.  This is how it has always been in God’s kingdom.  Those who have gone before must train and disciple those who are coming behind.  At some point the older generation passes on and the younger generation must step into their shoes, and carry on the work of the Lord.  Not all are called to be prophets as Elijah and Elisha were.  However, there is a calling on our life which asks us to pick up a mantle that has been left behind.  We must learn to bravely pick up the mantle of what God calls us to do, not because we are confident in ourselves, but because we trust the God who is calling us.

As Elisha comes back to the Jordan River, he cries out, “Where is the God of Elijah?”  In the mouth of a foreign warlord, this would be seen as a mocking question.  But in Elisha’s mouth it is simply asking, “God are you still with us and in particular me?”  It is also important for the sons of the prophets who see Elisha coming back.  The question, and God’s response will highlight in their mind that God is with Elisha like He was with Elijah.  Did they ever get a show that day.  When Elisha strikes the river, it parts again (twice in one day).  They witness that the spirit of Elijah was on Elisha.  That spirit is the Holy Spirit of God.  May God help us to see what He is calling us to do.  In a way we are all prophets.  We have been given a message from God to share with all those around us who do not know it.  We must learn to trust Him to give us direction and empower us to do it.  Thus each day is a new day to rise up and ask, “God are you still with me?  Help me to walk with you today as long as I have time left on this earth.”

God's Judgement II audio