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Entries in Resurrection (18)

Tuesday
Jun182019

Finding Focus after Failure

Philippians 3:7-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Father’s Day, June 16, 2019.

Today, we take time to celebrate fathers; a blessing for which they did not ask.  Being a father can fill you with all kinds of moments in which we feel great success and, of course, great failure.  It is one of those things that we cannot fully appreciate until we have been put in the harness ourselves.  Of course, this applies to parenting in general.

Our passage today is not about being a father.  However, it presents a problem that is common within parenting, that of getting up from failure and moving forward.  What do you do when your greatest attempts and endeavors are found out to fall short?  What do you do when that little baby who has grown up yells at you and slams the door to their room, or storms out of the house?  Sadly, many men run from such experiences.  Our society is full of missing-in-action fathers who decided to never start in the first place (often despite the children they have helped create).

Yet, for those who bravely jump into marriage and children, the challenges can mount and overwhelm a person.  We seem to be confronted with our weaknesses and shortcomings at every turn.  It is a very intimidating situation, even a crucible of sorts. 

So, I want to use this passage where the Apostle Paul is explaining his come-to-Jesus moment.  In it we will discover the proper response to those moments when you are made aware of your failures.

Confidence in the flesh does not lead to Jesus

Paul often spoke against the religious mindset that focused upon its own religious accomplishments because this does not lead anyone to Jesus.  Oh, it leads to all manner of places, but never to Jesus.  Confidence is good if it is placed in the right thing.

Paul had been raised in a religious environment in which performance was everything.  In verses 4-6 of this chapter, Paul lists his credentials among the Jewish people.  He had been circumcised when he was 8 days old.  This was the required mark that he belonged to God.  He was also from the tribe of Benjamin, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Thus, he was a true heir to the promises of God.  He was also a Hebrew of Hebrews, which meant that he was not one of those Hellenized Jews who adopted the Greek culture and mixed it, in varying degrees, with the culture of Israel.  He was a Pharisee, who prided themselves on exact, literal conformity to the Law.  His zeal was so great that he had been persecuting the Christians and even going to Damascus in order to seize more.  Lastly, his law keeping was blameless by the standards of his day.  Everything in Paul’s life told him that he was blameless and succeeding within his society.  Yet, the day that Jesus confronted him, he was made aware of just how greatly he had been failing God. 

Think about how we come from different subcultures within the greater USA culture.  Even Christians grow up within a subculture of the overall world-wide Christian community.  Each subculture has its own variation of what it means to be good, right, and successful.  However, those cultural trappings, whether religious or not, can blind us to our mounting failures.

Paul should have had his confidence centered upon God, but he had been taught to center it upon himself inadvertently.  On the road to Damascus, when Paul finally saw the light, he began to know just how far away from God he was, and yet also, that God still loved him.  I pray that today you may know that no matter whether you were a failure or a great success story, in regard to the subculture in which you were raised, God loves you too much to leave you alone.  He calls you to Himself through Jesus and says, “Put your trust in me.” 

Perhaps the greatest problem within Christianity throughout history has been the many men who were more confident in their ideas about Scripture than they were in the God who gave them.  On top of this is a similar problem.  Christians are often looking back to smart Christian men of the past and put more confidence in their great ideas about Scripture than in the Word itself.  Whether a group points to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or for Pentecostals, men like Charles Parham or William Seymour, or for the Assemblies of God, men like E. N. Bell and J. Roswell Flowers, it matters not what men your subculture points to and holds up as the great light to this generation.  What matters is if our confidence is truly placed upon Jesus instead of the reason of brilliant men.

Knowing Jesus is more important than the things we lose

Paul recognized that everything for which he had been working fell short of God.  He would rather know Jesus than have the greatest Jewish resume among his people.  Thus, he had to let go of certain things in order to know Jesus.  He had come to that moment of realization (my great works have fallen short), and chose to go after Christ rather than doubling down on his life’s work.  He let go of his standing and reputation within the religious community.  He let go of his potential within the leadership of Israel.  However, verse 9 also points out that he had let go of the righteousness of his own attempts to satisfy the Law of Moses, in order to obtain a righteousness that is from God through faith in Jesus.  The righteousness of faith in Jesus is diametrically opposed to the self-righteousness obtained by keeping the law.  Paul points to this as the great problem for Israel in Romans 10:2-3 where he says, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

To know Jesus is more than to know information about him.  Yes, we want to learn about who Jesus was, what he did, and what he taught.  However, the words used for “knowledge,” and “know,” in this passage, include a knowledge that comes through a relationship with someone.  Paul doesn’t just want to go to school and learn about Jesus.  He wants to do life with Jesus.  His life would now be about learning who Jesus is through a personal relationship with him.

So, how do you have a relationship with Jesus?  You do so by faith.  You pray, you believe, you trust, you succeed, you fail, you repent, you keep your eyes upon Jesus.  I pray that today you will be struck with this desire to know Christ and not settle for anything less.

However, to really know Jesus, you must also get to know those major aspects of his life.  Paul wanted to experience and to learn about that same power that raised Christ from the dead.  He wanted that power operating in his life.  He also wanted to experience and to learn about the sufferings that Christ submitted himself to go through, even to the point of laying his life down for others.  Paul wanted his death to conform to that kind of death that Jesus had, which was a noble and godly one.  Ultimately Paul wanted to experience the Resurrection from the Dead himself, which is promised by Jesus to all believers.  There is coming a day when he will give the command and all the righteous saints of history will receive glorified, immortal bodies.

What do I do when I haven’t arrived yet

Fatherhood is a constant reminder that we haven’t arrived yet, and I’m not talking about the kids in the back seat droning, “Are we there yet?”  It is easy to get the wind knocked out of your sails when you are faced with your own failures.  In fact, it is easy to get angry, even filled with rage, as life constantly reminds us of how short we fall.  Yet, just as Christ was calling Paul to a different life that was not filled with hatred, anger, and rage, so Christ is calling us to let go of our failures and follow him.

Paul clearly says in verse 12 that he had not attained the list of the facets of knowing Jesus.  In fact, because the Resurrection is on the list, he still hasn’t attained that whole list even today.  Unless Jesus returns in our lifetime, all of us will close our eyes in death, realizing that we hadn’t attained it all yet.  But, God will not fail us.  He has set a time in which all of these things will be attained by all of the saints of all time together.  All of us will simultaneously enter into our full inheritance on the Day of Resurrection.  Wow!  What a day that will be.

Paul could have run away from his failures and away from Jesus.  Instead, he ran towards Christ.  Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith.”  Yes, we are to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and work hard for our Lord, but we always remember that he will bring us through and finish us.  Yes, I haven’t arrived yet, but Jesus will get me there, just as he will get you there too.

Paul points out that he had to forget those things that were behind him.  We can learn lessons from our past, but we must not allow ourselves to become stuck in our past and frozen.  Paul had much guilt and shame behind him.  Yet, Jesus had forgiven him.  Have you ever noticed that we can still hold failures over our own head, even though Jesus says that he forgives us?  Faith is letting go and trusting Jesus.  Yes, you fell short.  Leave it behind you and move towards Jesus who promises to forgive you.

In fact, Paul was pressing forward to the things that Christ had set before him and us.  We first press towards those things that Jesus has for each of us in this life.  We don’t know what that will involve and everybody’s story is unique.  Yet, as we approach the end of our life, we must again press forward to those things that lie in our resurrected future.  Our greatest prize is that which we enter into at the Resurrection of the Dead.  All of us have to learn to get up and go to work.  This is what Paul is expressing.  He had to get up and get to work finding out just who this Jesus was.  Jesus is calling to each of us today.  “Come and get to know me!”

Paul ends this section with a reminder of our thinking, which he had been addressing back in chapter 2.  The mind of a person who keeps doubling down on their own accomplishments is not the mind of Christ.  Christ trusted the Father instead of trusting what he could do in the flesh.  He submitted to the cross and was rewarded with the highest honor of the entire universe.  The mind that is never too great to simply do what the Father asks us to do.  Failure is part of who we are as humans, but in Jesus it is not the final word.  If we will humble ourselves and press forward towards him, then Jesus will bring us to victory!

Finding Focus 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

Friday
Nov242017

The Lord of Life

1 Kings 17:17-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on November 19, 2017.

In today’s passage tragedy is going to strike.  As is always the case, when calamity comes, we go from cruising through life to crying out in desperation.  Some use the existence of tragedy as a reason to reject the Creator.  However, the Bible teaches us that the All-Wise God knows what He is doing.  Even in the midst of tragedy He is merciful to mankind and has a plan to bring us to a place where tragedy will never again be able to strike us.  We serve the God who has the power of life and reigns supreme over death.  And, though it is clearly His will that all men should die and then face judgment, it is also His will that the righteous be raised up to eternal life.

God is still in control when tragedy strikes

Last week we saw God’s great mercy to this widow who wasn’t a part of the nation of Israel.  He did not just send her a prophet to feed her physical bread, but also to give her the truth.  Thus as the woman eats the miraculous physical bread, she is also the recipient of a miraculous side seat of the prophet Elijah.  Thus the God that Israel served cared even about a gentile widow who was on the verge of dying.  She had proven herself by sharing her last meal with Elijah and now enjoys the happiness of not having to worry about where the next meal for her son will come from.  While she was in this amazing time of joy, things headed in the right direction, and learning about God, things go sideways.  What is God doing?  She was no different than we are today.  What in the world is God doing today?  Well, we know that He is sending out Christians to speak the truth of God’s love to all people and His forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus.  So, why does it look like everything is falling into Chaos?  It looks that way because men’s hearts are evil and create chaos by their actions and choices.  So why doesn’t God stop it?  He doesn’t stop it because if He did there would be no more chance for salvation for them.  This woman was on the good path and could feel that surely she was now immune from difficulties.  The tragedy catches her by surprise, but not God.

It is here and many other places that we see the fact that tragedy strikes both the wicked and the righteous.  The woman’s son comes down with a sickness that quickly takes his life.  The tragedy of famine was already hitting the evil and good alike.  It doesn’t seem fair that God’s punishment of King Ahab and the people of Israel who were going along with him would also affect righteous people.  But, God always takes care of those who put their trust in Him.  Yes, He could supernaturally cause it to rain on just the crops of the righteous, but in His wisdom He often chooses to let it strike both alike.  The wicked in this situation have no hope.  But the righteous can pray and call out for the help that God has promised He will give.  Jesus warned his disciples not to think that tragedy is sent only to destroy sinners.  In Luke 13 he points out two situations in which people tragically died (some at the hands of a wicked king, and others at the accident of a tower collapsing).  He asks the question, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwell in Jerusalem?”  He then goes on to explain that, “I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  We should not look on trying to figure out why it happened, but rather let it be a warning to us that our time could come just as unexpectedly.  Am I ready to meet my Maker?  Many people get no advance warning of their deaths.  They have no time to get ready for it.  We need to always be ready to face the Lord.  Now, when tragedy strikes it feels like there is no hope.  But in Christ there is always hope.  With God all things are possible, even life from the dead.

But the widow is not aware of this yet.  She can only see the despairing unfairness of her situation.  She thinks that she is being punished for some past sin.  It is also clear that Elijah the prophet doesn’t know what God is doing either.  Obviously, God had not told him what would happen.  So Elijah, in verse 20, asks God if He had done this.  But, he seems to be asking more of a “Why” question than anything.  Now the truth is that God is ultimately responsible.  He has either primarily caused it to happen, or He has secondarily allowed it to happen.  Either way, because God is a being with complete jurisdiction and power, He bears responsibility for what happens.  Those who try to blame the evil in the world on God only have a partial case.  Yes, it seems that God is failing in His duty even to allow evil to exist.  However, that is a very different then thinking that God does evil or makes people do evil things.  God is never directly or primarily responsible for evil, people and other created beings are.  Yet, even in the argument that He shouldn’t allow evil to occur, the premise is illogical.  Would we call a world where we didn’t have a true choice, good?  If God forced us to do good things, as He defines it, all the time, would we think it was good?  In His wisdom God has determined the best course and made the best decrees for giving mankind freedom and yet holding them accountable for their choices and actions.  We may disagree, but we cannot say He is the source of evil in the sense that He bears primary responsibility.  So is God sleeping at the wheel and doing a bad job of managing the universe?

As hard as it is for us within this world to see beyond it, God sees all.  When a person is going through a problem, they often become stuck in it.  If God directly causes a tragedy, then it is a rebuke to the wicked in order to humble them.  This “shot across the bow” gives them the mercy of rethinking their path.  Repentance becomes an open door before them regardless of whether or not they walk through it.  Sometimes the tragedy is to simply remove the wicked from the scene.  Their time is finished, much like Belshazzar and the mysterious hand, writing on the wall.  It can also be a test to the righteous, to see if they will still follow Him.  Or, sometimes it is merely to remove them from wicked circumstances.  Isaiah 57:1,2 says, “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands.  For the righteous man is taken away from calamity, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”  God also sometimes does so in order to display his glorious power through healing and deliverance.  Now all these things, and most likely more, can be the possible purpose when God directly causes tragedy.  In fact, it would seem that he often is doing many of them simultaneously in the lives the many different people affected.

Yet, many tragedies are not primarily caused by God, but rather simply allowed to take place by Him.  Whether it is a person simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or evil people preying on others, God has allowed mankind a certain space of freedom.  He is not instantaneous in His judgments and punishments.  He leaves room for people to repent and be saved from their sin.  Yet, if they do not repent, they will find that room to also be the rope by which they hang themselves.  They will be without excuse.  Though it is a grievous burden at times, we should not complain that God gives us such room.  The only other option would be a stifling dictatorship.  So God allows things to happen for much the same reasons as when He directly causes them to happen.  Ultimately He is giving mankind freedom to sin and yet freedom to choose righteousness.  If I only choose righteousness when God protects me in a safe cocoon, then I am not really choosing righteousness.  I am choosing safety, self-preservation.  But, if I choose righteousness even when suffering at the hands of evil, then I truly have chosen righteousness and such a choice truly is commendable.  God is not a dictator at heart.  He does not wish to control mankind, but to have a free relationship with mankind.  It is the devil, who accuses God at every turn, who is the dictator at heart.

The real question is how will I respond

Notice that God does not answer Elijah’s question about whether He did this or not, or why He might have allowed it to happen.  We should see this aspect also in the story of Job.  It is as if the Bible is telling us that even if we did have an answer it is not what is important in our life.  The problem isn’t that we don’t know what God is doing.  The problem is that we often fall to the temptation to doubt His love for us and go our own way.  This story is about how we respond to tragedy, and not why God allows it.  We don’t need to know, as much as we want it, but only what is next.  If the creator of the universe is good and working all things to our good, then we don’t need to understand His plan; only what we should do next. 

The reaction or next step for many people is bitterness, fear, and pushing God away.  This is the path that the widow starts to go down.  She regrets interacting with Elijah.  No matter how nice the miraculous bread was, it would be like gravel now that her son is dead.  You can almost hear her thinking in her mind, “I knew nothing good would come from letting a prophet stay in the house.”  She suspects that her son’s death is a punishment for a past sin.  If we imagine her life, we see a very difficult series of tragedies.  She lives in a pagan country with rampant immorality and abuse.  Her husband then died and left her poor and with a little child.  Then a famine comes and shuts off any hope she had of foraging and scraping out a living.  Yes, a prophet shows up, but now her child is dead.  Her heart begins to push away Elijah and the God that He represents.  They are to blame.  The isolation to which we retreat will wall us off from the goodness of God.  Of course, we should not blame this woman.  She is just a baby in the things of God.  Thus we should contrast her actions with those of Elijah’s.

Elijah is not a spiritual infant.  Yet, no amount of spiritual maturity can make life easy.  He does not respond in walking away from God and being fearful that God is rejecting him.  Rather, he responds in faith and begins fervently praying for God’s act of divine power to save the boy.  Is this how I respond?  Do we keep looking to God until we get an answer either way?  James uses Elijah as a model for believers in every generation.  He is a righteous man whose faith causes him to pray to God in the time of need.  Such prayers of faith accomplish much.  Let’s hear the verses.  James 5:13-18, “Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”  Though, James points to the prayers concerning the famine, he could have just as easily pointed to these prayers for God to bring the boy back to life.  We can also pray like Elijah did, with faith in God, and fervency.

Yet, this story is not about being able to get a miracle every time something bad happens.  Ultimately it is a reminder that our God has the power of life even in the face of death.  Even if He does not bring someone back from the dead, He still has the purpose of raising us all up from the dead at the Day of Resurrection.  This boy has not been dead for long and thus we could say he is technically resuscitated.  Now, later at the raising of Lazarus from the dead, it had been 4 days.  This is more than resuscitation.  This would involve a clear rejuvenation of tissue.  In either of these cases the boy and Lazarus would go on and live the rest of their lives and come to death’s door for the second time.  However, this time Elijah or Jesus would not show up.  They are only given mortal life.  Why?  God’s plan for all mankind is greater than keeping us from dying or suffering tragedy.  His plan is to overcome the suffering and tragedy that we may face in life, even death.  Phillips Brooks, an 18th century American, Episcopal clergyman once said, “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men.  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you will be a miracle.”  God can handle our many questions asking why.  But, recognize that more important than “why” is what will I do now.  Let’s choose to trust God and be a people who pray with the faith and knowledge of just how great our God is.

Lord of Life 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