Wednesday, March 20, 2019

New Covenant Sinai

Jesus began His ministry after His baptism and subsequent temptation in the wilderness. Upon hearing that John was arrested, Jesus withdrew into Galilee, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (9:1, 2). Matthew states, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (4:17).
Following Matthew’s chronology, after calling the first apostles (Matthew 4:18–22), He went throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the kingdom of God. Great crowds were following Him. Chapter five begins with a curious phrase, “Seeing the crowds . . .” This cannot mean that only then did He became aware of them. The kingdom of God was at hand and the King was among them. His teaching and healing were proof. The crowds followed Him, and His “seeing them” is in this kingdom context. Jesus stepped into Moses’ role, giving them His law. The Sermon on the Mount is the new covenant Sinai but without its terrifying sights and sounds. Nevertheless, the allusion to Mount Sinai is evident in many points.
Upon seeing the multitude, Jesus went up to the mountain and sat down in the tradition of rabbinic teachers. When He did so, His disciples came to Him. The tendency is to conclude that these disciples were the twelve men, whom He called apostles, that eventually made up the core of His earthly followers (Matthew 10:2). This is a mistake because in the previous chapter Jesus called the first of the twelve—Peter, Andrew, James, and John. We know of no others at that time, save possibly Philip (John 1:38, 39). So, who were these disciples? Great teachers had followers who were called disciples. Matthew said, “Great crowds followed him” (4:25). They witnessed the Messianic signs and believed that Jesus was the Christ. There is no accounting of their number, but it was likely in the hundreds. In Luke 10 Jesus appointed 72 out of that crowd whom He sent out on a special mission. (Interestingly, Jesus spent much of His ministry, not seeking to increase His following but discouraging them by showing the cost of discipleship [Luke 9:23–27].)
In setting down the conditions for discipleship, Jesus stepped into Moses’ shoes. The Sermon on the Mount sets forth the law of Christ that is to govern new covenant Christ-followers. In order to win some to Christ among the Jews, Paul wrote that he kept the Mosaic law. However, when among those not under the Mosaic covenant (Gentiles), he kept the law of Christ: “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law” (1 Corinthians 9:21). Followers of Jesus are not under Sinai’s rule; thus, we are admonished, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself

How many times do we read Scripture, especially sections with which we are familiar, and fail to see how those sections fit into the greater context of the passage? Matthew 22:34–40 is one that I was recently challenged to look into for greater clarity.
In the final days of Jesus’ earthy walk, various ones sought to challenge Jesus with hard questions, seeking opportunity to catch Him in some error they could use to discredit His claims. The Sadducees, the ruling priest class, tried to trick Him on the resurrection of the dead and the doctrine of levirate marriage (described in Deuteronomy 25:5–10). According to their laws, the brother of a man who died without a son had an obligation to marry his brother’s widow to continue his brother’s inheritance. Instead of being embarrassed Jesus utterly destroyed their argument (vv.23–33).
Emboldened, the Pharisees gathered together against Jesus and, using a lawyer, challenged Him on prioritizing the commandments. Again, their motive was entrapment (“to test him,” v. 35) in order to discredit Him. Jewish legal experts were set in an ancient but ongoing attempt to rank the commandments as to which were light and which were weighty.
With infinite wisdom, Jesus crushed their foolish debate and indicted their spiritual usurpation with one blow. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (v. 37). With the charge, Jesus immediately followed up with the evidence: “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vv. 39, 40).
One might ask, how does loving one’s neighbor prove one’s love for the Lord? It is beyond the limited space of this article to develop all the proofs revealed in the text, but to point out a couple, define love and its outworking. How does one “love” the Lord? Also, Deuteronomy 6:5, the text Jesus quotes as the first and great commandment, is identified as a covenant obligation to “Yahweh your God.” That requirement is defined as fearing Him in “keeping all his statutes and his commandments” (v. 2), or, simply, obeying Him in loving your neighbor as yourself (Romans 13:8–10).
Immediately, Jesus challenged the Pharisees on their understanding the Christ (their expected Messiah). The Sadducees erred, not knowing the Scriptures (v. 29). The Pharisee then pridefully sought to trip Jesus up with the Scriptures on fine points of the law. Now it is Jesus’ turn. He interrogated them about what the Scriptures taught about Messiah (vv. 41–46). They could not, or perhaps better, they would not answer Him (v. 46). “Then Jesus said to the crowds . . .” (23:1) and what follows is a lengthy and brilliant exposé of the hypocrisy of those who had the gall to challenge Him.
What we miss is that the issue derives from this line: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Keep these words in your minds as you read chapter 23, then ask yourselves, how much hypocrisy motivates our everyday behavior?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Persevering for the King

The Revelation of Jesus Christ is a letter to the seven churches of Asia Minor in which the Lord is revealed as enthroned and reigning, King of kings and Lord of lords (v. 4). Seven is the number of completion and fulfillment; thus, the churches addressed represent the whole church in every place and time of this gospel age. The glorious truth set forth is that believers are considered as already risen and co-ruling with Christ in His kingdom (v. 6; Ephesian 2:4–10). This is the purpose God intended for His people from the very beginning (Exodus 19:6). The tense of the verb also proves this — “made us a kingdom,etc., as compared to Exodus 19:6, showing intention. Furthermore, Jesus Himself applies both Exodus 19:6 and Zechariah 12:10 to Gentile churches of Asia Minor, not to national Israel (v. 7).
Add the reference in Revelation 1:13 to Daniel 7 where “one like a son of man” receives “dominion, glory and a kingdom” in order that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” (Daniel 7:14). This truth informs us that Jesus has already begun to reign, having received that kingdom at His resurrection and ascension. It is also clear from chapters 3 and 4 that Christ is and has been “coming” to His churches in blessing and judgment. This explains the phrase, “I am coming soon” (3:11) considering the passing of over two thousand years since the words were penned. He has come and continues coming to His churches throughout this last age. What waits is His final coming at the end of the age when every eye will see Him (v. 7). We may also conclude that the truth of Revelation 1:7, citing Zechariah 12:10, has a spiritual application as well in the opening of spiritually bind eyes (John 9:37–39; Mark 15:39).
John saw the Son of man standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands (temple furniture) representing the seven churches (v. 20). In Zechariah, the lampstand with its seven lamps is a synecdoche, a part that represents the whole—the whole temple—and is applied to faithful Israel (Zechariah 4:6–9). This tells us that the church universal is the continuation and fulfillment of true Israel, a spiritual temple, drawing its truth and power from the Holy Spirit (Revelation 1:4, 4:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17).
Now, if Jesus has made us kings and priests, then we are obligated to serve Him in His work of advancing His kingdom on earth. Jesus did this because He “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (v. 5). That we are far from perfect is evident from the rebuke and threats set forth in chapters 3 and 4. Nevertheless, these chapters inform us and should encourage us to persevere in this calling, for our spiritually enabled perseverance is clear evidence of the genuineness of our relationship to Him (Revelation 3:10, 11). On the other hand, many who fall by the wayside without repentance and restoration prove that they are the false mixed multitude whose purpose is to discourage true saints on this difficult journey.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Fear Not

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent’” (Exodus 14:13, 14).
The Lord is very clear about our concern for personal welfare. Fear or anxiety is a natural response to uncertainty and threatening situations. Nevertheless, believers are forbidden to be fearful, worried, or anxious. God is sovereign in all things. He has complete control over all things, and nothing happens without His knowledge and consent. This is clear in Scripture (Isaiah 43:1–7), and to doubt it is to sin in unbelief (Matthew 6:25–34).
The Lord did not promise His people an easy life. Because we are sinners by birth and choice, living in a sin-cursed and broken world. We suffer Adam’s curse: “Hard work was created for everyone, and a heavy yoke is laid on the children of Adam, from the day they come forth from their mother’s womb until the day they return to the mother of all the living. Perplexities and fear of heart are theirs, and anxious thought of the day of their death. From the one who sits on a splendid throne to the one who grovels in dust and ashes” (Sirach 40:1–3). As long as we are in the flesh, we will be subject to anxiety.
There is also the fact that we are engaged in a spiritual war, unseen but very real. The enemy of our souls is set to doing as much damage as he can as long as he is able. We should expect that we will be attacked suddenly from every quarter. His aim is to disquiet our hearts and tempt us not to stand firm. If he can, he will cause us to turn tail, flee, cower, and hide in fear and terror. Our Commander and Chief orders us to “stand firm” and “fear not.”
The Old Testament is a written warning for New Covenant believers to trust their God and Savior in every situation. He is able to save and keep all who are in His sovereign care. For example, the enemy of God filled the promised land with the offspring of Nephilim clans to terrify and dissuade the children of Israel from taking possession of the land promised to Abraham. With clear promises of His going before them to drive out these usurpers, God commanded them to enter the land and take possession without fear (Deuteronomy 1:20, 21). The test was designed to separate the godly remnant from the unbelieving majority who were judged unworthy to enter the promised rest (Psalm 95 and quoted in Hebrews 4:3–7).
Believers need this truth, especially in these days of uncertainty. With growing intensity, Christians are becoming the objects of attack from a culture that is becoming more wicked with ever-increasing decline. God’s Word to us remains the same: “fear not.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

By What Authority?

The current political and social landscape clearly reflects the predictions that Jesus gave informing the disciples about the end of the gospel age recorded in Matthew 24. Particularly note verse 10: “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”
First, in the ESV, the sentence begins by stating that “many will fall away.” Is this an apostasy—a falling away or departure from the truth? The term in Greek would be apostasia, from which we get the English term (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The King James Version reads, “And then shall many be offended.” This is a better translation because the Greek term is skandalizo, from which we get the English term scandal (Matthew 11:6). So, what is Jesus informing us in these words?
The first part of Jesus’ response is a general description of conditions in this fallen world (vv. 4–8). This is preceded by a warning to beware that no one deceives or leads them astray (v. 4). There will be many false Christs and false religions (v. 5). Note, however, that false religion is more than false doctrine.
The focus here is authority and the power to enforce submission to authority. Note that Christ means Messiah, and Messiah is the ultimate King of the Jews. Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17, 23; 9:35). The rejection and crucifixion of Jesus centered in the Jews’ fearing their loss of authority (John 11:48; Luke 19:14). Carefully read the Gospel accounts of Jesus before Pilate (Matthew 27:11ff; John 18:33ff). Jesus was accused of leading an insurrection to overthrow the existing government (Luke 23:2, 3).
What results from the attempted power grabs of the false Christs? Authority. So, what immediately follows these usurpers is wars and rumors of wars. Wars are fought for power and control. Kingdoms rise against kingdoms and nations against nations. Famines and catastrophes follow (vv. 6–8). These are not the results of mere false doctrine.
Why is true Christianity hated? The kingdom of heaven is an imminent threat to the kingdom of darkness. Satan does not want to give up his authority and power. Thus, Jesus lists a number of things that His followers will face before He returns to establish His kingdom. They will be persecuted (v. 9). This will cause some professing believers to stumble (skandalon) or be offended. Followers of Jesus will be treated as Jesus was. The more evident the kingdom of God is in the world the greater will be the tribulation. It is war for power and authority.
In this struggle many will be offended. They will betray and hate each other. Does not this typify many congregations? This leads to apostasy because of false doctrine preached by false prophets. Bad doctrine leads to lawlessness (iniquity) and love grows cold. True believers will ride out the storm. They persevere to the end and are saved. Finally, in spite of all the war and hostility, the gospel of the kingdom is sovereignly proclaimed throughout the whole earth. Only then will the end come and the kingdom of heaven be the sole authority.  

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Waiting for the Lord

“I waited patiently for the Lord (Psalm 40:1). These are the words of King David when he fled Jerusalem after his son Absalom usurped the throne of Judah. The psalm is composed of two parts: (1) his praise of God (vv. 1–10) and (2) his petition based on his affirmation of hope in God (vv. 11–17). The first part gives thanks to the Lord for His past faithfulness. The second is a personal lament of his present circumstances.
David recognized that His experiences of God’s deliverance were designed for testimony. Others needed to “see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord,” because “blessed [a condition of being in God’s favor] is the man who makes the Lord his trust” (vv. 3, 4). God multiplied His deeds and thoughts toward His saints in order for that grace to be proclaimed, however inadequately (v. 5). Our lives serve as a living model of God’s greatness (v. 16). Tragically, more often than not, our calamities cause us to fret, complain, and accuse God of His unfairness or lack of sympathy. This negative witness shows, not so much in what we say as how we act before others.
David recognized that his first obligation was delight-driven desire to do God’s will (vv. 7, 8). This desire flowed from God’s Torah (law—teaching or instruction) established in his life— “within [his] heart. This passage is cited in Hebrews 10:5–7 concerning the work of Christ. Interestingly, Hebrews interprets the text to mean that doing the will of God is of far greater importance than mere ritual performance (v. 6). Hebrews cites the Septuagint reading, “a body have you prepared for me” whereas the Masoretic text reads, “my ears you have pierced.” English translations have “my ears you have opened,” missing the meaning. It is not that David was given understanding of divine revelation as in Isaiah 50:4 but that he was made a bond slave of divine purpose. Only David’s greater Son, Jesus, could fully satisfy the requirements of this coronation decree (Deuteronomy 17:14–20), becoming the sacrificial replacement necessary to redeem His people (Hebrews 10:8, 9).
The past faithfulness of his covenant Lord provided the foundation of David’s hope for deliverance in his present predicament. David’s trust rested on God’s mercy (racham, compassion) because of God’s loyal covenant love (hesed, steadfast love; v. 11) previously proven to him. He knew that the evils or bad things of life in this fallen world always surrounded him. He could not trust in his own resources. His fleshly tendencies continually tempted him to self-will (iniquities, v. 12) because of his lack of strength (poor) and resoluteness (needy). Thus, his desperate plea, “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!” (v. 13). Understand that this plea looked past David’s immediate personal need to the testimony of the Lord Himself and His covenantal oath (2 Samuel 7:8–16).
The powerful truth here is that all who are Christ’s are also served by this covenantal oath as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with personal failings but His faithfulness to His own will.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Paul’s Prayer for the Colossians

The church at Colossae was probably started during Paul’s three-year tenure at Ephesus. This is when he met Epaphras, who probably was responsible for bringing the gospel back to his hometown, Colossae (1:7). The letter was written during Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome. Epaphras was with him there and related to him the false teaching that was endangering the church, the reason for Paul’s writing to them. Paul faithfully and earnestly prayed for these saints (v. 9).
First, Paul asked that they would be “filled with the knowledge [full knowledge] of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” It is clear that only those who do the will of God can hope to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21; 1 John 2:17). This was vitally important to insure their ability to resist those who attempted to deceive them with false doctrine. The mystery cults taught that a secret or hidden knowledge was available only to insiders. Paul refuted that every believer, not just a few elite members, should be filled to the full with the will of God. 
Two terms regarding their having full knowledge of God’s will are spiritually comprehending it and having the wisdom or spiritual insight to live the will of God. Wisdom is a biblical conception descriptive of a godly person who is able to live out spiritual truths (Hosea 14:9; Colossians 4:5). Wisdom enables those possessing it to be self-controlled, open to discipline and correction, and able to keep control of the tongue. Proverbs 17:28 argues that one who remains silent will be thought of as wise. Most importantly, wisdom is a characteristic of a righteous person (Psalm 37:30).
The result of having these Spirit-given and -managed functions of the will of God is that believers are enabled to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (v. 10). Walking worthy of the Lord means that we life selflessly as God’s image-bearers, loving God and others in order to reflect His image in world as He originally intended that we do. Such worthy walking is pleasing to the Lord. It allows us to bear spiritual fruit to the glory of God and deepens our relationship with God, not simply increasing intellectual knowledge.
This worthy walk is possible because one is “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (v. 11). Our worthy walk is not free from trials and difficulties. However, the power of the Spirit enables joy, which is the positive response of hope and expectation in the midst of hard circumstances. Joy makes endurance and patience possible. Joy responds with thanksgiving to the Father who is using circumstances and qualifying the believer “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (v. 12). This how we need to pray for each other.