Friday, March 25, 2011

Be Fruitful and Multiply and Fill the Earth

On November 21, 2010 I wrote about what the words "work" and "keep" meant for Adam and Eve as they lived in the Garden of Eden.  Here is the link:  Guarding the Garden  My conclusion was that Adam was to guard the Garden as a place given over to the glory of God and that while he failed, yet this has always been our duty; to use our lives as a tool for the glory of God.  I also admitted that I didn't know exactly what his duty would be in keeping a garden in a prefallen world since nothing would be dying and there would be no weeds, etc.

I recently heard a sermon by G. K. Beale  The Temple and the Church's Mission that I thought addressed some of these issues.  He believes that based on Gen 2:5  "When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up--for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground", that Adam was supposed to grow the Garden as his family grew so that two things happened.  As the population grew there would be enough to eat because they were planting crops and expanding the Garden so that eventually they and the Garden would cover the whole earth.  Next, and more importantly, Adam was to have children to spread image bearers of God all over the earth as well.  While the first point is somewhat speculative, I think his point supports what I said in my earlier blog.  We are here to fill the earth or at least the places we find ourselves with the glory of God by loving him supremely and doing all for his glory.  This got me to thinking:

There also seems to be a common theme of this throughout the Bible.  Right after the flood God gives Noah the same mandate to cover the earth with people.  Gen 9:7  "And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it."   Of course, this time he is dealing with fallen man and so we might expect things to go in a less than perfect direction.  And sure enough we find men deliberately refusing to obey the Lord and instead decide to live on earth to make a name for themselves and not for the Lord, Gen 11:4  "Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth."   So the Lord disperses them but by now it is obvious that fallen mankind cannot and will not use this earth and their lives as God intended.

In the next chapter of Genesis God seems to take up the work himself.  He is going to send someone from the line of Abraham that will bless all the nations.  We aren't given much light here but as the Old Testament goes on more and more light is given.  Christ will come and give life to those lost in sin and darkness and the "whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."  God is going to glorify himself all over this world with little image-bearers and it is going to be through Christ.

In Ezk. 47 Ezekiel has a vision of a temple that speaks of Christ.  From it a river flows that is ever expanding and in verse 12 we see its effects, "And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."   Interestingly it creates a garden where there is wilderness.  It also spills into the "Dead" Sea where there is no life and gives it life.

Later Jesus stands up and claims to be the fulfillment of this temple vision in John 7: "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."   Before he returns to Heaven as he gives the Great Commission I think he proclaims that he has begun a reversal of the Fall and that he has made little image-bearers of God that are supposed to replicate themselves all over the earth until he comes back.  Mat 28:19-20  "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." 

God's redemptive plan was to make the earth a place of worship unto his glory, filled with a people given over to serving him.  We are to guard our lives to this end and plant the gospel where we go and spread the "Garden" by the gospel.  God's plan will not fail and in Rev. 22 where we are given a glimpse of the new heavens and earth the metaphor of a well watered garden is again used.

Rev 22:1  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb Rev 22:2  through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Rev 22:3  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When God Shakes the Ground

We are studying the life of Elijah in 1 Kings.  The first thing we learn of him is that he was so upset with the sin and idolatry of the land that he prays that God would keep his covenant promises and bring drought on the land for Israel's disobedience.  This was no mean-spirited prayer but one in which he hoped would bring some measure of revival.  I wondered as he prayed that no rain would come if he thought about the fact that this was going to mean that his life was going to be affected as well.

How different from many of the prayers offered up today where we ask God to bless our economy and God bless America materially as if this is really what our country needs.  I wonder if there were saints in New Orleans a few years ago who were asking God to shake up that city so that the lost would have to face their mortality.  I wonder as they might have prayed that they thought about the fact that they could get caught up in God's warning judgments along with everyone else.  No doubt God used Katrina to further the gospel and give churches the opportunity to spread the gospel.  The sad fact remains that once things get back "to normal" the city couldn't wait to host Mardi Gras and in fact seem to be proud of such an ungodly heritage. 

No doubt there have been saints in Japan praying that God would shake things up and they probably never dreamed what God had in his mind and that many times the saints get swept up in these things.  But this is one way the Lord allows us to set an example to the lost and to create opportunities to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Like Elijah, our prayers should be more about such opportunities regardless of the personal cost to us and less about everyone being healthy, happy, employed and problem free.  I know this is a hard pill for our flesh to swallow but it seems apparent that this is what mattered most to Elijah.  And it isn't without New Testament precedent. 

In Revelation 8-9 we read of 7 trumpet warning judgments.  God was going to send all sorts of natural disasters, spiritual darkness, wars and all kinds of afflictions to warn this world that at some point life is going to end and judgment awaits.  The last couple of verses of chapter nine reveal that this is mostly going to go ignored by this world, Rev 9:20  "The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, Rev 9:21  nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts." 

Perhaps even more interesting is what we read of at the beginning of chapter 8.  Before all this happens we read of the continual prayers of the saints coming up before the throne of God.  Rev 8:4  "And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Rev 8:5  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake."

It seems that the prayers of the saints were directly involved in the disasters on the earth both natural and man made.  I don't believe the idea is that we are to be praying for human suffering and misery but we are to be praying that the gospel has the opportunity to go forth and save souls and comfort, ease and prosperity has never been a friend to the gospel.  At the very least Elijah's prayer, which James uses as an example to us of godly prayer, should give us pause to examine what we are praying for and the motivation behind our prayers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Worry and Prayer

I had to laugh the other day when I read someone on Facebook express their concern for a friend facing a small crisis.  She posted, "Worrying and Praying"!  I suppose she was being more honest than most of us when she said that, but it got me to thinking.  Can we worry and pray rightly at the same time?  And should we express whatever we are doing in the way she did?  Again, I am not trying to criticize the above statement.  I am just trying to think through how these two activities relate to each other.

I guess the way I would look at worry is twofold; there is a legitimate type of worry (although it might be called by some other term like concern) and there is a worry that the Bible warns us about.  Many of our prayers are brought about because we are worried or concerned over legitimate problems.  If your child is taken ill by a serious disease you would be concerned and rightly so.  If you are a Christian hopefully the first thing you would do is take it to the Lord.  And leaving our problems with the Lord doesn't mean that we won't continue to have concern over it.  Such concern would cause us to seek all forms of help and do whatever we can humanly do to help the situation no matter what it is.  This is just part of being a responsible adult.  Just because God is sovereign doesn't mean that we can coldly hand problems over to Him and not be concerned about things.  Neither is prayer ever seen in the Bible as a way out of using responsible means that God has given us to solve problems.  It just doesn't work that way.

But there is a worry that is not healthy and, in fact, is dishonoring to the Lord.  This is when worry or fear cannot be given to the Lord but instead paralyzes us so that we cannot trust the providence of God or we cannot be at peace amid trials, we cannot be joyful in afflictions and we cannot honor God with our words and attitudes before others during tribulations. 

In other words, a "worry" that causes us to cast our cares on the Lord is good and honors Him.  A worry that defeats us so that we cannot use problems as a means to serve the Lord by nature must be sinful.

So by all means worry and pray but don't pray and then worry.  Don't pray and then act like God won't do what is best.  Don't pray and then refuse to live by faith and rejoice in the Lord always.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Blessed are the Persecuted

I grew up in an eschatological system that saw the Jews as God's special chosen people over and against the New Testament saint and I think it is fair to say that this system sees them as even more special or loved than Gentile saints.  Some might argue this but I think a case can be made.  Part of this system then sees the culmination of the ages in a kingdom long promised by God to the Jews, fulfilled in the 1000 year millennial reign on earth of Christ from Jerusalem. 

To make the gospel accounts of Jesus fit into this system they teach that Jesus at first offered the Jews this kingdom but when they rejected him he postponed it and set up the church age in which he would work mostly among the Gentiles; something the Jews never saw coming in the Old Testament prophecies. 

Now I have long ago abandoned this system for many reasons that I believe are biblical.  As I am preaching through Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount I seem to have happened on yet another reason why something doesn't ring true about Dispensationalism.  I assume all would agree that this sermon would be typical of the type of kingdom preaching Jesus did when he proclaimed that the kingdom of God is at hand.  Certainly this was early on in his ministry and he was addressing Jews almost exclusively.

Verses 10-12 struck me as interesting in light of all this.  Mat 5:10  "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mat 5:11  "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Mat 5:12  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  It seems that the kingdom Jesus was offering was not one in which he would be reigning literally from Jerusalem with a rod of iron but one in which those in his kingdom would be persecuted and mistreated.  Not only would they be on the bottom of the social totem pole but this is God's will for them and they were to see the eternal state as the end of suffering, not any kingdom on earth. 

If this is the kingdom that was postponed because it didn't sound very inviting to the Jews, how is this going to be worked out in the long awaited "1000 year millennial reign" that the dispensationalist is looking for?  I know enough about that kingdom to know that saints are supposed to have their glorified bodies and will not be suffering but reigning. 

Suffice it to say that the kingdom Jesus came "offering" was a spiritual kingdom, prophesied in the Old Testament ,2Sa 7:12  "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
2Sa 7:13  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever"; 
entered in through regeneration, Joh 3:3  Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.";  propagated through the preaching of the gospel, Act 8:12  "But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women."; realized through the cross, Rev 5:9  "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, Rev 5:10  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."; includes Jew and Gentile alike,  Eph 2:14 "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility"; and the greatest in this kingdom are the ones who gladly serve the Lord and joyfully suffer for their trouble, Matt. 5.  I can't find any other kingdom on earth promised in the Bible.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Beatific Vision

In Matthew 5:8 Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  The greatest blessing and joy of the eternal state is that we shall be able to gaze continually on the perfect glory of God.  We might say that this is the essence of Heaven and the essence of life.  Theologians sometimes call this the Beatific Vision for it is the most beautiful sight possible.  Jesus elaborates further in John 17 when he says that true life is to know God.  Later he prays that the ultimate goal of our salvation be realized by the Father allowing us to gaze on his glory, Joh 17:24  "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."   Our salvation will end up with us entering into the very fellowship of the Godhead!

It is very clear as we read such passages in the Bible that God sees himself as the ultimate prize for mankind.  If one is going to have and experience true life and total satisfaction and joy it will be in having not only peace with God but intimate fellowship with him.

Now what struck me as I was preaching this the other Sunday was how different this is from man made religions and in particular Islam.  There we are told that if we perform certain "holy" acts like murdering innocent people or what ever, we will have a special reward in heaven; 72 virgins.  To me this says a lot about Allah.  First of all it makes it pretty clear that this is not God's word but instead some man's word.  It doesn't focus on God or Allah but humanity and in particular half of humanity, males and their lusts.

But more than that it is a clear, although accidental, statement that Allah is no prize himself!  He is not the reason and reward but 72 females.  Eternity is not about enjoying God but satisfying your own lusts with sex slaves.  Regardless of what else Islam might teach of Heaven they make a fatal error that their god is not the God of the Bible.  I rejoice to know that our God is Holy and Wonderful and Glorious to the point that he and he alone will make Heaven a state of eternal bliss.