Friday, March 30, 2012

The Men of Nineveh

Matthew 12:38-41 stood out to me as we recently went through this chapter in Matthew: Mat 12:38  Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." Mat 12:39  But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Mat 12:40  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Mat 12:41  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here."

My question was, what happened with the men of Nineveh that would condemn these Jewish men that Jesus was speaking to in Matthew.  The context of chapters 10-12 has been about the importance of deciding rightly concerning Jesus Christ; it will be a matter with eternal consequences.  11 and 12 have a lot to do with Israel as a covenant people knowingly rejecting their Messiah despite his fulfilling OT prophecies and Jesus condemns them accordingly.  In ch. 13 we see him start to teach in parables as he withholds a measure of light as their judgment.  The immediate context of the above text is the unpardonable sin.  The Jews said that the work of the Spirit was really that of Satan and thus they sin away their covenant privileges because they knowingly realize who Jesus is and refuse his kingdom.  Thus there is no hope for them "both in this age and the age to come". 

They immediately want a sign of their own choosing even though they have graciously been given all kinds of signs.  They want him to do their bidding not because they want to be sure of who he was but because they want another reason to reject him.  They have been given more light than anyone up to this point and yet refuse to believe and instead expect Jesus to perform as a circus monkey for them.  It is here that Jesus compares them with the men of Nineveh.  

Notice the similarities and differences.  Jonah was not Assyrian but Jewish and therefore an enemy.  Jesus came unto his own and his own received him not.  Jonah didn't do any miracles in front of them while Jesus did all kinds and especially the ones foretold in the OT.  Jonah didn't want the Ninevites to repent and his message was far different than Jesus'.  Can you see how different his message was from Jesus', Jon 3:4 "Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"  Jesus' message was one of grace.  Judgment was coming but through faith and repentance one could enter into his eternal kingdom.  Jonah's message was one of hopelessness.  In forty days you are all gong to be destroyed, period, so get ready!  He says nothing of repenting in order to avoid God's just wrath!

I think one point Jesus is making is that the men of Nineveh with only a display of God's wrath repented while Israel with all the miracles and the OT to shed light on what they were seeing and the gracious message Jesus brought basically said, "We aren't interested".  Notice what the King of Nineveh said at Jonah's hateful, bigoted message of certain doom, Jon 3:9  "Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish."   Of course the amount of miracles and the heart condition of the preacher has nothing to do with whether one believes or not thus Jesus downplays their desire for more miracles.  If God doesn't grant repentance no one will believe.

But I don't want the men of Nineveh to rise up and be used in judgment against me.  I (we) have been given more light by 2012 than anyone else in history.  We have the full canon of Scripture and two thousand years of exposition, debate and writings.  The gospel is written and blogged about and broadcasted at every turn.  If people were faithful to the Lord in the dark days of the OT then what excuse have we to whom the end of the ages have come upon, who "have a more sure word of prophecy".  Peter said that as he referred to his witnessing of the Transfiguration.  He saw with his own eyes the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and he gives us his eye witness report.  In particular, Peter was an eye witness to the great miracle Jesus refers to in our text, the resurrection.  

Do we live as people of the light?  If not, we will have no excuse in the Day of Judgment.  To live on this side of the greatest miracle ever done by the Lord, the Resurrection comes with privileges and responsibilities.  It should make a fundamental difference in the way we live and the way this world lives; as different as night and day.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What Is The Victorious Christian Life?

As a Christian I strongly believe that the Bible is a manual for Christian living.  It is certainly more than that but surely it supplies God's will for how he wants us to live so that we might glorify him.  But too often we read it as if its main purpose is to help us have financial success or a good marriage or a great bunch of children or how to get our act together in any number of ways.  We begin to read it as if we are the subjects and not the Lord.

Here lately we have seen that when the Bible speaks on marriage or being a slave or even asking for or giving forgiveness, how it affects us is not really dealt with at all but instead how it honors Christ or not.  Let me give some examples, 1Pe 3:7  Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  Notice that the reason to be a good husband is not so that you might have a happier, more satisfying marriage but that your relationship to the Lord would not suffer.  In verse one we see a similar thing, 1Pe 3:1  Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.  He doesn't say that wives should submit to their husbands so that he might treat you better but so that this rebel might cease from his sin and submit to the gospel of Christ.  If you read through Eph. 5, where Paul speaks about how a husband and wife are to relate to each other, I think you will see the same principle.  The effect on the marriage isn't the reason to love and submit, but the honor of the Lord is the ultimate reason and the only reason referred to.

Notice how he puts it in Tit 2:3-5, Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.  The health of the church and the family and whether we feel fulfilled in our marriages or not is not the reason put forth.

Later on when speaking of how slaves deal with all the injustices and emotional problems that would arise from being abused by a master, the motivation to do right, be faithful and show love is not so that he can "deal" with life and find emotional stability and fulfillment but that he might display honor for the Word of God especially where it speaks of the person of God, Tit 2:9  Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, Tit 2:10  not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. 

I think this is something that is mostly lost on at least us in Western Culture today. So many of our books seem to show how serving the Lord will lead to making things better for us.  It is all about us finding release from bitterness, stable emotions, fulfilling family life and so on so we will be happy and satisfied.  Certainly those things are not unimportant but they are a by product at best in serving God.  And in some cases serving God doesn't lead to a better marriage or sound finances at all.  If we assume it will then we are going to be unprepared when it doesn't work.  If we endure all that God might be honored then it doesn't matter if our husbands treat us tenderly or not or if our master treats us fairly or not or if living within our means doesn't ever seem to bring financial security, because we aren't doing it first and foremost for these reasons to begin with.  We do what we do to honor our Lord and Savior.  

I recently read something from D. A. Carson that applies here, "But the fact remains that the psychological benefits do not receive primary stress in Scripture, where the emphasis is on the eternal benefits
of being right with God."  This is said in the context of our forgiving others of offenses against us.  Like in the above examples, the motivation to do so is always the gospel of Christ.  We do so because we are sinners saved by grace and only people who forgive are going to be the ones welcomed into heaven.  Here is an example, Mat 18:34  "And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. Mat 18:35  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."  

I think the ramifications of this are striking if we will think it through but let me offer a couple of examples.  If we make obeying the Lord all about what practical, immediate benefit we get from it then what do we do when we live with a husband who treat us coldly even when the wife is as loving and submissive as she knows to be and he does this until the day he dies?  What does the slave do when his master returns good for evil and in all likelihood he will die a slave?  If he is being a good slave with the hopes that he will be treated fairly or perhaps freed then his obedience hasn't accomplished anything.  Just like if a wife submits and loves only because she thinks her life will become better.  But what if it isn't the Lord's will for our lives to be better in the immediate sense?  What if serving the Lord makes our lives harder?  The satisfaction and fulfillment, peace, joy and overcoming bitterness is only found in our relationship with Christ and the promises he gives to those who have found salvation in his cross.

"Victorious Christian living" is being satisfied and fulfilled in having Christ whether our lives are outwardly blessed or whether outwardly our lives are in turmoil.  Success is having Christ and being content with him.  The beauty of this is that there is no circumstance in this life capable of taking it away.

Friday, March 16, 2012

One World What?

The other day I was talking to some guys about the "last days".  Someone had heard a radio preacher talking about how bad things are getting and that surely we are in the last days as we see Bible prophecy being fulfilled in our days.  It seems like every now and then I have to remind the flock that the "last days" began when Christ ascended back to the throne on high.  I believe a case can be made that nothing happening today hasn't happened in some way or another at some level or another that hasn't been happening ever since Christ went back.  But this blog is not the place to get into all that.

One question was posed that I thought I would comment on.  Someone asked if the current push towards a one world government (something that I think is often assumed and not necessarily happening) was what was being foretold in Revelation with the Beast and his mark and his domination over the governments of the world.  I am certainly aware that this is Hollywood's and many pulpit's take on much of Revelation.  Many assume that at some point when this government takes control that everyone will be issued some means of identification, a "mark" if you will, and without it you cannot buy or sell. To take this mark is basically to compromise with the Devil and Christians are not to do this.  Let me offer a "slightly" different take on all this.

First of all, there is nothing inherently evil with a one world government.  I won't argue that the Tower of Babel scenario was God's way of dividing mankind into nations but it seems clear that Christians are to obey whatever government we find ourselves in no matter how large it is.  Rome was considered to rule the world in Christ's day and yet he never suggested that its form was evil even while it was clearly a form of Antichrist.  Apparently many Christians assume such a government will be Satanic and they fight it at all costs.  We can only wish that such energy and efforts would be spent in honoring the Lord and his Word and in evangelism instead of worrying about such politics but often there is not.

By the way I am no fan of any form of one world government especially where the USA gives up her sovereignty, neither am I a fan of what the current government is doing to our country on several levels.  But I do not see it as bringing in the Antichrist.

My second and main point is this: When we read of the governments uniting with the Antichrist in the Book of the Revelation I don't think we are to think of it politically as if any form of one world government must necessarily be evil much less a sign of the "end".  I believe the idea is spiritual.  And in this we see that what Revelation is warning against is not some future political entity but what has been going on ever since Christ was here.  The union of this world's powers have always been united against Christ!  They always have been and always will be.  1Jn 2:14  I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 1Jn 2:15  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1Jn 2:16  For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. 1Jn 2:17  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  This is the one world "government" that John is warning about in the Revelation.  Notice that he immediately starts speaking of the antichrist in this context:

1Jn 2:18  Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.  1Jn 2:22  Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  1Jn 4:3  and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.  2Jn 1:7  For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.  (By the way, if this is the last hour, why do we keep assuming yet a future hour?)

Perhaps we should take our cue from John and worry about how everyone and everything in this world joins  together to pull our hearts away from Christ rather than worrying whether some future form of Antichrist is coming or not.  We have enough Antichrists running around as it is.  John certainly didn't seem to think a future Antichrist was their most imminent danger in his day.  The one world union that we need to worry about is whatever is united in destroying the Faith, making saints worldly minded instead of fervent lovers of Christ.  It is hard to imagine how this world can be an more anti Christ than it is now.  Let's live in the present and not worry about the future.  There is much to be done today!

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Light" Persecution

Jesus told us up front that persecution would be the norm for his people, 2Ti 3:12  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  Both history and the daily news show that this has indeed been how we glorify God on earth.  Part of answering the call to Christ is to count the costs of discipleship and a person who is not willing to forsake all and to give up his life for Christ is not worthy of Christ.

In places of dire persecution people who name the name of Christ have given up much in property, comfort and even their lives for the cause of Christ.  But I want to focus our attention on places such as America where persecution is mostly light and seldom means the loss of anything of value.  I think our tendency is to think of persecution primarily in terms of physical suffering, the loss of property and perhaps death led by organized opposition to our Faith.  We no doubt have thought to ourselves that if the Lord wills this for us we trust him to give us grace to answer the call and to be faithful to the end no matter what the costs.

But by defining persecution as what is going on in other places we forget that persecution in some form or another is going on all around us and is in fact happening to each and every one of us.  It seems this sometimes causes us to view what we go through a little differently but with much different results.  We talk of being willing to give our lives for Jesus if facing imminent death but what do we do in the face of much lighter persecution?  What do we do when we know that standing for the Bible in front of those we work with will no doubt mean we will be belittled, made fun of, marginalized and ostracized?  There has been no talk of being fired let alone have any death threats been made against us but how often are we ready to compromise at the drop of a hat?

Severe persecution has a way of purifying the church but it seems clear that the absence of real persecution leaves us weak, why is this?  I wonder if it is in part that we don't look at such things as an opportunity to honor the Lord but rather as a loss of our God-given, American rights.  Somehow we look at being made fun of at school or losing the respect of a family member as inconsequential.  It seems that the light persecution should be taken a lot more seriously than we sometimes do.  Perhaps we need to be looking at everything as an opportunity to honor the Lord instead of only our churches services or life threatening situations.

The souls all around us are just as lost as those that are hacking Christians to death in Africa or imprisoning them in China.  Watching us cave at the least little inconvenience is making just as strong a statement to them of your love for Christ as those in Africa only the statement is saying Christ isn't our first love.  If we are unwilling to be made fun of by our friends or to be considered ignorant and old fashion and irrelevant by our families will anyone believe that we will be willing to give our lives up for Him?

In no way am I equating the persecution that some are going through in many places with what we go through here in America.  But let's use what the Lord gives us.  We have just as many opportunities to honor him before the world as anyone else.  They don't call on us to make the same degree of sacrifice but that doesn't mean we can waltz through life without taking seriously the different ways the Lord gives us to honor him.  One can only imagine what someone who has been thrown out of is house for Christ, perhaps beaten and spat upon while others just laugh would think if he were to come over here and sees how upset we get if someone looks at us funny.

Think of how many times we have remained silent when someone has said something disparaging about Christ or another saint.  We were given a perfect opportunity to identify ourselves as Christ's and we just sit there because we might be looked down on.  Let's at least be honest and admit that we are a weak, sinful, and a needy people whose love for the Lord many times is way too hard to detect.  Paul wasn't ashamed of the gospel of Christ but too often I am.  Maybe this is one reason why there is no revival in America.  We have abandoned the public arena to the enemies of Christ because we aren't willing to suffer persecution.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ever Wonder?

I couldn't think of a better catchy title so please forgive the ambiguity.  What I wanted to "wonder" about is why the Bible isn't laid out with books on subjects.  Why isn't there 1st and 2nd Book of Marriage or the Book of Stewardship and Finances?  Why don't we find books that reflect the books Christian book sellers make millions on like discipleship, the Holy Spirit, prayer and spirituality?  I recently saw a section on environmental stewardship.  One wonders in today's atmosphere (no pun intended) why God didn't see fit to include a book about how to take care of the planet or maybe one on how to end world hunger.

I believe there is a deliberate reason why the Bible isn't presented to us as a manual for Christian living but instead it is primarily a historical narrative of man's fall and God's redemptive plan which centers on the Lord Jesus Christ.  In short we could say that the bible is about Jesus Christ.  The reason I find this important has to do with the way I believe pastors are to teach and preach God's Word.

It has become popular in the modern age to preach topically; that is, to preach like one would walk down a Christian bookstore's "Christian Living" section or the "Theology" section.  One Sunday he preaches on Love, the next on Marriage, the next on the Holy Spirit, then the 10 Commandments, etc.  Of course periodically every good pastor preaches on tithing, maybe even a series since the church has to have money to function, right?

Now, I am not knocking preaching or having classes that address subjects that all Christians need to know and subjects that the Bible does address from time to time.  But it is no secret that this type of biblical instruction is the norm rather than book by book, verse by verse exposition.  So my point is that there is a reason why the Bible is in the form it is in and preachers should take their cue from this.  There is a fundamental flaw in preaching on subjects out of their context.  If Christ is the subject of the Book then every other subject the Bible addresses cannot be properly understood apart from him.

For example, the Bible gives certain parameters concerning marriage.  It defines it as a union between only a man and a woman and speaks of male headship and the wife's submission among other things.  But usually when you come to such subjects, especially in the NT, you have had to read a lot of other things by the time you get there or at least it is treated in a context of Christ and the gospel.  We all want good marriages and to be financially responsible and good stewards and pray effectively.  But you cannot treat these subjects apart from Christ and the gospel.

It becomes a lot like trying to be sanctified by the Law.  You can lay out all the things that make a marriage good, give 12 steps to raising your children or how to submit to your husband.  You can preach on it until you are blue in the face but if you divorce these subjects from Christ it becomes a form of moralism but you never address the primary motivation for Christian living.  The only way a man will be a loving husband and father that nurtures his wife and family instead of oppressing them or using them is if he keeps before himself the fact that he is nothing but an undeserving sinner saved by grace.  And then the love shown to him by the Lord is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit so he will treat others with the same grace.  He looks at his wife, not as his servant but as his partner given to him to serve the Lord with.  His leadership is not given just for him to exercise dominion but it is a responsibility to lead his family to Christ.

And so the principles of Christian living are spread throughout the Bible so they are never far from the teachings of Christ, our sinfulness and the glorious gospel.  We cannot properly understand what our duties are if we look at them apart from Christ.  Rightly does Paul teach us that Christ is our sanctification in 1 Cor. 1:30,  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  One grows in holiness as one grows in love and thankfulness to Christ.

So if you want to learn more on a subject, perhaps one in which you realize you are really struggling in, by all means study the Bible where it addresses these subjects.  I am thankful for those the Lord has given special insight to on certain subjects for us to learn from.  One such book is written by Elyse Fitzpatrick and her book on child rearing, "Give Them Grace".  Not only does she do a tremendous job on this subject but if you read it you would see her teaching on this subject by connecting it to the gospel every step of the way.

So my point is that whatever subject we are studying we cannot treat it apart from the over all subject of Christ and honoring him.  The more we are humbled by the gospel and the more we grow in our love for him the better husbands, wives, tithers, employees, prayers, etc. we will be.  We cannot understand and apply any subject apart from the understanding of God's redemptive plan and how we fit in it.