Friday, November 17, 2017

Two Main Tasks In The Church

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)


Paul's declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is one of the most well-known and oft-quoted verses in Scripture. It speaks of the beautiful truth of salvation. The old things passed away. New things have come.

Praise God!

Much less quoted are the next verses.
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, bold added)
If you are in Christ, you are a new creature. The old has passed away. The new has come. The "new" includes a ministry of reconciliation.

This isn't for some. It's not for those who are spiritually gifted for it. It's for anyone and everyone who is in Christ. All of us.

Every Christian is an ambassador for Christ. Every Christian has received the ministry of reconciliation. Every Christian. Period.

If 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 is quoted infrequently, I think the sentiments leading up to the "Therefore" in 5:17 are quoted even less.
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. (2 Corinthians 5:9-11, bold added)
Paul lived his life in light of the truth that Christians must appear before the Lord. This truth led Paul to have as his ambition to live a life that is pleasing to Him. Living with a healthy fear of the Lord caused Paul to persuade men. Paul engaged in this task because, as a Christian, he had received a ministry of reconciliation.

Paul knew he must stand before the Lord and give account for his ministry of reconciliation. Paul figured he should spend his life trying to persuade men to be reconciled to God.

Fairly simple.

The disconnect for many Christians is that we think this was all well and good for Paul. But it doesn't apply to everyone. Yet, Paul didn't let anyone off the hook. His language is inclusive. It's not just for him. It's for everyone who is a Christian.

And the famous declaration about the old passing away and the new coming fits snugly in the middle of this context.

If we fail to understand this truth we can skew the entirety of Christianity. All of the New Testament instruction fits within this important framework.

A Firm Foundation

If we trace God's work of salvation from beginning to end we see that He is making a people for Himself, redeemed from the curse through their faith in the Messiah. God promised to Adam and Eve that a Messiah would come. God promised that through Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed. God chose Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, and the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations and the nation through which the promised Messiah would come.

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of these promises.

But Jesus has not yet fulfilled all of them. The Old Testament promised that the Messiah would suffer, die, rise to life again and enter into His glory. The Old Testament foretold that repentance in His name would be proclaimed to all the nations of the earth, then the end would come.

Passages like Psalms 2, 8, and 110 declare that the Messiah will sit at the right hand of the Father until all things are fully subjected to Him. We are currently living in this time. Jesus is risen and ascended. He is reigning in heaven. He has promised He will return. He will not return until the Great Commission has been fulfilled.

In order to fulfill the Great Commission, God has left the church to be the Body of Christ on earth. The church - comprised of all born-again believers, both Jew and Gentile, in whom the Holy Spirit of God dwells - has been given the gift of salvation. We are new creatures in Christ.

And God has entrusted a ministry of reconciliation to each of His children.

It's not the work of a few. It's our mission from our Lord and Savior. It is literally the purpose for our existence.


That God May Be Glorified

Paul wrote about the purpose of the church: "to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:12).

The church exists to glorify God. We don't exist to plan for retirement or to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of this world. We exist to glorify God.

In order to glorify God the church has two main tasks:
  1. Edification of the saints
  2. Evangelization of the world.
This is an internal (edification) and an external (evangelization) task. But these tasks are not contrary to each other. They don't compete with one another. At least, they're not supposed to. As designed by God these tasks complement and support one another. Therefore, it is not our task to pick one and ignore the other. It is not our task to participate in whichever we are most comfortable with.

We must embrace both because the Great Commission is made up of both.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20, bold added)
Disciples making more disciples. Go (evangelize). Teach (edify believers). Repeat. Edified believers will faithfully represent God in the world. As every member evangelizes, we should see persons added to the kingdom of God and His Christ. In this way, the process won't end until Jesus returns.

Some stumble on other aspects of Christianity. But these shouldn't be stumbling blocks. They all fit within this basic framework. They aren't contrary to it. Once again, when properly understood, they don't take away from these two primary tasks. They support and enhance them.


Stumbling Blocks

Some will object to this simple design. They'll point to passages that emphasize other gifts and responsibilities. What about service? Hospitality? Prayer?

All of these are important. They all fit. When we use our gifts we use them in line with these two major purposes. We use our gifts to edify our brothers and sisters. We are likewise edified by the exercise of their gifts. We also use our gifts to proclaim God's excellencies in all the earth in both word and deed.

We do ourselves a disservice when we reduce evangelism to merely speaking the truth of the gospel. It is true that the gospel must be preached. How can they believe in Him whom they've never heard?

But the ministry of reconciliation is blessed when accompanied by the use of our spiritual gifts. Those who have a heart for service should serve. They should serve in the name of Jesus. Their service falls under the larger umbrella of proclaiming God's name to the ends of the earth.

Without the gospel accompanying our service, our hospitality, our kindness, or our generosity, there is nothing to distinguish believers in Christ from non-believers who likewise seek to diminish human suffering and meet felt human needs out of natural human compassion. What separates Christian ministry from non-Christian humanitarian aid if not the inclusion of the gospel?

Our spiritual gifts are not designed to separate members of the Body of Christ. They unite us. We are unified in our purpose as the church. We exist to glorify our great God and Savior. We do this through walking in our two primary tasks, 1) the edification of believers, and 2) the evangelization of the world.

In both tasks our spiritual gifts are critically important. We use our gifts to edify and evangelize. We are edified by the proper use of the gifts of others. In fact, some of the most powerful evangelism opportunities are created when differently, complimentary gifted members of the body serve together. What power and joy is accomplished when a spiritually gifted servant and a spiritually gifted teacher minister together in love!

In times like these, we are actually doing both tasks (edification and evangelization) simultaneously as both believers encourage and bless one another while they together bless the world through serving in His great name.

Conclusion

Every church ministry, program, and decision can (and should!) be filtered through these main purposes. The edification of the saints and the evangelization of the world.

Christ reigns in heaven. He is coming back. He is seated at the right hand of the Father until all things are put under His feet. We must proclaim the gospel to all nations before the end will come. Jesus told us so: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

What are we waiting for?

Get equipped. Obey your King. Glorify your God.

For more on this, read my books on the church and church leadership. They discuss these important truths in greater detail.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Kingdom of Priests

'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
(Exodus 19:5-6)



God declared His purpose in salvation after bringing the sons of Israel out of Egypt. God did this just  prior to giving them the Mosaic covenant. The purpose of salvation does not change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The New is a continuation of the Old. God declared that He was making a people for Himself to be His own possession. He was making a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.

The nation of Israel is foundational in this purpose. Gentiles in the New Covenant are grafted into this same purpose. The use of this language - a kingdom of priests, a holy nation - is used by the Apostles John, Peter, and Paul in addition to the author of Hebrews.


A Conditional Covenant

God told Moses that the condition for enjoying the covenantal blessing was their obedience. God said they would be His own possession among all the peoples if they obeyed His voice and kept His covenant.

The New Covenant is likewise conditional. However, it is not conditioned on our obedience. It is conditioned on the obedience of Jesus.

Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law and accomplished the will of the Father. The Old Covenant required the obedience of the people to enjoy God's presence and fellowship. Because of what Christ has accomplished the people of the New Covenant are able to enjoy the blessing of fellowship with God based on the righteousness and obedience of another, Jesus the Christ.


Priests of God

Many people have different views of what it means to be a priest. In Exodus 19 God declared a defining characteristic of priests that is helpful for understanding His meaning in making a kingdom of priests for His own possession.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, or else the LORD will break out against them." (Exodus 19:21-22)
Whatever duties a priest may have, the essential characteristic of a priest is one who comes near to the Lord.

Throughout the Old Covenant there was a line of priests that were allowed to come closer to God than others. The High Priest was able to come closest. Before all of these regulations were given, God declared that His purpose was to create a kingdom of priests for His own possession.

The Old Covenant was temporary. It was the shadow of the substance that was to come in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Because of Christ's perfect obedience and His ministry as our High Priest, He has opened wide the door for all who are in Him to draw near to God in His name. This is fulfilled in the New and everlasting covenant.

Throughout the Old Covenant the veil remained in the tabernacle and the Temple to make sure no one came too close. Likewise, in Exodus 19 Moses was told to create a border which no one, even the priests, could go past. When Christ died on the cross, the veil was torn down from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38).

God was demonstrating that Christ had succeeded in His earthly ministry. The veil was torn from top to bottom demonstrating God's activity. It was not the work of man that would allow us to enter into God's presence. It was God's work through His Son, the Messiah.

Jesus died to fulfill the Law and open the door for salvation to the ends of the earth. God is working through the church to graft a people from all the families of the earth into His kingdom as priests. Those who experience the joy of salvation are blessed with the ability to fellowship with the living God through Jesus, His Son. We are priests to God because of the High Priestly ministry of Jesus.

God gets a holy people as His own possession.


Understanding the New in Light of the Old

Christianity isn't about going to heaven when you die. Heaven is just a continuation of the blessing of knowing God. It doesn't start or end at death. The New Covenant promise of eternal life is similar to the promise in the Old Covenant. The redeemed get to know God, live in His presence, and proclaim His glory.

When God made the nation of Israel He made them a nation holy unto Himself. He dwelt in their midst. In the New Covenant, the dwelling place of God is not in a temple or tabernacle made by human hands. God now dwells in the temple of His people, the church.

The blessing of knowing God and being known by Him is a present tense possession. The blessing will continue into eternity for those who are redeemed in this life.

Each of the New Testament authors who speak of this awesome privilege call Christians to take hold of these promises and live as holy people now. We are called to draw near to God now, not just in the future. We are called to live in God's presence now and to continue into heaven. Jesus made it clear that eternal life begins at salvation, in this life.
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
John speaks of the purpose of Jesus in salvation.
and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood-- and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6, bold added)
Paul speaks of God's purpose of redemption in Christ, opening the door to all peoples.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14, bold added)
Paul prayed with the reality that believers are God's possession, His inheritance. Paul had on his mind what God gets out of our salvation. We belong to God. He redeems us so we will be His to the praise of His glory.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14, bold added)
Peter likewise writes to the Gentile churches Paul had planted using this terminology. He urges the redeemed to not only know God and be known by Him, but to proclaim the excellencies of God in the world.
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:9-10, bold added)

Conclusion

We have been redeemed for a purpose. That purpose is to be a kingdom of priests to our God. This means that we are called to live in His holy presence and draw near to Him. We belong to God because He has redeemed us with the blood of our Savior. He belongs to us because He has freely given Himself to us.

This is the direction and purpose of salvation. It will finally be accomplished in the end when the redeemed are gathered in from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people and the enemies of God are cast into the Lake of Fire.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4)
While we wait for God to accomplish His purposes, let us draw near to Him through Christ. Let us enjoy the presence of God on a daily basis. Let us live as His holy people, proclaiming His excellence and glory for calling us out of darkness into His marvelous light.



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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Stand By & See

But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent."
(Exodus 14:13-14)


Water from the rock

Salvation is wholly a work of God from beginning to end. The fact that you can contribute nothing to your salvation is a stumbling block to non-believers and believers alike. Pride can keep people from humbling themselves before God and receiving the gift of salvation. Those who have received salvation can begin to think they must now add something to what they have received.

Both are serious errors.

The Apostle Paul used the exodus and wilderness wanderings of the sons of Israel as a picture of God's work of salvation.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
To fully understand this you should read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in their entirety. This brief study will not be able to delve into every nuance. We are attempting a big picture overview.

As God brought His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, we see that their formation, deliverance, sustenance, and receiving of the promises were all a work of God's mighty power. Those who were faithless perished along the way. Their faithlessness is a stark warning for New Covenant believers:
Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. (1 Corinthians 10:5-6, bold added)
To learn from this example we must understand two things:
  1. Salvation is wholly a work of God from beginning to end; and
  2. The longing of God's people should not be for evil things but instead for God to be glorified in and through the work of salvation.

Baptized in the Cloud and in the Sea

The judgments leading up to the exodus were intended to bring God's people out of Egypt so they could be a people holy unto Him. Through this holy nation God would bring a Savior and King who will rule the nations and bless all the families of the earth.

As God was leading His people, He led them by manifesting Himself as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God's people followed their God out of Egypt. They followed Him up to the sea. For four hundred thirty years the sons of Israel had served as slaves in Egypt. They were laborers, not warriors. They were a group of men, women, and children.

As they stood on the shore of the sea the Egyptian army came bearing down on them. They were in a situation that appeared hopeless. Despite recently experiencing God's protection while still in Egypt, they were frightened. They cried out to the Lord and Moses.
Then they said to Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians '? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." (Exodus 14:11-12)
In this moment, the sons of Israel saw their helpless and hopeless state. They had nothing to contribute to their deliverance. Moses declared to them that their salvation was going to be a work of God.
But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent." (Exodus 14:13-14)
God commanded Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. When Moses obeyed, God worked through Moses to divide the sea so that the company of Israel could walk through on dry land. Then God brought the waters back together upon the Egyptians who had tried to follow.

Moses did not deliver the people. God did. God chose to have Moses participate. Moses contributed nothing of value. He simply obeyed God's command and God worked through his obedience. Moses had no power in himself to divide the sea or to bring it back together. His only hope was that God would do as He had promised when he walked with God in faith. Had God not done what He promised the sons of Israel would have perished on the seashore.


The Spiritual Rock

The Apostle didn't end with the deliverance through the sea. Paul continued to include the sustenance of the people through the wilderness in his picture of God's continued work of salvation.

The people needed food and water in the wilderness. God provided. They needed God's continual provision. So do we.

The people could not work for these things. They had to receive them as they were provided. When they attempted to gather more manna than they were commanded it rotted. When Moses added himself to the miraculous deliverance of water he was disqualified from entering into the Promised Land.
So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, "Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." (Numbers 20:9-12)
Moses began by obeying God. Moses had been a faithful instrument in God's hand. Yet, his obedience faltered and he disobeyed God in this instance. Moses failed to treat God as holy. Moses added something of himself into the equation. God told Moses to bring forth water by speaking to the rock, not by striking it.

Moses attempted to bring forth God's intended results through his own means. God still used Moses in his disobedience and brought forth the water the people needed. Yet, Moses himself was disqualified and not allowed to enter into the land.

The analogy can easily be misunderstood. I am not questioning Moses' salvation. Neither Moses nor anyone else is saved by their works. Moses' disqualification from entering the land serves as a warning to everyone that even the most obedient, who falter in such a small way, will not make it on their own.

In Moses' case, he lost out on an earthly blessing. Those who attempt to add anything of themselves to the work of salvation will necessarily ruin the sinlessness and perfect righteousness offered in Christ alone and won't succeed. We begin by the Spirit of God and run the entire course by His grace. Works will follow as the fruit but they add nothing to our salvation other than evidence that it is genuine.
This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3)
Paul continues in Galatians 3 to emphasize that our salvation, if it is genuinely from God, will begin and be completed by the Spirit of God. As we walk in faith works will result. They do not save us. The grace of God saves us. If no works are evident it is likely you have not been saved and that your faith is a dead faith (cf. James 2:14-26; Matthew 7:16-29; etc.).



Conclusion

Salvation is accomplished by the grace of God. It is not the work of people. Salvation is received through faith. While obedience to God is clearly commanded in the Scriptures we must never make the mistake of thinking that our obedience contributes to the work of salvation. God works in and through His people in both their obedience and their disobedience.

While the Bible consistently encourages God's children to obey Him, we must not make the mistake of concluding that our obedience adds to the salvation God provides through Christ alone. When we attempt to add to what God has done we can, like Moses, attempt to steal glory from God.

From beginning to end salvation is wholly a work of God. It must be received as a gift by faith. In faith, we must be sure to never attempt to add to it or take away from it. In faith, we must always treat our God - who loved us and sent His Son to accomplish our salvation and keep us until the end - as holy. Attempting to add anything to our salvation is a craving for evil as it is an attempt to steal glory from God. All who enter into God's presence in the company of the redeemed will be a reason to boast in God, not in themselves.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
When we humbly walk in faith and obey our God, we have opportunity to stand by and see how He works in and through us. That creates many opportunities to boast in the Lord.

The truth is, from the greatest to the least of us, we all need God's grace every moment of every day. Just like the sons of Israel needed God to provide for them every step of the way out of Egypt into the Promised Land we must depend on God for everything. If we think we only need Him for some, or even most, we are woefully deceived.

May God be treated as holy among His people.
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)




Monday, November 13, 2017

Christ Our Passover

For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.
(1 Corinthians 5:7)


Passover

God promised to make a great nation of Abraham. Genesis records God's faithfulness in beginning to fulfill these promises through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Genesis ends we see that God has orchestrated events in order to bring the sons of Israel (Jacob) into Egypt.

When they entered into Egypt there were about 70 persons in all. Over the next four hundred and thirty years the people multiplied greatly. God brought them out of the land of Egypt with powerful plagues in order to make them a holy nation, set apart for His great name.

The series of plagues drew a distinction between the sons of Israel and the Egyptians. The final plague was the harshest and was a foreshadowing of the coming Christ. The Apostle Paul makes it plain that Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover.


Distinguishing The People of God

God declared the purpose of the plagues from the beginning.
"But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of insects will be there, in order that you may know that I, the LORD, am in the midst of the land. I will put a division between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign will occur."' (Exodus 8:22-23)
God intended to draw a distinction between His people and the people of Egypt. He intended to demonstrate that He was in the midst of the land. God wanted all to come to the same conclusion.
"For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth." (Exodus 9:14-16, bold added)
If you simply read through the account of the plagues in Exodus 7-11 you will see the repeated theme of the distinction between God's people and the Egyptians and how God's power and name are magnified in His judgments upon Egypt while simultaneously protecting His own people in the land of Goshen.

All of the plagues were intended to culminate in the final demonstration.


The Passover and Death of the Firstborn

God had a very specific purpose with the final plague. Moses had fled from Egypt to the land of Midian. Moses remained in Midian for forty years before God appeared to him in the burning bush. Before Moses returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, God told Moses the ultimate purpose.
The LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, "Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, 'Let My son go that he may serve Me'; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn."'" (Exodus 4:21-23, bold added)
The final plague of the death of the firstborn was to serve as a major sign of the coming Messiah. To maintain the distinction and deliver His people from the judgment upon the firstborn, God instructed His people to participate in the Passover.
'For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments-- I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.' (Exodus 12:12-13)
The blood of the lamb on their house would literally cause the judgment of God to pass over them and fall upon every house that was not covered with the blood of a lamb. Moses made it clear that God's instructions must be obeyed perfectly and that to remain safe the sons of Israel must remain inside their dwelling after applying the blood to their homes.
Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you." (Exodus 12:21-23)
After both of these instructions Moses made it clear that this major event was to be celebrated annually to remember God's deliverance of His people and the formation of the nation by bringing them out of Egypt with a mighty display of power. As they remembered the original Passover, they were also to redeem every firstborn of their own in every generation.

Fulfilled In Christ

The imagery of judgment passing over individuals and households is the essence of the gospel and salvation in Christ. When the sons of Israel heard of the coming judgment and the means of deliverance, all who heard and acted accordingly were saved. Likewise, the gospel declares that a Day of Judgment is coming and all who take refuge in Christ will be saved from judgment. The message of Christianity is essentially a declaration of what God has provided for judgment to pass over guilty sinners. Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed. All who hope to be saved from the penalty for their own sin must have His blood deliver them from judgment.

The inclusion of the firstborn being killed in Egypt and the ongoing redemption of all the firstborn in the sons of Israel likewise pointed to the only begotten Son of God who would come and lay down His own life willingly as the Lamb of God.

Finally, the very specific aspect that the lamb to be slain on the first Passover was not to have any bone broken (Exod 12:46; Numb 9:12) was perfectly fulfilled in the suffering of Christ on the cross. Written 1400 years before the birth and crucifixion of Jesus, this prophecy was dramatically fulfilled when Jesus was the only man of the three crucified that day whose legs were not broken.
So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, "NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN." (John 19:32-36)


Conclusion

God's purpose in the judgments leading up to the Passover and exodus of the sons of Israel from Egypt were to point to the salvation that was to be perfectly achieved in and through Christ. These events were to be remembered and celebrated each year to continually point to the coming Messiah.

Now that Christ has come and has been sacrificed we must heed the call to repent and trust in Him alone. There is salvation found in no one else and no other means to escape the coming judgment.

While we should celebrate our salvation in Christ we should also heed the Apostle's instruction to those who have taken refuge in Christ:
Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)
God used the original Passover to bring His people out of Egypt so they could be a holy people unto Himself. Likewise, Christians are called to be a holy people unto God in Christ. The language of cleaning out the old leaven is a reference to ridding ourselves of the old, sinful way of life from which we were redeemed. The blessing of salvation is not just an escaping of judgment but a call to a new life - a celebration of sincerity and truth.




Friday, November 10, 2017

The Lion of Judah

"The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples."
(Genesis 49:10)


Lion of Judah

God declared that a seed would come and overcome the enmity of the curse of the fall. God chose Abraham and promised to make of him a great nation. God promised that the blessing upon Abraham would be a blessing upon all the families of earth. God miraculously provided Isaac to Abraham and Sarah to continue the lineage of promise.

Isaac grew up and took a wife at the age of forty. Isaac's wife Rebekah was barren. Isaac prayed for his wife, God opened her womb, and she conceived twins. The twins struggled together while in the womb and the LORD explained the struggle to Rebekah:
The LORD said to her,
"Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger." (Genesis 25:23)
God sovereignly declared His choice saying the older will serve the younger. The younger twin, Jacob, would later come to be known as Israel. The tribes of the nation of Israel are named from the sons of Jacob.


The Promised Ruler of the Nations

Near the end of Jacob's life he blessed his sons. In blessing his sons, Jacob passed over his first three sons (Reuben, Simeon, and Levi) with the blessing to rule. That blessing would rest upon Judah.
"Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father's sons shall bow down to you." (Genesis 49:8)

Jacob prophesied that Judah's brothers would praise him and the descendants of Israel will bow down to him. Jacob continued,
"Judah is a lion's whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples." (Genesis 49:9-10)
The description of Judah's rule with the imagery of a young lion is vivid. Lions are majestic and powerful. This prophecy of Judah's rule is not temporary. Jacob prophesied that the scepter (the symbol of authority) would not depart from Judah. The next line is a euphemism relating to the coming descendants of Judah. The lineage of Judah is given authority over the nation of Israel and eventually all the nations.

The phrase, "Until Shiloh comes," is difficult to interpret. It is translated differently by many English versions. Although each of the four major interpretive options have merit, I believe it is best to take this phrase as rendered by the NET:
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs;
the nations will obey him. (Genesis 49:10, NET, bold added)
A promised seed has been declared from the beginning of Genesis. The blessing bestowed upon Judah is a blessing that will remain until he comes to whom it belongs and the nations will obey him. This is fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus. The fulfillment of this prophecy in the first book of the Bible is made explicit in the final book of Scripture.
and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." (Revelation 5:5)


The Importance of the Virgin Birth

The promised King of the nations is Jesus of Nazareth. There are more prophecies of His reign to be fulfilled in the future at His return. While we wait for His second coming we should take note of how God perfectly fulfilled His promise through His Son. The genealogies recorded in Scripture firmly root these fulfilled promises in human history.

By paying attention to the promised lineage of the coming Seed we can be alerted to some important truths. First, God never intended for the first king of Israel, Saul, and his line to remain in authority. Saul descended from the line of Benjamin, not Judah. Saul's son, Ish-bosheth, reigned over Israel for two years after Saul's death (see 2 Sam 2:8-11). It was through David, the third king in Israel, that the lineage of promise would be fulfilled.

It is from the descendants of David that the Messiah is to be expected. In 2 Samuel 7 we see a  promise to David, a descendant of Judah, that a ruler will sit on the throne from his house forever. This lineage is fulfilled through Solomon in the kings of Israel.

An apparent problem arises in history through Solomon's line, however. The prophet Jeremiah records a curse placed upon king Jeconiah (a.k.a. Coniah):
"Thus says the LORD,
'Write this man down childless,
A man who will not prosper in his days;
For no man of his descendants will prosper
Sitting on the throne of David
Or ruling again in Judah.'" (Jeremiah 22:30, bold added)
This curse seemingly disrupts the promised lineage. Matthew's Gospel records the genealogy of Joseph through the lineage of Judah, David, and Solomon. In the midst of this genealogy we read:
After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:12-16, bold added)
If Joseph was the biological father of Jesus, then Jesus could not be the promised Messiah. The curse upon Jeconiah makes it impossible that the Messiah could come from this line. However, since Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus this curse does not pass to him.

Luke's Gospel records Mary's lineage. She is likewise a descendant of Judah and David. However, the genealogies separate as Mary descends, not from the line of Solomon, but from Nathan (see Luke 3:31).

Jesus' legal lineage, from both Joseph and Mary, is through the line of Judah and the house of David. As the promised seed of the woman Jesus perfectly fulfills the promises made by God throughout Genesis


Conclusion

Genealogies may not be your favorite part of Scripture. But they are included for a reason. God's promises are not made in a vacuum. They are made and fulfilled in human history. The genealogies have served for generations as a clue to God's fulfillment of His promises in Jesus of Nazareth, the Lion of Judah.

As the promised Messiah, Jesus is the appointed King of the nations. As the fulfillment of these promises we can fully understand how the Great Commission is to be carried out in Jesus' name. After rising from the dead Jesus explained that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in the name of the Christ to all nations. Since all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Him as the fulfillment of these promises, He has the right to command obedience, offer salvation, and warn of retribution if His call to repentance is ignored.

When we declare that Jesus is Lord we are standing upon these promises.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Lord Will Provide

Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided."
(Genesis 22:14)



After the miraculous birth of Isaac, the child of promise, Abraham was tested by God. This testing should not be taken in the sense of tempting but refining. God was testing Abraham like a master goldsmith tests his metal. The testing is not an attempt to find out what you have. The testing is intended to refine what you have. Big difference.

God has already been refining Abraham for years. While Abraham waited for the fulfillment of the birth of Isaac his trust in God was built. The miraculous nature of Isaac's birth foreshadowed the miraculous birth of Christ. The offering of Isaac served as a type of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.


The Offering of the Son

We must always be careful when offering allegorical interpretations. Such handling of the text without restraint can lead to all sorts of speculation. In this case, we are on firm ground in treating the offering of Isaac as a foreshadowing of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
God chose to refine Abraham with this very specific and difficult test because God Himself would fulfill this type in the future by the sacrifice of His own beloved Son. The author of Hebrews tells us plainly that Abraham's faith in offering Isaac and receiving him back were a type of the resurrection.

This word, type, means something like figure, illustration, or symbol. Very literally this testing was a parable given by God of the future death and resurrection of the coming Christ.

In the illustration we see some parallels between the crucifixion of Christ and the offering of Isaac. Both Jesus and Isaac carried the wood on their backs on the way to the place of their sacrifice. Most astounding is the expectation that Abraham expresses that God will provide the lamb.


The Lamb of God

The context of Genesis 22 demonstrates an unresolved fulfillment of the faith of Abraham. Abraham is vindicated in his trust of God. God's testing achieves its intended purposes. Isaac was never in any real physical danger. But there is still an unresolved issue that remains in the text.

Abraham answers Isaac's question about the sacrifice with his expectation of God's providence:
Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together. (Genesis 22:8)
A few verses later this expectation is partially fulfilled.
Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided." (Genesis 22:13-14)
In the immediate context, God provided. However, Abraham expected a lamb and received a ram. The expectation of God's provision of a lamb is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist immediately recognized this when he exclaimed at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry:
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

 

Conclusion

Indeed, God provided for Abraham and Isaac. This provision served as an example more than 1600 years before Jesus was born, crucified, and risen from the dead. God chose this emotionally charged and difficult test to exemplify the seriousness of sin and the heaviness of the price that would be paid to redeem a people to Himself.

Those who use this passage of Scripture to claim that God was cruel in using such a drastic test in the life of Abraham and Isaac fail to understand that this passage really emphasizes the love of a God who, although He stayed the hand of Abraham and ensured Isaac's safety, was willing to offer His own beloved Son for the salvation of His enemies.

Genesis 3:15 proclaimed that the victory would come through the suffering and death of the promised seed. Genesis 22 proclaimed that the promised seed would be received back from death as a type of the resurrection of Christ.


For more on this, take a listen to this sermon:



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Child of Promise

 "But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year."
(Genesis 17:21)


The promised son

Christians are called to walk by faith and not by sight. This is not a wishy-washy call to live by wishful thinking. Instead, it is a command to trust that God is able to accomplish what he has said he will do. Walking by faith is living in a confident expectation that God will do as he promised.

Scripture records God's faithfulness throughout history. Often God chooses to reveal his hand by working through circumstances that would be impossible if not for his miraculous intervention. These miraculous workings serve as evidence that God will likewise do as he has promised in regards to the salvation of individuals who put their faith in Christ. Salvation would be impossible if not for God's miraculous intervention.


The Promised Son

God laid the foundation for salvation in the promised seed to come through Abraham. Abraham believed God and his faith in God's promise was credited to Abraham as righteousness. However, time continued to march on and by sight it seemed like this promise was simply wishful thinking. As the years passed by the fulfillment of this promise seemed more and more unlikely.

Abraham had faith but he did not yet see how God would fulfill this promise. At the time of hearing these promises, Abraham was already growing old. Abraham's wife, Sarah, was barren (Gen 11:30). So, a foolish decision was eventually made to try and take hold of God's promise through their own means. Since Sarah was barren, Sarah gave her maid Hagar to Abraham in order to bring forth a child (Gen 16:1-4).

At the age of 86, Abraham had his first biological child, Ishmael, with Hagar (Gen 16:15-16). But this was not the promised son.

In Genesis 17, God tells Abraham that the promised son would be born from Sarah. This declaration was laughable. It didn't make any sense. He was old. His wife was old. She was barren even when they were young. Now she was past child-bearing years. Abraham even argued with God saying that this plan did not make any sense. Abraham asked if God would simply apply the promise to his teenage son, Ishmael.

Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before You!" But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him." (Genesis 17:17-19)
God chose this timing and situation so that his power would be evident. What was impossible with human beings was possible for God.

Conclusion

The birth of Isaac through the dead womb of his mother Sarah foreshadows the miraculous nature of the Messiah's miraculous birth through the virgin womb of Mary. Both are humanly impossible without the miraculous intervention of God. Both demonstrate God's ability to do all he has promised. Both show that faith in God is well-placed because God is faithful.

Walking by faith would be foolish if the object of our faith was untrustworthy. God has wisely demonstrated his faithfulness and power repeatedly throughout history so that his people will learn that walking by faith and not by sight is the truly wise way to live.