Thursday, April 19, 2018

Jesus Is Risen: So What?

Unity is important.

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 15:5-6)

The church is called to glorify God with one mind and one voice. Disunity is a terrible hindrance.

Paul wrote to quarreling believers in Corinth. They were divided. They were putting more faith in their human leaders than in Christ. The bickering was resulting in factions.
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

There were other problems in Corinth. Paul addressed them, too. But Paul was distressed at their lack of unity. It was hindering them from working toward their purpose.

The Apostle begins to end this same letter by reminding them of the importance of the gospel:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, emphasis added)

Paul didn't ignore the various issues and problems they were experiencing. Nevertheless, Paul points these believers to the most important truth of Scripture: the gospel. This is the truth that unifies all believers.

Paul received this message directly from the risen Lord Jesus. This glorious gospel declares that Jesus is the promised Messiah from the Scriptures who came to fulfill God's promises revealed through the Scriptures:
  1. That He died for our sins according to God's predetermined plan (e.g. Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22);
  2. That He was buried (e.g. Isaiah 53:9), and;
  3. That He was resurrected on the third day (Isaiah 53:10; Psalm 16:10) fulfilling God's promises and demonstrating to the world that Jesus, whom we crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ (Psalm 2; Daniel 7:9-14; Acts 17:30-31, Romans 1:4).

This glorious truth is of first importance. It is the basis for unity in the church. Not just in Corinth but everywhere.

Instead of fighting about lesser things, Paul encouraged these followers of Jesus to refocus their attention on the gospel. He called them to heed the implications of this truth. They were to stop debating which preacher/teacher they liked best. By focusing on the differences between Apollos, Peter, Paul, and Jesus they were failing to notice that these teachers all were united in the gospel.

So what are the implications of the gospel? Jesus is risen. So what?

Paul states plainly that the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates the truth of Christianity. All of Christianity - not just the parts that make us comfortable.

It guarantees the reality of the coming resurrection. It promises judgment for all people. It declares with power that Jesus is the appointed King of Heaven and Earth. It proves He will reign until all of His enemies are put under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:25-27). It verifies the truth that it is only through repentance and faith that anyone is able to be saved from the wrath that is to come.

Think about this for a minute.

Really, think about it.

Is there anyone you know who is not in Christ?

If so, what does this mean for them?

If you are a follower of Jesus, His resurrection proves the truth of your salvation. It also proves the truth of condemnation resting upon all who do not believe.
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)

Paul cuts straight to the heart of the matter with his application:
Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:34)

Paul urged these believers to dwell soberly on the truth of their salvation in Christ and the condemnation that is upon the world. In light of this, his application is to stop sinning. Stop paying attention to unimportant matters. Stop bragging about yourself and your favorite teacher/leader. Stop putting your eyes on the world and the things that are fading away.

Stop sinning. Seriously.

But why does Paul say we need to be sober minded and stop sinning? Is it because sin is making the Corinthians unhappy or causing them to miss out on God's blessings in their personal lives? That's not what Paul says.

Paul tells them exactly why they need to stop sinning. It's because some have no knowledge of God.

Believers have received the revelation of God (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Through hearing and believing the message we pass from death into life. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16-19).

Paul said the mere fact that there are some in Corinth who were unaware of this truth is something the church ought to be ashamed of. They should be ashamed that the world perished around them without the opportunity to hear the gospel. Why hadn't they heard? Because it is the responsibility of the church - every member - to proclaim the gospel to the world.

Sadly, in Corinth, the believers were too busy arguing amongst themselves and preoccupied with their own individual pursuits to obey their Lord and Savior in proclaiming His glorious gospel to the perishing.

Strong language.

Do you agree with Paul?

Do you think it's shameful when believers hide the gospel from the world? Do you agree that it's shameful that we who know the truth are not willing to pay the cost to bring this message to those who are lost and perishing?

Do you not know that it is required of servants of Christ that we be found trustworthy in our stewardship of the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:1-2)?

Who do you know who has no knowledge of God? How many in your city are perishing with no real idea of the gospel call to repent and trust in Christ alone?

What are you doing to put them in mind of the coming judgment and the command from the risen King for all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31)? How is your church leadership equipping and sending out the body of Christ to declare with one mind and one voice the gospel in your community?

If the answer is "nothing," then Paul suggests that we, too, should be ashamed.

Fortunately, God is pleased in His grace to give us further opportunities to be found faithful and trustworthy with His gospel - even if we've been negligent in the past!

God is able to use His church for the praise and glory of His name (Ephesians 3:20-21). He has made us adequate for the task of proclaiming His glory and goodness to the world (2 Corinthians 3:4-6, 1 Peter 3:9-10). Therefore, let us no longer live for ourselves. Let's live for Him (Galatians 2:20) in the strength He provides knowing that He is able to accomplish what He has begun (Philippians 1:6)!

Get equipped. Obey your King. Glorify your God.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

5 Keys To Effective Witness

Keys to Effective Witness

Content is important. But it's not the only thing.

Some evangelistic methods are presented as if they are the perfect witnessing method. Some think memorizing a method and mechanically delivering the content means you have effectively witnessed.

Witness throughout the New Testament demonstrates this is not accurate. There is not a cookie-cutter approach that is applied the same way every time.

Content is extremely important. Without the right content our witness cannot be effective. Messing with the content of the gospel voids its power.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
Focusing only on content fails to recognize that we are not preaching to the air. We are preaching to persons.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
I know of no biblical example where more people responded to the gospel at one time than Acts 2.

What made Peter's proclamation so effective? Here are five reflections of my own. Feel free to leave your reflections in the comments.

Effective witness includes:

  • Walking in God's timing. Peter waited for God to open the door. Jesus commanded the disciples to wait for the power they would receive when the Holy Spirit came. They waited patiently until God delivered on His promise. They did not rush ahead and miss the opportunity God was preparing.
  • Going along with God's activity in the world. God's preparation of the audience is clear. "Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). God had gathered this audience from every nation. The reason they were gathered was to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Their presence in Jerusalem demonstrates the truth of what the text tells us: these were devout people. They were already primed for hearing God's Word. When God poured out the Holy Spirit on this day so that Peter could speak to this audience we should be overwhelmed with God's activity in this effective witness. God is still active in the world today. We should strive to go along with His activity. It is not enough to simply be active on our own apart from God's leading and work.
  • Boldness. God opened the door. Peter took full advantage. He was not shy. He was bold and direct.
  • Picking relevant passages. Peter's content was perfectly suited to his immediate context. Peter did not simply use his favorite text. He picked passages that explained the situation they were currently experiencing. He picked passages that directly explained the significance of the moment. We must be aware of our surroundings and our hearers. This is what it means to be in the world but not of it.
  • Dedication to the Word of God and to prayer. Peter's message came on the heels of three years of personal discipleship with Jesus. It followed immediately after an intense ten day prayer meeting. Peter remained committed to this focus beyond Pentecost. When a situation arose in the early church that threatened this focus Peter resisted it. "'But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' The statement found approval with the whole congregation" (Acts 6:4-5a). The whole congregation approved of this statement. They understood the importance of prayer and God's Word to effective witness. 

It is easy to wander off the path of effective witness. We can fall into the trap of thinking that memorizing a few verses and speaking them mechanically to everyone regardless of the situation is the ministry that God has called us to.

It's not.

I understand the appeal of these approaches. They lack a need for continued dedication beyond the initial investment of time in memorizing the method.

Memorizing methods is easy. Dedication to serving in the ministry of reconciliation requires sacrifice. Constant growth and practice.

Dedication to prayer and the Word will keep us tethered to God's will. If we ask for wisdom and opportunity God will direct our steps. He is pleased to use humble and well prepared people to accomplish His purposes.

Dedication to being person focused will ensure that we lovingly speak the truth in understandable ways. We want people to hear us because we want them to be reconciled to God. We want this because there is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner who comes to repentance. We want this because when people are saved they magnify the glorious grace of our God and Savior.

Dedication to boldness will keep us alert. We cannot wait for dead sinners to ask us how to be saved. The crowd asked Peter what they must do only after he boldly proclaimed Christ to them. They responded to Peter's boldness. Peter did not wait for them to open the door because God had already shown him that the door was open.

Dedication to faithfulness to biblical content ensures that we are bringing the word of life; not an eloquent speech which lacks the power of God for salvation. We can't tickle their ears or simply tell them the parts of the gospel that they are comfortable with.

Are you willing to do what is necessary to prepare yourself to be an effective witness for Christ?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? - A Review


I am always looking for good resources on the gospel. I've read many books on the topic. I can recommend only a few.

A trusted friend and dedicated follower of Christ recently gave me a copy of Walter Chantry's little book Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? which I had the good pleasure of reading this week.

Greatest Strength

This book is short. Less than one hundred pages. Just by looking at it I would have assumed that it would be unlikely to pack much of a punch.

I was wrong.

In most cases, a short book on the gospel will be disappointingly shallow. For many studies on a massive topic, brevity is their greatest weakness. For this particular book, I believe the length is perhaps its greatest asset.

Chantry ably outlines the problems of modern gospel preaching and evangelism. Although "modern" to him meant in the late 1960's and early 1970's, the problems he outlines are still running wild today.

Each problem is diagnosed scripturally and the biblical remedy is presented. It is not enough simply to point out problems with no path forward. Chantry not only exposes and rebukes error but exhorts in right doctrine and practice.

While I personally would have enjoyed more discussion in each chapter, the short length left me hungry to both read the Scriptures more and to boldly and compassionately go into all the world and proclaim the glorious truth of the gospel to every creature.

Greatest Weakness

The major thrust of the book I thought was excellent. It edifies, encourages, rebukes, and admonishes. As far as the main content and purpose is concerned I don't have any substantive critique.

My only real issue is in the way Chantry discusses evangelists. On the one hand, Chantry is dealing with a system of doing church that makes use of travelling teachers who preach revival-style messages and travel from local church to local church. When critiquing the message and methods of such ministries his terminology is certainly appropriate. That's what his culture (and ours, too) calls evangelists.

Yet, Chantry also uses the term "evangelist" to refer simply to the Christian who is proclaiming the gospel. Although it may be unnoticeable to some, those familiar with the purpose for this blog will understand why such usage distracts me a little bit.

Had Chantry substituted the term "ambassadors for Christ" or simply "Christians" in his descriptions for those sharing the gospel I would have had very little problem. Likewise, I would personally go a step further to say that the travelling revivalist preacher model so common today is not what the Bible calls "evangelists." That shouldn't be surprising to anyone who knows me, seeing as I have written a book on that very topic.

Since the purpose of Chantry's book is not to define the nature and role of evangelists but the content and method of preaching the gospel, admittedly this critique is a bit nit-picky.

Conclusion

This is a book I highly recommend every Christian to read. It is even more important for preachers and teachers who are tasked with equipping others to faithfully bring our Lord's gospel to the world in His name and power.

The book itself is inexpensive to purchase and will not cost much time to read, either. A worthy investment of time and resources.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Lift Up The Son, Part 2


For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
(Romans 15:4)


(If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.)

The Apostle Paul quoted a verse from Psalm 69 before making his comment in Romans 15:4. When he speaks of whatever was written before he means what we have recorded in the Old Testament. He simply called them the Scriptures.

God inspired the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. Paul said they were written for the instruction of New Testament believers. Through perseverance and encouragement in the Scriptures we can have hope. The Old Testament is not supposed to be ignored by Christians.

As we apply this to our task of lifting up the Son, that in and through Christ our Father may be glorified, we encounter a word of caution.

It is easy to agree on the surface that the church ought to talk about Jesus. That's a given. But are we aware that not everyone means the same thing when they say Jesus? We don't all have the same ideas about just who this Jesus is.

Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, agnostics and atheists all know the name "Jesus." They all mean something different when they use the term, however.

Same symbol. Different meaning.

Jesus used the Old Testament imagery of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to explain His own earthly ministry. Jesus came to be lifted up. Jesus came to die. Jesus came so that all who believe on Him can be saved through Him.

The serpent being lifted up in the wilderness was a picture of salvation by the grace of God through faith.

The bronze serpent didn't save the Israelites. Moses didn't save them. God's grace did. When they believed God's word through Moses and looked to the object God provided, He gave them grace to save them from their predicament.

Salvation being by grace through faith has been a common theme throughout all of Scripture. Beginning to end. The Apostle Paul teaches this clearly in Romans 4. Galatians 3, too. In Romans 4 Paul uses both Abraham (pre-Law) and King David (Law) to demonstrate that both understood salvation was by grace through faith. Not works. Never by works, always by grace through faith.

In the book of Colossians Paul writes:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

The Old pointed toward the fulfillment in the New. It was the shadow of the substance that was to come. Jesus is the substance.

So, what does this have to do with the serpent in the wilderness?

The Israelites did the same thing we do today. They clung to the shadow. They began to worship the object and the symbol, not the God who gave them the object and the symbol.

God commanded Moses to lift up the serpent in the wilderness. It was a symbol that had greater significance. When people believed, they were trusting in the grace of God operating through their faith in Him.

But then, they got off course.

We read the following account reporting events about 700 years after Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness:

Now it came about in the third year of Hoshea, the son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah became king. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. (2 Kings 18:1-4, underline added)

The sons of Israel had taken they symbol and infused it with new significance. They began to worship the object and not the God whom the object pointed to. For 700 years they burned incense to this idol.

This was recorded for our instruction. It is an encouragement that we not stumble in the same ways they did.

We may immediately think this only applies to other people. Take a minute and seriously reflect on who or what you think about when you think of Jesus. (I'll wait.)

Many of our contemporary songs, media, and language use the symbols of the cross, the blood, the baby in the manger, etc. Rightly understood, this is good. Poorly understood, we can begin worshipping the symbol(s) and not God Himself.

Don't mistake the symbols and the objects for the Person they point to. We don't worship the cross but the Messiah who died upon it and rose again on our behalf. We don't worship the Scriptures but the God whom the Scriptures reveal.

As a culture, we celebrate certain aspects of Christ's ministry. But what does the Scripture say?

Jesus is not a baby. He was born, yes, but He grew up. Jesus is not a rabbi walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, either. He was. But He was crucified. Buried. Now, He's risen.

These aspects of Christ's ministry are real. They are genuine. But the humiliation of Christ has passed. Now, Jesus is risen. He is glorified and exalted. Christ has taken His seat at the right hand of God the Father where He reigns in glory.

It is not enough to be led to the cross. We must be led to the Messiah who died for our sins and rose for our justification. It is not enough to sing about the baby in the manger. We must fall before the King of Glory who entered into heaven after rising from the dead.

The glorified Jesus is the one who will return to gather His church. The exalted Christ is the one who will return to crush His adversaries under His feet.

Is this who we are lifting up? This is who the Father lifted up.

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:6-11)

God has given us symbols which point to Him. The symbols are valuable when rightly understood and used. They become idolatry when we forget the Person they point us to.

We don't get to pick which parts of God's revelation we cling to and ignore the rest. We don't get to pick the version of Jesus that we like best, either.

Jesus is who He is. He is not who we imagine Him to be.

As we lift up the Son, to the glory of God the Father, we must be cautioned to not lift up our version of Jesus. We are called to lift up the Son. He is glorious, exalted, and magnificent. It is in and through Him alone that the grace of God is available to all who believe.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

Praise God for His glorious grace so freely and lavishly given through His Son, Jesus the Christ! Live to lift up the Son with your words and your life.

He is worthy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lift Up The Son, Part 1

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."
(John 3:14-15)

There is a difference between outreach and evangelism. Outreach can take many different forms. It can be service. It can be advertising. Outreach can (and should) contain evangelism. But it doesn't always.

Sometimes Christians fall into the trap of preaching ourselves. Preaching our churches. Preaching our favorite doctrines, moral battles, pressing burdens, or our pet programs.

To be sure, there is a time and a place for all of that.

But Christians must also remember the counsel of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles:

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)

We do not preach ourselves. We preach Christ Jesus as Lord. We present ourselves as servants of others for Jesus' sake. Our service to them can take many forms. Primarily we serve them by declaring to them the truth that salvation is found in no one else other than Jesus. That's why we don't preach ourselves. That's why we preach Christ Jesus as Lord.

Paul is only teaching what Jesus taught before. John's Gospel traces an important theological theme from the beginning of Christ's earthly ministry to the end.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life." (John 3:14-15)

So Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. (John 8:28-30)

"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. The crowd then answered Him, "We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this Son of Man?" (John 12:32-34)
Jesus came to be lifted up. This language illustrates the death that Jesus came to die. Jesus chose the imagery of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to vividly depict that His death on the cross would be for the salvation of all who look to Him and believe.

You can (and should) read the whole account in Numbers 21:1-9.

In these short verses we see a picture of divine judgment and deliverance. Judgment is upon the people for their sin against God. God in His graciousness and lovingkindness presents to them a possibility for redemption. The means are odd. Look to the object of your deliverance. Find salvation by trusting in what God has said is the remedy.

All who believed God were delivered.

All who did not believe perished in the desert.

Jesus chose this imagery. Paul counseled believers to live in accordance with this truth. God has ordained the foolishness of preaching to be the means by which He saves people from the judgment they deserve.

Moses could have argued with God that there were many more sensible plans to deal with the problem of fiery serpents biting people than forming a bronze serpent and lifting it up on a standard. Today, we come up with all sorts of things (other than lifting up the Son) that seem more reasonable to deal with the brokenness around us.

Our strategies may make sense to us. They may be reasonable. But woe be unto us if we fail to honor our God by lifting up the Son!

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21-24)

Take Action

To be equipped to preach the gospel fully, faithfully, boldly, compassionately, and lovingly we must be saturated in the truth of God's word. Read, read, and read God's Word. All of it. Not just the parts you like or are most comfortable with.

There are also two excellent resources I can recommend for you to grow in your ability to communicate the gospel and lift up the Son:




Let the church lift up the Son that all may glory in our great and compassionate God who sent His Son into the world to reconcile sinners unto Himself!

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Lord's Appointed Times

Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17)


Jesus came to fulfill the Law. Not to abolish, not to discard it, not to do away with it. To fulfill it.

Paul understood this. We must also. The Apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Colossae:

Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

The dietary guidelines had a purpose. So did the festivals and Sabbaths. They were a shadow of what is to come. They pointed to the substance which belongs to Christ. These aspects of the Law were given for a purpose. They revealed in shadow what was coming in the future. They were prophetic. In fact, they still are.

Christ has fulfilled much of the Law and Prophets in His first coming. Christ was born according to the Scriptures. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures. The Son of Man has entered into His glory and is currently seated at the right hand of the Father.

Jesus has not yet returned. But, He will. These aspects of the Law and Prophets have yet to be fulfilled at Christ's second coming.

Christ in the Feasts


The Law contained commandments to celebrate holidays at the Lord's appointed times. These are the "festivals" which Paul discussed in Colossians 2:16. While New Covenant believers do not need to take the Law upon themselves and celebrate the festivals accordingly, we would be wise to see how these shadows point to Christ. They will equip us to better understand how Christ fulfills the Law.

You can read the commandments on how to celebrate these feasts in Exodus 23:14-17, Leviticus 23, and Deuteronomy 16:1-17. While reading through these in English it is easy to miss a nuance that is clearer in the original Hebrew.

We must note a difference between the Pilgrimage Festivals/Feasts (Heb: chag or chagag) and the other Appointed Times (Heb: mow'ed). If we fail to note this difference we will run into a contradiction of our own making.

By reading Exodus 23:14-17 and Deuteronomy 16:1-17 together we get a holiday schedule that looks like this:

1. Unleavened Bread
2. Harvest of First Fruits / Feast of Weeks
3. Feast of the Ingathering / Feast of Booths

These are the Pilgrimage Festivals (chag or chagag). The Pilgrimage Festivals are a special type of Appointed Times (mow'ed). They require an appearance before the LORD.

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD. (Exodus 23:17)

Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. (Deuteronomy 16:16)

Leviticus 23 outlines eight appointed times. They are as follows:

1. Sabbaths
2. Passover
3. Feast of Unleavened Bread
4. First Fruits (Day after Sabbath)
5. Pentecost
6. Trumpets
7. Day of Atonement
8. Feast of Tabernacles

The first of these, the seventh-day Sabbath, does not require a pilgrimage. It can be celebrated and kept wherever you are. The other seven appointed times coincide with the Pilgrimage Feasts. They were commanded to be celebrated according to the Jewish calendar. Here they are, clumped together by pilgrimage and in the order they were to be celebrated each year.

1. Passover - Nisan 14
2. Unleavened Bread - Nisan 15-22
3. First Fruits - Nisan 16

4. Pentecost - Sivan 6

5. Trumpets - Tishri 1
6. Atonement - Tishri 10
7. Tabernacles - Tishri 15

The first three appointed times coincide with the first pilgrimage in the month Nisan. The second pilgrimage was appointed in the month Sivan. The final pilgrimage occurred in the month Tishri.

As these festivals and appointed times are celebrated these days become "Sabbaths." They are holy days. They are not the seventh-day Sabbath but special Sabbaths that can occur on any day of the week. They are like your birthday, which is a special day that is celebrated at a particular time each year. It always falls on the same date but not on the same day of the week.

These appointed times of the Lord, including the pilgrimage feasts, were commanded to be kept by the nation of Israel.

Fulfillment in Christ


The New Testament makes it explicit that Christ has fulfilled the first four of these appointed times covering the first two pilgrimage feasts. The final pilgrimage and coinciding appointed times have not yet been fulfilled.

The first pilgrimage feast of Unleavened Bread entails the three appointed times of Passover (Nisan 14), Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-22), and First Fruits (Nisan 16). This was dramatically fulfilled in the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 5:7, "For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Apostle John made efforts to outline the tragic irony that Christ was being crucified while the Passover lambs were being slaughtered (John 19:14).

Christ was buried on the beginning of Unleavened Bread (John 19:41-42).

On the third day, the day of First Fruits, Christ rose from the dead. Paul uses this terminology explicitly:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:20-24, bold added)

The second pilgrimage festival was to be celebrated fifty days after First Fruits. In Exodus and Deuteronomy it is referred to as the Harvest of First Fruits or the Feast of Weeks. It is called Pentecost (pentecost literally means fiftieth) in the New Testament. Leviticus 23 explains:

'You shall also count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day when you brought in the sheaf of the wave offering; there shall be seven complete sabbaths. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD.' (Leviticus 23:15-16, bold added)

Pentecost was the reason Jews from all throughout the Roman Empire had assembled in Jerusalem. God poured out the Holy Spirit on this day. You can read all about this dramatic fulfillment in Acts 2. God inaugurated the beginning of the church in accordance with His appointed times. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is in keeping with God's eternal purpose in Christ to reconcile a people to Himself from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people.

The Final Pilgrimage


The final pilgrimage festival and corresponding three appointed times have not yet been fulfilled. We must be careful any time we attempt to look into the future with certainty. However, we can have some confidence by noticing that just as Paul used the language of the appointed times from the Law in describing Christ's incarnation and death, burial, and resurrection, he likewise uses the language of the final appointed times to look forward to Christ's return.

According to the schedule of appointed times in the Law, the next to be celebrated is Trumpets.

Jesus used the language of the trumpets to describe the gathering of His people at the last times.

"And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." (Matthew 24:30-31, bold added)

Paul also uses this language.

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, bold added)

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16)

After the Trumpets is the Day of Atonement. The language of the Old Testament festivals could easily be understood to foreshadow the Final Day of Judgment. After this appointed time, the final celebration is the Feast of Tabernacles. The language of "tabernacles" points to a dwelling. The consummation of all things is when God dwells among His people.

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, bold added)

Conclusion


While I would not be willing to guarantee that Christ's return will coincide with the appointed times from the Law, it would be unwise to miss the fact that God has already orchestrated the First Coming of Jesus and the Beginning of the Church age according to this prophetic schedule.

Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. These appointed times have been partially fulfilled. We currently live in the time between Pentecost (the church) and the Second Coming of Christ (Trumpets). Whether or not Christ returns or raptures His church on Tishri 1 of some year remains to be seen. What we can know for sure is that Christ is coming again to fulfill the rest of the Law.

Are you ready? If you are, are you proclaiming the glorious truth of the gospel and urging those who are not ready to be reconciled to God the Father through His Son?

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.