A Relevant Church!

-The Times We Live In!

I find the times we live in, right now, to be incredibly curious times for the church. The numbers are staggering! Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches, in the United States, are closing every year. That means that between 100-200 churches will close this week alone! So, who’s to blame? Many church leaders are trying to convince us that the secular culture & the liberal politics are to blame. But, I don’t believe that! Not for 1 minute do I believe that; and I base that belief on what we see in the book of Acts.

-Outside Forces & Culture!

If outside forces & culture are to blame for the church’s decline, there would be no churches anywhere! The church would have died in the Book of Acts! Yet, the greatest period of church growth began 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection on the Day of Pentecost & it’s recorded, in detail, in the Book of Acts for us! If you read through the Book of Acts, you can’t help but notice how adversarial the culture & the government were toward the church; and, yet, it prospered! Despite persecution that scattered the church; and even the killing of its leaders, the church just blew up with growth!

-New Believers “Multiplied”!

At first, adding new believers to the church by the thousands, but then the number of new followers of Jesus “multiplied” the book of Acts records! Isn’t the contrast interesting? That at a time when the government & culture were antagonistic toward the church, the church just went about her commission to make disciples & grew in unprecedented fashion; but today, many in the evangelical church have become hostile toward politics & the culture, and, we’re shrinking in size and relevance. Just an observation! Not a statement! I’ve mentioned in the past that the only good thing about growing older is the perspective it gives me. I mean no disrespect toward those of you that might be half my age, but I’ve simply had more time to observe how our country & the church have trended!

-The Days Of The “Moral Majority”!

You can read the history, but I lived it! I clearly remember the rise of Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority in the 1970s. I was a card-carrying member; and I firmly believed that we— the church & the Moral Majority— could change the spiritual trajectory of our nation by voting the right people into office & changing legislation. Like many of my fellow believers, I became politically active. More than once, someone asked me if I would consider running for political office; and I almost did. I watched the church impact the political landscape during the 1980s and much of the 1990,; and we rode that wave into the early 2000s. But if you haven’t noticed, the last 20+ years have not been kind. All that momentum from the 1970s is gone & as the dust continues to settle, here’s what we see— a church that has mostly become irrelevant & a nation that’s become increasingly secular!

-We Quit Making Disciples!

The church in America has mostly become irrelevant because it quit doing what Jesus created it to do! Our sole purpose; our only reason for existence, is for the making of disciples. That’s what we were commissioned to do! If Jesus was about political clout, He had every opportunity to act on it! Israel was ready to make Him king IF He would only throw off the restraints of Rome & lead a rebellion against their occupation. But, that was not the way of His Kingdom! He told His disciples to “…render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s & to God the things that were God’s…” So, when the church quit making disciples her mission in the 1970s & made politics her Savior, she began to shrink in size & lost whatever “Moral Majority” she might have had. Simply put, we’re in a bad place! There’s only one thing to do! It’s what we always must do when we’re guilty of disobedience! Repent! Judgment must begin at the house of God!

God’s Kingdom Plans!

-An Eternal Throne!

If you’ve read of Israel’s rebellion & falling away from God in the Old Testament, you know that God’s Kingdom plans, for Israel, were never fully realized. But, God is still determined to place a descendent of King David on an eternal throne that will govern not just Israel; but, the entire world! And, we know that Jesus will ultimately be that fulfillment of God’s Kingdom prophecy! And, for us! His Kingdom will finally be achieved beginning with His return; or, His 2nd coming; followed, by a millennial reign on earth; and, then over a new heavens & a new earth, when the substance, of God’s Kingdom, will finally be realized.

-He Will Dwell Among Us!

And, then, for all eternity it’ll be the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God. And, He will dwell among us the book of Revelation says. Literally, it says He’ll “pitch a tent” in our midst (21:3). But, where we struggle, in our understanding of the Kingdom, is with some of the teachings of Jesus. There’s a tension there! He speaks of God’s Kingdom as both present; and, still future. When He sent out the 70 He told them to preach, “The Kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). That’s “has come”; present tense. To the crowds, in Luke 11, He said, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you.” Right now! It’s here! In Luke 17:21, He’s even more explicit:  “Behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

-Both Present & Future!

So, how can God’s Kingdom be both present & future? I tend to think that the best answer is that God’s Kingdom is in place right NOW! God IS; and, always HAS BEEN the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. But, the Old Testament was more prophetic; or, forward-looking toward the Messiah’s coming; and, His Kingdom. So, when Jesus came everything changed because the King had come! The Kingdom is in place, in other words. In Mark, Jesus preached the good news of God:  “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near (or, literally, it “has arrived”). Repent and believe the good news” (1:15). So, the Kingdom is both physical and spiritual. Repentance & belief are necessary.

-Spiritual Birth Required!

To enter it physically requires a spiritual rebirth. Look at John’s Gospel, chapter 3, v.1. This is where we begin when we talk about the spiritual aspects of the Kingdom: “There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.’  Jesus replied, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” You can’t see the physical Kingdom, Jesus told him, unless you’re born again spiritually!

-Reenter Your Mother’s Womb?

And, then, look at v.5. After Nicodemus asked Jesus if he needed to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, “Jesus answered, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” To be born of water, many believe, relates to physical birth after living for 9 months in the womb of a mother’s amniotic fluid. And, to be born of the Spirit is easily understood as spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit. You cannot enter God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells him, unless you have BOTH a physical and a spiritual birth. And, in context, Jesus explains the spiritual birth to him in v.16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Spiritual birth only comes through belief in Jesus; a belief that He is the Messiah; and, that His death on the cross was necessary for our redemption; and, our entry into God’s Kingdom!

The Kingdom Of God!

-Where Trees Fall Up!

As crazy as it sounds, there is a place, in this world, where trees fall “up” when they’ve been cut. The place is in Para, Brazil where thousands of acres of rainforest were flooded with the building of a hydroelectric dam back in 1980. Underwater lumberjacks in submarines harvest trees as far down as 164 feet below the surface; and, they never have to worry about a tree falling on them after it’s been cut since they all fall “up” to the surface. This happens because it’s a place that operates under a different set of laws.

-A Kingdom By A Different Set Of Laws!

From the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, He offered His followers an opportunity to enter the Kingdom of God— a kingdom that operates by a different set of laws! As He unpacked & defined God’s Kingdom over His 3 1/2 year ministry, Jesus was careful to set it apart from the kingdoms of this world. God’s kingdom was nothing like this world’s kingdoms! Even as He stood trial, before Rome, He explained to a somewhat confused Pontius Pilate: “’My kingdom is not of this world,’ said Jesus. ‘If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here’” John 18:36. The principles, of God’s Kingdom, defy the laws of this world.

-What Is Greatness In God’s Kingdom?

In God’s Kingdom what was once up is down; and, what was once down is up. Greatness in God’s Kingdom is completely different from greatness in the kingdoms of this world; and, you will be unable to grasp a significant portion of Jesus’ teaching if you don’t understand the doctrine of God’s Kingdom! I don’t think I’m overstating my case one bit to say that the Kingdom of God is perhaps the main overriding theme in the entire Bible; and, if you dissect the content of all of Jesus’ words, in the 4 Gospels, it is the main message Jesus preached! Depending on your Bible translation, mention of God’s Kingdom is found some 147 times in the New Testament; and, 86 of those are in the 4 Gospels.

-The Substance Of God’s Kingdom!

The substance of God’s Kingdom is the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God! That is foundational to a doctrinally sound understanding of what God’s kingdom looks like. From eternity past, God purposed to create a people for Himself. And, God’s Kingdom pattern began inside the Garden of Eden where God walked in perfect relationship with Adam & Eve. You can see all God’s Kingdom elements there— the people of God were living in God’s place under the authority of God! But, sin effectively murdered the entire human race in Adam; and, the pattern of God’s Kingdom was broken because of sin. Then, God reestablishes the pattern of His Kingdom through Israel.

-A Christian Nation?

God removes Israel from Egypt, at the Exodus; and, relocates them in the land of promise. Again, we see God’s Kingdom elements— the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God! It was an utterly unique relationship! It was a Theocracy where God ruled! Never before or never since has there been such a relationship between God and a nation of this world. That’s something we must always keep in mind as we make comparisons to our own country. We are not; nor, have we ever been a “Christian nation” in that sense. We are NOT Israel! Only one nation, Israel, has ever had a “land contract” with God! We are not a Theocracy where God rules through His anointed prophets and kings. Nor has the church replaced Israel! God still has plans for Israel that He intends to finish. Israel remains prominent in Bible Prophecy! And, we also know, from Scripture, that Jesus will ultimately be the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom pattern!  Amen!

Our Savior Jesus Christ!

-Jesus Christ’s Humility!

The humility of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is apparent in the cloth the shepherds found Him wrapped in after His birth. Luke records that they would, “…find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger.”  There’s significance to the swaddling cloths that can easily be overlooked at first glance.  But, those cloths foreshadowed Jesus’ death. According to the Mishnah, which is the collection of the Jewish oral traditions, these cloths were used to wrap the lambs that were destined to be Passover lambs. As soon as the lamb was born, they’d wrap them with these cloths or bands to keep them from injury; because the lamb could have no blemishes or broken bones.

-He Was Wrapped In Burial Cloths!

And, it’s interesting that the same type of cloths was also used for burial cloths; and, the manger, used for cattle, was typically a cave; though, caves were also used as tombs to bury the dead. Someone put it like this:  “On the first day of Jesus’ earthly life He was wrapped up like a Passover lamb and laid in a cave, and on the day of His death He would be wrapped in the same type of cloth and laid in a cave” (Robby Gallaty). Our great God is humble! To the Church of Philippi, the Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus; and, said, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross” Philippians 2:8.

-Jesus Christ’s Humanity!

But, the Bible affirms not only the humility of Jesus; but, the humanity of Jesus. And, what makes Jesus’ humanity unique from the humanity of every other person who’s walked this earth is His “incarnation.” The “incarnation” is just a big, theological term that means Jesus “took on human flesh”; or, the act of being made flesh! So, why is that significant? For Jesus to be our Savior, He had to live the life of a perfect, sinless man to die as a substitute in our place. The Gospel writers are methodical in pointing out that Jesus was a human baby planted in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit.

-The Holy Spirit Will Come Upon You!

Luke wrote that Mary had a conversation with an angel; and, when she asked how she could become pregnant when she had never been intimate with a man, “The angel replied to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35). So, Jesus was a real human baby born to a real human mother; without a human father. The Gospel writers bear that out!  Jesus had all the typical needs of a human man. He slept. He ate food. Luke says He perspired (ch. 22:43-44). He bled; and, He died like a man. He also showed the human emotions of joy & sorrow & anger. Luke also records that, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature (as a man), and in favor with God and with people” (2:52).

-Our Great High Priest!

The N.T. book of Hebrews calls Him our High Priest; and, says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).  He shared in all the human weaknesses of the flesh without sinning; so, that He could be the sacrifice that God required for the remission of our sins. But, the Bible also affirms the Divinity of Jesus Christ. He was God! The divine nature of Jesus was joined with His human nature; so, He became the God-Man. He didn’t come out and say, “Hi, I’m Jesus & I’m God, and here are 10 reasons why!” But, it’s clear each & every time when the Jewish religious leaders understood Jesus to be making that claim! They called it blasphemy & picked up stones to stone Him! He fulfilled all the O.T. prophecies; which, one mathematician calculated to be 1 chance out of 13 trillion. If it’s true, God visited our planet! Do you know Him?

The Gospel Of Jesus Christ!

-Introducing The New King!

In the ancient world, new kings were introduced by a forerunner; or, a herald. Perhaps you remember, from the Old Testament, that Samuel first introduced; and, then anointed King Saul; and, later King David. Every culture & country has its traditions for heralding in a new leader. In our country, where the baton of leadership is usually passed peacefully from one president to another, it’s typical for 2 men to reside over the swearing-in of the new president— one is the Chief Justice; and, the other is the outgoing president. Together, they testify that the man being sworn in is the legitimate successor. It’s our country’s way of heralding a new leader.

-I Am Sending My Messenger!

And, that’s how Mark is inspired, by God’s Holy Spirit, to open his Gospel:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were  flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Mark 1:1-5). Unlike Matthew & Luke, who begin their Gospels with the family roots & genealogies of Jesus, Mark picks it up at the actual beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

-That’s Good News!

Now, most of you probably know the definition of the “Gospel”, right? What does it mean? It means “good news” right? So, Mark is writing about the “good news” of Jesus Christ from, “The beginning…” he says. And, Mark says the Good News begins in the Old Testament:  “As it is written IN ISAIAH the prophet…” v.2. And, then he quotes from Isaiah, chapter 40, which is similarly recorded in the last book of the Old Testament, “‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). 

-Waiting For The Messiah!

And, from Malachi’s prophecy ‘til the arrival of Jesus Christ, Israel had waited 400 years for Messiah’s coming! They had waited, I want to point out, for God’s “messenger” (little “m”) to herald; or, announce the coming of the LORD; or, the King, the “Messenger” (capital “M”) of the covenant! So, Mark’s focus, at least at the start of his gospel, was more on the forerunner; or, the herald, than the King; and, there’s a good reason for that because Mark is writing to Gentiles. Specifically, he is writing to the Romans, who occupied the land of Israel at that time.

-The Need For A Credible Herald!

Mark knew that if he was writing a gospel about the arrival of a new king, to the Romans, that there would need to be some kind of authoritative, credible herald to announce his arrival. That’s the way it was in the culture of the Roman world. No Roman King or Caesar ever just showed up and said:  “Hello! Attention everyone! I’m the new King here!” No, he always had a forerunner; and, an entourage who went before him; and, prepared the way so all the people would be ready for his coming. So, Mark, to be consistent with the Gentile approach, goes to the Old Testament to find the prophecies that gave authenticity to King Jesus’ herald; and, then he informs his readers that John the Baptizer is that forerunner; and, that’s why John heralds or proclaims these words: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals” (1:7). He was preparing the way for King Jesus!

Confirming The Messiah!

-An Authentic Messiah!

So, how can we know if someone, claiming to be God’s Messiah, was authentic? Historical records reveal a 3-step process that the Scribes and Pharisees used to investigate every Messianic claim. Just explore Matthew’s gospel— written specifically to a Jewish audience— and observe how this process played out with Jesus’ claims. First, they would begin to observe the Messianic claims from afar! That’s precisely what we see in Matthew’s gospel. A delegation was assembled, by the religious leaders; and, they simply observed Jesus. Their only purpose, at the first, was to put together as much information as they could to determine if the claim was legitimate enough to advance to the 2nd step.

-Examination By Interrogation!

The Messianic examination would continue with interrogations. At this point, the delegation was permitted to interview all bystanders; as well as the leaders in the movement; and, even the one claiming to be the Messiah.  We know, from the Jewish writings of the time, that the sages of Israel believed the Messiah would perform 3 specific miracles to validate His identity. Based on their understanding of certain Old Testament texts, it was believed that the Messiah would heal a leper; cast out a dumb demon; and, restore eyesight to a man born blind. So, when it was reported that Jesus had performed these miracles, the Sanhedrin sent the delegation to begin the interrogation process.

-Leprosy Had Never Been Cured!

From the time that Moses had received the Law, there had been no record of any Jew being cured of leprosy. God had cured Miriam of leprosy before the Law was given; and, Naaman, who was healed of leprosy, was a Gentile. So, the power to cleanse a Jew, of leprosy, was viewed as an act of God alone. So, when Matthew records Jesus’ healing of a leper, in chapter 8, there’s a reason Jesus says what He says:  “Reaching out His hand Jesus touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be made clean.’ Immediately his disease was healed. Then Jesus told him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed, as a testimony to them.’”  This was nothing less than Jesus claiming to be the Messiah.

-Go To The Priest For Confirmation!

The Law of Moses instructed anyone cured of leprosy to go to the priest to verify it. Jesus was responding to their interrogation by showing them the confirmation that they needed. In Matthew, chapter 12, it’s recorded that, “…a demon-possessed man who was blind and unable to speak was brought to Him. He healed him, so that the man could both speak and see” (v.22). Notice, from the text, how Matthew says Jesus found this man. It says he was “…brought to Him…” Many Bible scholars believe that it was the religious delegation themselves that brought this blind and mute man to Jesus as part of the observation & interrogation process.

-Is This Truly The Messiah?

They were working to determine whether Jesus truly was the Messiah. That would also explain why the next verse says, “…the crowds were astounded & said, ‘Perhaps this is the Son of David’”; which, was a term the Jews used to reference the Messiah. The crowd would have been aware that Jesus was being examined by the religious leaders; so, they were taunting them, “Hey, did you see what He just did? Maybe this really is the Messiah.” So, Matthew records all three of Jesus’ Messianic miracles— He healed a leper; He cast out a dumb demon; and, He gave sight to a man born blind. But, despite all the evidence, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Scribes & the Elders, of the people, reject Him as Messiah. They concluded that “This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” You and I must also come to a decision about Jesus! He is the spiritual lightning rod! The evidence is there! Will you believe it?

Messiah; Or, Not?

-Messiah’s Everywhere!

Because of the times, it wasn’t at all uncommon for “Messiahs” to pop up all over Israel before and after Jesus’ arrival on the scene! Many were “military Messiah’s” claiming the ability & power to overthrow the Roman occupation of Israel. And, because so many of the O.T. descriptions, of Messiah, depicted a conquering king, the hopes of the people would rise each time it appeared that one of these “Messiahs” could deliver them from their oppression; and, make Israel great again!

-Protocols To Confirm Legitimacy!

So, because of all the anticipation & hope, of a coming Messiah; and, because of all the failed “Messiahs”, the Jewish religious leaders developed specific protocols to follow whenever anyone came on the scene claiming to be the Messiah. Historical records reveal a 3-step process that the Scribes and Pharisees used to investigate every Messianic claim. Just explore Matthew’s gospel— written specifically to a Jewish audience— and observe how this process played out with Jesus’ claims. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, you need to consider the evidence; and, make your own decision about Jesus Christ. You cannot remain neutral about Jesus!

-Liar, Lunatic; Or, Lord!

As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus was either a liar (and, therefore not a good person); or, He was a lunatic (and, therefore to be pitied); or, He was Lord, the Messiah, God in the flesh and worthy of all our devotion & worship! So, let’s suppose that we were part of the religious contingent when Jesus came on the scene. Here’s how they would have responded as the claims of miracles & Messiahship began to come to their attention. First, they would begin to observe the Messianic claims from afar! That’s precisely what we see in Matthew’s gospel. A delegation was assembled, by the religious leaders; and, they simply observed Jesus. They asked no questions; and, they raised no objections.

-Observing Messianic Claims!

Their only purpose, at the first, was to put together as much information as they could to determine if the claim was legitimate enough to advance to the 2nd step. They would report back to the Sanhedrin where the religious leaders would determine, from the observations, what the next step would be moving forward. Was it a legitimate movement? Was it significant? If not, they’d call off the investigation; and, the so-called “Messianic” movement would just die a slow death! That’s most likely what was happening, in Acts chapter 5 when Gamaliel made his comments about the followers of Jesus. He warned them to be careful what they did with these followers. Let them go; and, they may just scatter over time! “But if it is of God,” he said, “you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be fighting against God.” Jesus was still being debated after His death.

-If The Messianic Claims Were Legit!

If the Sanhedrin determined the Messianic claims were potentially legitimate, they’d move to the next stage. The Messianic examination would continue with interrogations. At this point, the delegation was permitted to interview all bystanders; as well as the leaders in the movement; and, even the one claiming to be the Messiah. They would interact with His teachings; they’d raise objections; and, even attempt to trap him in such a way as to break him out of his “Messianic” character. From their studies in the Old Testament, the Jewish Rabbis; and, religious leaders knew that the Messiah would fulfill prophecy & complete certain tasks that only God would be able to perform. We know, from the Jewish writings of the time, that the sages of Israel believed the Messiah would perform 3 specific miracles to validate His identity. And, we’ve run out of time & space! So, we’ll pick it up there at our next post!

God With Us!

-Proof He Is Who He Says He Is!

Try and imagine, with me, what it would be like to be a spy working undercover for the CIA. Imagine you’re in a hostile country; and, your assignment is to discover enemy secrets and send them to the home country. Imagine you’re approached by a man you’ve never met; and, he claims to also work for the CIA; and, he’s received new information from the U.S. government and your new assignment is to take orders from him. What do you do? You’re going to demand proof that he really is who he says he is; and, confirm that headquarters really did send him! 

-Can We Believe Jesus?

As you open the Bible to the start of the New Testament, you’re introduced to a man named Jesus; who claims to be the Jewish Messiah; the Son of God! How do we know we can believe Him? How do we know He’s not a fraud? Well, let’s return to our spy story! But, this time let’s imagine that before you left for your assignment, that you were given Top Secret instructions that you would meet a new contact; and, it included his picture and described him as 6’5” tall with one blue eye & one brown eye; that he walked with a limp; and, he would identify himself as “the mongoose.” He would give you all the necessary information you need to complete your assignment. With that kind of detailed information, you could easily identify the true agent, couldn’t you?

-Confirming Jesus Was The Messiah!

In a very similar way, God the Father has given us all the detailed information necessary to confirm who Jesus Messiah would be! And, only God is capable of formulating a plan, from the past, for the future; and, then implementing it & making it happen! Every other religious leader was born into this world unannounced, making claims about new information or revelations from God, with no way of verifying their claims! Think through that! Whether it’s Mohammed or Joseph Smith or Krishna or Mary Baker Eddy or Charles Taze Russell or Sun Myung Moon or Buddha; all of these were born first; and, then came up with their own religious movement they claimed to have come from God. It was the exact opposite for Jesus!

-Unique Details About The Messiah!

Long before He entered the world, God shared with the world, through His prophets, all the  unique details about the Messiah who would come so there could be no missing Him. The Old Testament; or, the Torah, contained all the necessary proof to either confirm or deny the one claiming to be Messiah. The only difference between Christianity & all other religions is Jesus Christ. It is the absolute uniqueness of Jesus that sets Him apart; and, makes Him distinct. Was Jesus the Messiah? That was the entire purpose for the first four books of the New Testament— the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

-Testimony That Verifies Jesus’ Claim!

Each writer describes a different facet of Jesus’ ministry; so, together they provide a complete testimony to verify His claim that He was the Messiah. Matthew, especially, records the way the Jewish leaders— especially the Scribes & the Pharisees— examined the claims that Jesus was the Messiah; and, how they came to the negative conclusion that they came to. As Jesus became more & more popular, with the people, He also came under more & more scrutiny and disapproval by the religious leaders; especially, as He began working miracles & claiming that He was ONE with YAHWEH. And, by way of background, these were difficult times for Israel. Once again, as happened in the O.T., Israel had been invaded by a foreign power— this time the Roman Empire. As God promised, in the O.T., their sin had led to judgment & their hope was deliverance through God’s Messiah! We’ll pick it up from there next week!

Careless Worship!

-God Confronts Carless Worship!

In recent posts, we’ve identified spiritual drift as a relational stumbling block between God and His people, Israel. They were guilty of slowly moving away from authentic worship as they became skeptical of God’s love and faithfulness toward them! Their spiritual drift became evident as their worship became more and more casual! And, what God’s word reveals, in the book of Malachi, is that He will confront us when we become careless about our worship.

-Spiritual Drift Is Subtle!

From the opening chapter, Israel’s priests had become guilty of despising God’s name by the way they handled the sacrifices in the temple (v.8).  They whined that going to the temple to worship had become a nuisance (v.13-14). It had gotten “in the way” of the rest of their lives! Sound at all familiar? Be careful church! It’s a subtle drift! We can try and justify our decisions not to be in a Small Group; or, not to have our kids in Sunday School; or, not to go to Sunday School ourselves as adults; or, become careless about being the worship service at the start; or, our unwillingness to minister & serve others! But, God tells Israel that it’s because they failed to see & feel the greatness of God that they’d become careless, casual; and, calloused in their worship.

-A Heart In Love With The Creation!

Careless worship is the by-product of a heart more in love with the creation than the Creator! If you fail to see God’s greatness, then all the stuff money buys becomes more impressive to you. A flashlight is pretty cool until you see the sun! You’ll ooh & aah over July 4th fireworks until you experience thunder & lightning! Once you’ve tasted the Creator, the creation is no longer that thrilling! If you’re bored with God, it’s because you haven’t felt the greatness and the weight of Who He is! You need more time with Him in His word; not, less! Your kids need more time in family worship; more time in Sunday School and AWANA; not, less! You need more time with God’s people in a Small Group; more exposure to what God’s doing in other people’s lives; or, the world will tantalize you; and, you’ll find yourself in a slow spiritual drift away from God.

-The Need To Stand In Awe Of God!

Through Malachi, God shows us that He will confront God’s people when they become indifferent to truth (2:1-9). God calls out the priests, of Malachi’s day, for failing to speak the truth; and, He calls out the people for failing to keep the priests accountable to God’s word. God points to Levi, Israel’s first priest, as the example to follow. Levi stood in awe of God; and, the people sought to be instructed by him from God’s word. God testified that Levi “…revered Me and stood in awe of My Name… he walked with Me.” There’s an indifference, across our nation, toward God’s word! And, incredibly, the church is equally guilty!

-Indifference Toward God’s Word!

Even those who profess to follow Jesus have become indifferent to reading from their Bibles, claiming not to have time to read it regularly! But, the same individuals spend hours on HULU, Facebook & Netflix. Many of us have become numb to the spiritual drift of our souls as we entertain ourselves to death! The American church has become complicit in the spiritual apathy of our nation!  Rather than vibrant lives of faith that are impacted dynamically by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, many in the church have fallen into “moralistic deism” instead of the Gospel. If you’re good enough; if you keep the checklist of moral behavior then God will love you & bless you! That’s moralism; but, it’s not dynamic salvation in Christ! It’s no wonder that we live in a day of spiritual “deconstruction”; whereby, many are walking away from the Church. We desperately need genuine revival among God’s people in the church! God help us!

Skeptical Of God’s Love?

-How Does God Answer Skepticism?

The Old Testament book of Malachi opens with an interaction between God and the nation of Israel. “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you ask: ‘How have You loved us?’” (1:2). Israel had become skeptical of God’s love for them! They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. So, how does God answer their skepticism? “‘Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.’” What does that mean? How is that an answer to their question about God’s love for them? Well, let me try and walk you through it.

-God Loves With Free, Sovereign, Unconditional Love!

Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Yes! The answer was yes! Though Israel descended from Jacob, every Israelite knew that Esau was Jacob’s twin brother born to Isaac & Rebecca. They also knew that Esau was the older brother; which meant, according to the customs of the time, that he should have gained all the rights & privileges as the main heir of the father’s blessings. So, what is the point? He answers their skepticism, about His love for them, by reminding them that He could have just as easily chosen Esau instead of Jacob; because they were twins & Esau was, in fact, the older brother! But, God chose Jacob and passed over Esau! Are you tracking with me so far? Because here’s the hard part; God answers their skepticism by telling Israel that He loved them with free, sovereign, unconditional love!

-The Difficult Doctrine Of God’s Election!

It was “free” because God’s love cannot be earned! It was “sovereign” because God is in absolute control of all the world’s affairs! And, it was “unconditional” because Israel didn’t have to perform under certain conditions to receive it! If you’re at all like me, you’ve found the Biblical doctrine of God’s election to be one of the most difficult doctrines to receive. Why? Because it doesn’t seem “fair” does it? We’re all about “fairness”; aren’t we? This is such a hard doctrine that I’ve known many preachers try and explain it away; or, to just avoid it altogether! But, what about “free will” we want to ask! Didn’t Jacob have free will to choose or reject God? Yes! But, didn’t God choose Jacob & reject Esau? Yes! But, doesn’t that seem like a contradiction? Yes! It seems like one! But, it’s not!

-The Difference Between A Contradiction & Tension!

Because we know there are no contradictions in God’s word! There’s a tension here; as there are many tensions in the Scriptures, aren’t there? And, there’s a big difference between a “contradiction” and a “tension.” There can be tension between 2 truths! We can’t avoid preaching the 2 truths just because they create tension! If both are taught in Scripture; then, both must be preached! Does Scripture teach the “free will” of man? Yes, Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; and, Revelation 22:17, among other Scriptures, all convey that anyone desiring to be saved can be saved!

-Living With Tension In Scripture?

At the same time, Jesus says, “NO ONE can come to Me unless the Father draws him…”; and, He says, “You did not choose Me, I chose you…” (John 6:44; 15:16). And, 1 John says, “We love Him because He loved us first” (4:19). So, which is it; “free will” or God’s “election”? Yes is the answer! Did Jacob choose God; or, did God choose Jacob? Yes is the answer! Do we have “free will”; or, does God “elect” us into His family? The answer is YES! Somehow God’s sovereignty covers my free will in a way that only God can make it happen! I choose Him because He chose me! I’ve learned to live with the tension; and, I’ve learned to love it! I’m okay with not figuring it out! I’ve memorized Proverbs 25:2 just to remind myself on these occasions:  “It is the glory of God to CONCEAL a matter…” I believe that says it’s to God’s glory that we can’t figure it out! He’s so much bigger than our intellectual abilities! Don’t become skeptical of Him!