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?

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?

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!

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!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

Ungodly Men & Ungodly Laws!

-We Don’t Have To Take Care Of Ourselves!

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, viewed himself as nothing more than God’s humble servant. He didn’t take himself too seriously! He saw himself as just one piece in God’s sovereign plan for the world! Though life circumstances, no doubt, made him fearful at times; fear did not control him! When we get over our fear, we can kind of “let go” & “let God” use us however He wants. I don’t have to take care of myself. God takes care of me! God shows us, in Daniel’s story, how we ought to respond when ungodly men make ungodly laws.

-Bow Down & Worship!

In Daniel, chapter 3, Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, builds a 90’ tall gold statue of himself; and, demands that everyone bow down & worship it; or, be thrown into a fiery furnace. That would be a problem for Daniel’s 3 Hebrew friends— Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah! They had been raised in good Jewish homes. They knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus 20— “I  am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me; do not make an idol for yourself; You must not bow down to them or worship them.” So, here they were between a rock; and, a hard place! Obey the King & face God’s judgment; or, obey God & face the fiery furnace.

-An Awkward Moment!

Get the picture? There are probably thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued; all, waiting for the sound of the music. They hear it; and, everyone bows down & worships the gold image except 3 men. They had to know that their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed. And, it wasn’t:  “Some of the Chaldeans took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse them” (3:8). So, they are made to stand before King Nebuchadnezzar; and, they “…replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (3:16-18).

-God Is Able To Deliver!

Enraged by their insubordination, the king demanded that they be thrown into the furnace. But, they determined to obey God rather than the king; and, trust God to do whatever he willed. They had faith that God was able to deliver them; but, even if He didn’t, they would not bow to the king’s image. There is a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful we don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite! His ways are higher than ours! So, don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make!

-How Our Story Ends!

We can’t make demands on God about how our personal story ends! They trusted that God would deliver them either by a miracle; or, by death! We have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace:  “…EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “we won’t bow to false gods!” That’s a gospel response. Sadly, the gospel being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “me.” It’s man-centered; and, not God-centered! So, if He doesn’t deliver me from the furnace I won’t trust Him! That’s where false teaching begins… with man’s ways! King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments; when, it was God who blessed him with his abilities! I read somewhere that:  “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone.” God will not share His glory with you! Humble yourself before Him.

God Keeps His Word!

-A Compassionate & Gracious God!

Over the last couple of posts, we’ve talked about the Prophet Jeremiah; and, the words he wrote in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. What Jeremiah says about God, reminded me of the words of the Psalmist:  “But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” Psalm 86:15. And it was Jesus, the 2nd Member of the Triune Godhead, who manifested all of the Father’s attributes & character, in the flesh, throughout His 33 1/2 years He walked this planet He created! He showed great compassion and mercy!

-Moved With Compassion!

He wept with friends at Lazarus’ grave! He was moved with compassion by all of the suffering around Him; and, He healed many who sought His help! It’s because of Jesus that we can never doubt the Father’s mercy & compassion toward us! And, it was Jeremiah, who observed that God had an endless supply of mercy that He shared with the suffering Jewish people. Jeremiah also observed that we can have hope in our suffering because God is faithful to His Word. “…GREAT is your faithfulness!” Jeremiah exclaimed (Lamentations 3:23). God is great in faithfulness! We can trust His character!

-God Is Who He Says He Is!

We can trust Him to be who He says He is! “Lord, Your word is forever; it is firmly fixed in heaven. Your faithfulness is for all generations; You established the earth, and it stands firm” (Psalm 119:89-90). The Apostle Paul encouraged Titus with, “…the hope of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Titus 1:2). And, remember, we’ve said previously that that word “hope”— in Scripture— means “confident expectation.” It’s not anything like the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that is common in our culture! So, Paul is reminding Titus about the “confident expectation” that we have, “…of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” When God makes a promise He keeps His word! He is faithful to keep His word because of His character— it’s impossible for God to lie!

-God Never Changes!

And, by way of the consistency of His character, we speak about God’s “immutability”; or, the fact that He never changes! He’s the same yesterday, today; and, forever! God will always be who He’s always been! He’s faithful! So, when Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a new place for them; and, that He would come back for them, you can count on Him to deliver! And, the worst day in heaven will still be infinitely better than the best day here! Paul said that “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And, then, Jeremiah offers us another reason for hope:  “I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24). The Lord is our portion!

-The Lord Is Our Portion!

That word, “portion”, is often translated as “inheritance” in Scripture! I would paraphrase Jeremiah’s words like this:  “I may have lost everything because of Babylon’s invasion; but, I’m looking at gaining God, Himself, as an inheritance that’ll make all this pain & suffering a distant memory.” God is the portion or inheritance that Jeremiah longed for! I want to suggest that the modern church has misplaced infatuation with heaven! The real portion; or, the great inheritance we look forward to is NOT a “place”; but, a “Person”! Jeremiah doesn’t say, “…HEAVEN is my portion…” He says, “…The LORD is my portion…” When we leave this world, we get God if we’ve trusted His Son, Jesus, for our salvation! We inherit God! He is the treasure we seek! The book of Revelation says that one day, in that place that Jesus is preparing for us right now, that God, Himself, will pitch a tent and live among us (Revelation 21:3). He is our HOPE!

The Redeeming Value Of Punishment!

-Free Speech!

I read recently about an interesting ruling, by a judge in Missouri, regarding the practice of flashing your headlights to warn oncoming traffic that there was a speed trap ahead; something, that’s considered illegal in many states! But, a federal court, in Missouri, has ruled that penalizing drivers for the headlight flash violates their 1st Amendment right to Free Speech! In his ruling, the Missouri Judge said that the flashing of headlights was essentially a good thing, “…sending a message to bring one’s driving in conformity with the law—whether it be by slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.” I share that with you, for it’s illustrative value, as I considered a Bible text, from 2 Chronicles, that I read last week!

-A Bleak Time In History!

To say that it was a bleak time, in Israel’s history, would be an understatement! Following the time of King David’s reign & the early part of King Solomon’s reign, the nation had endured a civil war that split Israel into 2 separate kingdoms— the Northern half, known as “Israel”; and the Southern half, known as “Judah.” We’ve already discussed, in some recent posts, how the lengthy list of kings moving forward had been mostly one bad king after another! So, by the time we get to the end of 2 Chronicles, the Northern half, of Israel, had already faced the judgment of God, having been taken captive, into exile, by Assyria! And, the Southern kingdom of Judah, despite a temporary revival under good King Josiah, had returned to their idol worship & their evil kings! They, too, find themselves on the verge of being captured & exiled to Babylon.

-Misunderstanding God’s Judgment!

I find, in my conversations with many people, that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the judgment of God! Often, they accuse Him of being harsh & insensitive; which, interestingly, kind of makes them God’s judge, doesn’t it? And, if they haven’t read the Word of God from cover to cover, they’re actually judging God falsely, without all the evidence. I know that in many conversations with people, who’ve read through the Bible for the first time, they have a new perspective on the way that God works with people! When you begin reading in Genesis you see that God gave Adam & Eve every opportunity to do the right thing & He warned them what would happen if they disobeyed! The soul that sins would die! But, even AFTER they disobeyed & brought God’s curse upon the earth, God still showed love, mercy & grace; and, provided covering for their sin!

-He Is A Good God!

Read a little further, in the Scriptures; and, you see that God heard the cries of the Jewish people as they were beaten, enslaved & terribly mistreated by the Egyptians. He sent them Moses to lead them out of Egypt & He gave them a new land… because He is a GOOD GOD! But, again He warned them that He would judge them by uprooting them & sending them into exile in the same way that He dispossessed the wicked nations, of the land, that lived there before them, if they disobeyed Him.  The continuing message, of Scripture, is that God uses everything in life— even the times when He spanks us— to accomplish His ultimate purpose in our lives! And, His ultimate purpose for everyone is redemption! He purposes to redeem the world He created from sin; and, to transform everyone, who repents, into the likeness of Jesus! It’s because God loves us that He punishes our sin to bring us to brokenness; so, that He can redeem us!