When Will God’s Glory Return?

The Ark Of The Covenant

If all you know about the “Ark Of The Covenant” is what you learned from an Indiana Jones movie, then you need to be brought up to speed! One of the most depressing O.T. Bible stories revolves around Israel’s “Ark Of The Covenant”; and, it’s found in 1 Samuel 4. Israel finds herself at war with the Philistines & they’re defeated! This disturbed them greatly; and, in their debriefing, someone came up with a great idea— “Let’s bring the Ark of the Lord’s covenant into battle with us next time! The Ark will save us!

The Shekinah Glory’s Presence

Now, the Ark was a rectangular box made of acacia wood; and, overlaid with gold.  The top of the Ark contained the mercy seat where the “Shekinah Glory”; or, the manifest presence of God, rested.  For its illustrative value, it’s worth noting at this point that when our children were growing up, we’d remind them that “the way of the transgressor is hard” whenever their sin got them into trouble. Well, it was because of Israel’s sin that God, in His Sovereignty, had allowed Israel to suffer defeat at the hands of the Philistines; and, when they responded by putting their faith in the Ark, rather than God, they would suffer another embarrassing defeat.

The Glory Is Departed

This time, the Ark was also taken by the Philistines; and, Israel left to mourn its loss:  “The Glory is departed! The Glory is departed!” The Ark; and, God’s “Shekinah Glory” had been taken! The Ark couldn’t deliver! God had never intended for the Ark to be used as a “weapon”; or to be propped up as something to be depended on like some kind of rabbit’s foot! Only God, in all His Glory, can deliver & save! It’s a reminder of how subtle the enemy, of our souls, can be—  “Worship the God of the Ark”; or, “Worship the Ark of God”? It’s just moving around two nouns; but, the results were devastating!

The Idols Of Human Strategy

I find the parallels, to the Church, to be haunting! Are we not guilty of worshipping the idols of human strategy & technique for doing church? Like Israel, have we not become focused on the “horizontal”—adopting human wisdom & logic—rather than the “vertical”—seeking the power & glory of God! The Church has become weak and anemic because we’ve “settled”—we’ve “settled” for the glory of what we can do instead of the glory of what an awesome, limitless God can do.  And, what He can do is above & beyond anything we could ask or think! It’s impossible for us to even imagine the power & wisdom of God! What He does is always perfect & right because He listens only to His own perfect counsel! He works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11).

The Rest Of The Story

As I read the rest of the story, my attention was arrested by what happened “after” the Ark was taken— what happened was a national “revival.” Israel repents & returns to the Lord; and, the Ark is recovered; and, the place of God’s glory comes home! And, that’s where I find hope—in GOD! There is hope for the Church in America— NOT at the polls: NOT by electing certain individuals to public office; NOT by passing laws in an attempt to legislate righteousness! Our hope must begin at the altars of our churches! Let judgment begin at the House of God! Nothing is happening in America that a “glory to God” revival couldn’t fix! Let us repent of our idolatrous fascination that politicians can save us!  And let us fall on our knees and ask God to bring revival to our churches! Our only hope is in the Lord! Can I get an “Amen”?

Gripped By God’s Greatness

The Problem With Our Sovereignty

When Adam & Eve chose to listen to the wisdom of a talking snake shortly after taking their 1st  breath— air, compliments of their Creator God, by the way— the result was more than just a severed relationship with God. It was more than getting kicked out of paradise. What the serpent offered them, in exchange for their soul, was individual self-authority; or sovereignty;— or, “godlikeness”— without the Power of God! The Power of God, necessary to carry out individual sovereignty, was NOT the serpent’s to give!

Satan’s Counterfeit

So, they chose to accept Satan’s counterfeit offer “to be LIKE god.” But without the “Power of God,” all they could make was a decision to disobey.  So, that sinful decision to “be like god” was hard-wired into every individual through Adam & Eve’s original sin.  We’re all born into the world “acting” like we believe we’re “God”; and, growing up with this false sense of “individual sovereignty” without the “Power Of God” to back it up! The result is what some people call a “god complex”— it’s in our DNA. We’re self-deluded from birth! We’re arrogant! We think we’re infallible! We seek to control our environment from the moment we’re aware of it!

Silly Things People Say

It doesn’t help that we have parents; or, other people in our lives, who say silly things to us like: “You can do anything you put your mind to!” Really? So, I started putting my mind to it— I was going to be 6’ tall and play basketball in the NBA! I was going to be valedictorian in my class! I was going to become independently wealthy! Guess what! I’ve never been any of those things! The text in Genesis also says that when Eve looked at the fruit, that, “…it was desirable to make one wise…” she also bought into the lie of self-sufficiency— that we can follow our own wisdom; that we don’t need God. We just need to “listen to our heart.”

Our Heart Is Deceitful

But, God says our heart is “…deceitful and desperately wicked. No one can know it…” (Jeremiah 17:9) It’s not until God lets us “crash & burn” a few times that we begin to realize we’ve been duped; and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, the Gospel begins to make sense to us! Hey! We’re NOT in control! We’re out of control! We’re broken; and, we need a Savior because we can’t save ourselves! Jesus became that Savior through His work on the cross! And, He saves us from ourselves— from our “god complex”! Then the Holy Spirit moves in & begins to “reprogram” us; so, we start to look more like Jesus! Let us be gripped, Church, by the greatness of our God!

Above and Beyond

In Ephesians 3:20, the Apostle Paul encouraged the Church of Ephesus with these words: “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us.” God can do more than we could ever ask or think because His Spirit indwells us! It’s not about US! It’s about the BIG GOD who indwells us! That’s where the power is! If our ministry is not about Him & His glory our efforts are futile! “Self-Reliance” and “self-sufficiency” are such subtle sins! They constantly slip into our lives and sabotage our ministry efforts! Let us humble ourselves before Him— let us agree with John the Baptizer when He said of Jesus: “He must increase; and, I must decrease!”  Dear God… bring revival to your church! Change our hearts! Make us so dependent on you that we bathe every decision in submissive prayer, seeking God’s wisdom over our own!

How Important Should Politics Be?

-The Reaping & Sowing Principle

In my last post I talked about the Church’s well-intended; but, disastrous decision, to exchange Jesus’ commission to “make disciples” in the hope that their political clout— as a “Moral Majority”— could change our country, for the better, by electing the right individuals to office & through legislation.  Five decades later, we’ve discovered the accuracy of God’s word in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” It’s the reaping & sowing principle!

-A Biblical Theology Of Politics

The Church has severely shrunk in size; and, for the most part, the strategy of the “Moral Majority” of the 1970s and 80s, has failed to elect God-Honoring public servants or pass God-Honoring legislation. However, let us NOT get back on the pendulum; and, swing it to the other extreme, making government & politics of no importance! That’s reactionary, and it’s not a Biblically acceptable response either! What we need is a Biblical Theology of the “Christian & Politics.” Our Theology; and our Doctrine always have to begin with God! He’s the starting place for everything.

-Government Was God’s Idea

The earth is the LORD’S and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” Psalm 24:1.  “For the earth is the Lord’s, and everything that is in it” 1 Cor. 10:26.  Government was God’s idea! He created it—  “Submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God…the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves” Rom 13:1,2.  The principle in Scripture is that God is Sovereign over human governments; and, uses them to advance His ultimate plans (Prov. 21:1;  Dan. 2:21; 2 Chron. 20:6).  At the same time, God blesses the nation that chooses Him (Psa. 9:17; 33:12; Isa. 60:12; Prov. 14:34).  There’s an element of man’s free will involved.

-Personal Responsibility Required

He’s made us a free moral agent; and so, people often get the government they’ve “chosen.” There seems to be some personal responsibility required; especially, if we have the freedom to choose our public officials as we do here in the United States of America. If we’re given the opportunity to choose good governments that exalt God, that’s what we’re called to do! Paul told Timothy to pray for good governments— “…for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity that provide a peaceful atmosphere for us to do the Lord’s work…” (1 Tim. 2:1,2).

-Balancing The Tension

In Philippians 3:20, Paul puts government & politics in its proper perspective—“But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter says to “…conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence here” 1 Pet. 1:17. It’s ultimately a matter of “identity.” I must view my identity as a “citizen of heaven” and a “temporary resident” of this world and my home country!  The moment I lose sight of that I’ve made my nation an “idol”! As one whose identity is “in Christ”, my goal must always be to pursue Christ as the prize! At the same time, we’ve been blessed with the privilege and responsibility to vote! And we must vote our conscience, based on our understanding of Scripture! But, then we leave it there! We leave the results in the hands of our Sovereign God! No anger or rudeness toward leaders that God has installed for His eternal purpose! Now we pray for those leaders!

Politics Is Like A Skunk

-The “Moral Majority” Years

That’s what a pastor friend of mine told me once:  “Politics is like a skunk: Touch it and that’s all anyone will notice about you for a long while.” Now that another election has come to an end, I thought it might do us well to talk a little bit about politics. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I was very much involved in the political scene. I was part of the “Moral Majority” back in the ‘70s and listened religiously to political talk shows during the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

-Perspective Is A Great Thing

But, “perspective” is a great thing! It’s the only great thing about growing older! Perspective is “the ability to see all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship to one another.” Over the last 20+ years, I’ve gained a different perspective on the Church’s level of involvement in politics during the “Moral Majority” years. From my perspective, the Church exchanged Christ’s commission to “make disciples” for the hope that their political clout (because of their “majority” status) could change our country, for the better, by electing the right individuals to office who would see to it that God-Honoring legislation would be passed. 

-We’ve Reaped What We Sowed

Almost 5 decades later, we’ve “reaped what we sowed.” Because we backed away from our calling to “make disciples” the Church has severely shrunk in size. Some of the most recent statistics I’ve seen reveal that 9 out of every 10 churches in America are in decline.  And, only 1 new church is starting for every 2-3 that are closing! We’re no longer a “moral majority”! So, we’ve— for the most part— failed to elect God-Honoring public servants; and, we’ve failed in the battle to pass God-Honoring legislation. We’ve lost the “Culture Wars”! We’ve paid a great price for our disobedience, Church! And, I’m pointing fingers at this guy at the same time I’m calling out the rest of the Church! I’ve been disobedient to my calling! There, I said it! Will you admit it?

-God Is Still Sovereign

But, wait! This is not a message of hopelessness! All is not lost! God is still Sovereign! He’s still on the throne! He still listens & is moved by the repentant prayers of His Children! He continues to raise up “modern day prophets” who call the Church back to God; to brokenness & humility; to return to our calling; to fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission to “make disciples” as we “go” about doing life! We must remember that that is our calling! Jesus did not commission the church to “go” and make a “Christian nation.” Our core theology & doctrinal beliefs must be based on Scripture! We can’t make stuff up just because it would help us feel better or safer!

-Know What You’re Responsible For

Like most of you, I’m sick to death of all the negative campaign advertising! Glad it’s over for another couple of years! It would be really easy, for me, to just walk away from the political process altogether! I’d have no problem finding something else to do on election day & I’m sure many of you feel the same way. But, we can’t! Based on Scriptural principle, there is simply no way that I can—in good conscience—recommend that you stop voting. Just because politics is less important doesn’t mean that it’s not important! There’s tension there! It’s all about being a good & faithful steward! We need to know what we’re responsible for! As citizens, of this nation, we’ve been given the responsibility & privilege to vote! And vote our conscience, based on our understanding of Scripture, we must! But, then we leave it there! We leave the results in the hands of the Sovereign God! No anger or rudeness! Now we pray for our leaders!

What If Persecution Comes To America?

-Can It Happen Here?

We sit in our offices & our homes watching the stories of persecuted Christians play out, from afar, on our monitors & our TVs! Christian persecution happens in other nations; but, not ours! We may not say it out loud; but, the unprecedented freedoms that Christians have enjoyed in this country, through the years, have led us to some unrealistic— even UNBIBLICAL— expectations. I’ve seen it in political rhetoric! Many American believers have a sort of entitlement mentality; like, persecution just can’t happen here!

-What If That’s Not God’s Way?

Now let me be clear—I do not have a death wish! I pray that the persecution of Christians will not spill over our borders & into our land! I pray for God to send revival to His Church; that, the Church will fall deeply in love with God again & out of love with the created things of this world; that, God will open the gates of heaven to the spiritual refugees all around us & awaken them to faith in Christ; and, that God will do all that without a loss of freedom & without persecution here. But…. what if that’s not God’s way for us? What if it’s part of His Sovereign plan to bring judgment to our sinful nation; and, as He often did with Israel in the Old Testament, use nations even more sinful than our own to bring about His judgment?

-No “Land Contract” With God

The Apostle Peter talks about this: “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you…” 1 Peter 2:19-23. God uses persecution to make us look more like Jesus! That’s what Peter says here! Many Christians feel justified to be angry & lash out at those who persecute or harm them! We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s help to understand how we’re supposed to respond to suffering, persecution & mistreatment in a way that makes us look more like Jesus; and, we need His grace to live it out!  There is nothing in Scripture that would lead us to believe that we, here in America, have some type of “land contract” with God! Only one nation, in the history of the world, has benefited from a “land contract” with God; and that was Israel!  We may love this land that we live on called America, but God has not promised us that we have any right to keep it! To hold onto it!

-When Death Is Gain

When Paul wrote the Church of Philippi, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain”; He was saying that he loved Jesus so much that to lose everything in this life in order to be with Him was “gain.” Jesus was worth more than anything he might have or experience in this life. Death was a “GAIN” to him! If it should be God’s will to bring persecution to America, I pray God’s grace to ask my tormentor’s this question: “In Jesus I have my sins forgiven; He has restored my relationship with God my Father; I have an eternal home in heaven that’s being prepared for me right now; what can you offer me that’s better than that?” Let us live, above all else, as “citizens” of heaven! We are “strangers” here in this world! This is our “temporary residence” according to the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:11-12). Let us check our patriotism at the foot of the cross! If we belong to Jesus, our longing is for a better place than anything America can give us!

We Will See His Face

-There Will No Longer Be Any Curse

Some of the most exciting words in all of Scripture, for those who’ve accepted the Gospel & made Jesus their Savior, are found in the last book of the Bible, the Book of the Revelation:  “There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him.  They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3-5).  We will be in the very presence of God! And, He’s the reason heaven will be an incredible paradise! We will see His face, and His Name will be on our foreheads! That speaks of possession! We will be His! No longer will Satan be around to try and usurp “ownership” away from God! Oh, to be God’s possession forever!

-Have You Prepared Yourself?

So, I ask you, have you prepared yourself for that? Are you prepared for Jesus’ return? When you are, there’ll be changes happening in your life right here and right now! Looking for Jesus is what the Book of Revelation is all about! Back in chapter 1, in John the Apostle’s introduction:  “The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed, because the time is near!” (1:3) That’s how John introduces this book; and Jesus repeats those words at the end of v.7, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” That phrase, “…to keep the words…”, means to consider them & to ponder them! To make personal applications 24/7. To “live” by them! To let them change your life!

-Enslaved To Jesus

In verses 6, and 9, we’re said to be enslaved to Jesus! To be in that place is to be in the best place we could ever hope to be! He bought us! He owns us! And, He is the benevolent, loving, gracious, merciful Sovereign over us! We could never provide for ourselves better than God can provide for us. I love how John puts it in 1 John, “…this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden.” I long to be enslaved to His word because I know His commands are best for me! I obey Him imperfectly in this life because of my flesh. I want to obey Him totally, completely! I prepare my heart every day to do that, in part, because I long for His return & my life’s goal is to hear Him say to me, “Well done! Good and faithful slave.”

-Preparing For Jesus’ Return

When you prepare yourself for Jesus’ return, there is no more logical decision that you can make.  John says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes…” in the blood of the lamb (22:14). That’s clearly what’s meant in the context of this book. And, that word “blessed” literally means to be “satisfied” or “happy.” Who doesn’t want a blessed, satisfied, happy life? That life belongs only to those who are obedient to His commands; to those who repent over their sin; who come to Him in “brokenness” asking Him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Now, you’re no longer ignorant! You’ve been exposed to the truth of God’s word! You have a responsibility to respond to His Gospel message that Jesus saves! That’s the only life that is blessed & the only life that satisfies & makes you happy! When you disobey His word it will always leave you further broken in a greater sense of despair. It’s only logical that you would come to Jesus!

Just Make Disciples!

-The Church Relevant In The World!

The book of Romans is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Church of Rome. It was a church that had no political clout in the Roman empire!  It was a persecuted church; but still, an effective church, because its methods were simple— just make disciples! When the church is busy fulfilling the commission that Jesus gave her, she will become relevant in the world! Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear that I’m NOT against political and government involvement! In fact, quite the opposite. For the believer, there is no “secular.” Everything is sacred!

-God Sovereign Over All!

God owns it all & is Sovereign over all! It is part of our responsibility, as stewards, to be informed. To know the issues & to vote our conscience as we view everything through the grid of Scripture. But, politics and government cannot be where we place our hope! Or, you will be sorely disappointed; as many believers are here in the West! Nowhere, in Scripture, are we called to create a “Christian nation.” Nowhere in Scripture are we given such a mandate. Neither are we called to legislate righteousness! We are called to preach the Gospel & to make disciples. That is our mandate! If we’ll trust God & His plan, rather than the political process, we’ll see our nation & our local communities change 1 disciple at a time.

-The Power Of The Gospel!

That’s what we see in the book of Acts; and, history bears it out—that the power of the Gospel changed entire cultures over time. Rome was no exception. The Church may have endured great persecution at the time that Paul wrote this book; but within 300 years of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Gospel had done such a powerful spiritual work in the Roman Empire, that many historians claim that more than half the population had become followers of Jesus. The 1st chapter of Romans is one of the more significant texts in the Bible. I encourage you to read it often & become familiar with its content.

-Singled Out To Proclaim The Gospel!

From the start, Paul focuses on the Gospel: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news— which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures— concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” Paul says he was “singled out” to proclaim “…God’s GOOD NEWS…” The word is εὐαγγέλιον (in the original Greek) or “GOSPEL.” So, he’s sharing the Good News of the Gospel, which he says “…CONCERNS God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” And in v.8 he says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because the news of your faith is being reported in all the world …” Their faith in the Gospel, Paul says, was having an impact on the whole world!

-Turned The World Upside Down!

When Paul & his entourage went to Thessalonica with the Gospel, it created such a stir that Acts 17 says, “…these men have turned the whole world upside down…” The power of the Gospel outperforms the power of the people every time! Be faithful, church! If you truly have a heart for change in our nation; then, first ask God for a bigger heart for Him; and, second, ask Him for a bigger heart for people! Ask Him for a heart big enough to love hard-to-love people, and to share the Gospel with them. Only His Gospel will change the culture & course of our land. Only when the Church returns to the mission Jesus gave her, will she become relevant in the world once again!  Nothing is happening in our nation that a revival couldn’t change! A revival of the Church! “Judgment must first begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We have to love the lost! We need to establish relationships with them! Have them in our homes!

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!

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!