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!

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.

Put Your Hope In God!

-The Uncertainties Of Life!

We live in a world so full of uncertainty that organizations have developed “uncertainty indices” to measure the uncertainty people feel over economic policies & geopolitical risk & government corruption! Seems like, whatever the uncertainty, someone has an index to measure it! We deal with escalated uncertainties, it seems every day. We all go through periods where we live with uncertainty over our jobs; and, therefore, our money. There’s uncertainty in many of our relationships; and, even our faith. About the time we feel good & certain about things, life just happens & throws a wrench in there to mess it all up.

-A Routine Doctor Visit!

All it takes is one routine doctor visit to uncover something unexpected about our health; and, that creates anxiety & uncertainty about what’s next. The one seemingly casual meeting, with your boss, can take you from feeling good about your job to look for a new one! Some of you have been blindsided by a fight or an event with your spouse that left you feeling very uncertain about where your relationship stood! Sometimes individuals feel so helpless & their uncertainty so unbearable that they feel like the only way out is to take their own lives. Our hearts ought to ache for anyone who feels so helpless that suicide is their response. Life is a precious gift from God to be cherished.

-Great Purpose In Life!

Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychotherapist who survived the ghastly holocaust at the Nazi’s Auschwitz concentration camp. Frankl’s wife, mother & brother were all murdered by the Nazi’s; and, he concluded, after observing those who survived & those who did not, that “…when there is a driving passion or a great purpose in life, the physical body is more likely to survive.”  He detected a strange phenomenon in those physically intolerable & life-suffocating concentration camps—survival did not appear to depend on the physical health of the inmates! Often, the young, the healthy & the strong would die while the old, frail & sickly would survive! He said that those who did survive had a common sense of purpose & hope for the future.

-A Book Of Lamentations!

If you’ve spent some time reading the Old Testament prophets, you’ve probably noticed a very short book, of 5 chapters in length, right smack dab between Jeremiah & Ezekiel called Lamentations. As you read it you get a sense of the hopelessness that Jeremiah & the Jewish people felt over their uncertain situation. They were under God’s judgment because of their sin! The nation of Babylon had attacked them, killed many of their people; and, taken the rest into captivity. They’d leveled the walls around the city of Jerusalem; and, burned the temple of God to the ground.

-God, My Portion!

Tradition says that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations from a mountain that overlooked the city; where he wept & cried over the desolation. And, I find it significant that amid Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem; and, their punishment & their suffering, that we find a triumphant word of hope in chapter 3, verses 21-24, “Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.” It’s like Jeremiah suddenly reminds himself about God’s character; and, of God’s promise to Israel to return them to the Promised Land one day in the future. Twice he used the word “hope.” Unlike our finger-crossing kind of hope, this hope is a “confident expectation.” Jeremiah remained strong, with confident expectation, despite the suffering he endured!

Death By Neglect!

-Don’t Neglect Your Spiritual Life!

In my last post I referred to a great revival that God brought about, in Israel, under the leadership of an 8-year old king named Josiah (2 Kings 22).  Only God can spread revival, through an entire nation, by using an 8-year old boy! And, in the reforms, which King Josiah incorporated, it’s clear that neglect had been the cause of Israel’s spiritual death.  Genuine revival is evidenced when God’s people no longer neglect meeting together! Josiah was concerned with repairing Israel’s temple (v.3).  The temple was the place where God’s people gathered together to worship Him & offer sacrifices to Him!

-Signs Of Revival!

But, the temple reflected the moral condition of the nation! It had been neglected; and, rundown! It had fallen into a state of disrepair as the people had quit coming together for worship. So, one of the 1st signs of revival, in the faith community, is a renewed zeal for coming together! It is recognizing that it’s impossible to live out the Christian life in isolation from other believers! That’s something we struggle with here in the west, don’t we? We’ve been taught that the Christian life is an individual thing! It’s NOT! God’s people have always been a “community”; from, Israel, as a nation, to the local church today! In fact, it’s absolutely impossible to even live out & obey the more than 60 “one another” or “each other” commands, in Scripture, apart from a Christian community! So, when Josiah “…began to seek God…” the place of worship became a necessity once again (2 Chronicles 34:3). 

-Don’t Neglect The Word Of God!

For those of us who are part of the Morningside Bible Church community, that’s “big church” on Sunday mornings; and, “small group” gatherings throughout the week! We need each other to effectively live out the Christian life! To speak truth into one another! To hold each other accountable! Meeting together matters! There was a 2nd sign of revival under King Josiah— the nation no longer neglected the Word of God! The text reads, “Hilkiah the high priest told Shaphan the court secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,’ and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it… Then Shaphan the court secretary told the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book,’ and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king” (vs.8,10).  In the repairing of the temple, they uncovered a copy of the book of the Law. That’s a reference to Moses’ writings; or, the 1st five books of the Old Testament. 

-Proper Response To God’s Word!

And, notice the king’s response: “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then he commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us’” (vs.11-13). As the book, of God’s law, was read to him, Josiah realized how far the nation had drifted from the Lord. His shock points to the fact that the people had been unfamiliar with it for a long time! Again, I’m afraid that this is so relevant to our own nation & the church here in the West. So many sermons have become little more than the reading of a “token” Scripture verse misused to support our human efforts through self-help strategies! Josiah said, “Go inquire of the Lord.” And, so must we!

Holy People!

-God Is Determined!

Every book, of the Bible, is all about God’s determination to call out a people, for Himself, who will confess their sin & submit to His plan for their life. That’s the thread of the Gospel that runs through the entire Word of God. That’s the call, of God, for Israel; and, that’s His call for your life also! To Israel, God said:  “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine” Lev. 20:26.  I think, of that, as the key verse in the book of Leviticus. God is determined to assemble a people, with whom to dwell, for all eternity! A people that He sets apart; that He sanctifies; that He separates to Himself— that’s what it means to be holy!

-Set Apart For God!

God was determined, with Israel under the Old Covenant; and, with the church under the New Covenant, to set apart a people for Himself from all nations! God has always had a love for the nations! For every ethnic group! One reason that any kind of racism or favoritism, for one’s own people group, is so reprehensible is because of God’s plan to have every ethnic group represented in heaven. God desire’s to dwell among all earth’s people groups for all eternity!

-To Bring Glory To Himself!

I don’t know that I’ll ever understand why God would desire to dwell with us sinful, undeserving people; other, then to highlight & bring glory to Himself for His faithful love, mercy & grace toward us! That, though He condemns our sin, He makes a provision for fellowship with Him through the atoning sacrifice, of Jesus, on the cross.  And, the moment any Israelite; or, anyone else will confess that they’re a sinner— that they’ve broken God’s law— and, they humble themselves by bowing, in worship, before Him & giving up their lives to Him, God will save them because He desires to dwell with us! It’s His desire to add you to His family!

-The Purpose Of The Tabernacle!

That’s the point, of the Old Testament tabernacle. The tabernacle became the visible place, of God’s dwelling, among His people, even as they wandered through the wilderness on their way to the promised land.  “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them,” God said (Exodus 25:8).  The tabernacle & the temple—that King Solomon would build in the future—was for the purpose of giving Israel a visible sign that God was real & that He dwelt among them. And, just as God was determined to set Israel apart, He’s determined to set us apart also.  We are called to be God’s kingdom of priests.

-A Royal Priesthood!

God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to write:  “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9. That’s the New Testament church! God doesn’t intend that we would live our lives in pursuit of selfish interests! He saved us to make us “priests” who minister to the world! If you’re saved, you belong to Him! You need to align your life with His plans for you:  “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary (the WORD is TENT or TABERNACLE) of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor 6:19,20. As God’s tabernacle, we are the visible sign of God’s presence to the nations!

 

Where Does God Live?

-Here’s The Sunday School Answer!

So, where does God live? If you go with the Sunday School answer, it’s “heaven” right? But, it’s actually a bit more complicated than you might think! We sometimes speak about the “tension” in Scripture, where it seems like there might be a contradiction! Or, it seems like it communicates that two opposites can both be true! The Psalmist puts it like this:  “The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’S throne is in heaven” Psalm 11:4.  The Prophet Isaiah prayed:  “Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation” Isaiah 63:15.  And, Psalm 103:19 says, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His Sovereignty rules over all.”  So, YES, the Scripture teaches that God lives in heaven, doesn’t it?

-Heaven Cannot Contain Him!

But, at the same time, what do we do with King Solomon’s inspired words in 1 Kings 8:27?  “But will God indeed live on earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain You, much less this temple I have built.” The wisest man, who ever lived, said that heaven cannot contain God! So, heaven isn’t big enough for God to live! He’s BIGGER than heaven! And, he says that the temple he built was also too SMALL for Him; and, yet God is said to dwell in something much smaller than the temple! He dwells inside us:  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16  The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus; and, told them that they were, as a local church, “…being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” Ephesians 2:22. It almost seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? So, what’s the answer?

-God Is Omnipresent!

The answer is that God is OMNIPRESENT! That means He is “All Present”; or, present everywhere at once! King David asked, “Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.  If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will be night”— even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You” Psalm 139: 7-12.  Where can I go, where you’re not present, he asks? If I go to heaven…you’re THERE! If I go to hell…you’re THERE! If I move out east; or, out west, you’re THERE! Even if I hide, in the dark, you’re THERE! And, it’s not dark to You, God! Even more amazing? His Omnipresence is more than spatial! He created space & TIME!

-That Hurts My Brain!

That means God is Omnipresent in TIME also; because He’s outside of it! So, from our viewpoint, He is PRESENT in the PAST, PRESENT & the FUTURE all at the same time! Ouch! That hurts my brain to think about it! That’s certainly better & more interesting than any SciFi movie! Now, here’s the significance, of that, in regard to our salvation. For all eternity, God has determined to assemble a people with whom to dwell! From the beginning of Genesis, God has revealed to us the truth of His Gospel; that, He wants us to know the “good news” that He Himself is making a way to restore our relationship, with Him, that our sin had destroyed! Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was God’s final answer! So, one day, in eternity, “God’s dwelling will be with humanity, and He will live with them” Rev 21:3.  He will be Omnipresent with us! Amen!