Notes from the Desk of Tom Nelson

The Theology of Success: Governing the Body

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The Theology of Success Part 8- Governing the Body

Francis of Assisi spoke of his body as “Brother Ass.”  His body was like a faithful donkey who did his bidding and toted him about.

Paul however put another spin on our body

  • “the old man;” “…the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit…”
  • “the body of our humiliation;” “…dead because of sin…”
  • “the body of this death”
  • “wretched man…;” “an instrument of sin…”

Or as Jesus said, “the body is weak.”

One of the things that a successful person must do, as Paul said, is to “buffet my body and make it my slave.”

A man or woman who is successful must necessarily learn how to deal with the wild card of their body.  As God said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door and its desire is for you but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:7)  At any given time one’s body can undo every good thing and every good intent that one may plan.

Even Ulysses commanded his men as they passed by the island of the Sirens to plug their ears and tie him to the mast and in no way to respond to his madness.  Ulysses knew that his body could take charge and overrule his reason and will and destroy everything he had labored for.  So all men must fear their bodies.

Lust, anger, fear, a wicked tongue, sarcasm, worldliness, theft, laziness, violence, rebellion against authority, divisiveness, an independent spirit, et cetera, et cetera

Your body doesn’t care that you have quiet times, attend church or memorize scripture.  As James said “no one can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil filled with deadly poison.”  Your flesh and its passions can undermine and destroy everything that you could hope for if you cannot subjugate it to your will.

It begins with a Christian making a resolution, a resolve of the will that says “no” where God says “no.”  It’s called “conviction.”  It means that one has no doubt about the rightness of a moral action.  It means that no matter how my flesh cries out to be satisfied or how the world may applaud and OK my sin that still I will not do so simply because God says it is wrong.  Make your decision before you have to make your decisions.  There can be no debate whenever your body cries for its freedom because it will win.

“A man whose body has leeway over his spirit is a man who walks on the edge of an abyss.”

The Theology of Success: Eternal versus Temporal Values

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The Theology of  Success Part 7- Eternal versus Temporal Values

Sometimes I have the privilege to speak to young folks at graduation ceremonies and I look at them and wonder if they are ready to succeed in the areas that you must succeed in.  Because it is possible in life to fail by succeeding in all the wrong things.  One of the things that you learn through growing old is that the things of education can help make a living but not necessarily a life.  Only the author of life can help do that.  Life can seduce you,however, into a feverish pursuit of an illusion called “success.”

The point I am speaking of is called “values.”  Are your values eternal or are they temporal?  If temporal they will go only so deep and only for so long.  Like one who labors at a sandcastle and hears the coming rising tide that will wash all away and make his efforts become as if he had never existed, so in life we hear the coming of dissolution that will reduce ourworks to nothing.  How desperately important it is that we know what things to build on and hope for as opposed to those things that we merely enjoy.

Your values determine your goals in life.

Your goals determine your priorities of where you spend your time, money and energies.

Your priorities determine your choices.

Your choices determine your final end.

So we had best be clear on what is worth dying for.

Without a shift in values one will find himself housing the chaff and burning the grain.

Jesus put it very clearly.

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

The context of these two verses is about values.  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”

Thus “the eye” speaks about how you see and what you value.  What is precious and valuable to you?  Is it the things of this world that will fail you or the things of God that will last beyond this life?  Because the eye is “the lamp of the body.”  This means that just as your body is guided by the light of your eye, in the same way one’s life is guided by their values- what they treasure.  If their eye is clear- or their values true and heavenly- then their whole body- or their entire life- will be “full of light.”  They will be safely and successfully guided through life.

But if one’s eye is bad, if their values are worldly, then their whole life will be in the dark.  Men succeed at all the wrong things when their eye is bad.

Paul put it clearly. “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (I Timothy 6:10)

The fact is that God made men for Himself.  Man is made for immortality, for the eternal.  His joy will not come from money, beauty, acclaim or fame.  Those pleasures will be short term and often the path to those things will be bordered with pain and compromise and sin.  But when men “lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel” they find their lives and purpose.

We don’t learn these things from lectures on these things.  Rather we learn from disappointment.  We dream and labor and succeed only to grasp a mirage.  Like a dog chasing a killdeer, happiness is always just beyond our grasp.  Sometimes our eye has cataracts that must be removed by anguish and emptiness.  Sometimes the joy of the eternal has to take by surprise when we are forced to look up.

Do you want some good reading?  Read Psalm 37 and Psalm 73.  See what they say about values, about succeeding in the significant.

The Theology of Success: A Work Ethic

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The Theology of Success Part 6- A Work Ethic

Many of you have heard me tell tales about my mother. Margarite LaVelle Perry Nelson was and always will be the formative and shaping influence on my life. It was like being raised by Victoria Barkley (i.e. Barbara Stanwyck in “The Big Valley”). If I just lost you, then Google “Barbara Stanwyck” and “The Big Valley.” But of all the framing that she did in the lives of us 4 Nelson boys, the loudest hammer blow was a work ethic. I didn’t know at the time of “the Protestant work ethic” but it wouldn’t have mattered because to Bob, Tom, Bill and Jim Nelson it was “momma’s work ethic.”

It said simply this: “You do things right and with excellence. Not because you are awarded or praised but because it is you yourself who has done them.”

“The thing you do bears your name so do it perfectly. Not because anyone is watching you but because of a pride in who you are.”

If it wasn’t right we did it over. And above all you did not ever, as long as you drew breath and existed in the time space continuum, you never ever quit on what you committed to. You finished what you started. If there is something that I take holy pride in it is that I have never ever quit on what I committed to. And that is because of my mother’s influence. Whenever I read biblical admonitions toward finishing and being excellent in whatever you do “as unto the Lord rather than to men,” I already had the precedence built into me by my mother. A biblical work ethic.

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.” (Proverbs 22:29)

Great workers rise in the workplace. Everyone wants an excellent worker.

“He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys.” (Prov. 18:9)

Sloppy work is ultimately destructive.

“Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,

So is the lazy one to those who send him.” (Prov. 10:26)

Nothing is more irritating than an irresponsible worker.

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Col. 3:23)

We don’t work hard as long as we’re being watched and the video camera is on us. We are to have a higher standard and motivation- the glory of God in whatever He calls us to do.

Joseph was a faithful shepherd, servant, and even a faithful prisoner. It was an easy transition to be a faithful Prime Minister.

In Daniel was found “no negligence or corruption.” He proved “ten times better” than all others.

Jacob was the best of shepherds to Laban and Laban so increased under him that he was reluctant to send him back to Canaan. In the same way one of the phrases that came out of the Protestant Reformation, along with sola scriptura and sola fide, was that of the “Protestant work ethic.” It meant that all work was considered a holy thing- not just the priesthood. A farmer, a tradesman, or a housewife was to glorify God in the work of their hands. That is why one of the by-products of the Reformation was that of “capitalism” because it was felt that success and remuneration should logically follow excellent work. Even to the point that wealth was one of the marks of God’s blessing.

When do you learn this? You start as a child. Make sure you teach your kid early the dignity of a good job. Require of them some act of service in the home and praise them when they do well. Make them proud of work and pay the little rascals. Make entrepreneurs of them.

Without a work ethic no matter how devoted to Christ one may be, your devotion will be seen as eccentric.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

The Theology of Success: Submitting to Authority

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The Theology of Success Part 5- Submitting to Authority

“The eye that mocks a father and scorns a mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out.” Prov. 30:17

Solomon’s thought is simple.  When you see a young man early in life who has a disrespect of God-given authority you can predict where he will end up.  Hung on a tree and executed and left to hang until nightfall is an example to all as to what happens to a lawbreaker and fool.  And the birds of the air will begin their feast with the eye that looked upon its first authority – parents – with contempt.

Disrespect of authority is a compass needle pointing to disaster.  How can a man or a woman enjoy life as it was meant to be – life that submits itself to life’s creator – when they rebel against ever lesser manifestations of divine authority?

“Submit yourselves to every human institution.” Peter

“Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.” Paul

“Render to Caesar…” Jesus

“Obey your parents unto the Lord…” Paul quoting Moses quoting God on Sinai

To rebel against parents, government, coaches, police, teachers, bosses, employers or the church is to rebel against God “…and bring condemnation upon themselves.” (Rom 13:2)

Are there times of standing against unjust authorities? Certainly. You will know when that happens and you will know what to do. In 40 plus years of ministry I can count on one hand Christians who have had to do so.  But the number of people I know who have ruined their lives through rebellion against authority is virtually innumerable – men and women.

The innate DNA of Satan is rebellion.  “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.”  And this fallen man, child of the devil, hates authority.  He does not submit to authority without a fight nor does he handle authority well when authority is bestowed upon him.  Rather he can become abusive or corrupt or irresponsible.  That is why when a young man wants to marry a young woman, they both should note well how that future mate handles authority.  If she has been rebellious prior to marriage you can bet that she will rebel against the leadership of a husband.  If he has been the classic bad-boy I doubt that he will recognize the divine stewardship bestowed upon him and handle responsibly the authority of a husband.  When you see these types – turn and run!  They have not earned the right to ever be married to anyone.

Rightly did Job say, “It is good that one bear the yoke in his youth.”

But sometimes I see young folks who are respectful to mother and father, respectful to the elderly, polite to their coaches and instructors, obedient to the police and the law, hardworking on the job, and I think, “there is a young stud marked for greatness if they will just hold to the narrow path.  For few there be who walk it with them.”

And it should well be noted that there is not one man or woman of worth in the scriptures who was not faithful to the authority above them before they wielded authority over others.  Not Moses, not Joshua or Caleb. Not Gideon or David, Ruth, Esther, Mordecai, Daniel, Joseph, Samuel, Peter, Paul…

Jesus.

And anyone else.

There is not faithfulness to God that is not accompanied by faithfulness to men.  Those who are successful begin by making others successful. Human authority is the means of breaking unseemly willfulness and bringing the will into a right direction.

Are you faithful to the authority that God has placed in your life?  If not, you will meander from travail to travail, from disaster to disaster.

“And Jesus continued in subjection to his parents….”  (Luke 2:51)

The Theology of Success: Making Independent Moral Choices

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The Theology of Success Part 4- Making Independent Moral Choices

He was a North Texas State running back from Dallas and he was good.  Real good.  Drafted by the pros good.  He was about to graduate after a record setting career at NT, take his young wife and head to the pros.  A dream come true.  Young, in love, a graduate, a star, and newly rich, headed for a life of fame.  But he never got to enjoy the fruits of success.  Because he was killed.

A friend of his talked him into accompanying him to a Dallas bar.  When you go to a bar you go to drink, hit on women, and try to stay out of fights with other drinking uninhibited males.  No one should ever go to a bar.  For certain no married man.  Nothing good can come from it.  But he was pressured.  So he walked by the warning sign of common sense and went.  His friend got drunk and got into a fight.  Some guys jumped in then the running back jumped in.  Football players do well in street fights and so did he.  The problem is that other guys getting bested in street fights look for equalizers like guns and knives.  The latter came out and the future pro lay dead with a knife to his liver.

Someone else married his wife and someone else became a father to his soon to be born son.  A bad decision cost him all.

He was talented and strong but he could not make an independent moral decision in the face of peer pressure.  He was influenced by a fool instead of moral truth.

“He who walks with wise men will be wise; But the companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord.” (Psalm 1:1-2)

It is not just knowing what is true but doing what is true and doing it in the face of opposing voices.  It is called moral courage.  It means doing what is true when one must stand alone in doing it.  It is the noble stuff of heroes.

It is the stuff of Daniel who would not eat the king’s choice food.

  • of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego who would not bow to the image.
  • of Paul who if he “still desired the favor of men would not be the bondservant of Christ,” and counted all things as loss that he might gain Christ.
  • of Elijah who prayed, “I alone am left.”
  • of David who would preserve Saul’s life though all his men called for Saul’s death.
  • of Jeremiah who prayed, “Because of Thy hand upon me I sat alone.”
  • of Martin Luther, “Here I stand.”

If a man will not make up his mind Who to obey, the world will make it up for him and he will go from a bold standard to the human debris which floats downstream amidst all that is dead.

“How long will you hop between two forks? If the Lord is God serve Him…” Elijah

“Choose this day whom you will serve…” Joshua

A truly successful person must cancel out the clatter of moral white noise and listen solely to the Master’s voice.

The Theology of Success: The Ability to Maintain Relationships

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Theology of Success Part 3 – The Ability to Maintain Relationships

Anyone who is a devotee of “Andy of Mayberry” knows the name of Ernest T. Bass.  And they also know of his chief preoccupation – love.  And of his chief delight,  Romina.  On one episode Ernest T. speaks of his manly charms.  “I’m a little mean but I make up for it by being real healthy!”

As strange as it sounds that is the very mindset of modern man.  “I have no real interest in character, but in physical wellbeing, I’m the tops!”

Remember how in elementary school we got checks on our character? Helpfulness, attentiveness, cooperation, works and plays well with others, etc. We always joked about making A’s in lunch, recess and study hall, but the older I became I realized that funny as it sounds those were  the very things that mattered.  As a matter of fact if you made straight A’s in courses but did bad in lunch and recess your life was pretty much headed for disaster.  Why?  An inability to carry on personal relationships.

For forty plus years I have watched this sad fact among the people of God.  Christians who are faithful in church, protective of their homes, frugal in their finances, conservative in their politics, even studious in their bibles and yet their lives are disasters – simply because they cannot get along with human beings.  They are “socially challenged.”  It is not a course you can take in college.  It simply is the will of God directed by the word of God that relates to people.

Samuel and Jesus grew in “wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.”

“What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus was asked.  His answer, “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”  The two are inseparable.

“… for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”   (1 John 4:20)

“… he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 Jn. 4:21)

The whole law is fulfilled in one word in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Rom. 13:9)

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this,” Jesus said, “ is the Law and the Prophets.”  (Mt. 7:12)

And yet,  who was the fellow who was “such a worthless man that no one can speak to him”? (I Sam. 25:17)  Nabal, whose name meant “fool.”

That is why you do not see one single person, male or female, in the bible who is of any great or honored position who is not seen as a loving and cooperative fellow.  Sometimes in a pragmatic sense it is simply called “a team man”.  Look at the characters of scripture in the Old Testament.  Examine the injunctions of Mosaic Law.  Checkout the incriminations of the Prophets.  Behold the life of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John.  Read the New Testament epistles and their commands.   All are socially adept.

And this is not a natural trait.  Love is an acquired attribute.  It comes through obeying God at times when there is a behavioral fork in your road.

Social etiquette is in taking the right fork.

But do you really want to learn relational skills?  Read the Book of Proverbs.  Proverbs is the study of the myriad of things that apply “love thy neighbor.”    The little small areas that fall between the cracks of “love thy neighbor.”

  • Being a good listener
  • Being benevolent
  • Submissive to authority
  • Controlling the tongue…
  • Controlling anger
  • Being sympathetic…
  • Being sensitive
  • A servant
  • Forgiving

                and on and on

One can have a successful life by reading nothing but Proverbs.  I learned a long time ago that in hiring staff and appointing elders and training leaders that the inability to get along with people cancels out all spiritual gifts and depreciates all potential and talent.

It’s like serving a well cooked meal on a commode seat.  The setting means everything.  Such is the ability to be able to relate to others as surrounding spiritual and intellectual gifts.

Knowledge and skills you can have but first you look for a winsome, loving personality.  It sets the table for ability.

Without kindness you are not really significant or worthy of being followed no matter how smart you think you are.  You are only odd and eccentric.  Love validates.

Love allows you to play chords.  Lack of love reduces one to playing onlyChopsticks.  How are you with relationships?  Once you get to know people how do these relationships develop?  Do people draw closer or turn and run?  True success is inseparable from living well with others.

The Theology of Success: The Knowledge of Biblical Truth

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The Bismark was the pride and terror of the German Navy in WWII.  It could outrun and outgun anything in the English Navy.  But when being pursued by the British on May 27, 1941 the Bismark began to sail erratically and then headed back into the British ships who sunk it.  What happened to render the great ship useless? A torpedo had hit the Bismark on its rudder.  It could no longer be directed.  It sunk as now an easy prey.

Such is a Christian who does not know his bible and cannot make intelligent and informed decisions.  Like the Bismark he has power and great potential but no direction.  He soon will sink.

“The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom….”( Pr 4:7) A discipline must begin in a Christian’s life of the disciplined regimen of the acquiring of the mind of Christ – the Bible.

Solomon said “you cannot put a net in the eyes of a bird” (Pr 1:27), because a bird can see all things from its lofty perch.  So it is when a person knows that which is the revealed will of God.  They can’t be fooled or misled.  But no matter how talented a person is, or how wealthy or intelligent or charismatic, magnetic of personality or endowed with noble heritage, when they are ignorant of the Bible they will have no guidance in the areas that can give true joy or true disaster.  And usually the reason that a person does not have a biblical reference point is because they are self-confident and simply do not feel a need of Gods wisdom.

David said to God in the Psalms, “… I am a stranger with You.” (Ps 39:12) Meaning that David in life felt like an alien in a foreign land.  Such is life without God.  Like a man in a foreign country David was helpless.  He was in desperate need of God’s guidance through a dangerous life of which he was in himself ill-equipped.  Have you ever been in a foreign country and felt that you were hopelessly out of touch with what was happening about you?  That is how David felt without God’s guidance.

Adam walked with God in the cool of the day.  Man is simply not made to be without God’s word and guidance.  Death is to be alien to the counsel of God.

Point being, successful living means that one must make choices that are wise and good.  These choices may not be instinctive because of man’s fallen nature.   Thus, man had best know his bible.

It is quite simple.  The man whose delight is the law of the Lord shall be “like a tree firmly rooted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does he prospers. The wicked … are like chaff which the wind drives away.” (Psalm 1) Learn your Bible.  Genesis through Nehemiah is a continuous story with hundreds of incidents – all meaningful, with hundreds of characters (good and bad) – all meaningful.  The story is connected and interpreted in the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes.  Learn them.  The Prophets from Isaiah to Malachi speak of God’s responses to man’s responses to His word.  Learn them all.  The Gospels look at God Incarnate.  “The life manifested full of glory…”  The gospels are only three years of snippets and sound bites as that is all we can digest.  The Book of Acts looks at the beginning of Gods’ ways in the first generation of the Church Age.  Learn the ways of the Spirit of God.  The Epistles are a commentary on all the previous story of the Bible.  Learn each verse.  The Book of Revelation shows what is coming.  If you read the previous 65 books, Revelation will be your reward.  You will know things to come.  Learn it.  It is not that difficult.

Get to where when you are cut you bleed Bible.  When jostled you spill Bible.  When squeezed one hears Bible.

Live Bible – succeed.

Stay ignorant – fail.

Success, however, will be in the areas that matter.  God’s word does notattempt to direct one into vast wealth, popularity, good looks, or social status.  All the things which are coveted by men are treated as minor issues in the Bible.  What scripture does is give direction on the areas of the truth of God, the love of one’s fellow man and moral choices dealing with purity.  These are the areas that produce true joy and stability or when violated are the areas that can devastate a life.

David said of the scriptures, “By them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.” (Ps. 19:11)

Do you know your Bible?

Do you read it?

Me personally?  I have never recovered from the fascination and power of the Bible.  My wife and I read our bibles through every year.  It is there where I and the eternal King meet over truth and delight and worship and resolve.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

 It is the highway to the successful life…as God deems success.

The Theology of Success: The Fear of God

 

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One of the most interesting of all Biblical passages to me is Proverbs 8:22-36.

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,

Before His works of old.

From everlasting I was established,

From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.

When there were no depths I was brought forth,

When there were no springs abounding with water.

Before the mountains were settled,

Before the hills I was brought forth;

While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,

Nor the first dust of the world.

When He established the heavens, I was there,

When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,

When He made firm the skies above,

When the springs of the deep became fixed,

When He set for the sea its boundary

So that the water would not transgress His command,

When He marked out the foundations of the earth;

Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;

And I was daily His delight,

Rejoicing always before Him,

Rejoicing in the world, His earth,

And having my delight in the sons of men.

Now therefore, O sons, listen to me,

For blessed are they who keep my ways.

Heed instruction and be wise,

And do not neglect it.

Blessed is the man who listens to me,

Watching daily at my gates,

Waiting at my doorposts.

For he who finds me finds life

And obtains favor from the Lord.

But he who sins against me injures himself;

All those who hate me love death.”

Here Solomon exhorts his readers to wisdom by likening wisdom to natural law.  Wisdom speaks and says that he, wisdom, was with God from the beginning of creation and was the architect and reason and order and design behind all of the physical creation.  In our day we would call wisdom natural law or divine law.  If you are going to operate successfully in a physical universe you are going to have to co-operate with the laws that God ordains.  You fear or respect them.  You embrace and do not distance yourself.

And to make it successfully and painlessly through life – a life filled to the brim with moral choices- one must co-operate with divinely ordained moral law.  Laws that are just as absolute and unbending as natural law.

One does not break God’s laws.  One is broken upon them.

This is what “the fear of God” means.  It means that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Ps. 24:1)  It means that everything operates according to the divine order.  The very word “cosmos” means “order.”  And God does the ordering.  It means that when we live according to God’s will and ways we are living the right way

the best way

the safest way

the way that will stand.

To rebel is to resist reality.

And thus, “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”  A wise life is the best life and it begins with the recognition of who is the creator of all.

Once, when I was in Cheboksary, Russia, I had a translator and interpreter named Galena.  I knew not one word of Russian but she knew them all.  As long as I was close by her I could operate in the Russian world and make my way.  As long as she mediated between me and the world I was in, I was safe and the world made sense.  But any moment I was away from Galena was a moment of growing danger.  Nothing without her would make sense.  I revered her.  I feared being away from her.  I recognized that she was not just an interesting aspect of my life, but that there was no life without her.  Reality was impossible without her.

This is the fear or the reverence of God.

Obey?  Life is as it ought to be.

Rebel?  And live in unreality.  Fantasy.  The wrong way on a one way street.  Going out over the in spikes.  Sin is entering a chipper.  Life will make you mulch.  Thus four things involve the fear of the Lord.

One already discussed is God’s Position as the creator and framer of all order, morality and reality.

What refuses God will ultimately destroy me.

Secondly is God’s Presence.  He sees all.  He is not the absentee landlord.  He sees and knows.  “Before there is a word on my tongue Thou dost know it all.” (Ps. 139:4)

Fear Him.

Thirdly, He not only sees but acts in Power.  Though it may be on His patient timetable, nonetheless men reap what they sow.  Corruption or life.  God brings the way of the wicked on his head.  God’s mercies will find the faithful.

But last, God Punishes.  “ Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice,  and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)  As the thief who hung dying beside Christ said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?”

Thought being, “when you die you will answer to God.”

Wisdom is the Biblical concept of divinely informed decisions.  The beginning of wisdom is “the fear of the Lord.”  It is where success starts.

The Theology of Success

The Theology of Success

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It seems today that any time you turn on Christian TV you hear someone- male or female- tell you how to be successful as a Christian.  How to get the most out of God.  How God can help you get ahead.  I think it’s part of our inbred American individualism and “freedom” to be prosperous i.e. successful.  To raise our estate in life not like a feudal prince born to title but through effort.  Such is foundational to our nation from its inception.  It’s one reason why Protestantism with its belief in the priesthood of the individual Christian and of his Christian right to flourish as an individual was received with open arms.  Protestantism and ambition seemed to intertwine.

The fact is that this is true.  There is such a thing as “success.”  There is a sense of a “prosperity gospel.”  The problem is in what we call “success.”  The Bible indeed speaks of prosperity and it talks of the fool and his life of pain.  It speaks of a life that stands the test of the floods of life and of a life that is washed away, “and great was its fall.”  The Bible speaks of a life “firmly planted by streams of water” and the life “like chaff that the wind blows away.”

So, what is success and how is it attained?

Instead of a definition why don’t we look at the individual components to see what success looks like.  One thing for sure, the final product will bear the image of Jesus Christ, God in human form.  And this should be a jolt because there was a lot about Jesus that did not line up with our ideas of success.  A long life?  One free of pain?  Wealth, riches, and possessions?  A life of winning friends?  Travel?  Wife and children?  Popularity?  Educational degrees?  Political influence?  Land and houses?  If any of these define success, Jesus will fall far short.  As will Paul, Peter, James and John.  Men who were “the scum of the earth, the dregs of all things.”  Biblical success will have nothing to do with brains, talent, wealth or riches, strength, long life or beauty.  It will have everything to do with a certain kind of heart.  As God said to Isaiah,

“My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.

My ways than your ways.”

Stay tuned in days to come as we will examine

     “The Theology of Success”

Tommy

The Incomparable Christ Part XXXI: The Eternal State

Incomparable Christ

In a somewhat cryptic, enigmatic text Paul says to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 15:24-28,

“Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be abolished is death.  For He has put all things in subjection under His feet.  But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.  When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”

The purpose of Christ’s reign is to do what Adam lost in the garden of Eden – his regency.  Adam, the ruler of all, was now under the feet of all in the dust of death.  Christ as the Last Adam will do what the first did not and that is to reestablish God’s rule through “man.”  As Paul said, “the last enemy is death.” Once death is abolished, the kingdom will have come to its end, mankind will have been judged and the wicked punished then God will re-create the universe into “new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells.”  It is as if the old universe that had to endure and behold the corruption of the old should then share in the new birth.  What will it look like? We don’t know. It is in the mind and plan of God.  Only He knows.

The only hold over from the old world will be the people of God, saved and raised.  The first of a new creation that shall be erected around them.  And then heaven shall come down.  The holy city from heaven will descend to occupy a new earth.  The ultimate reunion of God and man.  Not man in a garden appearing in human form but the glory of God among man who may “see His face.”  In a sense there will be no heaven and earth.  Both are together united.  The ultimate and final stage of reconciliation.  And there will be no mediation in the sense of Christ visibly ruling in the stead of God invisible.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “When all things are subjected to Him (meaning the kingdom then death) then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him so that God may be all in all.” (I Cor. 15:28)

This means that when death is no more and all the rebellion against God has been subjected to Christ’s rule and the failure of Adam has been restored in Christ, that His role in representational mediation will end and He will “hand over the kingdom to the God and Father… that God may be all in all.”  This means that at that time God the Father Almighty will assume His rightful place as “all in all.”  He will be to all what He indeed is, and that is everything to every living creature – angels and men.  Finally.  Christ’s restoration will be completed.  His work finished even though “He ever lives to make intercession for us” as “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

The interesting thing is that this eternal truth has begun now in His work in the Church who “takes every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Cor. 10:5) and that Christ may be “all in all.” (Eph 1:23)  Indeed is eternal life “to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)  Our eternal life has begun.

Read Revelation 21 and behold the beauty and glory of the eternal city.  Read Revelation 22:1-5 and behold the eternal rest of our eternal state.  Rev. 22:1-5 is purposely the reversed image of Genesis 3 and the fall of man.  All the evil of the fall will be restored in the eternal state.

The last verse? “And they shall reign forever.”

Imagine!  We will behold the Trinity!  The Father’s face we will behold.  The Lamb “standing as if slain” will be before us and the visible glory of the Holy Spirit represented in Revelation 4:5 as “seven fires burning before the throne.”

What follows?  Joy inexpressible.  Revelation 23 and following.

But that bit of truth you’ll have to wait for and experience it personally.

Ah, that will be glory.

All provided for by our incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXX: The Great White Throne Judgement of Christ

Incomparable Christ

“…on the day when according to my gospel God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:16)

“He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world through a man…” (Acts 17:31)

Jesus Christ is not only man’s savior but is also man’s judge.  He will either have taken man’s judgment on the cross or He will deliver God’s judgment at the Great White Throne.  Either way Christ will be the one who is the judge of all sin.

“For not even the Father judges anyone, but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” (John 5:22-23)

What is the Great White Throne Judgment?  It is that judgment of all lost men.  When a lost man dies now his soul goes to a place called Hades which is a “holding place” for the souls of lost men.  According to Luke 16:23-24 it is indeed not a pleasant place.  “Agony”, “flames” and “torment” are terms that describe Hades.  But in Revelation 20:11-15 it states that Hades will give up its dead to stand before the throne.  It states that their bodies come to life.  In other words all men shall be raised indestructible.  Some to endure heaven.  Others to endure hell.  The Bible attributes this resurrection to Christ.  In John 5:28-29, “…for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”  Christ is man’s final judge.

The bodies of those who have refused the salvation of God through His mercy will be raised.  John wrote that “even the sea gave up the dead.” (Rev. 20:13)  John wrote also that “heaven and earth fled away and no place was found for them.” (Rev. 20:11)  This is what Peter meant when he said, “the elements will be destroyed with intense heat and the earth and its works will be burned up.” (2 Pet. 3:10)  It’s what Jesus meant when He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35)  It’s what Paul, Isaiah and Jesus meant when all three said, “the old things passed away.” (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev. 21:4, Is. 65:17)  There will be a terminus to history and the universe.

According to Rev. 20:13 men will be judged by what they have done.  “The books will be opened.” (Dan. 7:10)  Men will see their works and their sins.  And then the Lamb’s Book of Life will be opened.  It is a book that records no sins, only the names of those who are found in Christ.  Those whose names are not there shall be cast into the lake of fire.  Evil shall finally be punished.  Sin that began in Genesis 3 in the Garden of Eden, sin that was judged on Calvary, the sin that God was patient with as it refused God for now 20 plus centuries is finally dealt with.  How thick would your Bible be if you were God?

Jesus Christ will eliminate death as man will soon go into the Age of Eternity where he will look upon the Father face to face.  He will- as the last Adam- have brought everything under the rule and footstool of God.  “All things under His feet.”  This Genesis 1 and 2 verse spoken to Adam, lost through Adam’s sin, is now restored in Jesus Christ.

You know what’s wonderful?  His victory will be ours also!  Paul said, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your (the Christian’s) feet.” (Rom. 16:20)  We who are joint-heirs.

Indeed has God “put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as Head over all things unto the church, which is His body…” (Eph. 1:22-23)

“The last enemy shall be death” (1 Cor. 15:26) which shall be no more.

What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Jesus

                What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord.

Our Incomparable Christ

The Incomparable Christ Part XXIX: The Kingdom of Christ

Incomparable Christ

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

How many know this verse by heart and have recited it a thousand times and yet have no concept of what Jesus meant.  The Kingdom of God as the Old Testament speaks of it is not some great noral or spiritual movement through the church but rather a very literal rule of God upon the earth, over all the earth, through the Messiah from Jerusalem.  Rightly did the disciples ask of Jesus as He stood on the Mount of Olives.  “Is it at this time that you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”  Because they believed in a literal fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and prophecies.  Jesus did not correct their interpretation but said, “It is not for you to know the times fixed by the Father’s authority.”  The kingdom would come after a worldwide witness of the Gospel. And then as the angel would say, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:7-11)

So what will the kingdom of God look like according to the Bible?

  1. Satan will be bound in the abyss for a thousand years. What will the world be like with no Satanic influence? No one knows.
  2. Christ will be physically present in Jerusalem ruling the earth.
  3. He will rule from a new temple that He Himself shall build. (Ezek. 40f)
  4. The glorified Old Testament saints, the glorified church, and those who died in the Tribulation’s persecution shall be raised to rule with Christ. “Thrones will be established.”  (Rev. 20:4)
  5. The rulers of the nations will bring their riches to the temple to honor Christ. (Hag. 2)
  6. And shall look to Him to decide between them. “They shall study war no more.”
  7. Emissaries of the nations will go to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles to honor Him. (Zech 14) Nations who do not honor Christ shall not receive rain.
  8. Old Testament sacrifices shall be established once again, not for efficacy but as a memorial to Christ’s fulfillment and His faithfulness to Israel and the Old Testament promises. (Ezek. 40f)
  9. The exaltation of Israel honoring the nation as a blessing to all the earth. Isaiah states that Israel will be to the earth as a nursing mother.
  10. Evil shall be subjugated. No longer shall evil rule the earth.  The evil in man will “lay low” through the administration of Christ.
  11. Men will be saved by faith in the face to face presence of Christ in Jerusalem, just as men are saved today.
  12. Death will in some sense be suspended. Isaiah states that it will be a reproach for one to die at a hundred.
  13. There will be no contrary government or false religions but man will have unity through the kingship and priesthood of Messiah.
  14. The curse upon nature since the Garden of Eden will be lifted. “The mountains will flow with milk and the hills drip sweet wine.”  This is why men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Agriculture in that day will be more important than warfare.
  15. The animal realm shall be free of the curse as “the lion will lay down with the lamb and the child shall play in the viper’s hole.”
  16. “The knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters do the sea.” (Habakkuk 2)

This will be the kingdom of God.  God always has His way.

He meant for man to be lord of the earth but in the fall of man he became dominated as a slave of sin in the dust of death.  But through Jesus Christ, the last Adam, mankind shall be redeemed and exalted to his intended position.

He shall “bring many sons to glory.” (Heb. 2:10)

Our king, our Davidic king whose kingdom shall have no end. Incomparable indeed.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXVIII: The Second Coming of Our Lord

Incomparable Christ

How puzzling it must have been to the prophets and to those who read them concerning the person of the Jewish Messiah.  In some texts He is seen as silent and suffering unjustly until death.  In others the Messiah is seen as reigning in Jerusalem, destroying armies, splitting mountains and bringing peace to all the world as He gathers Israel to Himself and exalts that nation as the joy of the earth.

So, does He die or does He rule?  In the 2nd century there was a teaching that there were two Messiahs, one to die and one to reign.  Now you and I from 2000 plus years removed and with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit can look back and see how the “sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (I Peter 1:11) fit neatly together.  But what would you do if you were there at that time?  You would have said like Peter who when hearing of the cross said to Christ “This shall never happen to you!”  Christ was simply multi-dimensional and mere men could not fathom Him.

What a privilege and blessing to be enlightened to God’s word and possess the “mind that hath wisdom” (Rev. 17:9) and to be able to appraise the things of God (I Cor. 2:15).  He, who was veiled in flesh, was rejected, died, rose and ascended.  He catches away His church and then judges the world and Israel in The Tribulation and then will return to judge the nations and deliver His covenant nation, Israel, and through it to rule the world through Israel’s covenant King, Jesus Christ.

  1. What will His return look like?

Jesus spoke of “the sign of the Son of Man” that will appear in the sky.  What will it look like to see “His mighty angels in flaming fire”?  To see the Son of Man in “the glory of His Father with the holy angels”?  To see the glorified Church returning with Him on white horses?  To see the “spirits of just men made perfect,” which are the Old Testament saints in glory.

  1. Why will He come?

To save the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation who have been set upon by the world.  That nation who shall “look on Him whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as for an only son” (Zech. 12).  And also because if He did not appear there would be no life left upon the earth.  But also because of a wicked world who has not repented of its immoralities, thefts, and murder and now it is judgment day and men will call upon the rocks to cover them.

  1. What will He do upon His return?

First, the armies that surround Israel at Armageddon shall be destroyed.  The Psalmist says prophetically “He will speak to them in His fury” (Ps. 2:5).  Christ will merely say “drop dead” and they shall.  Blood shall splatter to the horse’ bridles indeed.  Then He shall cast the Anti-Christ and his voice, the false prophet, into the lake of fire and the heads of godless government and false religion shall be consumed.  Their followers shall soon follow them.  Then Satan shall be cast into the abyss, the bottomless pit – meaning a place of no escape (Rev. 20:1-3).  There he will be confined with his demons for the 1000 years of Christ’s kingdom that there might be no opposition to God.  Satan is not to be destroyed at that time because God still has a future purpose for him.  And then another promised event shall occur, the resurrection of the bodies of the Old Testament saints, and the resurrection of the faithful who died in the Tribulation, even though their souls were in heaven their bodies were yet to be raised.  The Rapture is solely for those who comprised the church of the ages.  It is seven years later at the beginning of the kingdom that the Old Testament and Tribulation saints are raised.

Then He will “gather His elect,” meaning scattered Israel, to Himself.  This is in keeping with the Palestinian Covenant made by God through Moses (Deut. 30:1-10).  In that covenant God promises to someday gather the Jews to the land no matter where they are scattered merely because they turned to Him with a whole heart.

And when He does He will then judge them as a nation as to whether they were faithful in looking for His return or whether in unbelief they spared their lives and bore the mark of the Beast.

Jesus spoke of this judgment in His parable of the 10 virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) who were friends of the bride looking for her appearing with her Bridegroom from heaven.  Five of the virgins were foolish and had no oil in their lamps.  They were not ready to wait as long as needed.  Five were.  When the Bridegroom appeared they went in to the wedding feast.  The five who had to run for oil simply missed out.  As Isaiah said “The deliverer will come from Zion.  He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”  This will occur when Christ judges Israel.  Only the faithful of the nation will enter the kingdom.

And then He will “gather the nations” (Matt. 25:31-32) before Him and separate them as “sheep from the goats”, meaning those who followed the Shepherd and those who did not.  The way that the Gentiles will be judged is by the evidence of whether during the Tribulation they believed in Christ’s return.  “Whatever you did to the least of My brethren, that you did to Me” (Matthew 25:40) and, “whatever you did not do to the least of My brethren you did not do to Me” (Matt. 25:45).  “These will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life” (25:46).  The standard to judge the believing Gentiles is how they treated the “least of Christ’s brethren”, meaning the suffering Jews of the Tribulation.

Unbelieving Jews and Gentiles will be removed before the beginning of the kingdom.  Only the righteous will enter in.

At this point, all evil having been placed under His feet, Christ will begin to organize and commence the Kingdom of God.  Such will be the appearing in glory of our Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXVII: The Day of the Lord

Incomparable Christ

The apostle Paul said, “God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world through a man.” (Acts 17:31)  Jesus said the Father “hath committed all judgment to the Son.” (John 5:22)  Every knee shall bow as the rebellion of man shall be quelled and punished.  Man will be either saved or crushed.  The last 2000 years has been the call of “all men to repent.” (Acts 17:31)  That has not happened. The Day of the Lord is God’s reckoning with our rogue planet.

It is called The Tribulation, and on one occasion, “The Day of Jacob’s Trouble.”  Its purpose is to judge mankind for its 2000 plus years of rejection of the gospel and its persecution of His people, the Church.  It is also a judgment on the nation of Israel for its rejection of Christ, the nation’s Messiah.

To see the unfolding of this time we need to go to the Book of Revelation.  After the 7 churches are addressed, which is a prophetic overview of the coming Church Age, we see John (Rev. 4:1) addressed by a voice from heaven, saying “Come up here.”  This is a picture of the Rapture.  In 4:4 we see a group of people in heaven that have never been seen anywhere else in the Bible.  They sit enthroned, clothed in white about the throne of God.  Who are they?  John in his biblical “time travel” saw you and I.  He saw all the raptured and glorified in the presence of God.

But in chapter 5 of Revelation, the chapter prior to the beginning of the Tribulation in chapter 6, we see in the hand of the Father upon the throne a scroll. This scroll is the last 7 years of human history before the return of Christ.  When opened it will reveal the horrific judgments of chapters 6-18.  But it is not the Father who opens the scroll, this 7 sealed scroll that comprises the bulk of the book of Revelation.  He hands the book to the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah who alone has the authority to enact judgment as one who is divine, shown to be so by His resurrection from the dead.  “He is worthy.” (Rev. 5:5)

He takes the scroll from the Father’s hand. He opens it and with that action the prophetic verses from Psalm 2 are fulfilled (though still in the future).  “Ask of me and I will give you the nations as Thine inheritance and you shall rule them as with a rod of iron and shatter them as earthenware.”  Some have called the scroll of Revelation 5 “the title deed to planet earth.”  It is the inheritance that God will bestow on His Son to rule and to bestow on His own who will “inherit the earth” as joint heirs with Christ.

Thus are the words fulfilled, “not even the Father judges anyone but has given all judgment to the Son, that men might honor the Son as they honor the Father.”  The last Adam who has first brought His elect, the church, into submission will then begin to force the world to its knees as the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowls become more and more horrific, until finally, it shall be said, “Babylon is ruined.” (Rev. 18:18)

Satanic false religion, false economy, false government.

All destroyed.

“The world and all its works shall be burned up.” (2 Pet. 3:10)

“Heaven and earth shall pass away.” (Matt. 24:35)

“Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and freeman hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the wrath of Him who sits upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come and who is able to stand?’” (Rev. 6:15-17)

“Heaven and earth shall pass away but My words shall not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35)

As the last Adam all shall be beneath the feet of our incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXVI: The Bema, the Judgment Seat of Christ

Incomparable Christ

“For we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each of us may be recompensed for his deeds in the body whether good or bad.”  2 Cor. 5:10

It is called the Bema or the Judgment Seat of Christ and is, in my opinion, the most untaught area of Christology.  It’s not because its teaching is not known in the Bible but it is just not taught.  Maybe it’s because we as Christians are so delighted to know that we have escaped judgment through Christ who removed our judgment that the notion that we still will be judged for our “works”- not sin, mind you, but what we did with our Christian lives- is unnerving to us.

The Bema occurs after the Rapture and before the 2nd Coming.  It occurs at the beginning of our 7 year honeymoon in glory with our Bridegroom in the house He has prepared for us, the New Jerusalem.  The term Judgment Seat or Bema was well known to those in Corinth, the church where Paul introduced the term “the Bema.”

The Bema was a judicial place where an athlete who had competed in the games- the Isthmian games- had to stand before the judge and attest that he had “competed according to the rules”- rules of diet, training, and moral purity.  The Bema was an old time drug testing.  If you did not run according to the rules you do not get the prize. In the same way the Christian will be judged- not for sin as that was settled in Christ- but for our faithfulness.

It doesn’t mean you are or are not in “the ministry.”  One can be in the ministry for worldly reasons and as Paul said “it profits me nothing.”  One can however do the most menial of tasks for the glory of God and as Paul said of Christian slaves “whatever good thing each one does this he shall receive back from the Lord whether slave or free.” (Eph. 6:8)

“Each of us shall give account of himself to the Lord.” (Rom. 14:12)

Paul spoke of this in 1 Cor. 3 as a Christian building project.  A Christian’s life can use the wisdom of the world (wood, hay or straw) or the wisdom of God (gold, silver, precious stones).

What did you build on?

“The day will show it because it be revealed with fire and the fire will test the kind (or quality) of each man’s work.” (1 Cor. 3:13)

“If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains he shall receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up he shall suffer loss (i.e. of reward) yet he himself shall be saved, yet as though through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:14-15)

What do we mean by “reward”?  It is that which will continue into the coming kingdom of Christ.  It is what Jesus meant by “seek first the kingdom of God” and “make for yourselves purses that do not wear out.”  It is what Paul meant by “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  It is what he meant by “an imperishable wreath.”  It is what John meant by “that you might receive a full reward.”  It is what Paul meant by “I seek for the profit that increases to your account” and “we shall reign with Him.”

In some sense our place of rule in the thousand year reign of Christ will be affected by our faithfulness now.

Every act from Adam on in some sense will be requited, recompensed or punished in Christ on the cross or in hell.

To me however the most precious text is from Rev. 19:7-8.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”

“It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

Our garment and its splendor will come from the Bema and the reward from Christ (not punishment mind you) for what we have “done in the body.” (2 Cor. 5:10)

Every good deed shall be brought to light.

If you would like a good application of this read Revelation 3:14-22 about a worldly church that was successful in all the wrong things, the church of Laodicea.

It may be cliché but it’s true.

“Only one life, twill soon be past

Only what’s done for Christ shall last.”

Let’s live for the smile and “well done” at the Bema of our Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXV: The Rapture of the Church

Incomparable Christ

What is Christ doing now? Paul said it clearly. “A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom 11:25). The “fullness of the Gentiles” are the “sheep of another fold” (John 10:16), the elect of God that God will save in this age. The church age is a time of mercy in which God “commands all men to repent having fixed a day in which He will judge the world through a man” (Acts 17:30-31).

God has sent a message, a finished book – the Bible – and the visible display of the church which is a preview of His coming kingdom into all the world. Has the world received this warning? No. The world has renounced it, changed it and denied it. Has the nation of Israel repented having seen True Judaism or Christianity as it has gone out to the world? Again the answer is no. So what is the next thing on the Christological agenda? It is the judgment and punishment of the world and the chastening and purification of Israel. This is a prophesied time called The Day of The Lord. The Day of The Lord is a period that runs from The Tribulation, through the Second Coming, the millennial kingdom and then the final judgment. But all of this will begin with the Rapture or the “plucking up” or “catching away” of the church. It is the event that suddenly removes the church from a coming period of Tribulation and the wrath of God. Paul said “God has not destined us for wrath . . . (1 Thess. 5:9) and that Christ “delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10) and that is the purpose of the Rapture. To remove the church from what is only experienced by those who reject Christ – the wrath of God. This is why in Revelation 6-18 the word “church” is not mentioned. Those who believe are simply the saints of the Tribulation. The Bride of Christ is not mentioned until Revelation 19:7-8 when she returns with Christ to rule with Him.

This is what Jesus meant when He said “I go away to prepare a place for you. And if I go away I will come again to receive you unto myself that where I am (i.e. in glory) there you may be also” (John 14:3). This is not the return of Christ with His church (Rev 19) but His returning for His church to remove them from the wrath to come.

This truth is also described to the Thessalonians. “The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (“harpazo”: to “pluck up” or “rapture”) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

To the Corinthians Paul spoke the same, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed . . .” (1 Cor 15:51-52)

And so we gather in the elect.
We live in fear and reverence of His appearing.
We wait during the breakdown of society.
We stand firm in our faith . . .
We look to the skies . . . to “escape the wrath to come” . . .

and wait for our incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXIV: The Ascension and Session of Christ

Incomparable Christ

Jesus physically ascended forty days after His appearing to the twelve.  Then He . . . a man, man’s representative man . . . the Last Adam . . . sat down enthroned at the right hand of God.  You see, God will not change His purposes even though sin might complicate things.  Man was meant to have God as his “all in all.”  God was to be the governing force and purpose behind “all” thought and action of “all” mankind.  Our “all in all.”  That was post man’s alienation in Adam, but now it is being restored in the Last Adam.  And that is what Christ has been doing since He ascended into glory.

First, He is gathering to Himself the elect of God – those whom God gave to Christ for Him to save, keep and bring to glory (John 6:38-49).  They are those sheep who will be gathered from Jew and Gentile into “one flock with one Shepherd” (John 10:16).  “Vessels of mercy” chosen for God’s glory (Rom 9:21-23).

And not only does He save out a people, the church, but He also sanctifies them and glorifies Himself through them even training them to do in their day what He did in His – to redeem man.  And in them God will begin doing His ultimate purpose of “subjecting all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:21) whenever God shall once again be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28), as the church takes “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5) and as we are “renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col 3:10).

His saving and sanctifying of His people is called “the Session of Christ.”

But perhaps the greatest purpose of the ascension and session is the fact that we now have “an anchor of the soul steadfast and sure which enters within the veil where Christ has entered for us a high priest forever . . .” (Heb 6:19-20)

“. . . who ever liveth to make intercession for us . . .” (Heb 7:25), where His wounds mediate for us forever.  He is the “lamb standing as if slain” between God and His church. (Rev 5)

I am secure in my salvation because Christ is anchored at the right hand of God forever . . .

And so are we . . .

all because of our incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXIII: The Resurrection of Our Lord

Incomparable Christ

Did Christ really rise from the dead?  Was it prophetic of the Messiah?  Is it important?  Why did He have to rise?  What did the resurrection accomplish?

The first thing to note is that He most assuredly did rise.  In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul said that the resurrection is foundational to and inseparable from true Christianity. He goes so far as to say that if Christ did not rise that “your faith is in vain, you are still in your sins.”  Without the resurrection Christianity is no longer Christianity.

Secondly, the resurrection is seen as a literal event. The liberal wing of Christianity has reduced the resurrection to a non-supernatural, non-miraculous, symbolic, spiritual “true myth” with no historic precedence.  Karl Barth said Christ rose but “a camera would not have recorded it.”  Jesus said “touch me.”  “Eat with me.”  The twelve saw Him rise into the air.  He rose physically and over 500 saw Him. (1 Cor. 15:6)  God made us a physical body, the fall cursed us physically.  Christ came, died, and rose physically as God will raise all men physically for heaven or hell.  The physical body is a divinely given and good thing as God saves the whole man.

Thirdly, He rose as “first fruits” of those who will rise. (1 Cor. 15:23)  The first fruits of Israel was an honoring of God with the first of the harvest and thus assuring that all of the harvest would be gathered in.  In the same way Christ’s resurrection is a security that all who are in Christ will be raised. Thus does Paul say that Christ was “raised because of our justification.” (Rom. 4:25)

A fourth purpose is that the resurrection is the vindication of His own perfect life. (Rom. 1:4)  Christ was “declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.”  Peter said He rose because “it was impossible for death to hold Him in its power.” (Acts 2:24)  Christ had to rise.

Fifthly, He arose to fulfill prophecy.  Both Paul and Peter quoted Psalm 16:10 in their sermons. (Acts 2:27-31 and Acts 13:35-37)  God would “not allow His Holy One to undergo decay” and that fact was David’s assurance of salvation. If God would raise Christ, God would raise the one who trusts in him.

Sixthly, the resurrection provides for our rebirth.  Because as Christ victored over the penalty of sin, He also victored over the power of sin because He arose “never to die again.  Death no longer is master over Him…. The life He lives He lives to God.” (Rom. 6:1-14)  So do we who share His life.  His resurrected life is ours.

Man was lost in a garden through Adam’s sin.  Christ rose in a garden a short distance from Calvary.  That tomb was the initial conquest of death and from that tomb life would spring forth to the ends of the earth.  And it all began when life conquered death through our incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXII: The Death of Christ

The Incomparable Christ Part XXII: The Death of Christ

Incomparable Christ

Why did Jesus have to die?

“Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from Me.”

What this means is “if there is any other way to forgive men and save men apart from My suffering and death then let it be so.” But we all know the divine response… “Not my will but Thine be done.” There was no other way for God to save but by the death of Christ. He who is the way, the truth and the life, apart from which no man can come to God.

He did not die merely as a martyr to inspire us. He died as a willing substitutionary sacrifice unto God for man. A lamb of God who bore away the sin of the world.

Here is what His death accomplishes.

  • There was a Godward result – Propitiation
  • There was a Sinward result – Redemption
  • There was a Manward result – Reconciliation

Propitiation, the Godward result. The word propitiation means “the satisfaction of justice.” It is why a compassionate judge cannot let a guilty person go free no matter how merciful that judge feels, because justice must still be upheld. Mercy cannot cancel justice, for then the foundations of society would wash away. For God’s mercies to be extended His righteousness and justice must be met and His wrath satisfied. This satisfaction is called “propitiation.”

When Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”, He depicted propitiation. “Forsaken” indicates that God saw Him as guilty, thus forsaken. Guilty for nothing He had done, but because “He who knew no sin became sin” and God “laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” But the other point indicated is that there was no reason in Himself for His being forsaken. Thus “why hast Thou forsaken me?” The answer? He was punished for others. Propitiation.

The sinward result is redemption. The Greek words for redemption entail the payment for a slave to be freed from his bondage. Propitiation is from the religious realm. Redemption is from the commercial realm. “The wage of sin is death.” For man to be loosed from his condemnation as a slave of sin there must be a ransom price. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” The ransom was not to Satan (an early Christian belief from the first century of the faith.) but to God whereby His justice could be satisfied and the law of God fully met. The currency for the payment was blood. “Without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sin.” When Jesus cried, “It’s finished,” it was to redemption that He was referring. The word for “finished” in Jesus’ day meant “paid in full.” This is redemption.

The manward result of Christ’s atonement is called “reconciliation.” The Greek word is “katallaso” which means “to change back.” The English word means “to be at peace once again” or “re-conciliated.” Our reconciliation is two-fold. Provisional and applied. Christ’s death has reconciled all men provisionally so that God can invite “whosoever will” to come back to Him. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This is the provision of reconciliation. “While we were still enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, but now having been reconciled we shall be saved by His life.” In this verse we see provisional reconciliation and then its actual application. Through the propitiation of Christ and His redemption for sin, God is free to bid man come and then to bring him spiritually back into a full adoption, or reconciliation.

The death of Christ illustrated…

Cross

We stood by, as at the Red Sea, and watched as God accomplished our deliverance…

…through our incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XXI: The Passion or Sufferings of Christ

Incomparable Christ

It was a somber Savior who approached Jerusalem that Passover, the 33rd Passover of His life; the 3rd of His ministry.  The crowd who awaited Him was exhilarated because if ever there was a Messiah, this was him.  This one who did Messianic miracles (Isaiah 35) and who could lead Israel to freedom.  But Jesus wept as He entered Jerusalem to the crowd’s hosannas because He knew they did not understand “the things that make for peace.”  Repentance and obedience to God were those things.  Instead, Israel wanted political change.  (Sound familiar?)  Jesus knew the betrayal and national rejection that awaited Him upon His disappointing the nation’s expectations.

He arranged for a colt, the foal of a donkey, to be brought to Him because Zechariah 9 prophesied that Messiah would come to Jerusalem on just such a beast depicting the humility of Israel’s king.  King to the common man.

He then entered the Temple complex and there in the Court of the Gentiles saw that it had been turned into a bazaar where animals for sacrifice were sold.  Because it was merely the Court of the Gentiles, the nation felt it could be sacrificed to commerce.  Jesus said “My Father’s house is to be a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a robber’s den.”  The Jew had lost sight of his mission.  Malachi wrote hundreds of years earlier, “O that there was one that would shut the gates and not uselessly kindle fire on my altar.” (Malachi 1:10)  Jesus was the one who shut the gates as He drove the money changers from the temple.

The next day He passed by a fig tree, a symbol of Israel, and like Israel at the Triumphal Entry having leaves but no fruit.  Jesus cursed the fig tree as God would curse Israel.  It would never bear fruit again.  Israel has not either.

Jesus was surrounded the next day by the nation’s leaders.  Pharisees, Sadducees, priests and Herodians all played “bull in the ring” with Christ, surrounding Him with challenges.

  • “Do we pay taxes?”
  • “Is there a resurrection?”
  • “What’s the greatest commandment?”
  • The result? “No one asked Him any more questions.”
  • He then delivered His most scathing denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 . . . “Woe unto you Pharisees, hypocrites” . . . and then issued His fatal declaration of Israel. “Your house is being left to you desolate.  You will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Desolation, deportation and darkness until the nation calls Him blessed.  Thus has been the exiled and darkened Jew since Christ’s death.
  • He then delivered the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25 concerning the events surrounding Israel prior to His return.
  • And then He retired to an arranged upper room to celebrate with the twelve the Passover that was about to be fulfilled in His death. There He explained the coming Christian age and the work of the Spirit in the coming church age.
  • Judas came with the soldiers to arrest Him in the night.
  • But Jesus and the 11 had moved to Gethsemane.
  • Judas and the soldiers arrive in Gethsemane.
  • In Gethsemane, Christ, like Adam, faces a decision in a garden to submit to God or rebel and preserve Himself . . . “Not My will but Thine be done.”  “Through the one act of obedience the many will be made righteous.”  (Romans 5)  Christ submitted where Adam rebelled.
  • After being arrested late at night He is taken to the first of six trials – three religious before Israel and three Gentile or civil. To avoid an insurrection of the Jewish multitude all must be done in the dead of night.  Jesus must be found twice guilty by Israel and executed by Rome all before Jerusalem arises the next morning.
  • Jesus goes before Annas the godfather of the current high priests – He is found innocent.
  • Then before the Sanhedrin, who is waiting for Him assembled in the dead of night. He is tried for sedition, but again, He is found innocent, and physically beaten and mocked by the Council.
  • He is held in a prison for the a.m. hours before daybreak.
  • Again the Sanhedrin assembles early to rubber stamp Him again as guilty, not of sedition but of blasphemy. Thus He is found guilty twice before He goes to Pilate and the Roman trial and execution.
  • He goes to Pilate quickly for a cursory trial whereby He can be crucified and displayed as a false King and a weak and cursed man. The first Roman trial, however, was a failure as no charge of sedition could be found against Him.
  • Pilate, hearing that Jesus was from Galilee, dismissed Him to be tried by Herod, the Roman ruler of Galilee, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover.
  • Herod mocked Him but could find no guilt in Him of sedition so He was sent back to Pilate.
  • Pilate sought to release Him but was shouted down. Pilate then offered the crowd the release of one prisoner – Barabbas, an insurrectionist and certainly a seditionist or Jesus, an accused  The crowd took Barabbas.
  • Pilate then had Jesus scourged and physically beaten by the soldiers. A purple robe to mock His claim was placed on Him.  He then stands with Pilate before the crowd and His weakness is put on display.  “Behold the Man,” says Pilate.  Then, “Behold your King.”  “Shall I crucify your King?”  The crowd responded, “We have no King but Caesar.”  Pilate responded, “What evil has He done?”

To Pilate’s reticence the crowd shouted to Pilate that if he did not crucify Christ “you are no friend of Caesar.”

  • Pilate washed his hands publically at the Judgment Seat to absolve him of the obvious guilt of condemning an innocent man. The crowd responded, “His blood be on us and our children” and in so doing invoked the curse of God.
  • Jesus was led to be crucified, carrying His cross. He collapsed under the burden and a Jew from North Africa name Simon was pressed into service as no soldier was willing to bear it.
  • On Calvary a drink was offered to Him as a sedative – a bitter concoction called “gall.” It was refused as He needed nothing to make Him easy to handle.  He would die willingly.
  • Two thieves were crucified. One on His right and one on His left as He was “numbered among transgressors.”
  • Here began the first of the seven words of the cross as Christ would suffer for six hours, just as there was six days of creation. For three hours at the hands of men and three at the hand of God.
  1. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This He prayed for the soldiers who crucified Him.  That God would allow them to live after laying hands on the Son of God.  As the crowd and two thieves cursed Him, one of the thieves became convinced of His innocence and the truthfulness of the wording above Him – “Jesus of Nazareth.  King of the Jews.”
  2. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  One request would bring a sinner into the Kingdom.
  3. He then made sure His mother was cared for as this was a Jewish firstborn’s responsibility. He gave Mary into the care of John.  “Behold thy son.”  “Behold thy mother.”  Jesus was a responsible son till the end.  For three hours He entered the silence and darkness of the judgment of God.  The entire Bible before and after looks forward to and back to this event and yet the Bible is silent as if a curtain is drawn like the Holy of Holies.  It was in these three hours that “He who knew no sin became sin.”  Here the atonement took place.
  4. After three hours of darkness and judgment Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” In these words it was established that He had been forsaken by God but for nothing that He had done.  It was for others.
  5. His next words were “I thirst” because He had gone through the enormous exertion of bearing man’s sin and enduring the Father’s wrath.
  6. After receiving sour wine on a stalk of hyssop, He cried with a loud voice, “It is finished.”
    • the atonement was accomplished
    • the prophecies fulfilled
    • payment made
    • wrath satisfied
    • man reconciled
    • Satan defeated
  7. His last words were, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” Sinners dying on a tree do not have the hope of R.I.P.  Jesus did, as He was the Holy One of God.

 

The passion of Christ was finished.  He was placed in a tomb.

The Incomparable Christ Part XX: The Miracles of Christ

Incomparable Christ

There are 35 if them.  They are called “signs” or “semeion” (in the Greek).  They are signs because they “sign-ify” or signify something.  They signify that God is among us because only God can overrule the creation and make it serve Him.  That is why miracles occur in the Bible in Genesis 1 (and how!) and in Revelation during the Tribulation (double and how!!) and in between with Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and then Christ and the disciples.  Law, Prophets, Grace.  The miracles signify or validate the continuing message of God.

But no one did miracles like Jesus.  So many, so broad, and so effortlessly.  Moses used a staff.  Elijah used his prophet’s mantle.  But Jesus, His mere word and at times His mere whim.  Sometimes He was not even present but merely willed the problem away.  Christ demonstrated on the level of human observation that He was without doubt the Son of God.  The miracles were called “wonders” because there was no human explanation.  They are “marvels.”

“Nothing like this was ever done in Israel.”

The miracles are arranged in five categories.

  1. Miracles over nature

The calming of the winds and waves.

Walking on the waves.

Two miraculous catch of fish.

One catching of a fish with a proscribed coin in its mouth.

Multiplying fish and loaves on 2 occasions.

And His first miracle was turning water into wine which was a miracle of re-creation, just as God began history with creation.

  1. He did miracles over disease

The fever of Peter’s mother-in-law.

The leper and the 10 lepers.

The woman with the issue of blood.

The centurion’s servant.

The nobleman’s son.

The cause of all disease is sin. By His salvation all disease will be removed. “By His stripes we are healed.” “He carried away our diseases.” Someday there will be “no mourning, crying, death, nor pain.” And His miracles anticipate this.

  1. He did miracles over disabilities

The blind, the deaf, the lame, the paralyzed, the mute. According to Isaiah 35:5-6 these miracles will be spiritually fulfilled in the kingdom of God just as they are now in the church, the kingdom’s inauguration. Those who are spiritually blind to God and life can through Christ be enlightened and understand the word of God. Those who are deaf to the Scriptures can now hear the voice of God in the Bible. Those who cannot walk correctly in life are now able to follow the truth. Those who are helpless and hopeless can arise. Those who proclaim nothing but error can be entrusted with truth.

  1. He did miracles over demons

One word and the devil and what he had brought about were gone. Just as through His death Satan’s power would be broken and men could again serve God, and be “transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” (Col. 1:14)

  1. He did miracles over death

A young girl, and a teenage boy, and an older man.

His touch and His word brought life from the dead.

We know that He can do all these spiritual marvels because of the physical “signs” of the miracles.

How wonderful to be able to hear God’s word

then to see life as we should in the light

to be able to rise

and walk with God

and proclaim His word.

Here are the deepest longings of man

found in our Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ Part XIX: The Kingdom Offer

Incomparable Christ

If you can remember the letters O-R-P, then you have learned the flow of Jesus’ earthly ministry, what He is doing now, and what He will do someday.

The “O” stands for “offered”.  The Messiah, the Davidic King offered to Israel the kingdom of God and Himself as their King.  The problem was that the nation did not want a king like Jesus.  As in Samuel’s day they wanted a “king like the Gentiles.”  They wanted a Judas Maccabees, a political redeemer.  Christ on the other hand was calling the nation to “repent” of the sin that had brought on their Babylonian exile.  He called specifically the leadership of the nation to believe His message and His miracles and to believe in Him as their Davidic king. “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Such did John the Baptist, Jesus, and the 12 disciples preach.  His miracles were beyond challenging. His wisdom could not be doubted.  He called the nation back to true faith.

The kingdom was offered.

But the “R” stands for “rejected”.  “He was of no comely appearance that we should look upon Him or be attracted to Him.” (Isaiah 53)  The sinfulness of the nation was such that they would (the leadership that is) rather kill Him, lie about Him, and silence Him than repent and receive Him as their king.  They blasphemed the Holy Spirit of God who performed signs and miracles through Jesus, and Christ said that such a national sin was “unforgiveable”.  Thus the Kingdom offer was removed from Israel, and Christ would then go to the Gentiles.

The Kingdom was rejected.

The “P” stands for “postponed”. God is not finished with Israel because God made covenantal promises to the nation.  Someday He will return to a nation softened through the Great Tribulation and establish His kingdom over Israel and all the earth.  But this is called the Second Coming.  What is He doing now?  The Kingdom offer to Israel has been postponed.   Israel has been darkened spiritually

dispersed nationally

and,  destroyed in its land & temple.

But God has done something now that was not fully understood from the Old Testament.  It is called a “mystery of the kingdom”.  Meaning an aspect of God’s kingdom program that has not been revealed until presently.  An aspect that was “mysterious” until Christ revealed it to man.  It is the Church Age.  That age that has lasted now for two thousand years, where the Gentile nations, from Samaria to the ends of the earth have enjoyed Israel’s great King, the blessings of His death and the joy of His rule.  The Church Age is a “mystery of the kingdom of God.”

Someday God will have gathered into one all His elect.  He will rapture them and then command His Four Horsemen to come forth and The Tribulation shall begin – whereby the world will be judged for its rejection of the King and Israel will be enlightened to its sin and finally repent and call upon Christ in the worst of times whereupon He will return.  “Thy Kingdom come”.

ORP…    Offered to Israel

Rejected by Israel

Postponed in the Church Age

But returning to Israel upon the world’s rejection of the gospel.  Who but God could use the sin of all to show mercy to all, Jew and Gentile?

Incomparable!

Come Thou Almighty King.

The Incomparable Christ Part XVIII: The Temptation of Christ

Incomparable Christ

It was immediately after Jesus’ baptism that the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  The reason was because He had to be morally qualified to be Christ just as He was divinely qualified at His baptism.  To be morally qualified demanded a test, and that is what Satan would do.  Jesus would prove Himself the sinless son of God.

Whenever Satan temps man he comes disguised, whether as the craftiest of the animal creation, the serpent, or a deceiving spirit in a false prophet.  He who is a liar and the “father of lies.”  And yet with Christ there was no deception.  Only with Jesus does Satan appear as Satan.  It’s one on one.

There is a similarity between Israel’s testing in the wilderness and Christ’s testing in the wilderness.  Between Israel who had no bread and Jesus who had no bread.  Between Israel who failed and Christ who succeeded because “Man does not live by bread alone,” but by resting in obedience to the word of God and trusting God’s provision.  “By every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  What a difference between the nation and The Servant of the Lord.  The perfect seed of Abraham.

There is also a clear comparison between Christ and Adam.  The first Adam and the last.  The two heads of representative races.  The lost and the saved.  Adam was tempted with the lusts of the flesh and of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.  The tree was “a delight to the eyes, good for food and desirable to make one wise.”  In the same way Jesus was tempted with the same three things.

“Turn these stones into bread” – flesh

“Look upon the kingdoms, worship me and they are yours” – the eyes

“Throw yourself from these heights and the angels will bear you up” – the pride of Life

He succeeded where Adam failed but His temptation would occur again, and in a garden just as Adam, the garden of Gethsemane.  Here He would accept a tree where Adam refused one.  And in that garden He would obey God to the point of death, even death upon a cross.

The temptation of Christ was a very important theological point.  One reason is that he provided for us a real righteousness.  A divine righteousness lived out in a human being who had to make real sacrificial choices . . . just like you and I.  He forged that righteousness through being “tempted in all things as we yet without sin.”  He is morally qualified to be our substitute.

Another reason is that He is my sympathetic High Priest “who is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”  When I call upon Him in time of need and weakness, I know with certainty that He will see me through because He knows what it is to be tempted.  His temptation is my assurance of what He has obligated Himself.

His temptation is also important because He has defeated the devil in anticipation of what He would do on the cross when He cast out the devil.

And there is another essential truth-essential to the Christian’s pattern in how to defeat Satan, the world, and the flesh.  Jesus resorted to the Bible – “It is written.”  Three times He vanquished the lies of Satan by the truth of God.

1934 verses are attributed to Jesus in the gospels.  179 of them are Old Testament quotations or references.  If the Savior, how much more the sinners should learn to handle the sword of the word of God.

His example is incomparable indeed.

The Incomparable Christ Part XVII: His Baptism

Incomparable Christ

For thirty years Jesus lived in obscurity.His secrets have become such a popular marvel in today’s society- so popular that today’s music and fashion has been heavily influenced by his life. There have even been pieces of gold jewelry in hip hop fashion such as this Jesus necklace sold online.  No matter what tradition and superstition claim, He did no miracles before He was thirty.  He was simply “the carpenter’s son,” the eldest of five sons and at least two sisters.  He served in the Nazareth synagogue as a reader.  He was one of us.  Mere man.  The divine Son submitted to the Father’s will.

But then the day came that “the word of the Lord came to John the Baptist.”  His ministry as Forerunner began.  He was to announce to Israel the Messiah, and so he began proclaiming that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  As he announced the coming of Christ, he also began calling Israel to repentance, baptizing them in preparation for the Christ.  As he collected a core of followers, baptizing at the Jordan, he waited for God to reveal Messiah to him.  He would not have to wait long.

Jesus showed up at the Jordan to be baptized and in doing so He put His stamp of agreement on John and the prophetic message that John preached.  He also “fulfilled all righteousness.”

This meant that all of Jesus’ life He had been faithful to God and thus He would finish His private life in doing everything that God asked Him to do.  His last act in His private life was His baptism.  The faithful Jew in John’s day would have been at the Jordan river being baptized, and so would Christ.

And that baptism was like none other, ever.  Because, when Jesus approached the prophet, John said, “I have need to be baptized by you.”  Here was John saying that he, the best of men, was in need of forgiveness and cleansing and that Jesus was the One to grant that cleansing.  Because as John would say of Christ, “He existed before me.”  Here is God in the flesh.

But as Christ came up from the waters another marvelous thing occurred.  A voice articulate and clear.  “This is my beloved Son and in Him I am well pleased.”  God placed His seal upon Jesus.  In the prophetic psalm of David, God speaks to the nations and says of the Christ, “Thou art My Son.” (Ps. 2) Thus the baptism of Christ officially commences His ministry with the Fathers pronouncement.

But not only is He the divine king who speaks to His enemies in His fury but He is also the Servant of the Lord of Isaiah of whom God also attests, “Behold My Servant … in whom my soul delights.” (Is. 42:1)  Both of these titles are included in the Father’s pronouncement, “My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  Christ was divinely qualified to be the Messiah.

And with this pronouncement the Holy Spirit descended that all might see. This was because Isaiah 11:1f said the Holy Spirit would anoint the Messiah to perform His task and so He did.  As a dove brought back an olive branch at the flood as the beginning of a new world so the Spirit as a dove would light upon this person of light who will bring in a new age.

This final prophet, final priest, and eternal king was now officially anointed to begin His ministry.

A new age was soon to begin.

Tommy's Reading List- Men's Conference 2016

Tommy’s Reading List- Men’s Conference 2016

The Incomparable Christ Part XVI: His Pre-Ministry Years From Age Three until Twelve

Incomparable Christ

After the worship of the wise men in Jerusalem and their offerings of gifts, they assumed a new relationship to God.  He now became directly involved in their lives.  They were instructed by God in a dream not to go back to Jerusalem and inform Herod as to where Christ was, God knowing Herod’s evil intent.  They were told to go home a different way.  So do all return a different way upon finding Jesus.

But Herod became enraged and sent a detachment to kill every boy two years and under.  Herod would allow no one to challenge his rule, even the Messiah.  Herod had a palace built high over Bethlehem and there must have been countless times over the next few years until his death that he looked out over Bethlehem and wondered if that miracle child was still alive.

But as in all things God knows the intent of man’s heart before it ever emerges.  In a dream God warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to the Jewish community there and to wait until Herod was dead.  When Herod died God appeared to Joseph again saying it was safe to return.

This may sound familiar to you because it is meant to.  It sounds like the life of Moses.  Born under a death threat Moses was protected by God until Pharaoh sought His life for being loyal to his Jewish brethren.  Moses fled from Pharaoh to Midian until “those who sought your life are dead.”

In Deuteronomy 18:15 God tells Moses that He will raise up a prophet like Moses from among Israel.  One who would bring God’s word to the nation and would mediate for them before God.  Matthew in his gospel to the Jews is the only gospel writer to include the story of Christ’s flight to Egypt because it parallels Jesus with Moses.  Here is the One, who like Moses, comes down the mountain to bring God’s word to men and up the mountain to represent the guilty before God.  Here is Deuteronomy’s prophesied fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

As Joseph, Mary and Jesus return to Bethlehem, God again appears to Joseph saying not to go there because of Herod’s wicked son who had taken over from him in ruling Judea.  So the family headed north back to Nazareth in the region of Galilee and Matthew adds, “this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.””  But notice the plural word “prophets.”  Being called a Nazarene is a compiling of what many of the prophets said of the Messiah, that He would be a lowly man “of no comely appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” (Isaiah 53:1f)  Thus to speak of this One that would be “despised and rejected of men” one merely had to say, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

But the last event mentioned of His pre-ministerial life is perhaps the most odd.  It is an event which reveals the self-consciousness of Christ.  It occurred when He was twelve years old.  A Jewish boy “came of age” at his bar-mitzvah at age thirteen.  At twelve He was technically still a boy, not a son.  But at twelve Jesus and His family headed south to Jerusalem for the Passover as every Jewish family was to do.  After the feast they headed back and Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was with other Jewish families that were in the caravan.  But after a day’s journey Jesus was nowhere to be found so Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem.  They searched for Him for a day until they found Him where they last remembered seeing Him – in the Temple.  There they found him surrounded by the teachers of Israel as He was asking questions and answering questions – and the crowd of teachers were amazed at His answers.

Joseph and Mary said, “Why have You treated us this way?”  His response was, “Why were you looking for Me?”  Meaning, there was no doubt where He would be – in His house!  In His Father’s house – the temple of God.  This shows us two things about the boy Jesus.  First, He had a self-recognition of His unique relation to God as His begotten Son.  Secondly, He had a sense of obedience to His father that took precedence over all other relationships.

Any of these pre-ministerial events would have been sensational for just one boy.  All were true of Jesus . . .

. . . the Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ XV: The Pre-Ministerial Years of Christ (From Birth until Three)

Incomparable Christ

There is a certain fascination that we all have about the early years of Jesus.  One reason is because they have only a spotty mentioning in the gospels.  Secondly is because they are so intriguing and mysterious.  How does a deity live among men, like a man, in human form?  We all would love to have been a fly on the wall in the home of the young Jesus.

The Bible only mentions sound bites of His pre-ministerial years.  Actually only eight events.  Here are the first six

(1) His birth: In Bethlehem, the city of David, and announced by angels.  The first words from the angel chiseled in history the infinite mystery and majesty of the event.

“Unto you in the city of David is born a Savior”:  A deliverer from sin.

“Christ”:  The Messiah of God.

“the Lord”:  The true and only God of heaven.  God became . . .

“a baby”:  Not just an appearance of God but an incarnation into humanity.

“in a manger”:  The highest of beings assumes the lowest place.

“good news”:  A word has been sent from heaven of God’s activity.

“great joy”:  And this news would bring the highest of human joy.  Salvation has come to man.

“peace on earth”:  “Men of God’s pleasure” or “choice” would know the greatest of peace and joy through the salvation that the Messiah would bring.

We have all sent and received birth announcements but never anything like this newborn.

(2) His presentation in the temple

Like all Jewish babies some things had to be done.

First was circumcision to bring that child into the common-wealth of Israel.  Then there was His presentation to God as firstborn as the first son of all families was dedicated to God in the memory that without God’s Passover in Egypt there would be no first born.  Then the baby was named according to the name given by Gabriel to Mary – “Jesus.”  A new “Joshua” who would lead the nation into the Promised Land.  Then there was the sacrifice of two turtledoves – which the poor would offer – as a sin offering and a burnt offering.  What humiliation it was for the Chosen Seed of Israel to be circumcised in anticipation of, well . . . Himself!  And to have a sacrifice for Himself when He Himself was the final and true offering.

(3) And then an old man approached named Simeon. Each day he lingered in the temple because God had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Messiah.  And this day he knew was the  As  the Holy Spirit’s role is to glorify Christ so Simeon knew “this Child is Him.”  Never would such words ever again be spoken.  He said by prophetic annunciation that those of Israel would rise or fall over how they would respond to this Child and the Man He would become.  Life and death would divide upon one’s opinion of Jesus Christ.  And then He said that someday a sword would pierce Mary’s heart as a sword would indeed pierce her Son.  Someday Mary would know all too well what these words would mean.

(4) And as these words were still in the air an old woman, Anna, approached. She, like Simeon, was a fixture in the temple.  She was 84 years old and had been in the temple serving God with prayers and fastings from the time she was a young woman.  Her husband had died only 12 years after marriage and, instead of remarrying, Anna had decided to serve God in the temple.  She heard Simeon and immediately began to herald Christ to all those seeking the Messiah and the peace of Israel.

(5) You might have thought that Joseph, Mary and Jesus would have returned to Nazareth but they did not; they remained in Bethlehem. Maybe Joseph felt that the rightful Davidic King should remain in the City of David instead of lowly Nazareth.  But whatever the reason there they stayed.

(6) Until one day two years later when “wise men” or “magi” arrived from the east. They brought three gifts, so perhaps there were three.  “Magi” were the “professors” of the east.  They were students, astronomers, astrologers, philosophers and educated men.  These had seen a “star” or bright new presence in the heavens and believed it was the “King of the Jews.”  Another magi-type, 15 centuries earlier, named Balaam, had prophesied that a “star will come from Jacob, a scepter will rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17).  Perhaps these magi knew of that earlier magi and the prophecy he made.  Balaam, who was from Peor of the east.  These Gentiles were wise indeed and two years later they arrived seeking to “worship Him.”  They came to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, seeking the King.  “All of Jerusalem was troubled” because Herod would allow no one to rival his position and he could become violent.  The scribes directed them to Bethlehem and as they left Jerusalem the star appeared again and stood (like an obedient servant) over the house to where the family of three had moved.

They entered the house just as the shepherds had the stable.  There they saw not an infant (as most manger scenes depict) but the mother and her “child.”  Her toddler,  her two year old.  When they saw Jesus they fell before their King and “worshipped.”  In keeping with proper conduct to a sovereign they presented their three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

What is interesting is that the prophet Isaiah prophesied 600 years earlier that in the kingdom of Messiah the nations would bring the Messiah gold and frankincense.  Here was the beginning of that fulfillment.

Still today the Gentiles and the lowly of Israel like the shepherds and the seekers of Israel, as Simeon and Anna, still come seeking the Christ and true to God’s promises they find Him.

Matthew has made his point.  This was no mere man. This was the incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ XIV: The Spheres in Which He Lived

Incomparable Christ

Most of us struggle enough just living in the day we are in, but how would you like to be a 3 – dimensional man living simultaneously in all three worlds at the same time?  Such was our Lord.

First, He lived in the sphere of law. The righteousness that He forged for us through His life was a legal righteousness that came through the obedience to the Mosaic Law in its letter and in its spirit. As He said to John the Baptist, “…it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” He was the Passover Lamb and yet He kept the Passover. He was the promised seed of Abraham and yet He had to be circumcised. He was the fulfillment of the Temple service and yet He kept the Temple’s rituals. That is why you and I must be careful in the imitation of Christ because He lived in a sphere that we do not – that of being under all the Jewish law. Of that law He crossed every jot and tittle, the perfect seed of Abraham.

Secondly, He lived in the sphere of the Church. Behind all of His ministry was a plan. A plan to be rejected, to die as a substitute for the elect of God whereby they might be saved. Jesus said “For this purpose I came into the world, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is His will. That all whom He had given me I lose nothing but I will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6:39) These were those who had grace “granted in Christ from all eternity.” (2 Timothy 1:9) Jesus said in John 10:16, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold: I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” This was the church. Christ was born for a cross and through that substitutionary death would gather to Himself the elect of His church, both Jew and Gentile – one church – such was His second sphere.

The sphere of the law would declare Him as righteous whereby He might die for the salvation of His Church. The spheres interlock.

The last sphere is that of the kingdom. He was born the King of the Jews. He offered Himself as King to the nation of Israel and fulfilled all of the Old Testament promises of the Messiah. Upon His rejection He spoke of His Second Coming and His future rule over the nation of Israel and all the world.

Law, Church, and Kingdom: the present, the future, and the final. Three time periods in one life. Each proceeding to the next. The rejected prophet becomes the crucified High Priest who will be enthroned in Jerusalem someday as the returning Messianic King. Each rejection brings a higher good. Jesus lived in all spheres at one time each to be realized and accented in God’s sovereign design.

Law, Church, Kingdom

Prophet, Priest, King

Three offices in three spheres of the . . .

one incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ XIII: The Offices of Jesus

Incomparable Christ

What do we mean by the “offices of Christ”?  We are speaking of the roles God gave Him to carry out.  The jobs He has to fill.  They are three.

Our Prophet, our Priest, and our King.  There are three areas of society that are crucial.  One is Philosophy.  How do we know what is true?  The second is Religion.  How do we approach God?  The third is Government.  How are we to be governed?  Civilization’s ebb and flow is over its proximity to the truth in all three of these areas.

The Bible anticipates the Messiah and the blessedness He brings because of His three offices over philosophy, religion and government – Prophet, Priest, and King.

First, He is our Prophet.  He is the one who, like Moses, tells us who God is.  Such is the prophet’s role.  Moses said in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to Him.”

“…a prophet like me…”  As Moses represented.

God before the nation so someday another would come who would be the very Word made flesh.  In Him God would be truly seen and understood through His Word – Jesus Christ.

Secondly, He is our Priest.  Our High Priest who comes into God’s presence in heaven and presents the perfect atoning sacrifice for man’s sin.  The sacrifice of Himself.  A prophet represents God to man.  A priest represents man to God.

And thirdly Christ is our King.  He is the one who is the DAVIDIC fulfillment born in Bethlehem.  The Shepherd King who will gather His people by delivering them from the domain of darkness and transferring them into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son.  And the one shall return and bring all under God’s rule.

Prophet – The one who reveals.

Priest – The one who dies.

King – The one who rules.

 

These are the offices of Christ.

Three more important ones have never been held.

I can know.

I can approach.

I can be guided . . . by my prophet, priest, and king.

My incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ XII: The Hypostatic Union of God and Man

Incomparable Christ

By 325 A.D. the church had made its statement concerning the full deity of Jesus Christ.  But over the next 125 years the church had to work through its next doctrinal question which was the humanity of Christ.  In what sense was Christ man?  And if He was fully man with a human mind and human will, just how was that human nature united to His divinity?  Maybe you have never heard of Apollonarius, Nestorius, and Eutychus but each of these men offered what seemed to be a reasonable answer to the question and yet though all three were church leaders all of their answers were regarded as errant even though all three men were in no doubt earnest and good men.  The problem is that they were the first to contemplate and try to explain the enigma of the “hypostatic union” of Christ.

What in the world is the “hypostatic union?”  The Latin word “hypostasis” means “person.”  The hypostatic union refers to the union of the dual nature of Christ – God and man.  How are these two natures united in the one “person” of Christ?

Apollonarius said Christ’s nature was wholly divine inside of a body that was human.  This view held to no union of divine and human natures but just “God in a bod”.  His humanity was more a disguise than a real nature.  The church said “no” to Apollonarius. The Apollonarian error reduced Christ to Superman in Clark Kent disguise. A church leader named Nestorius said that Christ had two natures in one person but the natures were independent and acted back and forth in His person.  Kind of like a divine schizophrenic or a team of two horses in one person.  The church said no.  Though there were two natures there was only one person.  His natures were not separated but in union.  Christ was not God and man but Godman.

Eutychus said that there was only one nature in Christ that was a mixture of the divine and the human.  A “God mingled man.”  The church said no.  The natures must be distinct.  Christ was not less than God or more than man. The Eutychian error was rejected.

The controlling thought to all of these doctrinal formulations was that “God cannot save what God does not become”.  To substitute for man God must assume true manhood.  The righteous life He led for us and the righteousness He procured for us is from the last Adam, but a true Adam He must nonetheless be.  To die upon the cross as our substitute Christ had to be perfect but this had to be a truly human perfection with a human mind and human will perfectly obedient to God.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. made the church’s final statement as to the humanity and deity of Jesus in one person.  It was really more of a statement of what Jesus was not than what He was.  We are left with mystery and faith.  The theological phrasing is called the “communion of attributes.”  His humanity and deity co-existed in perfect communion in the one person of the Lord – His Deity

Jesus – His Humanity

Christ – The one person

Unique and Incomparable.

Here is what we and they believed…

 

The Chalcedonian Creed

Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul and a body. He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.

We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function. The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the “properties” of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one “person” and in one reality. They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers has handed down to us. 

(http://christianityinview.com/creeds.html)

 

 

The Incomparable Christ XI: His Deity

Incomparable Christ

Do you know what the first doctrinal battle was in the Christian church?  It was over whether Christ was God or whether He was a creation of God – the first creation of God – through whom God made the worlds.  Was Christ God or was He just great, the first of all things?

The people who raised this challenge were called in later days Gnostics.  They were basically part of a religious movement that brought Greek ideas into the Middle East.  The Greeks had the idea that the divine or transcendent could have no part of the immanent or the created realm.  The spiritual realm was pure.  The natural and physical realm was flawed, fallen and evil.  God and man could not mix.  The solution they thought (deriving their knowledge from those who claimed revelations from God) was that God created an order of angelic beings called “aeons,” the last of which made an evil earth.  One of these angelic beings, the highest named Christos, enlightened a fellow named Jesus who in turn brought the Christian message of a higher spiritual realm.

The bottom line was that “Christ” was an angelic being, not God.  Nor was He a man but just “appeared” to be a physical man.  Thus He was neither God, nor was He man.

This was the first Christian heresy.

Paul, Peter, John and Jude all addressed the encroachment of Gnosticism in their letters.

As church history progressed, a church elder named Arius in the 4th century set forth the idea that the Son of God was the first creation of God who through him made the earth.  As a result the Arian controversy denied the deity of Jesus and made Christ more like an angel that became man (an error which the Jehovah’s Witnesses rekindled in the 1800s).

The church conducted its first church wide council as a response to Arius in 325 A.D. at Nicaea in present day Turkey and ruled that Christ was fully God; “homoousia” or “the same substance” as the Father, though a distinct person from the Father.  The doctrine of the Trinity was by 325 A.D. being formulated.  But the church was not saying anything new but just declaring as official what had always been biblical, the full deity of Christ.

What does the Bible say about His deity?

  1. Christ is eternal:      “The Father of Eternity (Is. 9:6)

“His goings forth have been from eternity” (Micah 5:2)

“before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58)

  1. Christ calls Himself God: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)

“. . . unless you believe that I am you will die in your sin.” (John 8:24)

  1. Christ is called God: “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Peter 1:1)

“our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)

“of the Son He says ‘Thy throne O God is forever’” (Heb.1:8)

  1. His enemies called Him God: “. . . You being a man make yourself out to be God.” (John 10:33)
  1. Christ exhibited the attributes of God:
  • Omnipotence: He did miracles over all things
  • Omniscience: “Lord, Thy knoweth all things.”  (John 21)
  • Omnipresence: “Lo I am with you always.”  (Matthew 28)
  1. Christ is declared to be the creator. (John 1:3) (Col. 1:15f)
  2. He is the object of the Holy Spirit’s glorification. (John 16:7-15)
  3. He is the final prophet whose life reveals fully the nature of God. (Hebrews 1:1)
  4. To be restored to His image is to be restored to God’s image. (Col. 3:10)
  5. He sends the Holy Spirit. (John 14:16)
  6. He is worshipped by the angelic realm and by men. (Hebrews 1:8)
  7. If He is not the eternal Son, God is not the Eternal Father.
  8. He is mentioned with the Father and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:18-20) (2 Cor. 13:14)
  9. The righteousness He bestows is the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
  10. The life He imparts is the life of God. (John 1:4)
  11. He defeats the Satanic realm and casts Satan from His throne. Only God can do so.  (Col. 2:15)  (John 12:31)

Conclusion:

If Christ is not God, God is not God, for Jesus claimed to be “equal with God.”  (John 5:18)

It seems that the confusing thing to some people is the term “begotten” Son.  Begotten means that Christ is not a son of God by creation like the angels, or a son of God like Adam and mankind by virtue of being in God’s image, or a son of God by national choice like the Jew, or a son of God like the Christian who is regenerated and adopted.  There is one “only begotten Son.”  Because “begotten” means to be born of the same substance of the father.  To be the begotten of your parents means that you are of their DNA, substance, and attributes – looks and race.  The same stuff.  Christ is the begotten.  What is the substance of the Father is the substance of the begotten Son – the only begotten Son.  All that the Father has eternally been, so the Son is and has eternally been.  We think of begotten as a birth and beginning.  The bible sees it as concerning Christ, as a nature, a shared substance.

There is only one begotten Son.  The Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ X: The Kenosis

Incomparable Christ

You might be asking “what is the kenosis?”  The word “kenoo” means “to empty” and it is the central word describing the incarnation of our Lord.

Paul wrote to the Philippians “Although He existed in the form of God He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but “emptied” Himself and took the form of a bondservant and was made in the likeness of men . . .”

What did Christ empty Himself of?  It certainly was not His deity.  God cannot change in being God.

The text tells us.  From the “form of God” He took the “form of a man.”  Christ emptied Himself of His expression, or “form.”  He laid aside His expression as God or His glory.  He also laid aside the free use of His deity to escape the weakness of humanity.  He would “become as His brethren in all things.”  He would not use His deity to escape the weakness of the humanity He had assumed.  He was a true man not just an appearance of a man as were the Old Testament theophanies.  The first and last temptations of Christ were just this very thing.  Use your power to aid yourself and escape the limitations of man.

“If you are the Son of God turn these stones into bread.”  Could He have done so?  Certainly.  The power was His.  Would He?  Certainly not.  Because you and I cannot.

“If you are the Christ take yourself down from the cross.”  Could He?  Certainly.  Would He?  Certainly not.  Because man cannot remove himself from death and judgment.

Christ was not Clark Kent who merely was a shell, a façade, and an illusion of a man . . . an illusion of who he really was – Superman.  But though Clark looked like a man he really wasn’t.  He was faking, impersonating a man.  He truly could not sympathize with us.  He did not know our weakness.  He was not even confined by gravity. (To this day I’ve never really understood why he needed a secret identity!)  But Christ did not disguise Himself.  He took to Himself full manhood with all of man’s weaknesses and limitations.

And the Greek text adds another dimension to His kenosis.  Paul wrote “who although existing in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be ‘thought robbery’…”   “Thought robbery”…now what can that be?  It means having something so precious that you will not allow anyone to take it from you.  It is something you would put in a safety deposit box.  It’s the briefcase that you would attach to your wrist that one could only take it by killing you.  That is something you “think robbery.”  That is why most Bibles will translate it as a “thing to be grasped” or “a thing to be held onto at all costs.”  Jesus would not esteem His glory but let it go for us.

It means that when it came time for Jesus to lay aside His glory and the independent use of His deity – or when it came time for “Him or me”, He took me.  This was the kenosis.  His divinity would be used for others but never for Himself.  The glory of what He eternally was would never be used to let Him escape the lowliness of what He became – a man.

Hours before He went to the cross He gave the disciples a picture of what was about to happen.  He took off His seamless robe and laid it aside, girded Himself with the towel of a servant, and washed the disciple’s feet.  When finished, He laid aside the towel and put the robe back on.  Such was Calvary soon to come. Christ would lay aside His glory and as the Servant of God became sin on our behalf and washed us from our sin through His death on the cross.  After rising from the dead He would lay aside His towel and rise in glory into glory and sit down at the Father’s right hand.

This was the kenosis of our Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ IX: His Genealogy

Incomparable Christ

“…who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh…” (Ro. 1:3)

“…the Christ, whose son is He?”  They said, “The son of David…” (Matt 22:42)

“Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead, from of the seed of David…” (2 Tim. 2:8)

“There shall come the root of Jesse…” (Ro. 15:12)

“The beginning for the gospel of Jesus Christ, son of David son of Abraham.”  (Matt. 1:1)

If anyone claimed to be the Messiah there was one question that would have been immediately asked.  “Show me your genealogy.”  More than any person that has ever lived, the Messiah is locked in to an iron-clad genealogy.  It is His royal birthmark.  Throughout the Old Testament God flashed great neon lights pointing to specific people that Messiah comes through.  When all is said and done there can only be one man in all of history that qualifies as the Redeemer of man.  Thus when Matthew begins his gospel of Christ the King of Israel he begins it with a genealogy because without the proper bloodline there can be no claim by any man to be the king.  It is like the fairy tale of the birth of the magic child, identified by a peculiar birthmark.  Christ’s birthmark was his genealogy.

– The seed of the woman would come through Adam

– Through Seth

– Unto Noah who would rescue the chosen line from judgement

– His son Shem would produce the Semitic people through whom man would find rest

– Through the Semite would come Abraham the father of the Jew and the nation Israel

– who would provide God’s Word and the Savior

– Abraham has the chosen child, Isaac

– Who had Jacob

– And of his 12 sons God would choose Judah from where the name “Jews” arose

– From the tribe of Judah from Bethlehem would come David

– The Davidic dynasty would produce Solomon

– And though judged by deportation would be preserved through Zerubbabel

– Who would return to the land and from him would come Joseph

– The husband of Mary through whom would come Jesus

Numbers of times between Adam and Jesus this chosen line was in danger of being cut off through war or murder and yet God preserved that chosen seed safe until the manger of Bethlehem.

But there is something else in Christ’s genealogy, and that is the presence of certain women.

Rahab             Tamar             Ruth                Bathsheba

Two of these women, Rahab and Ruth, were gentiles; One from Jericho and one from Moab – both the enemies of God’s people.

All four of them had immorality in their lives, or in the case of Ruth in the life of her ancestor, Lot.

Rahab – a prostitute

Tamar – incest

Bathsheba – adultery

This sends a message.  God will take the Gentile

The lowly Gentile

And women

But there is another woman – Mary.

Why is she here?  Because, though each link in the genealogical chain goes through the man, the text does not say, “Joseph who begot Jesus.”  Rather “Joseph the husband of Mary by whom was born Jesus.” The word “whom” is feminine singular, meaning that Jesus was born only of Mary, not of Joseph because as Genesis 3:15, which began the genealogy, says, “the seed of woman (alone) shall bruise the serpent’s head.”  The virgin born King has come as foretold.

Our Incomparable Christ.

 

The Incomparable Christ VIII: His Virgin Birth

“…conceived of the Holy Spirit born of the Virgin Mary…”  (The Apostles Creed)

“…the virgin shall be with child and you shall shall his name Immanuel.”  (Matt. 1:23)

Mary said to Gabriel’s pronouncement “how can this be since I am a virgin?” His response?  “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Gabriel thought she was a virgin.

Mary thought she was a virgin.

Joseph thought she was a virgin.

Matthew and Luke thought she was a virgin.

That is called primary resources.

Why a virgin birth? The “how” of the virgin birth is difficult.  As a matter of fact Gabriel called it “impossible”.  But the “why” is clearer.

The virgin birth by-passed Adam’s sin, or original sin.  When humans are born there is passed on to the new mortal both the inevitability of physical death and a flawed nature that will show itself in a sin nature.  The sin nature and physical death seems to be carried by the one charged with the transgression – Adam, the man.  Thus there could be no conception from any man’s seed.  Human conception has to be circumvented – thus the virgin conception.  What sis Mary conceive with?  Of that we simply do not know because the conception was “veiled” in shadow.  Gabriel said Mary would be “overshadowed” by the power of the Most High and the “Holy Thing” would be called the Son of God.

It is interesting that there are two events in the life of our Lord that are veiled to human sight.  One is Christ’s birth and the other is His death.

On Calvary, after suffering for three hours at the hands of men, Christ entered into the last three hours of suffering at the hand of God.  The first three hours are recounted blow by blow.  The last three hours however are veiled in darkness and in silence.  Christ is overshadowed in darkness just like the Holy of Holies.

But the first overshadowing occurred at the virgin conception. Just like the cross, it is veiled in darkness and silence and mystery.  God forbids us entrance.  Christ’s entrance and exit, the womb and the cross; both involving His, in some sense, alienation from the Father.  One when He becomes man. One when He becomes sin.  “Impossible!”  Just like Gabriel said.

And there is another purpose for the virgin birth.  It is an irrefutable statement that could not have been from a more human origin.  The only way for Mary to give birth was a miracle of God.  Suppose that a married woman, a woman with children, would have conceived a child by God circumventing her husband, and then announced “but this child was conceived miraculously apart from my husband.”  No one would have believed it.  But the Scripture goes into great lengths to prove that neither Joseph nor Mary had any notion that a pregnancy could occur.

Mary said, “In me? No way.”

Joseph said, “By me? No way.”

Only one way was possible.

A virgin shall be with child and you shall call His name “Immanuel”, “God with us”.

Such was the supernatural advent of our Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ VII:The Forerunner

 

Incomparable Christ

The last book of the Old Testament is Malachi.  The last chapter is chapter four.  The last verses are verses four and five.  They say, “Behold I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

He is called the Forerunner who will announce to Israel the coming of the Messiah who would bring the final judgment of God.  He would call the nation to repentance, a repentance that would show itself in a restoration of the father’s duty to communicate the truth to his children.  (Deut. 6:4-7)

This is how our Old Testament “signs off.”  It says “look for the coming of a prophet like Elijah” or as Gabriel will say, one “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”  What is interesting, yea fascinating, is that the first thing recorded in the New Testament is the last thing in the Old – the coming of the Forerunner.  Gabriel appeared to Zacharias in the temple to say “he is coming.”

Imagine John the Baptist like the Supreme Court Chief Justice.  At the swearing in, or the inauguration of an American President, the Chief Justice must be present to pass the mantle on to the next President.  He authenticates the ceremony.  In the same way John the Baptist was the Chief Justice, the key that fit the lock to open the door for Messiah.  The last of the Old Testament is the prophecy of the beginning of the New.

John did six things.

  • He announced the Messiah. “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • He collected a group of disciples that he would hand over to Messiah. “He must increase.  I must decrease.”
  • He called the nation to repentance; to a proper understanding of true righteousness versus legal righteousness.
  • He denounced the nation’s leaders, calling them “sons of vipers.”
  • He clarified just who Messiah He was not just a man but “existed before” John.  He was divine.
  • But most of all he pointed out Jesus to the nation. “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Upon his baptism of Jesus, the Spirit descended like a dove and the Father spoke from heaven.  “This is my Son.”

Only one man can be the Christ.  The man upon whom the Spirit rests, of whom the Father speaks . . .

and the one of whom the final word of the Old Testament,

Elijah

the last prophet

would look to and say, “Behold, the Incomparable Christ.”

The Incomparable Christ VI: Christ in the Old Testament

Incomparable Christ

“And beginning with Moses and all the prophets He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the scriptures.”

“If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for Moses wrote of Me.”

“I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law…”

“…the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy…”

We sing in one of our Christmas carols “Come Thou long expected Jesus.” The first words from Mary’s lips were, “He raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant –

As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from old . “ Lk 1:69-70

The most dominant theme in the Bible is the person of the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Christ.

The Old Testament anticipates Christ.

The gospels manifest Him.

The book of Acts proclaims Him.

The epistles explain Him.

Revelation awaits His return.

One of the first Sunday School ideas bestowed upon a child is “the New is the Old contained.  The Old is the New explained.” It is trite because it is true and oft repeated.

In prophecy Christ was anticipated. The Messiah. The Chosen One.

The seed of woman who would crush the serpent’s head. (Gen. 3:15)

The one who would give rest from the curse. (Gen. 5:29)

The seed of Abraham who would bless the nations. (Gen. 12:3)

The son of Judah to whom the scepter belonged (Gen. 49:10)

The one who like Moses would stand between God and men. (Deut. 18:15-19)

The star of the king who would arise from Israel. (Num. 24:17)

The Davidic descendant whose kingdom would have no end (2 Sam. 7:12-16)

and come forth from Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2)

who would be betrayed (Zech. 11:7-14)

who would die for man’s sins (Is. 53)

who would rise from the dead (Ps. 16:9-10)

ascend to Heaven (Ps. 110:1)

bring salvation to the Gentile nations (Deut. 32:21)

return and judge the world and establish the kingdom of God. (PS. 110:2; Zech. 12:10)

He is also seen as pre-incarnate in the “angel of the Lord” who continually appears in the Old Testament to defend, lead and deliver Israel.  Whenever he appears he is recognized as God and yet is distinct from God as he speaks to and of God.  And yet he disappears after the book of Zechariah and is never seen again as there is no need for a “theophany” or appearance of God since man has an “incarnation” of God, when God enters into humanity and becomes a man and unites himself with man forever.  The lesser glory of the angel of the Lord will disappear in the greater glory of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ is also prefigured in the pattern of the Tabernacle and the symbols of the Old Testament worship.  Christ is called “Christ our Passover” and “the lamb of God that bears away the sin of the world.”  His body is called the parted veil that allows access to God.  His sacrifice is called the “mercy seat” that propitiates God’s wrath.  He is our high priest that enters within the veil.  Rightly does the author of Hebrews call the Old Testament a “copy, shadow and pattern of the good things to come.”

Christ is also seen as the purpose of Old Testament law.  Its purpose is not to be a final set of rungs of a moral ladder whereby we can gain access to heaven on our own.  Rather the law is to show us our sin and drive us to our need of Christ’s salvation.  “The law came in that transgression might increase, but where sin increased grace abounded all the more… through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 5:20-21) “The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ….” (Gal. 3:24)

And Christ also fulfills the Old Testament promises. A prophecy tells of what is coming.  Promises tell of why.  That of God’s veracity.  Paul said, “Christ has become a servant to the circumcision (i.e. Israel) on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers…” (Rom. 15:8)  “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes…”(2 Cor. 1:20) Indeed is Christ called “the Amen.” (Rev. 3:14)

“He hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant as He spoke by the mouth of His hold prophets from of old.” Luke 1:69-70

Let all God’s people say, “Amen”

to our Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ V: The Eternal Logos

Incomparable Christ

“In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God.  And the Word was God .”-John 1:1

“What was from the beginning . . . the Word of Life . . .”-I John 1:1

“He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God.”-Rev. 19:13

From eternity He was The Word. (Jn. 1:1)   Into eternity He will be The Word. (Rev. 19:13)  Such is His relation to the Father.  The word “logos” means “the word” which means the “reasonable.”  We get the word “logikos” or “logical.”  When the Greeks used the word in their philosophy it meant not basing truth upon superstition or tradition but upon human “reason.”  The word “logos” came to be a philosophic term for that which could be explained and seemed to make sense or to be true by virtue of reason.  All philosophic systems hoped to find the logos or the “truth.”

Christ is the logos, the truth, the reasonable truth about God.  He is the One who explains God and represents God to men and angels.  He explains the Father.  The Spirit applies the Son’s death to the benefit of the elect by calling all attention to Christ’s mediation.

Think of this:  God told Moses in answer to his question of “What is your name?” that His name was “I am,” YHWH – the eternal, unchanging, perfect God.  Christ would explain to us “who” YHWH is.  “Word of the Father now in flesh appearing.”

“No man hath seen God at any time.  The only begotten God in the bosom of the Father, He hath explained Him.”-John 1:18

And thus in John’s gospel we see the great “I am” declarations of Christ.

I am the bread of life.

I am the light of the world.

I am the good shepherd.

I am the resurrection and the life.

I am the door.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

I am the true vine.

A Princeton philosophy professor once said that being human involves four things.

  1. The recognition of one’s own existence.
  2. The recognition of everything else’s existence.
  3. The fear of our own non-existence or the knowledge that we must die. He called this “the void.”
  4. And then the reaching across the void to God (or a God substitute) for salvation from non-existence.

It is Christ who crosses the void to man to say, “Behold your God.  Fear not.”  In Christ “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”  In Him “the fullness of deity dwells in a body.”  Upon Christ, as Thomas, do we gaze to say, “My Lord and My God.”  In Him “the grace of God hath appeared bringing salvation to all men;” He who is the “radiance of His glory, the exact representation of His nature.”

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see

Hail the incarnate deity.”

Such is God the Father’s eternal relationship to His son, the Word of God.

The Incomparable Christ IV: The Son of God as Creator

Incomparable Christ

“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing has come into being that has come into being.”

“For by Him all things were created . . .” (Col. 1:16)

“. . . yet for us there is but one God the Father from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Cor. 8:6)

“But of the Son He says, ‘Thy throne O God is forever and the righteous scepter is the scepter of Thy kingdom . . . and you Lord in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the works of your hands.’” (Hebrews 1:8, 10)

“The Son of Man is Lord of Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8)

The scripture is quite clear.  Not only is the Son of God the creator of the angelic realm.  Not only is He the object of history through which God shall save His elect, but He is also the creator of the heavens and the earth.

The Father is the architect who decrees.  The Son is that One in perfect union.  “The Son can do nothing of Himself unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19)   Thus the Son created, as carrying out the Father’s will.  That by which He accomplished the Father’s purpose was the Holy Spirit.  This is first mentioned in Genesis 1:1-3.

God created the heavens and the earth . . .”

“. . . the Spirit of God moved over the surface of the deep . . .”

“. . . and God said (the Word)   ‘Let there be light.’”

The implications are beyond description.  The divine Son, the Son eternally in the bosom of the Father, the Father’s eternal first-born, who has never not been the Son of God – this unique 2nd Person of the Tri-unity laid aside His glory and the free use of His divine attributes, to take “the form of a bondservant and to be made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:7)

The One who said “Be fruitful” became the object of Elizabeth’s blessing, “Blessed be the fruit of thy womb.”

The giver of life would be sustained breath by breath.

The Bread of Life would hunger.

Living Water would say “I thirst.”

The Light of the World would hang in darkness.

Omnipotence would sleep from weariness.

Omniscience would grow in wisdom and ask questions of the teachers.

The Life everlasting would die in His strength.

The Holy One forsaken by the Father.

Mary held Him who is The Everlasting Arms.

O most excellent mystery.

“When Christ the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.”

Rightly did the water blush at its Creator and become wine.

as did the winds and waves at His voice “Hush” and “be still.”

as would fish and grain instantly multiply to feed the multitudes.

or fish come as commanded to the nets,

or the one fish swallow the one coin when and where He willed.

How gently could He sit on a colt, the foal of a donkey upon which no one had ever sat.

How responsive were the demons, the diseased, disabilities and death to disappear before Him.

For death to thrice bow at His feet.

Though omnipotent

He rested

in the womb

aboard the donkey

in the stable

in a manger.

Our Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ III: His Creation of the Angelic Realm

Incomparable Christ

God’s eternal plan is that of redemption whereby He will reveal His full nature and bestow His grace in order to elevate His chosen to His eternal fellowship.  His only begotten shall populate eternity with a multitude of His adopted sons and daughters.  Amazing!

But redemption presupposes sin and slavery to be redeemed from.  Sin cannot come from God.  It would not be innate in Adam.  It would come from in between God and man.  An angel.  Lucifer.  Satan.

And where would he come from?  He and “his angels” who followed him?  Paul is very clear.  “In Him all things were created in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities, all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (Col. 1:16)   Paul is speaking of the physical universe and the invisible or the spiritual – the angelic realm.

Why would Paul say this?  Because false teachers were saying in Colossae that Christ was an angelic being but not God.  Paul says “on the contrary.”  Christ created the angelic realm – both those who fell and the unfallen.  Rightly does the author of Hebrews say, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (Hebrews 1:6)   Rightly do the demons fall at His feet saying, “I know who you are Jesus of Nazareth, Holy One of God.  Have you come to torment us before the time?”  Indeed does Satan “request permission to sift you like wheat” knowing he may not freely violate his creator’s own.

“Then I looked and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne . . . saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’” (Rev. 5:11-12)

The angels announced the Forerunner of Christ to Zacharias.

They announced His advent to Mary.

They clarified His conception to a troubled Joseph.

They announced Him to the Shepherds and sang of His birth.

They warned the wise men.

They directed Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt

to return to Bethlehem

and go north to Nazareth.

They ministered to Him at His temptation,

comforted Him in Gethsemane,

drew their swords at His arrest, but were stayed by Him.

They announced His resurrection,

observed His ascension,

predicted His return.

They behold Him in glory

and “long to look” at His salvation.

They care for His elect and sound the trumpet at His rapture.

They will perform His judgments in the Tribulation,

accompany Him at His return

and gather elect Israel from the four winds.

They will concede a higher place to man in the eternal state where the sons of God will “judge angels.”

And then having served the purpose of the Son, they will take their assigned place beneath God’s elect in eternity.

“Come and behold Him, born the King of angels!

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

The Incomparable Christ II: His Purpose in the Divine Decree

Incomparable Christ

“God . . . hath chosen us in Him before the foundations of the world . . . Eph. 1:4

“. . . grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”  2 Tim. 1:9

“all the Father hath given to me shall come to me”  John 6:39

“Thus says the Lord who makes these things known from of old”  Acts 15:18

In the eternal omniscient mind of God . . . the immutable and unchanging mind that needs not to learn but knows all He plans and all that shall be . . . in that eternal mind was a decree.  A plan . . . “known from of old.”  Though the plan would unroll as a scroll to be revealed over all of history it would none the less exist in God’s mind in one idea from Alpha to Omega.

First there would be a group of persons in God’s image – humans.  These people would someday eternally exist in a glorious holy city in eternal and glorious bodies on a new earth surrounded by new heavens.  They will forever be trophies of divine grace.  That is the Bible’s last chapter. They would be part of a humanity created blameless in Adam but cursed in sin.  Sin brought on by a devil who came about through the rebellion of an angelic realm which occurred before the physical creation.  That event was before Genesis 1. But into all this plan would be the scripted coming of the incarnation of the Son of God who would die for a people to be saved out of mankind, the chosen, to rule with Him in His kingdom and to dwell forever with them in the new heavens and earth.

Meaning that from eternity the Son of God would have a date for an execution whereby He would glorify the Father and bestow sonship on a group of sinners.  The Son was marked out.  He was “foreknown before the foundation of the world but has appeared in these last days for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God . . .” (1 Peter 1:20-21)

In Peter’s first message to those of Jerusalem he would say of Christ, “this man delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God you crucified by the hands of wicked men . . .”  The Romans drove the nails, the Jews drove the Romans, but God had a plan behind all the events.  That plan was redemption. That redemption was through a cross.  And that cross would be mounted by the Son of God.  Such was His eternal purpose.

The apostle John would say no less, saying that “the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8)  Paul, in agreement, said of Christ’s death, “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3:11)

The Eternal Lamb.  Such is our Incomparable Christ.

The Incomparable Christ I: His Preincarnate Glory

The Incomparable Christ I: His Preincarnate Glory

Incomparable Christ

“Now Father, glorify Me together with Yourself with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5)

“. . . He existed in the form of God . . .” (Phil.2:6)

“. . . He was rich . . .” (2 Cor. 8:9)

Where does one begin in examining the unfathomable majesty and mystery of Christ?  One begins in eternity, for “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  But we must always remember that the unique Person of the Godman, Jesus Christ, that unique theanthropic Person has only existed from Mary’s womb onward – an existence that will never end or be altered.  But the preincarnate Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, had eternally delighted in the Father’s love.  The Bible only hints at that unique and inexplicable relationship.  Only that there was the sameness of deity and of glory.  There is just so much that created beings are able to peer into.  “Things into which angels long to look.”  But never has a distance so enormous been so traversed as that from the Son, the infinite Creator, to the finite creation.  Never has a humiliation been so great, never a condescension as enormous as the Word become flesh.

The classic type and prefiguring of this was the Old Testament tabernacle.  There the unobservable, unendurable glory and Presence of God, the Shekinah, was localized in a small cubicle.  A Holy of Holies, where Glory and the fullness of deity was contained and confined in skins.  A glory upon which no unauthorized eye could gaze, and yet confined to that which was approachable.

And so was the “mystery of godliness – God manifested in the flesh.”  Such was the eternal Son of God taking residence in a body that could be laid in a manger – sit at table – mount a cross.

As Paul wrote, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who though He was rich for your sake became poor . . .” (2 Cor. 8:9)  What a thought.  “He was rich.”  Rich in power.  Rich in glory.  Rich in angelic worship.  Rich in deity.  Such was the “form of God.”  Yet He became a pauper for me.

This is a theological point we cannot fully understand.  This is not merely a moral admonition we can obey.  All we can do is stand back in awe and wonder.

What profound humiliation.

God will never demand more from me than He has modeled in the most extreme form.  He, as God, taking up time and space.

Indeed did Isaiah understand this when he prophesied, “His name shall be called ‘Wonderful’ . . .”  The Hebrew  word for “wonderful” is elsewhere used in the repeated Old Testament statement “nothing is impossible with God.”  It means something which, though true, is beyond our ability to comprehend.  Such is the baby born in Bethlehem who was named by Isaiah “Everlasting Father.”  Such is full of wonder.

Certainly did the angels sing at His birth and announce to Mary and Zacharias His approach.  Certainly did the angels attend Him in the wilderness and Gethsemane.  Certainly did the angels sit reverently in His vacated tomb and stand reverently in mid-heaven at His ascension.  Certainly will they sound forth His return when He descends from heaven with a shout and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God.  And most certainly did the demons fall prostrate at His feet in the body of that most wretched demoniac and beg not to be sent in to the abyss.

And how rightly does John’s gospel end in the crescendo of Thomas – “My Lord and my God!”

Don’t Just Do Something – Stand There!

Don’t Just Do Something – Stand There!

Forty two years I’ve been in the ministry. Seen a lot of things. Do you know what I’ve noticed? Christianity is trendy. Especially in this country where everyone follows the winds of change to exploit change. Here is what I’ve noted.

1. Crusades and mass meetings: These were in the 50’s and 60’s. (Before me, mind you.) Billy Graham made them famous but this was the American means of educational events for decades – lecturers and mass gatherings. They waned.

2. Coffee houses: Now we’re in the 50’s and 60’s again as the church noticed that youth were alienated and disengaged, we kind of followed the Paris existentialist hangouts and smoky bars for the free expression of ideas. They waned.

3. Bands: Christian bands took the new Christian music of the 60’s and 70’s into the coffee shops and churches “reached a new generation with their own music.” Must have been a hundred of them. They waned somewhat. They’re not as bad anyway.

4. Bussing ministries: Jerry Falwell got famous in the 60’s and 70’s for taking kids to Sunday School then visiting the parents. He built a church and denomination of Baptists doing this. They waned – save for Jacob Ray’s relative in Arkansas.

5. Sharing services: These were popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Started in California where free speech platforms were everywhere. They waned. I think people wearied of hearing everyone else.

6. Charismania: Emotion was all in the 70’s. It evolved into Health and Wealth. People just got wore out and tired of the bizarre.

7. Health and Wealth: The health wore out but the success gospel continues in the big cities, but it’s too difficult to find a success motivation speaker in every location. They’re more isolated.

8. Mini Churches: 70’s and 80’s. They offered a more controlled sharing time. Not as ubiquitous now because discipleship didn’t follow and . . . (see #5).

9. Multi-purpose buildings: 70’s and 80’s phenomenon. You built your church to be converted into an indoor soccer field by 12:30 on Sundays. They waned also. I think people just got weary of a church that really wasn’t a church. Now churches look like Raytheon. Architecture is the art of ideas.

10. Seeker sensitive: Had a good motivation but waned because of the aftermath of spiritual shallowness and the weariness of having to be “creative” (an 80’s mantra) every Sunday.

11. Mega Churches: 80’s to present. Still popular because they provide the most bang for your buck. They tend to be program heavy to the exemption of discipleship. Good array of choices. Max benefit, low commitment. Still in vogue, but losing favor.

12. Multi pastor led churches: Preaching pastors, vision pastor, small groups pastor. A pastoral board. Problems were inherently built into this. Have waned since their hey-day in the 90’s and 2000’s. Works best when all the preachers are mediocre.

13. Elder led with no pastoral voice: Another trend from the 90’s on. Seems as though they’ve waned because of frustrated pastors merely being employees. There is a reason the Pastoral Epistles are to individual pastors.

14. Multi Campus Churches: a 21st Century phenomenon. Waning for the same reason you don’t like talking to a machine. We love humans. There is a spiritual presence of God between the pastor and his people. Hard to have that from a screen. Waning as it needs to be. Because we can do doesn’t mean we should do. What is possible may not be best.

All these different innovations have come and gone or are going or need to go. They are trendy. Like hair, clothing, music and dance steps. Like winds of culture determined by culture. At best these things are temporary ministerial means.

Sometimes, churches need to be distinct from all of culture. It is an old word we used, but we use no more. . . “SACRED.”

It’s interesting that there has never been a trend, at least in my lifetime, for exegetical expositional teaching of scripture, verse by verse, chapter by chapter.

There has never been a trend to equip the saints to share their testimony, to share the gospel, and win others to Christ. Exhortations to evangelism, yes . . . but never a Christian multi church trend of training everyone in sharing their faith.

There has never been a trend of individual Bible study throughout the churches. Here and there, yes, but not a sustained movement.

Discipleship? Never a trend except for maybe brief periods in early Methodism and Pietistic circles, because discipleship takes time, doesn’t build numbers quickly, doesn’t create architecture, nor bring ecclesiastic promotion. Plus, it doesn’t create revenue. All these factors do not favor the American Protestant ambition.

Bible study, discipleship, evangelism, prayer, Bible exposition –
They’ve never been trendy . . .
That’s why other things have been.

People are in Cooperstown because they hit, run, and throw well for a long time. Canton has those who run, pass, block, kick, and tackle well for a long time.

The Faith?

Hit the nail till it’s gone . . .

Tommy

Take a Knee... (11/20/2014)

Take a Knee… (11/20/2014)

Take a Knee 6

There are things in our old life that providentially prepared us for the course of our Christian lives.

Do you know what the chief thing was in my life? It was being a football player. Not just an athlete but a football player. Football is not an Olympic sport. Only American’s play it. Olympic football would start wars. It’s just too violent.

But you know what? It gave me an edge in life that a lot of my pals never had. There were things that I was force fed that became second nature. It’s been said that unless you were an athlete, a farmer, or in the military that, with state of fatherhood today, you probably never learned these things.

For example…

  • I had to envision a dream. The dream of being a champion. A master passion that governed me.
  • I had to discipline my body to do what I did not feel like. Feelings were submitted to vision.
  • I had to co-exist with discomfort and being stretched. Physical and emotional toughness were requirements.
  • I had to submit to authority… that I often didn’t care for.
  • I had to be a team man. I had to bend with others, encourage others, and recognize them.
  • I had to so short term things that had no immediate recompense in order to attain to an ultimate success.
  • I had to master certain skills.
  • I had to maintain poise when hopelessly beaten just to keep a standard.
  • I had to come back after extreme discouragement.
  • I had to finish… the practice, the game, the season, the scholarship. I could not quit.
  • I had to follow rules that other people didn’t because I wanted something beyond me.
  • I had to do something with excellence just because of personal pride in who I was.
  • I had to represent a school and a group of people with distinction.

I didn’t realize the benefit of football growing up because ball players were all I knew. But then I got in the ministry with regular folks. I discovered that many of the things that had become instinctive to me were alien to them. So often they did not dream for something greater than themselves. Often, they had a habit of quitting what they began or often not committing to anything that would curtail their freedoms. Too often when things got tough, they would take off. Many of them could not function on a team or be responsible to duty. Many could not submit to authority.

But I found out that these attributes were not original to sports but to the Bible’s view of successful living.

So…

  • Dream! Have a life that goes beyond you.
  • Do the short term things that will lead to ultimate success.
  • Finish… Finish… Finish. Quitting is a learned art.
  • Be excellent in all you do with a sense of personal pride in who you are.
  • Discipline. Make a habit of quiet times… prayer… giving… church.
  • Live higher than the crowd. Have a moral standard that sets you apart.
  • Achieve. Let each year take you intellectually higher and ministerially higher and farther. Let no year pass without a sense of growth.
  • Be a team man able to work under authority.

Live on purpose. Not just on passions and instincts.

Be as Adam in the Garden:

  • Subdue
  • Cultivate
  • Rule
  • Be fruitful
  • Multiply

And if you’ve begun a 2-7 then you die before you do sloppy work… quit… or fail to re-produce!!! Short term success breeds faith and confidence. Failing will always excuse itself into a character trait.

Reach

Tommy

What We Are About

What We Are About

What do we do at Denton Bible Church? Why are we here? Why do we do what we do? Let me show you which way the water runs.

The first thing we do is exposit the Bible from the pulpit. Ex-posit: “the position drawn out.” We want to know what God thinks both in the text and in the summary of all texts, or Biblical doctrine. This is the helmsman of our ship. This turns our masts to the winds-the correct reading of the Scriptures. It is from the scripture that we establish truth, morality, and direction.

But how do we get this into people’s lives? Answer: We do the same as Jesus did and the early church did (never improve on what Jesus did). He got His men into small groups where they could ask questions, be observed, and be entrusted.

We do 2:7 groups. These go for one year and establish blocking, tackling, passing, and running. Or if you are from Indiana: dribbling, shooting, and passing. Or if you are from South Alabama: fork, knife, and spoon. 2:7 groups establish Bible study andprayer (relationship to God) and fellowship and witnessing (relationship to humans). These are the essentials of the Christian life. No successful Christian will begin with any other than these. All problems of the Christian life are a neglect of these.

Now we do have small groups and other Bible studies, but they do not replace the 2:7 groups. They are preparatory to a 2:7. The 2:7 Series is discipleship training based on Colossians 2:7, “…having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” People in training groups learn and practice skills while they experience spiritual growth.  People will learn and practice skills such as quiet time options, ways to meditate on Scripture, how to sharpen and tell their salvation story, and other skill-based topics.

The other Bible studies do not prepare you necessarily for a lifetime of discipleship. The 2:7 students’ books will become the future teachers’ guide and you are ready for the rest of your lives to impart essential truth to others. All small group Bible studies, however, are meant to morph into the 2:7. All 2:7 groups are meant to end in a year and split up into leaders of others, i.e. reproducing disciples.

This is the bottom line of how we judge our church.

Mind you, we have no great system for getting people into these groups. Rather, as Young Marrieds, Singles, Collegians, Older Marrieds, and Seniorlife, we do 2:7 groups. After we do 2:7, we turn students into leaders. If all you did was train men and women in the 2:7, you would essentially do what Jesus did (never improve on what Jesus did). If someone would like to augment training with BTCLBTCP, Young Guns, Klugartians, or any other outreach ministry including short and long term missions, that is marvelous. But they all branch, however, from the 2:7. All of the ministry I do today comes from my Campus Crusade training in bible study, prayer, witnessing, and fellowship.

Once upon a time, these were all we did; 2:7 and Evangelism Explosion. That was 25 years ago. We found ourselves practically ineffective. We discovered that there were many other areas we needed to branch out into. So in the early 90s, Mel and I began to beat the drum and chant the mantra of “The Unleashing of the Church” (i.e. Christians creatively penetrating the world around us). Because of this we began ministering to the poor with Vision, to immediate needs with Sweat Teams and Shiloh Garden, to the imprisoned and their families with Mercy Heart and the Prison Ministry, to the community through the renovating of The Mill for SERVE Denton and non-profits, and on… and on… and on…

Nothing could be more orthodox. As Jesus did it, and as Paul did it. “They only asked us to remember the poor- the very thing I was also eager to do” (Gal. 2, Never improve on what Jesus did). Prior to these ministries, we were a song played on one string. Now we are a 12 sting guitar.

However, these grow out of the root of the 2:7.

We were not as good a church before these ministries…I know, I was there… We made a thin sound. Now it is deeper and richer. However, people have often said to me of late, “We seem too busy doing other things.” 25 years ago, the criticism was, “we are irrelevant and all we can do is Bible Study.”

You don’t have to choose between them, but you dern sure best have both. Ministry without discipleship grows shallow. Discipleship without ministry is abortive and unfulfilled. This is what we do. Both must be present. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it happen…

So that is why when the year begins in September, you will hear me close most services with the direction and admonishment to head to the foyer and sign up for 2:7 groups. That is why if you are in Sunday Bible Fellowships (SBF) or college ministry or young marrieds or youth ministry, you will hear the chant to sign up for small groups.

Discipleship has a curriculum, a standard, a time limit, and an expectation of future leadership. That is what separates discipleship from just education. As a matter of fact, Brent Bowen will be organizing at the church on Thursday nights collective 2:7 groups where people can come and have discipleship in a central location while others meet scattered around the county.

So sometimes, we may not appear as organized as we should be and it is because we are not. We know how and why we do what we do and too much organization can be a blight on the church as you can organize the Holy Spirit out of your regimen. Disorganization can be confusing and chaotic, but we know where we are going.

No, we don’t just do 2:7, that is because we are a church. No, we aren’t just good deed doers, that is why we have liberals. Our deeds emit from theology and discipline. You must have them both and you must keep them balanced.

So, we will continue our 2:7 groups and our discipleship. But, we will proceed with the Student Ministry Building and the education of our young all the way through the aged. We will train up disciples and then passionately and aggressively reach our hands into every need we can find. And we shall send our people into every country or civilization where there is a dearth of the Gospel. So heads up and head on.

Let’s go on to Montana. (Augustus McCrae)

Tommy Nelson

Upside Down-Part 2

Upside Down-Part 2

The All-Star game recently honored an ex-ball player because he was openly gay during his playing days. He is seen in a Jackie Robinson like light as a courageous pioneer in human virtue that the rest of we reactionaries are only now catching up to in our medieval ignorance. It follows in the wake of the NFL and our President’s praise of the courageous gay collegian from the University of Missouri.

This may be confusing to your sons. (The Lesbian community has been cheering their pioneers for decades.) If it is, tell them this: There is a difference in what our society allows and what it applauds. We allow immoral womanizing men to compete in sports but we do not applaud them nor imitate them. In the same way, as violent men…criminal men…wife abusers…drug addicts…and even those who cheat with performance enhancing drugs (up to 2 strikes). We allow them to compete, but we do not emulate nor glorify in their “moral courage” to exercise their freedom, we have never applauded the immoral. We co-exist only.

So we do allow homosexuals to compete as we do not eliminate men in sports for sexual or moral sins. Sports are not the church. But as in all other things which the Bible expressly forbids, homosexuality is not something we applaud. At least we didn’t.

What changed? The moral corruption of history. The compromise of society. The cowardice of men of no moral courage to take their stand on the right. The echoes of truth have faded.

But as I say to my sons and grandsons, “We are Christians. We don’t draw our beliefs and our standards from human ideas but from God and His word. He declares our salvation and our standards of right. No matter how many applaud evil, as long as the Bible speaks the word of God, we stand silent.”

Alas, our standards have become faint memories.

But we hear them loud and clear as have the saints for all ages. So let the applause alight upon the world’s compromises. Let evil parade itself as virtue through a thousand stadiums. It means nothing to the child of heaven.

“He who rewards the evil and punishes the righteous, Both are abomination to the Lord.”-Proverbs

Here we stand…

Tommy

Old Glory

Old Glory

It’s interesting as to what are the two most oft’ mentioned jobs in the New Testament. Fishermen and centurions. Four and four. Peter, Andrew, James, and John make up the pillars of the apostles. Those who bring in the fish and those who mend the nets. Catching and mending – such is the Church.

But do you know what else there are four of? Four centurions. Four military men. Two honored by Jesus. One Peter. One by Paul. The apostles represent one divine institution – the Church, by which God establishes order. The centurions represent the other- the Government. God wants us to know, “government is My institution”.

“There is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God.” Paul to the Romans

“Fear God, honor the king”…“for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right” Peter from Rome

As a matter of fact, Paul states that our taxes are a tithe because rulers are “servants of God….ministers who devote themselves to this very thing.”

The church converts evil men. The government curtails them. They catch ‘em, we clean ‘em.  Together, we establish order…flawed as both are.

1 Timothy 2:1f says to pray for government.

Titus 3:1f says be a blessing to government, “ready for good deeds”.

Why do I share this? We have a tradition at DBC. On the 4th of July we recognize and appreciate our government, our freedoms, and most important – those men and women who have placed their lives in harms way. On beaches, land, sea, and air. Those who have lost their lives standing against imperialism, fascism or Nazism, communism and Muslim extremists. Those who have sought out enemies far away that shores could be safe.

I want our young to see our military, to honor them because the day may come…..

And I want them to remember that freedoms are not a given. They may be “sacred rights” but they are not universally experienced or enjoyed. Because only a country with a Christian worldview of human dignity and of absolute righteousness can have a sense of “ought-ness” concerning the expectations of government. I want our young to deeply, emotionally, and intelligently understand that countries such as America are not natural, normal, or commonplace. They are intentional and begin with an absolute outside of man from an infinite and personal God. And those freedoms will be challenged wherever that worldview is not present.

And that is why “we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…. One nation, under God..”

The problem with our country is that we do not measure to what we believe.  With all too many others, it is living out the errors they’ve embraced.

Someday we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Until that time, as long as there are evil men who ascend to thrones and march on others “to seize what is not theirs” Hab. 2 – freedoms will be defended and preserved only as evil is met head on by “rough men who stand ready”.

Old Glory indeed,

Tommy

 

Upside Down

Upside Down

Romans 1 explains the wrath of God upon a country. It is because its people refuse to acknowledge the obvious, intuitive evidence of God within all men as recognized in creation. Man then goes into himself and invents his own gods or theological system. He will replace God with gods of his own invention. Gods that do not offer a moral challenge to man. God’s wrath is to give over that culture to the living out of its own system. The result is the moral, domestic, social, sexual erosion and breakdown of the culture. The final outcome is the exaltation of evil. Satan becomes enthroned and righteousness becomes a bad thing.

Is the U.S. going to know the wrath of God? No, the U.S. is experiencing wrath already through this process. What do we see as good? Consenting adults in fornication, abandonment of a mate, abortion, sodomy, materialism, violence, the illegality of scripture in public education, evolution and the “wisdom” of atheism.

This week Michael Sam came out with his disclosure of being gay. It is a landmark event because it is the first time homosexuality has been disclosed by a draft choice. Our country has fallen over itself to affirm all is OK, and in one case, by Michelle Obama, that his action is courageous and Sam can be proud.

Mind you, professional football is no great bastion of morality. Never has been. Very few college athletes are undrafted because of morality unless it is either insubordination or criminal activity. No fornicator, adulterer, violent man, or man who will not pay his debts has ever gone undrafted. So homosexuality should be viewed. We do not praise the above mentioned men for being bold as fornicators and the like. These are sins committed by many in a sport full of sinners.  Neither should we praise this young man for disclosing homosexuality nor rejoice in his courage. Courage is an openness about virtue in an evil world – not an openness of sin in a moral world. The young man should not be persecuted or scorned. He can even be commended for being honest. Not for being immoral. Anymore than one who cheats on his wife or lies on his income tax is guiltless because he admits to it. It is simply another evidence of our reprobation.  We give “hearty approval to those that practice them.”

The issue is simply that there must be a standard, absolute, outside of man, from God as to right and wrong. The Bible provides this. Thus, “what saith the Lord.” The answer is glaringly simple.  Practicing homosexuality is apart from His word, will and design. It is wrong. It’s one thing to be honest. It’s another to justify a sin. Mr. Sam is open. Not repentant. This is bad for our country.  We are to refrain from sin not boast of it.

The upside is down.
We have become our own gods.

“Examine everything carefully.
Abstain from every appearance of evil.” (I Thess. 5)

CLICK HERE to read Romans 1

Tommy

Psalm 66 - A closer look

Psalm 66 – A closer look

Psalm 66 is a call to all of the world to worship the God of Israel who showed His might in the Red Sea deliverance in times past.  But even in the present His might has been shown by taking the nation through its present trials.  The psalm ends with the individual Jew’s determination to worship God in a deeper devotion and to testify to all of Israel’s faithful about God’s loyal love to him personally.

The world

the nation

the individual

The psalm focuses in verses 9-12 on the author’s insight as to why God took the nation through such trial and of his perspective as to what trial accomplished and of the timeless faithfulness of God to His people and the individual Jew.

We all face difficult times.  See how many insights you can draw from the “fire and the water.”

Psalm66notes

Stargate

Moses would withdraw outside the camp to the tent of meeting and meet with the Lord.

Jesus would slip away often to the wilderness to pray.

The first one hundred and twenty Christians met continually for prayer all by themselves in the Upper Room.

The mark of Christian of the first two centuries was suffering and a willingness to die for his faith; a willingness that arose from a refusal to yield to the world.

After Constantine made Christianity popular many of the faithful withdrew to the deserts of Egypt to get far from the corruptions of a rapidly corrupting Roman Empire.  These were the hermits.

They soon after were organized into groups or monasteries where they could remove themselves from the corruptions of their day and committed themselves to seeking God through prayer and the study and copying of Scripture.  This continued throughout the Middle Ages to such a large extent than the monastic orders became so popular, powerful and “successful” that they were more corrupted than the cities.

Then “orders” or “brotherhoods” like the Franciscans and Dominicans arose as purifying movements within the church that renewed the Christian’s longing for separation and devotion to God.

The Methodists had societies.  The Moravians had an entire community.  The Puritans found an entire country to withdraw to and escape the corruptions of the catholic influenced Anglican Church!  As in America!

My point is that Christians have always found a way and a need to get away from a fallen society; Even if just to maintain sanity.

I feel this continually.  After a healthy dose of the paper, the news, the inane drivel of television, the continual waving before me of perversion and amorality, superficial marketing of needless junk, music that is racket – I just need, like a hermit of old, like a monk of antiquity, like a Puritan, to get away from this Babel, this Rome, this cacophony of blithering idiotic mediocrity, error, lies and salesmanship and wash myself, anchor myself, renew myself, in heavenly, intractable, unchanging wisdom.

It’s not just that this world is evil. It’s just so blasted cheap! Not that it’s just deceived and misguided, but that it’s so idiotic.  It will make you stupid just breathing around it.

“Come out from their midst and be separate.”

When a culture has no divine Word, or when it has nothing of exceeding perfection and exemplariness in it to long for and strive for then all that culture can do is stir about repetitively and circularly in its own tepid swill.  That culture will continue to find something new where there is nothing new and become chronically boring and ultimately inane and idiotic.  This is how I feel about our American culture and its obsession with stimulation, and convenience, and comfort, and appearance.  We are ruled and manipulated by the cheap, tawdry, easy and quick.

And I just have to turn it off, shut it down, turn aside, grab my Bible or a book that is an excellent reflection upon it and run for the desert with my fellow anchorites.

My Bible is my door to a new dimension.  It is that which is the standard and stuff of which is made the excellent, the pure, the marvelous and ideal.  Beauty, art, true culture, law, the heroic, and the best are formed and emerge from the universe from between the covers of the Word of God.

Run! This carousel can only circle and return with modifications for generations too short sighted to realize it.

Open the Book and gaze into creation.  Into God’s might, glory, beauty, holiness, love, majesty, truth, excellence, mystery, and terror.  See His Son and let all the aroma of the day pass away with the breezes of Galilee.  Let its voice cut through the fog of uncertainty and error.  Behold the might and Person upon which all beauty and true culture is founded.

“Do not touch what is unclean and I will welcome you. . . . Having these promises let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 6:17b, 7:1)

Tommy