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Discerning this Present Time

“Then He (Jesus) also said to the multitudes, ‘Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, “A shower is coming”; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, “There will be hot weather”; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?” Luke 12: 54-56

It is easy for us to go about our daily routines and be focused mostly on our immediate surroundings and the people we interact with: our family, friends, and coworkers.  We will occasionally look at the news and see some national or world events and ponder them for a short time, but then go back to our personal routines. It’s easier for us to be somewhat disconnected from a broader view of life, especially when this broader view could trigger feelings of concern, anxiety, stress or fear.

As Christians, in one sense, it is good for us to be removed from the world, and to not allow ourselves to be too involved emotionally in national or international events, for we are told to be “in this world but not of this world.”   And yet, as we can see from the scripture quoted above from the Gospel of Luke, we are admonished to be discerning of the times we are in, which would require us to stop and look at our world from a broader perspective and discern what is happening and how it will affect us.

In the above quoted scripture, Jesus notes that people are able to look at the sky or the earth and determine what will happen next in the near future pertaining to the weather, but that they are not able to look at their surroundings from a spiritual perspective and determine what will come next pertaining to the things of God.

The word “discern” used in this verse means to examine or to scrutinize something.  Jesus is telling us that we need to take a break from our daily routines to stop and look discerningly at our surroundings to determine the implications for the near future.  We need to understand what is happening now and, based on this present examination, determine what the future holds.

Therefore, I also admonish you to take time to prayerfully seek the Lord so that He will open your eyes to the current situation of our world and our society so that we can see what the near future will bring from a spiritual perspective.

Speaking of a lack of discernment, I am reminded of the situation that existed in the days of Noah when God’s judgment was pending and yet the people were unaware of the time; they were unable to discern that God was about to destroy the entire world by a flood that covered the entire earth.  Only Noah and his family were able to escape.  I am sure that many people even watched as Noah and his family built the large ark and gathered together animals, and yet these people were still unaware of the time and unable to discern their pending future destruction.

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Matthew 24: 36-39

Not only do we need to learn from the error of the people of Noah’s time who were oblivious to their circumstances and failed to take the time to seek God for the discernment of their time, but we should also recognize that our situation is not much different than theirs.  From my personal observation and discernment I have concluded that God’s judgment is pending, much like it was in the time of Noah.

I am aware that there are some Christian leaders and popular speakers who are saying that there will soon be a time of blessing for Christians, and that God will cause a revival in many places around the world.  My view of the current circumstances does not align with this assessment.  The Bible states that judgment starts in the church with the people of God, so Christians need to be more concerned that they are in no way associated or connected with the things that are bringing the judgment of God upon our current situation.  But you must determine the state of our present time for yourself.  I again emphasize that you must seek God for yourself and look to His Word to discern the truth for yourself.

My Observation:

I live in the U.S. so I am therefore exposed exclusively to the Western culture as is reflected by the people who live here.  Some of my exposure is through the media, although I don’t currently have a TV, but I do have a computer that I use to watch some movies and to read various articles.  I am also exposed to opinions from people that I work with, as well as family and friends.

Over the past few decades, I have observed noticeable changes in our society in a few distinct areas, and I can categorize these important areas of concern into 3 categories as follows:  Hedonism, materialism, and idolatry.  Allow me to explain each.

First, I must clarify that these conditions have been present to some extent in all societies throughout history, but my observation is that a large percentage of people in our culture have embraced these ideas and practices making them a major part of our social fabric.

Hedonism

According to Wikipedia, hedonism is “a school of thought that argues that pleasure and happiness are the primary or most important intrinsic goods and the aim of human life”, and another online dictionary defines it as “the pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses.”  It has been my observation that, although there are not a majority of people who are explicitly claiming to be hedonist, there are a large percentage of people in our western culture who have embraced this approach to life, making pleasure and happiness the main focus of life. In our society, people long for and live for various forms of pleasures, whatever they may be: food, drink, sex, music, etc.

An honest look at our culture and the typical mindset and attitude, especially of the younger generations, will support my claim that hedonism is a widespread approach to life.  The emphasize on sex in our literature and art, the wide use of drugs and alcohol, the high percentage of obese people, and the overall selfish attitude are the fruit the high level of hedonistic thinking in our society.

To be clear, I am not saying that people should not ever experience happiness or sensual pleasure in their life. The difference here is that people are making it the main goal and focus of their life.  It’s what motivates them.  They may work hard during the week but they are motivated by and looking forward to the weekend festivities.  Also, it is the sensual pleasures that they experience that take a high priority in their lives, and therefore their lives are aligned accordingly.  Their moral and ethical standards are established according to this priority, and so it has become apparent that the Judeo-Christian moral standards are rejected.  This is very apparent in our current society.

The underlying attitude of this approach to life is an impatience that looks for immediate rewards or gratification in the present rather than looking for a future reward.    As Christians, we know that our focus is on the hope of the next life and therefore this hedonistic attitude is diametrically opposed and radically different than the Christian attitude.

“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:  whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Philippians 3: 18-20

Materialism

Closely related to this hedonistic philosophy is a need for, and a high value placed on, material things.  Certainly, our society values material things much more than spiritual things.  It is possible that in this present time there is more emphasis placed on material items than in any other time throughout history.  Certainly the industrial revolution has made it so that there is an abundance of gadgets and appliances that we “can’t live without.”

The United States must be at the top of the list of countries with a focus on material things.  We have products shipped from all around the world to us to fill our store shelves.  In fact, our entire economy is based on consumption of these material items. I think it is safe to say that this situation is unprecedented in world history.

Consider also the financial system that we function under and that the U.S. has propagated now throughout the world.  It’s based on debt and credit.  Rather than working hard to save up for the things we need and can afford, we want things immediately, and so we buy them on credit, with most people living beyond what they can afford.  This approach is not just being used by individuals, but also by businesses, corporations, and all levels of government.  This financial system of debt and credit was not put in place as a result of a desire to help others, nor is it based on some great wisdom or prudence, but rather it was fueled by greed and impatience.  Sadly, it seems apparent that it is nearing a point of collapse.

Similar to hedonism, materialism is also a philosophy that is in stark contrast with Christianity:

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6: 6-10

Idolatry

Whenever we replace God with someone or something it is idolatry.  Idolatry is more encompassing than just setting up a statue and worshiping it.  It happens in our minds.  In times past people looked to God for protection, safety, as the source of food (bringing rain and sunshine to their crops or causing their livestock to prosper and  be free of diseases), as a source of health, and many other things; people looked to God for His blessings upon their lives and the lives of their families and loved ones.

Today, we look to the government or to other man centered or manmade mechanisms for these things.  We uphold the scientist, or scientific knowledge, as the source of information and/or guidance regarding our health, safety, sustenance, and well-being.  God has been replaced by many things in our current society.  We no longer need to look to God for our future since our fears have been removed by our insurance policies or retirement nest egg.  We look to science and technology to solve all of our problems such as diseases, food sources, security, protection, and health.  We look to the government to solve all of our social issues and as a source of peace and contentment.

In general, our Creator does not have a place in our society.  We have removed any mention of Him in our schools or public discourse by claiming a need to separate church and state.  This has resulted in a situation where even a philosophy that is based on God’s principles cannot be applied to any public or government discussion.

We would like to think that we are very tolerant of all religions, but in reality, we have taken God out of our social consciousness completely.  So for the sake of not offending any other religious people or for the sake of being “fair” to the atheist, we have removed any influence or dependence or reference to our Creator from our social fabric, except for discussions within a “religious organization” or church, which is only a minute part of society.  In essence, we have replaced God with other things, and this is idolatry.

And we are without excuse, because we should be honoring God in our society and we should be expressing our thanks and acknowledging Him as the source of all our blessing.

“Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools;” Romans 1: 20-23

Conclusion

You may disagree with me as to the extent of the penetration of these attitudes into our society, but it is undeniable that they are present and that they are held by more than just a small minority of people.  It is also undeniable that the trend has been towards an increase in these attitudes.  Unless there is a major shift, which I don’t deny is possible but seems unlikely, the trend will continue and could escalate quickly.

From God’s perspective, as a God who holds justice extremely high, it is inevitable that a judgment will be coming upon all those who adhere to these above mentioned attitudes and practices.  I am well aware that the mention of God’s judgment or the need to fear God’s wrath is probably the most unpopular and politically incorrect statement that can be made (another fruit of these mindsets) but we must be honest and face the truth.

The Bible also predicts that as we approach the end times, the condition of mankind will worsen.

“But we know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5

As I observe our current surroundings I see a godlessness that is widespread.  There may be a superficial facade of wholesomeness and godliness, but looking deeper into the attitude and mindset, as mentioned above, I see things that are far from what conforms to God’s requirements.  As a result, we are certainly on the precipice of judgment of some kind, much like those living in the time of Noah.  The remedy is to turn completely to God and to allow Him to show you the proper way to think and act.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12: 2

I remind you again that you need not take my word for it, but rather you should seek God on your own and ask for discernment regarding our present time.  I am confident that He will show you fully and completely what you need to see and what you need to do in response.  Most importantly, you need to be aware and take the time to assess and observe the present time.

Ultimately, we know that the day of the Lord is coming, and for those who are in Christ Jesus, it is the day that we are longing for and hoping for, and what motivates us to live godly lives.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” 2 Peter 3: 10-13

Amen.

 

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“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Acts 3: 29-21 (Peter’s sermon to the people in the temple after the lame man was healed)

This blog is part 3 of a series that explains the main revelation of the Bible, that is, the gospel of salvation that is made available to us by exercising our faith in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  In part 1, we discussed the need for salvation and the circumstances that created the need. In part 2 we defined “the Messiah”, established that the true Messiah is the Lord Jesus, and looked at the purpose and the implication of His first and second coming.  In this blog message we will put it all together and explain why the Gospel is based on placing our faith in the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, and why it is the only means of salvation.

It is time to go back to the basics of Christianity.  The church has gone off track in many areas (e.g. prosperity teaching, hyper-faith, hyper-grace, kingdom now/dominion teaching, mega churches, a focus on numbers rather than spiritual maturity, etc.) and we need to get back to God’s word and the principles that it teaches.  Taking a close look at the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a good place to start.

I once again (if you have read parts 1 & 2) remind you that the gospel in a nutshell is the following: if you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah (the Christ) then you will be saved. This concise version of the gospel is stated in the following verses from the gospel of John.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11: 25-27

From this definition of the gospel we see 3 questions: 1) what does it mean to be saved? 2) What is “the Messiah”?  3) What does it mean to believe?  We’ll look at question 3 in this blog.

We learned from the previous two blogs that we are in need of a savior due to the sin of Adam and Eve and the curse that has come upon us, and that God the Father has sent His Son Jesus as the Messiah as a means of escaping this situation and to restore the damage that resulted from the curse.  Believing in Him requires that we now follow Him, that is, that humbly accept His forgiveness and now focus on the promises that He had provided for our future in heaven  – this is the pathway to escape from our situation and be saved. Following Him will redeem us from the penalty of the curse and from the penalty that was incurred from our own personal sins, and will give us a way to be transformed into a new, spiritual creature with the power to live free from sin, and the power to produce the fruit of the spirit in our lives.

When we say that we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, if we really believe, there will be a change in our life.  There will be a transformation that occurs.  Let’s look closer at what it means to really believe.

“What does it mean to (really) Believe?”

I would like to propose a hypothetical story to illustrate what it means to really believe in the gospel.  It goes as follows: Suppose there is a family business that specializes in locating and extracting rare materials from remote areas of the world.  The father or patriarch of the family who started the business sends one of his sons to find a rare material in a remote jungle in South America.  They agree that in a week there will be a “check in” by some means of communication.  During this first week a severe storm occurs in the jungle and all of the son’s equipment is damaged or lost and the he is left alone, unable to communicate with his father.  A few weeks pass and the son assumes that the father can’t get to him or can’t find him so he starts out on his own to find the way back.  Along his journey he encounters another man who says he knows the way back, so he decides to travel with him and follow his guidance, but he is skeptical about his ability to find the way and also about his motive.  Shortly after this, another man appears who came from his father who claims that he knows the way home.  At this point the son has 4 choices: 1) he can put his faith and trust in the man sent from his father and follow him home, 2) he can put his faith and trust in the man that he encountered in the jungle and follow him, 3) he can abandon both of them and attempt to find his own way home, or 4) he can decide to stay and survive in the jungle, making the jungle his home.  A serious problem is that he would most likely only have a few weeks to survive in the jungle due to lack of food, fresh water, and the conditions in the jungle.

It may appear obvious that the best or perhaps only choice is to believe in the man sent from his father and to follow him to safety.  Notice that choosing to follow this man would require some action.  He would have to abandon the other man’s guidance and would have to also abandon his own approach to find the way out of the jungle.

Hopefully you are getting the picture that true belief must be accompanied by some change on our part when we are in circumstances like these.  It must be more than just a mental agreement with the facts.  In other words, the man in the story couldn’t just say, “I believe you are from my father and that you know the way home,” but then not agree to follow him.

In our situation, God the father has sent Jesus as the way for us to get out of our circumstances.  Jesus referred to Himself as “the way” and “the door”, implying that He is in fact the means of escape.  Truly believing in Him requires more than mental consent.  It requires that we embrace this truth entirely, seeing that we must leave this cursed world (for now in our thoughts) and place our hopes and affections in the future that Jesus has pointed us to.

Truly believing in the Gospel requires us to change the way that we think.  It requires that we change our view of this world, and that we change the “path” that we are on in this life.  This is why the word “repent” is often combined with the exhortation to believe in the Scriptures; repent meaning to change the way that we think or to change the direction of our life.  For example, here is what Jesus said:

“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1: 14-15

The Greek word used here translated as “repent” is metanoeo meaning to change one’s mind, to think differently or afterwards, that is, to reconsider.”  For some reason, over the years the English meaning of repent seems to emphasize more a feeling of remorse rather than being focused on changing the way we think.

If we truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah than it should be apparent in our lives.  It should be reflected in our actions, the way that we live, and the direction that our life is headed in.  One critical area that should change is the focus of our hope.  The Messiah offers us hope for a future kingdom where He is King.  If we have accepted this truth and placed our faith in it, than we should have this future hope as the focus of our life.  We should not continue with our hope set on the things of this world.

A true, deep, sincere belief in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ results in an inner change, or a conversion (as Peter mentions in his sermon in Acts 3 quoted at the start of this message). Our old view of this world must be abandoned.  The old path that we were traveling must be abandoned.  Our old way of thinking must be abandoned.  Our old hopes and dreams must be abandoned.  Faith requires that we die to all of these old ways and take on a new life making us like completely new creatures.  Like the son in our hypothetical story above, we can’t follow our own way or the ways of other men who claim to know how to get us to a better place.  No, we must follow the way of the true Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The pathway of the Messiah is a spiritual one, but our old way of life is a fleshly, physical one.  The new path leads us away from this physical earth and all that this world has to offer, and leads us to a new heaven and new earth, spiritual and eternal, no longer under the curse.

God has made a promise to all who have placed their faith in the Messiah that they will be part of the new kingdom of God in heaven.  He has made a covenant that all who will turn from this world and follow His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, will be received into the new kingdom of God when Jesus returns at His second coming.  We must embrace this promise in the same way that Abraham, the father of all who have faith, had embraced the promise that God made to him.

The Scriptures say this of Abraham’s faith:

“He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.  And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.’  Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 4: 20 – 5: 2

This is the amazing wisdom of God, that He has offered us an opportunity to be transformed in our inner man by placing our faith in His promise that was made tangible in the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and will be fulfilled in His second coming.  By placing our hope in the promise of His second coming and accepting the reconciliation that was made at His first coming, including the reality of a resurrected, immortal new body, we can shift the focus of our hearts and lives to this future promise of hope, and this causes us to be transformed from carnally (or physically) minded to spiritually minded.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, (set their minds on) the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.  So then those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Romans 8: 5-9

“For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still  hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Romans 8: 24-25

“And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.” 2 Corinthians 4: 13-14

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21

There is no other message or promise in all of mankind that offers this opportunity for salvation as does the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Biblical text.  There is no other revelation that compares to this with a resurrected Christ who has fulfilled the prophecies of the holy prophets that were made over thousands of years.  No other message has the power to transform lives as does this gospel.  Listen to how the apostle Peter presented the gospel to the men of Israel:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by Got to you by miracles, wonders and signs which God did through Him in you midst, as you yourselves also know – Him, being delivered up by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He would be held by it….This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore  being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now hear.” Acts 2: 22-24,32-33.

And later Peter says this:

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4: 12

I remember as a young teenager when I first turned my heart to God and began to seek Him that I wished that there was someone else who really, really believed in God and lived their life aligned with their belief.  It was my desire to live that way.  As time went on and I began to understand more and more of the message that had been revealed from God in the Scriptures, that is, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, I realized that really, really believing the Gospel required me to die to this world.  As it turns out, this is a beautiful thing because it leads to freedom from the bondage that this world has on us.  It leads to freedom from fear, stress, and anxiety.

The full picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this:  God initially created man to live in a paradise, to be in close contact and communication with Him, and to have an immortal body with eternal life (no death, to pain, no sorrows).  Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had sinned and caused a curse to come upon mankind including ejection from paradise and from the presence of God, as well as becoming mortal, facing death.  Mankind, that is the descendants of Adam and Eve, have inherited this curse.  God, in His mercy, sent a Messiah to offer a way of escape to all those who turn to Him, follow Him, and place their faith and hope in the promises that have been established by His first coming and will be realized at His second coming.

All of us who have entered into this covenant relationship with God through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have put to death our old self and consider ourselves as having died with Christ on the cross with our old man being buried with Him, and now we consider our new self as having risen with Christ, as a new creation, born of the spirit, with our hearts and hopes set on the spiritual things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God the father in heaven.

We also are patiently enduring through this life until He returns as sojourners (temporary residents) the same as Abraham, the father of our faith, waited for the promises that God offered him.

Please take a fresh look at the gospel and what it means to you personally.  Get the whole picture of what we are being saved from and who the Messiah really is to us, and then exercise your faith fully to align your entire life completely with this beautiful message of hope.  The fruit of this faith will be spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and the final result will be eternal life in a new heaven and earth with the Lord Jesus.

Amen.

“Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel,…” 2 Timothy 2: 8

This blog is part 2 of a series that explains the main revelation of the Bible, that is, the gospel of salvation that may be obtained from, or in, Christ Jesus the Lord.  In part 1, I discussed the need for salvation and what it means to be “saved”, in this portion I will discuss what/who is the Messiah and the implication of His coming.

I remind you that the gospel in a nutshell is the following: if you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah (the Christ) then you will be saved, and is stated in the following verses from the gospel of John.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11: 25-27

From this definition of the gospel there arises 3 questions: 1) what does it mean to be saved? 2) What is “the Messiah”?  3) What does it mean to believe?  We’ll look at question 2 in this blog.

In part 1 we clarified what it means to be saved and the background that caused us to be in this position of having a need to be saved. In short, the sin and rebellion of our first parents in the Garden of Eden resulted in a curse upon mankind.  The Messiah was sent in response to this need with the intention of offering a means of removing the consequences including the removal of God’s judgement incurred due to man’s sin, and also the transformation of man’s fallen, carnal nature, that is, our tendency to focus on the physical world and the hopes and pleasures that this world offers.  The Messiah offers a means of removing the penalty resulting from our sins and a means of transforming us from carnal to spiritual beings (being born again of the spirit).

In order to accomplish this purpose of removing the consequences of the curse and of man’s sins, we must understand who the Messiah is, what His purpose was in coming, and how His coming impacts our lives.  We cannot place our faith and trust in someone without a complete understanding of these things.  The following is an attempt to clearly define who and what the Messiah is, why He came, and what His coming means to us, so that we can better exercise our faith in Him and in the promises of God that He represents.

 “What is the Messiah?”

The dictionary definition of the word “messiah” is “the promised and expected deliver of the Jewish people.”  According to Wikipedia, in Judaism the word “messiah” (hamashiach, meaning “the anointed one”) is often referred to as “King Messiah”, emphasizing the fact that the Messiah is to be physically descended from King David and King Solomon, and His coming will re-establish Israel and usher in the Messianic Age.  It is my understanding that much of the Jewish religious ceremonies and activities are focused on the expectation of the coming of the Messiah (and they are still looking for the messiah since they have not accepted Jesus as Messiah).

There are many prophecies concerning the promised coming of the Messiah and I would suggest that you research these prophecies for yourself.  A good source of information is the “Jews for Jesus” website (https://jewsforjesus.org/) where they have listed the many prophecies about the Messiah and the fact that these prophecies point to Jesus as fulfilling them.

In the New Testament of the Bible, the use of the Greek word for Messiah is “Christos” (or Khristos), meaning “anointed” and has been anglicized into the word “Christ” as it also appears in the Bible when it is translated to English. Any place where the word Christ is used you can substitute Messiah. We must recognize that even the title attributed to Jesus in the New Testament scriptures, i.e. The Lord Jesus Christ, acknowledges that Jesus was regarded as the Messiah by the writers of the biblical text and the Holy Spirit.

The Jews who were living during the time of the initial coming of the Lord Jesus, even His disciples, were expecting the coming of the Messiah to be with physical power, and that He would be a deliverer of the Jews from the Roman Empire and a restorer of the nation of Israel.  They had missed the fact that the Messiah must first come in humility and suffer at the hands of evil men, as was prophesied, and that He would come a second time to establish and restore the kingdom of God.  There are many prophecies regarding His first coming; here is an example from Isaiah:

“Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.  Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men;” Isaiah 52-13-14

This fact of His humble coming to suffer was also confirmed by the angels who were at the empty grave when Jesus was resurrected.

“He is not here but risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” Luke 24: 6-7

And there is also this from the Lord Jesus Himself after when He appeared to the men on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection:

“Then He (Jesus) said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ (Messiah) to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ and beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Luke 24: 25-27.

As pertaining to the Gospel, it is important to recognize that the Messiah was promised to be sent to this world by God the Father with the express purpose to remove the curse from God’s creation and restore the world to its intended state (as it was originally created to be in the Garden of Eden). The Scriptures state clearly that Jesus came to restore what was lost by the first Adam.

“Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came on all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:18-19

It should be noted that when God issued the conditions of the curse, at that exact time, He first mentions the coming Messiah:

“So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise you head, and you shall bruise His heel.’” Genesis 3:14-15

The following lists the multiple purposes of the coming of the promised Messiah:

  1. He is THE only begotten Son of God who had taken on human form and come to earth, and is equivalent to God as His only Son, and the physical representation of God with the stamp of His nature (remember that mankind was separated from God’s physical presence as a result of the curse and did not clearly know God’s nature and attributes).
  2. He is the Lamb of God, the Savior of mankind, offering redemption from the judgment of God that was the result of the curse. This redemption represents God’s mercy towards us, even when we were His enemy. God showed His love towards us by sending His only Begotten Son to die on our behalf.
  3. He is the first to be resurrected by God, the first born of many who will enter into glory with a resurrected, immortal body, restored from the cursed body of death and corruption, and He is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father. The curse from Adam’s sin brought death, but the free gift of redemption from Jesus Christ brought eternal life, restoring hope to all who believe.
  4. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who will return to destroy the current earth with its associated world system, and establish a new heaven and earth where He will rule His kingdom in righteousness and justice. All authority and powers that exist will then be submitted to Him, with Him submitted to the Father. He therefore is the Lord of every believer, and so we must recognize and honor Him as such.

I would like to discuss each of the above listed items briefly with the supporting scripture, but would encourage you to research deeper.

Purpose 1 – The only begotten Son of God

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John 1: 1-4

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1: 14

Although all of those who have entered the kingdom of God through the redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, are children of God and therefore sons and daughters of God, the position of Jesus is different or special as the only begotten Son of God.

In Psalm 45 there is a clear statement about the Messiah being God:

“Your thone, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” Psalm 45: 6-7

And also, in Psalm 110, David addressed the Messiah as Lord, although He was to be a descendant of his, suggesting that David knew that the Messiah would be more than just a descendant, but that He would have an exalted position, since He would ascend into heaven and be seated at the right hand of God:

“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” Psalm 110:1

The fact that Jesus was born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit also points towards His divine origin.

Why is this important?  We must understand that Jesus came down from heaven. He was God with us!  He represented God on earth, and therefore His communications, actions, judgments, and declarations of truth were and expression of God, and were ordained by God the Father.

“Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, ‘You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.  But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.’” John 7:28-29

Jesus, as Messiah, is also the only representation of God the Father.  The Father sent Jesus on His behalf and He is the only way to be restored to the Father.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

Think of the implication of this truth, that Jesus had come down to earth from heaven as a direct representation of God.  Proverbs 30 says this:

“Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?”  Proverbs 30:4

Jesus expressed to us the nature of the living God, the Creator of the universe, in human form:

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” Hebrews 1: 1-4

And Jesus set an example for us by humbling Himself to become a man:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery (something to be held onto to be equal) to be equal to God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2: 5-8

In short, the Messiah, Jesus, has made a way for all who believe in Him to enter into an intimate relationship with the living God.  We can communicate with Him, and we can get to know Him through His Word, the Bible, seeing in Jesus the very nature of God.  When He returns at His second coming, we will be fully restored  to a place where we will be in His physical presence, and the curse will be completely undone.

Summary of purpose 1:

  • Who was the Messiah:  The only begotten Son of God with the stamp of God’s Nature
  • Why did the Messiah come: to reveal the nature of God to mankind, since they had been rejected from God’s presence under the curse
  • What Promise did the Messiah present: the establishment of truth from God the Father, from someone who had come from heaven directly.

Purpose 2 – The Savior and Redeemer

Our need to be saved is the result of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and the resulting curse and system of sin and death that was passed down to all humans.  All mankind is guilty before God, needing a Savior to redeem them or to pay the price required for the judgment of sin to be removed from their life.  God has supplied that redemptive payment by sending His Son, Jesus, to die, or be sacrificed, as an innocent “sacrificial lamb” to pay the price for all mankind.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1: 7-14

This redemption applies to us immediately to restore our relationship with God, allowing us direct access to the Father.

“For through Him we both (Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Ephesians 2: 18-19

Additionally, the redeemed have their name written in the “Book of Life” so that on the day of Judgment, when we stand before God, we will be spared from the second death.

“And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelations 20:15

A very high price was paid on our behalf, that is, the life of the Messiah.  We have been purchased by this payment, or redeemed.  Yet we didn’t deserve it.  We need to live our lives within this context.

Summary of purpose 2:

  • Who was the Messiah:  The Savior and Redeemer of all mankins
  • Why did the Messiah come: to remove the penalty of sin, paying the price by His suffering and death on the cross, and to restore our relationship with God the Father, now allowing us to enter into intimate communion with Him.
  • What Promise did the Messiah present: All those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be spared the second death; All those under the blood of Jesus can enter into God’s presence directly to communicate with Him.

Purpose 3 – The Resurrected Messiah

The Lord Jesus Christ was not just raised from the dead, as was Lazarus previously (who later died), but His body was transformed into a new resurrected body, from a physical body like ours to a new, resurrected, spiritual body.  No other person, throughout history, had gone through this type of transformation, nor has anyone since.  It is this new, immortal, spiritual body that is promised to all those who are truly in Christ Jesus, truly saved, and who are the true Christians.

In the 15th chapter of the book of 1st Corinthians in the Bible, the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of the resurrection as part of the gospel.  Please read the entire chapter to get the full context.

“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” 1 Cor. 15: 1-8

And this later in the same chapter:

 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (died). For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” 1 Cor. 15: 20-23

This is our hope!  No other religion or alleged revelation or belief system offers this hope that has been established by an historical event, that is, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, as was witnessed by many and has changed our world as a result.

The curse of death and hell were defeated by the risen Christ Jesus!

“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and the mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’” 1 Cor. 15:51-55

Summary of purpose 3:

  • Who was the Messiah:  The First and Only person who has been Resurrected
  • Why did the Messiah come: to establish our hope of a future resurrection with an immortal and eternal body.  We not can set our minds and hearts and affections on the spiritual things that await us, storing up our riches in heaven rather than on earth.
  • What Promise did the Messiah present: All those who are in Christ Jesus are citizens of Heaven and will share in the Glory of the resurrected Messiah, including the receipt of a new body.

Purpose 4 -The Messiah King

The very same Jesus who was resurrected from the dead exists today in the same body.  Remember that He ascended up into heaven and will return in the same manner.

“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,  who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’ ” Acts 1: 9-11

The Lord Jesus ascended to a place of authority at the right hand of God the Father, with all things submitted to him:

“and what is the exceeding greatness of His (God the Father) power towards us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him, who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1: 19-23

Looking back also at the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians, Paul states that at the second coming of Jesus Christ the final enemies will be defeated and all things will be in literal submission to the Lord Jesus, the Son, with Him in submission to God the Father, making God the Father “all in all”.

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive, but each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterwards those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For ‘He has put all things under His feet.’ But when He says “all things are put under Him,’ it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” 1 Corinthians 15: 22-28

Summary of purpose 4:

  • Who was the Messiah:  The Lord and King
  • Why did the Messiah come: to prepare for the restoration of the initially intended creation and kingdom of God. The Messiah’s first coming clarified that His first appearance would be in humility and suffering as a lamb to be slain, but His second coming would be in power and authority as the lion of Judah to restore the kingdom.
  • What Promise did the Messiah present: Upon the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the new heaven and new earth will be established and all of God’s children will have an inheritance in this kingdom

Conclusion:

We see that the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, has come to correct the damage that resulted from Adam and Eve’s rebellion and sin.  Upon His first coming, He has made a way for us to be reconciled to God the Father, and to establish in us a hope for a future in heaven.  This establishment of our hope is the means for us to be transformed internally from the carnal/fleshly attitude and mindset of this world to a spiritual way of thinking with our hearts and minds set on heaven and the things above.

We will see more clearly in the next part of this blog series about the exercising of our faith/believing has also made a way for us to be internally transformed into new creations, resulting in our becoming spiritual with the ability to walk in true love.

We eagerly await His second coming when all things will be made completely right with the kingdom of God completely restored and all enemies defeated.  In the meantime, we press on towards the prize that awaits us, with our hearts set on the promised future in heaven.

Amen.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” Romans 1:16

I recently wrote a message about the importance of knowing the truth, or more specifically, recognizing that the revelations that are contained in the Bible are absolute truth and are the standard by which all other professed truths should be measured.  The truths that I am referring to are the truths that we use to determine our world view, that is, the truths that guide our lives, determining what is right and wrong, influencing our decisions, and form the foundation of our philosophy of life or belief system.

I thought it would be important to follow that blog with a discussion of the core revelation of the Bible, which is the Gospel of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.  The books of the Old Testament of the Bible lay the ground work for the coming of the Messiah (or Christ) and the need for salvation and the books of the New Testament record the details of His coming and the purpose behind it.

It is important to also note that I am assuming that most of the readers of this blog would be considered Gentiles or non-Jews.  Therefore, I will be leaning more heavily on the Gospel as preached by Paul who was the Apostle to the Gentiles and had also received a revelation of the Gospel specifically for the Gentiles (as opposed to Peter who was the Apostle to the Jews, leader of the early disciples in Jerusalem, and who help to propagate the Gospel to the Jews).

“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 1:11-12

“This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Ephesians 3: 1-6

I would like to start with a simple statement of the Gospel, what you might say is the Gospel in a nutshell.  It is found in an exchange between Jesus and Martha at the death of her brother Lazarus, where I see a concise statement of the Gospel:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11: 25-27

In a nutshell, the Gospel message is that if you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah (the Christ) then you will be saved.  There are three important questions that arise from this simple message that need to be fully defined in order to get gain the proper understanding of this Gospel: 1) what does it mean to be saved? 2) What is “the Messiah”?  3) What does it mean to believe?  We’ll look at each of these separately, with this current blog – part 1 – covering the first question, “What does it mean to be saved?”, and then with subsequent blogs – parts 2 & 3 – covering the other questions.

What does it mean to be saved?

The use of the word “saved” implies that you need to be saved from something.  In order to understand this “need to be saved from something” we must first look at the background from the scriptural revelation.

The Bible explains that God had originally created man in a paradise and had intended for us to have eternal life in this paradise, in direct communication with Him, that is, physically seeing and interacting with Him in His presence.  As a result of man’s direct disobedience of God’s directives (instigated by satanic deception), man was rejected by God from the garden paradise and placed under a curse. The curse brought death to all mankind and has also made it so that all men are sinful by nature.  Additionally, we are all born into a cursed world that is separated from God’s physical presence.

Here are some Scriptures that are the source of these truths:

“Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying “You shall not eat of it”, Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you shall return.’” Genesis 3:17-19

Notice in the above scripture that the statement that Adam would “return to the ground” was referring to the fact that he would now die.  Up until this point Adam would have been given access to the tree of life and lived forever, but under the curse God restricted him from accessing the tree of life (the source of eternal life).

“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil, and now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’—therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.  So He drove out the man and He placed cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:22-24

We also know that as a result of the rebellion in the garden, that God’s enemy, Satan, has somehow gained control over this world and influences those who have not honored God, nor accepted His Messiah, and who follow the world system (course of this world) that is opposed to God’s system.

“And you He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath just as the others.” Ephesians 2:1-3

This current cursed world system is diametrically opposed to God’s ways and all who follow it are not of God.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all this is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

This information leads us to a critical truth that the Apostle Paul states in his letter to the Romans when explaining the gospel: As a result of the sin of Adam and Eve and the separation from God and curse of this world, all men who are a part of the world system (and who remain in the world system by rejecting the opportunity to come out of it through Jesus Christ) are guilty of sin and when judged by God will be the object of His wrath.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest (or evident) in (or among) them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead (or divine nature, deity), so that they are without excuse, because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1: 18-21

Because we were all born into this world system and have dishonored God, we are all guilty.  This is confirmed explicitly by Paul in Romans also:

“What then? Are we (Jews) better than they (the Gentiles)? Not at all.  For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God.  They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one.’” Romans 3: 9-12

And Paul again in the letter to the Galatians:

“But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:22

Now back to the question, “What does it mean to be saved?” The answer is that we need to be saved from the judgment of God, who will judge us, and if we are found guilty, He will exercise His wrath against our sin, and will send us to the second death, meaning that we will be thrown into the lake of fire, (i.e. hell).  Jesus, as the Messiah, paid the price to redeem us from this judgment so that we can be removed from the curse of death and judgment, and instead have a resurrected immortal body for eternal life.

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life, and the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.  The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelations 20: 11-15

All those who have accepted the redemption from the Lord Jesus Christ will have their names written in the Book of Life, and therefore will be spared the second death.

Many are confused by this answer and find it hard to accept, but we must realize that God has His reasons for what He does, much of which we cannot understand in our current position in this world.  Some of His purposes behind this truth are revealed in the scriptures, for example, by allowing all men to become entangled in sin and unable to redeem themselves on their own merits, it is impossible for any man to boast before God:

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded.” Romans 3:27

And this:

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” Romans 4:2

And again:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8

Also we learn from the scriptures that God desires to show mercy towards all mankind so He has allowed this situation of all men being under the bondage of sin and in need of a savior/redeemer:

“For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.  Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Romans 11: 32-33

God has sent a Savior and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has made it known to all mankind in order that all men may receive this free gift of mercy.  There are no special talents needed, nor is there a need for a superior intellect, but all men everywhere can receive this gift of salvation from God by applying a sincere faith to what He has promised to us through Jesus Christ.

This is the end of part 1, and as I mentioned above, I will cover the remaining questions about the meaning of the Messiah (see “The Gospel of Jesus Christ Defined – Part 2) and our responsibility of applying a true and living faith to these truths, in a separate blog.  I hope this has helped you deepen your understanding of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

What is Truth?

“Pilate said to Him, ‘What is Truth?’”  John 18:38

“Your Word is Truth.” (Jesus speaking to the Father) John 17:17

Possibly the most important question that you will answer in your life is this one, “What is Truth?”  Perhaps a better phrasing of the question would be, “How do you determine and establish the truths that will guide your life?”  It is vitally important that you correctly discern the truth from the lies that are propagated in this world.  What you see as truth is the foundation of your world view and the core of your philosophy of life that guides your actions and decisions.

The significance of this problem has been magnified by the recent discussion in the mainstream media about what they are calling “Fake News.”  Here again we see the problem of determining what is true or what is fake from the myriad of information that we are exposed to daily from news, TV shows and commercials, movies, internet articles and videos, etc.  We are exposed to more information than any other generation in the history of mankind.  This steady bombardment of information has a huge impact on our world view, which in turn impacts our thoughts and actions.

Some of the false information that we are exposed to comes from sincere people who are simply mistaken or have been deceived themselves, but we must also realize that there are con men who are purposely attempting to deceive us for their personal gain.  Our natural tendency is to trust people and believe that they are sincere and knowledgeable about what they are saying. It may not be too harmful for us if we end up buying some lame product for $19.99, but the real danger is the con man who is selling a lie that directly impacts our world view.  The Bible warns us about this:

“Take heed that no man deceive you.  For many will come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many…..And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many……For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.  Behold, I have told [warned] you before.” Matthew 24: 4,5,11,24,25

Jesus was discussing here in Matthew 24 the signs that would indicate the nearness of His return.  We can be assured that there will be an all out attack on our Christian world view as we get closer and closer to His return.  Jesus is warning us so that we are mentally prepared to discern and reject the lies and deception.  So now we come to the real question, how do we protect ourselves from these lies and deceptive ploys?  How do we prepare ourselves for the inevitable exposure to the lies that will attempt to deceive us, causing eternal damage that will be coming from crafty false prophets with the power to do signs and wonders fueled by demonic forces?

We must have the foundation of our Christian faith in place, with no cracks or soft spots.  It needs to be firm in all areas – solid throughout.  This is the goal of this blog, to firm up the foundation that will be needed as the day approaches and the deception increases.  My hope is that all readers have found this to be true of each blog post that has been written for this blog. I try to add as much Scripture reference as plausible and also suggest that the blog reader go back and read the full context of the Scriptures for themselves and seek God for clarity – that’s the only way that spiritual maturity will be advanced in the reader.

In fact, I would remind you that the proper role of the leadership of the church is to expose and correct the false teachings that arise from these false prophets and teachers. It is also their duty to strengthen God’s people in their spiritual relationship with God by encouraging them to communicate directly with Him and to spend ample time reading His revelation, the Bible.  Included in the strengthening of their relationship with God is the ability to discern truth.  If the people of God have a strong, direct relationship with God and are spiritually mature and have knowledge of His Word, they will be able to detect the false deception for themselves.

A good comparison is the work of parents towards their children where the best parents prepare their children to be independent and self sufficient in life, while selfish or misguided parents will purposely cause their children to be dependent on them and unable to make it out in the world on their own.  Unfortunately, too many churches and their leaders create a situation where the people of God are focused on the organization rather than on God.  They become dependent on the pastor and the leadership rather than on their own direct relationship with God.  Preachers and pastors should NOT be saying, “Here is the answer for you, listen to me and my message and you’ll be alright!” but rather they should be saying, “I don’t have the answer.  I’m only human and don’t know everything about you and your circumstances, but God does.  Go to Him and He will show you the answer!”  They too should be teaching directly from the Scriptures and strongly encouraging their listeners to go back to the Bible to confirm what was said, prayerfully seeking God and the Holy Spirit for guidance.  All preaching and prophecy should be done with this attitude.  Everything that is done by the church organization and the leadership of the organization should be done to support and complement each of the church member’s personal, direct relationship with God, causing them to advance spiritually into a mature person of God.

As Christians, we determine truth by the Word of God.  His revelation in the Bible, what is essentially the revelation of His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, this is the ABSOLUTE truth.  The truths of the Bible are repeated throughout its books and are clear to all that are “of the truth”.

“Then Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am king. For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’” John 18: 37

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

God can speak through a prophet, but the word of the prophet will never contradict the Scripture, nor will it be out of alignment, but will align perfectly with the Scriptural revelation.  We must be familiar with the Scriptural revelation so that we can determine when the prophecy is out of line.

Each of us, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, are responsible for our own understanding of the truth.  We must study ourselves approved, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, the Scriptures. In a practical way, we need to put aside some time in our life to read God’s Word, absorb it, and be able to use it to test the truths that we hear.  We can’t be lazy and depend on some other “scholars” or “elite Christian leaders” to make the determination for us.  That’s how the world functions, but not the Body of Christ.

“The sheep that are My own hear My voice and listen to Me; I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27 (AMP)

Let’s step back at this point and look at the bigger picture of the Christian’s view of truth.  Initially, a Christian had to have come to a point in their life that they were convinced that this world was created by a Divine Creator, and did not come about by chance.  This determination of truth came from honestly and intelligently observing the creation, and upon recognizing its complexity and the fact that there must be a higher intelligence that has planned and designed this world and its inhabitance, logically concluding that there is a Superior Being or God who is the Creator of our world.

The analogy would be a person in a remote region (e.g. in a desert or cave) who finds a book, and upon inspection sees that it is filled with writings and images or illustrations.  The logical conclusion would be that there is person who is the author of the book, that it didn’t just come into existence by chance or by some non-intelligent, impersonal force.  The books complexity and purposed design found in the writing and images would suggest an intelligent author; so too, the complexity and design of the world around us suggests a Creator who is an intelligent personal, superior being.

Following this determination of truth about the existence of a Creator, it became reasonable and logical to the Christian that the Creator must have communicated some form of directions or instructions for His Creation, and has not abandoned us.  With this in mind and possibly seeking the Creator to direct them to this communication or revelation, the Christian then discovered (or was led by God to discover) the revelation of God through His Scriptures and the Gospel message of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  This revelation, the Bible, was then recognized as absolute truth, since it came from an all knowing Creator God who knows the beginning and the end.

The Bible stands out as the true revelation from God due to its abundance of supporting historical evidence (i.e. thousands of manuscripts in the original Greek or Hebrew text, archaeological findings, and other historical support), the content of the message itself, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the way it is presented (e.g., in contrast to most other claimed revelations, the record of the Messiah is written entirely by people who observed the life and working of Jesus Christ and who were involved in the aftermath of His resurrection and ascension into heaven; no Scripture was written by the Lord Jesus himself), and the fact that the main message, to love God with all your heart and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself, aligns with our conscience.  There is much more to be said here to support the validity of the Biblical revelation, but if you are of the truth, than your honest research into the content of the Scriptures will result in a confirmation that the Bible is in fact a divinely inspired revelation from our Creator and that it represents absolute truth.

Additionally, the Christian realizes that direct communication, in the form of prayer, can be conducted with the Creator God and the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Christians are able to make requests to God as well as get instruction and guidance from Him through prayer.

My apologies to many readers who will see this as stating the obvious, but my goal is to establish and solidify the foundation upon which we recognize the truth.  We must not only know the history of our source of truth but it needs to be clearly established in our minds as we function in our day to day activities.

Remember that all of this is inconceivable to the man who is without faith, who does not even acknowledge the existence of a Creator.  Also, for many who believe in a Creator, but have formulated their own version of who the creator is, or have believed in a false god as Creator, the Christian viewpoint is foolish and/or erroneous.

There are many who have rejected the idea of a Divine, intelligent Creator God who has revealed Himself and His plan for mankind in the Biblical record of the nation of Israel and the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  They must now place their full faith and trust in the teachings of other men and in their own intellectual capacity to retain information and gather facts to establish truth.  Thus we see the exaggerated importance of education and increasing academic capacity and skills as it has become a prerequisite to understanding the “truth” of human centered, manmade philosophies and world views.

Throughout the years, as I have gotten into discussions with various people, co-workers or acquaintances, inevitably the conversation enters into an area where it becomes clear that the differences in opinion are a result of a difference in how truth is determined.  My truth is based on the Word of God, and the non-Christian will base their truth on their own observations, studies, education, experiences, etc.

It is wise for us to recognize this underlying difference in determining truth to avoid senseless arguments.  Someone who doesn’t believe in a Creator will have absolutely no interest or openness to receive the Bible as a source of absolute truth.  So there is no sense attempting to resolve the difference in opinion.  You must just agree to disagree and move on or end the discussion altogether.

It would also be wise, if we determine that the person you are in a discussion with has already established their belief in a Creator God and is possibly open to accepting the authority of the Bible, that you get directly to the root difference, that is, to the fact that you source of determining the truth is the Word of God.

Each person is different and each situation may call for different approaches when attempting to convince someone that the Bible is the authoritative Word and revelation of the Creator God.  We must rely on the direction of the Holy Spirit to know how to proceed in this work of convincing someone of this viewpoint.  Most times it will take a long time and maybe only “small seeds” can be “planted” that will need to be further “watered” by others in the future.

In summary, as Christians, be warned that there will be deceivers and false prophets that will appear legitimate and sent by God, displaying signs and wonders and speaking words that may be hard to determine as lies since they are usually mixed in with truths.  We must not be naive and gullible, but rather we should use the Word of God, specifically the Bible, as a standard or authority against which we can measure the validity of these proposed teachings and messages.

Be wary of any preacher or teacher who does not direct you to the Word of God or to hearing from God yourself, personally and directly.

Take the time to study the Bible and to communicate with God.  You are responsible for your adherence to the truth, so don’t depend on another man, no matter how intelligent or anointed they may seem to be.  We should spend more time reading the Bible than reading the teachings and opinions of men, even if the teachings are about the Bible.  There is no substitute for direct Bible study.

Our source of truth is very different than the source of truth that is used by non-Christians.  Recognize this as the root source of differences in opinions in many areas and be careful how you approach them when resolving your differences of opinion.  In most cases it will become clear that the only way to reconcile differences is for the non-Christian to embrace the Bible as a source of truth, which, again, is unlikely, but could be possible if the Lord is leading you in your approach to convincing them otherwise.

In short, the Gospel message of the Bible states that the Messiah has come in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and that everyone (even those who are not descendants of Abraham, Issac or Jacob) who put their trust in Him and believe in Him will not be put to shame, but will be saved from the judgment to come.  The judgment is coming due to the rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve, causing this world to become cursed and under God’s judgment due to the continued sin and disrespect towards God by all humans, therefore, all are in need of this Messiah. As the Messiah, Jesus became the innocent sacrificial lamb who paid the price for our past sins.  As Messiah King, Jesus became the first born from the dead when He was resurrected (as was firmly established by witnesses as per the Biblical record), and He then was seated at the right hand of God the Father as King and Lord of all.  We who believe in Him now live as children of God  and as citizens of the kingdom of God where He is Lord and King, so He becomes our Lord and King.  We anxiously await His return to establish the earthly kingdom of God after destroying the current world system.  We must also note that a person’s acceptance into the kingdom of God and the family of God is only by faith, that is, trusting and believing in the Messiah and the promises that are offered by Him (i.e., forgiveness of sins, eternal life with a resurrected body, and a place in Heaven).  A person cannot earn or pay for these promises since they are a gift from God, showing His mercy and grace towards us.

“…because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” Romans 10: 9-13

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’ John 11: 25-27

This Gospel message establishes our view of the world and the approach we take towards our life and the circumstances that we encounter.  We now consider ourselves dead to this world and the things it has to offer.  Our hope and focus are now on the future hope we have in heaven.  We are aliens and strangers passing through this world until we depart.

To be clear, the truth that I am referring to here is the truth that is related to our world view and philosophy of life.  We often run into these truths as we discuss politics, justice, world cultures, history and many other topics.  I hope that this discussion has prepared you for your future and encouraged you to know the Word of God for yourself.

I leave you with this advice from the Apostle Paul to Timothy:

“Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” 2 Timothy 2: 14-19

“Teach and urge these duties. If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6: 2-10

Amen.

Don’t Squander Your Invitation to the Kingdom of God

“For many are invited but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14 (J.B. Phillips)

The 22nd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew starts with a parable that the Lord Jesus told about the Kingdom of God.  In the J. B. Phillips New Testament there is a paragraph title heading before this parable entitled “The Kingdom is not to be lightly disregarded.”  Since the parable in Phillips is such an easy read I’ll include it here in its entirety:

“The kingdom of Heaven,” he said, “is like a king who arranged a wedding for his son. He sent his servants to summon those who had been invited to the festivities, but they refused to come. Then he tried again; he sent some more servants, saying to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Here is my wedding-breakfast all ready, my bullocks and fat cattle have been slaughtered and everything is prepared. Come along to the festivities.”’ But they took no notice of this and went off, one to his farm, and another to his business. As for the rest, they got hold of the servants, treated them disgracefully, and finally killed them. At this the king was very angry and sent his troops and killed those murderers and burned down their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is quite ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it. So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’ So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike. And the hall became filled with guests. But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding. ‘How did you come in here, my friend,’ he said to him, ‘without being properly dressed for the wedding?’ And the man had nothing to say. Then the king said to the ushers, ‘Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside. There he can weep and regret his folly!’ For many are invited but few are chosen.”  Matt. 22: 2-14

One of the common mistakes that people make when trying to interpret the Biblical parables is that they look too deep for complex meaning, attempting to find alignment and a matching analogy for every detail of the parable.  Most times the meaning is straight forward and simple, and therefore the analogy should be kept simple and direct.  Find the basic message and focus on that.  The key to understanding the parable is finding the basic message and this isn’t always obvious.

I must admit that this parable of the kingdom in Matthew 22 has always confused me a bit.  I always started thinking along the lines of “the original invited people must be the Jews” and then “the second group from the byways must be the Gentiles like us” and then I attempted to align the rest of the analogy.  When I read the Phillips version, the paragraph title, mentioned above, about “lightly disregarding the kingdom” set me looking at the parable from a different angle.  Another nudge in this direction (presumably from the Holy Spirit) came when discussing this parable with a brother who commented that the part that jumped out at him was the people who were too busy with their farms or businesses to respond to the invite.  The final epiphany happened when I looked closely at the last sentence: “For many are invited but few are chosen.”  Let’s drill down into this.

In the original Greek, the work translated as “chosen” is eklektos which means “picked out or chosen”  or more specifically can mean “chosen by God.” It comes from a root word eklegomai which has as part of one of its meanings “of God choosing whom He judged fit.”  In the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, addressing specifically verse 14 of Matthew chapter 22, it says “those who have become true partakers of the Christian salvation are contrasted with those who have been invited but who have not shown themselves fitted to obtain it.”  Verse 14 could then be translated as “Many are invited but few are judged as fit to remain.”

In the parable, we see that those who have responded to the invitation and are in attendance at the wedding feast are then inspected by the king.  One who is not dressed properly is rejected as unfit to remain.

Once again I say that there is wisdom in simplification.  My simple view of this parable is as follows:  Many people are invited, but many of them either reject or disregard the invitation altogether and don’t go, or they respond to the invitation, are in attendance, but are told they are unfit to remain.  Ultimately, the reason that people didn’t make it is because they did not take the invitation seriously enough.  Some seemed to disregard or ignore the invitation from the start, and others responded to the invitation, but didn’t take the requirements associated with the invitation seriously enough (i.e. the man who entered the king’s wedding feast but neglected to dress in the required wedding attire).

So how does this apply to us today?  Well, if you are reading this and you know that God is beginning a work in your life, if He is calling you or inviting you to be restored to Him and become a part of the family of God and of His kingdom, then don’t take it lightly.  Don’t find excuses to distract you from His urging.  There’s always something that will get in the way: work, family, activities, whatever.  Resist and recognize the immense importance of the invitation that God is presenting to you and don’t take it lightly.  If God has sent someone into your life as His spokesman, don’t disregard them or treat them with disrespect, but take very seriously what they are telling you because in reality it is coming from God.

Recognize that the invitation may only be afforded to you once in your life.  You would be wise to take full advantage of the invitation or you will have deep regret later.

For some who have responded positively to the invitation and desire to become a part of the kingdom of God, recognize that there are requirements that need to be met. God expects us to walk in the spirit, not in the flesh. He expects us to grow and mature in our faith.  He expects us to be transformed and become new creations, walking in love and holiness.  I see this as the requirement that He will be inspecting about us when we stand before Him on that day, and He will be “choosing the ones that He judges to be fit” for the kingdom.  I realize that some may say that the only requirement needed is the covering of the blood of Jesus, but this does not align with the Word of God.  Our original acceptance is due to the merits of Jesus on our behalf as we cannot earn our place in the kingdom of God by our own merits, but it is a free gift from God our of His mercy.

Our invitation to the Kingdom of God is a gift of grace.  It is the free gift of salvation through the offering of Jesus’ redemption on the cross represented by His blood.  To be judged as fit to remain in the Kingdom of God is dependent on our meeting God’s requirements.

In fact the Scripture suggest that the act of kindness shown towards us by the grace of God through the gift of redemption from the sacrifice of Jesus is intended to lead us to an inner change from evil to good, and to think and walk in newness of life that leads to righteousness.

“Are you [actually] unaware or ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness leads you to repentance [that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life]? Romans 2:4 (AMP)

Yes we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged according to what we have done.  I firmly believe that this judgment will determine if we are fit to remain in the kingdom (and not just to see how much of a reward we will be getting as some have suggested).  We should not take this lightly.  The redemption of the blood of Jesus, much like the invitation in the parable, is the means for us to enter into the kingdom, but once we are in, there is no need to inspect again for the entrance requirement (i.e. blood covering), but rather we are inspected for the additional requirements, in our case, the fruit of the spirit in our lives.

Here are some Scripture to reinforce this (I like the extra comments in the Amplified Bible version):

“And I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them [for this heaven and earth are passing away].  And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life; and the dead were judged according to what they had done as written in the books [that is, everything done while on earth].” Revelations 20: 12-13 (AMP)

“Therefore, whether we are at home [on earth] or away from home [and with Him], it is our [constant] ambition to be pleasing to Him. For we [believers will be called to account and] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad [that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives—the use or misuse of his time, opportunities and abilities].”  2 Cor. 5: 9-10 (AMP)

“Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5: 19-21 (AMP)

“But do you think this, O man, when you judge and condemn those who practice such things, and yet do the same yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment and elude His verdict?” Romans 2:3

“But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you again, why do you look down on your [believing] brother or regard him with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God [who alone is judge].” Romans 14:10 (AMP)

Be aware that God is a merciful and forgiving God, and that He has made a provision for us to receive His mercy and forgiveness as long as we are in this world.  We all stumble at times and need to humbly come to our heavenly Father and ask forgiveness, and He is faithful and just to forgive us.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

We must realize that our opportunity for this mercy is limited to this life, and once we are dead, the window of opportunity will close, and then we will be judged.  Consider this advice from the Lord Jesus:

“Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5: 25-26

As any lawyer will tell you, the time for mercy is before you get before the judge, for the judge must follow the rule of law, but your accuser can be merciful outside of the court.  Likewise, before we stand before the judge, we have the opportunity to receive mercy and to correct any evil or ungodliness in our lives.  We must not squander this opportunity.

We must remember also that it is the Holy Spirit who will work in us to attain holiness and righteousness in our walk.  Our job is to humbly respond and work with Him, and not against Him, in this process of sanctification.

“For this is the will of God, that you be sanctified [separated and set apart from sin]: that you abstain and back away from sexual immorality;” 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (AMP)

May the Lord grant to all of us the wisdom to see our own faults and to correct them properly before that day so that we will not have squandered our invitation to His Kingdom, but will be judged as fit to remain.

And may the Lord cause you to increase and excel and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may strengthen and establish your hearts without blame in holiness in the sight of our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints (God’s people).” 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (AMP)

Amen.

The Bizarre Story of the Prophet Jonah

“But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.  Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.  But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.” Jonah 1: 4, 5

I am sure that many have questioned the authenticity of the biblical account of Jonah, especially his survival in a belly of a great fish for 3 days.  One validation of this account comes from the fact that it was mentioned by Jesus:

“For even as Jonah was there days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12: 40

Also, Jonah was referenced in the Old Testament book of II Kings, in chapter 14, verse 25, noting that he was the prophet who had prophesied that King Jeroboam would restore Israel’s border.

I find it interesting, though, that of all the prophetic books in the Bible, the book of Jonah is the only one that is entirely about an incident in the life of the prophet Jonah, with no account of the actual prophetic words that he had spoken; all of the other books record the words of the prophecies by these men, along with some events in their life.  In addition, I find that this event in the book of Jonah is quite bizarre, leaving a seemingly negative impression of Jonah.  I have to think that there was a reason that this account has been preserved for us in the Scriptures and that there must be some lesson for us to learn from it.

Here’s a list of the seemingly bizarre things that Jonah did:

  • He ran away from the presence of the Lord after he was asked to prophecy to Nineveh about God’s judgment that was coming upon them.
  • He fell into a deep sleep in the lower part of a boat that was being broken up by a severe storm
  • He told the crew that he was running from the Lord and confirmed that he was the cause of the deadly storm (after the lot fell on him).
  • He suggested that the crew throw him overboard to calm the storm.
  • He became exceedingly displeased and angry when the Lord didn’t destroy Nineveh according to his prophecy.
  • After the Lord had showed mercy on Nineveh, he requested that the Lord end his life.

There are a few things that we need to understand before assessing Jonah’s behavior.  First, we must remember that it was not an easy thing to be a prophet of the Lord back in these times.  Many of the prophets were killed or forced into being a fugitive.  Also, we don’t know what had led up to this situation.  Possibly, there were other times that God used Jonah to prophecy about judgment and then was merciful when the people responded to the message in repentance.  Jonah may have had past experiences that caused him to think, “Why should I go when God is just going to be merciful to them and it will be a waste of my time.”

Remember too that walking in faith is a bizarre thing in itself, especially to our worldly minds and to people who have no faith.

I think that we need to look in the mirror to get to the message for us here.  Aren’t there times when we know that God wants us to do something, we know the right and proper thing to do according to God’s ways, but our flesh doesn’t want to do it, or we resist for whatever reason?  Yes, I think we all have done this.  It may not be as clear as this example with Jonah, but there have been times when there were things we knew we should have been doing but we didn’t do them.  Our conscience and the Holy Spirit were nudging us but we resisted.

And sometimes God sends some type of storm our way when we put up this resistance.  It may not be a physical weather event, but rather it is something that comes into our life that has a disruptive impact on our circumstances.  What’s our reaction?  We want to ignore it.  We want to sleep through it thinking maybe it will go away.  But God won’t allow it to pass us by without making it clear that it is Him behind the storm, and that it is directed at us for a reason (remind you of Jonah?).

Unfortunately for us, much like Jonah’s circumstances, once we get ourselves in this kind of a situation there isn’t an easy way out.  For Jonah, he had to be tossed overboard into the ocean.  Fortunately, God had a large fish waiting to swallow him, to save him from death in the sea.  Here lies the good news in this lesson: God is merciful and once we give up our resistance He is there to get us back to where we need to be, even though the transition may be quite challenging for us.  I’m sure that spending 3 days and nights in the belly of a whale was no easy time for Jonah!

In full disclosure I can tell you that in my past there was a time that I was resisting God and had given in to my flesh in some areas of my life.  Sure enough, God sent the storm.  All at once I had a health issue, my wife decided to leave me (after being married for almost 30 years), I lost my high paying job which eventually led to losing my house. Bang! I look back now and think how foolish it was to go there in the first place, and I deeply regret having done so, but somehow it happened, and at the very least I can now understand and have compassion on others who go there.

I saw immediately that this was the hand of God in my life so I removed all resistance to His will in my life and submitted totally to Him.  I humbled myself and asked forgiveness.  Sure enough, God had prepared a way of escape for me and directed my path ever since.  He has mostly restored the things that were removed and is still working.  I am in a much better place now since I am aligned with His will and purpose for my life.  Looking back I am utterly amazed at what He has done. (Praise God!)

A major lesson here is to understand that if you find yourself in a place where God’s storm comes upon you due to past resistance to His leading, know that He has a way of escape set up for you, and although it may not be free of difficulties and challenges, you will end up in a much better place.

I want to emphasize here that Jonah’s bizarre actions were in large part a direct result of his faith and his walking in the Spirit.  Another lesson for us is to understand that our actions of faith will many times seem bizarre to others, even other Christians, but especially to the world.  In Jonah’s case his faith was apparent to the other mariners, and they were able to recognize the power of God and it had an impact on their lives:

“Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.” Jonah 1: 16

Jonah did have one issue that was erroneous, that is, the fact that he was displeased and angry about the Lord’s dealings with Nineveh.  The Lord rebuked him for his anger and even used an example to illustrate the situation (the tree that he allowed to shade Jonah and then caused to wither).  We don’t know Jonah’s heart and therefore don’t know the underlying cause for his displeasure and anger, but we can certainly be more aware of our attitude towards the things that God is doing.  We can’t always understand and don’t always see the entire picture from God’s view.  It seemed that Jonah was looking at his circumstances from his own perspective. He seemed to not understand that the city of Nineveh had value to God and that the change in the hearts of the people was important to God.  Jonah seemed to be more concerned with how people would look at him, now that he gave a prophecy that would not come about due to God’s decision to relinquish His original intention of bringing judgment on Nineveh.

“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.  But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and He became angry.  So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!’  Then the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’” Jonah 3:10 to 4:4

“But the Lord said, ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?”  Jonah 4: 10-11

It is good advice for us to give more consideration to God’s perspective in our circumstances, not just our own view, putting aside our emotions and possible embarrassments, and looking instead at God’s will and purpose for the general good of all involved.

In summary, we can learn from the story of Jonah that men of faith often act in bizarre ways.  We all are human and will miss God’s direction at times and could even find ourselves resisting what He is prompting us to do.  In these cases, we can rest assured that no matter what difficulties we find ourselves in as the Lord attempts to steer us towards being aligned with His purposes, that God will take us through, in His mercy, and preserve us from the difficult events that may come upon us.  We need to submit to Him and His calling, the sooner the better, and we must also take time to consider His larger purpose in what He has us doing, not just our own feelings and concerns.

I hope this has encouraged you in your situation.  I know that sometimes life can be confusing and difficult but God has a purpose and He knows what is best for us.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8: 28

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33