The Believer’s Hope and Joy

Have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called (Ephesians 4:1).

Yesterday we learned of the death of Dr RC Sproul (1939-2017), a man who had a profound impact on both my beliefs and my preaching. Even at the end of his life, when he could no longer breathe, he made every effort to continue teaching the Bible. For a preacher, it’s all you can do!

The Bible says that for the believer, to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord in Heaven (2 Cor 5:8). Upon hearing the news of Dr Sproul’s entrance into the presence of God, I thought of Jesus calling His apostles.

In Matthew 4:18-22 we’re told Jesus found brothers Peter and Andrew hard at their job as fishermen. He said, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. The Bible says the two immediately left their nets and followed Him (Mt 4:20). A bit further on Jesus found two more brothers, James and John in the boat with Zebedee their father … and He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him (Mt 4:21, 22).

Imagine, in both instances, those whom Jesus called left everything to immediately be with Jesus. Without hesitation they left their employment. They abandoned their livelihood. They departed from their own families. Can you image what Zebedee said when his two sons left in the middle of the work day?

When Jesus called Dr Sproul, he didn’t linger. He didn’t say, “Lord, just give me a few more days with my family. Heal me so I can live a longer and more productive life.” No, when Jesus called, RC immediately left this world behind to be with Jesus. He lived to be worthy of the One who called him.

Suppose I was going to Disneyland. You wouldn’t be sad that I was going to California to be welcomed by Mickey Mouse into his Magic Kingdom. You would be glad. Your sadness would be that you’re not going along. So it is with God’s people whom He calls home.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Ps 116:15). We should rejoice in what God rejoices. So we are reminded that in death we do not sorrow as others who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Death for the child of God is not a time to mourn like those with no hope, but a time for joy and personal longing to also be with Jesus.

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Give Me Jesus

I was surprised on my first visit to Mexico in 1998 to find so many men named Jesus in one place. In this culturally Catholic nation, about 1 in 10 males is named Jesus. It reminded me of the Apostle’s warning of pastors offering another Jesus we have not preached (2 Corinthians 11:4).

We expect an un-Biblical Jesus from the Mormons, whose Jesus is the blood-brother of Satan. We’re aware of the Jehovah’s Witness belief that Jesus is the embodiment of the angel Michael. But other Jesuses are sprouting up in places that should bring us pause.

A Grammy-winning Christian singer denies that Adam, Eve, and Noah were real people despite what Jesus said of them (Mt 19:4; 24:37).

We’re told that the real Jesus was a transgendered, homosexual, refugee, gun-hating, abortion-loving Socialist.

We can go to the theater to watch a movie which denies the Trinity, Hell, sin, and teaches that Jesus is nothing more than an example of what it means to love.

Without the Biblical Jesus, there is no payment for sin, no righteousness, no satisfaction of God’s wrath, no victory over sin or Satan or death or Hell. Modern theology leaves us with the empty figure of a man who inspires hopey-changey feelings but did nothing to solve humanity’s greatest problem: Sin.

A Jesus who doesn’t fulfill the Scriptures can’t do anything in the Scriptures. A false Jesus isn’t the Way, the Truth, or the Life leading us to God the Father; every substitute Jesus only leads away from the Father (Jn 14:6).

I’ll take the Jesus of God’s Word.

Even if we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be cursed (Galatians 1:8).

If You See a Crowd

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Daniel and I were invited to a baseball game this past summer. It was a scorching 100-plus degree day, and after finding our seats, I left Daniel and went to buy 2 Cokes. I got in a line that looked like it led to the refreshments. About 10 minutes later I realized I was in a line for the bathrooms.

No one is ever born a Christian, raised a Christian, or becomes a Christian by accident. Eternal life is found and only a few ever find it.

Think a moment about 3 of Christ’s words in Matthew 7:13-14: narrow, difficult, and few. Those are stark words.

More than 8 of 10 Americans claim to be Christians. We see churches filled with people on Sunday morning, some by tens of thousands of people. I heard a pastor say he could get anyone saved in just 10 minutes. Anyone.

How does this match those 3 words of Jesus: narrow, difficult, few?

Salvation isn’t for those desiring an easy entrance into Heaven while walking their own pathway. Christianity isn’t for those looking for health, wealth, and a prosperous life here on Earth. Jesus isn’t an add-on to our lives; rather, He makes all things new. Christ Jesus is for those who are spiritually helpless, who mourn over their sin, and hunger and thirst after a righteousness only He provides (Mt 5:3, 4, 6).

God’s way of salvation is quite simple: trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin.

There are many people on the broad and easy road, yet God’s way of salvation is so narrow and difficult that only a few ever find the Gate. So if you see a crowd, you’re probably on the wrong road.

Many are called; but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14).

The Ark of His Testimony

Revelation 11 begins with a scene from the earthly temple of God and moves to the temple of God … in Heaven where John sees the ark of His covenant. In the heavenly temple, the ark of His covenant is a reminder that God’s promise of salvation isn’t about us, what we deserve, or our religious rituals. Salvation is about the covenant promise God made and fulfilled in Himself.

The word ark means chest or container used to store something precious.

God had Noah build an ark. Into that ark God sent two of every kind of animal with Noah with his family. Of special note is Genesis 7:16. When the ark was finished, the Bible says those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him, and the Lord shut him in. The Lord shut Noah, who was precious to Him, into the safety of the ark.

About 900 years later, God had Moses build a small box known as the ark of the covenant or the ark of the testimony. The ark symbolized God’s presence among His earthly people Israel (Num 10:35, 36). Once a year the Jewish high priest sprinkled sacrificial blood on the ark to symbolize God’s covering of their sins (Lev 16:2-16).

Inside this ark were three precious symbols of God’s covenant: the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments revealing the will of God, Aaron’s dead walking stick that came back to life and budded, and a jar of bread from Heaven called manna. None of these symbols were man-made. God made them and they testified of Him.

Today we understand that the ark of the covenant symbolized Jesus, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9) and He testifies to the character of the invisible Father (Jn 1:14, 18).

As our Prophet, Jesus perfectly delivered and fulfilled the Word of God that we break (Mt 5:17). Our our Priest, He didn’t offer a sacrifice but gave Himself as a Sacrifice, His blood taking away our sins, then was resurrected to forever minister on our behalf (Heb 4:14-15; 7:24-25). As our King, He provides for us eternal life, feeding us with Himself, the Bread of Heaven (Jn 6:32-35).

Jesus the Nazarene

word-became-fleshAnd the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

The more we ponder it, the more mysterious and marvelous the Incarnation becomes; the fact that the eternal Second Person of the Godhead became fully human and yet remained fully God.

The Son of God took on mortal human flesh and became subject to all the same things you and I are subject to. He sneezed and coughed. He got hungry and had to relieve Himself. He got tired and slept and then cried when death touched a friend. He got headaches and an upset stomach. Every morning He got up, washed His face, combed His hair, then put His hand to the hammer in Joseph’s carpentry shop.

As a Man, Jesus got sick and was subject to death. The eternal Son of God could die – and He did! Three days later, what was mortal was swallowed up by immortality in the resurrection.

Today that same resurrected Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. As you read these words, the incarnate God is praying in the flesh for you (Rom 8:34).

How could God become Man? How can He, right now, be in the flesh? Yet this is exactly what the Bible says. In all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in the things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18).

We are left to wonder at the mystery of His Majesty and stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.

Transfigured

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:1-2).

For 33 years, everyone only saw a man, until Jesus gave three of His disciples a small glimpse of His eternal glory.

The word transfigured comes from the Greek word metamorphosis, meaning to be changed from the inside out. Rather than a heavenly light shining upon Jesus, a bit of the glory from within Jesus and which belonged to Him from eternity was visible.

No one can free himself from himself, so we turn to outward pressures. We yearn for someone or something like a Marine Corps drill instructor to force us into a desired behavior. Weakness of spirit and character demands that someone control us by commands like: Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle (Colossians 2:21). We beg to be under the conforming thumb of a slave master with rules, regulations, pressure, fear of punishment, or promises of reward as a way to control our actions and thoughts.

God transforms from the inside; only He can change the inside of a person. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind … (Romans 12:2). The word transformed is the word metamorphosis or transfigured used in Matthew 17:2. God’s transformation of the sinner isn’t by outward pressure, but by an inward changing of the mind and heart.

The unconverted heart of man is corrupted incurably by sin; it can’t be mended or repaired, it must be made wholly new. A new heart comes only by a new birth, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23). From a new heart God transfigures us, transforming the way we think, talk, and act. From within He changes our goals, morals, and desires, fitting us for Heaven rather than this fallen world.

The Spirit of God works through the Scriptures transforming us from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), internally and not by slavery to an outside influence.

As the free children of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we don’t know all of what we’ll be like in the end, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2).

Don’t Run Like Rosie

Everyone who competes for the prize is self-controlled in all things. They do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25)

Rosie Ruiz was the female winner of the Boston Marathon, finishing in 2 hours, 31 minutes and 56 seconds. It was the 3rd fastest marathon time in history.

Eight days later, on April 29, 1980, her title and reward were stripped from her. It was found that though she began the race with the other athletes, Rosie took a subway through the city and re-entered the race only half-a mile from the finish line. Officials also learned that she’d done the same in the New York Marathon a few month before.

A long-distance runner knows the importance of planning and running his race according to the rules. Before he even takes the first step, he’s planned out how to cross the finish line.

If a marathon runner gives up or gives out before the last mile, what good have the previous 25 miles been? Anyone can start a race, but only training and planning prepare him to finish. Neither cheaters nor those who almost cross the finish line win a prize. Any impostor can start a race, but only a true athlete will finish it.

As a Christian, you are already running the race of life, and I trust you are running in such a way that you will be victorious. Scripture encourages us: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it (1 Corinthians 9:24).

To win the prize, you need to run to the very end. You have to plan your race today for when your breath becomes short, the path becomes difficult, pain rips through your lungs and legs, and you’re tempted to cheat. No runner regrets finishing too strong, but you will regret finishing weak.

It’s good to remember that you’re not competing against anyone else, but against the world, the flesh, and the devil which are attempting to thwart your progress.

The Curse of Prosperity

Before God brought the people of Israel into the land of promise, He gave them a warning through Moses. He was taking them into a land that flowed with milk and honey. There would be prosperity of food, houses, health and wealth so that they would lack nothing (Deuteronomy 8:9).

Isn’t this the dream of so many people? Most people mistakenly think that the life of material prosperity is the definition of the “American Dream.” The American Dream isn’t prosperity served on a silver platter, but the opportunity to work for all these things that Israel was actually going to receive from God.

So where’s the danger? How can prosperity be a curse? Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God … when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 8:11 -14).

For the Jews, prosperity became a curse because they forgot God and that He is the provider of all things.

Prosperity creates pride. It lifts up the heart of human achievement and self-sufficiency, robbing God of the thanks due Him.

Prosperity concocts ways to get more and keep it. The prosperous become self-reliant rather than trusting in God’s provision of daily bread.

Prosperity causes worry. Those who have little have little worries, but the more you have, the more you have to worry over; there is little peace for those with much.

Prosperity conceives a sinful attachment to this short-lived life and its things, turning the heart from hope in Heaven’s eternal bliss.

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 (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

Las Vegas: Why Didn’t God Do Something?

Every evening before we pray and go to sleep, my wife and I talk about the matters of the day soon to fall behind us. The evening after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 1, 2017,  Kim asked why God hadn’t done something to stop the massacre.

My answer was simple: “He did. He sent Jesus to die for sinners.

Sin is a deadly disease that infects every human heart. The symptoms of sin are every form of evil we can imagine, and evil we haven’t yet imagined. Into this mess, God the Father sent Jesus to die for sinners, redeem them from sin, and cleanse the heart.

After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended into Heaven and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to live inside the redeemed ones. From inside each believer, the Spirit wars against the sin nature and believers strive to live godly lives.

God also gave us His holy Word, the Bible, to teach us right from wrong, like the commandment, Thou shalt not murder (Romans 13:9). The Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to make us more like Jesus, but most people chose to rebel against the Father by rejecting Jesus as the only Saviour of the sinner.

Instead of believing the Bible, we ignore and blaspheme it as narrow-minded, old-fashioned, and judgmental because it points out so clearly our wrong from God’s right, our sin from righteousness, and our desperate need for a Saviour.

The problem isn’t that God hasn’t done something; the problem is that we have rejected God’s solution.

No Other Name but Jesus

As many as received Him, to them God gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

As you read through the Old Testament and even the Gospel accounts, you discover that both true and false religion existed side-by-side in Israel. The Jews went through the sacrificial motions without a heart of faith in God. They feared breaking the traditions of their culture more than trusting in God’s provision (Matthew 15:8).

God’s condemnation of Israel was common of all religious people. The Jews would draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men (Isaiah 29:13). Jesus used this same verse to condemn the outwardly religious people of His day (Mark 7:6-7).

The people of Israel trusted in the works of their own efforts by following traditions and rituals. They believed that because of their physical ancestry they lived in God’s favor. Through will-power, they were good enough to be in a right relationship with God. Their faith was in their self-effort rather than what God had done. They were good, God-honoring people who tried their level best, but were void of faith in God. Instead of following God’s Way described in Scripture, they killed Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

No one has ever been – or can be – saved any other way than by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. He is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). There is no other name under Heaven, given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).