What About Suffering?

What should be our attitude toward suffering trials and tribulations? Let us look into the Word.

Twice in the book of Job, YHWH taunts Satan, asking if he has considered His servant. Here’s the first one:

Job 1:6-8 (HCSB) One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” “From roaming through the earth,” Satan answered Him, “and walking around on it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.”

In all his suffering Job did not sin – God held him in His hand, sustaining Job through the trial; not removing him from it.

Much later in redemptive history, YHWH tells one of His servants that Satan wants another shot.

Luke 22:31-32 (HCSB) “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.  But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

The faithful Son follows the path of His Father and holds His servant and sustains him through the trial, not removing him from it.

When we read of tribulation in the Bible, we are promised we’ll have them if we are walking as children of the light. Rather than looking to be removed from trials, we should have much confidence that God will sustain us through them. For our good and His glory. He has saved us from the wrath to come – what is it to suffer a little while in the flesh?

Judgment is Coming

We are familiar with the parable of the ten minas and 10 servants. This parable is told by Jesus following His encounter with Zacchaeus and begins, Luke 19:11-12 (HCSB) “As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away. Therefore He said: “A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return.”

Note this – those closest to Him still thought the kingdom of God was a response to the Roman occupation of their homeland. He tells them this parable to show them the truth about the kingdom and begins by telling them He is going away to receive authority to be King of kings and then return. That’s the point of this parable – Jesus was going to His Father to receive all authority and then return. He told His servants to engage in business until He came back. Luke 19:14 (HCSB) “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us!’”

Luke 19:15 (ESV) “When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business.”

When Christ returns, it will be as King of kings. He will judge the nations, gather His people, and make all things new. In this parable, He rewards those who were diligent and punishes those who were lazy. Luke 19:27 (ESV) “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

Here, then, is the bad news. Those who, in this age, do not want this man to rule over them will suffer His judgment upon His return. They are His enemies and they will pay, eternally, for their rebellion.

If you hear the call of God, turn and look upon Christ in all His glory. Do not fear man, who can only kill the body. Fear Him who can throw body and soul into hell. Look unto Christ, believe on Him; for you do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Better than the Passover

Better than Passover

You can listen to this sermon here.

This evening, we will compare and contrast the Lord’s Supper with the Passover given to national Israel. So many things given to the Old Covenant people point to partial or final fulfillment in what has been given to New Covenant people – they are there to teach about and point us to Christ. They are intended to give us a richer understanding of how the Bible fits all things together and has a deeper meaning than a superficial read can provide.

The Lord’s Supper is given to God’s people in the New Covenant as the sign of that covenant (Luke 22:19-20), just as the weekly Sabbath was given to God’s people in the Mosaic Covenant as the sign of that covenant (Exod. 31:12-18; Ezek. 20:11-20). In Ex 31, national Israel was commanded to keep the weekly Sabbath for it was a sign between Him and them. In 1 Cor 11 we are told that the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of His victorious death, whereby He conquered sin on our behalf. While the sign of the Old Covenant could be seen and practiced by anyone, the sign of the New Covenant cannot be understood or practiced by anyone unless they have been born again by God.

The Lord’s Supper is connected to the last Passover (Matt 26:17-30), observed in conjunction with weekly fellowship meal (Acts 2:42; 20:7) Just as the Passover meal signified the passing-over of the angel of death, so the Lord’s Supper signifies the passing through death of our Savior.

The first Passover anticipated the redemption of ethnic Israel from the bondage of Egypt (Deut 16:1). The first Lord’s Supper anticipated the redemption of spiritual Israel from the bondage of sin (1 Cor 11:23-26). The annual Passover reminded ethnic Israel of the freedom from Egypt their God had given them. The regular observance of the Lord’s Supper reminds spiritual Israel of the freedom from sin their Savior has given them.

The Passover was the covenant meal of the Old Covenant (Ex 12:17). The Lord’s Supper is the covenant meal of the New Covenant. The Passover was a mostly bitter meal, reminding the Jews of their time of want and the faithful provision of their God. The Lord’s Supper was usually observed after a fellowship meal, reminding the children of God of His provision of food for the body and the soul and the faithfulness of the One Who said He would return.

The Passover was observed with family or close friends within the covenant community (Exod 12:43-49). The Lord’s Supper is observed with all who are in Christ, within the local fellowship of saints.

The Old Covenant required observance of certain religious rites for membership: make circumcision, weekly rest from work, the Passover, occasional monthly and annual feast days. Faith in God, belief in the promised seed was not required for membership – only observance of a few religious rites. Those who fail to observe these rites were cut off from the covenant community. This is termed “formalism” and it is a sign of dead religion and must be guarded against within the local fellowship of saints.

The New Covenant requires the application of one truth: you must be born again by the Spirit of God; you must be circumcised of the heart, done without human hands (Col 2:11). Faith in the promised seed is required for membership – no one can enter the wedding feast of the Lamb without the required clothes (Matt 22:12) – the righteousness of Christ! Failure to participate in the fellowship of the saints and the observation of the Lord’s Supper neglect the care of their own souls and could be cut off from the New Covenant community until such time repentance might be granted.

Jewish parents used the Passover to teach their children about YHWH and their physical redemption. Christian parents should use the Lord’s Supper to teach their children about the redemptive death of Jesus and the need to believe on Him to be delivered from sin. Belief in God and the promised seed was not a requirement to eat the Passover. Belief on the promised Seed is a requirement to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Great teaching opportunity.

If people did not prepare for the initial Passover as directed, they would die (Ex 12:12-13). If Christians take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, they may die (1 Cor 11:27-30). This is the most graphic reminder that only believers are permitted to take this ordinance seriously. As the people in the Old Covenant taught their children about the need for YHWH’s redemption from Egypt and His faithful provision thereof, so parents in the New Covenant should teach their children about their need for redemption from sin and Jesus’ faithful provision to save. Both ordinances given the New Covenant community are great teaching opportunities for those who have not been brought near by the blood of Christ; and they are great teaching opportunities for all who have been redeemed, as we each need to be reminded of what He has done on our behalf, lest we drift into thinking little of sin and of His payment for it.

See Luke 24:35 – He opened their eyes when He broke the bread. He vanished from their presence after opening their eyes of faith. This served the same purpose for these two as His ascension does for all the saints – He departed from this world to send the Spirit as we learn to walk by faith and not by sight. Pagan religions require a god they can see and handle, because they walk by sight and not faith.

Paul tells us that Jesus was our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), showing us the Passover is not a continuing observance, but a ceremonial shadow or type that pointed God’s people to the promised seed who would save His people from their sin. The Lord’s Supper has connections to the Passover but is itself the sign of a better covenant (Luke 22:20 & Hebrews 8:6).

Jesus is our (believers’) Passover (1 Cor 5:7): Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The call is to remember our need of salvation, the spiritual application of the temporal redemption given national Israel on their first Passover. No room for boasting within the New Covenant except for the cross of Christ. We are called to not tolerate the mixing of Old Covenant bondage or unbelievers (those infected with malice and evil) within the body of Christ; but welcome only those who are possessed by sincerity and truth.

This ordinance belongs exclusively to the gospel age, being typified in several Old Testament passages, such as when Melchizedek brought wine and bread to refresh Abram and his warriors who had just defeated several pagan kings (Genesis 14:17-20). Even so, we who are born again by the will of God are immediately at war with our flesh, the system of the world and its present ruler. Christ gives us spiritual nourishment with this simple symbol, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, of His victory over sin and death and hell and Satan. ‘Tis a far, far better respite than what Melchizedek gave Abram. We see another reference to this church ordinance in Proverbs 9:1-6, as lady wisdom bids God’s people come to the table she has set, bread and wine, for refreshment and refuge from lure of the culture which wars against our souls.

And read the prophet Isaiah on this topic: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

This is the message of the Lord’s Table: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

This is just one aspect of how the OT points to spiritual things. Think about how rich the entire OT is in its revelation of Christ; that was the Scripture from which Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel to the first century world.

While the Bible does not explicitly command us on the frequency, we do see a narrative showing it was an important part of their weekly gatherings, some 30 to 40 years after Pentacost. Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight (Acts 20:7). One author (Terrance O’Hare) observed: “Most commentators agree that this was a Sunday evening meeting, at a recurring gathering of Christians on the first day of the week following their normal activities and work. [Note: this was before Christianity was legal and before Sunday was a regular day off for workers.] They came together in order to break bread. This does not mean that preaching was secondary, but when they came together, they purposed to commune in the symbolism of the covenant meal as the Lord had commended and as the apostles has established by tradition.” We should no more neglect the Lord’s Supper than the Israelites did their Passover.

While Scripture does not tell us how frequently to observe this ordinance, it does command us to take it, revealing that it is nourishing to our souls, enhances our fellowship. This puts a new light on this question about frequency; perhaps the question for some should be, why don’t we take this ordinance more frequently? The commonly discussed down-side to observing this ordinance regularly is that it can (they often mean will) become routine, dull, meaningless. That was my first thought when I served in a church that took the Lord’s Table weekly. My time at that church showed me that, properly handled, the weekly observance of this ordinance is not routine, dull, or meaningless. If Christ be rightly presented, if we are put in our place of coming to Him with gratitude, in humility, aware of our not-yet status of being conformed to Him, then this simple ordinance is what God intended it to be, bringing glory to the Father through the Son and building up His people spiritually.

The beloved Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, declared, “Shame on the Christian Church that she should put it off to once a month, and mar the first day of the week by depriving it of its glory in the meeting together for fellowship and breaking of bread, and showing forth the death of Christ til He comes.” Throughout the history of the church, weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper has been the traditional practice, ably supported by the Word of God.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

When we take the cup of the Lord’s Supper, we should remember the cup of wrath He took on our behalf. The cup we hold is a symbol of the glorious benefit of being redeemed by His sacrifice, so we thank our God for His grace while we also soberly remember the price that was paid. No small price; He drank the cup of wrath and shed His blood to secure our redemption. As we drink the cup of His peace, the New Covenant, we do drink vicariously the cup of wrath. When we eat the bread or cracker, which is broken in remembrance of His atoning death, we participate vicariously in the death He died. This is why Paul said Galatians 2:19-20: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. This is what is real – our spiritual life. It is what is eternal.

Whenever we take this ordinance, let us seek out those within this fellowship whom we have sinned against or who has sinned against us and seek true reconciliation as the Lord’s Supper represents unity that can only exist by those indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

No Compromise!

As Jesus went through the countryside, preaching and healing people, His fame spread and crowds often followed Him – including religious leaders who saw Him as a threat, rather than the possible Messiah.

When the men lowered their crippled friend on a matt through the roof, so he might get close to Jesus and perhaps healed, the Scribes and Pharisees were watching very closely, to see if they could catch Jesus violating their law.

When Jesus healed the cripple, these religious leaders began to formulate a plan.

But they didn’t see Jesus rightly; He knew their thoughts and, rather than seek to sooth their suspicions, He looked them in the eyes and said, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.

So it is with us. When people of the world suspect you are in Christ, they will want to influence you to “not make waves.” This is why we are told not to talk about politics or religion in family gatherings or at work.

Know this: No one will be saved by Christians “playing nice” and avoiding the plain speech of the gospel. Men are by nature children of wrath and wrath they will face unless Christ save them. He – alone – is the Savior of sinners. Preach and declare Him, don’t get intimidated to play nice.

Better Than Moses

Better than Moses, Matt 5:17ff

You can listen to this sermon here. 

The Sermon on the Mount covers chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew’s gospel. The context is shortly after His temptation and the very beginning of His public ministry. Large crowds had begun to follow Him. Matthew 5:1-2 When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them. “Disciples” in this setting refers to the large crowds that followed Jesus from time to time; these people were not His 12 that we read of later.

After telling them about the characteristics of the people in His kingdom (the beatitudes, salt and light, city on a hill), Jesus abruptly shifts gears. He begins to transition into His main point: He is not just a prophet, He is greater than the greatest prophet YHWH had ever raised up. Here’s how He is compared in Hebrews 3:5-6 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s household, as a testimony to what would be said in the future. But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household. And we are that household if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope. To be that household mean we are sons. Paul tells us we are no longer servants but sons of God; and since we are sons, we are heirs (Gal 4:7). What a contrast! Moses is described as faithful servant; Jesus is termed the faithful Son over the household of God. And we are sons of God through faith in Christ. This is the hinge-point of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus unveiling Himself to pious Jews who desired to see the Messiah.

Matthew 5:17-20 (HCSB) “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Is the gospel an offer?

Is the gospel an offer?

 

First, what is an offer? From Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

OF’FER, verb transitive [Latin offero; ob and fero, to bring.]

  1. Literally, to bring to or before; hence, to present for acceptance or rejection; to exhibit something that may be taken or received or not. He offered me a sum of money. He offered me his umbrella to defend me from the rain.

 

Does that sound like what the Bible describes as the gospel, something He offers up to be accepted or rejected?

 

After condemning the Pharisees with the parable of the tenants, Jesus tells them, (Matthew 21:43) Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. The kingdom of God will be TAKEN from national Israel and GIVEN to spiritual Israel; God takes from one and gives to another.

Many people who claim the gospel is an offer turn to any of several places where God calls people to come to Him. In the first place, the English word, come, is an imperative – a command. When a mother tells her toddler “come here,” she is not inviting him, she’s not offering him the option; she’s commanding him. When the queen of England bids an entertainer to sing for her, everybody calls it a “command performance” because the queen issued the “invitation.” So many who call God sovereign posit Him as someone who offers and invites His creatures to come into His kingdom – as if He were less than the queen of England, less than a mother of small children.

How much more greater and grander and beyond our ability to comprehend is the Creator and Judge of all flesh? When the Lord of glory tells His chosen ones, “Come!” it is, as everyone who embraces the doctrines of grace knows, an irresistible call.  When you and I preach the gospel, we try to persuade men – the general call we give (not knowing who the elect are) can be resisted or accepted. Yet our words, our persuasive speech is not what saves anyone. The Spirit of God moves as does the wind – no man controls nor is able to know for sure where He goes. And He gives life to that which was dead, and those called by God to come are no more able to say no than Lazarus was, being 4 days dead in the tomb. Jesus did not invite Lazarus to come forth, didn’t offer him another few years in the flesh. He commanded Lazarus to come forth; and Lazarus did so.

Preach the gospel to every creature, we are told. Nothing about offering the kingdom to anyone. Nothing about inviting them – compel them to come, the master of the wedding feast said. How do we compel people to come to Christ? By being faithful with our proclamation of His gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation for those who are being saved. He compels His chosen ones to come to the wedding feast.

Throughout Acts, we read of the kingdom being preached and proclaimed, not one instance of the kingdom being offered. We read in Revelation that God has made us a kingdom of priest unto Him.  Of 158 occurrences of “kingdom” in the HCSB new testament, not one of them can be portrayed as being offered to anyone.

A similar survey of “gospel” shows us the same results. Of 78 occurrences, we see much about proclaiming and preaching and announcing the gospel. People hear the gospel; the gospel is confessed and presented and it is preserved. The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing (2 Cor 4:3). The gospel is established and advanced. People are called by God through the gospel. No occurrence of the gospel being offered.

Why does this matter?

If the gospel and the kingdom are offered to sinners, God is put in the position of “the anxious seller,” hoping people will accept Him. The Bible does not give any hint of God in this light. He commands the clouds where to go and drop rain, He gives life to that which was dead, He calls into existence things that do not exist.

While none of us is able to describe God comprehensively, each of us who name Christ as Lord should seek to never reduce Him in any of His attributes. God speaks and His sheep hear His voice. He needs not offer His kingdom to anyone – He gives it to whom He pleases.

Uniquely Holy

Before the Throne

A review by Stuart Brogden

The subtitle of this book is Reflections on God’s Holiness. Allen Nelson takes us a quick-paced tour of different aspects of God’s holiness, grounded in two passages from God’s Word: Isaiah 6:1-7 and Revelation 4:5-11. One recurring theme is the remedy for what ails the saints and their local fellowships is found in the proper view of the Lord Jesus, not in “new methods” that fleshly ears and eyes always demand. The bottom line is that satisfaction for the soul of man can only be had on the person of Christ Jesus, not in entertainment with a wrapping of pious words from a speaker who presents Creator and Judge of all flesh as familiar spirit that only wants to make people feel good.

God is holy – He does not merely behave holy. His holiness – being set apart from creation, being complete and perfect in His being – defines Him. Twelve chapters explore God’s undoubtable, unspeakable, untamable, unchanging, unapproachable  – and more! – holiness. Our author labors to help us see God as He is: glorious, pure, complete, just, joyful, compassionate, and AWESOME.

Reader – if you are a believer bored or disaffected with your Savior, you are a self-contradiction! Nobody who even partially comprehends Who saves sinners and what sin is cannot be bored or disaffected with the One Who took the cup of wrath due us. Nelson’s book is a ready remedy for dull eyes, weary ears, sullen souls; our author bids us to see Christ more clearly, to behold His glory and be joyfully satisfied in Him.

In the opening chapter, Allen impresses upon us the importance of knowing God rightly, telling us, “When we fail to take seriously the holiness of God it affects everything in our lives. God is holy. Theology matters.” (page 21) Building on the words of Peter, who tells us in 2 Peter 3:18 to be growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, Nelson reminds us “We are still growing in our knowledge of who He is and we will do so for eternity.” He goes on to say, “I want you to hunger to know God better than you do now.” And, “We can’t understand God in an absolute way (He is infinite and we are finite). However, we can (and must) learn what He tells us about Himself in His Holy Bible.” (page 26). This idea is critical for everyone who names the name of Christ – satisfied with being in Him, never satisfied with our maturity as saints.

How should the holiness of God affect us? Our author has this: “The overwhelming concept of God’s holiness ought to lay a heavy weight on our souls. If you can meditate upon the unfathomable holiness of God without any occasions of fear and trembling in your core being, perhaps you’ve not understood it sufficiently.” (page 42). Recall the message from 2 Peter 3:18, and what he said in 2 Peter 1:12, that he intended to always remind us of what it means to be in Christ. Allen is a good friend, reminding us of something critical to our maturing in the Lord, pressing God’s truth upon us so that the reader will not easily be able to be self-satisfied. Contemplating on the response of Isaiah to seeing a vision of God’s holiness in chapter 6 of that gospel, Nelson observes, “The gospel changes “woe is me” to “worthy are You” because the penalty for transgressing God’s Holy Law has been atoned for in Christ. … Reflecting on God’s untamable holiness should ultimately drive us to Christ.” (pages 60 & 61) In a footnote on page 61 he says, “We can either distance ourselves from God through Moses, or draw near to God through Christ.” Works of the law take many forms, most of which are not directly connected to Moses or the law given through him to national Israel. The only way for a sinner to be reconciled to holy God is, as Allen quoted, to “draw near [to God through Christ] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)

In chapter 5, Nelson explores how this characteristic of God ought to inform and shape our corporate worship. This is one of my favorite parts of this excellent work. While we should be thankful for skilled musicians and singers (being careful, in my opinion, that they do not overwhelm the congregation), Nelson implores us “to listen to an important truth from the passages we’ve seen above [in this section] about facilitating worship: get out of the way.” He bids us to be intentional “in singing hymns that glorify Him instead of focusing on our own experience. We must gear all facets of our singing – words, style, arrangement and content – toward magnifying the unmatchable holiness of God. Holy, holy, holy.” (page 89) Elders should oversee the musical portion of worship as well as the preaching – the people will benefit when the songs are theologically aligned with the sermon.

As for the preaching, Nelson says, “Show me the Holy, and He will suffice. Show me His worthiness in His Word. Show me how His holiness permeates the universe and is glorious enough to exact unceasing praise from all creation. You are not a match for the holiness of God. It’s wicked and foolish to attempt to be. Step out of the way by pointing us to a Holy God and the work of Christ.”(page 92) Application of a passage has its place – and it’s important. But application without the glorious weight of the holiness of God in Christ being held up is a way to legalism. “The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if the surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.” (page 94, quoting John Piper)

Beholding the Lord in spirit and truth (only spiritual being can see Him as He is) transforms us. “We become like what we behold. Let us then behold the Lord and not you.” (page 95, speaking to the preacher). “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This is the drumbeat of this book: study to know Him; be bold in proclaiming Him; trust Him; exalt Him; hide behind Him. For YHWH alone is holy, all powerful, self-existent, and worthy of all praise, honor, and dominion. Whether in your personal walk, evangelism, or ministry in the local fellowship – Jesus is sufficient and nothing else will do.

Pick up this book and read. It will do your soul much good.