The Radical Gospel of Grace

Currently I am preaching through the book of Galatians.  Below is the transcript of the sermon I preached this last Sunday on Galatians 1:13-16.  The transcript is probably 95% accurate.  It’s what I bring up on stage with me.  The actual conclusion is different then what is written below.   If you would rather listen to the sermon, click here.

The Radical Gospel of Grace

We can boldly share the gospel knowing that God’s grace is so rich and powerful that it saves all who are called by it.

Galatians 1:13-16

3-5-17

  1. Introduction:John Paton (illustration primarily comes from John Piper’s book: Filling up the Afflictions of Christ.)
  2. 1606 eighty islands in south pacific were discovered.
  3. In 1773 the Islands were explored by Captain James cook and named New Hebrides (because they were similar to the Hebrides Islands of the NW coast of Scotland.
  4. The chain of islands is 450 miles long.
  5. If you draw a line from Honolulu to Sydney Australia it will cut through Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu.
  6. Today the population is 215,000
  7. John Williams and John Harris came as missionaries in 1839 to these islands.  They were killed and eaten within minutes of landing on on the island.
  8. In 1842 another team of missionaries arrived and were driven away in 7 months.
  9. John Paton at age 33, on November 5th, went with his wife from Scotland to the Island of Tanna.
  10. John Paton, before leaving, had led a very fruitful ministry in Glasgow where he helped those of lower-income with great success.  Many in fact tried to discourage him because his ministry was so successful.  But he was determined.
  11. One, Mr. Dickson was especially against John.  This is how He replied to him,
    1. Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will raise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” (58, Piper)
  12. In March the next year his wife and newborn son died of the fever.
  13. He served on the island for another 4 years under constant danger until he was driven off the island in 1862.
  14. He married again and in 1864 took his new wife Margaret to an island called Aniwa on Nov. 1866.
  15. This is how he described the people,
    1. The native people were cannibals and occasionally ate the flesh of their defeated foes.  They practiced infanticide and widow sacrifice, killing the widows of deceased men so they could serve their husbands in the next world.
  16. For the next 15 years John learned the language, built orphanages and loved on the people in Aniwa.  And the end of his ministry he saw the entire island come to faith in Christ.
  17. John Paton had left certainty for uncertainty.  He was leaving a place where he had been very successful to go to a place in which he might fail to be useful.
  18. What causes a man to leave all that he has and risk the life of his family to go live with cannibals? What causes a man to leave a successful ministry where he is respected to be with a people who would like to kill him. Today we are going to see the answer.  And the answer is the radical grace of God.

Read Galatians 1:13-16

  1. Life Outside of Christ
    1. Description of Paul
    2. In verses 13-14 we are given a description of Paul before he came to faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul hated the church.  He persecuted the church violently.  The word violent means “extremely more than necessary.”  Paul savagely attacked Christians.  In Acts we read that he arrested men, women, and children.  Paul was like a bull that had red in his eyes.  He didn’t just want to cripple Christianity, but he wanted to destroy it, he wanted to kill and bury every christian.  And there was none more zealous than he.  In verse 14 he said he was advancing beyond all those who were his age.
    3. In 1 Tim 1:13 when Paul looks back on his unsaved self he said he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.
    4. Here’s the point: Paul hated Christianity.  There is no arguing him into heaven.  He will not be reasoned with. He’s the one that if you bring up Jesus he will begin railing on how dumb you are for holding to such pathetic beliefs. Paul’s heart is like granite, it is impenetrable to Christianity.  Not even a wrecking ball could dent his determination to persecute the church and put an end to faith in Jesus.
    5. Transition: What we have here is a picture of Paul’s spiritual condition.  And guess what?  It’s a picture of yours and and mine also.  We might not have been as fanatical as Paul or as outwardly rebellious as Paul but the Bible says our hearts were just as hard and dead as Paul’s
  2. Description of Humanity
    1. Jeremiah 17:9
      1. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it
    2. Romans 8:7–8 
      1. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
    3. Ephesians 2:1–3 
      1. And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
    4. 1 Corinthians 2:14 
      1. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
    5. Here’s the point: we are all born rebellious.  We are all born determined to to hate Christ.  We are all born resistant to the grace of God.  No one can be argued into heaven.  If salvation is up to you and me then we are without hope.  If salvation is tied to yours and my ability to convince people of the gospel then we have no greater chance in saving people as we do going to the cemetery down the street and calling people to come out of their coffins.  We can yank and pull and drag people into the church to hear the gospel, but we have no power to save.
    6. So if we have no ability to save our selves or others, then what hope do we have?  How was it that Paul was saved?  How was it that John Paton saw an island full of cannibals transformed into believers of Jesus Christ?
    7. It’s grace.  All grace.  In Galatians 1:4 Paul said, Jesus came to “deliver us from the present evil age.”  Paul, the New Hebrides, you, me, we’re all saved by grace.  And that’s what we are going to look at verses 15-16.
  3. Saved to be in Christ
    1. Description of salvation.
      1. As we look at these verses notice how the pronouns change.  In verses 13-14 the primary pronoun is “i”, referring to Paul.  But in verses 15-16 the pronouns have changed to “He” and “His” referring to God.  Salvation is an act of God’s grace, for only God has the power to save. So while Paul described his sinful life from his point of view, we are now going to view His salvation from God’s view.
      2. Grace Chooses.
        1. First thing we see is that God has “set apart” Paul before he was even born.  To be “set apart” means to mark.  Paul says something very similar in Ephesians 1:4, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”
        2. God’s plan of salvation reaches back before creation. God has chosen those whom will be saved. To some that might sound strange. But omniscience and sovereignty are meant to comfort us not frighten us.  In Psalm 139:15-16 we are told,
          1. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
        3. There is nothing that our God does not know.  He knows us before we were born.  He planned our days.  And He determined in the depths of time those who would be saved.  Here’s a text from Jeremiah 1:5, notice the role of God
          1. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
          2. God chose in the depths of time to create Jeremiah for the purpose of sending him to the nations as a prophet.
        4. Look at how 2 Timothy 1:9 describes our salvation:
          1. who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
        5. Paul says we have been shown grace in Christ before the ages began.
        6. I know these texts raise many questions, but the purpose of them is to draw our eyes to the majesty of the God who saves.  We have a God who is unlike man, powerful, all-knowing, Creator of all things, and He is the one who saves. And He marks us before we are born, before we have done any works, so that we would know that in no way have we earned our salvation but that it solely comes from God’s grace.
      3. Grace Calls
        1. The word “called” means to summon.  And what we see is that all who are marked by God are called to be saved. This summoning is not like a King sending his soldiers to trap and arrest an individual forcing them to come to him.  Nor is like when one of my kids tells the other, “dad’s calling you and in you’re in trouble.”  For when the child comes in that way they do so out reluctance, not joy.
        2. To be called by God is to be made new, meaning we have been given a new heart with a new mind with new desires that now long to run to God, to please God, to obey God and worship Him.
        3. When God calls us, we go from death to life.  Just as when God spoke creation out of nothing in Genesis, so when He calls us, He speaks life into our dead hard hearts.  Wrecking balls cannot dent our heart but God’s grace melts and makes them new. This is how Paul describes our salvation in Ephesians 2:5
          1. even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved
        4. It’s the grace of God that saved Paul, and the grace of God gave you life.
        5. Now this coming to life, this salvation looks different in every person.  Just as every snowflake is unique, so also is every salvation.
        6. Stephen Smallman said that the new birth we experience in Jesus is like the whole gestation process of a pregnancy.  The labor pains of some people are long and pronounced, possibly lasting for years.  Others, the gestation period is short.  What this means is that some people hear the gospel for a long time and wrestle with it over months or years before finally trusting in Christ.  Others, like Paul seem to have a dramatic experience in which they quickly come to faith in Christ.  Some people easily point to the time they know they were saved.  For others it’s hazy because it appears to have happened over a period of time.
        7. John Paton said this, “Truly there is only one way of regeneration, being born again by the power of the Spirit of God, the new heart; but there are many ways of conversion, of outwardly turning to the Lord, of taking the actual first step that shows on whose side we are.  Regeneration is the sole work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart and soul, and is in every case one and the same.  Conversion, on the other hand, brining into play the action also of the human will, is never absolutely the same perhaps in even two souls–as like and yet as different as are the face of men.” (pg.214-215, What about Free Will).
        8. Let’s just step back from a moment and make sure we understand the point.  All whom God calls are saved and experience new life.  Some come quickly and some slowly but they all come.
        9. It’s this truth that gives us confidence to share the gospel with others. You see you are not responsible to save, that’s God’s job. And we need not lose hope or be discouraged when some seem resistant or even violent. For God changes some quickly and some slowly. But all whom God calls are saved.
        10. It’s this truth that has caused men and women for centuries to leave their comfortable lives to share the gospel in other parts of the world knowing that God will save. It’s this truth that frees us to share the gospel with our professing atheist friends knowing that God’s radical grace can melt their hearts.
        11.   It’s this truth that gives us such great confidence that as we share the gospel, there will be people saved.  And it’s this truth that comforts us when we mess up. Have you ever walked away from a gospel presentation thinking, “I should have said this”. Remember it’s God who saves. He perfectly uses our imperfections as a means to saving others.
        12. Know this, there is no one who can resist the call of God.  We all know those people who appear to be running from the gospel at full speed.  You mention Christ and they start sprinting.  If salvation was left to us, there would be no hope for them. But because of this radical grace that we have in the gospel, we confidently pursue them, praying for them, loving them, knowing that God’s grace can make their hearts new.
        13. It’s this radical grace that saved Paul when he was bent on not being saved.
        14. It’s this radical grace that propelled John Paton to leave Glasgow to go live with cannibals.  It’s this grace that sustained him as he lost his wife and son.  It’s this grace that compelled him to return to the islands with his new wife and preach the gospel for 15 years until the entire island came to know Jesus.  John Paton was not trusting in his efforts but He was trusting in the radical grace of God.
    2. Grace Delights
      1. In verse 16 we see that God was pleased to reveal His Son to Paul. God loves to shine His grace in the darkness of hearts that we would see Him and love Him.  Know this, God takes great delight in your salvation.
      2. Just as we don’t come kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of God, neither does God kick and scream as He saves us.  You see, He doesn’t save us because He owes and or is in debt to us.  He simply saves us out of delight.  This is grace: God freely saving us out His good pleasure.
      3. And God so delights in showing us grace that he doesn’t stop once we are saved. Ephesians 2:7 says,
        1. so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
      4. God will never cease to pour His rich abundant grace upon you.  When a million years of being with God has passed, His bucket of grace will not be any closer to running out than when He began.  God’s grace never ceases.
      5. If you are here today as believer in Jesus Christ, then know that God takes great delight in your salvation.  You are a work of God’s grace.
    3. Grace Purposes
      1. And lastly we see that those whom God saves He does so for a purpose.  God saved Paul so that He would take the gospel to the Gentiles.  God reveals His Son to us so that we would be saved and be used to reveal His Son to others.
      2. Ephesians 2:10 says,
        1. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
        2. The grace that saves you is the grace that is working in you right now that you would be used by God. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Esther Job, Ruth, Boaz, Solomon, Paul, Peter, John, Andrew, James, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Priscilla, Aquilla all of these and every believer have been called for a purpose.
        3. You have been raised from the dead, given new life in Christ, the Spirit now dwells in you right now that you would be used as an instrument of God for His glory.  You might be feel unqualified or insufficient.  But let me encourage you, the same grace that was sufficient to bring life into your soul will equip you for every good work God calls you into.  Because of God’s grace, Paul who once hated Gentiles is now devoted to sharing the gospel with them.
      3. Illustration: One time John Paton was surrounded by raging natives acting as though they might kill him.  This is what he said,
        1. My heart rose up to the Lord Jesus; I saw Him watching all the scene.  My peace came back to me like a wave from God.  I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done.  The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth.” (75, Piper)
      4. You, right now by God’s grace share in the very divine nature of God.  You are a missionary and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. And you are in the words of John Paton, “immortal” until God calls you home.  God determined to save you and He is determined to use you.  You are called to demonstrate the love of Christ and to share the good news of grace of Christ.
      5. That might mean you pack your bags like John Paton, leaving all that you have in order to go share the gospel with unbelievers.
      6. It might mean you are a Father and husband who regularly shepherds his family on how to love God.
      7. It might mean you are a single working mom relying upon God’s grace to take care of your family and to show your children the joy that God gives.
      8. It might mean you are retired and able to volunteer in your neighborhood or here with the church regularly showing others the love of God.
      9. It might mean you take your coworkers to coffee that you would share the gospel and begin doing a bible study with them.
      10. It might mean you share the gospel at work risking your job for the sake of another’s salvation.
      11. It might mean you go to school boldly sharing the gospel with your friends which results in you being and labeled the christian kid.
      12. It might mean you are a wife and mother showing the tender mercies of God to your children as your serve them and show them the beauty of submitting to your husband.
      13. Bottom line: God’s saved you by grace so that by grace you would be used by Him.
  4. Conclusion:
    1. Our mission at Timberline and really the mission of every church is to make disciples who make disciples. And we can do it. But not because of our strength or how persuasive we are.  We can make disciples because we are armed with the the radical grace of God. The gospel of grace can melt the most brazen of hearts, it can move the most resistant of wills.
    2. Let us leave her today prepared to share the gospel with our neighbors, with our co-workers, with family members. And let’s be praying that we would be willing to leave the comforts of our home at any moment to move and share the gospel with other people groups.
    3. And let us never forget, we have a God who loves to reveal His radical grace. And all who are called by God are saved.
    4. Pray for unbelievers. 

Faith – Evidence – Reward

 

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In Matthew 25:31-46, we read that when Jesus returns He will gather all the nations before Him.  He will then divide everyone into two groups (v.32).  He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.  Now what makes someone a sheep or a goat?

The sheep are those who have believed in Jesus Christ.  They are the ones who follow Jesus and know His voice (John 10:4).  The goats are consequently those who do not follow Jesus and have rejected him.

The parable Jesus gives us in Matthew 25 is meant to give assurance to those who have believed in Jesus and conviction for those who have not.  Jesus is explaining who will inherit the kingdom of God and who will not.  And He is going to do this by giving an example of what it looks like to have faith in Jesus.

Matthew 25:35–40 (ESV)

35 For I was hungy and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

What is the evidence of the sheep’s faith?  They took care of the “the least of these” (v.40). They fed them and clothed and took care of them and visited them when they were in prison.  Now who are the “least of these”?  Is this anyone?  Is this anyone who is poor and experiencing troubles and suffering?

Now many people have interpreted this passage to mean that Jesus is saying the church is to care for all who are poor and needy.  And while we may be able to use other verses in the Bible to show how the church is care for all who are poor, this verse is not one of them.   The “least of these” refers not to all who are needy but particularly to Christians who are in need.

Let me give two reasons why we should understand “the least of these” to refer to Christians.

  1. Verses 40 and 45 both refer to the “least of these” but verse 40 adds the words “my brothers.”  It is highly unlikely that Jesus is referring to two different groups in these verses.  Therefore, whoever the brothers are in verse 40, must also be the ones referred to in verse 45.  The word “brother” in the New Testament is used to refer to either blood relatives or to fellow believers.  And surely Jesus is not calling everyone to care for His immediate family for that would be highly restrictive, therefore we must understand that he is referring to the church.  (see also Mark 3:35)
  2. Kevin deYoung in his book, What is the Mission of the Church writes, “the word “least” is the superlative form of mikroi (little ones), which always refers to the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel (10:42; 18:6,10,14, see also 11:11).

So Jesus is saying that the sheep (those on His right) have given evidence to their faith by taking care of Christians who are in need.

In contrast, the goats (those on His left) have not loved “the least of these” which proves they do not have faith in Jesus.

Now let me give a word of clarification.  We do not love those who are needy in the church in order to earn our salvation.  Rather, the evidence of our salvation, is that we love the body of Christ, especially those who are in need.

And what is the reward?

Verse 34 says, we “inherit the kingdom” that God has prepared for us before the foundation of the world.  We will live eternally with God and His Son Jesus in the new heavens and new earth.  Those who have true faith in Jesus (which is evidenced in how we love the church) are rewarded with eternal life.

But what about the goats?  What happens to them?

Matthew 25:41 (ESV)

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Because they have rejected Jesus which is evidenced by the fact they do not love the body of Jesus, they will forever experience the wrath of God with the devil and his angels.

Here we come to a very sobering reality.  One cannot say they follow Jesus and yet not live like Jesus.  To follow Jesus is to be conformed into His image and be empowered by His Spirit that we would love those whom Jesus loves.

Kevin deYoung writes, “What Jesus says is this: if we are too embarrassed, too lazy, or too cowardly to support fellow Christians at our doorstep who depend on our assistance and are suffering for the sake of the gospel, we will go to hell” (165).

 

Trusting in God’s Promises

In Genesis 12, God speaks to Abram and promises to make him a great nation, to give him land, bless him, and curse those who curse him.  This is incredible.  All of mankind has rebelled against God but God in His rich grace reveals Himself and enters into a relationship with Abram.  God is creating a people for Himself and He does so solely based upon His grace.

So what does Abram do?  He believes God and packs up all that he has and takes his wife and his nephew Lot and they begin journeying to the land that God will provide.

But it is not long into the journey when Abram’s faith if challenged.  In 12:10 we read that  because of a famine they go to Egypt. And as they enter into Egypt, Abram tells his wife,

“I know that you are  woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.  Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”

At this moment, Abram’s faith in God’s promises is being challenged.  And rather than trust that God will keep His promise, Abram trusts in himself and tries to scheme a way to survive.  When reading this chapter, it easy for us in the comfort of our couches and lazy boys to ridicule Abram’s lack of faith.  We think how silly it is for him to not trust in God, and we might even think, “I would never do that.”  And while we may never ask our wives to pretend to be our sister, it is true that we often struggle to live by faith and trust in God’s promises.

When money is low, when time is short, or when suffering and pain are high, it’s easy to to stop trusting in promises like Romans 8:28,

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…”

But this is why God has given us the Bible.  He has given us 66 books that speak of His character, His glory, His steadfastness, His righteousness, His grace and mercy, and so much more. God’s word proves to us with every turn of the page that He keeps His promises.  And the ultimate proof is that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross when we were His enemies so that by His grace and mercy we would be saved and forever experience His eternal riches in Jesus Christ.  Because God sent His Son to die, we know that He will never withhold grace from those who have believed in Him.  That is the point of Romans 8:32,

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Our sin will always try to cause us to doubt God’s promises.  Our sin will always try to convince us to trust in ourselves rather than God. But just because our sin will try to attack us does not mean we need to fall prey to it.  Romans 6:11 (ESV) says,

11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

By the grace of God we are now alive in Christ Jesus.   We are no longer a slave to sin.  We are now in-dwelt by the Spirit of God who is transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.  And it is through the Word of God that the Spirit is growing us in our love and knowledge and devotion to God.  Let us read and study God’s Word knowing that the Spirit is strengthening us in our faith so that we would trust in God’s promises and not ourselves.

 

Habits of Grace

David Mathis from Desiring God has wrote a great article on the need to develop Habits of grace.  Below is an excerpt

New Year’s resolutions can be an important first step, but they are a far cry from real, lasting change.

The ringing in of a new year brings with it the possibility of a fresh start, or at least a fresh reminder to turn the page on some (or many) ways we’d like to grow and mature in the next season of life. But haven’t we all tried this enough times by now to know how futile mere resolves are if not accompanied by more?

Whether it’s eating and exercise, or Bible-reading and prayer, the God-created mechanism we call “habit” is vital for seeing our earnest resolutions through to enjoyable realities. If we really are resolved to see our hopes for 2017 become life-enriching habits, we will do well to keep several basic truths in mind at the outset of a new year.

Check out the rest of his article here

Biblical Womanhood

This last Sunday we preached on Biblical Womanhood (1 Timothy 2:8-15).  This sermon was part of a larger series titled, Shepherds of the Flock, in which we have been examining the role of elders.  Inevitably, when talking about elders, the question arises, “Can women be elders”?  And if not, why?

Feel free to listen to that sermon here.

If you are interested in growing in your knowledge of Biblical manhood and womanhood below are 3 PDF books that have been written on this topic.

First Resource is: 50 Questions: An Overview of Central Concerns about Manhood and Womanhood.

This is a rather short and easy read in which you can jump from question to question. This is a great place to start.

Second Resource is: Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood.

This is a fabulous resource written by many different authors.   This book will definitely give you a good understanding of the importance of this topic in todays culture.

Third Resource is: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  

This is a much larger book than the previous two.  This book is written by many different authors, broken up into 5 sections, and is 26 chapters long.  In this book, you will gain a very thorough understanding of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and see why this is such an important topic today.  This book will also take key texts and given detailed explanations of them so that you will clearly understand the teaching of God’s Word.  I highly recommend this book.

The Church of Philadelphia

pillar photo

Revelation 3:7-13

Church of Philadelphia

This letter begins by describing Jesus as, “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (v.7).  This description is different from the other descriptions used in the other six letters.  The other letters use very specific quotes from the description of Jesus in chapter one.  But the description found here in 3:8 only alludes to 1:18.  In chapter one, Jesus has the keys of Death and Hades meaning that Jesus has absolute authority over death. Here in chapter three, Jesus has the key of David.  Why the change?  What does it mean that Jesus has the key of David?

The description of Jesus in 3:8 is actually a quotation from Isaiah 22:22, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David.  He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”

In Isaiah 22 we read that God is going to bring destruction on His people for their faithlessness.  In verses 15-19 we read about a horrible leader named Shebna.  Shebna is an indidvual who represents the national wickedness of Israel.  While he thinks he is someone big and mighty, God will roll him up like a ball and toss him far into a field. (22:18).  Next we see a man named Eliakim.  Elikaim is a good leader who trusts in God. He is given the Key of David.  He has the power and authority to care for God’s people and lead them in righteousness.

So what is the point?  In 1:18, the point is that Jesus has the authority of death.  In 3:8 the point is that Jesus comes as the far greater Eliakim.  He comes with all the authority over the the Kingdom of God.  Eliakim was a good leader but at the end of Isaiah 22, we see that even he fell short.   Jesus comes as the perfect leader of His people and has all authority over those in His Kingdom.  So when we put both verses together we see that Jesus has authority over all people, those who are within the Kingdom of God and those who are not.

Why is this important here in this letter?  Because the church of Philadelphia is said to have “littler power.”  But they are not weak because they are faithless, in fact, Jesus says they have kept His word and not denied His name.  What does it mean they have little power?  Perhaps it means they are small in number, perhaps they feel powerless because of the prolonged persecution they have endured from the Jewish population.  Perhaps the Jews continually say this church is not the real people of God, perhaps they are trying to have this church circumcised and follow Jewish traditions that have been fulfilled by Jesus.

Regardless why they feel weak, Jesus is with them.  Jesus is promising them, that while they might feel weak they are strong.  Jesus’ presence is with this struggling church lifting their eyes to behold His might and strength in them.

On a side note, I find it interesting that the church of Philadelphia and Smyrna are the only churches not to be rebuked.  They are both experiencing severe persecution by a common party, the Jews.  In both letters the Jews are said to be the synagogue of Satan (2:9,3:9).

Jesus promises this church several things that will help them continue to persevere in their faith.

First, Jesus promises that many of the persecuting Jews will come and bow down at their feet and they will learn that Jesus has loved the church.  So what does this mean?  As John has already quoted from Isaiah, it seems natural that he will continue to pull many thoughts from this prophetic book.  In Isaiah 60:14 we read a promise that God makes to His people, “the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”  It appears that Jesus is saying, “while you might feel powerless, I am going to use you to save some of the very Jews who are persecuting you that they will come and bow down and worship Me.”  So here jesus is promising that the persecutor will join the persecuted in worshipping God.

Secondly, Jesus promises  that He will protect this church from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world?  What is the hour of trial? Some have said this must refer to the Jesus’ second coming?  But if this was the case then it seems like an interesting promise if Jesus was not planning on returning for at least 2000 years later. Therefore that does not appear to be a good answer.  So what do we know about this hour of trial?  We know this trial will be brief.  It will target those who dwell on the earth (in Revelation the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” always refers to those who do not believe in Jesus).  And lastly, this hour of trial will not come upon the church.  Johnson in his commentary wrote, “God promises to protect his church not from suffering but from apostasy, we should not assume that Jesus will keep believers from this trial by removing them from the scene or shielding them from pain.  Jesus has prayed, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  Whatever the hour of trial entails, Christ’s people know that no one can snatch us from the almighty hands of Jesus and His Father (John 10:28-29) and that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:39)” (Johnson, 89).

And the last promise Jesus gives is that the one who continues to persevere in Jesus “will make him a pillar in the temple of my God” and He will write the name of God, the city of God, and His own name on them.  To have the name of God on you is to be counted His.  Here Jesus is promising this weak church absolute security in the Kingdom of God forever.

I cannot help but think of how many Christian brothers and sisters around the world feel weak.  They feel as though the world is pressing in on them and they might be destroyed at any moment.  How beautiful this letter is, promising that our King Jesus will strengthen us and protect us.  And even if we die, we will not be separated from His Kingdom for His very name is upon our foreheads guaranteeing our security in the Kingdom of God.

Photo by CJS*64 “Man with a camera”

The Church of Sardis

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The Church of Sardis

The message of this letter ought to send chills down our back. Jesus says in verse 1, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”  This church appears alive but Jesus says it is actually dead.  This reminds me of the movie, Weekend at Bernies.  Bernie was dead but those with him dressed him and moved him around so it appeared that he was alive.  So how does a church appear alive but actually be dead?

In the present day, this would probably be a church that has a lot of programs and activities.  They are busy, their doors are always open and their parking lots are always full.  They have softball teams, feeding the homeless programs, Bible studies morning and night, children’s programs, mens groups, women’s groups, possibly several Sunday services, visitation programs, lots of committees, many board meetings etc…  Now here’s the danger, lots of activity does not equate to positive spiritual health.  Perhaps people are involved in the church because it is socially acceptable, because they want to appear good, or perhaps they think by their works they are earning their way into heaven (or at least a more desirous position before Jesus).  Now don’t get me wrong, we are to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).  The church is to be a busy people.  But, are busyness must not come from a heart that wants to be made right before God, but from a heart that has been made right before God.  We do not work for our salvation but from our salvation.

This letter ought to cause us all to pause and ask the questions, “why I am doing what I am dong?”  “Am I doing it for the glory of God or for some other reason?”

In this letter, Jesus is described as having the 7 spirits of God and the 7 stars.  Remember the 7 Spirits represent the Holy Spirit (1:4) and the 7 stars represent the angels of the 7 churches (1:20, angels are heavenly beings that also represent the church).  So what does this mean?  It means, Jesus knows exactly what is happening in His church.  It is His Spirit that is being quenched and neglected.  Jesus is not making a mistake when He calls this church dead.  And we should not think that we can fool Jesus into thinking we are alive if in fact we are dead.

So what does Jesus call this church to do?  Jesus gives this church several commands, “wake up…strengthen…remember…repent.”  This church is to remember the grace they received in Jesus and begin living for Jesus.  They are to repent of their “soiled garments” and begin live pure and faithful lives to Jesus.  But, if they do not repent, then Jesus will come like a thief in the night and come against this church.  Once again, we are reminded that Jesus is not some cute painting we place over our mantles.  Jesus is the lover of His church and if HIs church is unfaithful, He will come against it.

Interestingly we are not told what exactly has plagued Sardis.  We don’t know exactly where or how they began to slip into this spiritual slumbering death.  And perhaps that is good for us.  It prevents us from thinking that spiritual death only comes in one shape.

In verse 4 we see that not all those in Sardis have soiled their garments.  Some have remained faithful and have not compromised their faith.  Isn’t this good news? Jesus knows exactly who truly believes in Him and are living faithfully.  The sinfulness of the the church in Sardis has not skewed Jesus’ vision so that He sees nothing good.  He perfectly sees and knows those who follow Him.  Be encouraged, you might be living in the place that Satan dwells (2:13) but Jesus sees you and loves you.

So what it is the hope that Jesus gives this church if they repent?

He promises to clothe those who conquer in white garments and He will never blot their names from the book of life. He will also confess their names before His Father and the angels.  Jesus promises ETERNAL LIFE with Him.  Jesus says, you look dead right now, but if you repent, you will enjoy eternal life with Me.  Jesus says, I will make you clean with pure white wedding garments (19:8).  Death does not have to be the final verdict of this church.  They can experience eternal life with their King through repentance and faith in Him.

I hope you are encouraged by this letter.  Be encouraged, no matter what condition your church is in right now, there is always hope.  Pray for your church, pray for your leadership, pray for your church to practice regular repentance and to faithfully live for Jesus, our King.

The Church of Thyatira

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Church of Thyatira

Sin will always justify itself.  It will always find reasons to satisfy its desires and lusts. Sin will try to convince us that it is okay to look at porn, commit adultery, cheat on our taxes, and lie so others will think better of us.  And sin will alway promise that we will not get caught.

But here in our fourth letter we see that sin is not secretive.  In verse 18 we read, “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”  What does this image mean?  This vision is very similar to the one we read about in Daniel 10:6.  There Daniel sees a man with eyes like flaming torches and legs that gleam of burnished bronze who will bring judgment on the pagan nations.  Is this a Christophany?  Perhaps.  Here in Revelation, Jesus is described in the same way as in Daniel and we see that He is going to bring judgment on those who live in rebelliousness.  The fact that Jesus has eyes like flames of fire ought to tell us that He does see all things and His legs of burnished bronze are ready for trampling those who do not repent.  Furthermore we see in verse 23 that Jesus searches minds and hearts and will give to each of us according to our works.  In verse 19, Jesus commends this church.  He says that He knows their works, love, faith, service and perseverance.  He has seen that their works have continued to increase and are greater than when they first began.  I love this.  Jesus sees us.  Jesus is not absent from the church but He perfectly knows the church.  He sees all that we do.  He truly is the perfect groom.

Now in verse 19 we move into the rebuke.  Evidently this church has tolerated the teachings of the woman Jezebel.  Now I don’t think there was an actual woman named Jezebel in the church, but this woman represents the O.T. woman named Jezebel.  In the O.T. Jezebel led people into idolatry (worshipping the false god, Baal) and committing acts of sexual immorality.  In verse 24 we see that her teachings were most likely promising a knowledge known has the “deep things.”  But these deep things were not from God but from Satan.  This is a common practice of false teachers.  False teachers can be very persuasive because they appear to know something we do not know.  But we must be wise and see that this knowledge does not come from God and His Word but often thought experiential and mystical means.

So what is going to happen?  Verse 21 says that Jezebel has had time to repent but has refused, therefore she will be thrown “onto a sickbed.”  And if those who have followed her do not repent they will be thrown “into great tribulation.”  In verse 23 we see the end result of those who refuse to repent, they will be killed.

Why will Jesus bring such severe judgment on this church?  In verse 23 we read, “And all the churches will know that I am He who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”  This church thought that being loving meant being tolerant of all lifestyles and teachings.  But Jesus shows us that real love is not measured by tolerance but by holy obedience.  Jesus will rain down judgment on the unrepentant in this church as an example for other churches.  Jesus will not tolerate tolerance when it comes to sin.

Now there are some who have rejected this false teaching.  What are they called to do?  Jesus say in verse 25, “Hold fast to what you have until I come.”  Jesus is calling the church to remain faithful and continue to grow in works, love, faith, service, and perseverance (v.19).

And the reward is that is we who continue to live faithfully will be given authority over nations and will rule with Jesus with a rod of iron.  Jesus shares the very authority that He has been given with those who believe in Him.  To be a follower of Jesus is not be a lowly person in the Kingdom of God but is to share in the rule of God.  Jesus also promises that they will be given the morning star.  In Revelation 22:16 Jesus will call Himself the morning star.  So here we see that those who persevere in faithfulness will be with Jesus.  Jesus is the true ruler of the world and the King of all creation and He is the one we will spend eternity with.

Side Note:

There are many points of application in this text.  We could look at the importance of eldership and guarding against false teaching.  We could look at the difference of holiness and tolerance.  We could look at the failing promises of sin and the true satisfying promises of God.  We could look at the joy we have that Jesus is with us and sees us and we are never alone.  We could look at the joy we have in knowing that no sin escapes the eyes of Jesus.  We could look at the necessity of church discipline.  We could look at the necessity of repentance.  This letter is surely has a message for every church.

Photo by Shyn Darkly

The Church of Pergamum

Church of Pergamum

The third church that is addressed in Revelation is to the one located in Pergamum.  In this letter, Jesus is described as “the one who has the sharp two-edged sword” (1:16).  Why does Jesus describe Himself with a sword?  I don’t remember seeing this picture in my Precious Moments Bible.  Here, Christ is pictured as a judge and executioner over His church.

Now before Jesus rebukes the church, He offers them a word of encouragement.   This is an example that all Christians ought to learn from.  How much more effective would we be if we noticed the strengths of others and encouraged them to walk faithfully before giving words of correction?

The church of Pergamum is commended for holding fast the name of Jesus even when Antipas (a fellow believer) was killed for his faith. In verse 13, we read that Pergamum is considered Satan’s throne and the place that Satan dwells.  Pergamum was rich in idolatry.  This city was the first in Asia Minor to build a temple for emperor worship (Beale, 65) and at the pinnacle of the city was an altar for Zeus.  This church is located in the crosshairs of Satan, it is in a very hostile city.  Believers are being killed and rather than denying their faith to stay alive, they  cling to their faith in Jesus.  They refuse to deny their King and Savior.

In one sense this Church is a model for us as believers to follow.  They are unbending in their faith in Jesus.  And yet in verse 14, we read of a terrible rebuke against this church.

We are told that there are some people within this church who have watered down their faith and are holding on to the teachings of Balaam.  Balaam was an O.T. prophet who encouraged the Moabite King, Balak, to send “moabite women to seduce Israelite men into sexual immorality and and idolatry” (Johnson, 76).  Rather than seeking to only please God, Israel thought they could live in sin and still be the people of God.  So what did God do?  God came down and killed 24,000 people in a plague (Numbers 25) to show that He will not tolerate sin.  We cannot be citizens of God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of the World.  We can only have one citizenship.  So what does this have to do with church of Pergamum?  It appears that this group called the Nicolatians said that you can be a follower of God and eat food sacrificed to idols and commit acts of sexual immorality.  In essence the message was, you can be a Christian on Sundays and do whatever you want the rest of the week.

Do we do this today?  Sure we might not eat food sacrificed to idols but there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians and have no problem committing acts of sexual immorality.  Today, we are told it is okay for Christians to practice homosexuality and have sex before marriage. We are told you don’t have to gather with the church, you can spend your money on whatever you want, and what you do in your free time is your own prerogative.  Today, much of what is called Christianity, is nothing like what we see in God’s Word.  It is some kind of watered down soggy filth.  So this definitely is a message we need to hear.  As Christians we are constantly bombarded with messages from the TV, billboards, the radio, magazines, and our cell phones calling us to compromise in our faith.

First Jesus is going to tell the church what will happen if they do not respond appropriately and secondly He will tell them the reward they will have for following Him.

So what does Jesus call this church to do?

Repent.  Jesus says, turn from your wicked lifestyle.  Jesus says, follow Me.

What happens if the church doesn’t repent?

Jesus will come with the double edged sword make war.

Just like God killed 24,000 in the O.T., so Jesus will make war with those who are in His church and yet live like the world.  What does it mean to make war?  I’m guessing Jesus isn’t bringing His sword for cooking but for killing.

In 1 Corinthians 11 we read that there were people in the church who were taking communion improperly.  And Jesus responded by causing some of these believers to become sick, weak and even die.  If Jesus will discipline believers to the point of death, how much more will He judge those who say they are Christians but live as pagans?

And for those who repent, Jesus promises to give them the hidden manna, and white stone with a new name on it that only they will know.  Manna in the O.T. was the food that God gave His people to survive on in their wilderness time.  Jesus has now come as the bread of life who preserves us.  So what is this hidden manna?  Could this be an illusion to the wedding supper that we will participate in when Jesus returns (Rev 19:9)?  Or is this Jesus promising to nourish those who are “faithful with an unfailing supply of heavenly spiritual food” (Poythress,88)?  The manna in the O.T. was also described as looking like a white stone (bdellium) (Number 11:7).  In Pergamum pink granite dominated the construction of buildings and was easily found in the county side.  However, the ruins of this city have also revealed, stones of white marble with names inscribed on them.  It is believed that these stones would have been imported into this area and would have been very valuable and rare.

So it appears that those who are faithful to God are valued and nourished by His Word (which could mean now and when Jesus returns).  But what does it mean that a new name will be on these rocks? Possibly it means that we are given new names, but in Revelation 22:4 we read in the New Heavens and New Earth we will have a name written on our foreheads, but it will not be our name. It will be the name of God.

So whatever this name is on this rock, we can rejoice that God knows us and we are promised to be with Him forever sustained by His Word.

As Christians this letter is not meant to cause us to tremble in fear and question our faith.  Rather, it is to strengthen our faith that we would all the more make sure of our salvation.  It is a blessed reminder that God has saved us to live for Him and for Him alone.  If we need to repent of wrong living, then let us repent, knowing that God provides grace to forgive and strengthen us.

Photo by Lemsipmatt

The Church of Smyrna

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To the Church of Smyrna: Revelation 2:8-11

I recently read an article on the website persecution.org about a bombing that took place in Pakistan.  Last week on Easter, a suicide bomber ran into a park in Lahore where he detonated a bomb that killed 69 people and wounded 300 more. “In March 2015, suicide bombers also attached to Pakistani Taliban attacked two churches in Lahore, killing over 20 and wounding another 70.”  In the article it says that those responsible have said they are specifically targeting Christians. My heart is saddened and broken for our brothers and sisters who are suffering in such intense ways.  However, the good news is, the Bible is not silent about persecution.

Jesus said in John 15:18–21,

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

In Matthew 5:10–12 we read,

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So how is it that we can rejoice in persecution?  How is that we can stand strong in our faith when facing death because of our faith?  And for that we turn to the letter to the church of Smyrna.

First, the description of Jesus is exactly what the church needs to remember.  “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.”  Here we are reminded that Jesus conquered death.  He died but then He came to life.  Death could not hold Him, death could not conquer Him.  In fact, Jesus defeated death by dying and then raising again.  He now holds the keys of death and hades (Rev. 1:18).  Jesus calls this persecuted church to remember that their Savior, their King, their Lord has defeated death.  Because of the resurrection, death has lost it’s sting (1 Cor. 15:55) and we can also echo Paul’s words, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).

Next, notice how Jesus describes the church, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…”  Even though this church, by all physical appearances looks defeated, Jesus says, they are rich.  May we be reminded that suffering does not require us to think that we are doing the wrong thing.  The church of Smyrna is suffering greatly not because of idolatry and sinfulness but because they are standing strong in their faith. Perhaps we are to be reminded of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.  In Babylon, they stood strong in their faith unwilling to compromise and bow down before an idol.  The result: they were thrown into a fiery furnace.  But not even the fire could destroy they, for Jesus had come down with them in the fire and protected them.

At the end of verses 9 and 10 we see where much of the persecution is coming from.  Jews are slandering the Christians before the Romans and thus they are being persecuted and killed.  One commentator wrote,

“The Jews who sometimes had no qualms in semi-revering other deities (especially the Roman Emperor) along with their OT God, often were too willing to make the Roman authorities aware that the Christians were not a Jewish sect….The mention of Roman persecution in v.10 directly following that of Jewish slander conforms to historical reports of Jews allying with and encouraging Romans and Gentiles to oppress Christians (e.g., Acts 13:45, 50; 14:2-7, 19; 17:5-9; 1 Thess. 2:14-16)” (Beale, 61).

In verse 10 we read that through the work of Satan, some of the Christians will be arrested and experience tribulation for ten days.  “Ten days” most likely is not a specific time but rather refers to a short period of time.  It does not appear that after these ten days the Christians will be released but that they will be killed.  After all, Jesus says, “be faithful unto death”.  Imagine being apart of this church.  Imagine hearing this being read.  Imagine knowing you will experience intense persecution that will most likely end in your death.

So what do you do?

Jesus says, “do not fear what you are about to suffer” but “be faithful unto death.”  How Jesus?  How am I not to fear death?  What comfort is there?

At the end of verse 10 and 11 we read two beautiful promises.

The First Promise:   “I will give you the crown of life.”  A crown was given to who were victorious in the athletic events.  So here Jesus says, though you died, you are not defeated.  Though it appears the world won, you are victorious.  Jesus is reminding the church that just as He defeated death and now sits on a throne with a crown so we who are faithful will also sit victoriously with him.

And the Second Promise is that “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”  What is the second death?  It is eternal suffering in hell.  In Revelation 20:14–15 we read,

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

So here Jesus reminds the church, if they remain faithful they will not only receive a crown but they will forever dwell in the perfect holy presence of their King.  They will forever enjoy living in God’s perfect Kingdom.  They will never taste the wrath of God that will be poured out on all who have rejected Him. Now that is good news!

So here we see that suffering is not something that only comes upon those who are sinful, but it also comes upon the faithful.  And we who have faith in Jesus do not need to fear suffering or death for it has no power over us.  For even if we die, we will live forever with Jesus.  Death has lost it’s sting.

This passage is meant to fortify the church.  It strengthens our faith and confidence in our Risen King. This passage echoes the famous Romans 8:33–39.

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Praise God for our Risen King, the First and the Last!