A Lively Hope

I Peter 1:3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

What immediately came to mind upon reading this verse was Fanny Crosby’s wonderful song, Blessed Assurance.

This is the living hope, the sure foundation of our faith, the Rock of our salvation! “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine; Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchased of God! Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood!”

A living hope is one that is not destroyed by circumstances. It is that which keeps us moving forward when times are tough. It is the sure knowledge that no matter what comes our way, heaven is our final home.
I love the phrase His abundant mercy. It is not through any good that we may do that we can claim salvation. We do not deserve His mercy. We have not, cannot, earn His mercy. Yet, His mercy is abundant. Overflowing. Available to all. Endlessly available. There is never a time, while a person is still alive, when His mercy is not available. It is His desire that ALL should come to repentance, and that NONE should perish. Abundant mercy.

I need to point out, also, that without His resurrection, His death would have been meaningless. Just another crucified Jewish guy. It is His resurrection, His triumph over the grave, that provides us with the sure hope of salvation.

Wholly God, Wholly Man

Colossians 1:19-20.

For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell;

And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

The Father was satisfied that in Jesus Christ all the fullness of God, Himself, would dwell.
The word fullness is translated from the Greek pleroma, and was really just another way to say that Jesus is truly God. I have always been taught that Jesus was wholly God, and wholly man, which is why He alone could be the ultimate sacrifice for sin. Sinless, His blood was not touched with corruption; human, He could die. Wholly God, He could defeat death; wholly man, He could give Himself to atone for all sin.

Dwell in this passage denotes a permanent condition, not a temporary one. Jesus didn’t become God for a short time. He never wasn’t God. Before time, and for all eternity, Jesus Christ is God.

 “Thus the phrase in Him should all the fullness dwell gathers into a grand climax the previous statements – image of God, first-born of all creation, Creator, the eternally preexistent, the Head of the Church, the victor over death, first in all things. On this summit we pause, looking like John, from Christ in His fullness of deity to the exhibition of that divine fullness in redemption consummated in heaven.”

Vincent, Blue Letter Bible

I think it is important here that we understand that, yes, it was the shedding of blood that reconciles man to God, when man accepts the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as his only route to heaven.

Jesus’ actual blood was not a magic potion that absolves us of sin. If that were so, anyone who had been spattered with His blood at any point on that awful day would instantly be free from the results of sin. If it were so, someone would surely, by now, have figured out a way to “perpetuate” His blood and sell it for the “salvation” of anyone who could afford to buy it.

The blood of the cross speaks to us of the real, physical death of Jesus Christ in our place, on our behalf, before God. That literal death in our place, and the literal judgment He bore on our behalf, is what saves us.

Guzik, Blue Letter Bible

Birth of Jesus

Isaiah 66: 7-9.

Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.

Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.

Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the Lord: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God.

Image result for Isaiah 66:7-8 KJV

Note: This was to have been Monday’s (yesterday’s) post, but after I wrote it, I just wasn’t comfortable with it. So I checked a third source, and scrubbed what I had written. When my two most frequently-used sources disagree, more study is necessary. I’m much happier with this second edition

In the previous post including v. 6, we learned that God would bring recompense to those who stood against Him. It would be not only Jews, but Gentiles as well, who would come under this recompense.

In view of this punishment. v.7 mentions the future time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble and the fact of the Incarnation of Christ: “Before she travailed (before the great Tribulation which the nation is yet to experience at the hands of the Antichrist) she brought forth: before her pain, she was delivered of a man child.” This experience of the nation is contrary to conditions of natural birth. The order is reversed, and this draws forth the surprised questions, “Who hath heard such a thing Who hath seen such a thing?”

There is apparently a connection with Rev. 12:1-6. The woman (nation–Israel) is there spoken of as having brought forth a “man child.” Some regard this as the godly remnant among the Jews in the coming day, but it makes a lot more sense that it refers to Jesus. The Roman power, energized by Satan, fulfilled what is said in Rev. 12:4, “and stood before the woman which was about to be delivered, that when she was delivered he might devour her child.” Herod would have accomplished this had he been able to, but the Man Child was to be “caught up to God and His Throne.” This could scarcely be said of the remnant, who are to enjoy the Millennial reign.

. The birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ have already taken place. The Tribulation is yet future. This explains the inversion of the natural order of the circumstances of birth as mentioned in this Isaiah passage.

For the sake of length, we will wait until tomorrow to look at vv. 8-9.

Sunday Morning Coffee: March

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So many things happen in March. Spring begins. Daylight saving time starts. My dad was born in March. Flowers begin to grace the landscape. Grass begins to hold on to the hope of renewal. Sometimes, Easter comes in March.

This year, March is coming in like a lion in my corner of PA. There’s a 5-7″ snowfall predicted to begin in the later afternoon today and stop early Monday morning. Maybe it will be that heavy, maybe not. Forecasts have not hit the mark very well this past couple of weeks.

High winds, winter mix precipitation. The temps are fairly mild, but I hate that winter mix stuff. Sleet, rain, snow, even hail sometimes. Roads are slippery and traffic slows to a crawl except for the occasional speed demon who just has to fly past everyone else, spraying mud, salt, and sand on every car he passes. Most of the time those folks reach the red lights pretty much at the same time as I do 🙂

For the sports fans, there is March Madness. Basketball takes over for a while, and if you have a favorite team or two you probably already have you schedule of which team plays which, and when.

But let’s go back to Easter. Easter Sunday is determined by being the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. There are good explanations for how this works if you care to google about it. This year, Easter is April 21.

There are some who dislike celebrating Easter because it derives its name from Ishtar, or Ashtoreth, the goddess of fertility. The secular world marks the date with rabbits delivering eggs that chickens laid, and everyone likes to dress up in new spring clothing if the weather isn’t too cold. Chocolate candy abounds, along with marshmallowy little chicks and other symbols of the new life that comes with spring.

I understand the concern about this day being connected with things that have nothing at all to do with the glory of the risen Savior and His victory over sin and death. We call it Resurrection Sunday at our church. And no, we don’t know the exact date of His resurrection any more than we know the exact date of His birth. Yes, we can celebrate these events all day every day of the year.

But I think it is important that, as a community of believers, we take the time to consider what Jesus did; how He suffered, how He never opened His mouth to defend Himself; how He forgave the thief who was crucified with Him when that suffering man confessed that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. And He even prayed that the Father would forgive those who persecuted Him, because they had no clue what was really happening that day.

One of the greatest battles of all time was fought when Jesus was on the cross. Satan was there, gloating in the suffering of the Savior. In the middle of the afternoon, there was an earthquake and there was darkness. Jesus did not die at the hands of the Roman soldiers or the Jewish leaders who hated Him. He chose to die. He gave up the Ghost, breathing His last breath as the God-Man Who had come to provide eternal life to any who would believe on Him.

His victory over sin and death became clear on that Sunday morning when the women went to His tomb, and He was gone! The angels who spoke to the women told them, “He is not here, for He is risen!”

And that is why we honor His resurrection. Not because we celebrate all the other trappings that go with the season, but because we are rejoicing in His victory that gives us the victory, too.

In my church, we will begin the service with “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” Can you imagine the thrill of the disciples and others who loved and followed Him, as they began to realize that Jesus was indeed alive!

His birth, ministry, death and resurrection changed the course of the history of this world. Today, He is still changing the hearts and lives of all who believe in Him. That is cause for celebration.

There is None Righteous

Galatians 3:12. “And the Law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.”

The Law did not say, “The man who believes shall live,” but “The man who does shall live.” It may seem right to us that if a person does right he ought to live. The problem we have is that we don’t do right. Romans 3:10 says, “There is NONE righteous, no, NOT ONE!”  Romans 3:32 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

None of us is able to keep every jot and tittle of the Law, and to break even one point is to break all of the Law.

Suppose a person falling over the edge of a cliff reached out and caught hold of a rusty old chain fastened to a stump on the side of the cliff. The chain has ten links. How many would have to break to drop that person to the bottom?

Only one.  And once that chain is broken, once the Law is broken, the unsaved person is in the place of condemnation. No works of righteousness that we can do can ever fit us to be in the presence of God.

That seems so hopeless. . . .BUT the glorious message of reconciliation is that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law!  Jesus Christ bought us out of condemnation with His shed blood, and provided the way for us to have right standing with God.  Not through the keeping of the law can we find this right standing, but only through faith and belief in the blood of Jesus, and in His resurrection.

We are delivered from the curse of the Law only through the grace of God in the sacrifice of His Son.

It Is Finished!

Matthew 27: 50-53. “Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”

Matthew tells us that Jesus cried out with a loud voice.  He did not weakly whisper; He shouted!  It was a shout of victory; the battle was won. John 19:30 says, “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.”

Strong to the very end, that was my Jesus!  His life was not taken from Him; He gave it up when all the work was done, all the prophecies had been fulfilled. No one could have taken His life from Him against His will.

Some amazing things happened when Jesus gave up His life. First, the veil in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two pieces, from the top to the bottom.

Second, there was an earthquake in which the rocks themselves were split.

Third, tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints arose. After His resurrection, they went into the city and were seen by many people.

The veil.  It was not rent by the earthquake, but by the hand of God. It was done from above. It must have happened just about the time when the priests entered the holy part at the evening sacrifice. What a thing to see!  As the earth rocked and shook, the veil, which is thought to have been about the thickness of a human palm, was torn in two pieces from the top down! The most holy place was opened now, showing that the sacrifice of Jesus had eliminated the need for any more blood to be shed to cover sin.  Acts 6:7 tells us that many priests became converts to the New Way.  It is no wonder!

The earthquake.Only in Matthew is this event recorded, because the death of the King shook the very earth itself and split the rocks.  Only in Matthew is Jesus presented as the King, Messiah, Creator and Ruler of all the earth.

The tombs. The open graves declared the most wonderful news ever: His death had broken the power of death forever. Through His death He destroyed Satan, he who had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). It wasn’t until after His resurrection that the bodies of the saints left the tombs and entered the city, to be seen by many.  He had to rise from His own grave, defeating sin and death, before those who had already died could leave their graves and be seen in the city.

Everything was done in its proper time.  Every single event, from the Last Supper to Jesus surrendering His spirit of His own volition, was done according to scripture, including the resurrection of Jesus and then of those saints who left their graves, showing the power of His death and resurrection.

What happened to them?  We don’t know.  We’ll know someday. What we do know is that their appearance must have amazed all those who saw them, and convinced the people that Jesus had indeed risen from the tomb.  It was an amazing proof of the efficacy of His death and resurrection.  That is all we need to know.

Why December 25th?

The other day my chiropractor asked me why we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Dec. 25.  I told him that I wasn’t sure, but that like other Christian holidays, there is some kind of tie-in with old pagan celebrations. So this morning I looked it up, and I was right but I didn’t know the details.  Here’s a really good description of how it happened:

http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA68/why-do-we-celebrate-christmas-on-december-25

Regardless of whether or not we’re celebrating the actual date of Jesus’ birth, the important thing is that we honor  Him and remember the incredible sacrifice He made. The Son of God left the unimaginable realms of heaven to be born and to live as a man so that He, perfect, sinless, holy, could die in our place and rise victorious from the grave to provide our way of salvation from our sin.

That is the true meaning of Christmas.  All the other things that happen at this time of year are nothing but tinsel and glitter. If we aren’t careful, we’ll allow the miraculous birth of Jesus to be obscured by the jingle of the cash registers all across the land.

I’m taking a short sabbatical. You won’t hear from me here tomorrow, so I’m wishing you all a very warm and wonderful Christmas. God bless us, every one!

I Am the God of Abraham. . .

Matthew 22: 31-33. “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God Isaac, and the God of Jacob: God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at His doctrine.”

If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and if He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; then a resurrection must have taken place for these men. There is complete authority in these words of Jesus.  He speaks from scripture, in which the Sadducees prided themselves for their study, knowledge and interpretation. Yet they thought to stump Jesus with a ridiculous question that had no application in the resurrection, which they in any case denied. How foolish they were in their own pride and conceit, and how little they understood Who Jesus was!

But now the Sadducees had been put to route publicly, in front of the multitude. They would not forgive Jesus for this humiliation, and well He knew it.

Sometimes I think about how proud we are today of all our advances in knowledge, science, medicine, technology and so on.  How highly we think of ourselves and even, in some cases, hold ourselves above God. How quickly that will all turn to wood, hay and stubble when that judgment day comes.  How little we really know of the great workings of the universe and all that is in it, that God simply spoke into existence.

I was in session with a client today who referred to a passage in Isaiah 6, the vision Isaiah had of God, Whose robes filled the temple; Whose angels worshipped Him, and who proclaimed, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts!”  They bowed before Him because He is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, holy, pure, awesome in His goodness.  Isaiah groaned of his own unworthiness and understood his own utter depravity.

So should we.  Our world is in a mess, and the reason is in Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

We need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.

Ye Do Err

Matthew 22:29-30. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”

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Jesus didn’t waste any time looking for a way to soften the blow that His next words would deal to the Sadducees, they who considered themselves to be the authority above all others in the interpretation and understanding of the scriptures.

“You are in error! You do not know the scriptures! If you did, you would know that in the resurrection which you deny, there is no marriage.  All are like the angels of God, whose existence you also deny; there is no marriage.”

And He wasn’t finished with them yet. We’ll look at the rest tomorrow.

As a side note here, I’d like to spend a minute in Genesis 6:2. The debate still exists as to who the “sons  of God” were who married the daughters of man.  Some believe that they were angels, who then conceived semi-supernatural beings and whose progeny still exist today. Yet Jesus Himself said that angels neither marry, nor are they given in marriage.  That seems pretty clear to me, and is a definitive answer to the possibility that angels, who worshiped God, felt a human need to have wives and to beget children. The theory that makes sense to me is that the sons of God were the seed of  the righteous line of Seth; the daughters of man were the seed of Cain.

We won’t know for sure until we get to heaven. I don’t want to start a controversy over this; I simply wanted to underline what makes the most sense to me, because of what Jesus said.

Sadducees

Matthew 22:23-28. “The same day came to Him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked Him, Saying, Master, Moses said, if a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother; Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.”

 

It’s almost as if these religious leaders  were playing tag team with Jesus.  No sooner did one group confront Him and walk away befuddled than the next team came up for their turn at “Who’s Smarter than a Third-grader.” They thought they had conceived the perfect question to confound Him, yet they always went away confounded.

This time, the Sadducees took their turn. They had a very perplexing situation, they thought, with which to trip up Jesus.  If a woman has all seven brothers as husband because they all topple over like dominoes, dying quickly it would seem, then whose wife is she in the resurrection?  Aha!  Got you this time, Jesus!

You need to understand a couple of things about the doctrine of the Sadducees.  First, they rejected the resurrection. They actually held more closely to the written law than the Pharisees did. The Pharisees  made much of their large body of  oral law and tradition. But the Sadducees held that all human suffering was a result of human freedom to choose to sin. They focused their attention on the preservation of Israel, and especially of the ruling class to which they belonged.  Most of them were wealthy and influential men. Their concern was not with life after death, but with life in the here and now.

They also rejected the existence of angels, believing  that such beings were merely mythical dreams and that angels had no reality in the lives of man. That their question  to Jesus had to do both with the resurrection and with marriage in heaven is ironic, to say the least.