Friday, September 30, 2016

"That you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught ..."

Day #275

Scripture Reading:  Luke 1 - 2 …

People believe a lot of things with far less evidence than we have concerning the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  Yet, people are much more likely to question your belief in Jesus than anything else you claim to believe.  Too many Christians find it difficult to defend what they believe, but we have eyewitness testimony!  Luke writes his gospel account after carefully investigating all of the testimony and writes to his friend, Theophilus, so that he would be certain of the things he had been taught and which he had apparently believed.

Luke's gospel therefore gives some information that is not in the other gospels, as well as much of the information that Matthew and Mark included in their accounts.  Undoubtedly, part of the reason for multiple accounts was that God says a matter should be settled on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Therefore, the gospels are not contradictory, but rather, complementary.  They fit together, giving us a fuller picture of Jesus' life and ministry.

Luke begins by recounting the birth of John the Baptist.  Like Matthew, Luke ties the events back to the Old Testament prophets and to the words of Malachi:  "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers" (Malachi 4:5-6).  So the angel Gabriel says to Zechariah, "He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children …" (1:17).

In beginning with John the Baptist, Luke points out that the birth of Jesus was part of the unfolding of God's plan of salvation foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures.  As he turns his attention to the birth of Jesus, it is clear that he is continuing to make the connection between the birth of Jesus and the prophecies of the prophets concerning the coming Messiah (Anointed One, Christ).  Gabriel now comes to Mary and tells her that she will give birth to a son and "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end" (1:32-33).

It is obvious that for Luke, as for us, it was important to point out that Jesus was a descendant of David's line.  Why is that so important?  Because David was descended from the line of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.   God had predicted in Genesis 49:10 that the coming King would be a descendant of Judah and had told David that One from his line would be seated on the throne of God's kingdom forever.  These words, then, are more than just a description of Jesus' lineage, but of the validity of His claim to the throne!

It is surely hard to understand how people can read and study the Bible and MISS what Luke intends to do … to provide certainty to the things that the Bible teaches.  Both Mary and Zechariah point to the promise of God to bring salvation to His people.  Zechariah points to the fact that God "has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David (as He said through His holy prophets of long ago)" (1:69-70).  "Fulfillment" is a word that only Christians can use correctly.  All these things were foretold.  The Bible is a book that told people what was going to happen, what God was going to do … and it happened, just as God said it would.  And then, the Bible tells us what IS going to happen … and it WILL happen, just as God says it will!!  These things have been written so that YOU and I will be certain of the things we have been taught - so long as they agree with the Bible.

As Luke records the highlights of Jesus' birth and early life in Chapter 2, God confirms through the testimony of His Spirit that this was no ordinary birth and no ordinary baby.  He is worthy to be worshiped and He is the answer to the prayers of those who had been waiting for the Christ to come.  God had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Christ, the Messiah, and having seen Jesus, he testified, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation" (2:29-30).  And in a reference to the prophecies of Isaiah, he calls Jesus "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Anna's testimony is brief but no less important, as "she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem" (2:38).  In these words we find the hope of the people of God through the ages:  the redemption of Jerusalem.  This city, unlike any other city on earth, was chosen by God to be THE place where Jesus will return and from where He will reign over the nations of the earth for 1,000 years. This is the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants more than 4,000 years ago!

It is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … the God of Judah, of David … the God who reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible, who will send Jesus once again into this world, not as a baby, not to suffer for the sins of His people, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.  Are YOU among them?  Are you certain of what you have been taught?  

Many who claim to be Christians are unsure of what they say they believe. They are willing, even eager it seems, to entertain other ideas, other teachings, even other gospels that contradict what is revealed in God's Word, the Bible.  Deception abounds and Satan disguises himself as an "angel of light."  There will be an even greater apostasy than today shortly before Jesus returns.  Do not be deceived!  

Testify along with Luke, "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!"  May our testimony be used of God to draw others to Him in order that they, too, may be certain of the things we, and hopefully they have been taught!

"Heavenly Father, You have revealed Yourself clearly in Your Word, and yet those who are without Your Spirit remain in the darkness of spiritual death.  Thank You for Your grace, for opening my heart and mind to receive Your Word as truth and for giving me a new heart and a new will, moving me to believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior and my Lord.  Help me to live my life in certainty, trusting You to do all that You have said You will do in Your Word.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Surely, this IS the Son of God!"

Day #274

Scripture Reading:  Mark 15 - 16 …

As I read the words of the centurion who stood at the foot of the cross I was struck by the simplicity of his declaration:  "Surely this man was the Son of God" (15:39).  He had just witnessed a death, a death by crucifixion.  He was quite probably among the soldiers who had mocked Jesus (15:16-20).  He had watched as they put a purple robe on Jesus, along with the crown of thorns.  Perhaps he joined in the cries of, "Hail, king of the Jews!"  He may have even struck Jesus or spit on Him or cast lots for His clothes.  But now, having stood guard during three hours of darkness in the middle of the day and hearing Jesus cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" … then hearing Jesus pray for forgiveness for those who crucified Him and committing His spirit to the Father … as he heard Jesus breathe His last breath … NOW he testified, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

What did he mean by that?  Did he believe that Jesus was, in fact, God in the flesh?  Probably not.  Like some today, he saw Jesus as a man … a special man, perhaps, but a man nonetheless.  Why do I say that?  Because of the word, "was."  If he had believed that Jesus was THE eternal Son of God he would have known that a real GOD cannot die.  Jesus not only WAS the Son of God, He IS the Son of God.  He gave up His body and committed His human spirit to the Father, but He was and is ALWAYS the Son of God.  I wonder … do you suppose this centurion was transferred to Caesarea?  And do you think there is a chance that his name was Cornelius (See Acts 10)?

At any rate, the events surrounding Jesus' crucifixion scream "FULFILLMENT!"  Several references are taken from Psalm 22:

Psalm 22:1:  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  (15:34)

Psalm 22:7:  "All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:  'He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue Him.  Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him.'"  (15:29-30)

Psalm 22:16:  "A band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and feet."   (15:25)

Psalm 22:18:  "They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing."  (15:24)

I think of Peter's words in Acts 2:23-24:  "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  BUT God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."  We who believe today can testify, "Surely this IS the Son of God!"

In this 21st century, more and more people want to avoid looking at or talking about the cross.  For nearly 2,000 years God has opened the hearts and minds of those whom He chooses to hear the Gospel and to believe in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.  His suffering on the cross, His death and resurrection, are the centerpiece of the Gospel, so much so that the Apostle Paul would say, "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).  We can only pray today that more men would be raised up by the Spirit of God to declare this message, for it is the power of God unto the salvation of all who believe (Romans 1:16).

It is of significance that Mark and the other Gospel writers specifically note those who condemned Jesus.  The "chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin reached a decision" (15:1).  This was not one or two men who did this in secret.  This was the entire leadership of the Jewish people!  And when Pilate attempted to release Jesus, they made sure that the crowd cried out for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus.  While it is wrong to condemn all the Jews as a people for killing Jesus, it was, without a doubt, the religious leaders of the Jews who instigated His crucifixion.  Yet, remember the words above in Acts 2:23 … all this was done according to the set purpose and foreknowledge of God.  Wicked men were responsible for their own actions, yet God's purpose would be fulfilled only through the suffering and death of the perfect Lamb of God.

Isaiah 53 points out more of the prophecies fulfilled in this brief moment in history:

Isaiah 53:5:  "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth." (15:5)

Isaiah 53:9:  "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death."  (15:27, 43)

Mark ends his gospel record as the rest of the Gospel writers do, with an account of the resurrection of Jesus.  None of the Gospels end with Jesus in the tomb!!  There is some question as to the ending of Mark's gospel, particularly verses 9-20.  Though early manuscripts do not include these verses, they probably would not be questioned were it not for verses 17-18.  This is the only place where these things are mentioned, and while that in itself would not exclude them from being truth revealed by God, the idea of picking up snakes and drinking poison would appear to contradict Jesus' words when resisting Satan's temptations:  "It is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matthew 4:7).

We should not be distracted from the certainty of all that God says in His Word, from beginning to end.  God has revealed in His Word all that He wants us to know.  Jesus fulfilled prophecy in His birth and His life, and in His death and resurrection.  Read and study God's Word.  Pray earnestly for the Spirit of God to give you insight and surround yourself with those who accept the authority of the Bible as the very Word of God.  Ask questions, learn, grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And join with those around the earth from every people, tribe, nation and tongue who proclaim with confidence and joy:  "Surely, this IS the Son of God!"

"Heavenly Father, I thank You for sending Your Son to suffer and die in my place on the cross as the perfect and only sacrifice for sin.  I thank You for Your grace in sending Your Spirit to open my mind and heart to receive Your Word as truth.  And I proclaim with confidence and joy that Jesus IS the Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns at Your right hand.  Use me, Father, to testify to this truth so that others, too, may come to know Your Son and be saved through faith in Him.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

""What the future holds for those who know Jesus!"

Day #273

Scripture Reading:  Mark 13 - 14 …

Before Jesus went to the cross … before He died and rose again, He told the disciples what was going to happen:  not only what was going to happen in Jerusalem in the next few days, but what was going to happen much later, when He returned to earth.  Timing is everything, and God sees the end from the beginning.  What happens today is connected to what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  We live one day at a time, but in God's sight one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.  God sees everything and knows everything and knows how it all fits together.  That is a great comfort for those who know Him and who trust Him.

Jesus reveals to His disciples that there will be some general signs that this world will not always continue as it was at that time and as it is today.  Some will come who want to deceive (13:5).  There will be wars and rumors of wars (13:7).  There will be earthquakes and famines (13:8).  All these, Jesus says, are "the beginning of birth pains" (13:8).  These things have been happening at an increasingly frequent pace since the time of Christ.  

But then Jesus gives them more specific signs of His return.  I realize that there are some who say that Jesus could return at any moment, but according to Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21 and many other passages of Scripture, there are things that must happen BEFORE He comes to gather His elect, His chosen ones.  He says here, as Matthew quotes Him in Matthew 24:14, that "the Gospel must FIRST be preached to all nations" (13:10).  It appears that this is being fulfilled in our present day for the first time in history.  It has been said that there were more martyrs for the sake of the Gospel in the past century than in all the rest of the centuries since Jesus ascended into heaven combined.  Jesus says, "He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (13:13).

Then He speaks about "the abomination that causes desolation," spoken of by the prophet Daniel (9:27).  At this time there will be a time of distress unequaled at any time before that or at any time after it.  The coming of Jesus in the clouds will cut those days short (13:19-27).  Many today teach that the Great Tribulation will take place AFTER the rapture, but the order Jesus gives us here and in Matthew 24 is different.  He says, "FOLLOWING that distress 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken' (Isaiah 13:10 and other passages).  At THAT time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And He will send His angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens" (13:24-27).

It is important for you to understand these things so that you will not be deceived when the Antichrist is revealed and he performs signs and wonders (II Thessalonians 2:9-12).  Jesus will not return until these things are fulfilled.  So He tells His disciples, then and now, to "keep watch" (13:35).  We don't know the day or the hour, but we WILL, we MUST know the time, and be watching and working until He comes.

As Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples He told them that He would "not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God" (14:25).  He was referring to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb described in Revelation 19.  As Jesus went to Gethsemane, He was looking at what lay ahead at the cross, yet He was looking farther ahead, too.  The writer of Hebrews encourages believers to persevere by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:2-3).

When speaking to people who are going through struggles, the best thing you can tell them to do is to keep their eyes (or in some cases, to GET their eyes) on Jesus!!  Like Peter when Jesus called him to get out of the boat and to walk on the water, we hear the roar of the wind and take our eyes off of Jesus to look at the waves rolling around us and we begin to sink.  Jesus went to the cross willingly.  He said to His disciples in the garden, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (14:38).  We who know and love Jesus WANT to be strong, but when we try to live for Jesus by our own strength we end up looking at the trials and struggles and lose heart.  We need to keep our eyes on JESUS!  HE is able!!

When the high priest asked Him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"  Jesus answered, "I AM!  And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" (14:62). Hear Jesus' own testimony and believe in His Name and you will be saved!  Whatever trials, whatever persecution, whatever burdens you are called to bear in this life in this world, you can know that you are SAFE in His arms and that He IS with you.  "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

The signs of His coming are all around us.  Whether it is in your lifetime or mine, the end WILL come. But through faith in Jesus, the end is the beginning, because He IS "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Revelation 22:13).  When it does end, where will you be standing?  I pray that you have placed your trust, your hope, your faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that you have found LIFE in His name.  Then you can know that the Father is willing and ready to welcome you HOME, where you will reign with Jesus … forever!  Oh, happy day!!

"Heavenly Father, knowing You and drawing near to You through the blood of Your Son, Jesus, is the greatest privilege, the greatest blessing anyone can receive from Your hand.  Thank You, Father, for loving me, for sending Jesus to give His life as a ransom for me, for filling me with Your Spirit and moving me to trust in Your Son, and for the promise of eternal life with You when He returns.  Give me strength to endure, to stand firm, to watch and to pray until I see You face-to-face.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"The Stone the builders rejected ... IS LORD!!"

Day #272

Scripture Reading:  Mark 11 - 12 …

As Jesus entered Jerusalem to go to the cross He continued to teach His disciples.  The Pharisees were unwitting illustrations of the spiritual blindness that affects all of mankind.  Thinking they knew the truth about God, they refused to listen to Jesus and would not even entertain the possibility that He WAS Who He said He was.  Instead, they tried to trick Him, to trap Him, so they would have an excuse to put Him to death.

For those of us who believe, it is so easy to see the truth because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes.  As Jesus approaches Jerusalem He tells His disciples to go into the village to find the colt of a donkey.  Why the colt of a donkey?  Because the prophet Zechariah had written, "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).  Details!  Our God is a God of details … details that confirm Who Jesus is and what He came to do.

As He entered Jerusalem Jesus went to the temple … the symbol of God's presence with His people.  The purpose of the temple was to point to God, not to provide a place to do the business of the world or to go through a bunch of religious rituals without understanding their meaning.  And what was the response of the chief priests and the teachers of the law:  they began looking for a way to kill him!  THEY were the fig tree that wasn't bearing fruit, and they were the tenants of God's vineyard who killed the Son of God when He came.

The Pharisees were continually challenging Jesus' authority.  "Who gave you authority to do this?" (11:28).  Authority is a big issue in the church today. Who has authority to speak for God?  The Pope, the leader of the Catholic church, claims to have such authority.  Others may claim the same thing, but the truth is only JESUS and the Holy Spirit have the authority to speak for God.  The Father, Son and Spirit are ONE.  Therefore, everything Jesus said bore the authority of God and everything the Bible says, having been inspired by the Spirit, bears the authority of God.

Peter writes concerning Scripture that "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:20-21).  We who preach can speak with authority only if we proclaim the words of God that have been written down for us.  The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans because when he spoke they checked the Scriptures to see if these things were true (Acts 17:11).  More people need to do that today!  The reason false teachers can and do worm their way into the church is because people have not studied God's Word and are not willing to seek the Scriptures to see if these things are true.  They are easily led astray.

Jesus would say to His disciples after His resurrection:  "All authority has been given to Me, in heaven and on earth!"  (Matthew 28:18).  Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22-23 when He said, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (12:10-11).  The question of authority has been asked and answered!  There is no one like Jesus.  

Want to know something about heaven?  When asked about marriage Jesus answered, "When the dead rise they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" (12:25).  We will be like the angels, living in total devotion to the Lord, focused on Him with perfect love, in adoration and worship as we serve Him forever.  Can you fathom that?  Can you grasp loving God as you are loved by God?

One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which was the most important commandment and Jesus repeated the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:4-5:  "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (12:29-30).  In heaven we will DO that!!!  

And then, one more question … this time from Jesus:  "How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the Son of David?  David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:  'The Lord said to my Lord:  Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.' David himself calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?" (12:35-37).  The large crowd listened but did not yet understand who Jesus was.  How could a "son of David" be David's LORD?  The Holy Spirit was using David to point to Jesus, one born from David's line who was at the same time David's "son" and David's Lord!!  Jesus was claiming to be the ONE David was talking about!

Do YOU know Who He is?  "The stone the builders rejected IS Lord!"  This is how you know if you are one of Jesus' sheep?  Peter writes, "For in Scripture it says:  'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.' Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.  But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,' and 'A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall'" (I Peter 2:6-7).  And he goes on, "They stumble because they disobey the message - which is also what they were destined for."

What are YOU destined for?  "The stone the builders rejected IS Lord!"  To those who believe, these words of Peter bring peace and joy:  "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9).  If you believe that Jesus is Lord, if you confess Him as YOUR Lord and desire to follow Him today, then you have been born again by the Spirit and YOU are one of His!  Live each day to declare the praises of the One who called you out of the darkness and who brought you into His marvelous light!

"Heavenly Father, I am amazed, thankful, overwhelmed and humbled by Your grace to me in Christ Jesus.  As I see others question Jesus' authority, I yield to His Lordship and confess that He alone is Lord and His Word, YOUR Word, is true.  Teach me to know the truth and to love the truth, knowing that it leads me always to Jesus, the Christ, my Savior and my Lord, and through Him, to YOU, my Creator and my God!  In Jesus' name, Amen"