God’s Sovereignty

Posted by on July 28, 2002 under Sermons

Genesis 1:1,2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

Before this creation existed, before physical life existed, there was absolute chaos. God chose to bring order out of chaos. Nothing, absolutely nothing, that was part of the chaos defied God. God was sovereign. What He willed even in chaos happened because He was sovereign.

God said, “Let there be light, and let light and darkness separate.” And, it happened. It happened because God was sovereign. Neither light nor darkness rebelled against His sovereignty.

God said, “Separate the waters so the heavens may appear.” And it happened. It happened because God was sovereign. Nothing rebelled against God’s separation.

God said, “Let dry land appear in the separated waters that are below.” And it happened. It happened because God is sovereign. Neither the waters nor the land rebelled against God’s declaration.

God said, “Let there be lights in the heavens, and among them let there be the sun and moon for the earth.” And it happened. It happened because God is sovereign. Nether the darkness nor the lights defied God.

God said, “Let the waters on the earth and the skies above the earth be filled with living creatures.” And it happened. It happened because God is sovereign. Neither the creatures nor the voids they filled defied God.

God said, “Let the dry land the filled with living creatures, and among them let there be human life to exercise dominion.” And it happened. It happened because God is sovereign. And neither the land nor the creatures God made defied God.

Genesis 1:31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

  1. God asserted His sovereignty and brought into being everything we know.
    1. In doing this, He brought us into being and made us unique from all other life forms.
      1. God made us unique by placing a part of Himself in us, something that scripture calls His likeness and His image.
      2. Since God is not a physical being, we should understand God’s likeness or image does not refer to our physical form.
      3. In specific ways it relates to God making us free, making us beings that never cease to exist, not even when there is physical death.
      4. God gave us independence even if we use that independence to defy God’s sovereignty and rebel against Him.
    2. Unfortunately, that is precisely what humanity did after creation.
      1. Nothing God made in this creation defied His sovereignty–but us.
      2. Because of human defiance and rebellion, God’s “very good” creation that pleased Him became a perverted creation that rejected His sovereignty.
      3. That which existed through the will and acts of the sovereign God now dared to defy God’s sovereignty.
        1. Genesis 6:5, 6 says,
          Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
        2. In incredible arrogance, humanity not only defied God’s sovereignty, but people totally turned to evil.
        3. God found the rejection of His sovereignty was so painful that He regretted bringing people into existence.
    3. From the moment humanity rejected His sovereignty, God began working seeking to reestablish His sovereignty over a defiant human creation.

  2. God’s sovereignty is used throughout scripture to declare God’s feelings and explain God’s actions. Our failure to understand God’s sovereignty results in our inability to relate to God.
    1. Moses used God’s sovereignty to urge God not to destroy Israel. (Exodus 32:7-14).
      1. After God spoke the ten commandments to Israel (Exodus 20:1-17) at Mount Sinai, Moses went up the mount to receive those commandments in writing.
      2. While Moses was gone, the people grew impatient and decided Moses would not be back.
      3. They urged Moses’ brother, Aaron, to make them an idol to worship, and Aaron took their gold jewelry and made a golden calf which they worshipped.
        Exodus 32:7-14 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshipped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ ” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
        1. God said to Moses, “I have had it with these people.”
          1. “In Egypt they did not trust Me.
          2. “At the Red Sea they did not trust Me.
          3. “In the wilderness they did not trust Me.
            1. “Now they worship an idol they made saying it is the god who brought them out of Egypt.
          4. “They are a stubborn, hardhearted people. Moses I intend to kill all of them and start over with you.”
        2. Moses said, “God, please do not do that.”
          1. “Consider Your sovereignty.
          2. “If you destroy them, the Egyptians will say You took these people to the mountains to kill them
        3. Moses realized the importance of people knowing God’s sovereignty, and his appeal to God to consider God’s sovereignty changed God’s mind.
    2. Several times in Ezekiel God explained His actions by focusing attention on His sovereignty.
      1. Concerning His promise to return captive Israelites to their homeland, God said this in Ezekiel 20:39-44:
        As for you, O house of Israel,” thus says the Lord God, “Go, serve everyone his idols; but later you will surely listen to Me, and My holy name you will profane no longer with your gifts and with your idols. For on My holy mountain, on the high mountain of Israel,” declares the Lord God, “there the whole house of Israel, all of them, will serve Me in the land; there I will accept them and there I will seek your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your holy things. As a soothing aroma I will accept you when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered; and I will prove Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the land which I swore to give to your forefathers. There you will remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for all the evil things that you have done. Then you will know that I am the Lord when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your evil ways or according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel,” declares the Lord God.’ “
        1. God said, “I will demonstrate my sovereignty in my deeds.”
        2. Concerning an explanation of why God acted as He acted, we read in Ezekiel 36:22, 23:
          Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.”
          1. God said, “I will demonstrate my sovereignty to the nations.”
        3. Concerning the consequences Israel endured in their captivity, Ezekiel 39:21-24 says:
          And I will set My glory among the nations; and all the nations will see My judgment which I have executed and My hand which I have laid on them. And the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God from that day onward. The nations will know that the house of Israel went into exile for their iniquity because they acted treacherously against Me, and I hid My face from them; so I gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and all of them fell by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions I dealt with them, and I hid My face from them.” ‘ “
          1. God said, “Israel’s wickedness produced their consequences and demonstrated my sovereignty.”
    3. God’s sovereignty is extremely important in the gospel’s message.
      1. When the gospel was presented in Athens among people who worshipped idols, Paul centered his lesson on God’s sovereignty.
        Acts 17:24-31 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
        1. You must not think of God in the same way you thought about other gods.
        2. Other gods were not sovereign; God is.
        3. Why should all people repent? Because the sovereign God has revealed Himself in Jesus’ resurrection.
      2. Paul spoke of the significance of Jesus in Philippians 2:9-11:
        For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
        1. How will bowing knees and confessing Jesus Christ’s Lordship give glory to God the Father?
      3. Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 15:23-28
        But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
        1. God the Father gave Jesus Christ his position of Lordship and made him ruler.
        2. When Jesus has subdued everything in rebellion to God’s sovereignty, then Jesus Christ will submit himself to God so that God again will be the all in all.
    4. With good intentions we have made Christianity about people, but in doing that we have produced a horrible form of human arrogance.
      1. The primary objective of Christianity is not about people; it is about God.
      2. Surely people in Christ receive all the wonderful promises and benefits to be found in Jesus Christ.
      3. But the primary of objective of Jesus Christ is reestablishing God’s sovereignty.
        1. For that to happen, we rebellious people must surrender to God’s sovereignty.
        2. With all His being, God’s wants us to surrender as our choice.

Everyone of us should know that one day we will acknowledge God’s sovereignty. We will use our knees and our voices to declare God is the all in all. Will that happen now by our choice, or will that happen in judgment because we are a conquered enemy?

If you say your life declares God’s sovereignty, I ask, “How do you show God is in control of your life?”

Thinking — The Learning Process

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Very early in life I was fascinated by people’s thought process. I remember in my teen years consciously seeking to understand people whose thought process significantly differed from mine. When others used information common to each of us to think different thoughts, I was fascinated. I cannot give a reason for this fascination. I have no idea why it began early, nor why that observation was important to me.

People process information in different ways. Some processing procedures are radically different. We do not all “think” alike when presented identical information. Early in adult life I realized if I carefully listened to understand another’s thinking, the likelihood significantly increased that he or she would listen to my thinking in a sincere attempt to understand me.

No one understands the thinking of others unless he or she learns to listen to understand. Listening to understand does not mean we listen to agree. People have reasons for their thought process. Even people with whom we disagree begin their thought process in a different context with a different set of priorities.

Understanding others who think differently than “I” begins with “my” willingness to understand how they process information. A vast difference separates listening to understand and listening to make counter arguments, or listening for weaknesses, or listening to dominate, or listening to win, etc. More than 50% of communication is listening to understand. We each respond differently to the person who “understands me.”

Within the foundation of many marital conflicts, parent-child conflicts, family conflicts, and congregational conflicts is a rejection of responsibility to understand another’s thinking when he or she processes information differently. How many conflicts could be significantly improved or resolved if each person in the conflict knew he or she was understood?

If significant progress occurs in today’s world to strengthen (1) families and (2) congregations, we must accept the responsibility to understand the thinking of people who process information differently. If we accept that challenge, we will move toward our Lord’s objectives and our God’s intents. If we do not, family and congregational relationships will continue to degenerate into impersonal associations.

The fact that another processes information differently than “I” is not evidence that “I” am good and he or she is bad. God’s highest good cannot be achieved by forcing others to use “my” thought process. God’s highest good is achieved by everyone in Christ respecting and understanding each other’s thought process. God is not the God of a single thought process. God is the God of all thought processes. For the Christian, each thought process results in surrendering to God through Jesus the Christ.

Acts: Understanding Our Origin (part 3)

Posted by on July 21, 2002 under Sermons

Let’s begin with a brief review of last Sunday night’s study. I called your attention to two basic points. Point one: when Christianity began in early Acts, all Christians were Jewish. When the church began, it was completely Jewish. No, all Christians were not descendants of Abraham because some baptized believers were Jewish proselytes. But, all baptized believers were followers of Judaism.

Point two: all these first Christians who accepted Jesus as God’s promised Messiah understood God was keeping His promise to Israel by sending and resurrecting Jesus. That was the apostle Peter’s understanding. These Jewish Christians understood in Christ God gave them the opportunity to be the people God always intended them to be. The only distinction between the lives of the Jew and the Jewish Christian was the Jewish Christians’ faith in Jesus as God’s promised Messiah, promised Christ. There was no sense of God beginning a new religious movement. There was the understanding that God was keeping His promise to Israel.

  1. Tonight our study needs to begin with an understanding of the events in Matthew 16:13-19.
    Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
    1. Jesus’ ministry caused an enormous amount of Jewish questioning.
      1. Jesus’ teachings and acts simply had to be explained; they could not be ignored; there had to be an explanation for Jesus.
      2. Jesus asked his twelve disciples how people explained him, and they responded.
      3. The disciples had to explain Jesus to themselves as surely as did the multitudes, so Jesus asked his disciples for their explanation.
        1. Peter said he was the Christ.
        2. Jesus said God revealed that to him and gave Peter the keys to the kingdom.
      4. The basic use of a key then was to open a door; Peter would open the doors of God’s kingdom.
    2. I want you to see what a huge issue this was in the first century: must Christian do things Jewishly? Understanding this first century problem tremendously impacts us today.
      1. In Acts 2 Peter was the principle spokesman, and he used a key to open a door to God’s kingdom for all people living by Judaism.
        1. All Jewish people and all proselytes could enter God’s kingdom.
        2. Those who entered by responding to Jesus as God’s promised Christ understood God was keeping His promise to Israel.
        3. I used statements in Acts last week to show you how Jewish the church in Jerusalem was.
      2. In Acts 10 the Lord sent Peter to use the second key to open God’s kingdom to people who were not Jews or proselytes. Turn to Acts 10.
        1. Cornelius was a “God fearer.”
          1. He believed in the God the Jews followed.
          2. He was devout, prayerful, and benevolent.
          3. But he was not a circumcised convert to Judaism [does his falling down before Peter to worship (reverence) Peter sound like something a Jew would do?].
    3. I ask you to note how much convincing the Lord had to do to convince Peter to teach Cornelius about the Jewish Messiah Jesus (10:10-16).
      1. God prepared Peter’s mind to consider “unthinkable” thoughts by the vision repeated to Peter three times.
        1. Each time Peter was commanded by the Lord to kill and eat something that was in violation of the Jew’s dietary code.
        2. Each time Peter rejected the Lord’s command [not even God could change the rules for Peter; God was bound by His own rules.]
        3. Each time Peter affirmed to the Lord that he had never eaten anything common or unclean [no profane food had ever entered his mouth!].
        4. Each time the Lord told Peter the he was not to consider what God had cleansed to be unholy.
        5. To use my terminology, the whole event blew Peter’s mind; he was “greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be.”
        6. From his Jewish understanding of God and scripture, the whole event made no sense; it simply confused him.
      2. As Peter came down from the roof and the vision experience, the Spirit (Holy Spirit) told him three men were looking for him (10:19,20).
        1. He was to accompany the men without misgivings because the Spirit had sent them.
        2. They explained to Peter they were there because their master was following the instruction of an angel.
        3. These Jews invited these non-Jews to spend the night.
      3. The next day Peter went with the men to the home of Cornelius.
        1. In Acts 10:34, 35 Peter made this statement:
          “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”
        2. In our words, Peter said, “I got it! Now I understand! It is not a matter of nationality or heritage! God will welcome any person who reverences Him and does what is right! The restoration of Israel is not exclusively for the Jewish people and proselytes.”
      4. Peter taught Cornelius and the group Cornelius brought to his home.
        1. Peter brought Jewish witnesses to observe everything [does that give you a clue as to how sensitive and serious this matter was?] (10:45).
        2. The witnesses saw the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these uncircumcised non-Jews (Gentiles) and were totally astounded. What happened was far beyond any thought they ever had.
        3. Why?
          1. For the second time, the restoration of Israel (God’s promise) included matters they had never considered.
          2. Remember I shared with you the six confirming signs of the restoration of Israel (restoring the fortunes of Israel) in my first lesson in this series.
          3. One of those six signs was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
          4. They witnessed an undeniable sign of the restoration of the fortunes of Israel being poured out on uncircumcised people who were not Jews.
          5. They are absolutely astounded; God was moving the “boundary markers.”
          6. Peter, with his new understanding of what was happening, asked the Jewish witnesses if they could deny these people immersion in water?
          7. They cannot, and Cornelius and those gathered with him were baptized.
      5. Do you understand why at first Peter was confused by the incident?
    4. Now look at chapter 11.
      1. The apostles and the Jewish Christians throughout Judea were very unhappy with Peter for his decision to associate with uncircumcised people (11:1-3).
        1. Note they, including the apostles, did not approve of Peter eating with these people.
        2. There is an issue here more fundamental than the baptism into Christ.
          1. Peter entered the home of an uncircumcised person.
          2. Peter ate with uncircumcised people.
          3. Jewish people, including Jewish Christians, could not do that!
      2. Peter in orderly sequence explains why he did what he did (11:4).
        1. He told them about the vision, and that was not enough.
        2. He told them about the Spirit’s instruction, and that was not enough.
        3. He told them about the six Jewish witnesses, and that was not enough.
        4. He told them about the angel’s instruction to Cornelius, and that was not enough.
        5. He told them about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these uncircumcised people, and that was enough (remember the six signs.)

  2. We would conclude that settled the question, but it did not.
    1. I want to point out three things to you quickly that we will likely consider in more detail later.
      1. The first thing: in my judgment the fact that Peter associated with the uncircumcised Cornelius and his friends radically changed Peter’s relationship with the Jerusalem church.
        1. Peter was the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7,8)
        2. Consider Peter’s popularity prior to the conversion of Cornelius.
          Acts 5:14,15 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.
        3. After the conversion of Cornelius, Acts never recorded Peter’s popularity again, never spoke of Peter in a leadership role in the Jerusalem church.
          1. My point is not that Peter ceased being a Jewish leader.
          2. My point is that Peter became suspect in the thinking of many Jewish Christians: Peter moved the “boundary markers.”
      2. The second thing: association and conversion of uncircumcised people remained a major issue in the Jerusalem church among Jewish Christians long after Cornelius was baptized.
        1. When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey, they returned to Jewish Christians from Judea telling non-Jewish Christians in Antioch that faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism was not enough for salvation: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
        2. Paul and Barnabas could not resolve the issue even through great dissension and great debate.
        3. This issue had to be referred to the apostles and leaders of the Jerusalem church.
        4. The end result was what is called the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15.
        5. Even that decision did not resolve the question.
      3. The third thing: the pressure was so intense and so great that the apostle Peter “caved in” to the pressure (Galatians 2:11-14).
        1. When the apostle Peter visited the non-Jewish (gentile) church at Antioch, he associated and ate with uncircumcised Christians [non-Jews].
        2. But when Peter heard that a group of Jewish Christians from Judea were coming, he withdrew his association from uncircumcised Christians.
        3. He did so because he was afraid of the Jewish Christians [the part of the circumcision] from Judea.
        4. Peter’s fear made him a hypocrite.
        5. His hypocrisy was so influential that the rest of the Jewish Christians in Antioch withdrew their association from uncircumcised Christians, and even influenced Barnabas to do so.
        6. In a very straightforward manner Paul condemned Peter in a face-to-face confrontation for his hypocrisy–he knew better!

I want you to realize this was an enormous salvation issue in the first century church. Many Jewish Christians were very upset because they concluded that the restoration of Israel excluded people who did not adopt Jewish practices. They were convinced that Paul had no right to move the “boundary markers”! Certainly gentile people could be saved. But the only way that could happen was if they did things the way Jews did things. Faith in and response to Jesus Christ was not enough. It had to be done the Jewish way.

Communication: Transferring Understanding

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

For over forty years communication has been the center of my work. Teaching relies on communication. To me, preaching is teaching. Teaching communicates insights and understandings. Communication does more than transfer information. Communication also shares the insights and understandings information produces. No, I am not a master communicator. I am a student who hopes to continue learning.

I frequently am reminded that communication is a challenging, demanding, low success rate commitment. Why?

Some people hear what they expect to hear.
Some people listen when they decide beforehand the information will be relevant.
Some people hear to react rather than listen to comprehend.
Some people fear information they have not considered.
Some people are intimidated by old information that is new to them.
Some people listen to advance understanding.

None of this is new. The Old Testament and the Gospels speak of people who illustrate each observation. Most people misunderstood Jesus. His own disciples struggled with some of his teachings and actions. Yet, he still taught and did the things they did not understand. Why? He lived and taught to be people’s window to God.

We Christians teach to be windows to Jesus. When we point people toward an understanding of Jesus, Jesus points them to an understanding of God. The best picture of God the Father is seen in Jesus’ life and teachings.

The following are not intended as criticisms, but as illustrations. (1) Several told me they heard excellent things about my son Jon’s seminar/interaction sessions on personality types Saturday morning. Some said, “I am sorry I did not come –I did not know I could.” (2) I recently have heard several reports from people who did not know “Peak of the Week” occurs each Wednesday night. (3) For years I have been amazed at what some say I said in a lesson [both good and bad statements].

Communicating is difficult. Why? (1) Sharing unfamiliar information is difficult. (2) Sharing unfamiliar insights is equally (maybe more so?) difficult.

Two thousand years ago Jesus quoted a prophet’s writings. The prophet lived hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. Jesus used the quotation to explain his use of parables. “With their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15). Communication always has been difficult, even for Isaiah and Jesus.

Acts: Understanding Our Origin (part 2)

Posted by on July 14, 2002 under Sermons

Thank you for bringing your Bibles. I wish to begin with a brief review of our study last Sunday evening. We examined the way the last paragraph of Luke and Acts 1 overlap. We noticed the confusion that characterized Jesus’ eleven disciples after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We stressed the fact that Peter, in Acts 2, emphasized that God was keeping His promise to Israel.

I spent some time showing that for centuries God promised the He would “restore the fortunes of Israel.” When anyone in Israel heard a discussion focusing on the coming of God’s kingdom or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that person spoke about something of immediate, great interest to the Jewish people.

There is a significant connection between Jeremiah’s emphasis on God’s promise to restore the fortunes of Israel and the events in Acts 2. Jeremiah’s primary emphasis on God’s promise to restore Israel’s fortunes is found in chapters 29 through 33.

Jeremiah 29:1-15
Jeremiah 30:3, 17-20
Jeremiah 31:23-35
Jeremiah 32:44
Jeremiah 33:6-11, 23-26

Let’s summarize the first lesson in this manner: God made a promise to the Jewish people, and they looked for God to fulfill that promise for hundreds of years. In Acts 2, God gave life to Israel’s dry bones as He promised in Ezekiel 37.

  1. From Acts 2:1 through Acts 9:43, the church is completely Jewish.
    1. What do I mean when I say “the church was completely Jewish”?
      1. Certainly there were converts to Christ as God’s promised Messiah who were not Jewish descendants of Abraham.
        1. Acts 2:10 states clearly that both Jews and proselytes were present when the event of Acts 2 occurred, and I would conclude some proselytes were among the 3000 who repented and were baptized.
        2. Proselytes did not have Jewish ancestors; they were non-Jewish converts to Judaism.
        3. But in Acts’ emphasis, everyone who heard in the beginning of Christianity was devoted to Judaism.
        4. In the earliest days of the church, only men and women who were devoted to Judaism became Christians.
        5. At the earliest stages of Christianity, no non-Jewish idol worshippers were converted to Christ.
      2. In Jewish understanding and thinking, God was keeping His promise to Israel.
        1. God was doing what He promised to do.
        2. That was Peter’s explanation for what was happening (Acts 2:17-21) when he began his sermon with a quote from Joel 2:28-32.
        3. That was the understanding of every Jew who accepted Jesus as God’s promised Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew), God’s Anointed One.
    2. We need to take a moment to reflect on what that means.
      1. When the church began it was an all Jewish church.
      2. The Christians who were the very first Christians had this clear understanding of what was happening: God was keeping His promise to Israel.
      3. These first Christians did not separate themselves from Israel or from Jewish ways.
        1. The primary distinction between Jews who did not believe in Christ and Jews who did believe in Christ was this: Jews who believed in Christ were Messianic Jews who believed Jesus was the Christ.
        2. They did not separate themselves from Israel.
        3. They did not remove themselves from the Jewish community and build church buildings.
        4. They did not abandon Jewish heritage and Jewish practices.
        5. They did not need to! God was keeping His promise to Israel!
        6. To them there was no conflict between being a Jew and being a Christian.
        7. God was doing what He promised to do!

  2. I call your attention to three reactions of those who repented and were baptized in Acts 2. I realize there are more than three, but I want you to note these three.
    1. Maybe you have noted these reactions in your study of Acts 2; maybe you have not; maybe you understand these reactions; maybe these reactions confused you.
    2. The first reaction I call to your attention is in verse 43: those who were baptized were filled with a sense of awe.
      1. To me, the verse makes a distinction between the awe these Jewish Christians felt and the miracles performed by the apostles.
      2. They were astounded by what God did in Jesus Christ.
      3. They were astounded at God’s intentions in the Messiah.
      4. God’s actions in Christ did not meet common expectations, but exceeded all expectations.
      5. They had an entirely new understanding of the restoration of Israel, and in this new understanding God astounded them.
    3. The second reaction I call to your attention is seen in verses 44 and 45: believers had all things in common; they even sold possessions to share with those in need. Obviously, taking care of the poor was an immediate, high priority. Why?
      1. To deepen our understanding of this reaction, turn to Deuteronomy 15:1-11 and follow the reading.
        “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'”
        1. Remember the context: Moses spoke to second generation Israel before they entered the land of Canaan.
        2. Moses explained how God wanted them to treat each other.
          1. They would forgive debts every seven years.
          2. They would help the poor generously and willingly.
          3. They definitely would not be like everyone else, living as other people lived.
      2. The Jewish Christians understood [with the apostles’ approval] what was occurring was God’s promise to restore the fortunes of Israel.
        1. They understood, “This is what God meant for Israel to be from the beginning.”
        2. What God did in Christ restored the fortunes of Israel.
        3. It gave them opportunity to be what God always intended them to be.
        4. They gladly become what God always intended them to be, were thrilled to have a part in the opportunity.
        5. “We are God’s community in which God rules over us showing us how to treat each other; God is restoring the fortunes of Israel!”
        6. These Jewish converts understand what was taking place was the restoration of Israel.
    4. The third thing I call to your attention is seen in verse 46: every day with a common understanding they went to the temple, they ate their meals together in their homes, and they had a clear, joyful understanding of who they were.
      1. These first Christians behaved very Jewishly.
      2. They went to the Jewish temple to pray to God and to worship God there every day.
      3. Note the emphasis on their Christian Jewishness through Acts 9.
        1. 3:1–Peter and John [two apostles] went to the temple to pray.
        2. 4:1-3–Peter and John are arrested by Jewish authorities in charge of the temple.
        3. 4:32-35–Jewish Christians continue to help the poor by selling possessions.
        4. 5:25–the apostles are at the temple teaching people.
        5. 6:7–many priests are converted.
        6. 6:9–Stephen has disputes about Christ in specific synagogues.
        7. 6:11–false witnesses claim that Stephen opposed Moses and God [they were false witnesses–Stephen did not oppose Moses and God].
        8. 9:1,2–Paul wanted permission from the Jewish High Priest to go to Damascus (another country) and arrest Jewish Christians in the synagogues there, bring them back to Jerusalem, and have them tried [obviously Jewish Christians meet with the synagogue].

The earliest conversions of Jewish people was conversion to Christ in the understanding that God was at work keeping His promise to restore Israel. These early Christians did not consider their belief in Jesus Christ to be the beginning of a new religious movement. Their understanding was that God was doing in Israel what He promised to do–restore Israel.

Remembering what you have seen in Acts this evening, consider part of the closing remarks of Peter’s sermon at the temple in Acts 3.

Acts 3:18-21 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. [God did what He promised to do.] Therefore repent and return [realize God is at work in Jesus Christ so redirect your lives], so that your sins may be wiped away [immediate result], in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord [long term result]; and that He may send Jesus [the return of the resurrected Jesus], the Christ appointed for you [your Messiah God promised], whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time [the complete, total restoration of Israel will occur when the resurrected Jesus returns].

  1. God through the prophets promised that the Christ would suffer.
  2. That has happened, so repent, accept the remission of sins, and allow the refreshing to occur.
  3. The complete restoration of all things will not occur until Christ returns from heaven.
  4. My summary: let God keep His promise to Israel.

I want you to see in Acts that earliest Christianity was Jewish. It is very important to see that. When we see that, it will open a door to a deeper understanding of ourselves.

The Apostle Paul’s “Body” Illustration

Posted by on under Sermons

How do you use the Bible? “What do you mean?” Do you use the Bible? “Yes.” How do you personally make use of it? “What do you mean?” Do you limit your use of the Bible to times of high personal distress? Do you use it to study a Bible lesson to prepare for a Bible classes? Do you use it daily, weekly, monthly, yearly?

Does the meaning of a statement in the Bible matter to you, or do you read because you realize the value of reading the Bible? Is meaning determined by personal impressions? When you read something in the Bible, do you let the meaning be determined by what you always have heard?

Do you study the Bible? Are you constantly seeking to deepen your understanding–even if that means thinking about things you never considered before? How do you use the Bible?

The number one reason for abusing the Bible is this: rarely, if ever, reading it in an earnest desire to study the meaning of a statement.

The number two reason for abusing the Bible is this: restricting the meaning of a statement to what you were told to hear instead of letting it speak for itself.

Through the centuries the Bible has been one of the most abused books ever written. Through the centuries people fall to the same temptation when they use the Bible. A situation arises people do not like [it may or may not be an evil situation]. They use the Bible to condemn that situation. If the words say what they want said, they apply the words to the situation they want to condemn. They do not ask, “What was the writer talking about when he wrote those words?” They are not deeply concerned with what the writer meant by the words. The words just say what they want said to condemn what they want to condemn, so they use the words.

  1. In three different letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians) Paul uses his “body” illustration to explain how people in Christ who are very different relate to each other.
    1. When I was growing up, the number one use I heard of Paul’s body illustration was a condemnation of the denominational approach to Christian existence.
      1. The denominational approach to Christianity did not exist in the first century.
      2. In fact, the denominational approach to Christianity would not exist for several hundred years.
      3. That being true, Paul’s point had nothing to do with the denominational concept.
      4. So what was Paul saying? What was his point in his “body” illustration?
    2. In Romans 12:3-8, Paul wrote this to the Christians in Rome:
      For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
      1. Book context:
        1. The Jewish Christians had a major struggle with non-Jewish Christians in that congregation.
        2. It was a control issue: it involved who was in charge and who was going to say how things were done.
        3. It was an extremely sensitive situation.
      2. Immediate context:
        1. Christians in Rome must have this understanding if they were to be a living sacrifice: in spite of differences, they were one body in Christ.
        2. They must let God change the way they think.
        3. They must come to an understanding of God’s will from a new way of thinking.
      3. Four points stand out prominently to me in the reading we just shared.
        1. There is no place for arrogance among the people who belong to Christ.
        2. God had no intention for the Christians in Rome to be spiritual clones performing identical functions.
        3. If they were to be one body in Christ, they had to belong to each other.
        4. Do what God gave you the ability to do, and do it well for the benefit of all Christians in Rome.
    3. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-17, Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth:
      For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
      1. Book context: this congregation had many Christians with superiority attitudes.
        1. They had four rivaling factions who divided the congregation.
        2. They had a Christian man in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife who continued fellowship with them as though nothing is wrong.
        3. They had Christians going to pagan courts to settle differences.
        4. They had Christian men visiting prostitutes who said this was a perfectly godly practice.
        5. They had confusion and competition when they had assemblies.
      2. In the immediate context, Paul wrote about their rivalry in their use of spiritual gifts.
        1. God gave them the gifts.
        2. God gave them the gifts to bless the whole congregation, not to use as personal possessions.
        3. They were using the gifts as personal possessions to advance themselves personally at the expense of the congregation.
      3. There are four points that stand out to me in Paul’s statement.
        1. You Christians at Corinth make a single body.
        2. The same Spirit and the same immersion made everyone of you just one body, and it does not make any difference if you are or are not a Jew and if you are or are not a slave–you are just one body.
        3. God deliberately lets you be spiritually different so as one body you can do many different things.
        4. God made you to need and depend on each other, so take care of each other.
    4. In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Ephesus.
      And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
      1. Book context:
        1. The city of Ephesus was a prominent city in the Roman empire located in Asia Minor.
        2. Among the major things this city was known for was the world headquarters for the temple of Artemis.
        3. The temple in Ephesus dedicated to Artemis was the most prominent temple in the world dedicated to that goddess (female).
        4. That religion figured prominently in their economy, their society, the politics, and their every day life.
      2. The immediate context:
        1. Most of the Christians in that city were converted from an idolatrous lifestyle.
        2. The people who became Christians came from diverse backgrounds and ungodly lifestyles.
        3. Producing a congregation dedicated to unity from converts who worshipped idols and lived evil lifestyles before conversion had unique, special problems.
      3. What Paul wrote directly connected with what he said in verses 1-4.
        1. It is connected to urging these Christians to live in a manner worthy of their calling.
        2. It is connected to urging these Christians to be humble, gentle, and patient as they were forbearing with each other in love.
        3. It is connected with his urging them to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
      4. These are the points that stand out to me.
        1. It is obvious in the leadership that God put in place that Christians have different gifts with different responsibilities.
        2. The objective of all these gifts is the same: the equipping Christians to serve–that is the way the body of Christ will be built up in Ephesus.
        3. The specific objectives are these:
          1. Unity of faith [in Christ] which was essential to those who had worshipped numerous gods.
          2. Unity of knowledge of Christ which was essential to those who had worshipped numerous gods.
          3. Spiritual maturity to duplicate the image of Christ.
        4. Why all the emphasis on Christ? He was “the glue” that would allow them to be one body.

  2. In these three illustrations, what was Paul’s basic point?
    1. Christians have the responsibility to function with each other as Christ’s body.
      1. If they are to be Christ’s body, they must respect each other, depend on each other, and accept their differences.
      2. As Christians, they will never be identical [there would be differences between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians].
      3. But as Christians, they would find “oneness” by mutually belonging to each other because they were in Christ.
    2. Understanding Paul’s point in his body illustration would solve a lot of problems among Christians today.
      1. I call your attention to something that is pretty obvious: Paul’s illustration was not based on worship practices.
        1. Our worship practices are far too often based on personal preferences.
        2. Paul’s illustration said Christians must dedicate themselves to something much more important to God than worship practices if they are to be Christ’s body.
      2. Since Paul’s body illustration is not based on worship practices, on what was it based?
        1. It was based on the way Christians treat other Christians who are different.
        2. It was based on Christians respecting differences in Christians.
      3. That was a whole new way of thinking, especially for Jewish Christians.
        1. God works through differences.
        2. God uses differences in Christ to build up the body of Christ.

As Christians, our differences increase God’s opportunities to achieve His purposes.

Treating Each Other As We Should: Not A Simple Responsibility!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Most of life’s realties are complicated. One such reality is Christian relationship. It is easy to say we should love each other as God loves each of us. It is hard to love. It is easy to say that the forgiveness we each extend should reflect God’s forgiveness. It is hard to forgive. It is easy to say each person has equal spiritual worth to God. It is hard to look at others as having “equal spiritual worth.”

It is simple to justify our attitudes and behavior by declaring God’s expectations are “unattainable goals” or “ideals rooted in perfection.” Christian attitudes and behavior are rooted in God’s ideal, perfect nature. However, that fact does not excuse ungodly attitudes and behavior in Christian interaction. To say, “Oh well, after all I am just human,” misses the point of being Christian. A Christian, by choice and desire, seeks to “partake of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). What a commitment!

Godly relationships come hard for us. We are prone to be arrogantly condescending or intimidated, to be a selfish victimizer or a fearful victim, to exude superiority or to radiate weakness, to assert privilege or to accept worthlessness, to domineer or to be filled with anxiety. When we are “stuck in the middle” of one of those migrations, we become frustrated, angry, and resentful.

Any of those attitudes results in behavior that negatively impacts godly relationships. In fact, godly relationships require us to grow beyond ungodly attitudes and behavior. Only God makes such growth possible. For God to make such growth possible, we must be honest with ourselves and God about ungodly attitudes.

It is hard to be a godly spouse, a godly parent, a godly child, a godly friend, a godly employer/employee, a godly neighbor, or a godly stranger. Godliness in those situations requires godly relationships. It is more than a matter of “what I believe” or “what I am.” It is also a matter of “how I treat others.” The “being” part is hard. The “treating others” part is even more difficult.

Christians must understand what it means to be “individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5). If a person is committed to godliness, God has no preference for personality types. Why? God has use for each of us. Regardless of personality type, each person devoted to godliness is the product of the Creator who designed us in His image and likeness. Devotion to God should prepare us to relate to each other.

Acts: Understanding Our Origin

Posted by on July 7, 2002 under Sermons

For the rest of this summer, primarily Sunday evenings in July and August when I speak, I plan to direct us in an in-depth Bible study of the church. The lessons will be taped so if you miss one and wish to listen to it you can. The lessons will also build on each other. It is very important for you to bring your Bibles for you to read and see for yourself as we study.

My objective is to help us all see what scripture actually says as we deepen and broaden our understandings about the church. Some things you will find very familiar. Some things may challenge you to stretch your minds and understandings. For the bulk of the time we will focus on what the writing we call Acts tells us.

  1. The first chapter of Acts and the last chapter of Luke overlap and intertwine.
    1. The gospel of Luke ends with Jesus’ ascension and the book of Acts opens with Jesus’ ascension.
      1. The same writer wrote both writings.
      2. As Luke closes, I want you to see something.
        Luke 24:44-49 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
      3. Look at the text and note these things.
        1. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ eleven disciples (who would be apostles) did not understand that Jesus was the actual embodiment, the living fulfillment, of everything God promised in the entire scripture we call the Old Testament (the law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms).
        2. Jesus opened their minds so they could understand what the Scripture said about him.
        3. They could understand what had just happened–the betrayal, the arrest, the trials, the mockery, the death the resurrection–only if they understood the scripture.
        4. None of what happened to Jesus fit their past expectations.
        5. They knew the scriptures, but they did not understand God’s meaning in scriptures.
        6. They were to be witnesses (1) to what happened and (2) to the fact that the happenings fulfilled scripture (few if any Israelites understood God’s meaning in Scripture).
        7. “The promise of the Father” Jesus promised would come upon them was the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.
    2. The events of Acts 1 amplify what the close of Luke 24 gave in brief, summary fashion.
      1. Jesus eleven disciples are thoroughly confused.
        1. They never expected the betrayal.
        2. They never expected the arrest.
        3. They never expected the guilty verdict.
        4. They never expected the mockery.
        5. They never expected the crucifixion.
        6. While Jesus’ resurrection gave them joy, they had no idea of what it meant.
        7. Jesus’ appearances to them for 40 days after the resurrection were a time of confusion and bewilderment for these men.
      2. So in their confusion they ask Jesus’ a question.
        1. Though they are dense about what is happening, their question is a very good question.
        2. It is a question that addressed a “hot topic” in Israel and reflects their struggle to understand what is happening.
        3. “Lord is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 2:6)
          1. Israelites had a lot of interest and many expectations associated with the promised restoration of Israel.
          2. Anything that could connect events with God’s promised restoration of the kingdom drew immediate, intense interest.

  2. For hundreds of years Israel was promised the restoration of the kingdom, and the nation yearned for it to happen.
    1. But it had not.
      1. Think with me historically for just a moment.
        1. Just a comparatively few Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, and they were not free.
        2. Their descendants were not free when Alexander the Great built his empire.
        3. Their descendants were not free when they were controlled by Egyptian rulers.
        4. Their descendants were not free when they were controlled by Syrian rulers, in fact life was horrible and the nation suffered greatly.
        5. Their descendants did have freedom for about a hundred years when they successfully rebelled against the Syrians.
        6. But that period of freedom ended when the Romans took control.
      2. What God had promised Israel had not yet occurred. I want you to see why Israel expected God to do something special and connect that expectation with Acts 2.
        1. First, turn to Jeremiah 33:23-26.
          And the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Have you not observed what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the Lord chose, He has rejected them’? Thus they despise My people, no longer are they as a nation in their sight. Thus says the Lord, ‘If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.’
          1. Night and day will cease to exist before I reject the descendants of Jacob and David.
          2. I will restore their fortunes, I will have mercy on them.
        2. Now turn to Ezekiel 39:25-29.
          Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name. They will forget their disgrace and all their treachery which they perpetrated against Me, when they live securely on their own land with no one to make them afraid. When I bring them back from the peoples and gather them from the lands of their enemies, then I shall be sanctified through them in the sight of the many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God because I made them go into exile among the nations, and then gathered them again to their own land; and I will leave none of them there any longer. I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,” declares the Lord God.
          1. I, God, will restore Israel’s fortunes.
          2. I will do it because I am God.
          3. When it happens, I will not hide my face from them, but instead I will pour my Spirit on them.
        3. Now turn to Ezekiel 36:22-32.
          Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you. I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, so that you will not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord God, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!”
          1. I, God, will prove myself because I am God.
          2. I will give you a new heart and a new spirit.
          3. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a real heart.
          4. I will put my Spirit in you.
        4. Now look at Ezekiel 37:1-6
          The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.’ “
          1. When Judah returned from Babylonian captivity, they were like bones that had been dead so long they were dry.
          2. God had the power to make those bones complete, living beings.
          3. God would restore Israel.
    2. There were six signs taken from a study of scripture that were accepted as evidence that God was keeping His promise to restore the fortunes of Israel.
      1. It had to begin in Jerusalem.
      2. It would include the Jews dispersed among the nations.
      3. It would involve a king who was a descendant of King David.
      4. It would include the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
      5. It would include all Israel.
      6. It would have a sense of mission to all nations, not just to Jewish people.
    3. Look with me now at Acts 2.
      1. This happens in Jerusalem in an assembly of Jews on one of the three most important holy days in Israel (see Deuteronomy 16:16).
      2. Verse 5 says there are Jews living in Jerusalem from every nation.
      3. Verse 9-11 names other Roman provinces from which Jews have come.
      4. Peter’s sermon connects the crucified, resurrected Jesus with David.

  3. Acts 2:12 says the audience of Jews were amazed at what was happening, and asked (in our words), “How do you explain this?”
    1. And Peter begins his explanation by citing Joel 2:28-32.
      1. Why?
      2. God was keeping His promise to Israel: the restoration had begun.
      3. Those who heard understood exactly why Peter cited a scripture focusing on God’s outpouring of His Spirit.
      4. Do you?
    2. Peter’s conclusion based on scripture, eye witness experience, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: the crucified, resurrected Jesus is Lord and Christ.
      1. Some 3,000 Jews agreed and were baptized in order to receive the remission of sins and the Holy Spirit. (Also see Acts 5:32.)
      2. While we see that as an enormous number, it was a very small number compared to the Jews in Jerusalem at that time.

As we close, I want you to notice an extremely important fact: in all that happened, God was keeping a promise to Israel. It is with that point that we will begin in the next lesson.

Understanding My Salvation

Posted by on under Sermons

This morning as you entered you received a sheet with four choices. The sheets are totally anonymous–there is no request on those sheets for you to report any information about yourself. You share information with me only if you want to. If you want to share information, you can drop your sheet in a basket after we dismiss. If you do not want to share information, please take the sheet with you.

These are the choices:

    1. I have no idea of how salvation occurs in a Christian’s life.
    2. I am convinced that salvation is primarily a matter of God’s grace.
    3. I am convinced that salvation is primarily a matter of obedience.
    4. None of these statements represent my understanding of salvation.

Whether in fact you mark the sheet or not, in your mind make one of those four selections.

“I have to mark number one because I am really confused about God’s salvation. I do not have an overall understanding of salvation. Salvation’s ‘big picture’ completely escapes me. I believe God does it, but I do not know how God does it. Everything I hear just adds to my confusion.”

“Well, I have to mark # 2 because of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:4-10.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

“My understanding is the salvation is all God’s work because it is His gift to us.”

“Well, I would have to mark # 3 because of what Jesus and Paul said. Jesus said,
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:5-10:
Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord–for we walk by faith, not by sight–we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

“I am convinced that salvation is primarily a matter of obedience.”

“Well I would have to mark # 4. Unlike # 1, I definitely have an overall understanding of salvation. But # 2 and # 3 do not represent my understanding.”

Let us ask the obvious question: how can salvation be a gift and at the same time be based on our deeds? Or, how can God give us a gift and we be judged on the basis of what we do and say?

  1. As we attempt to sort this out, we must begin with some critical observations.
    1. Every writing or “book” in the New Testament is an occasional writing.
      1. “What does that mean?”
      2. It means that each writing in the New Testament was written by a specific person to a specific group or person regarding specific needs or problems.
        1. Are all those writings inspired of God? Yes.
        2. Are all those writings scripture, writing whose original source is God? Yes.
        3. This understanding is essential: the primary meaning of any verse or chapter or point must begin by understanding the problem or need the writer addressed.
      3. We cannot merely string a group of verses from different writings together to support a position.
        1. When we make a point from a verse the writer did not make, we easily can misrepresent what the writer wrote.
        2. When we do that, we easily substitute our own conviction for the writer’s point.
    2. When we use scripture, we must be careful and conscientious to understand the situation and the point of the person speaking or writing.
      1. If we are not careful, we declare a person in scripture said something he did not say or wrote something he did not write.
      2. What is at stake is misrepresenting God and misrepresenting the people God inspired to write scripture.
    3. Let me use Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:27 as an example.
      For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.
      1. The context of this statement made by Jesus:
        1. Jesus is the speaker and Matthew is the writer.
        2. Jewish men who are Jesus’ disciples are the people to whom Jesus made the statement.
        3. This statement is made in the gospel written to Jewish people.
      2. This statement occurs as part of a whole group of statements:
        1. Jesus told Peter that he was acting as Satan’s agent because his mind was concerned with human interests instead of God’s interests.
        2. He told his disciples that they must take up their crosses and follow him.
        3. He told them that if they died because of him they would gain life.
        4. He warned them that if they preserved physical life by neglecting their souls, they lost everything.
        5. Then he made the statement concerning judgment by deeds.
      3. I want to call the obvious to your attention.
        1. Jesus was not talking about all mankind being judged when he made this statement.
        2. He was talking to his disciples about being judged.
        3. “As disciples, do not conclude that God’s partiality will save you.”
          1. “Even you need to have a clear understanding that it is not who you are but how you live that will determine your judgment.”
          2. “Do not expect to be saved because God is partial to you as Israelites.”
          3. “Do not expect to be saved because God is partial to you as disciples.”
          4. “Being my disciple gives you the privilege of serving God’s purposes.”
          5. “So, as my disciple, use your life to do God’s will.”
          6. “Being my disciple provides you the privilege of opportunity–God will evaluate the way you use your life in honoring the privilege of that opportunity.”

  2. Is salvation God’s gift? Yes. Will Christians be judged by their deeds? Yes. How can that be?
    1. The statement made in Ephesians 2:4-10 was made to Christians who were not Jews, who were converted from idolatry and its lifestyle.
      1. Paul said before they entered Christ they were spiritually dead.
        1. At that time they were ruled by forces that opposed God.
        2. At that time the desires of their physical bodies controlled their behavior.
      2. They were not God’s chosen people.
        1. Abraham was not their forefather.
        2. God did not deliver them from Egypt.
        3. God did not give them Canaan.
        4. God did not send the Israelite prophets to them.
      3. They are now in Christ because of the goodness of God, not because they had Israel’s promises.
        1. It is not their worth that gave them salvation.
        2. It was God’s goodness and kindness.
        3. They had no right to human arrogance.
        4. There was only place for service to God in the good works God wanted done.
    2. In New Testament language, we are Gentiles and we are a Gentile congregation.
      1. It is highly probable that 99% to 100% of us as Gentiles have only attended a Gentile worship.
      2. Our salvation is God’s gift to us in Christ.
        1. We do not deserve all the gifts God gives us in Christ.
        2. For us to arrogantly think that God will be partial to us for any reason is totally unfounded.
      3. As people whom God recreated in Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of devoting our existence to serving God by doing His good works.
    3. No one deserves God’s gracious acts in Jesus’ death.
      1. No one deserves God’s atonement in Christ.
      2. No one deserves God’s redemption in Christ.
      3. No one deserves God’s propitiation in Christ.
      4. No one deserves God’s justification in Christ.
      5. No one deserves God’s sanctification in Christ.
      6. No one deserves God’s reconciliation in Christ.
      7. The only way anyone can have these things is by God giving them to us.
    4. The statement made in 2 Corinthians 5:10 about appearing before Christ’s judgment seat to be evaluated on the basis of the deeds done in the body was made to Christians in the city of Corinth.
      1. This congregation was primarily composed of non-Jewish Christians, though it had some Jewish Christians in it.
      2. These Christians were living as they pleased, doing “their own thing.”
      3. The congregation was divided; they had a horrible, open case of incest they ignored; they were taking each other to pagan courts to settle differences; they were visiting prostitutes; and they were arrogantly competing with each other in worship assemblies.
      4. When Paul tried to redirect their understanding, some verbally attacked Paul and claimed they were superior to anything Paul said or did.
      5. Because they were Christians, they thought they could live as they pleased and God would not be concerned.
        1. Paul said they were horribly mistaken.
        2. God would evaluate them on the basis of how they lived for Him.

  3. Our salvation is a gift that we do not deserve, but we receive the gift to live for God, to serve God, to dedicate ourselves to doing good.
    1. Salvation is God’s gift; that is the only way we can receive it.
    2. But we are saved to serve, and Christ will judge our appreciation of our gift on the basis of how we live and use our lives.
    3. From the beginning of Christianity, Christians have struggled with their understanding of salvation.
      1. Some Christians at Corinth basically said, “God’s grace saves us and places us in Christ, and how we live and act really doesn’t matter.”
      2. Some Jewish Christians said, “We are Abraham’s descendants who believe Jesus is the Messiah God promised us, so God show us partiality.”
      3. Some Gentile Christians, like some in Rome, said, “Ha, ha, ha to all you Jews! Look at what God does for us in Christ! We have what you don’t have!”
      4. Some Christians in the last of the first century said, “Jesus Christ is not all that important, and God does not care how people live.”
    4. And the message of the New Testament epistles is consistent: “You Christians have a serious misunderstanding of God, of Jesus Christ, and of salvation.

And 2000 years later we struggle with the same misunderstandings. And 2000 years later we seriously misunderstand God, Jesus Christ, and salvation.

“My” Salvation: So Many Are Involved

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The church created and sustains this misconception: salvation is simple. From that misconception too many Christians disastrously over-simplify salvation. “I do my part, God does His part, and salvation is a done deal. It is quite simple. Do what you are supposed to do and God does what He is supposed to do.” The concept: “my” part is baptism and church attendance.

The core of “my” salvation involves God, Jesus Christ, God’s Spirit, and “me” on a continuing basis. Apart from the core are other factors. Some factors encourage “me” toward God: Christian fellowship, godly examples, maturing in understanding God’s word, maturing in understanding God’s will and purposes, and maturing in identifying good and evil. Some factors encourage “me” toward evil: temptation, victimization by ungodly forces, hungers to indulge physical desires, false concepts of security, and a world that says many forms of evil are good.

Salvation involves an event of coming to God. God’s power in a specific moment transitions “me” from Satan’s kingdom and rule to God’s kingdom and rule. However, the event begins “my” salvation and marks only the beginning of a lifelong commitment and relationship with God through Christ.

For salvation to be reality, several things must occur. If in faith “I” respond to what God did in Jesus’ death, God gives me the gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10). God always is the source of power; “I” never am (Ephesians 3:20, 21). “I” respond to God’s offer. The power that provides “me” a saved relationship with God is always from God, never “me.”

“I” choose God as “my” ruler instead of the forces of evil (Romans 6). “I” place the resurrected Jesus as Lord of “my” entire existence (1 Peter 3:14-16). “I” remain acutely aware of what God did and does for “me.” In obedience surrender, “I” use all of “my” life to serve God’s purposes. “I” never reduce this merely to rules and regulations. It is a whole life commitment that allows God to remake “me” (Ephesians 4:20-24).

This remaking [transformation] is a cooperative project between God and “me.” “I” give Him “my” mind to remake and to focus on His will (Romans 12:1,2). He through His Spirit lives in “my” life. From the moment of “my” forgiveness, His presence [Spirit] is His gift to “me” (Acts 2:38). In cooperation with His presence in “my” life, “I” grow to be a different person as “I” permit the Spirit to bear fruit in “my” life (Galatians 5:22-24). “My” body is His presence’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). When Christ returns, “I” will be judged by “my” appreciative service to God who allows Jesus to be “my” Savior (2 Corinthians 5:10). In every consideration, God provides “me” salvation as a gift. “I” responsibly surrender and cooperate with God as He transforms “me.”