All the Bible, Every Book: 2-Year Journey Through All 66 Books of the Bible

All the Bible, Every Book

Dr. J Vernon McGee’s Thru the Bible teaching series was born at Church of the Open Door. The genius of Dr. McGee’s Thursday evening series when he pastored our great church is its simplicity. Just teach people the Bible. All of it.

The Lord has convinced me that this is what every Christian should try.

I’m going to teach the Bible, all of it, book by book. Think of it as your “book-a-week club,” but the Books we’ll be reading are the 66 Books of God’s Word.

Sadly, most people, even Christians, have never read through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. They may know some of the stories or even some of the Books very well, but they have no idea how it all fits together.

We’ll be studying the geography, structure, and message of each book, beginning with Genesis. The theme: All the Bible, Every Book–Trusting His life-changing truth comes with this promise: “Give us two years and we’ll give you the whole  Bible.” To follow along with this series, I’m going to be posting daily devotions to help you not only understand what you’re reading but also apply it to your life.

I hope you’ll join me.

Question: Have you read through the entire Bible? 

There are many books in the world today . . . the New York Times best seller lists currently includes titles from prolific writers such as Stephen King to books based on block buster movies like War Horse.  But amidst the drama, the mystery and the romance, there’s only one book which can answer the great questions of life . . .

  1. Where did I come from?
  2. Why am I here?
  3. Where am I going?

Any idea of the title we’re referencing?

That’s correct,

The Bible

I created these notes and taught this series to help you grasp the “big ideas” of God’s message in the Bible. I believe this 2-Year journey will  also give you much more confidence as you read through the Bible yourself.

Over 25 million copies of the Bible are sold in America and Americans spend over $2.4 billion on Bibles yearly.  And yet, most people have no idea how the Bible is put together–the geography, history, and structure of God’s Word.

The consistent message of God throughout the Bible is that it’s good for God’s people to read His Word.

Not only will this series serve to undergird the mature Christian in their knowledge and application of God’s Word to their lives, but it will also speak to the importance of all Christians–including children and young adults–reading the entire Bible.

For the rest of your life you will either face your days with the confidence that you know the Scriptures or with a lack of understanding that will make you vulnerable to lies about God and life. God has things to say about your dating life, your workplace, your marriage, your country, your world, the environment, social justice, feeding the poor, your use of your money and a thousand other practical subjects. There’s no reason for you to go through life thinking, “I wonder what God thinks about this?”

His Word Tells You Plainly

So, as you move forward in this adventure, I encourage you with this truth: Reading Bible will make more of a difference in your life than any achievement or luxurious vacation!

The Bible is the must-read book . . . the world’s most translated book and the world’s all-time best seller.

The Bible, The Old Testament, and the Pentateuch

“For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction,

 so that through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures

 we may have hope” (Romans 15:4).

We’re all born with questions in our heart that the two most basic sources of human knowledge—reason and experience—cannot answer: Who am I? Why am I here? Does anyone care about me, I mean really? History seems out of control, where is this world headed?

God in His grace has provided another source of knowledge—revelation—to answer the questions of humanity concerning meaning and significance in life. The Bible claims to be God’s special revelation to the beloved centerpiece of His creation—men and women, boys and girls.

Though God demonstrates that He’s there through the general revelation of His creation (Psalm 19:1-6) and has given every human heart the knowledge that He exists (Romans 1:18), His special revelation is His more direct communication to humanity. This may involve dreams, angels, and visions, but we receive special revelation primarily and most clearly through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2) and in the written words, paragraphs, and stories in the 66 Books of the Bible.

Many people, even sincere Christians, struggle as we read through the Bible. We may be familiar with a few of the stories and we may have heard sermons about a number of passages. But we find it difficult to put the pieces of the Bible together and feel lost when we’re trying to read through an entire Book of the Bible.

What we need is the big picture of the Bible—a broader understanding of how the Bible is put together and how the events, people, and places connect. This is what Bible students call a synthetic study of the Scriptures. We’re dedicating two years to a synthetic study of the Word of God—all 66 Books. And it begins today with this overarching sentence on the Bible:

The Bible is God’s masterpiece written to rescue us by revealing God’s Son—Jesus Christ.

The Bible contains 66 Books, 39 of those comprise the Old Testament, which begins with the 5 Books of the Pentateuch:

I. The Old Testament was written to instruct us and give us enduring and encouraging hope (Romans 15:4).

A. The Bible is divided between the 39 Books of the Old Testament and the 27 Books of the New Testament. The God of the Bible is the Creator and Redeemer of His creation. He is personally and intimately involved in the lives of people and is moving history according to His plan. The Cross of Jesus Christ—the Son of God’s substitutionary death for the sin of humanity that defiled creation—is the central event of history from God’s perspective. There is a progressive revelation in the Scriptures, meaning that the story and the message unfolds over time.

1. The Old Testament anticipates the work of Israel’s coming King—Messiah—by telling the story of God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

2. The New Testament announces the birth of Messiah and reveals Him as the Son of God who came to take away the sin of humanity. It puts Jesus’ death in perspective and records the beginnings, teachings, and future of the church—those who have received God’s resurrection life, eternal life, by believing in His Son.

3. Jesus Christ claimed to be the Key that unlocks the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-46). The Bible ends by claiming that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelations 22:13) and His announcement that He is coming again (Revelation 22:20).

B. The Old Testament unfolds redemptive history by quickly focusing on the focus of the Creator’s interest—humanity, how humans defiled creation through their willful disobedience, and how God launched His plan to redeem creation through His promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

  1. The Greek translation of the Old Testament divided the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible into 39 Books. The three-fold Hebrew division of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (Luke 24:44) was replaced by the four divisions we use today: The Law (5); History (12); Poetry (5); and Prophecy (17).
  2.  The Structure of the Old Testament is the key to understanding the Big Picture!

 

Historical Books (17) 

Poetical Books (5)

Prophetical Books (17)

Genesis

Exodus

Leviticus

Numbers

Deuteronomy

Job

Psalms

Proverbs

Ecclesiastes

Song of Solomon

Isaiah

Jeremiah

Lamentations

Ezekiel

Daniel

Joshua

Judges

Ruth

1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles

Ezra

Nehemiah

Esther

# Books OT:# Books NT:# Books Bible:

Hosea

Joel

Amos

Obadiah

Jonah

Micah

Nahum

Habakkuk

Zephaniah

Haggai

Zechariah

Malach

 Events

Experience

Exhortations

Past

 Present

 Future

C.   The 5 Books of Moses are known as the Law, the Torah (Hebrew for Law), and the Pentateuch (from the Greek term penta (five) and teuchos (scroll or book). I believe they were written by Moses on the plains of Moab to encourage the Israelites to trust in the God of the Exodus as their faithful, omnipotent, and personal God. What a generation of slaves needed most if they were to enter the Promised Land was faith in their God and an understanding that they were special to Him.

II. The Bible was not written merely to be understood. It was written to change our life by persuading us to believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and trusting Him and His Word in ways that will instruct us and give us enduring and encouraging hope.


All the Bible, Every Book: Genesis

The Book of Beginnings

“Then Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord considered his response of faith

 as proof of genuine loyalty (evidence of steadfast commitment, righteousness).” (Genesis 15:6) 

Genesis provides the historical foundation for the entire Bible and the basis for the Pentateuch. Moses, the author (Matthew 19:8; Mark 7:10), traces the history of the universe from God’s perspective. The account is selective according to Moses’ purpose to encourage the Israelites assembled on the Plains of Moab to trust in their faithful and omnipotent God enough to conquer the Promised Land.

The events Moses records in Genesis take the reader from Eden to Egypt and cover thousands of years from Creation to Abram’s family (1-11) and then the 300 years from Abram’s covenant with God to the death of Joseph (12-50).

Moses moves the story forward through the phrase “the generations of” (toledot in Hebew, and translated “the account” or “record). It divides the book 10 times (36:9 repeats 36:1) beginning with the person named, who may not be the primary character of the section, and closes with that persons death (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:1).

Genesis introduces the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) as God’s solution to a self-destructing humanity bent on devastating destruction. The first eleven chapters surface the desperate need of the Covenant. The remaining chapters unfold the outworking of the covenant through the lives of the four Patriarchs of the Hebrew faith—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

God is the luminary of Genesis as the narrative reveals His place in the origin of the universe and the birth and life of the believing community He powerfully and faithfully delivers. Of His own choice and due only to His love and mercy, He established Israel as the means of blessing the undeserving families of the earth in response to Abrahams’ faith.

Imagine the impact this view of history had on the children of the generation that refused to believe God at Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 14). Far more than a gaggle of slaves slinking back home. Moses wanted them to see themselves as the chosen people of the living God with a glorious and eternal destiny! Genesis, the book of beginnings, has encouraged believers since the post-Exodus generation by providing God’s exciting perspective on their role in history:

Genesis: People of God, trust in your all-powerful and faithful Lord.

Genesis is a theological presentation of selected facts and stories from history to expose humanity’s disastrous revolt against our Creator and His merciful response.

I. Genesis provides the historical basis for God’s covenant with His people and reveals the basic principles involved in God’s relationship with all people of all time.

A. HUMAN HISTORY: Genesis 1-11 proves the necessity for the covenant setting apart a special people, Israel, in a special land, Canaan, to worship Him. Two antithetical dynamics of God’s gracious provision for humanity and humanity’s totally rebellious and disastrous response are demonstrated in four primeval events, leaving humanity hopelessly enslaved to sin.

1. CREATION: God, seeking relationship with man, graciously and lovingly provides everything he needs for intimacy with Him—paradise, partner, and purpose (1-2).

2. FALL: Man and woman, seeking independence and rejecting God’s love and care, sin and die spiritually, separating the race from God as sin’s destructive power rapidly pollutes every aspect of life (3-5).

Messiah: A glimmer of light, a thread of hope. In spite of the curse of the Fall, God promises hope for redemption through the seed of the woman (3:15).

3. FLOOD: Sin’s exponential and cancerous growth brings a cleansing judgment to save humanity—a new beginning with a righteous man, Noah, and his family (6-9).

4. NATIONS: At the Fall, one couple rebelled against God. The fresh start fails as now the entire world civilization rebels against God’s love and care at the Tower of Babel. To throttle evil God fragments the single culture and language of the world and scatters people over the face of the earth (10-11).

B. HEBREW HISTORY: The decadence of humanity led to a necessary election of a people descended from one man of faith—Abraham. He would be the first of four great men (Patriarchs) who trust God. God promises to build a nation by faith, a nation through whom He will redeem the world from sin and bless all nations (12-50).

1. ABRAHAM: God calls Abraham; Abraham believes God; God makes covenant promises to Abraham (land, descendants, and blessings). The faith and covenants of Abraham form the foundation to God’s program of bringing salvation upon the earth (12-25).

2. ISAAC: God establishes His covenant with the son of promise—Isaac not Ishmael. Isaac would be the child of faith and blessing (25-26).

3. JACOB: God establishes His covenant with the second, ambitious son of Isaac—Jacob, not Esau. He transforms this man from selfishness to servanthood and his name to Israel, the father of twelve tribes. Every descendant of Jacob would inherit the promises to Abraham and Isaac (27-36).

4. JOSEPH:  God protects His covenant people through the faith of Jacob’s favorite son—Joseph. A type of Christ, loved by the father and rejected by his brethren, Joseph becomes their deliverer. His brothers deliver him to slavery in Egypt. After his dramatic rise to rulership of Egypt, Joseph delivers his family from famine and brings them out of Canaan to Goshen (37-50).

Messiah: A glimmer of light, a thread of hope. In spite of the miserable failure of Jacob’s sons, Shiloh, the One who brings peace to the world and before whom the entire world will bow, will be a descendant of Judah (49:10).

“In the unfolding of this grand program of God, Genesis introduces the reader to the nature of God as the sovereign Lord over the universe who will move heaven and earth to establish His will. He seeks to bless mankind, but does not tolerate disobedience and unbelief. Throughout His revelation the reader learns that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’ (Hebews 11:6).” Allen P. Ross, Genesis, p. 21

II. The God of the Bible moved heaven and earth so that He could relate to those who believe in Him—to love them and care for them as their omnipotent God.

A. Genesis records how God called Abram out of a godless culture and made wonderful promises to him (Genesis 12:1-3) that God guaranteed by an unconditional covenant (Genesis 15). Abraham is the model of faith according to New Testament authors. He trusted God’s promise to rescue him (Romans 4:1-3, 16-24; Galatians 3:6-9). And then, after entering into relationship with God due solely to his faith (Genesis 12:1-3; 15), Abraham trusted Him enough to follow and became God’s friend (Hebrews 11:8-19; James 2:21-23)

Have you trusted in the promises of God to this generation of seekers—“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

B. If you have been rescued from sin by faith, what is He asking you to trust Him for right now?

C. How does the big picture of the Book of Genesis help you trust Him enough to do what He’s asking you to do?

All the Bible, Every Book: Exodus

The Record of the Great Deliverance

“Therefore, tell the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord. I will bring you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians, I will rescue you from the hard labor they impose, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.’

(Exodus 6:6)

Exodus begins where Genesis left off. Seventy descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living as aliens in Egypt under the protection of Pharaoh who favored Joseph (Genesis 46:27; Exodus 1:5). But soon after recounting the unprecedented growth of just a handful to a nation within a nation, Moses (Mark 7:10) explains the necessity of the Exodus with the foreboding words, “Then a new kind, who did not know about Joseph, came to power over Egypt” (Exodus 1:8). The account is selective according to Moses’ purpose to encourage the Israelites assembled on the Plains of Moab (Exodus 16:35) by celebrating God’s great and gracious deliverance of His people from Egyptian slavery to the freedom of living in covenant relationship and intimacy with Him.

The events Moses records in Exodus cover a period of about 400 years from the arrival of Jacob and his family in Egypt to the erection of the tabernacle in the wilderness. The chapters naturally divide into two sections. The first section (1-18) documents the dreadful plight of Israel in Egypt and their dramatic deliverance from slavery. The second section (19-40) deals with God preparing His people to worship Him intimately.

Most of the book (chapters 3-40) focuses on only two of those 400 years—the year before and the year after the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus is obviously the central event of the second book of the Pentateuch. Exodus is the most cited book in the rest of the Old Testament, and only the books of Psalms and Isaiah are referred to more than Exodus in the New Testament.

The two-fold theme of Exodus is redemption and relationship:

Redemption means liberation because of a payment made. The Passover is the greatest picture of redemption in the Old Testament. The story of the birth of Israel illustrates the three basic ideas of biblical redemption. (1) People are redeemed from something—slavery in Egypt. (2) People are redeemed by something—the blood of the Passover lamb. (3) People are redeemed to something—freedom to serve God through the obedience that comes from continued trust.

Relationship with God carries the glorious opportunity to dwell with Him intimately. The God of Israel clearly states what this intimate relationship with Him involves. As they learn to trust and obey Him, He will dwell among them and they will be His people:

Exodus: God redeems those who trust in Him, and relates intimately to those who trust and obey Him.

Exodus dramatically contrasts God’s gracious choice to bless Israel with deliverance, adoption, and His abiding presence with Israel’s consistent ingratitude and rebellion.

I. REDEMPTION FROM EGYPT: God fulfills His promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16) by delivering His people from slavery (1-18; key verse, 6:6).

A. CALL OF MOSES: In response to His people’s need, God chooses Moses to lead His people and patiently prepares His servant for the task, teaching him the futility of self-confidence and the necessity for faith (1-4).

B. CHALLENGE OF MOSES: In response to Pharaoh’s refusal to “let my people go” God demonstrates His sovereignty through Moses and the ten plagues culminating in the Passover (5-12).

Messiah: A type of Christ—the Lord’s Passover (Exodus 12:11). This is a wonderful illustration of the redemption Christ accomplished at Calvary (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7). New Testament writers see this in the details—the offering without blemish (Exodus 12:5; 1 Peter 1:19), the lamb had to die (Exodus 12:6; John 12:24, 27), and the blood had to be applied (Exodus 12:7; Hebrews 9:22).

C. CROSSING TO SINAI: In response to the faith of the people at the Passover, God redeems Israel and miraculously guides them to safety through the Red Sea and protects and sustains them through their journeys (13-18).

Note: As Dr. Ron Allen noted, Exodus 14:30-31 shows that Israel was a saved/redeemed people before they received the Mosaic Covenant. The LXX translates the Hebrew with the Greek word for believe or trust, pisteoSo the LORD saved Israel on that day from the power of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. When Israel saw the great power that the LORD had exercised over the Egyptians, they feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

Messiah: A type of Christ—the Exodus. Paul relates Christ to the Red Sea crossing because baptism symbolizes death to the old and identification with the new (Romans 6:2-3; 1 Corinthians 10:1-2) and Christ as the spiritual Rock that sustained them (1 Corinthians 10:4).

II. RELATING TO GOD: The people make a covenant with God—if they learn to trust and obey Him He will dwell among them in the promised land (19-40; key verses 19:5-6).

A. REVEALING THE COVENANT: Detailed instructions on how to be God’s people, how to worship Him and walk with Him (19-31). The Mosaic Covenant: Unlike the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-21) which promised land, seed and blessing, the Mosaic Covenant offering the Exodus generation the opportunity to be God’s special treasure was conditional and fulfillment depended on the faithfulness of the people (Exodus 19:5).

B. RESPONDING TO THE COVENANT: The people learn to trust and obey—first through failure when they break the covenant and God disciplines them, then through success when they repent and God blesses them and dwells among them (32-40).

Messiah: A type of Christ—the Tabernacle (Exodus 24-27). The tabernacle clearly speaks of Christ and the way of redemption.

Exodus ends with the word “journeys” telling the reader that there is more to come from the pen of Moses.

III. Exodus is a book of redemption and freedom. The New Testament uses the Exodus to illustrate the Christian’s redemption from the slavery of sin to the freedom to serve Christ in love (Ephesians 1:7).

1. The Passover Principle: Trusting in the blood of the Lamb will liberate you from sin! John the Baptizer announced Jesus Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus Himself said this about His mission from the Father to liberate those who believed in Him, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Have you been redeemed from the slavery of sin? That is, have you, as it were, placed the blood of the Lamb on the doorpost of your heart? If not, why not trust in Christ today as your “Passover Lamb” and He will give you eternal life.The Covenant Principle:

2. If the redeemed nation Israel would be true to the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19), God would dwell with them intimately. They would maximize their freedom by experiencing a worshipful life, if they would obey Him. In the same way, the Lord Jesus promises an intimate experience of a worshipful life to those who will trust Him enough to obey: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slave, because a slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I call you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father” (John 15:14-15).

Are you experiencing the maximum potential of your freedom in Christ—friendship with the Son of God? If not, why not tell Him you want to walk with Him…starting right now?

All the Bible, Every Book: Leviticus

Relating to Your Holy God

“For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God,

and you are to be holy because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45).

Leviticus records the teaching of God through Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai during the month between God’s occupation of the tabernacle (Exodus 40:16, 34-38) and the taking of the census at Sinai (Numbers 1:1-3). The descendants of Jacob had learned that they were God’s special people (Genesis), and they had experienced the delivering power of their redeeming God (Exodus). Now, in an intense one-month course on holiness, God will teach the Exodus generation about His holy character and how to relate to their holy God.  The account is selective according to Moses’ purpose to teach Israel how to fulfill the responsibility of the Mosaic Covenant by becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 26:5). (See Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, p. 323)

Leviticus is God’s handbook for his newly redeemed people, instructing them how to worship and serve Him. Unlike the gods of Egypt or the gods of the pagan peoples they are set apart from, their God is holy. Relating to a holy God creates a problem—sin is a barrier to ongoing intimacy with a holy God. The chapters naturally divide into two sections. The first section (1-17) teaches how a sinful people are to approach a holy God—through the blood sacrifice that atones for their sin. The word atonement occurs 45 times in the book. The second section (18-27) shows them how to walk with a holy God—by trusting Him enough to do what He says. It’s called obedience.

The theme of Leviticus is holiness: “You are to be holy because I am holy (11:45; 19:2). The word holiness occurs 87 times in 27 chapters! The object lessons for God’s redeemed people of the church age are clear: Sin is horrible; God is holy. Those approaching a holy God need a sacrifice to cleanse them from sin (1 John 1:5-10). Those walking with a holy God need to worship Him through obedience (1 Peter 1:15-16; Romans 12:1-2):

Leviticus: God’s redeemed must relate to Him as their holy God.

Leviticus may not apply to our lives in the particulars of God’s demands on Israel (Mosaic Covenant), but it is a great presentation of the character of our God and His desire to bless His obedient people.

I. APPROACHING A HOLY GOD: The redeemed must be holy when they approach God. Holiness means cleansing from every sin and requires sacrificial blood offerings through a mediating priesthood (1-17; key verse, 17:11).

A. SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS: Five different offerings an Israelite could offer: three for those in fellowship with God (sweet savor—burnt, meal, peace) and two for those out of fellowship (non-sweet savor—sin, trespass) (1-7).

B. MEDIATING PRIESTHOOD: After the sacrifices come the divine requirements for the priests who offer them. Aaron and his four sons are instructed and consecrated for seven days. The disobedience and death of two of Aaron’s sons bring more restrictions on the priesthood (8-10).

Messiah: A type of Christ—the priest. The priest speaks to God for men. The Aaronic priest had to be a man chosen by God and qualified for his work to offer sacrifices for the people (Leviticus 21; Hebrews 5:1-7). Though Christ was chosen by God and fully qualified to offer His once-for-all sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:23-26), being from the tribe of Judah disqualified Him from being an Aaronic priest. Christ is a Melchizedekan priest. Like Melchizedek He is a ruler who deserves our obedience. He blesses us. And as Melchizedek offered bread and wine to refresh and sustain Abraham after the battle, our Lord as Priest refreshes and sustains His people. We have a great High Priest standing and ready to come to the aid of those who are tested (Hebrews 2:18) and anxious to give grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

C. NATIONAL PURIFYING: Being a holy people demands a holy lifestyle. Laws regarding uncleanness caused by animals, birth, leprosy, and discharges regulate every aspect of life to prevent uncleanness. The word “unclean” occurs over 100 times in these chapters! The people find that disobedience and defilement is no small matter with God (11-15).

D. NATIONAL CLEANSING: The great Day of Atonement observed each year was Israel’s most significant day of worship. On that day the nation gathered to watch expectantly as the high priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of atonement to cover the sins of the nation for another year (16-17).

Messiah: A type of Christ—atonement. The arrangements of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament included the necessity of the offerer laying his hands on the animal being offered as a sacrifice. The animal’s death took the place of the death due the one offering that animal. The animal suffered as a substitute for the sinner, instead of the sinner, resulting in the advantage to the sinner by paying for our sins. Clearly, according to His own teaching (Mark 10:45) and that of the rest of the New Testament, Christ’s death was a substitution for sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18).

II. WALKING WITH A HOLY GOD: The redeemed must live a holy life if they are to enjoy and worship God. Holiness means avoiding sin and following God’s guidance (18-27; key verses, 20:7-8).

A. SANCTIFYING THE PEOPLE: God’s strict guidelines for living reflect His desire that His people be holy and uniquely His. Sexual and social sins must be punished promptly to promote obedience among the people (19-20).

B. SANCTIFYING THE PRIESTHOOD: Because of their high calling, the priests accepted more restrictions on their conduct and privileges. Attention to detail in their daily duties was demanded since these reflected God’s goodness in His dealings with His people (21-22).

C. SANCTIFYING THE WORSHIP: Seven annual feasts provided the people with a yearly opportunity to look back and look ahead: look back upon the great epochs in their national history, and look ahead to the time when Messiah would come to fulfill the events pictured in the feasts (23).

Messiah: A type of Christ—Israel’s Feasts speak of the glorious career of Christ.

D. SANCTIFYING THE PROMISED LAND: Conversation and conduct in the land must be holy. Profanity is dealt with severely. Periods of rest should never be neglected (Sabbath rest, Sabbath year, Year of Jubilee). And the conditions and requirements for blessings or discipline of the people is clearly delineated. Note: The prophets will refer back to the blessing/cursing chapter, Chapter 26 of Leviticus (see also Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy) (24-26).

E. SANCTIFYING THROUGH VOWS: Dedicating their lives and resources to the Lord, some Israelites would take special vows. Everyone was to vow one-tenth of the increase of the land to God (27).

III. Redeemed people must claim God’s provision for sin to approach Him and claim God’s power over sin to walk with Him.

1. God has never asked His people to “take care of their sin” to approach Him. But He does insist that His people admit their sin and trust in His provision for sin to approach Him (1 John 1:5-10).

2. God has never asked His people to “make themselves holy” but He has asked them to trust Him enough to obey Him as His set apart people (1 Peter 1:15-16; Romans 12:1-2).

3. Leviticus teaches the need for intense times of spiritual formation, especially for the newly redeemed.

All the Bible, Every Book: Numbers

Walking with Your Holy God

“For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it” (Numbers 14:22-23). 

Numbers contains the records of two generations, two censuses (numberings, chapters 1-4; 26), and two sets of instructions for enjoying the “rest” of experiencing God’s blessing in the land of promise. The book opens with Israel’s 11-day march from Sinai to Kadesh (Numbers 1:1) and ends almost 40 years later (Deuteronomy 1:3). Only a year has passed since the exodus of Egypt. In spite of God’s merciful and bountiful provision, the dissatisfied people murmur and complain (11:1). This attitude undermines their faith in the goodness of their God and leads to disbelief and disobedience (14:22-23). The descendants of Jacob had learned that they were God’s special people (Genesis); they had experienced the delivering power of their redeeming God (Exodus), and they had learned that He is a holy God (Leviticus).

Now, in a dramatic test within sight of the Promised Land, they will fail to trust Him enough to do what He says. Numbers, the book of missed opportunity due to disobedience, contrasts the faithfulness of God with the fickleness of His people. God will discipline the Exodus generation to purge their unbelief from His people (1-25). Then, He will return the new generation to their place of testing—poised once again at the doorstep of the Promised Land (26-36).  The account is selective according to Moses’ purpose “to compel obedience to Yahweh by member of the new community by reminding them of the wrath of God on their parents because of their breach of the covenant; to encourage them to trust in the ongoing promises of their lord as they follow him into their heritage in Canaan; and to provoke them to worship of God and to the enjoyment of their salvation.” (Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers,” in Genesis-Numbers, vol 2. of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 662)

Numbers is the book of wanderings. Two generations receive instructions on how to enjoy intimacy with God in the land He promised them. One mistrusts Him, disobeys, and does not enter the “rest” of the blessing of obedience. The next is told to learn from the 40-year object lesson of the discipline of their parents. The theme of Numbers is the correlated truths of grace and devotion: God makes covenants of grace with His people, but to experience the full blessings of His grace demands wholehearted devotion. The object lessons for God’s redeemed people of the church age are clear: The pattern of Israel’s frequent failures to trust and obey God is set at Kadesh. During times of trial and testing they complained and disobeyed—focusing on their circumstances rather than their God. Consequently God postponed the blessing. Most generations of Israel will never enjoy the benefits and blessing of God’s promises to His people:

Numbers: Walk by faith toward your destiny or wander in circles in this world!

 

Numbers is a map for God’s people of every generation to follow during the wilderness experiences of life.

I. OBJECT LESSON OF MISTRUST AND DISOBEDIENCE: The redeemed who witness God’s miraculous acts of deliverance and provision will miss their blessing and experience discipline if they mistrust Him and disobey Him  (1-26; key verses, 11:1; 14:22-23).

A. PREPARATIONS: God instructs the generation that witnessed His miraculous acts of deliverance and preservation to prepare to move on. They are to march forward to experience the full blessing and potential of their redemption from slavery in Egypt. The old generation is numbered and told that they must trust and obey on the march to the Promised Land. Even as the journey begins they are complaining (1-12).

B. PUNISHMENT: With the Promised Land in sight, the people draw back in unbelief at Kadesh. They are judged by disinheritance and death. The generation of the Exodus will not be the generation of the conquest. The next generation learns that unbelief brings discipline and hinders God’s blessing (13-25).

Messiah: A type of Christ—the bronze serpent. Only those who believed God and looked on the serpent lived (21:4-9). The Lord Jesus uses this incident as an illustration of His vicarious death on the cross and of the necessity of personal faith for salvation (John 3:14-15).

II. PROMISE: When the transition to the new generation is complete, the people move to the plains of Moab, directly east of the Promised Land. Before they can enter the land they must be ready. Like their parents, they receive instructions, take a census, and are told to follow God’s appointed leader—Joshua (26-36).

A. COUNTING THE PEOPLE: Now that the journey is virtually over, it’s time for a second census—both to assess Israel’s military strength and to apportion the soon-to-be conquered territory of Canaan. Sadly, the nation has actually lost over 1,800 fighting men over forty years. The new army is 601,730 strong (26-30).

B. CONSIDERING THE PAST: Moses’ final days see him intensely preparing the people for their conquest. Midian is destroyed completely for its idolatrous influence. Reuben and Gad stay east of the Jordan. And Moses retells the story of their journey for the new generation (31-33).

C. COUNTING ON THE PROMISE: God assigns borders to the tribes and laws to govern life in the Promised Land. His promise to Abraham is so sure, even before they enter the land and fight their enemies, the land is divided among them, and life there is described (34-36)!

III. God’s people must walk by faith, trusting in His promises, if they are to move forward.

1. Numbers warns us that unbelief leads to discipline and hinders God’s blessing (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

The Slippery Slope Towards Discipline:

Murmuring-Complaining-Mistrust-Disobedience-Discipline

2. Numbers also comforts even the “unhappy wanderers” among God’s people that in spite of their discipline and diminished experience of relationship with God, His grace still prevails!

“Perhaps the most prominent theme is that of the gracious providence of the Lord in caring for all of Israel’s needs—militarily, physically, nutritionally, and spiritually—in spite of constant rebellions by the people, both leadership and rank and file.” (Walter Riggans, Numbers, Daily Bible Study Series, Westminster Press, p. 2)

God loves and cares for His “wilderness wanderers”!

3. Numbers also encourages the boldness of faith required to experience the “rest” of God’s full blessing—everything He had in mind when He saved us (Ephesians 2:10; Cf. Hebrews 3-4; Matthew 11:28-29).

Facing your “Kadesh”?

Will you trust Him enough to enter the “rest” of the adventure of life He wants to give you? 

“Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11)

All the Bible, Every Book: Deuteronomy

Sermons on Love and Law

“Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you except to revere him, to obey all his commandments,

to love him, to serve him with all your mind and being, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and statutes

that I am giving you today for your own good” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

Deuteronomy closes out the Pentateuch with Moses’ farewell address to his beloved people. It presents the law to the new generation, but in an expanded version from the teachings at Sinai. With 38 years of experience in leading the nation, Moses re-teaches the children of those who failed to trust and obey God at Kadesh. Seasoned by the wilderness wanderings, Israel’s 120-year-old deliverer and leader preaches three messages before handing off leadership to Joshua. The descendants of Jacob had learned that they were God’s special people (Genesis); they had experienced the delivering power of their redeeming God (Exodus); discovered that He is a holy God (Leviticus) who demands the trust that leads to obedience (Numbers).

Now, poised just east of Jericho, they re-receive the detailed instructions on every aspect of life formerly delivered through Leviticus. But this time the emphasis is on the people rather than the priests, and the practical aspects rather than the principles. The primary difference is the insight that obedience to God flows from love for God. The word love occurs 22 times, whereas the word obey occurs only 10 times. This basic lesson—love for God is expressed in obedience to God—is highlighted in three ways. First, through the history of the exodus generation as Moses reviews their wanderings (1-4). Second, through a review of the law (5-26). And, finally through a renewing of the covenant (27-34).

Much like the Gospel of John supplements the synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke—Deuteronomy supplements the first four books of the Pentateuch. It completes the history from God’s perspective by giving the spiritual significance of the events. And like John’s Gospel, Deuteronomy retells the story emphasizing God’s love. The lesson from Deuteronomy is clear. God’s instructions come from His loving heart. Obey Him because you love Him. This emphasis on God’s love (4:37, 7:7-8, 10:15, 23:5) made it the Lord Jesus’ favorite Old Testament book. He quoted Deuteronomy more than any other.

The theme of Deuteronomy is the need to obey God because you trust His love. The lessons from the past are placed in the context of the loving relationship between God and His people. “Beware lest you forget” is a repeated warning. This new generation was unfamiliar with the experiences of Mt. Sinai. Moses emphasizes the danger of forgetfulness because it leads to arrogance and disobedience. They must remember two things: (1) God’s love for them motivated His commands, and (2) their love for God should motivate their obedience to Him (Deuteronomy 4:1-6).

Deuteronomy: Obey your holy God because you trust His love!

Deuteronomy follows the outline of the vassal treaties of the 15th century B.C. Israel, about to enter the Promised Land, knows that disobedience will bring discipline but obedience will lead to blessing in the land.

I. HISTORY: Moses’ first sermon reviews their recent history with spiritual insight. For forty years they had wandered and died. Now with the passing of the unbelieving generation, God has led the nation in great victories over Sihon and Og, bringing them back to the threshold of blessing east of the Jordan. But before they enter the land they must learn a crucial lesson—obedience brings victory and blessing while disobedience results only in defeat and judgment (1-4).

II. HOLINESS: Moses’ second sermon (which extends through chapter 26) contains many of the same commands previously received at Mount Sinai. Every aspect of life is again addressed so that only a holy people would possess the land (5-26).

A. MORAL DUTIES: Moses begins with the basics—the Ten Commandments—and then gives the Great Commandment (6:4-6) and urges parents to teach these faithfully to their children (6:6-9). There is urgency in Moses’ request. The Promised Land remains to be conquered and enjoyed. God is looking for a generation of obedient people to bless because they trust His love (5-11; 10:12-13).

B. CEREMONIAL DUTIES: More detailed regulations govern everyday life. Religious life must reflect the holiness of God. Every hint at idolatrous influences and every uncleanness must be avoided and purged from the life of God’s people. National worship is to be holy and pure (12-16).

C. CIVIL DUTIES: Holiness should not be practiced in the Tabernacle only. Justice, truthfulness, and humane treatment must prevail (17-26).

Messiah: A type of Christ—Moses. Moses was like Christ in his service as the redeemer and shepherd of his people (Hebrews 3:2) and in his office as a prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10 and Luke 24:19). Deuteronomy 18:15 is a direct prophecy of a coming Prophet fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews expected a Prophet and the Messiah—two distinct persons (John 1:20-21, 7:40-41). The Christians realized that both came together in the person of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:22-23).

III. HORIZONS: Moses’ final sermon speaks of new and exciting horizons for the future. He lays out the near future in a repetition of the blessings and cursings (27-28; Cf. Leviticus 26). Moses envisions the distant future in the prediction of their future dispersion among the nations and their eventual return. Dramatically, Moses delivers the challenge: “I have set before you life and death…choose life.” The covenant is renewed and Joshua takes over for the great hero of Israel. God Himself buries Moses in an unknown place, perhaps to prevent idolatry (27-34; 30:19-20).

A. RENEWING THE COVENANT: The time for recommitment to the covenant has come. Two chapters review the covenant; two chapters affirm the covenant. This is the Palestinian Covenant (30:1-8), which defines the borders of the land originally promised to Abraham (Genesis 12-15). This Covenant promises unconditional ownership of the land but warns that possession is conditioned upon obedience (27-30).

B. REPLACING A HERO: With the covenant re-established and the nation poised at the Jordan River, Moses’ service to the Lord is complete. After pronouncing blessings on each tribe, Moses climbs Mount Nebo for a final glimpse of the Promised Land. He would enter the Promised Land 1400 years later when he appears with His Messiah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3, 31-34).

IV. God’s people must pass their faith on to the next generation by letting them know that the choice is between life and death (30:19-20).

A. Obedience to God should be taught in the context of trusting His love!

Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength (6:4-6).

“Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you except to revere him, to obey all his commandments, to love him, to serve him with all your mind and being, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and statutes that I am giving you today for your own good” (10:12-13).

B. Teaching trust and obedience to God begins at home!

These words I am commanding you today and must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children, and speak of them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, and as you get up. You should tie them as a reminder on your forearms and fasten them as symbols on your forehead. Inscribe them on the doorframes of your houses and gates (6:6-9).

All the Bible, Every Book: Conquest Period

Joshua, Judges, Ruth

“If you indeed obey the Lord your God and are careful to observe all his commandments I am giving you today, the Lord your God will elevate you above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come to you in abundance if you obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

The second major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is called either the Conquest Period, Pre-Kingdom Period. Since there is no king in Israel during the events recorded they are also referred to as the theocratic books. These three books—Joshua, Judges, and Ruth—record the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, the division of Israel into the twelve tribes, the period of the judges, and the story of Ruth. After the death of Moses and then Joshua there were a series of minor leaders in Israel. In the next section, the Kingdom era we will meet the great King David. The events cover a time period of just over 350 years from the death of Moses (c. 1405 BC) to after the death of Samson (c. 1079 BC).

The narrative bridges the gap between Israel’s great lawgiver—Moses, and her first king—Saul. This is a period of great contrasts. Joshua is the most positive book of the Old Testament; Judges is the most negative. The history begins with great faith in Israel; it closes with almost no faith in Israel. But amazingly, there is faith in Moab!

Joshua, Judges, and Ruth: Victorious faith, disastrous unbelief, and amazing grace!

Most of the events recorded in these books occurred in Israel and Moab.

I.       The History of the Period of Conquest: During the conquest and settlement of Canaan, and then during her beginning years of existence, Israel was a true theocracy—a nation ruled by God. The success or failure of the nation depended on the degree of their conformity to God’s will. During times of obedience (Joshua) they found blessing. When they rebelled (Judges) disaster followed. Through it all, God always responded to the faith of the righteous (Ruth). 

A.   Israel conquers the land (Joshua, 25 years): Joshua links the Pentateuch to the rest of Israel’s history. This selective history of the conquest and settlement of the land proves that victory comes through faith in God and obedience to His will rather than mighty armies or strategic leadership   (1:8-9).

1.          The seven-year military campaign (three military commands, thirty enemies—Joshua 1-12).

2.          The division and settlement of the land (twelve tribes—Joshua 13-24).

B.   Israel fails in the land (Judges, about 350 years): During the time of the Judges the new nation falls into chaos due to consistent disobedience and idolatry. Rather than listening to God the people began thinking for themselves (21:25). In spite of miraculous local deliverances from oppressors under the judges, the nation refuses to turn to their God.

1.            God’s people deteriorate (Judges 1-3a)).

2.            God’s people disciplined (Judges 3b-16).

3.            God’s people depraved (Judges 17-21)

C.   God finds faith in Moab (Ruth, 30 years during the period of the Judges): An intriguing love story of devotion and faithfulness in the midst of chaos, war, immorality and idolatry. A Moabite widow leaves her homeland to live with her widowed mother-in-law in Bethlehem. God rewards her by guiding her to kinsman who redeems her and marries her (3:11). Astonishingly God grafts her into the family of Israel and the line of Messiah! Ruth is King David’s great-grandmother.

1.          Ruth’s love for God demonstrated (Ruth 1-2).

2.          Ruth’s love for God rewarded (Ruth 3-4).

II.       The Contrasts of the Conquest Period reveals a clear message: God blesses His obedient people, disciplines His disobedient people, and responds to faith no matter who it comes from.

BOOK

KEY TERM

GOD’S WORK

GOD’S ROLE

GOD’S PEOPLE

JOSHUA

Victory

Fights For Israel

Protector

Inherit the Promise

JUDGES

Defeat

Disciplines Israel

Disciplinarian

Abuse the Promise

RUTH

Redemption

Teaches Israel

Rewarder

Share the Promise

Joshua

Judges

Ruth

God responds to the faith of His people with loving blessing.

God responds to the unbelief of His people with loving discipline.

God responds to faith wherever He finds it.A.   Living by faith is daily and lifelong! Yesterday’s faith, though meaningful to God and you, will not carry you through today. Who would have imagined that the Book of Judges would follow the victories of Joshua? (Colossians 2:6-7)

 A.   Are God’s mercies to you still new every morning? Or would you have to admit you’re living off the fumes of faith from years gone by?

 B.   Loving discipline is part of the Christian life! Imagine if God would have let Israel “get away” with their idolatry and rebellion? (Hebrews 12:5-11)

Are you trying to “get away” with a sinful lifestyle? Could it be that God wants you to connect the circumstances of your life with His loving discipline?

C.   Pedigrees—there are none in the family of faith! (Philippians 3:1-11; Galatians 3:28) God responds to faith not bloodlines. There are no barriers to promotions in His church.

Are you a “have” when it comes to Christian pedigree? How can you make the most of the blessing of a Christian heritage?

Are you a “have-not” when it comes to Christian pedigree? How can you begin to build a Christian heritage for those you will leave behind?

All the Bible, Every Book: Joshua

Conquest and Settlement of the Promised Land

“This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all that you do” (Joshua 1:8-9). 

In the historical book that bears his name, Joshua succeeds Moses and leads the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob across the Jordan into the Promised Land. The Book of Joshua transitions the story of God’s people Israel from the Pentateuch to the rest of their history.  The author’s purpose is to give an official account of the fulfillment of God’s promises to the patriarchs. Most conservative scholars feel Joshua wrote the book (24:26). As with several other Old Testament historical books, some later editor added a few statements and updated a few names.

Joshua leads the nation on three military campaigns spanning a period of seven years in the first half of the book (1:1-13:7). His forces meet and defeat over 30 enemy armies. The second half documents the settlement of the land of Canaan (13:8-24:33). This conquest and settlement is the dramatic fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Born a slave in Egypt, Joshua is God’s choice to lead His people.

To ensure that no Israelite would falsely conclude that the victories were due to Joshua’s abilities, Joshua’s name underscores the message of his book—the Lord is the Conqueror. Moses had changed his name from the Hoshea, “salvation” (Numbers 13:16 to Yehoshua (Numbers 13:16), “Yahweh Is Salvation.” He is also called Yeshua, a shortened form of Yehoshua. This is the Hebrew equivalent to the Greek name Iesou (Jesus)—a constant reminder that deliverance comes only through the Lord.

The theme of Joshua is victory through obedient faith (1:8). We learn the importance of believing and acting on God’s Word. Of all the historical books only Joshua does not record a massive failure by Israel or its leadership. Joshua did everything the Lord told him to do (Joshua 11:15) and the Lord blessed the nation with complete victory (Joshua 11:23).

Joshua: Victory and blessing come through trusting obedience to God’s Word!

Joshua is the most positive book of the Old Testament. The reason is clear: This is the generation that believed and applied God’s Word to their lives. To the extent that they entrusted themselves to their God and His covenantal promises, they succeeded and prospered. .

I. CONQUEST: Will this generation succeed where their father failed? Under Joshua’s genius leadership the nation’s faith and obedience bring unparalleled military success (1-13:7; 1:8-9; 11:23).

A. PREPARING FOR BATTLE: God prepares His people for the warfare just ahead in two ways. First, he reminds them of the importance of absolute obedience to His word. Then He demonstrates His power as they cross the Jordan with dry sandals (1-5).

Messiah: A type of Christ—Joshua. Although there are no direct messianic prophecies in this historical book, Joshua is a type of Christ. His name Yeshua (“Yahweh Is Salvation”) is the Hebrew equivalent of the name Jesus. In his role of triumphantly leading his people into their possessions, he foreshadows the One who will bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:37). Joshua succeeds Moses and wins the victory unreached by Moses. Christ succeeds the Mosaic Law and wins the victory unreachable by the Law (John 1:17; Romans 8:2-4; Galatians 3:23-25; Hebrews 7:18-19).

Messiah: A picture of redemption—Rahab’s scarlet cord (Joshua 2:21). The scarlet cord illustrates safety through the blood (Hebrews 9:19-22). Note: Rahab, a gentile woman, a harlot, is found in Christ’s genealogy (Matthew 1:5).

Messiah: The Preincarnate Christ—Commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5:15, Cf. Exodus 3:5). Joshua meets the Second Person of the Godhead who assures His general that the battle surely is the Lord’s!

B. DEFEATING THE ENEMY: Three military campaigns—central, southern, northern—unite obedience and faith to bring victory after victory. A disobedient sinner brings the only defeat at Ai and an unwise oath with the Gibeonites will force them to disobey the command to obliterate the Canaanites (6-13:7).

II. CONSOLIDATION (Settling): Joshua is growing old, and God tells His servant to divide the land among the twelve tribes. Much remains to be won. To complete the task, Joshua assigns territories to each individual tribe with instructions to possess the land completely (13:8-24:33; 24:24-25).

A. SETTLING THE LAND: The allocation of lands east and west of the Jordan fulfill God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12-15). The amazing faith of Caleb shows as he asks for and receives the area promised him by Moses—Mount Hebron, a known Canaanite stronghold! Shiloh becomes the new center of Israel’s worship (13:8-21).

B. SUCCESS IN THE LAND: Joshua reminds them of the simple formula for success—trust and obey the Lord. His moving words, “Choose you this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” cause the people to renew the covenant (22-24).

Two funerals and a burial! Along with the bodies of their two most prominent leaders that brought them into the Promised Land—Joshua and Eleazer—the nation buried the bones of Joseph, the greatest son of Jacob. What a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His promises (Genesis 50:24-25) during a difficult transition!

III. Foolish Faith? God’s directions to take the first city (Jericho) are absurd from a military viewpoint. The Lord does this to teach His people that success in battle will always be by His power and not their own cleverness and might (chapter 6).

A. Where is God asking you to follow His absurd instructions today? That is, what is God asking you to do that seems foolish in the eyes of the world?

B. What specifically do you feel you should do to gain victory in this situation by following His instructions? Try to write out a plan of action with very real and measurable steps.

All the Bible, Every Book: Judges

Unbelief and Discipline in the Promised Land

“In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.” (Judges 21:25)

The book of Judges is a jarring sequel to Joshua. In Joshua an obedient people conquer the land, as they trust God enough to follow Joshua’s leadership. By contrast, in Judges, an untrusting and disobedient people turn to idols. God disciplines them and delivers them again and again. The epitaph on the book of Judges exposes the root of the problem, “Each man did what he considered to be right” (21:25).

When Joshua died, God did not appoint a new national leader. Instead, God directed each tribe to conquer its allotted portion of the land. In the same way God had raised up Moses and Joshua, and as He would later raise up David (1 Samuel 16:13), God also raised up judges. The judges were different than today’s concept of judges. The Hebrew word “Judges” (Shophetim) means “bringer of justice.” The office of judge wasn’t new to Israel. Moses had ordered the people to appoint judges of every tribe during the years of wandering in Moab (Deuteronomy 19:17).

In seven distinct cycles of sin-discipline-repentance-deliverance, Judges demonstrates how Israel so quickly declined as it refused to learn to trust God. The judges were more local than national and their stories cover a period of about 350 years. From time to time God would appoint a judge to rescue His hurting people from corruption from within or oppression from without. The book was probably written by Samuel, a critical link between the period of the judges and the kings, after the ark was removed from Shiloh (18:31; 20:27; cf. 1 Samuel 4:3-11).

The theme of Judges is God’s faithfulness to His disobedient people demands discipline. In His patient love, God forgave His people every single time they repented. Israel repeatedly acted in foolishness, ingratitude, stubbornness, and rebellion. But God never stopped loving them and leading them. The lesson for God’s people of every generation is clear: God never stops loving His people, but count on it—sin always leads to suffering, and repentance always leads to deliverance.

Judges: Stop thinking for yourself and start hearing God’s truth! 

Judges is the most negative book of the Old Testament. The reason is clear: This is the generation that blew it. It records the failure of the nation in the land due to lack of faith and obedience.

Joshua

Judges

Freedom

Bondage

Progress

Decline

Conquest through obedient faith

Defeat through disobedient unbelief

“Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods” (24:16).

“So the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God, and served the Baals and Asherahs” (3:7).

Israel served God (24:31).

Israel served self (21:25).

Israel knew the person of God and the power of God (24:16-18, 31).

Israel knew neither the person of God nor the power of God (2:10).

Objective morality

Subjective morality

Sin judged

Sin tolerated

Faith and obedience

Lack of both

I. DETERIORATION: Following Joshua’s death, the nation quickly turns from their pattern of faith and obedience. Compromise leads to conflict and chaos (1:-3:4).

A. PROBLEM: INCOMPLETE CONQUEST: All the tribes fail to drive out their enemies leaving the polluting influence of idolatry in the land (1).

B. PATTERN: CYCLES OF SIN: A microcosm of the rest of the book, chapter two details the cycle of sin-discipline-repentance-deliverance is established (2:1-3:4).

II. DELIVERANCE: The seven cycles of discipline tell the sad story of the judges. The judges are military and civil leaders during this period of loose confederacy. Thirteen are mentioned in this book and four more occur in 1 Samuel (Eli, Samuel, Joel, and Abijah).

Cycle

Oppressor

Years Oppressed

Deliverer

Years of Peace

1 (3:7-11)

Mesopotamians

8

Othniel

40

2 (3:12-30)

Moabites

18

Ehud

80

Parenthesis (3:31)

Philistines

Shagmar

3 (4:1-5:31)

Canaanites

20

Deborah/Barak

40

4 (6:1-8:32)

Midianites

7

Gideon

40

5 (8:33-10:5)

Abimelech

3

Tola/Jair

45

6 (10:6-12:15)

Ammonites

18

Jepthah/Ibzan/ElonAbdon

6,7,10,8

7 (13:1-16:31

Philistines

40

Samson

20

III. DEPRAVITY: The degradation of God’s people is fully displayed. The progression of sin is inevitable as they ignore their God and live for themselves (17-21).

A. SIN OF IDOLATRY: Religious apostasy (leaving the truth) precedes all other problems for God’s people (17-18).

B. SIN OF IMMORALITY: Personal and tribal decadence rules the land (19).

C. SIN OF CIVIL WAR: A total breakdown of order results and chaos reigns in the promised land (20-21).

IV. DON’T DISREGARD GOD’S MESSAGES! Whether it’s the Word of God in the Bible or it’s the message of God coming through a loving redeemed community, resisting God’s truth always leads to self-directed blindness and disaster.

A. Cycling Through Judges! The pattern of sin-servitude-supplication-salvation(deliverance)-silence is repeated seven times in Judges. When we are caught in a sin pattern we may feel like our life is going in circles.

Where do you see this pattern operating in your life?

What do you think God wants you to do to get out of the spin-cycle of sin?

B. Trusting Community! Many Christians understand the protective comfort of the community of faith, the local church. But often we miss the protective love of the community of faith, the local church, the truth the Holy Spirit is speaking to us from loving shepherds and friends.

Has someone in your community of faith told you something you don’t’ want to hear?

What do you risk by insisting upon doing what “you consider right”?

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Ruth

Faithfulness in an Unfaithful World

“Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God.

(Ruth 1:16)

Ruth is a vignette of love, devotion and redemption set in the historical context of the darkest period in Israel’s history, the days of the judges. Part of the second major unit within the seventeen Historical Books, the Conquest or Pre-Kingdom Period, it’s a heartwarming story of compassion, devotion, and faithfulness. Ruth is a Moabite widow who leaves her homeland to live with and care for her widowed Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, in Bethlehem. Ruth not only embraces Naomi’s people but her God.

The contrast to Judges underscores the remarkable faithfulness of Ruth and Boaz. Ruth is a woman who lives above the norm of her day. A virtuous woman (3:11), Ruth shows loyal-love to both her mother-in-law Naomi and her near-kinsman Boaz. In a time when all of Israel is forsaking God for idols, Ruth forsakes her idols for the true God:

RUTH

JUDGES

Faithful, righteous, moral, pure

Unfaithful, immoral, impure

Following and worshiping the true God

Idolatry—following and worshiping false gods

Compassion, devotion, loyalty–blessing

Debasement, disloyalty, self-centered–discipline

Love in Marriage

Lust in Life

Peace, Provision

War, Famine

Kindness, Justice

Cruelty, Injustice

Obedient faith leads to blessing

Disobedience leads to sorrow

Spiritual light

Spiritual darkness

Ruth is one of the most important “bridge” books in the Old Testament. Chronologically—Ruth advances the genealogy of King David. Historically—Ruth links ruined Israel (Judges) with restored Israel (Samuel). Doctrinally—Ruth illustrates redemption. Morally—Ruth demonstrates purity is possible even in a polluted moral environment. The theme of Ruth is God’s care for those who trust in Him. The story illustrates the truth of Hebrews 11:6: Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him:

Ruth: Never underestimate what God can do with one faithful life!

Ruth is the most surprising book in the Old Testament. God honors a Moabitess’s faith by guiding her to the field of Boaz (a near kinsman or guardian) where she gathers grain and eventually finds her loving husband. The book closes with a brief genealogy in which Boaz’s name is prominent as the great-grandfather of King David, through whom would come the Christ!

I. FAITH, COMPASSION, AND LOVE DEMONSTRATED: The story begins with a famine in Israel, a sign of disobedience and apostasy (Deuteronomy 28-30). An Israelite family headed by Elimelech flees from Bethlehem to Moab to find relief. In Moab the family faces tragedy and death, as Ruth believes in their God (1-2).

A. RUTH’S RELOCATION: Ruth decides to cling to Naomi and her God as she follows her mother-in-law home to care for her (1).

What’s in a name? The characters’ names foreshadow the action of the book of Ruth: Naomi—pleasant one; Elimelech—my God is king; Mahlon—sick; Chilion—pining; Orpah—stubbornness; Mara—bitterness; Ruth—friendship; Boaz—in him is strength.

B. RUTH’S MEETS HER COMPASSIONATE REDEEMER: God’s provident care brings Ruth to the field of Boaz to perform the humiliating and dangerous task of gleaning. Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman (guardian), begins to love, protect, and provide for Ruth (2).

II. FAITH AND COMPASSION REWARDED: God rewards Ruth’s faith and devotion. Boaz redeems her and becomes her husband. Their son, Obed, is the grandfather of King David (3-4).

Messiah: A Type Of Christ—Boaz. The concept of the Kinsman-Redeemer or goel (3:9, close relative, guardian) is an important picture of the work of Christ on the Cross. The goel must (1) be related by blood to those he redeems (Deuteronomy 25:5, 7-10; John 1:14; Romans 1:3; Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:14-15): (2) be able to pay the price of redemption (2:1; 1 Peter 1:18-19); (3) be willing to redeem (3:11; Matthew 20:28; John 10:15, 18; Hebrews 10:7); and (4) be free himself (only Christ was free from the curse of sin). The word goel, used thirteen times in this short books presents a clear portrayal of the mediating work of Christ.

A. RUTH’S RENDEZVOUS: Ruth risks offering herself to Boaz by “uncovering his legs” (v 4, probably a symbolic marriage proposal). Boaz takes no further steps toward marriage because he is older than Ruth (probably more than 20 years) and he is not the nearest kinsman (3).

B. RUTH’S REDEMPTION:  In spite of these obstacles, God rewards Ruth’s devotion by giving her a husband, a son, and a place in the line of the coming Messiah. In 22 verses Ruth moves from widowhood and poverty to marriage and wealth. What a picture of redemption! (4)

III. God is looking for those who have the faith He can use in this world!

A. The poor, the needy, and the alien have an ally in God! Both Ruth and Boaz “stumbled” into God’s blessing by caring for the poor and needy—Ruth for Naomi and Boaz for Ruth.

The theological message of the Book of Ruth may be summarized as follows: God cares for needy people like Naomi and Ruth; he is their ally in this chaotic world. He richly rewards people like Ruth and Boaz who demonstrate sacrificial love and in so doing become his instruments in helping the needy. God’s rewards for those who sacrificially love others sometimes exceed their wildest imagination and transcend their lifetime.” (The NET Bible note on Ruth 4:22)

How does your attitude toward the poor, the needy, and the alien compare to the attitudes of Ruth and Boaz?

What is one specific way you can join God in His love and care for the needy, the poor, the alien, and the down and out?

May we suggest getting involved with the care ministries of Church of the Open Door? http://www.churchoftheopendoor.com/ministries/serving-our-communities/index.html

B. God is always doing something through His remnant! Twenty-three of the 89 verses of Ruth mention God. Even during the most painful and chaotic circumstances of life God is working behind the scenes to accomplish His will. And He’s working through those who have faith rather than those who have a religious pedigree.

One godly man or woman can redeem an entire family! Regardless of your home of origin, your faithless spouse, or your chaotic circumstances at work, God will use your faithfulness to change your world!

What is He asking you to trust Him for right now? Risk obedience even when you can’t connect the dots between your faithfulness and the difference it will make in this world.

All the Bible, Every Book: United Kingdom Period

1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles

“Now our God, we give thanks to you and praise your majestic name! But who am I

and who are my people, that we should deserve to be in a position to contribute so much? 

(King David of Israel, 1 Chronicles 29:13-14) 

The third major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is referred to as the United Kingdom Period. . These four books—1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, and 1 Chronicles—record the United Kingdom under three rulers, Saul, David, and Solomon. The events reported during this era cover a period of 170 years, from the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:20) to the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:43).

Except for the Book of Job, which occurs during the time of Genesis, the Books of Poetry—Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon were written during the United Kingdom era. The writings of David, Solomon, and a few others during this time reflect what was going on in the heart of the people. One of the primary lessons of this era is the impact of the heart of the king on the nation. When the king’s heart was wholly devoted to God, the nation prospered. When the king’s heart was far from God, the people followed his lead and the nation suffered:

The leader’s heart for God determines the leader’s success from God’s perspective!

Almost all that happens during these 170 years occurs in the land of Israel.

I.       The History of the Kings of the United Kingdom: Israel was a loosely connected affiliation of tribes with little unity and even less loyalty when 1 Samuel opens. The judges had led her for 350 years, and many of them were weak, ungodly, and ineffective. Surrounded by enemies, Israel had no influence in her world and struggled militarily, culturally, and economically. By the end of Solomon’s reign, 170 years later, Israel was at the apex of her influence as a united people. But Solomon’s failure to follow the Mosaic Covenant faithfully and devote his heart wholly to God, hinted at a coming civil war that ruled out the possibility of sustaining the Golden Age of Israel.

A.   Israel Crowns King Saul (1 Samuel): God uses the prophet Samuel to transition Israel from the Judges to the Kings. The nation cries for a king, and God instructs Samuel to anoint Saul. Saul begins his administration well, but due to his refusal to trust God, his personal life and his nation falls apart. Young David becomes God’s king-elect, but the jealous and insane tyrant Sail, pursues David with murderous rage. Finally, in a dramatic conclusion to his life, Saul dies.

1.          The decline of the Judges and transition of leadership to Samuel (1-7).

2.          The transition to the Kings beginning with Saul, and then David (8-31).

B.   Israel Led by Her Greatest King (2 Samuel): David’s reign follows Saul’s demise. David reigns seven years over Judah and another thirty-three years over the twelve reunited tribes. God blesses David mightily as he follows the Lord with all his heart. But then his life and kingdom are diminished by his sins of adultery and murder.

1.            David triumphs and his kingdom prospers as he follows God with all his heart (1-10).

2.          David sins terribly by committing adultery and trying to cover it up by committing murder (11).

3.            God judges David and both is family and his kingdom are diminished by his sin (12-24)

C.   Solomon Rules During the Golden Age of Israel (1 Kings 1-11): The wisest man in history brings the kingdom to its zenith. Israel experiences its political, social, and economic zenith. However, Solomon foolishly indulges in multiple marriages with foreign women. Idol worship pollutes the palace and the kingdom. After Solomon’s death the kingdom is divided when the northern ten tribes rebel and set up their own king.

1.          Solomon becomes king and initially rules wisely (1-2).

2.          Solomon’s influence rises in the world (3-8).

3.          Solomon’s kingdom declines as he marries foreign women who worship false gods (9-11).

D.   God’s Editorial On David’s Reign (1 Chronicles): From God’s perspective the most significant person during the United Kingdom Period was David, the one He made a covenant with. Messiah would be a descendant of David. Therefore, 1 Chronicles traces the royal line of David and then reports the spiritual significance of his life and his reign. David was, in spite of his failures and shortcomings, the man after God’s own heart.

1.          David’s genealogy (1-9).

2.          David’s reign (10-29).

II.       The Kings of the United Kingdom Period are a study in contrast. Your heart attitude toward God will determine your ultimate success in God’s eyes.

BOOK

KING

KING’S HEART

KINGDOM

1 SAMUEL

Samuel-Saul

No heart for God

Disciplined

2 SAMUEL

David

Whole heart for God

Delights

1 KINGS

Solomon-Split

Half-heart for God

Divides

1 CHRONICLES

Editorial on David

Precious to God

Develops Insight

Your heart attitude toward God will determine your ultimate success in God’s eyes..

A.   Character counts! Your heart for God has a direct impact on those you lead.

B.   God forgets! 1 Chronicles records David’s life but does not report his sin with Bathsheba. Why? Read Psalm 51. David’s heart for God led him to confess his sin and turn toward God. By the time 1 Chronicles is written David’s sin was no longer an issue between him and his God.

C.   Inside-Out Spirituality! It’s what’s inside that matters most. From the outside, it seems that Saul’s sins weren’t as vile as David’s. David was an adulterer, a murderer, and led his family poorly. But Saul tried to control his life and kingdom apart from God. God wants our heart more than He wants our performance!

 

All the Bible, Every Book: 2 Samuel

King David: Flawed, but loyal to God!

“Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently;

your dynasty will be permanent” (God to David, 2 Samuel 7:16).

The third major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is referred to as the United Kingdom Period. . These four books—1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, and 1 Chronicles—record the United Kingdom under three rulers, Saul, David, and Solomon. The events reported during this era cover a period of 170 years, from the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:20) to the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:43).

By the end of the chaotic period of the judges, God’s people are crying for a king. Samuel, the last judge and first great prophet in Israel, anoints the people’s choice for their first king—Saul. Though Saul’s political credentials are impressive, his indifferent heart attitude toward God causes him to lose his kingdom to the young king-elect—David. But David, whose heart is dedicated to God, must wait for his kingdom. Saul rebels against God’s will, becoming insanely jealous of the young king to be. David flees for his life and learns many lessons of faith. Finally, Saul and his sons meet death on Mount Gilboa, setting the stage for 2 Samuel and the prosperity of Israel under righteous King David.

The books of Samuel provide an account of Israel from the end of the 12th to the beginning of the 10th centuries before Christ. Picking up the story of Israel from Judges 16:31, they give a prophetically oriented history of Israel’s early monarchy. First Samuel traces the transition of leadership from judges to kings, from a theocracy to a monarchy. Samuel was the kingmaker who anointed the first two rulers. Saul quickly disobeyed God and became a tyrant. David became the first real theocratic king—he allowed God to rule through him.

Soon after the death of Saul, God’s choice David becomes king, first over Judah (where he reigns from Hebron for seven and one-half years) and finally over all Israel (where he makes Jerusalem his capital and reigns for thirty-three years. The first half of David’s reign is marked by success and victory. But following his sin with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, David’s life and his kingdom suffer due to the consequences of his sin. Still, David remains “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) because of his repentant attitude and wholehearted devotion to God:

2 Samuel: God will use you in spite of your failures—if your heart is wholly devoted to Him.

Second Samuel traces the ascension of David to the throne, his climactic sins of adultery and murder, and the shattering consequences of those sins upon his family and the nation. The book follows the three phases of David’s life: his triumphs (1-10), his transgressions (11), and his troubles (12-24). The lesson for God’s people is at once encouraging and sobering: God is not hindered by our weaknesses, but He never ignores our sin. He will use us, but sin mars potential.

I. DAVID’S TRIUMPH’S: After mourning the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, David assumes the throne as king over Judah and then all of Israel. His successes bring the nation to the very zenith of its power. (1-10)

A. DAVID, KING OF JUDAH: David takes the throne of Judah, but Saul’s dynasty does not go down without a fight. Saul’s son claims the throne and civil war erupts. David wins. (1-4)

Messiah: David is one of the most important types of Christ in the Old Testament. A just, wise, courageous, and compassionate monarch, he reigns from Jerusalem and sits upon the throne of Melchizedek, the “righteous king.” He becomes the standard by which all subsequent kings will be measured.

B. DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL: David’s victory unites the nation under his righteous rule. He immediately relocates the capital of the nation from Hebron to Jerusalem. His lifelong dream to build a house for God will be left to his son, Solomon. But God will build a house for David: a throne, a family, and a kingdom that will stand forever. (5-7)

MessiahThe Davidic Covenant. David foreshadows the coming Messianic King in this significant covenant from God (7:4-17). God promises King David an eternal kingdom, a throne, and an everlasting seed. These same three promises are given to Christ (Luke 1:32-33).

C. DAVID’S GROWING KINGDOM: David’s devotion to God leads to great national blessing. “The Lord protected David wherever he campaigned. David reigned over all Israel; he guaranteed justice for all his people” (8:14-15). (8-10)

II. DAVID’S TRANSGRESSION: David’s crimes of adultery and murder mark the pivotal point of the book. His sin changes everything. Victories and successes are replaced by personal, family, and national turmoil. (11)

III. DAVID’S TROUBLES: The disobedience of the king produces chastisement and confusion at every level. David’s glory and fame fade, never to be the same again. (12-24)

A. DAVID’S DOWNFALL: Though David’s sin is great, his response to the uncovering of that sin is exemplary: “I have sinned against the Lord” (12:13). But his repentance cannot erase the consequences of his terrible sin. His own son Absalom rebels against the king. Though David wins the battle, he loses his son, leaving him a broken man. (12-18)

B. DAVID’S RETURN TO THE THRONE: Civil war and anguish persist. But David again defeats his enemies and consolidates his power. The closing chapters are a commentary on King David’s life. (19-24)

IV. 2 Samuel is one of the most practical books in Scripture. From this text we receive some of our most important insights into the spiritual life and how God uses frail humans to accomplish His purposes. It is also a fascinating study on leadership.

A. Failure does not mean it’s over—get on with your life!

1. We all fail God. It’s not a question of when we fail Him but how we overcome failure. David, the man after God’s own heart is our example.

2. Three steps for failing saints:

a. Listen to God’s rebuke through community (12:1-14).

b. Confess (disclose) your sin to God and others (12:13; Psalm 51; 1 John 1:9).

c. Repent, turn to God in abandoned trust (12:14-25).

B. Sin has consequences. It usually diminishes our borders and hurts those we love!

1. Though we all sin, we should never take sin lightly (Romans 6:14).

2. But no sin is beyond God’s grace. Meditate on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal in Luke 15:11-32.

 

All the Bible, Every Book: 1 Chronicles

God’s Special People; God’s Special King!

 “O Lord, you are great, mighty, majestic, magnificent, glorious, and sovereign over all sky and earth! You have dominion and exalt yourself as the ruler of all.”

(King David before the assembly, 1 Chronicles 29:11)

The third major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is referred to as the United Kingdom Period. These four books—1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings 1-11, and 1 Chronicles—record the United Kingdom under three rulers, Saul, David, and Solomon. The events reported during this era cover a period of 170 years, from the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:20) to the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:43).

By the end of the chaotic period of the judges, God’s people are crying for a king. Samuel, the last judge and first great prophet in Israel, anoints the people’s choice for their first king—Saul. Though Saul’s political credentials are impressive, his indifferent heart attitude toward God causes him to lose his kingdom to the young king-elect—David. But David, whose heart is dedicated to God, must wait for his kingdom. Saul rebels against God’s will, becoming insanely jealous of the young king to be. David flees for his life and learns many lessons of faith. Finally, Saul and his sons meet death on Mount Gilboa, setting the stage for 2 Samuel and the prosperity of Israel under righteous King David.

The first half of 1 Kings (1-11) reports the life of Solomon, the last king of the United Kingdom era. Solomon reigned 40 years during the Golden Era of Israel’s history. During his monarchy Israel rose to the peak of her wealth and influence in the world. His greatest accomplishment was building the Temple in Jerusalem, and his wisdom and wealth brought him worldwide fame. But his heart for God waned when he disobeyed God’s warning and married pagan wives. God’s wisdom proved greater than Solomon’s. God knew these pagan wives would turn his heart toward their idols. Sure enough, the king’s divided heart left behind a divided kingdom

1 Chronicles provides the divine commentary on the United Kingdom era. Written to the remnant returning to the Promise Land from Babylonia under Ezra and Nehemiah before 500 B.C., the Chronicler (Ezra, Nehemiah or a contemporary) focuses on God’s faithfulness to His promises to Israel in electing and preserving His people (Judah) and His king (David). This selective and theological history is designed “to rally the returned remnant to hopeful temple worship…by demonstrating their link with the enduring Davidic promise.” (Jeffrey Townsend, “The Purpose of 1 and 2 Chronicles,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145:575 (July-September 1987): 99-126.

1 Chronicles: The best way to celebrate the past is by trusting God for the future!

1 and 2 Chronicles cover a broader period of history than any other Old Testament book. 1 Chronicles gives a priestly perspective on the genealogy and reign of David. The emphasis on the Temple exhorts them to reestablish worship as guided by the Mosaic Law. And the record of King David’s prosperity and righteousness remind them of their special status as God’s chosen people through whom He would establish His kingdom forever.

I. ISRAEL’S HISTORICAL LINEAGE: These nine chapters are the most comprehensive genealogical tables in the Bible. They are highly selective. The family tree of Judah and Benjamin dominate because the Chronicles are not concerned with the northern kingdom but with the southern kingdom and the Davidic dynasty.  (1-9)

Messiah: The tribe of Judah is placed first in the national genealogy because the monarchy, temple, and Messiah (Genesis 49:10) will come from this tribe. Since Chronicles are the last books of the Hebrew Bible, the genealogies in chapters 1-9 are a preamble to the genealogy of Christ in the first book of the New Testament, Matthew.

II. REIGN OF DAVID: Compared with Second Samuel, David’s life is seen in an entirely different light. There are both omissions and additions. (10-29)

A. DAVID BECOMES KING: Chronicles completely omits David’s struggles with Saul. In fact Saul is only given one chapter. The emphasis is on David as God’s sovereign choice as king. (10-12)

B. DAVID BRINGS THE ARK TO JERUSALEM: David’s deep spiritual commitment, courage and integrity stand out. His concern for the things of the Lord and heart for God are evident as the ark returns to its people. (13-17)

C. DAVID’S VICTORIES: The kingdom is strengthened and expanded during his reign. His sin with Bathsheba—the event that hurt the rest of his life—is omitted. His passion for the temple shines.  (18-27)

D. DAVID’S LAST DAYS: David is not allowed to build the temple, but he designs the plans, gathers the materials, prepares the site, and recruits the workers. The book closes with his beautiful public prayer of praise and the accession of Solomon. (27-29)

III. 1 Chronicles and You: 1 Chronicles is a fascinating study of God’s perspective on history. The returning remnant bemoaned the meager dimensions of the Temple God was asking them to build in comparison to the grand Temple Solomon built (Ezra 3:11-13). I believe 1 Chronicles was God’s response to their fears, doubts, and regrets.

A. Don’t live in the past but do learn from the past.

B. Don’t judge significance by human standards but by the promises of God.

C. Remember what God remembers about your sin and failures! (2 Samuel-Psalm 51-1 Chronicles)

D. Get on with your life by trusting God for what He’s asking you to do right now!

“Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret?

There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

–CS Lewis

All the Bible, Every Book: 1 Kings 12-2 Kings

The Divided Kingdom Era

The Lord announced, “I will also spurn Judah, just as I spurned Israel. I will reject this city that I chose—both Jerusalem and the temple, about which I said, ‘I will live there’” (2 Kings 23:27).

The fourth major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is referred to as the Divided Kingdom Period. The Books of Kings record the reigns of kings of Israel and Judah following David. The United Kingdom of Israel reached the zenith of its power and influence early in Solomon’s 40-year reign (1 Kings 1-11). It began to decline because of Solomon’s divided heart for God.

The books of Kings cover the 431 years of Israel’s history from Solomon’s coronation (973 B.C.) to Jehoiachin’s release from Babylonian exile (561 B.C.). The focus is on the 387 years from Solomon’s coronation to the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. It begins with the Temple being built and ends with the Temple burnt. I believe it was written primarily by the prophet Jeremiah and finished by Ezra or Ezekiel with some final editing by unknown editors. It was written to the remaining kingdom of Judah before and after its Babylonian exile. It is at once an explanation for the Babylonian captivity and a warning to learn the lessons of history. “…1, 2 Kings present Israel’s history as a series of events that describe how and why the nation fell from the heights of national prosperity to the depths of conquest and exile. More specifically, [these books] explain how and why Israel lost the land it fought so hard to win in Joshua and worked so hard to organize in Judges, and 1, 2 Samuel.” (Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, pp 15, 28)

The nation divides in 1 Kings 12 when the ten northern tribes set up their own king, their own capital, and their own place of worship. The narrative becomes the story of two nations failing to heed the warnings of the Law and the prophets. Choosing idolatry rather than Temple worship and immorality rather than justice and morality, Israel and Judah decline and eventually dissolve. Israel is captured and dispersed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Just over 150 years later in 586 B.C. Judah is led off to Exile in Babylonia. God has been patient with His people, pleading with them through the prophets. Both kingdoms’ failure to fulfill their covenantal responsibilities resulted in God’s loving but severe discipline:

1 Kings 12-2 Kings (Divided Kingdom):

God loves His people too much to let them get by with their sin!

The story of the Divided Kingdom era is that Israel went into exile, but the plot is Israel went into exile because of its unfaithfulness to God. (Paul House, 1, 2 Kings, pp. 61-62) During the period of the Divided Kingdom each king is evaluated by his faithfulness to the covenant rather than by the grandeur of his reign.

I. THE CONTEXT OF 1 AND 2 KINGS: The critical turning point in the Kings is 1 Kings 12 when Israel divided into two kingdoms. The narrative transitions from the story of one king, one nation, one capital, and one religion to two kings, two nations, two capitals, and two religions.

A. DATES TO REMEMBER: The history of the kings revolves around these key dates:

1. 973 B.C. Solomon’s coronation as co-regent with David

2. 931 B.C. The kingdom divides between Israel (Northern Kingdom) and Judah (Southern Kingdom)

3. 722 B.C. Assyrian captivity of Israel

4. 586 B.C. Babylonian captivity of Judah, destruction of the temple in Jerusalem

B. 90 YEARS OF TURMOIL: Solomon’s divided heart is reflected in the division in the nation and the attitude of successive kings. The voices of the prophets, used by God to judge sin, reach their climax in Elijah. (1 Kings 12-22)

1. DIVISION OF THE KINGDOM: Rehoboam, Solomon’s foolish son, rejects the advice of wise counselors and taxes the people heavily. Rebellion and civil war divides the country. Jeraboam from the tribe of Ephraim establishes a rebel nation from the ten northern tribes. He sets up a new system of worship, which sets the apostate pattern for the wicked rule, which will characterize the northern kings. (12-16)

2. AHAB BATTLES ELIJAH: As the prophets begin to speak, Elijah confronts wicked Ahab with God’s judgment of drought. Then, in a climactic demonstration of YHWH’s power, the prophets of Baal lose their lives enraging the wicked Queen Jezebel. (17-19)

3. AHAB BATTLES SYRIA: The closing chapters of 1 Kings focuses attention upon the reign of wicked Ahab, king of Israel. Though God is patient (1 Peter 3:9, 15) giving Ahab victory over Syria, Ahab spurns God’s love and disobeys. He dies rebelling against the God who loved him (20-22).

C. 131 YEARS OF DECLINE BEFORE ISRAEL IS DISPERSED BY ASSYRIA: Israel rejects the ministry and messages of Elisha. (1-8) God preserves Joash of the line of David who restores the temple and serves God. Despite God’s blessing in the northern kingdom under the reign of Jeraboam II, the unbroken line of wicked kings and idolatrous people leads to Israel’s over throw by Assyria.  (2 Kings 1-17)

D. 155 YEARS OF DECLINE BEFORE JUDAH IS DEPORTED TO BABYLONIA: Whereas the northern kingdom had 19 unrighteous kings who gained power by murdering their predecessor, Judah had only one dynasty and 8 of its 20 kings were righteous. Despite the efforts of righteous kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah, the last four kings of Judah invite judgment by their unfaithfulness to the covenant and wickedness. Discipline comes in three deportations to Babylonia. The last deportation, lamented by the prophet Jeremiah (Lamentations), occurs in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem and the Temple.  Still, due to God’s faithfulness to His unconditional covenants, the book ends in hope with God preserving a remnant for Himself. (2 Kings 18-25)

II. The Divided Kingdom and You: God’s message to His people during the period of the Exile in Babylonia and afterward encourages them to place their trust and hope in Him regardless of the circumstances of life. God’s sovereign and loving control of worldwide events during the divided kingdom era teach us to see His hand in these specific aspects of life as we follow Jesus Christ His Son:

A. We see God’s hand in our history. He moved world powers to achieve His purposes in the lives of His people—Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia. (Romans 8:28)

B. We see God’s hand in our discipline. He loved His people too much to allow them to continue in the sin of idolatry. The Babylonian Captivity slapped the idolatry out of Israel. (Hebrews 12:1-13)

C. We see God’s powerful and personal care for those who were living for Him in a decadent culture—Elijah, Elisha, Hezekiah, Joash. (Hebrews 6:9-12)

All the Bible, Every Book: 2 Chronicles

Worship: The Exclusive Responsibility of God’s People!

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

The fourth major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is referred to as the Divided Kingdom Period. The Books of Kings record the reigns of kings of Israel and Judah following David. The United Kingdom of Israel reached the zenith of its power and influence early in Solomon’s 40-year reign (1 Kings 1-11). It began to decline because of Solomon’s divided heart for God.

The books of Kings cover the 431 years of Israel’s history from Solomon’s coronation (973 B.C.) to Jehoiachin’s release from Babylonian exile (561 B.C.). The focus is on the 387 years from Solomon’s coronation to the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. It begins with the Temple being built and ends with the Temple burnt. I believe it was written primarily by the prophet Jeremiah and finished by Ezra or Ezekiel with some final editing by unknown editors. It was written to the remaining kingdom of Judah before and after its Babylonian exile. It is at once an explanation for the Babylonian captivity and a warning to learn the lessons of history. “…1, 2 Kings present Israel’s history as a series of events that describe how and why the nation fell from the heights of national prosperity to the depths of conquest and exile. More specifically, [these books] explain how and why Israel lost the land it fought so hard to win in Joshua and worked so hard to organize in Judges, and 1, 2 Samuel.” (Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, pp 15, 28)   2 Chronicles provides the divine commentary on the Divided Kingdom era. Written to the remnant returning to the Promise Land from Babylonia under Ezra and Nehemiah before 500 B.C., the Chronicler (Ezra, Nehemiah or a contemporary) focuses on God’s faithfulness to His promises to Israel in electing and preserving His people (Judah) and His kingly line (David’s descendants). This selective and theological history is designed “to rally the returned remnant to hopeful temple worship…by demonstrating their link with the enduring Davidic promise.” (Jeffrey Townsend, “The Purpose of 1 and 2 Chronicles,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145:575 (July-September 1987): 99-126. Though the Second Temple would never measure up to Solomon’s, they were still God’s people. The Davidic line, Temple worship, and the priesthood were still theirs. The Chronicler reminds the returning remnant of their place in God’s plan to redeem Creation and begins to thrust their thoughts toward a coming King:

2 Chronicles: Worship is a lifestyle, not an event!

1 and 2 Chronicles cover a broader period of history than any other Old Testament book. 2 Chronicles gives a priestly perspective on the history of God’s people from Solomon’s reign through Cyrus’s edict to rebuild the Temple more than 400 years later. The emphasis on the Temple exhorts them to reestablish worship as guided by the Mosaic Law.

I. SOLOMON’S GLORY: Israel’s golden age of peace, prosperity and Temple worship. David’s dream to build a majestic Temple for Israel’s worship becomes Solomon’s reality. However, in the midst of rejoicing there is a stern warning—this type of worship flows from hearts loyal to God. If the nation fails to remain true to God, He will uproot them from their homeland and destroy this magnificent place of worship. Six of these first nine chapters center on the construction and dedication of the Temple.       (1-9)

Messiah: The Temple was designed to point God’s people to Christ, but most missed the point! Jesus tried to tell them that He was greater than the Temple (Matthew 12:6). He claimed to be the One who replaces the Temple. The glory of God that used to reside in the Temple now resides in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son (John 1:14). 

II. JUDAH’S DECLINE: Israel’s glory declines as true worship of her God declines. Solomon’s death quickly divides the nation and both kingdoms eventually choose to worship other gods. Sinful lifestyles in the palaces and neighborhoods of Israel and Judah cause the nation to forsake pure Temple worship. A few of Judah’s kings bring revival, but it never lasts more than one generation. (10-36)

A. 30% DEDICATION TO TWELVE EVIL KINGS: Chronicles virtually ignores the northern twelve tribes and barely mentions the evil kings of Judah. The emphasis is on Judah as God’s sovereign choice to glorify Him through Temple worship. This never happens in the northern kingdom and ceases during the reign of the idolatrous kings of the south.

B. 70% DEDICATED TO EIGHT RIGHTEOUS KINGS: The Chronicler offers a detailed account of the deep spiritual commitment, courage and integrity of the rulers who walked in the ways of David. Five of these kings—Jehosaphat, Joash, Hezekiah, and Josiah bring revival and restore Temple worship.

C. THE HOPE OF WORSHIP: 2 Chronicles concludes with hope. The Persian King Cyrus decrees that the Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt.

III. 2 Chronicles and You: 2 Chronicles is a fascinating study of God’s perspective on history. The events of the Divided Kingdom era seem secondary to God’s primary concern—authentic worship of Him in this world.

A. In the key New Testament passage on worship Paul teaches us that true worshipers of Christ give their lives to God in response to His mercies (Romans 12:1-2).

1. Paul devotes eleven chapters to carefully detailing how the righteousness of God is demonstrated in His mercies to believers. Worshipers should never be ashamed of the delivering power of the Gospel that reveals the righteousness of God in everyone who believes (1:16-17).

The Gospel delivers believers from the penalty of sin. Justification by faith—every believer is declared righteous the moment they believe (Chapters 1-4). The Gospel delivers believers from the power of sin. Sanctified by faith—every believer who relies on God’s Spirit will live righteously (Chapters 5-8). The Gospel’s promises are the promises of a covenant-keeping God (God’s faithfulness to Israel, Chapters 9-11).

2. Paul devotes four chapters to carefully detailing how believers should respond to His mercies. Worshipers should give their lives to God as a sacrifice of worship (12:1-2).

In a decisive act of the will we present our lives to God to transform to do His will (12:1-2). This decision counts the cost of living selflessly in the church and the world (12:3-21).

B. God is looking for authentic worshipers who gather together in authentic worshiping communities to glorify Him in this fallen world.

1. An authentic worshiper is a Christian who has given his or her life to God in response to the mercies of God. Worship is a lifestyle, not an event!

2. An authentic worshiping community that “has good worship” according to God’s definition is a gathering of believers who are serving Christ together in response to His mercies. The event of good worship is the expression of the collective worshipful lifestyles of the community.

“It is in the process of being worshipped

that God communicates His presence to men.” C.S. Lewis

All the Bible, Every Book: Ezra

Return from Exile: Zerubbabel and Ezra

“I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you” (Jeremiah 29:14).

The fifth major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is referred to as the Post Exilic Period. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther record Israel’s “second exodus,” this one from exile in Babylonia. This mini-exodus that only involved a returning remnant came in three waves. Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in the first wave of 50,000. After God foiled a Satanic plot to exterminate God’s people in Persia, godly Esther reigns as Queen of Persia. Eighty-one years after Zerubbabel’s return, Ezra brings 5,000 Jews to Jerusalem to rebuild their godly culture. Finally, Nehemiah leads the third and last return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. This was the time when the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi spoke.

The chronology of Ezra’s time is important:

538-515 BC

58 Years

457 BC

444-425 BC

Zerubbabel

Esther

Ezra

Nehemiah

Ezra 1-6

Book of Esther

Ezra 7-10

Book of Nehemiah

First Return

No Journeys Home

Second Return

Third Return

Rebuild the Temple

Life In Persia

Rebuild the People

Rebuild the Walls

The book of Ezra covers the 92 years of history from the decree of Cyrus allowing the Jews to return (538 B.C.) to Nehemiah’s first trip back to Jerusalem (446 B.C.). Most of the events took place from 538-515 B.C.–Zerubbabel’s return (chapters 1-6), and in 458 B.C.—Ezra’s return (chapters 7-10). The events of the Book of Esther occurred between chapters 6 and 7. I believe Ezra wrote the book soon after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem (446 B.C.). “The message is addressed to the postexilic community of Jews who wonder if there is any hope of political and religious restoration. Its central thrust is that there is indeed hope but that hope must be incarnated in rebuilding the rebuilding of the Temple, the cultus [worshiping community], and the priesthood.” (Eugene H. Merrill, “A Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther, in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 190)

Ezra wrote the book to show how God fulfills His promise to return His people to the their land. He sovereignly protected His people by a powerful empire while they were in captivity. They even prospered in their exile! Then, right on prophetic schedule (Jeremiah 29:10-14) God raised up pagan kings who were sympathetic to their cause and encouraged them to rebuild their homeland. Ezra traces the dramatic re-establishment of the worship of YHWH separate from all foreign influence:

Ezra: When life overwhelms you, turn to God’s Word. Study it; do it; teach it!

Although Israel had failed as God’s people and seemed hopelessly exiled, God had not forgotten His covenants with Abraham and David. His mighty and merciful hand worked through the Gentiles to restore a true form of worship and true worshippers separated to Himself in the land of promise. It would be to the descendants, these restored and purified worshipers that Messiah would come to be worshipped in Spirit and truth. The lesson for God’s people is clear: God is always working to move His agenda forward. The darkest days cannot extinguish the light of God’s truth and grace.

I. RESTORING WORSHIP IN THE TEMPLE: God stirs the heart of a Persian king (Cyrus) to release the Jews and charge them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem—an event prophesied 200 years before (Isaiah 44:28). With Zerubbabel as their leader only 49,897 of the two to three million Jews respond to the call. (1-6)

The “lost tribes” are not entirely lost. Those who returned were primarily from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi; but it is evident that representatives from the other ten tribes eventually returned as well.

A. COMMISSION OF THE TEMPLE BUILDERS: God’s people return to their shattered homeland, rebuild the alter and reinstate the sacrifices as they prepare to reconstruct the temple. The foundation is laid, causing joy and optimism among the workers, but bringing tears of sadness to those who recalled the incomparable splendor of the former temple. (1-3).

B. COMPLETION OF THE TEMPLE: Pagan peoples who hate the Jews try to stop the project in two ways. First, they make deceitful offers to help. When Zerubbabel fails to compromise they openly attack God’s people and bring false accusations to the authorities. For fifteen years the discouraged and disobedient Jews neglect their commission to rebuild the temple. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah call the people to repentance and God responds by overthrowing the existing Persian regime. The new king (Darius) overrules the opposition to the temple project by the wicked Persian governor of Palestine, Tattenai. Finally, 23 years after the arrival of the first pilgrims, the temple is completed. (4-6)

Messiah: Though the temple is restored God’s glory does not return. The glory, which departed during the Babylonian defeat (Ezekiel 8-11), does not enter the new temple at this time. After 400 years of silence God’s next prophet, John the Baptist would point to the Lamb of God and all would behold His glory—the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

BACK IN PERSIA: A 58-year gap between the accounts of the first two returns is well documented by the Book of Esther. The Jews in Persia had other things on their mind—survival against an evil Satanic plot to destroy their race!

AND AROUND THE WORLD: Having failed in his diabolical plan to thwart God’s plan of redemption, Satan moved swiftly to raise up counterfeit systems of righteousness worldwide. As God prepared His people for their Messiah in Israel during the time of the Book of Ezra (538-444 BC), Satan raised up Gautama Buddha in India (560-480 BC), Confucius in China (551-479 BC), and Socrates in Greece (470-399 BC).

II. RESTORING PURITY: Eighty-one years later God stirs the heart of another Persian king (Artaxerxes 1) to give Ezra the priest authority to bring people and contributions for the temple in Jerusalem. 1,753 leaders experience God’s protection and provision during the 900-mile journey to their homeland. (7-10)

A. COMMISSION OF THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS: After praying and fasting, Ezra and his caravan begin the four-month journey. Their enthusiasm for their mission grows as they see God’s powerful hand on their life. (7-8)

B. COMPLETION OF SPIRITUAL REFORM:  When Ezra discovers that the people and the priests have intermarried with foreign women, he calls for repentance and offers a great intercessory prayer on their behalf. Their confession and response to the Word of God brings about a great revival and changes lives. (9-10)

III. EZRA AND YOU: God’s people should never doubt His ability to accomplish His will. The Jews were far from home and the Promised Land filled with pagan peoples. But God was working behind the scenes. He worked through pagan, godless rulers and passionate, God-fearing leaders to re-establish worship separate from all foreign influence. His people would never again follow false gods!

A. God can and will do seemingly impossible things to remain faithful to His promises to His people. (Tom Constable)

B. God is always working, but usually in surprising and jarring ways.

C. When the days seem dark and without hope, do what Ezra did: Study God’s Word; do what God’s Word says to do, and teach God’s word to others (Ezra 7:10).

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Nehemiah

Return from Exile: Rebuild the Walls

“Our enemies…knew that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:15-16)

The fifth major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is referred to as the Post Exilic Period. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther record Israel’s “second exodus,” this one from exile in Babylonia. This mini-exodus that only involved a returning remnant came in three waves. Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in the first wave of 50,000. After God foiled a Satanic plot to exterminate God’s people in Persia, godly Esther reigns as Queen of Persia. Eighty-one years after Zerubbabel’s return, Ezra brings 5,000 Jews to Jerusalem to rebuild their godly culture. Finally, Nehemiah leads the third and last return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. This was the time when the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi spoke.

The chronology of Nehemiah’s time is important:

Ezra 1-6

Esther

Ezra 7-10

Thirteen Year Gap

Nehemiah

Restoration under Zerubbabel

Esther

Reformation under Ezra

Reconstruction under Nehemiah

538-515

58-year gap

457

444-425

First Return

(50,000)

No Journeys Home

Second Return

(2,000)

Third Return

Rebuild the Temple

Life in Persia

Rebuild the People

Rebuild the Walls

Haggai-Zechariah

Malachi

The book of Nehemiah covers the 20-plus years of history from the year Nehemiah first heard the news of conditions in Jerusalem (445 B.C.) to the early years of Darius’ reign in Persia (423 B.C.). Most of the events took place in 444 B.C.—when he arrived in Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls within 52 days  (chapters 1-7), and in 432-432 B.C.—when he returned to institute spiritual reforms in partnership with Ezra (chapters 8-13). I believe Nehemiah wrote the book while in his 60s, soon after Darius replaced Artaxerxes (4423 B.C.). “The books of Ezra and Nehemiah reflect some of the bleakest and most difficult days in Israel’s long Old Testament history. Though the Exile was over and a remnant people was in process of rebuilding the superstructures of national life, the prospects for success paled in comparison of the halcyon days of the past when the Davidic kingdom dominated the entire eastern Mediterranean world. What was needed was a word of encouragement, a message of hope in the God who had once blessed His people above all nations of the earth and who had promised to do so again.” (Eugene H. Merrill, “A Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther, in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 200-201)  

The Book of Nehemiah demonstrates how God uses His people in fulfilling His promises. Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the cupbearer were God’s choice to guide Israel to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. Nehemiah was one of the greatest leaders of Israel:

God uses leaders who work hard, pray even harder, and refuse to quit!

Although Israel had failed as God’s people and seemed hopelessly exiled, God had not forgotten His covenants with Abraham and David. His mighty and merciful hand worked through the Gentiles to restore a true form of worship and true worshippers separated to Himself in the land of promise. It would be to the descendants; these restored and purified worshipers that Messiah would come to be worshipped in Spirit and truth. The lesson for God’s people is clear: God is always working to move His agenda forward. The darkest days cannot extinguish the light of God’s truth and grace.

I. REBUILDING THE WALLS: God stirs the heart of a privileged Jew (Nehemiah) to take bold action for his people and the welfare of Jerusalem. 40 year-old Nehemiah relies on God and leads with courage to build the walls in record time in spite of intense external and internal opposition. Jerusalem now exists in its historical location pursuing its historical religion—Judaism. (1-7)

***The cupbearer of a Persian king was the ultimate insider. Nehemiah had the king’s complete trust and confidence. Esther is Artaxerxes’ stepmother. She must have been influential in Nehemiah’s appointment to such a high office.

A. PREPARING TO BUILD: The project to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem fails and they are torn down again. Nehemiah cannot tolerate the news from his homeland and takes courageous action. Thirteen years after Ezra and ninety-four years after Zerubbabel, Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem to inspect the walls and plan their restoration. (1-2)

B. BUILDING: Opposition quickly arises, but Nehemiah presses on in bold faith and effective leadership. The project is completed in an incredible fifty-two days, and even the enemies recognize that it can only have been accomplished with the help of God. (3-7)

II. RESTORING THE PEOPLE: The construction of the walls is followed by the consecration and consolidation of the people. Ezra and Nehemiah lead the people in repentance for the sins of the Jews and resolve to remain pure from foreign influence. (8-13)

A. RENEWING THE COVENANT: Ezra again leads the people toward revival by reading and teaching the Word of God. This revival takes the same course of the reforms Ezra led thirteen years before.  (8-10)

B. OBEYING THE COVENANT: Unfortunately, Ezra’s revival is short-lived; and Nehemiah, who returned to Persia in 432 BC, makes a second trip to Jerusalem about 425 BC to reform the people. He cleanses the temple, enforces the Sabbath, and requires the people to put away their foreign wives (11-13). 

Messiah: In the book of Nehemiah the Old Testament historical books end leaving everything restored except the king. The temple is rebuilt, Jerusalem is reconstructed and secure, the covenant is renewed, and the people are reformed. The messianic line is intact, but the King is yet to come. The decree of Artaxerxes in his twentieth year (2:1) marks the beginning point of Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9:25-27). The Messiah will come at the end of the sixty-nine weeks, and this is exactly when Jesus Christ showed up—AD 33! The decree took place on March 4, 444 BC. 69 weeks x 7 years = 483 years or 173,880 days (using the 360-day prophetic year). This leads to March 29, AD33—the exact day of the Triumphal Entry! (Luke 19:28-40)

III. NEHEMIAH AND YOU: Nehemiah worked hard, prayed harder, and refused to quit!

A. “Nehemiah’s singleness of purpose, attention to detail, willingness to delegate authority, dedication to service, and dependence on God were combined in a man who can simply be labeled as a servant of God.” (Merven Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, p. 59) Would the people you lead in your life, your work, and your home describe you in this way? How do you feel you can become a more “Nehemiah-like” leader?

B. Nehemiah worked hard! Do you? The best way to find out if you’re the type of person who works hard is to ask someone who loves you enough to tell you the truth.

C. Nehemiah prayed even harder! Do you? What would your Heavenly Father say about your prayer life? Are you one of His children He hears from a lot when you’re going through tough times? Or do you sulk because you “don’t think prayer works”?

D. Nehemiah refused to quit! Do you? Is your history in meeting challenges the history of a persevering leader or a quitter?

All the Bible, Every Book: Esther

God’s Unfailing Protective Love

“It may very well be that you have achieved royal status for such a time as this.” (Mordecai to Queen Esther, Esther 4:14)

The fifth major unit within the seventeen Historical Books is referred to as the Post Exilic Period. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther record Israel’s “second exodus,” this one from exile in Babylonia. This mini-exodus that only involved a returning remnant came in three waves. Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in the first wave of 50,000. After God foiled a Satanic plot to exterminate God’s people in Persia, godly Esther reigns as Queen of Persia. Eighty-one years after Zerubbabel’s return, Ezra brings 5,000 Jews to Jerusalem to rebuild their godly culture. Finally, Nehemiah leads the third and last return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. This was the time when the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi spoke.

The chronology of Esther’s time is important:

Ezra 1-6

Esther

Ezra 7-10

Thirteen Year Gap

Nehemiah

Restoration under Zerubbabel

Esther

Reformation under Ezra

Reconstruction under Nehemiah

538-515

58-year gap

457

444-425

First Return

(50,000)

No Journeys Home

Second Return

(2,000)

Third Return

Rebuild the Temple

Life in Persia

Rebuild the People

Rebuild the Walls

Haggai-Zechariah

Malachi

The events of book of Esther occurred during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (Greek name, Xerxes) from the planning session for his ill-fated war against Greece (1:3-21, 483 B.C.) to the institution of the Feast of Purim (9:24-28, 473 B.C.). It covers a span of 10 years. I believe the author wrote the book soon after the year the Jews defended themselves and instituted the Feast of Purim (473 B.C). “The lovely story of Esther provides the great theological truth that the purposes of God cannot be stymied because He is forever loyal to His covenant with His eternally elected nation.” (Eugene H. Merrill, “A Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther, in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 205)  

The Book of Esther demonstrates how God has remained faithful to His promises in the face of worldwide conspiracies against the Jews and the unfaithfulness of His people. God’s name does not occur in the book, though His sovereign hand is obvious in the narrative. A plot to exterminate God’s people is thwarted by the brilliance of Mordecai and the momentary courage of Queen Esther:

Esther: God’s promises are more powerful

than the schemes of His enemies and the failures of His people!

Although Israel had failed as God’s people and seemed hopelessly exiled, God had not forgotten His covenants with Abraham and David. His mighty and merciful hand worked through the Gentiles to restore a true form of worship and true worshippers separated to Himself in the land of promise. It would be to the descendants; these restored and purified worshipers that Messiah would come to be worshipped in Spirit and truth. The lesson for God’s people is clear: God is always working to move His agenda forward. The darkest days cannot extinguish the light of God’s truth and grace.

I. CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE JEWS: God’s hand of providence and protection is evident as He works behind the scenes to put Esther into power and Mordecai into the King’s favor even before the evil Haman determines to exterminate Mordecai along with the Jews. (1-4)

A. ESTHER’S CORONATION: The Persian king Ahasuerus hosts a great banquet celebrating his dominion over 127 nations. But Queen Vashti undermines everything with her insolent disobedience. The volatile Ahasuerus deposes his queen and the beautiful Jewess Esther becomes queen of Persia just in time to save her king from an assassin, thanks to her uncle, Mordecai. (1-2)

B. HAMAN’S PLOT: Haman becomes captain of the princes (Prime Minister) and demands the worship of the people. Mordecai refuses to bow down. With murderous rage, Haman plots for a year to eliminate all Jews. He casts lots (purim) daily to determine the best day to launch his holocaust. His decree moves Mordecai to challenge Esther to risk her life for the sake of her people. He convinces her that she has been called to her high office for this exalted purpose. (3-4)

Attention to detail! Haman was a descendant of the Amalekites. Had Joshua and the tribes of Israel (Exodus 17:14, Deuteronomy 25:17-19) or Saul (1 Samuel 15:1-35) been obedient to God’s command and destroyed all of the Amalekites there would have been no Haman.

II. DELIVERANCE OF THE JEWS: After fasting, Esther appears before the king. The king hasn’t called for her in more than 30 days. If she enters his chambers without being beckoned, she risks death, unless the king raises his golden scepter. Esther speaks up and her people are saved. (5-10)

A. HAMAN’S RUIN: Fortified with faith, Esther courageously enters the king’s court inviting the king and Haman to a banquet. She uses this banquet as an opportunity to invite them to a second banquet. Before the second banquet takes place however, three events happen in rapid sequence. Haman builds an enormous gallows on which to hang Mordecai. Ahasuerus discovers Mordecai’s previously overlooked act of bravery. And Haman is forced to endure the humiliation of bestowing on Mordecai the honor which he himself so greedily craved. At the second banquet, Esther uncovers the plot against her people, and Haman is hanged on his own gallows. (5-7)

B. ISRAEL’S VICTORIES: Haman is dead, but his murderous decree against the Jews lives on. A subsequent decree giving the Jews permission to fight back leads to mighty victories for God’s people. The Feast of Purim is inaugurated to henceforth commemorate this historic deliverance of the Jewish people. (8-10) 

Messiah: This book reveals another satanic threat to destroy the Jewish people and thus, the messianic line. God continues to preserve His people in spite of opposition and danger, and nothing can prevent the coming of Messiah.

III. ESTHER AND YOU: Neither Mordecai nor Esther could be classified as godly Jews. They chose the pleasures of Persia over the hardships of their homeland (Ezra 1-6). They were eager to save their nation and their people, but they did not seem to have a warm and growing relationship with God. No one forced Esther into Ahaseurus’s harem where she ate unclean food (2:9) and did not disclose that she was a Jewess for five years (2:16). This masquerade that both she and Mordecai pulled off had to involve pagan worship. Mordecai was a brilliant politician and a nationalist for his people the Jews. But if he were that dedicated to God he would have followed Zerubbabel to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Nevertheless, God used their momentary courage and faith in the covenant to do a mighty work to protect His people and remain faithful to His covenant.   

A. Beware of anti-Semitism! Esther exposes the Satanic roots of anti-Semitism. It teaches us that in spite of worldwide conspiracies against the Jews they are God’s covenant people and He defends them for the sake of His covenant.

B. Mordecai and Esther were no Ezra or Nehemiah! God is more powerful than the failures and weaknesses of His people. In spite of the trajectory of their lives as unfaithful Jews, God decided to use them to move His plan forward. It’s never too late to exercise courageous faith in the God who saved you from your sin. “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

C. Mordecai and Esther lived in a time when the enemies of God threatened their lives! God is more powerful than the schemes of His enemies. In spite of their hopeless situation, God was working behind the scenes to move protect His people. “You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Job

Worship in the Face of Suffering

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

(Job to God, Job 42:2)

The five Books of Poetry bridge the past of the seventeen Books of History with the future of the seventeen Books of Prophecy. One-third of the Hebrew Bible was written in poetry. The five Poetical Books deal with the present experience of the authors in ways that speak to the experiential present of believers of all time. Though they come from an ancient culture they are timeless in their application. They do not advance the timeline of the nation Israel. The poetry erupts from the hearts of God’s people going through some of the eras and experiences documented in the Books of History.

Job lived during the patriarchal era of Abraham (Ezekiel 14:14; James 5:11). I believe Moses wrote the book based upon the oral tradition of the story he learned while living in Midian, adjacent to Uz (1:1). Adept at writing poetry (Psalm 90), Moses recast the story in Hebrew poetry under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It’s a beautiful piece dealing with the deepest crisis of faith for those who trust in the God of the Bible: Why do the righteous suffer if God is loving and all-powerful? The central issue for the sufferer is, “How can I go on believing in God when life is so hard?” “To sufferers in all ages the book of Job declares that less important than fathoming the intellectual problem of the mystery of suffering is the appropriation of its spiritual enrichment through the fellowship of God.” (Henry McKeating, The Central Issue of the Book of Job,” Expository Times 82:8 (May 1971):246)  

The Book of Job moves the reader from the problem of suffering to the relationship of the sufferer with their God. Job learns to trust in the goodness and power of his God when life isn’t good. Keep in mind that Job’s experience is limited to chapters 3-37. Only the reader has the divine perspective of chapters 1-2 and is able to “read ahead” to chapters 38-42. This is the way it is for sufferers. Suffering is real time with no tangible evidence that God is good and cares. Those sufferers who trust in the goodness of their God and worship Him as their caring Redeemer will know the real-time of intimacy with Him during the long days of suffering:

Job: Trust God enough to worship Him during times of suffering!

The story of Job reports the transforming crisis in the life of a follower of God who lived four thousand years ago. Job’s trust in God (chapters 1-2) changes to complaining and growing self-defense on the basis of his performance (3-31). Finally, God speaks and Job learns his place in the relationship. God is the Sovereign; Job is the worshiper (38-42).

I. JOB’S UNDESERVED SUFFERING: Satan challenges God’s rule with the charge that no one loves God from pure motives, but only for material blessings. God refutes Satan’s lie by allowing him to strike Job with two series of tragedies. In his sorrow Job laments the day he was born but does not deny God (1-2).

II. JOB’S “COMFORTERS”: Job’s friends come to “comfort” him. After a week of silence, a three round debate follows. His friends say Job must be suffering because of his sin. But Job insists that they are wrong and finally cries out to the Lord as his only judge and refuge (3-37).

A. JOB’S FRIENDS: Simplistic assumptions hurt Job deeply as he shifts his confidence from human resources to his Redeemer (3-32).

Messiah: Job acknowledges a Redeemer (19:25-27) and longs for a Mediator (9:33; 25:4; 33:23). Ultimately Christ is the answer to Job’s question. He identifies with our sufferings (Hebrews 4:15) and is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).

B. JOB’S COMPLAINT CHALLENGED: Elihu rightly exposes Job’s real problem. His preoccupation with self-justification instead of glorifying God. (32-37).

III. GOD’S ANSWER: The LORD forces Job to look to the faithfulness of God, His Redeemer, who brings good for his own even out of evil and according to His purposes. This time Job acknowledges his error with a worshiping heart (38-42).

The following charts from Dr. Tom Constable help us sort through the answers to the question, “Why do the godly suffer?”

PERSON(S)

ANSWER

EVALUATION

Job’s Wife

God is unfair

Never

Job’s Three Friends

God is disciplining (punishing) them because of their sin

Sometimes

Job

God wants to destroy them because of sin

Sometimes

Elihu

God wants to direct (educate) them because of ignorance

Sometimes

God

God wants to develop them to demonstrate His glory

Always

PERSON(S)

EPISTEMOLOGICAL BASE

Job’s Wife

Empiricism

Job’s Three Friends

Rationalism

Job

Rationalism

Elihu

Human inspiration

God

Revelation

III. JOB AND YOU: “The book of Job makes an outstanding contribution to the theology of God and man. God is seen as sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, and caring. By contrast, man is seen as finite, ignorant, and sinful. And yet, even in the face of suffering, man can worship God, confident that His ways are perfect and that pride has no place before Him.” (Roy Zuck, A Theology of the Old Testament, p. 232)   

A. Trying to comfort the suffering? Job’s three friends started well by simply showing up and being with him for a week. Then they started trying to explain the why’s of suffering. This almost never helps. The sufferer needs your presence and love more than your words and your theology.

B. Suffering? Don’t waste it by trying to figure out your God. Let Him redeem it by growing deeper in your relationship with Him as you trust Him and worship Him in spite of the pain.

C. Perspective! Don’t ever think that what you see on earth is all that’s going on in the universe. There is personal evil and wickedness in this world that is always challenging the goodness of our God. When we worship Him in spite of the pain we prove them wrong.

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Psalms

Worship Manual

For the Lord is good. His loyal love endures, and he is faithful through all generations.

(Psalm 100:5)

The five Books of Poetry bridge the past of the seventeen Books of History with the future of the seventeen Books of Prophecy. One-third of the Hebrew Bible was written in poetry. The five Poetical Books deal with the present experience of the authors in ways that speak to the experiential present of believers of all time. Though they come from an ancient culture they are timeless in their application. They do not advance the timeline of the nation Israel. The poetry erupts from the hearts of God’s people going through some of the eras and experiences documented in the Books of History.

At least seven authors contributed to the book of Psalms. These rich writings were compiled over a period of 1,000 years of Israel’s history—from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to the return from Exile in Babylonia (Psalm 126). The term “Psalm” comes from a Greek word meaning “a song sung to the accompaniment of a plucked instrument.” Used as the temple hymnbook of the Kingdom Period, the Psalms express the spectrum of human emotion—praise to God in good times, fear of enemies in bad time, and an overriding confidence in the character of God.

Written to different audiences under many circumstances the psalms cover a vast historic and topical range. This makes them relevant to every reader of every generation. The five books were written over several centuries. As individual psalms were written, some were used in Israel’s worship. Over the years various leaders including David (1 Chronicles 15:16), Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:30) and Ezra (Nehemiah 8) collected groups of Psalms into small anthologies. Finally these collections were united and edited into the five books themselves.

The psalms were used in the two temples and some were part of the liturgical service. They also served as an individual and communal devotional guide. The Book of Psalms is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other book. The Lord referred to the Psalms often during His earthly ministry. And the singing of psalms was a regular part of worship in the early church (Ephesians 5:19):

Psalms: Honestly turning to God with our messy lives!

More than any other book in the Bible, Psalms reveals what a heartfelt, soul-starved, single-minded relationship with God looks like. The psalmists present Yahweh as king of the universe who is establishing His just rule on earth in and through His people, Israel. They pray for the realization of His rule over all Creation and encourage praise and trust in Him. They are journals of people who believe in a loving, gracious, faithful God in a world that keeps falling apart. Some of these people are: DAVID: 73 psalms cite David as author. The New Testament adds Psalms 2 and 95 to the list. David’s wide experience as the warrior-shepherd-king, and his deep love of God combine to produce some of the deepest thoughts in Scripture. ASAPH: Israel’s worship leader under David and Solomon wrote 12 psalms (50, 73-83). His style is distinctive, forceful, and spiritual. He is called a prophet and poet (2 Chronicles 29:20; Nehemiah 12:46) SONS OF KORAH: This guild of singers and composers wrote 10 psalms. SOLOMON: Israel’s most powerful king and the wisest man of history wrote 2 psalms (72, 127). MOSES: Psalm 90, the oldest psalm was written by Israel’s great deliverer. DAVID’S MUSICIANS: Two of King David’s favorite musicians penned two psalms (Heman, 88; Ethan, 89). ORPHAN PSALMS: The 39 remaining psalms are anonymous, though some of these are traditionally attributed to Ezra.

Messiah: Several psalms anticipated the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, the One who came centuries later as Israel’s promised Messiah (anointed one). Every specific messianic prophecy in the Book of Psalms was fulfilled in Christ.

Four rules of interpretation should guide modern readers of these rich treasures of wisdom:

1) When the superscription gives the historical event, the psalm should be interpreted from that historical perspective. But when it is not given, never speculate trying to reconstruct the historical occasion of the psalm.

2) Some of the psalms are associated with definite aspects of Israel’s worship (5:7; 66:13). This can help greatly in understanding those psalms.

3) Many of the psalms use definite structure and motifs. Three types of psalms follow definite patterns of construction.

a) Praise Psalms such as 150 revolve around the word “praise” or the joyous “hallelujah.” Psalm 117 follows this pattern of an introductory call to worship, the reason for praise, then the recapitulation or a renewed summons to praise God.

b) Thanksgiving Psalms such as 48 are a public acknowledgment of God’s activity on behalf of the nation Israel or the psalmist. Psalm 138 follows this pattern of an introduction where the worshiper announces his intention to give thanks, a main section recounting the worshiper’s experience, and then a conclusion which again testifies to God’s gracious act.

c) Lament Psalms such as 22 begin with a direct cry to God. They are really expressions of praise—praise offered to God in the time of His absence. Psalm 22 follows this form very closely: Address to God, Complaint, Confession of Trust, Petition, Words of Assurance, Vow of Praise.

PSALMS AND YOU: “Of all the books in the Old Testament the Book of Psalms most vividly represents the faith of individuals in the Lord. The Psalms are the inspired responses of human hearts to God’s revelation of Himself in law, history, and prophecy. Saints of all ages have appropriated this collection of prayers and praises in their public worship and private mediations.” (Allen P. Ross, “Psalms,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 779)   

When we walk with God through life, the Psalms will become our hymnbook, our prayer book, our refuge in times of deepest anguish. Why? Because the inspired words of the original poets express every redeemed heart’s feelings toward God—our praises, doubts, anger, anguish, trust, rest, and joy.

A. Read the Psalms for spiritual benefit.

1. They are your guide to worship.

2. They help you relate honestly to God.

3. They must be read devotionally.

B. Read the Psalms unafraid of your emotions.

1. The poetry is messy and disordered, just like life.

2. The poetry is spiritual therapy.

3. The poetry gives us a category of lament to express our disappointment in God.

4. The poetry gives us a category of cursing to express our emotions to God—but always as prayers!

May your reading of these songs of trust bless your heart as you relate to the God whose love is always loyal and whose glory is always to be revealed…to those who trust!

 

All the Bible, Every Book:Proverbs

Skillful Living

Fearing the Lord is the beginning of moral knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).

The five Books of Poetry bridge the past of the seventeen Books of History with the future of the seventeen Books of Prophecy. One-third of the Hebrew Bible was written in poetry. The five Poetical Books deal with the present experience of the authors in ways that speak to the experiential present of believers of all time. Though they come from an ancient culture they are timeless in their application. They do not advance the timeline of the nation Israel. The poetry erupts from the hearts of God’s people going through some of the eras and experiences documented in the Books of History.

Have you ever learned a lesson the hard way? For many of life’s lessons the hard way is the only way, but a lot of the wrecks we encounter through the years could be avoided with a little wisdom.

What if I told you that I knew of a book that held treasures of wisdom designed by God to teach you to live skillfully? What if I went on to explain that this isn’t a large book, that you could read it in one sitting, and that it contained over 900 inspired precepts—timeless teaching for everyday living?

Would you hurry to your bookstore or navigate to amazon.com and purchase this amazing book that has the potential to teach you how to live so that you don’t have to learn all your lessons the hard way?

This book exists, but you don’t need to spend any money to buy it…if you already own a Bible! One of the most practical books in the Old Testament is Proverbs—a collection of short, pithy statements of inspired truth and wisdom. Proverbs deals with wisdom and stupidity, justice and revenge, diligence and laziness, poverty and wealth, bosses and employees, life and death. These maxims give us God’s principles for godly living.

It takes only a few seconds to read one of God’s proverbs, but the dedicated Christian will spend a lifetime living out the implications of that truth.  Not surprisingly, skillful living begins with your attitude toward God:

Proverbs: The key to skillful living is fear of the Lord!

To fear God is to relate your entire world to Him as you stand in awe of Him, and determine to trust Him by humbly depending on Him as you do what He says.

I. Proverbs is one of only a few books of your Bible that spells out its purpose.

A.   Title: Proverbs is a collection of five separate books of proverbs. Verse 1 introduces the entire book and chapters 1-9 in particular. A proverb is a “truth tested by time” (von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, p. 74). But the Hebrew book of Proverbs contains the truths tested by time in Israel’s experience with the Living God. (1:1)

B.   Purpose: Proverbs teaches the foundational skill of life—how to live before God and others in practical righteousness. The two purposes of the book move the reader toward this life…

1. By providing moral judgment and sensitivity (1:2a, 3-4).

2. By providing mental clarity and insight (1:2b, 5-6)

C.   Theme: The key statement for Proverbs is the key statement for all the wisdom literature and for skillful living.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of moral knowledge. (1:7)

1. “Fear of the Lord” is “not only a correct way of thinking about God but a correct relationship with Yahweh. It is an affectionate reverence that results in humbly bowing to the Father’s will. It is a desire not to sin against Him because His wrath is so awful and His love is so awesome.” (Dr. Tom Constable, Proverbs, p 8).

2. “Beginning” views fear of the Lord not only as the starting point but the controlling principle of knowledge. “What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the Lord is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book.” (Waltke, Proverbs, p. 181)

3. “Knowledge” is not just a collection of facts in the brain. This knowledge is the knowledge of truth from the objective perspective of God as He has revealed it in His revelation.

II. The Proverbs will teach you how to live skillfully, how to avoid learning some lessons the hard way if

A. If the controlling principle of your life is your fear of the Lord—your correct thinking about Him and your correct relationship with Him.

1. Is He the One you stand in awe of every day?

2. Is He the One you bow to in obedience every day?

3. Is He the One you know personally because you have believed in His Son, Jesus Christ?

4. Is He the One you know better every day as you walk with His Son, Jesus Christ?

B. If you connect wisdom and instruction in your everyday life. The releasing principle of your life is connecting wisdom and instruction. (v 2)

1. Wisdom means “skill” and “instruction” means discipline.

2. Skill in life grows as our knowledge of God and His Word comes under the control of His Spirit to unleash His creative purposes for our lives.

C. If you read it!

 

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

T. S. Eliot

All the Bible, Every Book: Ecclesiastes

Life Is Empty without God

Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.

 (Ecclesiastes 12:13

The five Books of Poetry bridge the past of the seventeen Books of History with the future of the seventeen Books of Prophecy. One-third of the Hebrew Bible was written in poetry. The five Poetical Books deal with the present experience of the authors in ways that speak to the experiential present of believers of all time. Though they come from an ancient culture they are timeless in their application. They do not advance the timeline of the nation Israel. The poetry erupts from the hearts of God’s people going through some of the eras and experiences documented in the Books of History.

Ecclesiastes records an intense quest for meaning, purpose and satisfaction in life. I believe Solomon wrote the book during the latter years of his reign (971-931 B.C.), after he turned back to God following years of inattention and even rebellion. The lessons of the futility of seeking happiness from the experiences of “life under the sun” or “life on earth” (2:24, 8:17) were fresh in the experience of the repentant King of Israel. Solomon’s “intent in his writing is to pass judgment on man’s misguided endeavors at mastering life by pointing out its limits and mysteries. He would prefer that man replace such false and illusory hopes with a confidence based on the joy of creation as God’s gift.” (Ernest W. Hengtenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesiastes, p. 15)  

The Book of Ecclesiastes exposes the emptiness of seeking meaning in life on earth apart from God. The key word is vanity, also translated emptiness or futile, occurs thirty-seven times. Life under the sun, also translated life on earth, occurs twenty-nine times. Due to the injustices, inconsistencies, and seeming irrationality of life, earthly pursuits inevitably end in dissatisfaction and frustration.

The only way to make sense of this world is to view life from God’s perspective. Solomon refers to God as Elohim (Powerful Creator) forty-one times in the book rather than Yahweh (Covenant-Keeping Redeemer). This emphasizes the universality of the truths for all people, not just followers of the God of the Bible. God will ultimately judge all people. Therefore we should “Fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of man” (12:13-14):

Ecclesiastes: Life is meaningless apart from reverence for God!

Solomon lays out his argument clearly. True satisfaction in life can only be found by looking beyond this world. If life on this earth is all there is, then all is futile (2:24). But for those who fear God and keep His commandments (12:13-14) life is full of meaning and purpose.

I. THE TEACHER’S MAIN IDEA: Following a one-verse introduction Solomon states his theme: Everything is absolutely futile. (1:1-11)

II. THE TEACHER’S PROOF: Solomon proves that he knows what he’s talking about from personal experience. He catalogues his amazing pursuits and his lifelong quest for meaning. He’s tried it all—wisdom, works, women, and wealth. Unsatisfied and empty, he concludes that all life on earth has to offer is disappointment and confusion. (1:12-6:12)

Messiah: A Type of Christ in Ecclesiastes. This book about the emptiness of life on earth constantly refers to the God of Creation (Elohim). Solomon admits that God is the unmoved mover of history, but that men and women remain ignorant of His power (3:11). He concludes that only the “one shepherd” (12:11) can provide real satisfaction, joy, and wisdom. Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd” who offers His life freely to all who believe (John 10:7-10).

III. THE TEACHER’S RECOMMENDATION OF A BETTER OPTION: The best this life has to offer is a self-disciplined life that will bring only temporary blessing or prosperity. The “good life” is only attained by turning to God and trusting Him enough to do what He says. (7-12)

A. THE FUTILITY OF SELF-INDULGED PLEASURES AND ACHIEVEMENTS: Living for sensual pleasure is the worst option. Living to achieve is a somewhat better option. Nevertheless the only way to enjoy the fruit of self-effort is to remember that it’s fleeting. (7:1-9:12)

B. EVEN THE WISEST MUST GET OLD AND DIE:  Unlike fools who engage in meaningless talk and pursuits, wise people live the best life on earth. But even the wisest become feeble and wonder what it is all about. (9:13-12:7)

C. ONLY REVERENCE FOR GOD TRULY SATISFIES: Real living begins and ends with relationship with God. Don’t look “under the sun” for meaning in life but beyond the sun to the “one Shepherd.” (12:8-14)

IV. ECCLESIASTES AND YOU: The futility of human pleasure, effort, and achievement directs men and women, boys and girls to the only sane path of life: abandoned trust in and obedience to the God of the Bible!

A. Do you know the “one Shepherd,” the “Good Shepherd” who wants to give you a life that is full of meaning and purpose—His life, eternal life?  (John 10:7-10; 6:47)

B. What preoccupies your life right now? Life’s pleasures? Life’s achievements? The Wisdom of Life? Or your relationship with God? Before you answer that, consider these clear indicators of the truth concerning you:

1. Where are you investing your time? What do your schedule priorities reveal?

2. Where are you investing your money? What do your budget priorities reveal?

3. What do your dreams about the future reveal?

4. What do your conversations with others about the church and God’s people reveal?

C. What do you feel God wants you to do about your answer to the last question?

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy,

the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

C.S. Lewis

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Song of Solomon

Intimacy in Marriage

Eat, friends, and drink! Drink freely, O lovers!

(God to husband and wife, Song of Songs 5:1)

The five Books of Poetry bridge the past of the seventeen Books of History with the future of the seventeen Books of Prophecy. One-third of the Hebrew Bible was written in poetry. The five Poetical Books deal with the present experience of the authors in ways that speak to the experiential present of believers of all time. Though they come from an ancient culture they are timeless in their application. They do not advance the timeline of the nation Israel. The poetry erupts from the hearts of God’s people going through some of the eras and experiences documented in the Books of History.

Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs is a love song written by Solomon. It is a celebration of marital love in Hebrew poetry full of metaphors and imagery depicting the love between husband and wife. Though some feel uncomfortable with a literal interpretation of this highly erotic poem, God created man and woman and personally established and endorsed marriage (Genesis 2:20-24). It shouldn’t surprise us that God included a manual to guide marriage partners in love and lovemaking in His Word.

Admittedly, Solomon seems an unlikely author of a poem on the joy of pure and wholesome love. I believe Solomon wrote this about the only true and pure romance he ever experienced. Song of Songs is a beautiful affirmation of sex in marriage. “The song fills a necessary vacuum in the Scriptures because it endorses sex and celebrates it beyond all expectation. Although abuse is possible and to be avoided, sex is not inherently evil, nor is it limited to a procreative function. Instead, sex enables an experience of love whose intensity has no parallel in this cosmos and serves as a signpost to point to the greater love that lies beyond it. (Richard S. Hess, Song of Songs, p. 35).

The Song of Songs illustrates the God’s love for Israel and Christ’s love for the church. Still, “God’s primary purpose in inspiring this book was to give us revelation concerning the way love between a man and a woman should look.” (Constable, p 5):

Song of Solomon: Sex is a gift from God with a purpose—

to enhance intimacy between husband and wife!

The Song of Solomon dispels the erroneous contention that sexuality is sinful while simultaneously reminding us that illicit sex debases one of God’s most precious gifts to humanity.

I. LOVE GROWS: The story begins and unfolds. The reader witnesses the age-old theme of man and woman falling in love through the interplay of cameos by the main characters. (1:1-3:5)

II. LOVE CELEBRATED: God’s manual on sex includes a most glorious wedding celebration and a most pointed message—sex is limited to the institution of marriage. (3:6-11)

Messiah: A Type of Christ. In the Old Testament, Israel is regarded as the bride of Yahweh (Isaiah 54:5-6, Jeremiah 2:2, Hosea 2:16-20). The New Testament views the church as the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:23-25; Revelation 19:7-9, 21:9). The Song of Songs illustrates both.

III. LOVE CONSUMMATED: The lovers come together in a beautifully written dialogue picturing their joy in each other in vivid detail. God speaks a blessing over them as they enjoy His gift of sexuality and intimacy in marriage. Eat, friends, and drink! Drink freely, O lovers!  (4:1-5:1)

IV. LOVE STRUGGLES: Always practical, the Bible also depicts the tensions and troubles of this “marriage made in heaven.” Misunderstandings following the honeymoon strain the relationship. The sorrow of the lovers and the meddling of friends is an all too familiar pattern for the realities of marital love. (5:2-6:13)

V. LOVE RECONCILED: Realistic but uncompromising, the divine record of love reveals what God expects from troubled marital lovers—the hard and messy work of reconciliation. (7:1-8:4) 

VI. LOVE MATURES: The final picture is hopeful and encouraging. A love that overcomes tough times is stronger and able to experience the full blessings of intimacy before God. (8:5-14)

SONG OF SONGS AND YOU: The practical wisdom of Solomon’s Song is vital in a world gone crazy with illicit sex and a church sometimes embarrassed by the subject of sex.

A. The Bible unashamedly endorses sexual intimacy between husband and wife. There at least six reasons for sex between husband and life:

1. Procreation—to create life (Genesis 1:28)

2. Intimacy—sex increases the emotional and spiritual intimacy between husband and wife (Genesis 2:24)

3. Knowledge—communication between husband and wife concerning sex can increase understanding and appreciation of one another’s needs and desires in other areas of life. (Genesis 4:1) The Hebrew word for “sexual intercourse” is the word “to know.” Through God’s gracious gift of sexual intimacy, a wife and a husband gain intimate and exclusive knowledge of one another they have with no one else. NOTE: THE ENTIRE POEM IS DIALOGUE!!!!!

4. Pleasure—sexual intimacy brings mutual pleasure to husband and wife. (Proverbs 5:15, 18-19; Song of Solomon)

5. Defense against temptation—sexual availability and attentiveness protect both spouses from temptations to adultery. (1 Corinthians 7:2, 5)

6. Comfort—sexual intimacy comforts during difficult times. (2 Samuel 12:24)

B. The Bible unashamedly forbids sex between anyone other than your legal, heterosexual spouse. Here are the reasons for sex between any other two people on earth or in history:

NONE! RUN, STUPID!

(1 Corinthians 6:18)

 

There is no more lovely, friendly, charming relationship,

communion or company than a good marriage.


~Martin Luther

All the Bible, Every Book: The Prophets of Israel

Mediators of God’s Enforcement of the Covenant

“For the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will not let you down or destroy you,

for he cannot forget his covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them.”

(Deuteronomy 4:31)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 167)

“The prophets spoke for God to His people. They functioned to call Israel back to God, which meant a call back to faithfulness to their Covenant relationship with God; i.e., back to the Law of Moses. There was a covenant relationship between God and His people. This covenant contained not only the rules which they are to keep, but it also describes the sorts of punishments that God will necessarily apply to His people if they do not keep the Law, as well as the benefits He will impart to them if they are faithful. What is important is that God does not merely give His Law, but He enforces it. Positive reinforcement is blessing; negative reinforcement is curse. This is where the prophets come in. God announced the enforcement of the Law (both positive and negative) through the prophets.” (Bob Deffinbaugh, Understanding the Writing Prophets, bible.org, p. 4)

I would sum up the message of the prophets in one extended sentence:

You are mine! Walk with me and I will bless you.

Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline.

(God’s message to His people through the Prophets of Israel)

Before we begin our journey through the Prophets of Israel, here are some foundational truths concerning their grammatical and historical context:

I. What do we mean by the word “prophecy”? Most people think of a prophecy as a prediction of a future event, a foretelling. Though this is an aspect of the term, it’s inadequate. The Bible doesn’t limit the meaning of prophecy to foretelling the future. The word prophet also means someone who tells forth or proclaims.

A. The prophets did tell the future (foretell), but that was not their primary function. Less than 2% of the Old Testament prophecy is messianic, and less than 5% of the writings of the Prophets of Israel relates to the New Covenant age of the church. Remarkably, less than 1% of all the Old Testament prophecy actually concerns events still future to us as Church Age believers. The bulk of the foretold prophecies of the Prophets of Israel have been fulfilled.

B. From the prophet’s perspective, his primary function was to speak for God to his contemporaries. This is why we need to first establish the primary message to the prophet’s audience and his predictions concerning the near future before we begin trying to ascertain what the prophet was saying about the “way off” future.

II. What was the purpose of the Prophets of Israel? The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their Covenant relationship with God.

A. God had made four Unconditional Covenants with His people, Israel:

1. Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12-15): A literal, eternal, and unconditional “deal” that God would give them a land, a seed, and a blessing.

2. Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-8): Unconditional and permanent ownership of the Promise Land. However, current possession of the land was conditioned upon obedience to the Mosaic Law. (see below)

3. Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:14-16): The Seed of David would rule on the throne of the eternal Kingdom.

4. New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34): The Blessing of forgiveness of sins, the indwelling Spirit, and a new nature would be realized through the Seed of David, Messiah.

B. God and Israel had made one Conditional Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant. God not only gave the people His Law, but He also told them He would enforce it through blessings and cursings.

1. God would encourage faithfulness to the Law by blessing (Leviticus 26:1-13; Deuteronomy 28:1-14). These blessings included life, health, prosperity, agricultural abundance, respect and safety in the world.

2. God would discourage unfaithfulness to the Law by cursing, or loving discipline  (Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:15-32, 42). These blessings included death, disease, drought, danger, destruction, defeat, deportation, destitution, and disgrace.

3. Deuteronomy 4:25-31 sums up this dynamic of the conditional covenant:

After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time,if you become corrupt and make an image of any kindand do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him,I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against youtoday that you will surely and swiftly be removed   from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will surely beannihilated. Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of youamong the nations where the Lord will drive you. There you will worship gods made by human hands – wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul.In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days,if you return to the Lord your God and obey him(for heis a merciful God), he will not let you downor destroy you, for he cannotforget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them.

III. Who were the prophets speaking to? The chronology of the Prophets of Israel is critical. They were speaking to specific generations of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant in the context of the unconditional covenants.

The prophets to Israel: Jonah, Amos, and Hosea. The prophets to Judah: Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah (Lamentations). The prophets to the exiles: Ezekiel, Daniel. The prophets to the returning remnant: Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi

IV. What was their message as mediators to enforce the covenants? You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)

V. What can we learn from the overarching message of the prophets? When people are in covenant relationship with God He will never revoke His promises. But He loves them too much to ignore them if they stray from faithfulness to Him.

 

All the Bible, Every Book: The New Covenant

(Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:8-12)

“Indeed a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with my people.”

(Jeremiah 31:31)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promised Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 167)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)

An exciting aspect of God’s covenant relationship and promises to Israel for New Testament believers is our relationship to the New Covenant God made with Israel. During the days of Jeremiah, when it was obvious that Israel would never keep the Old Covenant, God promised to make a new covenant with Israel and Judah. This New Covenant had to do with the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant:

Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord,“when I will make a new covenantwith the people of Israel and Judah.It will not be like the oldcovenant that I made with their ancestorswhen I delivered themfrom Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,”says the Lord.“But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israelafter I plant them back in the land,”says the Lord.“I willput my law within themand write it on their hearts and minds.I will be their God and they will be my people.

“People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me.For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,”says the Lord. “ForI will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

This was the passage to move Origen to name the last twenty-seven books of the Bible the New Testament. It’s also the largest piece of text quoted literally in the New Testament in Hebrews 8:8-12. It’s a key passage in helping us understand how we, as New Testament believers, fit into God’s great plan. God made the covenant with Israel and its ultimate fulfillment will involve the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews. Yet the New Testament writers make it clear that church-age believers have mysteriously and wonderfully entered into the blessings of the New Covenant:

Christian, enthusiastically embrace and live out your New Covenant blessings!

Before we begin our journey through the Prophets of Israel, it’s important to understand the implications of this critical text for us today.

I. What is the New Covenant? It is a series of promises that God made to Israel and Judah during the darkest days in Old Testament history. These promises are unconditional, unchangeable, and irreversible since they are sealed by God’s oath. The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant of the Mosaic Law because that covenant had been broken. It is vastly superior to the Old and makes it obsolete. It defines the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant in glorious and unexpected ways.

A. The term “New Covenant” occurs only here in the Old Testament, though there are numerous references in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea.

B. The New Covenant was future to Jeremiah’s writing. The Lord would make this New Covenant with all the Israelites—those who had inhabited the Northern and the Southern Kingdom:

C. The blessings of the New Covenant are:

1. An inner inclination to obey God, an internalization of His Law. “I willput my law within themand write it on their hearts and minds.” God’s New Covenant will give Israel the inner capacity to obey His righteous commands and enjoy deep intimacy with Him. Ezekiel  (36:24-32) and Joel (2:28-32) clarify that this inner power will be the indwelling Holy Spirit.

2. A firm relationship with God that is secure and eternal.

3. The knowledge of God: Intimacy never achieved under the Old Covenant.

4. The forgiveness of sin: Israel’s sins would not only be forgiven, but forgotten. Isaiah clarified this by saying that God’s Substitute would make payment for sin (53:4-6). Jesus announced that His substitionary death on the Cross would ratify the New Covenant (Matthew 26:27-28; Luke 22:20).

II. What do the New Testament authors say about the New Covenant? God ratified the New Covenant with Israel when Jesus Christ died on the Cross, and the church now operates under this covenant.

A. Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant when He died on the Cross as a substitute for sin (Luke 22:20, Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

B. New Testament Christians are ministers/servants of a new covenant based upon the Spirit that gives life and therefore our stories of relationship with God are about what the Spirit is doing in our heart (on the inside, 2 Corinthians 3:1-6).

C. New Testament Christians are recipients of the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant through the promise of the New Covenant. Because of Israel’s unbelief and unfaithfulness to the Old Covenant, the church has been grafted into all the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant (Galatians 3:14; Romans 9:8, 11:17). The four benefits of the New Covenant—inner inclination to obey God, firm relationship, knowledge of God, and forgiveness of sins—belong to all the regenerate of every age since the substitionary death of the Son of God on the Cross. (Hebrews 8:8-12)

D. Since the New Covenant offers final forgiveness based solely upon the death of Christ, there is no further need of a sacrifice for sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18)

III. Does this mean that God is through with Israel? No! The promise was specifically made to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The full spiritual, physical, and national portions of the New Covenant do not belong to the church. Those will be fulfilled in the future. We believe that this will occur during the Millennium, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth following His Second Coming.

IV. What does this mean to me? God made the New Covenant with Israel at the Cross. But grace upon grace! Though the church does not replace Israel, mysteriously and gloriously we enter into her New Covenant blessings! We have the Holy Spirit who inclines us to obey God (Romans 8:9; Philippians 2:13). We have a firm relationship with God through Christ which is secure and eternal (1 John 5:11-13). We have intimacy with God that no one under the Old Covenant could experience (Romans 8:16-17; 1 John 1:3). And we have forgiveness of sins through the death of Christ (Ephesians 1:7).

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Isaiah

The Lord Delivers

“All of us had wandered off like sheep.”

(Isaiah 53:6)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promised Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 167)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)

Onto the stage of a sin-infested nation steps Isaiah, the fiery prophet who urges the kings of Judah to respond to God’s call of faithfulness. The “motherlode of Hebrew prophecy,” this book resembles the Bible in miniature. Its first thirty-nine chapters correspond to the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and stress the righteousness, holiness, and justice of God. The prophet announces judgment upon immoral and idolatrous people in ever-widening circles—Judah, her neighbors and the world. Surely this is cause to groan under God’s chastening hand. But the last twenty-seven chapters correspond to the twenty-seven books of the New Testament and lift up God’s glory, compassion, and undeserved favor. Messiah will come as a Savior to bear a cross and as a Sovereign to wear a crown. Hope becomes the central premise as Christ becomes the central promise of glory.

The name “Isaiah” means the Lord is salvation. The prophet ministered in Judah during the time of Israel’s fall to Assyria warning the southern nation against the mistakes of their brethren to the north. According to Jewish tradition, his father, Amoz, was the brother of King Amaziah. This would mean that Isaiah was a cousin to King Uzziah. This would explain why Isaiah was on such familiar terms with the royal court. Though his main function was that of a prophet to Judah, he was also a historian, a statesman and well-educated student of international affairs, and counselor to King Hezekiah regarding his policies toward Assyria and Babylon. He lived during a time of severe military threats to Judah, and warned its kings against trusting in alliances rather than the power of Yahweh. His prophetic contemporaries were Hosea in the north and Micah in the south.

The theme is found in Isaiah’s name: salvation is of the Lord. The word “salvation” appears twenty-six times in Isaiah, but only seven times in all the other prophets combined. Chapters 1-39 reveal humanity’s great need for salvation, and chapters 40-66 offer God’s great provision of salvation. His message is validated by the fulfillment of prophecies both near (Chapter 37—Judah’s deliverance from Assyria) and far (Chapter 53—the atonement of Messiah). Because the nation would not repent of its sinful ways, Isaiah announced the ultimate overthrow of Judah. Nevertheless, God would remain faithful to His covenant by preserving a godly remnant and promising deliverance through the coming Messiah. The Savior will come as promised from the tribe of Judah and the Gentiles will come to His light as it dawns in the north (Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:13-16):

Isaiah: Deliverance is of the Lord!

Isaiah has three major sections: prophecies of condemnation (1-35); historical interlude (36-39); prophecies of comfort (40-69). The lesson for God’s people is clear: God manifests His glory through His judgment of sin (1-39) and His deliverance and blessing of His righteous remnant (40-66).

I. JUDGMENT IS COMING Isaiah’s messages of condemnation are aimed at ever-widening circles of leaders and peoples, beginning at home (1-35).

A. JUDGMENT OF JUDAH Isaiah’s prophecies of judgment came at a time when attack, intimidation, even annihilation appear likely for the people of God. Undaunted, the prophet stood toe to toe with the wicked kings and corrupt countrymen of Judah. His message was never popular…but always prophetic (1-12).

B. JUDGMENT OF JUDAH’S NEIGHBORS As Isaiah surveys the spiritual scene around him, virtually every world power of his day is in line for God’s hand of discipline (13-27).

C. JUDGMENT OF ALL THE EARTH Again, beginning with Judah and Israel, Isaiah pronounces six woes on God’s people for specific sins. His prophetic condemnation closes with a general picture of international devastation that will precede universal blessing (28-33).

II. HISTORICAL PARENTHESIS Four chapters build a bridge between the past Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC and the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah. Judah escapes the Assyrian invasion (36-37; 2 Kings 18-19), but she will not escape the Babylonians (38-39; 2 Kings 20) Hezekiah’s prayers deliver Judah from the Assyrians led by Sennacharib and give him fifteen years of life. But his foolish invitation to the Babylonian messengers to view his treasures will one day lead to the exile of his people to Babylon (36-39).

III. PROPHECIES OF COMFORT Chapter 40 breaks through the gloom. Comfort and consolation are coming! God’s judgment, though severe, will one day end. God’s people can rest assured that the Maker of heaven and earth will restore the nation He has chosen as His own (40-66)

A. DELIVERANCE OF GOD’S PEOPLE The basis for this hope is the sovereignty and majesty of God. Of the 216 verses in the first nine chapters of this section, 115 speak of God’s greatness and power. The Creator is contrasted with idols, the mere handiwork of men. His sovereign character guarantees Judah’s future assurance and the coming destruction of Babylon which will lead to God’s people being released from captivity (40-49).

B. DELIVERER FOR GOD’S PEOPLE The coming Messiah will be their Savior and Suffering Servant. As the Servant of His people and a Light to the surrounding nations, He would humbly offer Himself as a sacrifice for many—calling those with “ears to hear” to turn back to God. His death would not only provide a blessing for His Jewish kinsmen, but for the Gentile nations as well (50-57).

Messiah: When He speaks about Christ, Isaiah sounds more like a New Testament writer than an Old Testament prophet. His messianic prophecies are clearer and more explicit than those of any other Old Testament writer. They describe many specifics of the Person and work of Christ in His first and second advents, and often blend the two together. The central Christological passage (52:13-53:12) presents five different aspects of His saving work.

C. FUTURE OF GOD’S PEOPLE All who trust in Messiah will be delivered. In that day Jerusalem will be rebuilt, Israel’s borders will be enlarged, and the Messiah will reign in Zion. Peace, prosperity, and justice will prevail, and God will make all things new (58-66).

IV. What does this mean to me? Isaiah encourages God’s people to turn to Him and Him alone in a time of crisis. He will judge those who ignore Him and bless those who cling to Him. But all those who trust in His Son’s sacrifice will be delivered from their sin and blessed in the world to come. 

Ahaz folded under pressure—he turned to the Assyrians for help!

Ahaz panicked in the face of political and military ruin (2 Chronicles28:5-20).

What or whom is your “Assyria?”

Hezekiah steeled his soul under pressure—he turned to God and saw his deliverance!

His situation was more hopeless than Ahaz’s.

What or whom is your “Sennacherib?”

 

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Jeremiah

Coming Destruction

“Correct the way you have been living and do what is right.”

(Jeremiah 18:11)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promised Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 167)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)

Under discpline from God, Judah is only seconds away from destruction. Jeremiah is called by God to the undesirable task of preaching repentance and doom to an affluent and self-satisfied, even smug generation of God’s people. In the book bearing His name, Jeremiah forces his countrymen to recognize their sin and begs them to turn back to God. A flood of judgment is coming and Jeremiah proclaims that message faithfully for forty years. They respond by intensely persecuting the prophet and he experiences deep sorrows at their hands: opposition, beatings, isolation, and imprisonment. The Babylonian army invades; discipline falls; and God’s justice and holiness are vindicated though it breaks Jeremiah’s heart.

Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah the priest and lived just over two miles north of Jerusalem in Anathoth. God often led him to teach through object lessons—the rotten sash, the wine bottles, his single existence, the potter, the broken flask and many others. He was threatened by his neighbors in Anatoth, tried for his life by the prophets and priests of Jerusalem, put in stocks, forced to flee from an evil king, publicly humiliated by a false prophet, and thrown into a cistern. He lived during a time of wickedness in Judah, punctuated only by the reforms of Josiah. When Babylon conquered Assyria, he warned the kings of Judah against resisting God’s vessel of judgment. His prophetic contemporaries were Zephaniah and Habakkuk in the South, Nahum who prophesied against Ninevah, and Daniel and Ezekiel in Babylonia.

The theme is found in the object lesson at the potter’s house: A marred piece could be repaired while still wet (18:1-4), but once dried, a ruined vessel was fit only for the garbage heap (19:10-11). God’s warning is clear—Judah’s opportunity for repentance would soon pass. Patient but holy, God restrains His hand of judgment even during the times of Manasseh, the most wicked king in Judah’s history. He completely and enthusiastically served the Assyrians. Under his powerful pagan influence, Yahweh became merely one of many gods. The king built altars to astral deities in the Temple area itself. The old Canaanite fertility cults revived and cult prostitution was practiced inside the Temple. Even child sacrifice was resumed. Still, God held His judgment. Good king Josiah brought revival, but the roots of evil were too deep. After his death the people returned to paganism. Jeremiah then warned that the Babylonian captivity was inevitable, but he also proclaimed God’s gracious promise of hope through a new covenant (31:30-34). The New Covenant would give God’s people a new nature so that they could succeed where they had failed under the Old (Mosaic) Covenant.

Jeremiah: Turn to God before it’s too late!

Jeremiah is not easy to arrange. Four divisions are evident: the call of Jeremiah (1), the prophecies to Judah (2-45), the prophecies of the Gentiles (46-51), the fall of Jerusalem (52).

I. JEREMIAH’S CALLING Jeremiah is called and set apart before birth to be God’s prophet. His call to tell the truth to a stiff-necked people intimidates Him but God promises to put His words in His mouth. Jeremiah accepts the call by faith (1).

II. PROPHECIES TO JUDAH Jeremiah’s message to his countrymen comes through a variety of parables, sermons, and object lessons. His life literally becomes a living, daily illustration to Judah (2-45).

A. CONDEMNATIONS OF JUDAH In a series of twelve graphic messages, Jeremiah lists the causes of Judah’s coming judgment. He points out an alarming reality: The gentile nations are more faithful to their false gods than Judah is to her Living God (2-25).

B. CONFLICTS OF JEREMIAH Because of his message, Jeremiah suffers misery and opposition. He is rejected and persecuted by the political and religious establishment. The affluent population hates him and even friends from his hometown reject him (26-39).

C. FUTURE RESTORATION OF JERUSALEM The prophet assures the nation of restoration and hope under a new covenant. A remnant will be delivered and there will be a coming time of great blessing (30-33).

D. PRESENT FALL OF JERUSALEM Jeremiah once again comes under severe persecution and is expelled from the Temple. He sends his assistant, Baruch to read his messages to the people. Pleading with his countrymen to go into exile voluntarily, they resist Jerusalem’s collapse and captivity to the end. Nebuchaneezer establishes a puppet governor over the city and Jeremiah urges the people to stay put. They panic, running to Egypt for refuge and taking the unwilling prophet with them (34-45).

III. CONDEMNATION OF THE NATIONS A series of nine oracles against nine nations: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus (Syria), Arabia, Elam, and Babylon. Only Egypt, Moab, Ammon, and Elam are given a promise of restoration (46-51).

IV. THE FALL OF JERUSALEM In this historic supplement, Jerusalem is captured, destroyed, and plundered. The leaders are killed and the captives taken to Babylon. Jeremiah’s forty year declaration of doom is finally vindicated in an event so significant to God that it is recorded four times in the Scriptures (2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39, 52).

Messiah: Christ is clearly seen in chapter 23. He is the coming Shepherd (1-8) and the righteous Branch who “shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (5-6). He will bring in the new covenant which will fulfill God’s covenants with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-8), Moses and the people (Exodus 19:5-7; Deuteronomy 28-30), and David (2 Samuel 7:1-17).

IV. Jeremiah and You: Jeremiah assures God’s people that God is patient and kind but warns that there comes a time when we “cross the line.” After that, there is the sure prospect of cleansing judgment—our only hope for a fresh start with God. Parallels with Hebrews 6:1-12!

1. Who does God not allow to go on to maturity? (3) The generation of Jeremiah who shamed the name of the Lord. Likewise, in the church age believers who fall away in such a manner as to shame the name of Christ (v 4-6) will be reckoned with severely. They may have forfeited the privilege of moving on to maturity.

2. What must God do to these who are not capable of growth through repentance?

Take them into exile to purge sin from their hearts and give them a fresh start (Jeremiah 52, Zechariah, Haggai). Likewise, for New Testament believers he may bring such dramatic discipline (burn the field) to purge sin from their hearts to give them the gift of the possibility of a fresh start (v 7-8).

3. What is the warning?

Turn to God before it is too late (Jeremiah and Hebrews). Do not become sluggish (like the generations that did not inherit the promises) but imitate those who did through faith and patience (v 9-12).

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Lamentations

Defeat and Desolation of Jerusalem

“The Lord’s loyal kindness never ceases, his compassions never end. They are fresh every morning;

your faithfulness is abundant” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promised Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 167)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)

The battle at last is over. Jeremiah has warned for forty years that judgment is coming unless the people change their wicked ways. But his persistent pleas have met with only hardhearted indifference. Lamentations describes the funeral of a city. The words form the tear-stained diary of the prophet as he weeps over the toppled city. Now the nation is gone, utterly destroyed by the brutal Babylonians. But suddenly, in the midst of his tears, Jeremiah sounds a not of triumph: “Great is thy faithfulness” (3:23). Things may look tragic for the nation (and Jeremiah) but “the Lord’s…compassions fail not, They are new every morning” (3:22,23a).

The scenes in this graphic book were clearly portrayed by an eyewitness to Jerusalem’s siege and fall soon after the destruction took place (1:13-15; 2:6, 9; 4:1-12). Jeremiah witnessed the fall of Jerusalem and remained behind after the captives were deported (Jeremiah 39). Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem from 588 BC to 586 BC. It fell on July 19, and the city and temple were burned on August 15. Jeremiah probably wrote these five dirges before he was taken captive to Egypt by his disobedient countrymen not long after the destruction (Jeremiah 43:1-7).

Jeremiah’s lament contrasts a theme within a theme. The prophet weeps over the suffering caused by his sinful countrymen (1:18). Yet he offers hope in God’s faithfulness to be merciful and restore His people in a future time when they will be His submissive people (Chapter 3). This is the most eloquent book in the Bible. It is the anguished sobs of Jeremiah over the fall of Jerusalem. Beautifully arranged in the Hebrew text, the first four chapters of Lamentations are alphabetic acrostics. The first word of each of the twenty-two verses of chapters 1-2 and 4 begins with the twenty-two successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 3 has sixty-six verses because three verses are allotted to each Hebrew letter. Chapter 5 has twenty-two verses but it is not an acrostic poem. The acrostic form may have been used to express the full range (from A to Z) of their sufferings, and it may also have been an aid to memory and liturgical use. Jeremiah uses “limping meter” in his poetic lines because this melancholy rhythm was used in funeral dirges. The Jews publicly read this vivid and tragic book each year to commemorate Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC and again in AD 70. Jeremiah was the great exile’s favorite prophet.

Dr. J Vernon McGee’s introduction to this masterpiece of literature is compelling: “The book is filled with tears and sorrow. It is a paean of pain, a poem of pity, a proverb of pathos, a hymn of heartbreak, a psalm of desolation, a tragedy of travail, an account of agony, and a book of ‘boo-hoo.’ It is the Wailing Wall of the Bible.”

Lamentations: Tears of regret and a heart full of hope!

Jeremiah compassionately composes five beautiful and emotional lament poems as a funeral for the once proud city of Jerusalem. The lesson for God’s people is clear: Sin has consequences. The discipline the Lord warns us against will finally happen. When you contrast the enjoyment of the sin with the agony of the consequences…you may want to reconsider.

I. DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM Two stanzas construct a poem from two perspectives—a lamentation by Jeremiah (1-11) and a lamentation by a personified Jerusalem (12-22). The great city has been left desolate because of its horrible sins, and her enemies “mocked at her downfall.” Jerusalem pleads with God to regard her misery and repay her adversaries (1).

II. ANGER OF YHWH Jeremiah presents an eyewitness account of the thoroughness and ferocity of Jerusalem’s devastation. It’s over. The temple and palaces have been razed by the Babylonians. Jeremiah grieves over the suffering the people have brought on themselves through rebellion against God and Jerusalem’s supplications complete the lament (2).

III. PRAYER FOR MERCY Initially Jeremiah enters into the miseries and despair of his people (3:1-18). Suddenly in verse 19 the prophet reflects on the faithfulness and loyal love of the compassionate God of Israel (3:19-39). These truths encourage his hurting heart in the midst of historic devastation (3).

IV. SEIGE OF JERUSALEM Jeremiah reviews his memories of the siege of the City of David and remembers the intense suffering and starvation of both rich and poor. He points out the cause of the siege—the misleading, self-centered, politically correct priests and prophets who foolishly trusted in human aid. His poem closes with a warning to Edom, Israel’s ancient foe giving hope to his countrymen (4).

V. PRAYER FOR RESTORATION The prophet’s last lament is a melancholy description of his people’s miserable state. Their discipline is complete, and Jeremiah immediately prays for the nation’s restoration (5).

Messiah: Jeremiah, the weeping prophet and man of sorrows is a type of Christ who wept over the same city six centuries later (Matthew 23:37-38). Like the coming Messiah, the prophet identified himself personally with the plight of Jerusalem and with human suffering caused by sin. 

VI. Lamentations and You: Lamentations displays the serious consequences of sin and models the attitude toward the discipline of others that pleases God.

PRINCIPLE: Sin has consequences but sinners must be pitied and loved

An amazing Comparison—Moses and Jeremiah.

The curses for disobedience were prophesied by Moses in 1405 BC (Deuteronomy 28:15-57). Deuteronomy 28:53-55 foretold the horrors of starvation that would befall Jerusalem. Note how literally the prophecy of Moses was fulfilled as described in Lamentations. Nine centuries later, over the fulfillment of this terrifying prophecy of Moses, Jeremiah lamented (Lamentations 4:9-10). If it were not for Lamentations we would never know how literally the prophecies of Moses were fulfilled during the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. This detailed fulfillment becomes our model for interpreting every yet unfulfilled prophecy!

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Ezekiel

Know that I am the Lord!

They will know that I am the Lord(Ezekiel 6:10)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Ezekiel, a priest and a prophet, prophesied among the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in three stages. First, in 605 BC he overcame Jehoiakim and carried off key hostages including Daniel and his friends. Second, in 597 BC the rebellion of Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin brought further punishment, and the Babylonians carried off ten thousand hostages including Jehoiachin and Ezekiel. Third, in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city after a long siege. Ezekiel and Daniel were about the same age and Jeremiah was about twenty years older. This means that Ezekiel was about seventeen when Daniel was deported in 605 BC and Ezekiel was about twenty five when he followed. Ezekiel received his prophetic commission at the age of thirty (1:1). This means his ministry overlapped the end of Jeremiah’s and the beginning of Daniel’s. Daniel was already well known and Ezekiel mentions him three times (14:14, 20; 28:3). These three prophets—Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel covered all areas of life during this painful time in Judah’s history. Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel in Babylonia explained the reason for the judgment and encouraged the people with God’s promise of a restored Kingdom under Messiah. Daniel prophesied to the leaders of Babylonia. Ezekiel’s name means “God strengthens” or “strengthened by God.”

The Jews were in exile because they had been unfaithful to the Mosaic Covenant. God had warned them that He would cast them from the land. But God had also promised them that they would always be His people and that He would establish them in the land. “The purpose of the Exile was to turn God’s people away from their sins and back to their Sovereign. The discipline they experienced was an evidence of God’s love. When it was over, a glorious future lay in store for them. A righteous ruler would eventually lead them back to a radically renovated land where they would enjoy peace, prosperity, and renewed worship”. (Dr. Tom Constable, Ezekiel) Ezekiel presents God as the God who acts to enforce His will and display His glory. The phrase “so you [they] will know that I am the Lord” occurs 60 times! Israel must admit that their unfaithfulness means that the destruction of Jerusalem is inevitable as they place their hope in their promise-keeping God:

Ezekiel: You can’t ignore your God. He will make sure you know that He is the Lord!

Ezekiel emphasizes the transcendence and majesty of the God of Israel as he prophecies her immediate doom and ultimate grandeur.

I. JUDAH’S END God gives Ezekiel a most unusual vision of His greatness and glory to encourage him in a most difficult task: explaining to the exiles why Jerusalem will fall, and why the nation will spend the next 70 years in Babylonia (1-24).

A. EZEKIEL’S CALL Ezekiel receives enablement, instruction, and responsibility from God. (1-3)

B. SINS AND SORROWSSIGNS AND SERMONS The prophet’s signs and sermons point to the certainty of Judah’s judgment, Judah’s past sins and coming doom are seen in a series of visions of the abominations in the temple, the slaying of the wicked, and the departing glory of God. The princes and priests are condemned as the Glory leaves the temple, moves to the Mount of Olives, and disappears in the east. (4-11)

C. JUDGMENT, SWORDS, AND SIGNPOSTS The cause and extent of Judah’s coming judgment is described through dramatic signs, powerful sermons, and parables. Judah’s prophets are counterfeits and her elders are idolatrous. (12-24)

II. JUDAH’S ENEMIES Judah’s gloating neighbors are next in line. They too will suffer the fate of siege and destruction by Babylon. (25-32) 

A. JUDGMENT EAST AND WEST Following a clockwise circuit, Ezekiel prophesies doom on all. He spends an inordinate amount of time on the king of Tyre, and many scholars believe he may be referring to Satan, the power behind the nation. (25-28)

B. JUDGMENT ON EGYPT Unlike the nations that were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, Egypt will continue to exist, but as the “lowliest of kingdoms.” Since that time it has never recovered its former glory or influence. (29-32)

III. JUDAH’S FUTURE The prophecies in these chapters were given after the overthrow of Jerusalem. Now that the promised judgment has come, Ezekiel’s message no longer focuses on coming judgment but on coming comfort and consolation. (33-48)

A. WATCHMAN ON THE WALL The mouth of Ezekiel, God’s watchman is opened when he is told that Jerusalem has been taken. Judah had false shepherds, but the true Shepherd will lead them in the future. The vision of the valley of dry bones pictures the reanimation of the nation by the Spirit of God. Israel and Judah will be purified and restored. (33-37)

B. GOG AND MAGOG There will be an invasion of the northern armies of Gog, but Israel will be saved because the Lord will destroy the invading forces. (38-39)

C. NEW TEMPLE FOR ISRAEL In 572 BC, fourteen years after the destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel returns in a vision to the fallen city and is given detailed specifications of the reconstruction of the Temple. (40-42)

D. NEW WORSHIP FOR ISRAEL Ezekiel views the return of the glory of the Lord to the Temple from the east. Regulations concerning worship in the coming temple are followed by revelations concerning the new land and city. (43-38)

Messiah: Ezekiel pictures Messiah as a tender twig that becomes a stately cedar on a lofty mountain (17:22-24), as He is similarly called the Branch in Isaiah (11:1), Jeremiah (23:5; 33:15), and Zechariah (3:8; 6:12). The Messiah is the King who has the right to rule (21:26-27), and the true Shepherd who will deliver and feed His flock (34:11-31).

EZEKIEL AND YOU: The exile taught Israel that God loved them too much to tolerate their sinful decadence.

A. Christian, never assume that grace means that God is ignoring your sin. Grace means that God disciplines His children (Hebrews 12).

B. Christian, never conclude that discipline means that God is harsh. His reluctance to remove His glory from His people is astonishing (9:3; 10:4, 18-19, 11:22-23). He always disciplines with a broken heart. God’s will for Israel and for you is blessing as He draws you to Himself.

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Daniel

The Key That Unlocks God’s Plan for the Ages!

The Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes! (Daniel 4:25)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in three stages. First, in 605 BC he overcame Jehoiakim and carried off key hostages including Daniel and his friends. Second, in 597 BC the rebellion of Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin brought further punishment, and the Babylonians carried off ten thousand hostages including Jehoiachin and Ezekiel. Third, in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city after a long siege. Ezekiel and Daniel were about the same age and Jeremiah was about twenty years older. This means that Daniel was just a teenager when he arrived in Babylon.

By any worldly measure in Daniel’s time, it seemed the God of Israel was either powerless against her enemies or had abandoned her. The gods of Assyria and Babylon had seemingly triumphed over the God of Israel and Judah, the Temple was razed, and the Jews were living as discontented captives in a land far from home. God calls Daniel, a teenage captive forced into service to the King of Babylon to speak His messages into this dark hour. “The collapse and fall of both Israel and Judah notwithstanding, the book of Daniel makes crystal clear that the Lord God remains absolutely sovereign over human affairs. This is apparent in the present [situation in Babylon], despite political and religious conditions that might suggest otherwise, and in the future [the times of the Gentiles], then there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind.” (Eugene H. Merrill, “A Theology of Ezekiel and Daniel,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 388.

The powerful miracles on behalf of the civil disobedience of Daniel and his friends (chapters 1-6) demonstrate God’s sovereign care of His people during the worst of times. The prophecies (chapters 7-12) demonstrate God’s sovereign rule over the Gentile nations and Israel. The writings of Daniel provide the key to the interpretation of all biblical prophecy. They also give believers an example of how to live for God in an ungodly culture:

Daniel: How to live for God in an ungodly culture:

Walk faithfully, wait patiently, and watch hopefully!

Daniel, the “Revelation of the Old Testament,” encourages God’s people to trust in Him during times when they feel powerless.

I. THE CHARACTER OF DANIEL, (1): The prophet’s background and preparation open the book. Daniel is deported along with other promising youths and placed in an intensive training program in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Their names and diets are changed so that they will lose their Jewish identification, but Daniel’s resolve to remain faithful to the Lord is rewarded. He and his friends are granted wisdom and knowledge.

II. THE PROPHETIC PLAN FOR THE GENTILES, (2-7): Only Daniel can interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s disturbing dream of the great statue (2). God illuminates the dream for Daniel. The God of Israel will sovereignly raise and destroy four gentile empires. The Messiah’s Kingdom will end the “Times of the Gentiles.” Because of his position in the dream, Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden image and demands that all bow to it (3). Daniel’s friends are thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow down only to give God another chance to demonstrate His sovereignty and power. The vision of the tree (4) warns Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge the supremacy of God and he is humbled until he does. The feast of Belshazzar marks the end of the Babylonian kingdom (5) as Belshazzar too is judged for arrogant defiance of God. During the reign of Darius, a plot against Daniel backfires when God delivers him in the den of lions (6). Daniel’s courageous faith is rewarded, and Darius learns a lesson about the might of the God of Israel. The vision of the four beasts ends the section on the “Times of the Gentiles” by supplementing the four-part statue of chapter 2 (7). Four gentile powers—the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans will rule until, once again, “the saints of the Most High shall receive the Kingdom and possess the Kingdom forever” (7:18).

III. THE PROPHETIC PLAN FOR ISRAEL, (8-12):  The focus of chapter 8 narrows to a vision of the ram and goat that shows Israel under the Medo-Persian and Grecian empires. Alexander the Great is the big horn (8:21) and Antiochus Epiphanes is the little horn (8:23). Daniel prays for his people and is given the revelation of the Seventy Weeks, including Messiah’s atoning death (9). This gives the chronology of God’s perfect plan for the redemption and deliverance of His people. Next is a great vision that gives amazing details of Israel’s future history (10-11). Chapter 11 chronicles the coming kings of Persia and Greece, the wars between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria, and the persecution led by Antiochus. God’s people will be saved out of tribulation and resurrected (12).

Messiah: Christ is the Great Stone who will crush the kingdoms of this world (2:34-35, 44). The vision of the sixty-nine weeks (9:25-26) pinpoints the coming of Messiah. The decree (9:25) took place on March 4, 444 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-8). The sixty-nine weeks of seven years equals 483 years, or 173,880 days (using the 360-day prophetic year). This leads to March 29, 33AD, the date of the Triumphal Entry.

DANIEL AND YOU: Daniel teaches us how to live for our God when the world seems out of His control: 

A. Walk faithfully! Daniel simply lived an uncompromising life for God in a totally compromised culture. He was not a political activist, but he was civilly disobedient. The character of this man was formed in his childhood. His parents and his community had prepared his heart for God’s call.

B. Wait patiently! Daniel’s life was a long story in the same direction. He patiently trusted in his God during both good and bad times, knowing that his God was bigger than his circumstances.

C. Watch hopefully! Daniel shows the practical importance of prophecy in our everyday lives. Knowing our God is going to win and that He is the God of history encourages our faith.

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Hosea

God’s Loyal Love

I will heal their waywardness and love them freely (Hosea 14:4).

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Hosea’s prophetic career began near the end of a time of great economic prosperity and military success for both Israel and Judah. His primary ministry was to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of her greatest king, Jeroboam II. However, Assyrian influence began to strengthen under Tiglath-pileser III, who conquered Israel in 722 B.C. The reigns of Israel’s last five illegitimate kings (usurpers to the throne of the line of Jehu, 2 Kings 10:30; 15:12) were short-lived and confused. Chaos and weakness characterized these last years of the northern kingdom. Still, her people refused to heed Hosea’s warning of imminent judgment. The people were in a spiritual daze, filled with sin and idolatry. Hosea’s ministry to Israel parallels the coming ministry of Jeremiah to the southern kingdom of Judah. Like Jeremiah, Hosea relates God’s deep sorrow over the state of the people and the nation He loves. Israel is God’s silly dove (7:11) refusing to repent (4:1), and it breaks God’s heart to discipline her (chapter 11).

The personal tragedy of a marital unfaithfulness becomes a powerful illustration of the greater tragedy of a nation in rebellion against her God. It’s a story of loyal love—between the prophet Hosea and his adulterous wife, Gomer, and between God and His idolatrous people, Israel. Just as Gomer breaks Hosea’s heart by playing the harlot, Israel breaks the heart of her God as she spurns His love. But unconditional love is the theme: Just as Hosea buys his wife out of slavery, God will redeem and restore His people—after a time of purifying punishment. Unconditional love keeps seeking even after it is rejected. Hosea, whose name means salvation, is a prophet from the northern kingdom of Israel, often called Ephraim because that was the dominant tribe in the north as Judah was in the south. He writes with the detail and passion of a native eyewitness to the demise of Israel. “In no prophet is the love of God more clearly demarcated and illustrated than in Hosea” (Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 197).

Hosea was written to encourage the adulterous northern kingdom to repent by demonstrating God’s loyal love for His people in Hosea’s marriage and his message. God passionately pursues His unfaithful people. Though His loyal love never ignores unfaithfulness (chapter 3), He never abandons nor stops pursuing the unfaithful (5:14-6:1):

Hosea: The Lord’s loyal love never stops pursuing those who are His!

“The great illustration of how committed God is to His people is how He instructed Hosea to relate to his unfaithful wife. The Lord will not forsake those with whom He has joined in covenant commitment even if they become unfaithful to Him repeatedly. He will be patient with them and eventually save them (11:1-4; 14)” (Tom Constable, Hosea, p. 4).

I. HOSEA’S MARRIAGE—THE GREAT ILLUSTRATION OF LOYAL LOVE: Hosea marries a woman named Gomer whose behavior is a painful, living object lesson to the prophet as God prepares him to speak words of warning and love to the northern kingdom. (1-3)

A. PROPHETIC MARRIAGE: Gomer bears Hosea three children appropriately named by God as signs to Israel. Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi mean “God Scatters,” “Not Pitied,” and “Not My People.” Similarly, God will judge and scatter Israel because of her sin. (1:1-2:1)

B. PICTURE OF ISRAEL: Gomer seeks other lovers and deserts Hosea just as Israel has sought idols and deserted God. (2:2-23)

C. LOYAL LOVE: Hosea illustrates God’s love for Israel by buying or redeeming her from the slave market and restoring her. (3)

II. HOSEA’S MESSAGE—THE GREAT TRUTH OF LOYAL LOVE: Because of his own painful experience, Hosea can feel some of the sorrow of God over the sinfulness of His people. Though Hosea’s love for Gomer pictures God’s love for Israel, Israel has fallen to such a depraved state that judgment is inevitable. (4-14)

A. ISRAEL’S SPIRITUAL ADULTERY: The sins are evident. Having rejected the knowledge of God, they have spiraled into idolatry. Though judgment is imminent, God will restore His adulterous people. (4-6:3)

B. ISRAEL’S REFUSAL TO REPENT: Even now God wants to heal and redeem them (7:1, 13), but in their arrogance and idolatry they rebel. (6:4-8:14)

C. ISRAEL’S JUDGMENT FROM GOD: Israel will suffer dispersion, barrenness and destruction.   (9-10)

D. ISRAEL’S RESTORATION TO GOD God is holy (4-7) and just (8-10), but He is also loving and gracious (11-14). God must discipline, but because of His endless love, He will ultimately save and restore His wayward people. (11:18; 14:4)

Messiah: Matthew 2:15 applies chapter 11, verse 1, to Christ in Egypt. Matthew quotes the second half of this verse to show that the Exodus of Israel from Egypt as a new nation was a prophetic type of Israel’s Messiah who was also called out of Egypt in His childhood. Both Israel and Christ left Palestine to take refuge in Egypt.

Christ’s identification with our plight and His loving work of redemption can be seen in Hosea’s redemption of Gomer from the slave market.

HOSEA AND YOU: God’s loyal love is the bedrock of a believer’s assurance that we belong to Him and his/her primary motivator to worship Him.

1. Hosea’s life and writings illustrate and teach God’s loyal love for those who belong to Him. God’s loyal love is the basis of our assurance as Christians.

a. All those rightly related to God through faith in His message concerning salvation are secure in their relationship with Him. He will never revoke His promises (Romans 11:29) to Israel or to the New Testament believer (Ephesians 1:1-14; Titus 3:5). Eternal security rests in the faithfulness of God to His promise.

b. Assurance occurs when the one who belongs to God believes he or she is secure based upon the promises and loyal love of God (1 John 5:11-13).

2. Worship is a response to God’s loyal love from an undeserving heart (Romans 12:1-2). The Bible consistently compares worship of God to marital love, and Hosea teaches us that we’re all unfaithful “Gomers” being loved loyally by our faithful God (Ephesians 2:4-10).

 

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Joel

The Day of the Lord

Yes, the day of the Lord is awesome and very terrifying – who can survive it? (Joel 2:11)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

A natural disaster hit the Southern Kingdom of Judah. A menacing black cloud descended upon the land—the dreaded locusts. The locust plague stripped the land of every green thing in its path. Joel, God’s spokesman during the reign of Joash (835-796), seized the occasion to proclaim God’s message. The locust plague has been a terrible judgment for sin. Yet God’s future judgments during the day of the Lord will make that plague pale in comparison, In that day, God will destroy His enemies, but bring unparalleled blessing to those who faithfully obey Him.

The times of Joel threatened God’s plan to rescue creation from the devastation of sin. The tribe of Judah—the coming Messiah’s prophesied line (Genesis 49:10, cf. Luke 3:33)—might not survive. Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel in the Northern Kingdom had married Jehoram, king of Judah. It was a marriage of political convenience with catastrophic consequences (2 Kings 8-11). She was widowed after eight years on the throne when she murderously usurped the Davidic throne, killing every descendant of Jehoram except Joash who was stolen and hidden by Jehoida the priest. She reigned six years in Judah and vigorously promoted the worship of Baal (2 Chronicles 22:11). She was murdered in a revolt led by Jehoida, and Joash was proclaimed king. Jehoida and Joash purged the outward worship of Baal in Judah, but the evil of idolatry was now entrenched in the south.

Joel was written as a warning to the people of Judah to humbly turn to the Lord with repentant hearts (2:12-17). Using the metaphor of a locust invasion, Joel prophesies that there will be a future invasion of the land by many nations in order to charge the people to turn from their sins, which would result in blessings under the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:38-42, 49-57). He develops the theme of the Day of the Lord (1:5; 2:1-2, 11, 31; 3:14, 18) introduced by the earlier prophet Obadiah (Obadiah 15). This theme of the Day of the Lord will become a major teaching in the prophets and in the books of the New Testament. The Day of the Lord is a time of awesome judgment upon people and nations that have rebelled against God. But it is also a time of future blessings upon those who have trusted in Him:

Joel: The day of the Lord is coming!

Joel stresses the sovereign power of God over nature and nations. He is the God who will have His day; “the day of the Lord” when everything is just the way He intends it to be.

I. THE JUDGMENT OF ISRAEL IN THE DAY OF THE LORD Joel begins with an account of a recent locust plague that has devastated the land and makes effective use of this natural catastrophe as an illustration of a far greater judgment to come (1:1-2:11).

LITERAL FULFILLMENT The invading locusts bring the economy to a standstill and the people are in a desperate situation. (1:1-20) FUTURE FULFILLMENT A locust-like invasion of a northern army will devastate the land. The near fulfillment was the Babylonian invasion. The still future invasion of Israel will be led by the King of the North during the Tribulation. (2:1-11)

II. THE REPENTANCE OF ISRAEL IN THE DAY OF THE LORD: It’s not too late for the people to avert disaster. The prophetic warning is designed to bring them to the point of repentance (2:12-17). This national repentance would happen three times in Israel’s history, one is yet to come:

IMMEDIATE FULFILLMENT: Joash revival. NEAR FULFILLMENT: Return under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. ULTIMATE FULFILLMENT: God’s people turn to Him during the Tribulation.

III. THE DELIVERANCE OF ISRAEL IN THE DAY OF THE LORD The day of the Lord is a day of deliverance for His obedient people and a day of judgment for His enemies (2:18-3:17).

A. THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL God promises that judgment will be followed by great blessing in a material and a spiritual way (2:18-32).

1. Physical Restoration These promises were literally fulfilled in the time of Joash and in the returning remnant. But their full-orbed and majestic realization will be at the end of the Tribulation (2:18-27).

2. Spiritual Restoration Chapter three in the Hebrew Bible, these promises are still future (2:28-32). The time of spiritual restoration is after the repentance and restoration of Israel (2:12-27). Verse 28 very precisely says, “afterward.” The extent of spiritual restoration is expressed in absolute terms in 2:28b-29. The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all of the believing remnant of Israel. The signs of spiritual restoration in 30-31 are still future. These events never happened—not in Joash’s revival, or in the return from exile, or in Acts 2. The result of spiritual restoration is an extremely Jewish promise (2:32).

B. CONDEMNATION OF THE NATIONS: These rich promises are followed by a solemn description of the judgment of all nations in the valley of decision in the end times. The nations will give an account of themselves to the God of Israel who will judge those who have rebelled against Him. God alone controls the course of history. “So that you know that I am the Lord your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain (3:17; 3:1-17). The statement of condemnation: The time is at the Second Coming when all Jews are gathered back to Jerusalem (3:1).The place is the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which means, YHWH judges! This is probably the Valley of Kidron east of Jerusalem (3:2a).The nations will be judged according to their treatment of Israel during the Tribulation (3:2b-8). The sequence of the condemnation: The gathering of the armies (3:9-17).The judgment of the armies described is the earliest description of the campaign of Armageddon, the valley of decision, meaning God’s decision to condemn (3:14).The coming of the Lord (3:15-17).

C. THE BLESSING OF ISRAEL IN THE DAY OF THE LORD: Joel ends with the Kingdom blessings upon the remnant of the faithful Judah (3:18-31).

Messiah: Joel portrays Christ as the One who will judge the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (“God Judges,” 32, 12; Matthew 25:31-46).

JOEL AND YOU: Joel stresses the sovereign power of God over nature and nations. He is the God who will have His day; “the day of the Lord” when everything is just the way He intends it to be.

1. Joel connected God’s control over history and nature to His love for His people. (See 1 Thessalonians 5: 2; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Peter 3:10-12) Do you live with the expectation and confidence that God is the Lord of your circumstances?

2. Joel comforted God’s people with prophecies of the day of the Lord. Do you know prophecy well enough to be comforted by it or do you know just enough to be scared?

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Amos

Remember Justice!

Prepare to meet your God, family of Israel (Amos 5:1). 

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Amos faced a challenging assignment: convincing the citizens of the northern kingdom—prosperous and at peace—that the “end” was near. Outwardly, all seemed well. It was a time of booming business, bulging boundaries, and boundless optimism. But inwardly—where only God can see—things had never been worse! Idolatry, injustice, immorality, greed, and oppression riddled every level of Israel’s society. The message of God through Amos was delivered full strength: “Prepare to meet thy God!”

Amos was the original country preacher. This farmer-turned-prophet from Judah responds to God’s call to condemn the hypocrisy and sin of his prosperous countrymen to the north. His name means “Burden” or “Burden-Bearer.” He lives up to the meaning of his name by carrying the burden of an unpopular message to Israel. Greed and injustice are festering under the glitzy surface. Hypocritical religious motions have replaced true worship. There is a false sense of security and a growing callousness to God’s disciplining hand. Famine, drought, plagues, death, destruction—nothing can force the people to their knees.

This book was written during a time when Israel had no real threats to national security and prosperity. Assyria, Babylonia, Syria and Egypt were relatively weak. Thus, the people scoffed at the coming disaster predicted by Amos. The very capable king Jeroboam II ruled in Israel. But prosperity only increased the materialism, immorality, and injustice of the people. In just three decades the downfall of Israel would come. The theme of Amos is the coming judgment of Israel because of the holiness of Yahweh and the sinfulness of His covenant people. God graciously sent Amos as a reformer to warn the people of Israel of their fate if they refused to repent. But they rejected his plea, and the course of judgment could not be altered. “Amos, more than any other prophet, urged the responsibility of elective privilege.” (T.E. McComiskey, “Amos,’ in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol.7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 276):

Amos: God expects His people to be just!

amos1-1

Amos is one of three prophets to the north. He prophesied after the time of Jonah and just before Hosea.

I. THE EIGHT JUDGMENTS Four transgressions of the seven surrounding nations bring judgment as the formula, “For three transgressions…and for four” add up to the last straw. The prosperous Israelites surely shouted “Amen” as the judgments on Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, and Judah are pronounced  (1:1-2:5). But then Amos condemns Israel as the judgments descend upon her deluded unjust rulers and people (2:6-16).

II. THE THREE SERMONS OF JUDGMENT Amos delivers three scorching sermons introduced by “Hear this word” (3:1, 4:1, 5:1). Five times God says, “Yet you have not returned to Me.” Now their doom is fixed. Although they wallow in luxury their time of prosperity will suddenly come to an end.

Note: The role of country preachers. A message of condemnation form outside the “beltway.” Compare Amos 1:1 & 7:14-15 with Micah 1:1 & 3:8-10.

III. FIVE VISIONS OF JUDGMENT The first two judgments of locusts and fire do not come to pass because of Amos’ intercession. The third vision, the plumbline, is followed by the only narrative section in the book (7:10-17). Amaziah, the false priest of Beth-el wants Amos to go back to Judah. The fourth vision pictures Israel as a basket of rotten fruit, overripe for judgment. The fifth vision is a brutal and relentless picture of Israel’s unavoidable judgment.

Messiah: At the end of this book of judgment, Amos clearly anticipates Christ and His grace. He has all authority to judge (1:1-9:10, but He will also restore His people (9:11-15). These five closing verses are some of the greatest prophecies of the restoration of Israel  in Scripture. 

AMOS AND YOU: Warren Wiersbe says, “If the prophet Amos were to come to our world today, he would probably feel very much at home; for he lived at a time when society was changing radically.” (“Amos,” in the Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 344)

1. Amos is one of the strongest books in the Bible asking God’s people to consider the importance of social justice in their walk with Him. It is an indictment against using the prosperity God brings to His people selfishly while ignoring the poor.

2. Amos proves that prosperity does not equal godliness. The most prosperous generations of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was also the most godless.

All the Bible, Every Book: Obadiah

God Will Fight for You!

Then the Lord will reign as King! (Obadiah 21)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Fighting and feuding between twin brothers (Esau and Jacob, Genesis 27) leads to national enmity between their respective people (Edomites and Israelites).When Israel’s enemies were knocking at the gates of Jerusalem, the Edomites came to the aid of the enemy. For their unwillingness to serve as their brothers’ keeper, the Edomites would one day become extinct. Obadiah, an obscure prophet of unknown background, describes how Edom would be “cut off forever” (v. 10). God’s people would be vindicated and God would be recognized as Judge over all the earth.

If ever a group of believing people needed encouragement, it was the righteous remnant who suffered during the reign of Jehoram from 848 to 841 B.C. Jehoram’s father, King Jehosaphat, had ruled Judah righteously. Revival had turned the nation back to the God of AbrahJuam, Isaac, and Jacob. But Jehoram was an evil king who turned the nation away from their God. The prophet Elijah warned Jehoram that God’s judgment was coming (2 Chronicles 21:8-20). There would be a devastating attack on Judah by the Philistines and the Arabians. But this wasn’t the worst of it. Not only did the invasion come, but the Edomites, their cousins from the hill country, joined in the devastation and gloated over their pain. These Edomites, the descendants of Esau, had a long history of bitterness toward the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob. And now, rather than coming to their assistance, they had allied themselves with Judah’s enemies.

Enter Obadiah, the prophet against Edom. To encourage the righteous remnant during this time of suffering, Obadiah predicts the coming destruction of Edom and the deliverance of Israel. This prophecy would encourage generations of Israelites as the Edomites continued to prosper while they suffered. Those who knew the Scriptures could be sure that the Day of the Lord was coming—a Day when God would have things His way! Edom would be destroyed; Israel would be delivered. The theme of Obadiah is the inevitable destruction of entrenched evil. Injustice against God’s chosen will be met with certain disaster.

Obadiah: God does not forget those who persecute His people!

Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament (twenty-one verses), but it carries one of the strongest messages of judgment in the Bible. For Edom there are no pleas to return, no words of consolation or hope. God will bring total judgment upon Edom and there will be no judgment. The lesson for God’s people is clear: Those who oppose God will be humbled and destroyed.

I. THE DESTRUCTION OF EDOM The coming overthrow of Edom is a certainty, not a condition. The reasons are evident (1-14).

A. DESTRUCTION INEVITABLE Summoning the nations against Edom, God will completely destroy prideful Edom. He will thoroughly destroy her by using her allies who will despise her wise men and warriors (1-9).

B. CAUSE OF DESTRUCTION Edom’s indifference toward Israel led to mocking, looting, and attacking God’s people during their time of need (10-14).

II. THE DAY OF THE LORD This is the first reference to the Day of the Lord in Scripture. Edom is not isolated, but caught up in a general reckoning which will reverse evil and establish good (15-21).

A. GOD’S JUDGMENT OF THE NATIONS Judgment is near for all nations using the standard of lex taliones which will result in severe and extended punishment (15-16).

B. GOD’S DELIVERANCE OF ISRAEL The closing verses give hope to God’s people that they will possess not only their land, but also that of their enemies—especially Edom (17-21).

Messiah: Christ is seen in Obadiah as the Judge of the nations (15-16), the Savior of Israel (17-20), and the Possessor of the kingdom (21). 

OBADIAH AND YOU: Obadiah reminds us that God is always faithful to His covenant promises…even when His enemies seem to prosper!

ü  PRINCIPLE: God’s justice will ultimately prevail!

Will you be comforted or confused by world events?

Though it took almost 1,000 years, this prophecy was literally fulfilled:

1. Date of Obadiah: 848-841 BC

2. 586 BC, 255 years later: The Edomites encourage the Babylonians in sacking Jerusalem (Psalm 137:7).

3. 312 BC, 533 years later: Verse 7 was fulfilled…literally. The Nabateans, and Arab people, swept through Edom forcing the Edomites into southern Judah.

4. 126 BC, 719 years later: Verse 9a was fulfilled…literally. John Hycernas, the Macabbean leader, conquered the Edomites (Idumaeans) and forced them to follow Jewish law, even circumcision!

5. 47 BC, 798 years later: Julius Caesar appointed Antipater, an Idumaean, procurator of Judea.

6. 37 BC, 808 years later: Herod, Antipater’s son, became king of Judea.

7. 70 AD, 915 years later: The Idumaeans joined the rebellion against Rome. Titus, incensed by their treachery, kills every Idumaean—man, woman, and child. Read verse 10 again!!

“From this time the Edomites disappear from history, thus fulfilling the prophecy of the ancient prophet Obadiah: ‘For the violence done to thy brother Jacob, shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off forever’.”

All the Bible, Every Book: Jonah

Grace for Sinners

Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh? (God to Jonah, 4:11)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Jonah was the prophet of Israel’s last chance. After the ministry of Elisha, God gave the northern kingdom one more opportunity to repent, seeing whether prosperity would accomplish what affliction had not (2 Kings 14:23-29). God blessed the reign of Jeraboam II with prosperity and peace. During these years Assyria was in a period of mild decline. God tested the faith of Israel and her prophet during this period of plenty. Both failed the test. Jonah rebelled against his assignment of mercy, and the nation failed to heed the warning from Jonah’s experience. Amos and Hosea will soon prophesy the doom of Israel. Failing to share the blessings of God, their self-centered ways harden their hearts beyond repentance.

The Book of Jonah confronts God’s people with His concern for all creatures, even cattle (4:11). It  reminds those who already belong to God of His love for all nations and His desire to deliver them from their sin. Jonah is honest if nothing else. “He hopes all along that somehow God won’t be consistent with His own well-known character (4:2). But God is consistent throughout, in contrast to Jonah’s hypocritical inconsistency. What happens to Nineveh and to Jonah happens precisely because of what God is like. The audience of the book is thus invited implicitly to revise their understanding of what God is like, if they indeed share Jonah’s selfish view.” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p 434)

“The overriding theme of the book is the sovereign God’s grace toward sinners, illustrated in His decision to withhold His judgment from the guilty but repentant Ninevites.” (Robert B. Chisholm Jr., A Theology of the Minor Prophets,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 432) Jonah reminds us that God is always pursuing those who are not yet His people with His mercy and grace:

Jonah: Don’t begrudge God’s grace!

Jonah is an unusual book because of its message and its messenger. Like Obadiah and Nahum, it revolves around a gentile nation. God is concerned for the Gentiles as well as for His covenant people Israel. The message, however, is for God’s people. This is obvious in the emphasis on the lessons to the prophet rather than to the recipients of the prophecy. The lesson for God’s people is clear: Recipients of God’s mercy should not begrudge God’s mercy to others.

I. THE DISOBEDIENCE OF THE PROPHET: Jonah tries to run from God, but God runs him down. (1-2)

A. JONAH REBELS AND RUNS: The call of Jonah, the disobedience of Jonah, and the judgment on Jonah are recorded in the first chapter. Jonah does not want to see God spare the notoriously cruel Assyrians. Instead of going five hundred miles northeast to Nineveh, Jonah attempts to go two thousand miles west to Tarshish (Spain). But the Lord runs him down with a great storm and a great fish. (1)

B. JONAH REPENTS: While inside the fish, Jonah utters a psalm of thanksgiving from memory of several praise psalms. When he is finally willing to obey and be used by God, he declares that “salvation is of the Lord” (2:9). After he is cast up on the shore, Jonah has a long time to reflect on his experiences during his eastward trek of five hundred miles to Nineveh. (2)

II. THE OBEDIENCE OF THE PROPHET: Jonah now learns a lesson in compassion and obedience.   (3-4)

A. NINEVEH REPENTS: Jonah obeys his second commission to go to Nineveh. His skin bleached out from his stay in the fish, Jonah becomes a walking object lesson from God (Luke 11:30). His one-sentence sermon brings incredible results! Because of His great mercy, God “relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them.” (3)

B. JONAH POUTS: In the final chapter, God’s love and grace are contrasted with Jonah’s anger and lack of compassion. He is unhappy with the good results of his message because he knows God will now spare Nineveh. God uses a plant, a worm, and a wind to teach Jonah a lesson in compassion. In the end, Jonah is forced to see that he has more concern for a plant than for hundreds of thousands of people. Note: To “not know their right hand from their left” is idiomatic. It’s speaking of people who have no moral compass, are mentally and morally unaware of God and therefore ready to respond to God’s exposure of their sin and their need to turn to Him. (4)

Messiah: Jonah is the only prophet Jesus likened to Himself. Jonah’s experience is a type of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Matthew12:39-41). The Hebrew idiom, “three days and three nights” only requires a portion of the first and third days.)  

JONAH AND YOU: Grudging God’s mercy is an affront to His character and leads to disobedience. When we gather in holy huddles and view non-Christians as the enemy, deserving of God’s wrath, we become modern-day Jonah’s.

1. Jonah connected God’s love for all nations with the blessing of His people. He prospered Israel so that they would love others in His name. How do you view the prosperity of America—as your birthright or as your blessing to use for the glory of Christ?

2. How would you complete this sentence? The person/people I feel are most undeserving of God’s mercy is/are . What do you think Jesus wants you to do with that attitude?

3. What are some ways you as a part of our faith community could help us demonstrate our concern for those who are outside of the grace and mercy of God?

All the Bible, Every Book: Micah

God’s People in Court

He has told you, O man, what is good and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice,

to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God. (Micah 6:8)

 

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Micah prophesied in the days of Jotham (739-731 BC), Ahaz (731-715 BC), and Hezekiah (715-686 BC), kings of Judah. Although Micah dealt primarily with Judah, he also addressed the northern kingdom of Israel and predicted the fall of Samaria (1:6). Much of his ministry, therefore, took place before the Assyrian captivity of Israel in 722 BC. His strong denunciation of idolatry and immorality also suggest that his ministry largely preceded the revival and sweeping reforms of Hezekiah. During Micah’s time, the kingdom of Israel continued to crumble inwardly and outwardly until its collapse. The Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-pileser III, Shalmeneser V, Sargon II, and Sennacherib reached the zenith of its power and became a constant threat to Judah. A contemporary of Hosea in the northern kingdom and of Isaiah in the court of Jerusalem, Micah was not as aware of the political situation as Isaiah, but he showed a profound concern for the sufferings of the people. His prediction of future Babylonian captivity for Judah (4:10) must have seemed ridiculous to his countrymen since Babylon was still under strong Assyrian domination and Hezekiah’s future successful campaign against the Assyrians seemed impossible.

Micah’s message alternates between threat and hope—threat of judgment due to disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant, and hope of restoration due to God’s promises to His people. Like Amos, Micah exposed the people’s failures in social justice. Unlike Amos, Micah encouraged the believing remnant with exciting insights into the career and kingdom of its coming King.

“Micah’s doctrine of the remnant is unique among the Prophets and is perhaps his most significant contribution to the prophetic theology of hope. The remnant is a force in the world, not simply a residue of people, as the word ‘remnant’ (she’erit) may seem to imply. It is a force that will ultimately conquer the world (4:11-13). This triumph, while presented in apparently militaristic terminology (4:13; 5:5-6), is actually accomplished by other than physical force [cf. Matt.5:3-12]. By removing everything that robs his people of complete trust in him (5:10-15), the Ruler from Bethlehem will effect the deliverance of his people. The source of power for God’s people in the world is their absolute trust in him and his resources.” (T.E. McComiskey, “Micah,” in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p 399.)

Micah: The Ruler from Bethlehem will establish justice in this world.

Until then, promote justice; be faithful, and live obediently before your God!

The Book of Micah divides between three oracles, each beginning with the command to “listen.” Each message of judgment is important, but there is also mention of restoration of a remnant. Ultimately God would restore the descendants of Jacob to a position of world leadership under their Messiah.

I. LISTEN, ALL YOU NATIONS! Judgment is coming on Israel and Judah, but the nation will ultimately be restored. (chapters 1-2)

Beginning with a general declaration of the condemnation of both Israel and Judah, Micah declares both kingdoms will be overthrown because of their rampant treachery. He uses a series of wordplays on the names of several cities of Judah in his lamentation over Judah’s coming destruction (1:10-16). This is followed by some specific causes for judgment: premeditated schemes, covetousness, and cruelty. Nevertheless, God will regather a remnant of his people (2:12-13).

II. LISTEN, YOU LEADERS OF JACOB, AND YOU RULERS OF THE NATION ISRAEL! Blessing will follow judgment. (chapters -5)

In the previous oracle Micah emphasized judgment and devoted only two verses to blessing (2:12-13). In this oracle 1/3 contains judgment (chapter 3), while 2/3 emphasize blessing (chapters 4-5). Micah systematically condemns the princes (3:1-4) and the prophets (3:5-8) and concludes with a warning of coming judgment (3:9-12). Then Micah moves into a two-chapter message of hope, which describes the reinstitution of the kingdom (4:1-5) and the intervening captivity of the kingdom (4:6-5:1), concluding with the coming Ruler of the Kingdom (5:2-15). The prophetic focus gradually narrows from the nations to the remnant to the King.

Messiah: Micah 5:2 is one of the clearest and most important Old Testament prophecies: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” This prophecy about the birth and eternality of the Messiah was made seven hundred years before His birth. The chief priests and scribes paraphrased this verse in Matthew 2:5-6 when questioned about the birthplace of Messiah.

III. LISTEN, TO WHAT THE LORD SAYS! The third oracle summarizes what the prophet has already said and adds an appeal to God on behalf of his countrymen. (chapters 6-7)

In his two controversies with His people, God calls them into court and presents an unanswerable case against them. The people have spurned God’s grace, choosing instead to revel in wickedness. Micah concluded with an amazing series of appeals to the character of the Lord and His promises to pardon Israel’s iniquity and renew the nation in accordance with His covenant.

MICAH AND YOU: Micah’s writings provide some of the clearest day-to-day guidance for God’s people of every generation. That guidance is summed up in the theme verse of the book, Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God.

1. Promote justice! Live and encourage the principles of what will be true in the world to come—the Kingdom of God—in the here and now world. (2:1, 8-9; 3:11; 6:11) Two questions: (1) Do you factor in God’s love for the poor in your politics? (2) Are you involved in Church of the Open Door’s ministry to the poor and oppressed in our community under the capable leadership of Eric Folbrecht?

http://www.churchoftheopendoor.com/ministries/serving-our-communities/index.html

2. Be faithful! Love God and others loyally by delivering on your capacity and commitments to meet their needs in the power of Christ. The prophecy of Micah gives us hope, in spite of the injustices and wickedness of this world. Our unshakeable confidence in Jesus Christ, the Ruler from Bethlehem, gives us courage to extend mercy to those in our world, to love them loyally. We live for the world to come, when He will reign and this world will be perfectly just! (2:13; 4:1-7; 5:1-9)

3. Live obediently before your God! Walk humbly and without arrogance in fellowship with God pursuing His priorities and will for your life instead of your own. God’s grace gives us power. Our absolute trust in Him and His resources is the source of our power (5:10-15). His unconditional love for His people is the source of our confidence (7:18-20).

All the Bible, Every Book: Nahum

God’s Judgment of Cruel Empires

The Lord is good – indeed, he is a fortress in time of distress,

and he protects those who seek refuge in him (Nahum 1:7).

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Nahum prophesied the destruction of Nineveh to encourage the people of Judah. Surrounded by high walls, fortified with two hundred towers, encircled by a deep moat, Nineveh was truly an invincible and impregnable fortress—or so the Ninevites thought! Nahum foretold that this proud city and its inhabitants would be powerless to stand before God’s coming wrath. In the 100 years since Jonah’s remarkable revival, the people of Nineveh had returned to their defiant, immoral ways. Nahum’s preaching is not a call to repentance (like Jonah’s), but a decree of death for an evil and cruel people who have worn out the patience of God.

The name “Nahum” means “comfort” or “consolation.” His message of the destruction of Nineveh would be a comfort to the nations she had oppressed. Like Jonah, who prophesied about 100 years earlier, Nahum directed his message against Nineveh, the city originally founded by Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12). The revival in response to Jonah’s message of judgment about 760 BC was short-lived. In 722 BC, Sargon II of Assyria destroyed Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, and scattered the ten tribes. Led by Sennacherib, the Assyrians also came close to capturing Jerusalem in the reign of King Hezekiah in 701 BC. By the time of Nahum (660 BC), Assyria reached the zenith of its prosperity and power under Ashurbanipal. Nineveh became the mightiest city on earth with fortifications that seemed and resources to withstand a twenty-year siege. Nahum’s prophecy of the capital’s overthrow seemed unlikely indeed.

Nahum was the master poet of the prophets who has been called the poet laureate among the Minor Prophets. “His reverence for the almighty, trust in divine justice and goodness, condemnation of national iniquity, positive conviction that God will keep His word—these are qualities of true greatness. Add to that Nahum’s mighty intellect, his patriotism and courage, his rare, almost unequaled, gift of vivid presentation, and he indeed looms as one of those outstanding figures in human history who have appeared only at rare intervals.” (Walter A. Maier, The Book of Nahum: A Commentary, p. 20)

Jonah

Nahum

The Mercy of God

The Judgment of God

760 BC

660 BC

Repentance of Nineveh

Callous Cruelty of Nineveh

Emphasis on the Prophet

Emphasis on the Prophecy

Disobedient Prophet

Obedient Prophet

Obedient Nineveh

Disobedient Nineveh

Deliverance from Water

Destruction by Water

 

Nahum: God is a refuge for His people!

God calls Nahum to proclaim the coming destruction of Nineveh in order to encourage and comfort Judah.

I. THE DESTRUCTION OF NINEVEH DECREED: Nahum prophesies that judgment is certain on Nineveh because it plotted against God. This is a message of comfort to the people of Judah (1:15). The threat of Assyrian invasion will soon be over. (1)

II. THE DESTRUCTION OF NINEVEH DESCRIBED: Nahum prophetically describes the defeat of Nineveh showing that God is the judge to encourage the people of Judah to realize that God is more powerful than the mighty Assyrian empire. Assyria will be conquered, but Judah will be restored. Nineveh is burned and cut off forever. (2)

Messiah: Though there are no direct messianic prophecies in Nahum, the divine attributes described in 1:2-8 picture Christ’s work as the judge of the nations in His second advent. 

III. THE DESTRUCTION OF NINEVEH DESERVED: Nahum declares the reasons for judgment on Nineveh in order to encourage Judah to remember that God is in control and will fight for His people because they are under the covenant. The city is cruel and corrupt. With all of its resources it cannot forestall divine judgment. (3)

NAHUM AND YOU: This book is specifically about God’s judgment on Nineveh and the Assyrians. The broader truths of God’s judgment of evil in this world and His care and protection of His people are relevant to any generation. Here are a few thoughts about how we can apply Nahum to our daily lives:

1. Historic Sweep! The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will certainly not allow the wicked to go unpunished (Nahum 1:3)The reasons God brought Nineveh and the Assyrians down are the same reasons He will humble any world power. Any nation or movement that thirsts for conquest, practices cruelty and brutality to oppress others, tyrannizes the weak and innocent, and worships false gods can expect Nineveh’s fate. Ultimately, God’s justice will prevail.

2. Prophetic Precision! Nahum predicted that Nineveh would fall due to an “overwhelming flood” (1:8), and this is exactly what occurred. Extra-biblical historical sources record twelve specific fulfillments of details of Nahum’s prophecies. The Tigris River overflowed its banks and the flood destroyed part of Nineveh’s “impregnable” wall. The Medes/Babylonians invaded through this breach in the wall, plundered the proud but cruel city, and set it on fire. Nahum also predicted that Nineveh would “be hidden” from history (3:11). Again, after its destruction in 612 B.C., archeologists did not discover the city’s ruins until 1842 A.D.

3. Comfort and Protection! The Lord is good – indeed, he is a fortress in time of distress and he protects those who seek refuge in him (1:7). This is a mean and sin-stained planet. Enemies rise and fall; world powers rise and fall; God’s people are treated unfairly, even cruelly. But through it all we can depend on Him. He is our only good and sure Protector and our only dependable refuge.

All the Bible, Every Book: Habakkuk

I Will Wait!

“Look, the one whose desires are not upright will faint from exhaustion,

but the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness” (Habakkuk 2:4).

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Habakkuk spoke to the generation of Judeans who lived under the reign of evil King Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim and the leaders of Judah were leading the nation toward disaster. Wickedness and unrighteousness were everywhere. Few everyday Judeans followed the law, and the rich and powerful ignored the law’s command that they treat one another justly. In the face of the growing threat of the ascending Babylonians, Judah had put her faith in unrighteous treaties with Assyria and Egypt, rather than her God.

The prophet calls out to God to stop tolerating the evil and injustice in Judah. “Do something about this mess,” Habakkuk prays. And God answered: “Don’t worry! I’m planning to send the Chaldeans, a people even more corrupt than Judah, to chasten my people.” When Habakkuk reacts with shock and dismay, God patiently instructs His messenger until at last the prophet responds with a psalm of praise. Habakkuk honestly struggles with the way God orders the events of history and the injustice He seems to tolerate. “The prophet asked some of the most penetrating questions in all literature, and the answers are basic to a proper view of God and his relation to history. If God’s initial response sounded the death knewll for any strictly nationalistic covenant theology of Judah, his second reply outlined in a positive sense the fact that all history was hastening to a conclusion that was [as] certain as it was satisfying.” (J. Ronald Blue, “Habakkuk,” in Daniel-Malachi, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 495-496)

Like Jonah, Habakkuk’s book records a dialogue between him and God, but with key contrasts:

 

Jonah

Habakkuk

God called on Jonah

Habakkuk called on God

Jonah ran from God

Habakkuk ran to God

Prayer and trouble

Prayer after trouble

Ends in foolishness

Ends in faith

Salvation of God to the Gentiles

Sovereignty of God over the Gentiles

In the fish

On the watchtower (2:4)

God responds to Habakkuk’s honest struggle with some of the most perplexing problems believers face in Habakkuk 2:4. Many consider as the theme verse for the entire Old Testament: “Look, the one whose desires are not upright will faint from exhaustion, but the person of integrity (or “righteous”) will live because of his faithfulness (“honesty, integrity, reliability, faithfulness” in his relationship to God).”

Habakkuk: When this world gets you down, keep talking and listening to God …

And, be faithful to Him and trust Him for the results!

God inspired Habakkuks’ prophecy to vindicate His justice so that His people would have hope! 

I. HABAKKUK’S PROTEST: “God, this is unfair and unjust!” In the first dialogue Habakkuk asks God how long He will allow the wickedness of Judah to go unpunished (1:1-4).

II. GOD’S RESPONSE: “Don’t worry; I’ve got this!” God’s startling answer is given in 1:5-11: He is raising up the fierce Babylonians as His rod of judgment upon sinful Judah. The Chaldeans will come against Judah swiftly, violently, and completely. The coming storm from the east will be God’s answer to Judah’s crimes.

III. HABAKKUK’S PROTEST: “God, this is ridiculous; this is even more unfair and more unjust!” God’s answer to the first question leads to the second protest in 1:12-2:1. The prophet is more perplexed than ever and asks God how the righteous God can punish Judah with a nation that is even more wicked. Will the God whose eyes are too pure to approve evil reward the Babylonians for their cruelty and idolatry? Habakkuk stands upon a watchtower to wait for God’s reply.

IV. GOD’S RESPONSE: “Trust Me; I’ll vindicate the righteous and destroy the wicked!” The Lord answers with a series of five woes. God is aware of the sins of the Babylonians, and they will not escape His terrible judgment. But Judah is guilty of the same offenses and stands under the same condemnation. Yahweh concludes His answer with a statement of His sovereign majesty: “But the Lord is in his majestic palace. The whole earth is speechless in his presence” (2:20).

A. Habakkuk 2:4 sums up the entire message of the Old Testament. It’s been translated two ways through the centuries:

1. “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by faith” (NKJV).

2. “Look, the one whose desires are not upright will faint from exhaustion, but the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness” (NET Bible).

3. I prefer the NET Bible because I feel it is truer to the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word, ’emunah, translated “faith” in the NKJV, nowhere else refers to “faith.” Its usage carries the idea of “honesty, integrity, reliability, and faithfulness” in someone’s conduct. The person this word refers to is the person of “integrity” or the “righteous” one. Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted three times in the New Testament—Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. In all three the emphasis is on the contrast between the way those who do not belong to God live and those who do believe in God. In Romans 1:17, the righteous are living by faith in the gospel. In Galatians 3:11, the righteous are justified before God because they are living by faith. In Hebews 10:38, the righteous ones who live by faith are not shrinking back from their faith in the Superior Christ.

B. The thrust of the verse is therefore the same whether we are emphasizing the faithful life or the faith that a faithful life requires. The context is trusting God when He seems unfair and the contrast is between those who do not live for Him and those who do.

Messiah: The word “salvation” appears two times (3:13, 18) and is the root word from which the name “Jesus” is derived (Matthew 1:21). When He comes again, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).

V. HABAKKUK’S PRAISE: “My trust is in you because you will never be outwitted or frustrated.”  Habakkuk concludes his book with a psalm of praise in 3:19. He now acknowledges God’s wisdom in the coming invasion of Judah, and though it terrifies him, he will trust in the Lord. God’s creative and redemptive work in the past, gives the prophet confidence in the divine purposes, and hope at a time when he would otherwise despair. “I will rejoice because of the Lord; I will be happy because of the God who delivers me!” (Habakkuk 3:18)

HABAKKUK AND YOU: Habakkuk 2:4 is like a lock that opens the door to the life that makes sense even when this world doesn’t. The trust that leads to a life of faithfulness to God in spite of circumstances is the great divider of the way we face hardship, injustice, and unfairness. Habakkuk: We struggle; we protest; we wait; and we decide whether to get up and trust Him one more day by staying faithful to Him.

All the Bible, Every Book: Zephaniah

Judgment and Deliverance in the Day of the Lord

“Be alert before the Lord God,

for the Lord’s day of judgment is almost here.

(Zephaniah 1:7)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Zephaniah was the great grandson of godly King Hezekiah of Judah. His name, “Yahweh hides,” probably means that he was one of the descendants of David hidden from the atrocities of evil King Manasseh. As royalty, Zephaniah lived in Jerusalem and spoke primarily to the leaders and the privileged of Jerusalem during the reign of his relative, King Josiah.

The prophet spoke to Judah during a time of relative peace and top-down reform under Josiah. However, the fifty years of enforced idolatry and gratuitous injustice and immorality had entrenched the Judean society in wickedness and rebellion against God. King Josiah’s reforms failed to penetrate the culture, and the Babylonians were emerging as a powerful enemy.

God sent Zephaniah to tell Judah to embrace Josiah’s reforms in their hearts. He warns them of the coming Day of the Lord—a phrase repeated 23 times in only 3 chapters! Obadiah and Joel introduced the concept of the Day of the Lord, but Zephaniah speaks more of the ultimate Day of the Lord when God will destroy His enemies, remake creation, and keep all of His promises to Israel and Gentiles who trust in Him. The Day of the Lord is any “day,” or time, in history when God intervenes dramatically to control human events. “Zephaniah’s purpose was to announce coming judgment on Judah in the Day of the Lord. However, he said that judgment would extend to all the nations of the earth, indicating that the Day of the Lord would also bring deliverance of Israel and the Gentiles.” (Charles H. Dyer, The Old Testament Explorer, p. 809)

This little book is a grim reminder to those who oppose God that He is not ignoring their callous rebellion. But it also offers great hope to all who trust in the God of Zephaniah:

Zephaniah: Rejoice in the assurance of the coming Day of the Lord!

The Lord Jesus alluded to this Minor Prophet on two occasions (Matthew 13:41; 24:29) to connect Zephaniah’s Day of the Lord with His Second Coming.

I. JUDGMENT IN THE DAY OF THE LORD: The prophetical oracle begins with an awesome statement of God’s coming judgment upon all the earth because of the sins of humanity. The Day of the Lord will come with wrath and irrevocability, and God will have the last word. (1:1-3:8)

A. JUDGMENT ON THE WHOLE EARTH AND JUDAH: God vows to make an end to both humanity and the animal world (1:2-3). Zephaniah then concentrates on the judgment of Judah (1:4-18), listing some of her offenses. Judah is poisoned with idolatrous priests who promote the worship of Baal and nature. Her leaders are completely corrupt. However, by His grace, Yahweh appeals to His people to repent and humble themselves to avert the coming disaster before it’s too late (2:1-3). (1:4-2:3)

B. JUDGMENT ON JUDAH’S NEIGHBORS AND JERUSALEM: Like Amos before him in the north, Zephaniah pronounces God’s coming judgment on the nations that surround Judah (2:4-15). Then he turns his attention to Jerusalem, the city of his ancestor, David (3:1-8). Like the pagan nations around her, Jerusalem “is disobedient; she refuses correction. She does not trust the Lord; she does not seek the advice of her God” (3:2). (2:4-15)

II. DELIVERANCE AND BLESSING IN THE DAY OF THE LORD: Zephaniah assures his readers who trust in His God that the Day of the Lord isn’t all bad news. God’s dramatic intervention in history will bring deliverance and blessing to those who turn to God. (3:9-20)

A. FUTURE BLESSINGS FOR GENTILES: With imagery from humanity’s original rebellion at Babel, Zephaniah looks forward to the time when human language will become a unifying factor and God’s people will gather from all nations to worship Him. (3:9-10)

B. FUTURE BLESSINGS FOR ISRAEL: The remnant of Israel will be gathered, redeemed and restored. They will rejoice in their Redeemer, and He will be in their midst. (3:11-20)

Messiah: Jesus associated Zephaniah’s day of the Lord with His second advent, making it clear that He is the One who will fulfill the great promises of the prophet.

ZEPHANIAH AND YOU: The Day of the Lord is a consistent theme of the Bible. I believe Zephaniah speaks of several “days” of the Lord. The day of judgment when the Babylonians would take Judeans into captivity and the day of blessing when God returned them to the Land. The future day of judgment for Israel during the Great Tribulation and its day of blessing during the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ. However, the most specific Day of the Lord Zephaniah pictures and Jesus and the Apostles spoke of is the coming Day of the Lord when God will destroy sin by recreating the heavens and the earth after the Millennium. 2 Peter 3 is the “Zephaniah of the New Testament.”

1. Just as in the days of Zephaniah, doubters and critics will always say that prophecies concerning the Day of the Lord are invalid because God hasn’t intervened in human history as dramatically as the writers of Scripture predict (2 Peter 3:1-10). Don’t make that mistake! Just as He did at His Incarnation, Jesus will show up again. He will fulfill every Biblical prediction concerning His Second Coming.

2. Just as in the days of Zephaniah, God’s people are given something to do until the Day of the Lord arrives. For us, it is to join God in His relentless pursuit of those who need to turn to Him (2 Peter 3:8-9). This is a great motivator for us! We can become part of the answer to our Breakthrough Prayer to bring us 250 more who are folded into our redeemed community. Please pray for the privilege of reaching just one who is outside of the grace and mercy of God in your world by name.

3. Just as in the days of Zephaniah, our society is irreversibly polluted by injustice and rebellion against God. The solution isn’t top-down through reform and legislation. This doesn’t mean we’re not politically astute and active. It means that our hope isn’t in America; it’s in our God. Our sin, the sin of humanity is too severe to be “fixed” by earthly reform. God will have to intervene by recreating everything to erase the impact of our sin.

The only deliverance from sin is through Jesus’ work on the Cross. 

The only final solution for sin’s stain on Creation is the Day of the Lord.

All the Bible, Every Book: Haggai

Finish the Task!

“I will also shake up all the nations, and they will offer their treasures;

 then I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord who rules over all.

(Haggai 2:7)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for Him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

The Jews had been living in exile in Babylonia for 70 years. They had not been able to practice their formal worship as the Mosaic Law prescribed, because the Babylonians had destroyed their Temple and they had no authorized altar for sacrifices. They were forced to settle for private and public prayers while facing toward Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10). They gathered in synagogues to hear the Law read and worship God in exile.

Imagine their joy when King Cyrus of Persia allowed them to return to their land in 538 B.C. The first wave of 50,000 Jewish pilgrims returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel. They enthusiastically rebuilt the brazen altar and resumed offering sacrifices, and laid the foundation for the reconstruction of the second Temple. They even celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles that first year. Envision their discouragement when Samaritan leaders with ties to the Persian authorities resisted their Temple construction. The former exiles felt threatened and unable to accomplish God’s first priority for the returning remnant—reestablish worship that glorifies Him. They went about their daily routine, and concentrated on rebuilding their lives—their businesses, their homes, and their farms—while ignoring their mandate to rebuild the Temple.

Sixteen years later, God called Haggai and Zechariah to expose their misplaced priorities and challenge them to rebuild the Temple, because God had greater plans for them than they ever imagined. In 520 B.C. Haggai delivered four short messages in four months. His message was simple and focused: Rebuild the Temple, because God has chosen you to glorify Him worldwide. The Temple is described as God’s dwelling place on earth, a center of worship, and as a symbol to the nations of YHWH’s greatness. “Interestingly, Haggai’s message has none of the elements so characteristic of the other biblical prophets. For instance, he wrote no diatribe against idolatry. He said nothing of social ills and abuses of the legal system, nor did he preach against adultery or syncretism. His one theme was rebuilding God’s temple.” (Robert L. Alden, “Haggai,” in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 573)

This little book is a reminder to God’s people of all generations to assess their priorities, and to persevere against discouraging opposition in doing His will:

Haggai: Rearrange your priorities and get on with serving God!

Haggai’s words are emphatically authoritative: “Thus says the Lord” occurs 26 times in 38 verses.

I. CHALLENGE TO FINISH THE TEMPLE: In his first sermon, Haggai calls the nation back to their God-given priority—build the temple—and tells them that they have been living with the wrong priorities (1:1-15). Then, a month later, the prophet promises that the glory of the temple they are about to build will be greater than Solomon’s! (2:1-9)

Messiah: The promise in Chapter 2, verse 9, pointed ahead to the crucial role the Second Temple would have in God’s redemptive plan. Herod the Great would later spend a fortune on the project by enlarging and enriching this temple. And it would be filled with the glory of God incarnate every time Christ came to Jerusalem and entered the Temple. This is the same Temple Haggai’s audience was being challenged to build.

II. PROMISE TO RECEIVE GOD’S BLESSING: Now joined by the voice of Zechariah, Haggai explains the perverse nature of evil and the problem of defilement in his third sermon. He promises God’s blessing to be upon the people, but they must repent and obey (2:10-19). Then, in the final sermon, Haggai promises God’s future blessings of His people demonstrated in his destruction of the nations and the future recognition of Zerubbabel (2:20-23).

HAGGAI AND YOU: The path of a follower of the Lord Jesus isn’t an easy one. Though He always provides the power and He is always with us, He asks us to do some hard things. Nevertheless, there is usually an initial enthusiasm for following Him, but invariably opposition and hardship discourage us. Haggai’s call to the returnees to finish the task exposes four common problems discouraged followers of God face that may make us lose heart and abandon our assignment.

Think of that one assignment the Lord Jesus has given you that now seems unattainable. Or maybe that one goal you’ve abandoned because of discouragement, opposition, and failure. Here are four mistakes we make that sidetrack us from our goals in Christ and in life:

1. Misplaced Priorities: The returnees got busy with everything else in life but building the Temple. Their days were filled with good things, but not the most important thing. Initial enthusiasm is great for getting started. But if we’re thinking that the initial enthusiasm we have for any ministry assignment or worthwhile endeavor in life will sustain us, we’re dreaming. A sure sign of maturity in life and in Christ is the understanding that “it” is always going to be much harder than we first envision. If we’re not prepared for hardship, we’ll turn our efforts and time toward secondary priorities, and convince ourselves that they are far more important than they really are in the long view or from God’s perspective.

2. Loss of Perspective: During the first year of rebuilding the Temple they were discouraged by comparison and intimidation. Some of the older people were telling them that the foundation they were laying was nothing compared to the greatness of Solomon’s Temple, and the Samaritans were telling them that they would persecute them if they didn’t stop building. Forgetting that they were called by their great big God to build this Temple, not Solomon’s, and forgetting that He is the God of history, they stopped building. When times are tough our naysayers and enemies feel far more persuasive and powerful than they actually are. If we’re not growing in our appreciation of the power and presence of our God, we’ll blow up our problems in our mind and quit.

3. Excessive Fears: Suddenly it seemed as if everything and everyone had turned against them, and they began to imagine frightening scenarios. And then those scenarios became so real in their minds that it froze them. Their Gentile tormentors and enemies would do “this” or “that” if we resisted them. If we’re not spending time in our Father’s Word and with His Son, His promises become less and less real to us, and the lies of our enemies and the possibilities of our problems become more and more “real.”

4. Unrealistic Expectations: The postexilic community thought that returning to the land would solve all their problems. Instead, their problems just began. “Why is this so hard?” Why aren’t we having more success?” Why don’t I see results?” are questions that we all ask. But when we become sidetracked by our naïve expectations, we’ll begin to either blame God for not “blessing” us in this endeavor, or we’ll decide that He must not have been “in this.”

QUESTION: What is that one area of your life where you’ve allowed the discouragement of hardship to sidetrack you? Tell a friend or your HUB group your frustrations and sit down with the Book of Haggai for insights on how to get back on track.

All the Bible, Every Book: Zechariah

The King Is Coming!

“‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord who rules over all” (Zechariah 4:6).

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for Him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

The Jews had been living in exile in Babylonia for 70 years. They had not been able to practice their formal worship as the Mosaic Law prescribed, because the Babylonians had destroyed their Temple and they had no authorized altar for sacrifices. They were forced to settle for private and public prayers while facing toward Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10). They gathered in synagogues to hear the Law read and worship God in exile.

Imagine their joy when King Cyrus of Persia allowed them to return to their land in 538 B.C. The first wave of 50,000 Jewish pilgrims returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel. They enthusiastically rebuilt the brazen altar and resumed offering sacrifices, and laid the foundation for the reconstruction of the second Temple. They even celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles that first year. Envision their discouragement when Samaritan leaders with ties to the Persian authorities resisted their Temple construction. The former exiles felt threatened and unable to accomplish God’s first priority for the returning remnant—reestablish worship that glorifies Him. They went about their daily routine, and concentrated on rebuilding their lives—their businesses, their homes, and their farms—while ignoring their mandate to rebuild the Temple.

Sixteen years later, God called Haggai and Zechariah to expose their misplaced priorities and challenge them to rebuild the Temple, because God had greater plans for them than they ever imagined. In 520 B.C. Zechariah encouraged the returning remnant to rebuild the Temple by inspiring hope in the discouraged community. His book, the “Revelation” of the Old Testament, persuaded the Jews to lift their eyes to see the larger purposes and plans of their God. The Lord who rules over all is at work for His people and is moving history toward the return of His King—first to save, and then to reign. “[Zeahariah’s] book is the most Messianic, the most truly apocalyptic and eschatological, of al the writing of the Old Testament.” (Joyce G. Baldwin, “Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 69-70)

Zechariah’s message reminds discouraged believers of all generations that in spite of difficult circumstances, God’s all-encompassing power and unrelenting purpose cannot be resisted:

Zechariah: Your King is coming!

Live with confidence in His unseen power and unfulfilled promises.

 

Zechariah emphasizes the irresistible power of God: “The Lord of Hosts” (“Lord who rules over all,” NET) occurs 35 times.

I. EIGHT VISIONS (1:1-6:8): The book opens with an introductory appeal to the people to repent and return to God unlike their fathers who rejected the warnings of the prophets (1:1-6). A few months later, Zechariah has a series of eight night visions, evidently in one troubled night. The first five are visions of comfort, and the last three are visions of judgment. The angel who speaks with him interprets the visions, but some of the symbols are not explained.

 

Vision

What they knew …

What they didn’t know …

Horses Among the Trees

Their depressing circumstances

The presence of a watching angel

Four Horns & Four Craftsmen

The power of their enemies

God’s plan to destroy the enemies

Man with the Measuring Line

About Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s glorious future

Cleansing of Joshua

Their adversary

Their divine advocate

Golden Lampstand & Olive Trees

Responsibility to be light

Supernatural resources

Flying Scroll

Present sins

Response to sin

Woman in Basket

Widespread evil

God would purge evil

Four Chariots

Need for God in chaos

God would win

*from the notes on Zechariah, by Tom Constable

II. THE CROWNING OF JOSHUA (6:9-15): The crowning of Joshua (6:9-15) anticipates the coming of the Branch who will be King and Priest (the composite crown).

III. FOUR MESSAGES (7-8): In response to a question about the continuation of the fasts (7:1-3), God gives Zechariah a series of four messages—a rebuke of empty ritualism, a reminder of past disobedience, the restoration and consolation of Israel, and the recovery of joy in the kingdom. God’s point is that it is more important how you live than how you fast (7:8-14). Rather than celebrating the fasts of the exile to commemorate their past failures, they should now commemorate the feasts to celebrate God’s blessing in the land.

IV. TWO BURDENS: The first burden (9-11) primarily concerns the First Advent and rejection of Israel’s coming King. The second burden (12-14) primarily concerns the Second Advent of Christ and the acceptance of Israel’s King. The Jews of Jesus’ day had missed the distinction between these two imbedded events. Like all the prophecies concerning the coming career of Messiah-King, we know now that the prophet was describing two events that were blurred into one. This is the “telescopic” or “foreshortening” principle of understanding prophecy. The prophets are presenting two mountain peaks—the First and Second Coming of Messiah—but not the valley in between—the time of the Gentiles, the Church Age. With New Testament perspective, we see this foreshortening in Zechariah. 9:9 speaks of the 1st Advent, 9:10, the 2nd. 11:7-16 speaks of the 1st Advent, chapter 12, the 2nd. 13:7 speaks of the 1st Advent, 13:8-9, the 2nd. Peter describes this dynamic and our need to carefully divide the Scriptures: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ (1st Advent) and his subsequent glory (2nd Advent)” (1 Pet 1:10-11)

ZECHARIAH AND YOU: Your King is coming! Evil happens, but God will eventually defeat evil. His power cannot be resisted and His purposes cannot be thwarted. He is moving history toward His end, despite human and Satanic opposition. Even though we live in times of darkness and discouragement, we should live with the unshakeable confidence in His presence, power, and promises. What is hard in your life right now? What difficult or discouraging assignment have you received from God?

“‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord who rules over all.

(The Lord of Hosts to Zerbbabel, Zechariah 4:6)

For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comprehension, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

(Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

QUESTIONS: Where does it hurt? What don’t you understand? Take that hurt and that confusion and plant it into a garden of trust and hope. Don’t put your faith in circumstance; put your faith in the Rejected One who will be crowned in His Kingdom! 

All the Bible, Every Book: Malachi

The Only Hope for Your Hearts of Stone—The Lord You Are Seeking!

“I am about to send my messenger, who will clear the way before me.

(Malachi 3:1)

The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for Him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promise Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)

The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11).

Life in the Promise Land was hard, very hard. The Persians still ruled their homeland, crops were failing, and locust plagues ravaged the land (Malachi 3:11). 80 years ago, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah had promised blessing, but the prosperity never came. Even after Ezra’s profound reforms and Nehemiah’s amazing success, most of the people were discouraged and doubtful of God’s goodness and care. The priests were self-serving and led them in cold, ritualistic worship and demanded outward obedience to the Law. But their hearts weren’t in it. On the inside they remained as rebellious as any generation of Israelites.

Foreign cultures had successfully invaded the consciousness and morality of God’s people. The Israelites divorced their wives to marry Gentiles, and greed and injustice was the order of the day. “… Malachi and his contemporaries were living in an uneventful waiting period, when God seemed to have forgotten His people enduring poverty and foreign domination in the little province of Judah. … True the Temple had been completed, but nothing momentous had occurred to indicate that God’s presence had returned to fill it with glory, as Ezekiel had indicated would happen (Ezk. 43:4). … Generations were dying without receiving the promises (cf. Heb 11:13) and many were losing their faith.” (Joyce G. Baldwin, “Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 211)

Using a confrontational style, Malachi encourages them to pursue holiness by exposing their sin. He is the only prophet who ends his book with judgment. His book is an appropriate conclusion to the Old Testament. It stresses the hopelessly sinful condition of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who had been called by God to be a blessing to all nations. His message ends in a curse, leaving the world in need of another plan that isn’t dependent upon the obedience of the nation Israel. That plan will be introduced by the next prophet to speak, John the Baptist, who will, in turn, announce the coming of the One who would be called the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). His name is Jesus Christ:

Malachi: Doubting God’s love leads to inauthentic worship and calloused disobedience!

Malachi emphasizes Israel’s God as the sovereign over the whole world, who is extremely patient with His wayward people. The last prophet to speak to God’s people before 400 years of silence, 47 of Malachi’s 55 verses are spoken by God Himself – the highest portion of all the prophets.

I. “I STILL LOVE YOU!” (1:1-5): Malachi’s generation has forgotten how much God loves them. Embittered by the problems of the present, they have forgotten God’s past works on their behalf. God reminds them of His special love by contrasting the fates of Esau (Edom) and Jacob (Israel).

II. “YOUR PRIESTS DO NOT REPRESENT ME!” (1:6-2:9): Though the returning remnant had succeeded in rebuilding extraneous worship, the priests were taking the lead in hypocritical worship. They exhibited favoritism as they encouraged flawed sacrifices.

III. “YOUR MEN DIVORCE THEIR WIVES AND MARRY GENTILES!” (2:10-16): A sure sign of an inner attitude of rebellion against the God of Israel is intermarriage with pagan peoples. Malachi’s generation ignored God’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage.

IV. “YOU DOUBT MY JUSTICE?” (2:17-3:6): Malachi’s generation had become apathetic to the point of doubting if God would ever back up His teaching on the necessity of justice in relationships and society.

V. “YOU’RE ROBBING GOD!” (3:7-12): Malachi’s generation failed to connect their withholding of tithes and offerings with God’s withholding of blessing.

VI. “I WILL JUDGE THE ARROGANCE OF THE PEOPLE WHILE BLESSING THE REMNANT FOR THEIR HUMILITY” (3:13-4:3): Those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name would be spared in the day of judgment as His own special possession.

VII. “I WILL SEND AN ENCOURAGER TO RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE I JUDGE THE EARTH” (4:4-6): Malachi ends on the bitter word “curse.” Although the people are finally cured of idolatry, there is little spiritual progress in Israel’s history. Sin abounds, and the need for the coming Messiah is greater than ever.

Messiah: The Book of Malachi precedes four hundred years of prophetic silence, broken finally by the words of the next prophet, John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Malachi predicts the coming of the messenger who will clear the way before the Lord’s First Advent (3:1; cf. Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist later fulfills this prophecy, but the next few verses (3:2-5) look to Christ’s Second Advent. “Elijah the prophet” will encourage repentance before the day of the Lord (4:5). John the Baptist was this Elijah (Matthew 3:3; 11:10-14; 17:9-13), but Elijah will also appear before the second coming of Christ (Revelation 11:6).

MALACHI AND YOU: The Old Testament concludes with a curse. In spite of God’s unfailing love for His people, they are irreparably flawed by sin. The ever-loving, never-failing God pronounces judgment on His never-loving, ever-failing people. But all is not lost. A coming herald will make the way for the One who will encourage God’s people to return to Him.

Two indicators a person has fallen out of love with God:

1. Inauthentic Worship. Like Malachi’s generation they simply go through the motions. Doubting God’s love, they concentrate on the externals of worship while avoiding deep heart-interaction with God. Doubting God’s justice toward them, they give themselves permission to rob God of His lordship of their time and resources.

2. Calloused Disobedience. Like Malachi’s generation their attitude overflows into sinful behaviors. Doubting God’s love, they arrogantly express their cynicism and rebellion. Doubting God’s justice toward them, they give themselves permission to treat others unjustly. Especially the families they abandon through divorce.

Two meditations that will encourage a person to fall back in love with God:

First Advent of Christ

Second Advent of Christ

To Rescue from Sin

To Rescue Creation

Suffering Servant

Conquering King

messenger to prepare the way (3:1a)

(John the Baptist, Matt 11:10; 17:11-12)

Messenger of the  (new) Covenant (3:1b-4)

(Jesus Christ, Matt. 26:28)

Lord comes to the Temple (3:1a)

(Triumphal Entry, Matt. 21:12-14

Angel (messenger) of the Lord (3:1b-4)

Elijah encourages repentance (4:4-6)

Cross of Christ

Day of the Lord (4:4-6)

Offers Love

Offers Hope

 

All the Bible, Every Book: From Malachi to Matthew

Galatians 4:4

But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son,

born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law,

so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights (Galatians 4:4).

Malachi closed the Old Testament with the last words the Jews would hear from God for four hundred years. A contemporary of Nehemiah, Malachi preached sermons about the problems Nehemiah faced (Nehemiah 13). Time had run out for that generation of Israelites.  Refusing to follow the Law of Moses, their only hope to fulfill their mission of blessing the world by saving it from God’s curse (Genesis 12:1-3) was divine intervention. God will send Elijah before the great Day of the Lord. He will restore Israel to the covenant and save the world!

Then, the Lord simply stopped speaking to Israel.

Over 400 years later, John the Baptist, the Elijah-like prophet Malachi promised would prepare the way for Messiah (Malachi 3:2), broke the silence. After preaching repentance to the rebellious nation, John’s message suddenly changed when He introduced Jesus of Nazareth to God’s people, Israel: Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

A lot had changed since the time of Malachi. Rome was the dominant world power and ruled over most of the ancient Old Testament lands. Yet, in a small town of Palestine, Bethlehem of Judea, the one who would save the world was born—Jesus Christ. And though God had been quiet for 400 years, He had not been idle! Concerning the birth of the Savior, the apostle wrote, “But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son” (Galatians 4:4).

God prepared the way for the Savior of the world!

In several extraordinary and wonderful ways, God prepared the world for the coming of Messiah. Both Paul and Mark called attention to the historical era that preceded the coming of Christ to earth.

I. The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14) with perfect timing (Mark 1:15; Galatians 4:4).

A. Summary: As a human father chooses the time for the birth of his child, so the Heavenly Father chose the time for the coming of Christ to save the world from bondage to works systems of righteousness (Galatians 4:4).

1. Context: Israel, was enslaved by the law (and the rest of the world through various systems of works righteousness) until Christ emancipated them.

2. The Father planned Christ’s coming with precise timing—when the world was ripe (fullness, appropriate, in the context of time, means the complete end of a period of time) for His message of deliverance.

B. Three ways God had been working so that the time would be “full” or ripe for Christ’s coming:

1. Jewish Hope for their Messiah!

a. The entire Old Testament looks forward to the coming of Christ. God had chosen Israel from all the nations of the world (Exodus 1:5-6). Beginning with the promises to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 9:4), they were the guardians of God’s Word (Romans 3:2) and the people from whom the Redeemer would come (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8; Romans 9:5). The Old Testament anticipated Christ’s coming as a suffering and glorified Savior in precise prophecies giving details of Messiah’s lineage, place of birth, world conditions at the time of His birth, life, death, and even His resurrection.

b. Though Israel was disobedient and was under judgment from the days of Malachi, they were in the land as God had promised before the coming of Messiah. Though 400 years had passed and the religious climate had only become worse through Pharisaic hypocrisy and the Sadducees’ secularism, there was a spirit of Messianic anticipation in the air and a righteous remnant was looking for the Messiah (Simeon, Luke 2:25). The Jews offered to the world the hope of a coming Messiah who would bring righteousness to the earth. This tiny captive nation, situated on the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe provided the spiritual heredity of Christianity and, for a time, even gave the infant church its leaders and shelter. Israel provided the spiritual environment to propel the Gospel around the world.

2. Roman peace and roads!

a. Free movement about the Mediterranean would have been most difficult for the messengers of the Gospel before the reign of Augustus Caesar (27 BC-AD 14). The ancient world had been divided into warring tribes or city-states prior to the extension of Roman imperial power. Roman sailors kept the peace on the seas and Roman soldiers secured the roads of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Roman conquests that resulted in 100 years of relative peace as the church was born had also led to a loss of belief by many peoples in their pagan gods that had failed to protect them against Caesar’s legions.

b. The Romans developed the world’s first system of roads radiating out from the Roman forum to the corners of the empire. The main roads were built of concrete and some exist today. The Gospel of Christ moved quickly across these Roman roads to strategic cities located throughout the Empire. The Roman Empire provided a political environment unique in history that was favorable to the spread of Christianity in the days of its infancy.

3. Greek language and philosophy!

a. More than 300 years before Christ, Alexander the Great had swept across the ancient world conquering one nation after another. Though the kingdom he established did not survive his death, the language of his armies, Koine or common Greek, did. By the time of Christ, Koine Greek had become the language of the common man throughout the Mediterranean world. The universal Gospel needed a universal language, and God provided it through the genius and ambition of Alexander—Koine Greek, one of the clearest and most precise languages of all time.

b. Greek philosophy, though godless, was undermining pagan polytheistic religions around the world because they were rationally unintelligible. The bankruptcy of paganism and consequent pursuits of Greek philosophy left the conquered peoples of Rome thirsty for spiritual reality. Greece provided the intellectual environment that aided the propagation of the Gospel.

II. God always prepares the way for people to meet Christ (Galatians 1:15-16).

A.   How did He prepare you for your introduction to His Son? Praise Him for His sovereign grace in the circumstances of your life this Easter Season!

B. Who needs to meet Christ in your world? Ask the Father to prepare the way this Easter Season and tell Him you are willing to share the Good News!

“After Malachi had ceased his prophesying and the canon of the Old Testament closed — that is, the number of the books in the Old Testament was fulfilled and the inspired prophets ceased to speak — God allowed a period of time for the teachings of the Old Testament to penetrate throughout the world. During this time, he rearranged the scenes of history, much as a stage crew will rearrange the stage sets after the curtain has fallen, and when the curtain rises again there is an entirely new setting.” –Ray Stedman

All the Bible, Every Book

The Bible, The New Testament, and the Gospels

“And so he [Jesus Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive their eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant” (Hebrew 9:15).

We’re all born with questions in our heart that the two most basic sources of human knowledge—reason and experience—cannot answer: Who am I? Why am I here? Does anyone care about me, I mean really? History seems out of control, where is this world headed?

God in His grace has provided another source of knowledge—revelation—to answer the questions of humanity concerning meaning and significance in life. The Bible claims to be God’s special revelation to the beloved centerpiece of His creation—men and women, boys and girls.

Though God demonstrates that He’s there through the general revelation of His creation (Psalm 19:1-6) and has given every human heart the knowledge that He exists (Romans 1:18), His special revelation is His more direct communication to humanity. This may involve dreams, angels, and visions, but we receive special revelation primarily and most clearly through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2) and in the written words, paragraphs, and stories in the 66 Books of the Bible.

Many people, even sincere Christians, struggle as we read through the Bible. We may be familiar with a few of the stories and we may have heard sermons about a number of passages. But we find it difficult to put the pieces of the Bible together and feel lost when we’re trying to read through an entire Book of the Bible.

What we need is the big picture of the Bible—a broader understanding of how the Bible is put together and how the events, people, and places connect. This is what Bible students call a synthetic study of the Scriptures. We’re dedicating two years to a synthetic study of the Word of God—all 66 Books. And it begins today with this overarching sentence on the Bible:

The Bible is God’s masterpiece written to rescue us by revealing God’s Son—Jesus Christ.

The Bible contains 66 Books, 27 of those comprise the New Testament, which begins with the 4 Gospels—historical books that provide an accurate and variegated picture of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I. The New Testament is the Good News that completes the awesome story begun in the Old Testament of God’s majestic and merciful plan to rescue people and Creation from consequences of human sin (Romans 1:16-17).

A. The Bible is divided between the 39 Books of the Old Testament and the 27 Books of the New Testament. The God of the Bible is the Creator and Redeemer of His creation. He is personally and intimately involved in the lives of people and is moving history according to His plan. The Cross of Jesus Christ—the Son of God’s substitutionary death for the sin of humanity that defiled creation—is the central event of history from God’s perspective. There is a progressive revelation in the Scriptures, meaning that the story and the message unfolds over time.

1. The Old Testament anticipates the work of Israel’s coming King—Messiah—by telling the story of God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

2. The New Testament announces the birth of Messiah and reveals Him as the Son of God who came to take away the sin of humanity. It puts Jesus’ death in perspective and records the beginnings, teachings, and future of the church—those who have received God’s resurrection life, eternal life, by believing in His Son.

3. Jesus Christ claimed to be the Key that unlocks the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-46). The Bible ends by claiming that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelations 22:13) and His announcement that He is coming again (Revelation 22:20).

B. The title, “The New Testament,” transliterates the Greek words, He Kaine Diatheke, which literally means, “The New Covenant.” The term “Diatheke,” or Covenant, characterizes a last will and testament that is ratified when the testator dies. It is a binding covenant or legal contract that blesses the recipients when the benefactor dies. The New Covenant was ratified by the blood of Christ (Luke 22:20), and a person enters into that covenant relationship when he or she comes to God on His terms—belief in His Son (John 6:47). This covenant, or testament, is the unifying theme of the books of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 8:7-13; 9:15-17).

1.          The New Testament is a collection of books that tell one story—the story of Jesus Christ and His church. They were written from about AD 40-96 in Koine (“common”) Greek. They were separately distributed among the congregations of the early church and gradually collected together.

2.          The Structure of the New Testament helps us understand the Big Picture!

II. The Bible was not written merely to be understood. It was written to change our life by persuading us to believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and trusting Him and His Word in ways that will instruct us and give us enduring and encouraging hope.

A. Enduring Hope: The New Testament presents the Gospel of Christ, the Good News that when Jesus came the first time it was to deliver us from sin (Romans 1:16-17).

B. Encouraging Hope: The New Testament presents the Hope of the Church, the Promise that when Jesus comes again He will rule and reign in His Kingdom (Revelation 22:20).

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Matthew

Think Again; The Kingdom of Heaven is Near!

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

(Peter to Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 16:16)

The four Gospels are corresponding accounts that provide a complex portrait of the person and work, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, Savior of the world, and Son of God. These historical books encompass about 46% of the New Testament. Though they were not the first books written, the early church placed the Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament because they are the bedrock upon which the book of Acts and the Epistles are constructed.

The Gospels are written as biographies with a purpose. They are thematic portraits of the life of Christ focusing on the brief public ministry of the Son of God. Each author selects distinctive events and teachings of the Lord Jesus to present a purposefully skewed account to accomplish their purpose:

Matthew, a Jew, writes to persuade His countrymen that Christ is their King. Frequently quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, he argues that Jesus of Nazareth “fulfills what was written.” His birth, life, death, and His resurrection leave only one possible conclusion: Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.

Mark seeks to reach the Roman mindset and presents Jesus as the Servant who came to “give His life as a ransom for many. He begins by serving the masses, but as He is being rejected and His departure grows near, He concentrates on serving His disciples and equipping them to serve others in His name.

Luke focuses on the Greek way of thinking, revealing Christ as the Perfect Man. Dr. Luke highlights the human side of Jesus, describing Him as the one who came to earth “to seek and save that which was lost.”

John writes to everyone, regardless of culture. He selects seven miracles and arranges them carefully to persuade his readers to believe in Jesus as the Son of God who will give them eternal life.

“If a Bible reader were to jump from Malachi to Mark, or Acts, or Romans, he would be bewildered. Matthew’s Gospel is the bridge that leads us out of the Old Testament and into the New Testament.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1:10) The Old Testament prophets predicted and Israel longed for the coming of the Anointed One who would enter history to rescue humanity and creation. The first sentence of Matthew announces that longed-for event: “This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Matthew referred to the Old Testament more than any other evangelist (author of a Gospel). There are 54 direct citations of the Old Testament, plus over 260 indirect references. No other Gospel contains as many of Jesus’ discourses and directives, and no other Gospel contains as many of the miracles He performed.  “Matthew has a twofold purpose in writing his Gospel. Primarily he penned this Gospel to prove Jesus is the Messiah, but he also wrote it to explain God’s kingdom program to his readers. One goal directly involves the other. Nevertheless they are distinct.” (Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew, p. 18) Matthew is the only Gospel writer to refer to the church (16:18; 18:17), and he most clearly described the mission of the church in light of the postponement of the promised messianic Kingdom (28:18-20). His concern for making disciples is apparent. He alone of the Gospel writers uses the Greek verb matheteuo, to disciple (13:52;l 27:57; 28:19) and it only appears one other time in the New Testament (Acts 14:21).

Matthew’s theme is that “the kingdom of heaven”—God’s establishment of heaven’s order over all the earth, is “near”—coming soon. And though the physical messianic kingdom is still future, His supremacy is breaking in through His people, the church. Therefore, the readers should “repent” or think again about life and rearrange their priorities to “make disciples of all nations”:

Matthew: Rethink your priorities so that you can make disciples to the King!

A key phrase in Matthew’s Gospel marks the major movements in the writer’s thinking: “When Jesus finished saying these things” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

I.  PROLOGUE: INTRODUCTION OF THE KING (1:1-4:11): The promise to Abraham was that “all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (Genesis 12:3). Jesus Christ is qualified to be the King who brings this blessing because He is a descendent of Abraham and David. The magi know that the “King of the Jews” had been born, John the Baptist, the prophesied forerunner introduces Him, and His sinlessness is proved when He overcomes Satanic temptations.

II. THE AUTHORITY OF THE KING (4:12-7:29): In a topical rather than a chronological arrangement, Matthew establishes the authority of Jesus Christ in His teaching that presents new laws and standards for God’s people.

III. THE POWER OF THE KING (8:1-11:1): Ten miracles reveal Christ’s right to rule over disease, demons, death, and nature. With that authority, He commissions the 12 to take His message to Israel.

IV. THE OPPOSITION TO THE KING (11:2-13:53): Israel begins to oppose Jesus. Initial enthusiasm over Him degrades to indifference and turns to open conflict over the Sabbath, the source of His power, His sign, and even in His family. Jesus then teaches clearly what His Kingdom is about.

V. THE REACTION OF THE KING (13:54-19:2): Jesus turns His attention from the masses to His disciples as He trains the Twelve through teaching and example to prepare them for their future assignments in the church.

VI. THE OFFICAL PRESENTATION AND REJECTION OF THE KING (19:3-25:46): Jesus teaches His disciples in Judea and enters Jerusalem and the Temple. Official Israel rejects Him and He laments over Jerusalem.

VII. THE KING DESCRIBES THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD (24-25): In the Olivet Discourse Jesus outlines the future for His disciples.

VIII. THE KING IS CRUCIFIED AND RESURRECTED (26-28): Jesus dies for the sin of the world, is buried, and rises again. Then, He appears to His disciples and commissions them to make disciples of all the nations.

Messiah: Matthew presents Jesus as Israel’s promised Messiah (1:23; 2:2, 6; 3:17; 4:15-17; 21:5, 9; 22:44-45; 26:64; 27:11, 27-37). The phrase “kingdom of heaven” occurs thirty-two times in Matthew but nowhere else in the New Testament. The phrase, “that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled,” appears nine times!

MATTHEW AND YOU: The New Testament opens with a birth announcement: The Prophesied King Just Showed Up! Matthew wants his readers to do what John the Baptist told the Jews to do: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” I believe the kingdom of heaven is the future reign of Jesus over all creation in the Millennial Kingdom, but I also believe that the power of this kingdom is breaking in to space and time during the church age when someone turns to God by believing in His Son, and becomes a new person with a new purpose. Therefore, repent! The verbal form of that Greek word primarily means to rethink life in light of that truth. So …

Christian, rethink your priorities because the kingdom of heaven is near!

1.  Devote Yourself to His Church. The kingdom of heaven is overwhelming the kingdom of earth by the irresistible work of Christ in this age—His church (Matthew 16:18; 18:15-22).

2.  Devote Yourself to His Commission. The specific way the kingdom of heaven is overwhelming the kingdom of earth today is by His church, His people, making disciples to Him of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20).

All the Bible, Every Book: Mark

Follow Jesus; Serve Others

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve,

and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Jesus Christ, Mark 10:45) 

The four Gospels are corresponding accounts that provide a complex portrait of the person and work, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, Savior of the world, and Son of God. These historical books encompass about 46% of the New Testament. Though they were not the first books written, the early church placed the Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament because they are the bedrock upon which the book of Acts and the Epistles are constructed.

The Gospels are written as biographies with a purpose. They are thematic portraits of the life of Christ focusing on the brief public ministry of the Son of God. Each author selects distinctive events and teachings of the Lord Jesus to present a purposefully skewed account to accomplish their purpose:

Matthew, a Jew, writes to persuade His countrymen that Christ is their King. Frequently quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, he argues that Jesus of Nazareth “fulfills what was written.” His birth, life, death, and His resurrection leave only one possible conclusion: Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.

Mark seeks to reach the Roman mindset and presents Jesus as the Servant who came to “give His life as a ransom for many. He begins by serving the masses, but as He is being rejected and His departure grows near, He concentrates on serving His disciples and equipping them to serve others in His name.

Luke focuses on the Greek way of thinking, revealing Christ as the Perfect Man. Dr. Luke highlights the human side of Jesus, describing Him as the one who came to earth “to seek and save that which was lost.”

John writes to everyone, regardless of culture. He selects seven miracles and arranges them carefully to persuade his readers to believe in Jesus as the Son of God who will give them eternal life.

Mark is the shortest and simplest of the four Gospels. It gives the reader a vivid, compelling account of the life of Christ. With no editorial comments, Mark lets the narrative tell the story: Jesus is a Servant, constantly on the move and the pace is exhausting. He never rests, never ignores a hurting heart, and never avoids controversy, opposition, or danger. He just keeps moving and serving toward His reason for coming to earth—to suffer and die for the sin of the world.

Those who follow Him on the path of serving and suffering are often confused and exhausted, but always marveling at the wonder of being close to Him. Amazed at His words and works, His compassion and strength, they come to understand what all of us realize as we read on: Following Jesus is extremely difficult, but eternally rewarding.

Mark began by citing Isaiah, who predicted the Servant of God (1:3; cf. Isaiah 40:3). He ends with the Servant suffering on the Cross, and the implications of that event on the lives of His followers. Jesus came to serve God and others by providing salvation through self-sacrifice. Mark is the Gospel that most portrays Christ as the Son who became the Servant of the Lord Paul describes in Philippians 2:5-11. John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas and disciple of Peter, records the life of Christ from the eyewitness stories of Peter. “Mark’s story of Jesus is one of swift action and high drama. Only twice, in chapters 4 and 13, does Jesus pause to deliver extended discourses.” (J. D. Kingsbury, Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples, p. 1):

Mark: All who follow the Suffering Servant must be prepared to suffer and serve—

to lay down their lives and serve others in His name!

The pace of the Book is as exhausting as the pace of life for a devoted follower of Christ. The adverb euthys, translated “immediately,” occurs 41 times!

I.  PROLOGUE: PREPARATION OF THE SERVANT (1:1-13): Mark’s dramatic introduction of Jesus of Nazareth sets the tone for the rest of the book. Prophecies from Malachi and Isaiah identifying John the Baptizer as Messiah’s forerunner, established Jesus’ credentials as the Christ (Messiah).

II. THE SERVANT’S GALILEAN MINISTRY (1:14-8:30): His work in Galilee stirs up the religious authorities. Two series of confrontations with Jewish leaders reveal their hard hearts (2:1-3:20). The first time around, they decide to kill Him (3:6); the second time, they accuse Him of relying on Satan instead of God (3:22).

Three events—the charge by the religious authorities that His powers come from Satan, His rejection at Nazareth, and the murder of John the Baptizer—precipitate a great transition in the ministry of Jesus. His primary focus from this point forward is His twelve disciples. Just one year from His crucifixion, Jesus devotes six months to an intense training of the Twelve—teaching and demonstrating that He is the Son of God—as He withdraws away from the hostility of the Jewish authorities, the domain of Herod Antipas, and the fickle masses (3:23-8:22).

The great transition in Mark’s narrative follows the re-teaching of the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” until finally Peter answers correctly for the Twelve, “You are the Christ!” (8:30) After Peter’s declaration, the disciples will learn what kind of Messiah He is as they follow Him to Jerusalem, where they will witness His crucifixion and resurrection.

III. THE SERVANT’S JUDEAN MINISTRY (8:31-16:8): Jesus’ movement to the cross dominates the second half of Mark’s Gospel. From the time they leave the north, Jesus and His disciples were “on the way” to Jerusalem (9:33; 10:32). Mark bookends this section with two separate healings of a blind man—the first in Bethsaida on the north shore of Galilee (8:22-26), the second in Jericho, just before He enters Jerusalem for the last time (10:46-52). Mark’s careful placing of these miracles demonstrates that Jesus was endeavoring to open His disciples’ eyes to the truth of the necessity of the cross and suffering. All who follow the Suffering Servant must be prepared to lay down their lives and serve others in His name.

Over a third of the book is devoted to the eight days following their arrival in Judea on the Sunday before His resurrection—from His entry into Jerusalem (11:1-11) to Christ’s resurrection (16:1-8). Monday through Thursday Jesus cleared the Temple, exposed the hypocrisy of Israel’s leaders, received Mary of Bethany’s worship, predicted His desertion and betrayal, instituted the Lord’s Supper, prayed in the garden, and was arrested and condemned by the Sanhedrin.

But only the Roman authority, Pilate, could execute anyone. On Friday morning, Jesus stood trial before Pilate. By 9:00 AM, after being scourged and mocked, the process of His crucifixion began—the Son of God was nailed to a cross between two thieving insurrectionists. He was guilty of being “The King of the Jews.” For six hours, Jesus suffered on the cross, the last three being accompanied by miraculous events. Then, at 3:00 PM, Jesus died, and was buried in a nearby tomb.

The foundational truth of Christianity is the Gospel: Christ died for our sins and arose. But too many Christians underestimate the mighty work of Jesus on the Cross. He not only paid the penalty for our sin, He made a way for us to overcome the power of sin!

Messiah: Mark portrays Jesus as an active, compassionate, and obedient Servant of God. Christ is constantly moving toward the goal of laying down His life for others!  

MARK AND YOU: When reading Mark, keep in mind the author and the audience. John Mark was a privileged young man who failed miserably in his early Christian life. He abandoned Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Years later, he writes his Gospel from Rome, primarily to Roman Christians living in a proud and powerful culture.

Remember that Mark is stressing sacrifice and service from a heart that grew up in privilege and to a people who dominated the world.

Remember that Mark is stressing suffering from a heart that tried to avoid it and to a people who were facing persecution

Remember that Mark doesn’t try to hide the faults and weaknesses of Jesus’ followers.

Remember that Mark learned his lessons on suffering and servanthood the hard way—through disappointing those he admired in Christ when he decided that following Christ was too costly.

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Luke

Believe in the Son of Man and Follow Him

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Jesus Christ, Luke 19:10) 

The four Gospels are corresponding accounts that provide a complex portrait of the person and work, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, Savior of the world, and Son of God. These historical books encompass about 46% of the New Testament. Though they were not the first books written, the early church placed the Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament because they are the bedrock upon which the book of Acts and the Epistles are constructed.

The Gospels are written as biographies with a purpose. They are thematic portraits of the life of Christ focusing on the brief public ministry of the Son of God. Each author selects distinctive events and teachings of the Lord Jesus to present a purposefully skewed account to accomplish their purpose:

Matthew, a Jew, writes to persuade His countrymen that Christ is their King. Frequently quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, he argues that Jesus of Nazareth “fulfills what was written.” His birth, life, death, and His resurrection leave only one possible conclusion: Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.

Mark seeks to reach the Roman mindset and presents Jesus as the Servant who came to “give His life as a ransom for many. He begins by serving the masses, but as He is being rejected and His departure grows near, He concentrates on serving His disciples and equipping them to serve others in His name.

Luke focuses on the Greek way of thinking, revealing Christ as the Perfect Man. Dr. Luke highlights the human side of Jesus, describing Him as the one who came to earth “to seek and save that which was lost.”

John writes to everyone, regardless of culture. He selects seven miracles and arranges them carefully to persuade his readers to believe in Jesus as the Son of God who will give them eternal life.

Luke, a Gentile physician, writes from the perspective of a careful and compassionate family doctor. The warmth of his words must have comforted Theophilus, because he offers persuasive evidence that the gospel he had heard was true. Jesus Christ did indeed fulfill His purpose “to seek and save the lost” (19:10). Luke uses the words “saved” and “Savior” more than any other book in the New Testament.

Doctor Luke was a careful historian who presents Christ as the Perfect Man who came to seek and save sinful man. Growing belief in Jesus and growing opposition develop simultaneously. The title “Son of Man” is Luke’s favorite for presenting Jesus. He stressed the saving work of Jesus as One who transcends history and is like no other human who descended from Adam. Jesus was not a sinner and did not inherit sin at birth. Jesus is the head of a new race and the older brother in a new family. He was a man, but the unique man, unlike any of the Greek gods of polytheism and mythology. He was superior in every way because He was God in the flesh.

And as God in the flesh, He conquered sin and death, thereby redeeming humanity and history. “Luke’s Gospel gives a reader a more comprehensive grasp of the history of the period than the other Gospels. He presented more facts about the earthly life of Christ than did Matthew, Mark, or John.” (John A. Martin, “Luke,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 201):

Luke: You are lost, but your Redeemer has come!

He will receive you if you believe in Him, and you can follow Him if you obey Him.

Luke is the longest book in the New Testament and Luke’s writings in Luke-Acts compromise 27% of the Greek New Testament!

I.  LUKE’S PURPOSE (1:1-4): Luke is writing a biography of Jesus to prove to Theophilus that the gospel he had believed is true.

II. INTRODUCTION OF THE SON OF MAN (1:5-4:13): Luke proves that Jesus of Nazareth was no ordinary man by tracing his birth to Adam, but emphasizing the miraculous circumstances of His birth, baptism, and temptation.

III. MINISTRY OF THE SON OF MAN (4:14-9:50): The authority of Jesus is irrefutable, and His teaching is irresistible.

IV. REJECTION OF THE SON OF MAN (9:51-19:27): Inexplicably, most reject the Perfect Man who came to save them. But a few believe and begin to follow Him. On His last journey to Jerusalem, Jesus teaches His followers the cost of discipleship, and thrusts their thoughts toward His Second Coming and His soon sacrifice.

III. CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF MAN (19:28-24:53): After His triumphal entry, official Israel rejects the Perfect Man. He focuses on the equipping of His disciples for His departure and their future ministries. Then, He is crucified for the sin of humanity. Finally, Luke’s account of His resurrection proves that the Son of Man has conquered sin and death.

Messiah: Luke portrays Jesus as the Perfect Man, full of compassion. He is the ideal Son of Man who identified with the sorrow and plight of sinful humans in order to save them.  

LUKE AND YOU: In one of the pivotal passages in the New Testament, Luke records Jesus’ teaching of the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-35).

The Five Marks of a Disciple

1.  Disciples must be totally devoted to Jesus Christ (14:26).

2.  Disciples must deny themselves for the sake of the Gospel (14:27).

3.  Disciples must willingly and intelligently decide to commit their lives to Jesus Christ (14:28-32).

4.  Disciples must desert all for the cause of Christ (14:33).

5.  Disciples must desire a life of eternal significance (14:34-35).

Counting the Cost:  There is no such thing as a reluctant disciple!

1.  Is serving Jesus Christ the highest priority in your life?  Unless you put Jesus first, you cannot be His disciple.

2.  Are you willing to put aside your own goals and desires in life?  Unless you put yourself last, you cannot be His disciple.

3. Will you commit your talent, treasure, and time to Jesus Christ?  Unless you put it all on the line, you cannot be His disciple.

4.  Is your burning passion in life to serve Jesus Christ?  Unless you are excited about eternal significance, you cannot be His disciple.

5.  Have you counted the cost?  Do you really want to be His disciple?

 

All the Bible, Every Book: John

The Gospel of Belief

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,

and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).

The four Gospels are corresponding accounts that provide a complex portrait of the person and work, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, Savior of the world, and Son of God. These historical books encompass about 46% of the New Testament. Though they were not the first books written, the early church placed the Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament because they are the bedrock upon which the book of Acts and the Epistles are constructed.

The Gospels are written as biographies with a purpose. They are thematic portraits of the life of Christ focusing on the brief public ministry of the Son of God. Each author selects distinctive events and teachings of the Lord Jesus to present a purposefully skewed account to accomplish their purpose:

Matthew, a Jew, writes to persuade His countrymen that Christ is their King. Frequently quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, he argues that Jesus of Nazareth “fulfills what was written.” His birth, life, death, and His resurrection leave only one possible conclusion: Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.

Mark seeks to reach the Roman mindset and presents Jesus as the Servant who came to “give His life as a ransom for many. He begins by serving the masses, but as He is being rejected and His departure grows near, He concentrates on serving His disciples and equipping them to serve others in His name.

Luke focuses on the Greek way of thinking, revealing Christ as the Perfect Man. Dr. Luke highlights the human side of Jesus, describing Him as the one who came to earth “to seek and save that which was lost.”

John writes to everyone, regardless of culture. He selects seven miracles and arranges them carefully to persuade his readers to believe in Jesus as the Son of God who will give them eternal life.

The most important questions in life demand simple, straightforward answers. When the pressures are great and the stakes are high, we need to know exactly what to do. Any doubt could lead to disaster.

When thinking about God, the most important questions we will ever ask are: (1) “What must I do to receive eternal life?” and (2) “What must I do to maximize my experience of eternal life?”

There are many manmade answers to these two questions: Live a good life; go to church; get baptized; straighten out your life; help the poor; save the planet; vote Republican; become religious, get in touch with the cosmos. These ideas from men and women have one common fault—doubt, because you can never be sure. How do I know if I’m doing enough of this stuff? Or if I’m doing it right? What happens when I don’t measure up?

Fortunately, God’s Word doesn’t leave us in doubt. Graciously and mercifully, God has devoted an entire book of His Bible to answering the question: What must I do to have eternal life and have it abundantly? The Book of John erases all doubt. Eternal life is a gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ, and those who keep on trusting Him will experience that life abundantly.

The beloved disciple presents a unique portrait of his Master, Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Written late in his life, this elder at Ephesus hears what false teachers are saying about eternal life and knows that it’s time for him to record the truth about Jesus. John never got over the radical truth of Christianity: The Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world!

I’m asking God to use our study of the signs of John in our lives in the same way. May we never get over the wonder of what we say we believe:

Jesus gives life to all who believe,

and He gives it abundantly to all who keep on believing!

The most radical book of the Bible unapologetically offers Living Water to all who believe. If you only knew what a wonderful gift God has for you, you would ask Him for Living Water, and He would give it! (John 4:10)

I. Purpose: John was written to persuade men and women, boys and girls to believe in Jesus so that they might receive life, and experience that life abundantly.

A. This is why the Son of God came to earth to Shepherd His people in the life He freely gives: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

B. This is why John wrote his Gospel: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).

1. The Prologue to the Son (1) presents Christ as the Living Word that became flesh and creates the expectation that the reader will “meet” those who received Him by believing in His name (1:12-13, see 2:11, 23; 3:36; 4:42, 53; 6:68-69; 10:42; 11:45; 12:42-43). Each and every person who received the Lord Jesus by believing “in His name” became a child of God. When they believed in Him as the One who said what He said about “His name”—that He was the Christ, the anointed Savior sent from God, they were receiving Him. The result was that they were, at that moment, born of God. That is, they were given God’s life (eternal life) and were born into His forever family.

2. The Portrait of the Son (2-12) presents Jesus as the very Son of God. John selects seven signs or miracles designed to persuade the reader that Jesus is Who He claimed to be in His seven great “I am” statements, and that He can do what He promised.

3. The Preparation of the Son’s Disciples (13-17) teaches those already persuaded and believing in Him of His intimate care for those who continue to trust Him enough to follow.

4. The Passion of the Son (18-20) records the Son’s great work that delivered the world from sin.

5. The Epilogue (21) reveals the awesome plans the Son has for His followers as they partner with Him in His redemptive work through His redemptive community, the church.

JOHN AND YOU: The Book of John is the Gospel of belief. It’s purpose from the Father is to persuade you and me to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.

A. Have you received eternal life by believing in the Son? It’s just that simple and just that profound. If not, will you tell God that you’re willing to be persuaded by the seven signs of life?

B. Are you experiencing the abundance of the life Jesus came to give you? If not, will you tell God that you’re willing to be persuaded to trust Him in ways you’ve never trusted Him before?

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Acts of the Apostles

Against All Odds!

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem,

and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Luke’s sequel to his gospel, the Book of Acts, begins where he left off—the ascension of Christ. The emphasis is different. The Gospel of Luke stresses the work of Christ while He walked on earth; Acts highlights the work of Jesus done by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.

Without Acts we would have no record of the beginning and growth of the early church. Luke traces the birth and expansion of the church to strengthen the faith of Theophilus, a fellow Christian who may have helped finance Luke’s missionary and writing ministry (Luke 1:1-4). The Holy Spirit had a much broader audience in mind—the church of Christ throughout the age of grace. Luke’s selective but accurate history of the first 30 years of the church answers Theophilus’s questions in a way that is timeless:

  • What about the coming of the Holy Spirit?
  • What was the ministry of the Apostles?
  • How did the Gospel spread from Jerusalem to the rest of the world?
  • How did Christianity become a world religion rather than a Jewish sect?

Throughout his account Luke presents Christianity as an irresistible force in the face of great opposition and persecution. Nothing can stop the work of Christ by the Spirit through His church. Gloriously more than a splinter group of Judaism, the church will inherit Messiah’s kingdom. Until then, He will be about His Father’s business, calling people to Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation who will worship Him in His coming kingdom:

God loves giving His people victory against all odds!

Surprisingly, the people He used and is using are terribly flawed. Only their faith in Christ and His ability to work through them by His Spirit can explain the history of the church that is still being written today.

I. Against all odds, the Lord Jesus built His church (Matthew 16:18).

A.   Luke-Acts is written to teach Theophilus and the church an accurate but selective history of the church  (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2).

1.          Luke, a companion of Paul (“we” sections, 16:10-40; 20:5-28:31) and careful researcher of eyewitness accounts (Paul, Mark, James and others), wrote the Book of Acts in AD 60-62, during Paul’s imprisonment at Ceasarea and Rome (before the death of Paul in 66-68 and the burning of Rome in 64 which were not reported).

2.          Luke provides the only sequel to the history of the life of Christ recording the works or acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. Acts emphasizes the ministries of Peter and Paul over a period of about 30 years, beginning with the Lord’s ascension in AD 33 and ending with Paul’s two-year Roman house arrest from AD 60-62.

B.   Luke-Acts is written to strengthen the faith of Theophilus and the church by demonstrating the powerful work of Christ to establish His church in the world now and His Kingdom in the future.

1.          The two structural keys to Acts—theme verse and panels or “progress reports”—present the church as an irresistible force in the face of overwhelming opposition and persecution.

a.      The theme verse (Acts 1:8) anticipates a report of the growth of Christianity.

b.      The progress reports confirm what the theme verse anticipated (2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31).

2.          The prophetic “bookends” to Acts—1:6 and 28:31—anticipate God’s objective to include a population of Jews and Gentiles in His Son’s millennial kingdom.

a.      Kingdom of God occurs 32X in Luke and 6X in Acts and is alluded to over 20X in Acts.

b.      The church of this age is presented as the heir of the kingdom.

B.   Luke-Acts is written to emphasize the power of God in the lives of ordinary people who believe their extraordinary God.

1.          Acts begins with the disciples still seeking an earthly kingdom now, forgetting the lessons of the upper room (1:6).

2.          Acts transparently reports Paul’s shady past and impulsive beginning, Peter’s legalistic struggles, the first church fight and the council to settle the dissension, Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement and parting of ways, and the realities of ministering in the name of Jesus—the pain of separation and persecution.

II. Against all odds, the Lord Jesus is still building His church (Matthew 16:18).

A. The church is still an irresistible force on earth.

B. The church is still the steward of the kingdom message and the heir of the kingdom!

C. God is still empowering ordinary people to live extraordinary lives.

D. The church is still reaching populations of Jews and Gentiles during this age to worship Christ in the age to come!

“The divine choice displays the divine wisdom. Though we might have imagined that men of education, wealth, or influence would be needed for the worldwide mission of the church, the divine choice centered on eleven unlearned and little-esteemed Galilean fishermen. It is not our qualifications for the work of God which matter, but whether or not we choose to do it. The worldwide spread and the centuries-long continuance of their work is the evidence of divine choice. Their fruit has remained because their mission originated in the divine choice. Whatever is of human origin withers (Isaiah 40:6,7) but that which is of God endures forever (Ecclesiastes 3:14).”

–Zane Hodges, Acts 1:2, Greek 319 Class notes.

III. Acts and You: There is nothing God cannot do and no one God cannot use to do it. Do you think of yourself and your church community as people chosen by God to reach future worshipers of Christ in His Kingdom? Why or why not?

1. In what ways do you identify with the people of the early church?

2. What about their experience excites you? Intimidates you? Humbles you? Scares you? Helps you?

 

All the Bible, Every Book: Romans

Give It Your All!

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes … For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)

Strategic—necessary or important to the initiation, conduct, or completion of a strategic plan; of great importance within an integrated whole or to a planned effect. God’s wise plan for building the church is a simple strategy—save the lost and build the saved among all the nations.

God uses strategic Christians to execute the plan—those willing to give it their all to reach the world for Jesus Christ. He places these believers in strategic churches with great potential to bring revival that will literally turn entire cities and cultures to His Son.

In the first one hundred years of Christianity there was no more strategic community of believers than those living in Rome. “All roads lead to Rome” was a reminder that the city of Rome was the cultural, commercial, and political center of the Empire.

To this young church Paul writes his most thorough treatise on Christianity. His purpose is clear—to call them to a life of commitment by giving their all to God (Romans 12:1-2). His motivation is also clear—to encourage them to make this radical but reasonable decision because they are overwhelmed by God’s mercy. For eleven chapters the Apostle of grace exalts the mercies of God. “God’s righteousness is revealed in His mercies to all who believe,” writes Paul. “So I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, it has the power to deliver believers from the wrath of God and set them on a path of faith that will radically transform their lives.”

He speaks from his own experience. Since he met Christ on the road to Damascus he found he could do the will of God with a free spontaneity and overwhelming joy he had never known under the law. “He knew himself accepted by God. Blessed with a new power within, and called to a service which for ever thereafter gave zest and purpose to life” (F. F. Bruce). By exalting God’s grace and mercies he had become a strategic, radically committed follower of Christ. And so, to these well-placed believers in Rome he exalts God’s mercy and grace.

The lesson to Christians of every generation is clear:

Strategic, radically committed Christians exalt the mercies of God!

By comparing the history of the church at Rome with Paul’s letter to the Romans we appreciate the need to exalt the grace and mercies of God if we want to grow strategic, radically committed Christians.

I. Paul’s most complete treatise on Christianity calls the strategic believers at Rome to a life radically committed to God.

A. God had given the Romans believers a unique strategic opportunity to spread the Gospel.

1. The Romans are the only Europeans listed in the “Pentecostal Congregation” (Acts 2:10).

2. Romans among the 3,000 converts took the Gospel back to Rome and many believers from all parts of the Empire migrated to the capital city.

3. Christians were growing in Rome through several house churches (Romans 1:7, to saints at Rome rather than the church at Rome; 16:5, one of these churches met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila).

4. Rome was a magnet that drew people from all over the Empire (Phoebe, 16:1-2).

B. Paul appreciated the strategic importance of Rome.

1. He dedicates three months of “down time” in Corinth (16:1-2) as he closes his third missionary journey and prepares to go to Jerusalem with a love gift (15:25-27).

2. He had desperately desired to go to Rome for years (1: 8-16; 15:22-24)

3. So he seizes the opportunity to send a letter to Rome with Phoebe (16:1-2).

4. He begs these strategic believers to “give it their all” for the sake of the Gospel (12:1-2).

II. Paul devotes eleven chapters to carefully detailing how the righteousness of God is seen in His mercies to believers. Then, he devotes four chapters exhorting believers to exalt God’s mercies by giving their lives to Him as an act of worship.

A. Believers should never be ashamed of the delivering power of the Gospel that reveals the righteousness of God in everyone who believes (1:16-17).

1. The Gospel delivers believers from the penalty of sin. Justification by faith—every believer is declared righteous the moment they believe (Chapters 1-4).

2. The Gospel delivers believers from the power of sin. Sanctified by faith—every believer who relies on God’s Spirit will live righteously (Chapters 5-8).

3. The Gospel’s promises are the promises of a covenant-keeping God (God’s faithfulness to Israel, Chapters 9-11).

B. Therefore, the only reasonable decision is to give Christ your life as an act of worship (Chapters 12-16).

III. Romans and You! Give your life to God in response to His mercies (Romans 12:1-2).

A. On the basis of God’s mercies, believers are urged to present themselves to God because such response is intelligent worship (Romans 12:1).

B. The believer’s commitment of worship is maintained by a transformation, which comes through renewal of the mind in order to demonstrate God’s will in life experience (Romans 12:2).

Can a single decision change a Christian’s life? I think it can!

In fact, I believe there is one decision that the Book of Romans urges every Christian to make. A decision so significant and with such potential to transform and bless that Paul devotes eleven chapters preparing us to consider this decision!

Romans 12:1-2 invites individual believers who have read this great treatise on the mercies of God to respond in a way that pleases God and maximizes the experience of their so great salvation. It is a commitment to God separate from the decision to put your faith in Christ, and it moves the Christian into a new experience of devotion and intimacy with Christ. The choice we are asked to make is to present our lives to God: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

The why is Romans 1-11. We make the logical decision to worship God by giving Him our life because of His mercy to sinners—mercy motivates! The what is outlined in 12:3-15:13—count the cost! When you give your life to God, He asks you to do the same thing He asked His Son to do—give your life to others.

All the Bible, Every Book: 1 Corinthians

You Were Bought with a Price—Live Like It!

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God,

and you are not your own. For you were bought with a price.Therefore glorify God with your body.

(Paul to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

Corinth was one of the most influential cities in the Roman Empire and the capital of the province of Achaia. The “Las Vegas” of the Empire, Corinth was a wealthy and debauched place inviting all to come and taste the pleasures of the hundreds of temple prostitutes at the Temple of Aphrodite. The city prospered on commerce, entertainment, vice, and corruption. Corinth had gained such a reputation for sexual depravity that Aristophanes had coined the verb korinthiazo = to act like a Corinthian, i.e., to commit fornication.

Paul planted a church there on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-7). He taught the Word of God in the city for eighteen months, and recruited Apollos from Ephesus to replace him as pastor of the Church in Corinth. About five years later during his third missionary journey, the disquieting news that the Corinthian church was tolerating immorality reached Paul at his headquarters in Ephesus. He responded with a tough letter that was not preserved by God (5:9). Then he heard from “Chloe’s people” that factions had developed (1:11). He had also received a letter from Corinth asking for his apostolic guidance in matters (7:1). This prompted the letter we know today as 1 Corinthians. “These two epistles constitute the most telling condemnation of arrogance, self-promotion, boasting, and self-confidence in the Pauline corpus; conversely, they describe in practical terms the nature of Christian life and witness, emphasizing service, self-denial, purity, and weakness as the matrix in which God displays his strength. Perhaps the high-water mark is the emphasis on love as ‘the most excellent way’ (1 Cor. 12:31—13:13) all Christians must pursue.” (Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, p 451)

Paul’s introduction hints at the purpose of his letter, “To the church of God that is in Corinth” (1:2). The community of faith (the church) was losing the battle against the culture of its surrounding community (Corinth). The Corinthian believers were failing at their assignment to influence their culture because they had forgotten their resources in Christ. Paul’s message to them comes from his pastor’s heart. He’s not afraid to reprimand them as he calls them to remember who they are and, more importantly, to whom they belong—Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians: Use your resources in Christ to reach your culture for Him!

The problems in the Corinthian church prompted Paul to offer them practical guidance that God preserved in the canon of Scripture so that we too could learn how to face the same problems today. Most of the problems in Corinth had to do with immature excesses.

I. INTRODUCTION (1:1-9): Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of their sufficiency in Christ. They lack nothing they need to accomplish their God-given mission.

II. STOP FIGHTING! (1:10-4:21): In the name of loyalty they were sinning the sin of divisiveness. Devotion to leaders was superseding their devotion to Christ. False pride and self-centered behaviors were ruining their witness to their culture and exposing their immaturity. They should worship only Christ, not His under-shepherds who are merely His servants.

III. STOP FORNICATING AND SUING ONE ANOTHER! (5:1-6:20): In the name of love they were tolerating incest! Paul demands church discipline to encourage the offender to repent. In the name of self-protection they were suing one another in secular courts. Paul tells them to first try to work it out in the assembly under the guidance of spiritual authority.

IV. NOW, CONCERNING YOUR QUESTIONS…  (7:1-16:24): In some of the most practical chapters of the New Testament, Paul answers the Corinthians’ questions concerning marriage, liberty, public worship, the resurrection, and giving.

V. CONCLUSION (16:5-24) Paul greets and encourages specific friends in the church at Corinth.

Christ: The Corinthians are clamoring for meaning and power, but they need to understand that Jesus meets their every need.

1 CORINTHIANS AND YOU: The “spirit” of the city of Corinth had invaded the church at Corinth. The primary way this manifested was in self-centered behaviors that led to excesses—in devotion to human leaders, in tolerance of immorality, in suing one another, in divorce, in selfish expressions of spiritual gifts, Christian freedom and worship, and in confusion over the resurrection. The core issue, however, was that the church at Corinth had forgotten its uniqueness. “The church of God is a community of people who share the life of God, are under the governing will of God, and cooperate in the work of God.” (Constable, 1 Corinthians)

Church, rethink your position, power, and purpose on earth!

1. You do not belong to yourself, but to Christ–1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

2. You have the capacity to resist temptation and overcome trials—1 Corinthians 10:12-13.

3. You are part of one community that shares the life of one Lord, the power of one Spirit, and called to one purpose—1 Corinthians 12.

4. You are held accountable to a new law, the law of love—1 Corinthians 13.

5. You have a new power, resurrection power—1 Corinthians 15.

1 Corinthians and Worship: All of the problems and issues in the church at Corinth manifested at their remembrance of Christ at His table. Paul dealt with this rigorously for the sake of the Savior’s reputation and the well being of the saints.

Authentic expressions of worship occur in assemblies where believers love one another selflessly and intentionally.

–The Corinthians were abusing one another rather than regarding one another. The rich were living selfishly, even and especially at their Lord’s Supper. Also, the church had divided along schisms—groups that disregarded other groups or strata in society.

Authentic expressions of worship occur in assemblies where believers love the Lord Jesus by displaying His glory in the way they treat one another and remember His work often.

–The Corinthians were abusing the Lord by making the meal and their personal groups more important than proclaiming His death and displaying His love for one another.

All the Bible, Every Book: 2 Corinthians

Triumph in Trials!

“For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

(Paul to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 4:5-6) 

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

Corinth was one of the most influential cities in the Roman Empire and the capital of the province of Achaia. The “Las Vegas” of the Empire, Corinth was a wealthy and debauched place inviting all to come and taste the pleasures of the hundreds of temple prostitutes at the Temple of Aphrodite. The city prospered on commerce, entertainment, vice, and corruption. Corinth had gained such a reputation for sexual depravity that Aristophanes had coined the verb korinthiazo = to act like a Corinthian, i.e., to commit fornication.

Paul planted a church there on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-7). He taught the Word of God in the city for eighteen months, and recruited Apollos from Ephesus to replace him as pastor of the Church in Corinth. About five years later during his third missionary journey, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus to address problems in and answer questions from the Corinthian church. He sent Timothy to Corinth and expected him to return with a report (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). Timothy brought back the distressing news that false teachers were stirring up opposition to Paul and his teaching. So Paul made a hurried and painful visit to Corinth to stand against these enemies of the gospel (2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:14; 13:1-2). When he returned to Ephesus, Paul wrote a sorrowful letter, asking the congregation to discipline the leader of the opposition (2:1-11; 7:8). Titus carried this letter to Corinth, and Paul went to Macedonia to meet with Titus on his return trip (2:12-13; 7:5-16). There in Macedonia Paul wrote 2nd Corinthians, and sent it with Titus and another brother in Christ (8:16-24). Finally, Paul made his last recorded trip to Corinth (Acts 20:1-3), an extended stay that allowed him to write his masterpiece, the Book of Romans.

Paul’s Corinthian Interactions (from Tom Constable)

Plants the church

 “former letter”

Response to Paul

First Corinthians

“painful visit”

“severe letter”

Second Corinthians

Anticipated visit

2nd Corinthians is the most personal of Paul’s letter to churches. If Romans reveals his mind, 2nd Corinthians reveals his heart. The first seven chapters express his joy over the good report that the church had responded to his exhortation to remember the centrality of Christ. He then devotes chapters 8 and 9 to the principles guiding his request that they give to the work of Christ. Finally, in chapters 10-13, Paul speaks to the remnants of the opposition by defending his apostleship. No more realistic presentation of the cost of disciplemaking exists in the New Testament. And no more majestic presentation of the power of the gospel of the New Covenant can be found:

2 Corinthians: The magnitude of the privilege of serving Christ eclipses the pain.

Paul’s overwhelming concern in this letter was to oppose the influence of false teachers who were telling Christians that righteousness was by works. As he makes the gospel sparkling clear, he reveals some of the deepest practical truths about the glorious struggle of serving Christ in this fallen world.

I. INTRODUCTION (1:1-11): Paul thanks God for the comfort that is ours during suffering because of our Lord Jesus Christ.

II. PAUL EXPLAINS HIS MINISTRY TO THOSE WHO STOOD AGAINST THE LIES ABOUT HIM (1:12-7:16): Paul didn’t delay his planned visit to Corinth because he was afraid of his enemies but to give the church ample time to repent. He goes on to demonstrate the superiority of the New Covenant, who Satan opposes the gospel, and how that opposition brings not only suffering today, but the prospect of rewards from Christ in the future. It’s a great privilege to be an ambassador for Christ that requires separation from the sin of our culture. Finally, Paul thanks the Corinthians for the good news of Titus’ report of their repentance.

III. PAUL EXPLAINS NEW TESTAMENT STEWARDSHIP (8:1-9:15): This is the longest and most complete discussion of the principles and practice of giving of our money in the New Testament. The example is the Philippians selfless, courageous, and sacrificial giving. The application is Paul’s insistence that the privileged and wealthy Corinthians keep their promise to give generously. The promise is that God reward generous and sacrificial giving in the name of His Son.

IV. PAUL EXPLAINS HIS DEFENSE OF HIS APOSTLESHIP (10:1-13:10): To the rebellious minority still resisting his authority, Paul presents his impeccable credentials. His meekness does not mean weakness but sensitivity and servanthood. His knowledge, integrity, resume, sufferings, miraculous visions and works measure up to any of the Apostles. And they better get that right, because he’s coming, and he’s bringing his apostolic authority with him!

V. CONCLUSION (13:11-14) Paul exhorts, encourages, and greets the assembly at Corinth.

Christ: “Jesus Christ is presented as the believer’s comfort (1:5), triumph (2:14), Lord (4:5), light (4:6), judge (5:10), reconciliation (5:19), substitute (5:21), gift (9:15), owner (10:7), and power (12:9).”

Kenneth Boa 

2 CORINTHIANS AND YOU: If you’re considering following Christ as His devoted disciple (and you should!), Second Corinthians will calibrate your expectations. From this letter you will discover the two overarching truths all who serve Christ by pouring into others learn: The expectation of suffering and the anticipation of glory. If you’re willing to pay the price of suffering for Christ, God will give you a front row seat to see His glorious power working in this world. 

Don’t underestimate the pain of ministering in the name of Christ!

1. Expect trials and tribulations—2 Corinthians 4:8-1511:16-33.

2. Expect opposition—2 Corinthians 11:1-15.

3. Expect Satanic attack—2 Corinthians 4:1-7.

4. Expect to have to give your money and ask for the money of others—2 Corinthians 8-9.

5. Expect to be misunderstood and falsely accused—2 Corinthians 10:1-18.

Don’t underestimate the privilege of ministering in the name of Christ!

1. Experience the wonder of being used to change lives—2 Corinthians 3:1-5.

2. Know that you are ministering an awesomely New Covenant —2 Corinthians 3:6-18.

3. Experience the power of Christ pulsating through your body, this “container”—2 Corinthians 4:1-8.

4. Experience the exhilaration of living by faith as an ambassador of Christ—2 Corinthians 5:1-21.

5. Anticipate your reward at Christ’s judgment seat—2 Corinthians 5:9-11.

All the Bible, Every Book: Galatians

Free at Last!

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm

and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NASB). 

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

In 49 AD a delegation of Judean religious teachers came to the predominately Gentile church at Syrian Antioch and started teaching the Christians that those who were not circumcised as followers of the law of Moses could not be saved from their sin by simple belief in Jesus (Acts 15:1). They were part of a worldwide conspiracy to undermine the Gospel of grace sending emissaries of the lie to the daughter churches planted by the church at Antioch (Acts 15:23).

The most vulnerable to the lie were the fledgling assemblies of the Roman province of Galatia. Paul and Barnabas had planted these churches on their first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). One historian describes the inhabitants of Galatia: “Fickleness is the term used to express their temperament. Their religious tendencies were marked by passion, ritualism, and mysticism.” (Lightfoot, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians)

Paul’s response is swift and strong. He will not tolerate this false gospel—that works are essential to salvation—to take root in the lives of these new Christians and churches.

And neither should we.

On the eve of the Jerusalem Council, Paul writes his most passionate letter, reminding the church of the real basis of our salvation:

We are justified by faith in Christ because Christ was faithful!

 

Galatians is the Magna Carta of Christian liberty, settling the issue of the Gospel: Salvation is by grace, through faith, plus nothing!

I. The language and message of Galatians has been setting Christians free since it was written.

A. Impact of Galatians on church history: Religious people have always mistrusted grace and the gospel. Galatians stands against the lie of grace plus works.

1. Early Church: The Book of Acts records the necessary separation of Christianity from Judaism. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, “no doubt was one of the greatest forces” in that separation. (Merrill C. Tenney, Galatians)

2. Reformation: Galatians catalyzed the Reformation more than any other book of the Bible. Tenney calls it “the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation.” G.G. Findlay writes, “Martin Luther put it to his lips as a trumpet to blow the reveille of the Reformation (The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 3). Luther so loved the Book of Galatians that he called it “his wife”. “The Epistle to the Galatians,” he wrote in his commentary, “is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine.”

3. Today: The gospel of grace is under siege again. This little book insists that the church not add works to grace.

B. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to set Christians free of the yoke of slavery to works-righteousness by defending his apostleship, his grace-plus-nothing message, and the freedom his message releases in Christians.

1. The message of the gospel was at stake: Judaizers were teaching that Gentile believers must be circumcised to be saved.

2. The health of the churches in Galatia was at stake: These false teachers were confusing Gentile believers everywhere and their lie was beginning to influence the fledgling churches of Galatia.

3. The future of the church was at stake: Christian liberty—which grows out of justification by faith, is essential to the survival and influence of Christians and Christianity.

C. Outline: Righteousness is and always has been by grace through faith. Embrace faith, because the gospel and your freedom in Christ are at stake.

1. Introduction: This is a letter so critical that Paul dispenses with the usual niceties and gets right to it: Are you Galatians nuts? Why are you deserting the grace and the gospel of Christ? (1:1-10)

2. Defense of the Messenger of Grace: Paul defends his apostleship by proving that messengers of grace-righteousness are the true messengers of Christ and noting that the message of the gospel is at stake (1:11-2:21).

3. Defense of the Message of Grace: Paul teaches what justification by faith means, and why it is true (3:1-4:31).

4. Defense of Freedom in Christ: Paul demonstrates that the full experience and demonstration of the new creation in Christ can only come by grace through faith (5:1-6:10).

D. Conclusion: Paul closes his letter as powerfully as he opened it by exposing the evil motives of the false teachers and comparing these with his pure motives (6:11-18).

II. Galatians settles it! Deliverance from sin and righteousness comes only by grace through faith, not by following the Law or any set of religious rules and regulations.

A. Have you settled it in your own life? Or are you insisting that God count some of your good works as reasons to accept you as righteous?

B. Have you settled it in your view of others? Or are you insisting that God count some of the good works you feel must accompany faith before He accepts others who don’t measure up to your standards?

C. Legalism is adding works to grace. What legalistic influences from your home or church of origin still haunt you as you struggle with being free in Christ?

D. How do you really feel about Paul’s message in Galatians where he puts grace in your face? Do you, as Martin Luther, rejoice in the Book? Or do you remain suspicious of all this talk about grace and freedom?

All the Bible, Every Book: Ephesians

Our Riches in Christ

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3) 

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

No epistle emphasizes that core truth more than Ephesians. His phrase “in Christ” (or its equivalent) occurs about thirty-five times, far more than in any other New Testament book. And no church was richer in Christ than the privileged Ephesians. Paul had visited Ephesus at the end of his 2nd missionary journey where he left his dynamic church planting couple, Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:18-21). The city was one of the most important economic and religious cities in the Roman Empire. So, on his 3rd missionary journey, the Apostle Paul headquartered there for nearly three years in AD 53-56 (Acts 19:20:30), and revival broke out in the entire province. About five years later, during his first imprisonment in Rome, Paul sent this letter, along with Colossians and Philemon.

Ephesians is to Colossians what Romans is to Galatians, “a fuller treatment of the same general theme in a more detached and impersonal manner (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 34). Romans and Galatians focus on salvation; Ephesians and Colossians focus on the church. Ephesians is Paul’s most definitive letter on the body of Christ, the New Testament church. It is the Holy Spirit’s exposition of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” In six chapters Paul presents the church as God’s mystery now revealed in all its glory, richly blessed to prevail against God’s enemies as never before.

We know from Revelation 2, that the Ephesian church would forsake their first love—Jesus Christ. It may be that the Apostle was already concerned that they were becoming complacent in their love for the Savior whose work had opened the heavens for blessing. So, Paul wrote this letter that “focuses on what God did through the historical work of Jesus Christ and does through His Spirit today, in order to build his new society in the midst of the old.” (John Stott, The Message of Ephesians, p. 24).

Possessing ultimate spiritual wealth, the Ephesians were beginning to live like spiritual paupers, and consequently falling out of love with the Lord Jesus. Their founding pastor and Apostle sends this letter from prison in Rome. His purpose seems clear—to shock them out of their dangerous spiritual complacency:

Remember your riches in Christ!

Ephesians tells Christians that God’s action in bringing salvation to the world centers on the local church and its members obeying Christ’s command to love one another as He uses them to defeat His enemies.

I. Use your blessings in Christ by pursuing your destiny in Christ.

A. Prologue: Remember your riches in Christ! (1:1-2:7)

1. Praise God for your blessings and pray for an even deep understanding of your riches in Christ.

2. Always keep in mind that you were sinners, but are now saints saved by grace to be seated in heaven.

B. Theme: Fulfill your destiny in Christ—saved by grace to serve by grace! (2:8-10)

1. Which is yours only by grace (2:8-9)

2. Which is yours to glorify His work (2:10)

C. Body: Live up to your calling in Christ—help build God’s glorious church (2:11-6:20).

1. By understanding the church’s glorious role on earth, place in history, and significance in the plan of God (2:11-3:21).

2. By living lives which glorify God in the church—single-minded, submissive and strong (4:1-6:20)

D. Epilogue: Paul assures his friends of Tychusis’ upcoming visit with news from Rome (6:21-24).

II. EPHESIANS AND YOU: When Jesus told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18), he had you and your community of faith in mind! What a glorious destiny.

A. Have you forgotten your riches in Christ? Rekindle your love for Christ by meditating on your riches in Him so that you will pursue your destiny in Him. “Ephesians reveals that the church is part of God’s eternal plan, and it grows as a result of God’s power working through believers’ lives, overcoming their spiritual resources.” (Tom Constable, Ephesians, p. 6)

B. Have you forgotten the place of your local church in history? Rekindle your love for the Bride of Christ by meditating on its calling as the only hope for this wicked world. “Ephesians is ultimately about how God has powerfully equipped the church to experience the blessing in Christ by creating a new community that is able to honor God and resist the forces of evil. No longer does one’s Jewish or Gentile identity dominate. They are part of a new reconciled community, a reconciliation that involves not only God but also one another. All enablement in this new sacred community is rooted in what the exalted Christ had provided for His people. That is why believers can have hope, since they have begun participation in a wealth of benefits distributed from heaven. The church’s members are citizens raised and seated with Jesus in a heavenly citizenship, though they represent Him now as light on the earth, fully enabled for the task. In all of this, God is taking steps toward the ultimate summation of all things in Christ.” (Darrell Bock, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 319).

C. Remembrance Meditations: Because of Christ’s work on the Cross …

… I am a radically gifted person with a radically eternal purpose in life living in a radically significant community.

… I have received the only hope in this world to become the world’s only hope in history.

… I am one of the most privileged persons in history serving God in the most privileged community in history.

All the Bible, Every Book: Philippians

Outrageous Joy

“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Philippians 1:21)

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

Philippi was a Roman military colony in the province of Macedonia. The Spirit called Paul to Macedonia on his second missionary journey (Acts 16). The church met in Lydia’s home at first, and Paul left Dr. Luke there to help establish the assembly. The Apostle visited the church again on his third missionary journey. The Philippian church supported Paul generously in his church-planting ministry and he enjoyed a very warm relationship with the believers there. Except for a few bickering women in their fellowship, they seemed to have few problems.

During his first Roman imprisonment (A.D 60-62), Paul wrote this letter to his friends, thanking them for their generosity. He also wanted to give them the good news that Epaphroditus, whom they had sent with a gift for Paul in prison, had recovered from a serious illness. He gave them news of his situation in prison and told them of his plans to send Timothy to encourage them.

Paul’s primary purpose in writing this letter was to reassure and encourage his friends at Philippi. Some of the most oft quoted and encouraging verses to believers through the ages occur in this little letter. This is without a doubt Paul’s most personal and positive epistle. In it the Christian finds the secret to inner joy in spite of the circumstances of life—occupation with Christ. “In 104 verses there are 51 references to the Lord Jesus by name…. There are also many references to the gospel ….” (Tom Constable, Philippians, p. 3)

The paradox of a prisoner rejoicing in his Savior is at the heart of the message of Philippians. The church was founded with this contrast when Paul led the Philippians jailer to Christ. And now the church would hear from the outrageously joyful Apostle again. How do you explain this joy? Paul lived with the mind of Christ, a way of thinking that always puts Christ and others first:

Live worthy of the gospel! Face life’s hardships with outrageous joy in Christ.

Philippians reminds Christians of our great privilege to participate in the gospel—to share in Christ’s joy of seeing lives transformed by His work on the cross.

I. Philippians is the New Testament book of joy and encouragement in the midst of discouraging and adverse circumstances of life.

A. Prologue: Paul’s present circumstances (1:1-26)

1. Thanksgivings and prayers for the believers in Philippi.

2. Paul’s attitude in prison—for me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

B. Walk worthy of the gospel! (1:27-4:9)

1. By living in unity and steadfastness (1:27-4:1)

2. By resolving conflicts and living in confidence and thanksgiving (4:2-9)

C. Epilogue (4:10-23).

1. Thank you for your gift; we can do all things through Christ (4:10-14).

2. Thank you for demonstrating selfless stewardship, and know that God will care for all of your financial needs and give you all peace (4:15-23).

II. PHILIPPIANS AND YOU: The only way to partner with Christ in what He’s doing in the world is to “have his mind”—to think like Jesus thinks when it comes to others, especially Christians.

A. Jesus never thinks of Himself; He always thinks of others. When do you find it most difficult to put others first? Do you see how putting yourself first diminishes your effectiveness for Christ, your partnering with Him in the gospel?

B. Jesus never thinks of Himself; He always thinks of others. When do you find it most difficult to put other Christians in your local assembly first? Do you see how putting yourself first diminishes your effectiveness for Christ, your partnering with Him in the gospel?

C. Paul’s focus was always on Christ. Even in prison!

What specific circumstance of your life feels like “prison” right now? By that I mean a circumstance of life that you can’t escape from?

Meditate on these verses from Philippians for a week. That’s what Paul did. Rather than thinking about how bad his circumstances were he meditated on how wonderful it was to partner with Jesus Christ in His work on earth.

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain (1:21).

Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. (2:4-5)

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! (4:4)

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (4:6-7)

I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (4:13).

And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (4:19). (A promise only to those who give of their resources to Christ’s ministry on earth.)

All the Bible, Every Book: Colossians

Christ is Enough!

Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

All is not well at Colosse. Epaphras, the founder of the Colossian Church, reports to Paul in Rome that a dangerous heresy—saying Jesus is neither central nor supreme—is undermining the work. False teachers were presenting a type of “advanced” spirituality combining spiritual mysticism with legalistic taboos as a way to maturity and perfection. Followers of this “enlightened” philosophy were forming into “elite” groups of spiritual snobs. Their power was growing as they encouraged others to go beyond what they considered the shallow and simple truths the Apostles taught about Christ.

Paul’s response to these deceivers is profound, powerful and persuasive. From his headquarters under house arrest in Rome, their Apostle pens a majestic picture of the Person and work of Christ. He exposes the Colossian heresy for what it is—an immature denial of the reality of Christ’s preeminence in creation, in the church, and in the lives of His followers. “Christ is enough,” warns Paul, “and any teaching which detracts from the centrality of Christ is a perversion that threatens the very essence of our faith. Believers who follow these false teachings will not grow to maturity. And remember, immature Christians do not please Christ!”

The great tragedy of the Colossian heresy is that it appeals to those who want more in their Christian life. The only “more” that will truly satisfy the child of God is more of Christ. Those who seek their “more” beyond Jesus are responding to one of Satan’s oldest strategies. Paul’s exhortation to continue in “the faith” (1:21-23) is just as timely today as it was the day he penned it.

More is not always better; Christ is enough! 

Colossians warns Christians against any teaching that devalues Christ and His work.

I. The Colossians’ History: The faithful saints of Colosse, known for their faith, hope and love, were in danger of squandering their opportunity by veering from “the faith”—the apostolic teaching exalting Christ and His work—and moving away from the hope of the gospel Paul taught (Chapter 1).

A. In just a few years the healthy churches of the Lycus Valley east of Ephesus had become a dynamic part of the gospel’s explosion across the Roman province of Asia. On his third missionary journey in A.D. 52-55, Paul devoted over two years to an Asian ministry headquartered in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10). Epaphras, who trusted Christ during this time, carried the gospel to the cities of the Lycus Valley (Col 4:12-13; Philemon 23). By A.D. 61, when Epaphras visited Paul in prison in Rome (4:18), these churches had been part of one of the greatest revivals in church history (Acts 19:10). Significantly, they had grown to a level of maturity matched only by the church at Thessalonica (faith, hope, and love; 1:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3).

B. Now they are in danger of compromising the potential of their salvation and their hope of a good presentation at the Judgment Seat of Christ if they fail to continue in “the faith” by following the false teachers undermining the teaching of the Apostles and the gospel Paul taught Ephapras.

C. The Colossian Danger: Even the most successful Christians and churches are vulnerable to the Colossian heresy.

II. The Colossian Message: Christ is enough!

A. GREETING (1:1-2)

B. PROLOGUE: REMEMBER THE SUFFICIENCY OF CHRIST (1:3-20)

C. PURPOSE: CONTINUE IN THE FAITH (1:21-23)!

D. BODY OF THE LETTER: AVOID THOSE WHO DENY THE FAITH WHILE RENEWING YOUR COMMITMENT TO CHRIST (1:24-4:6)

E. EPILOGUE: FINAL ENCOURAGEMENT THROUGH GREETINGS AND INSTRUCTIONS (4:7-17)

F. FAREWELL (4:18)

III. The Colossian Heresy: “Enlightened” spiritual snobs were enticing believers toward a “super-spirituality” which went beyond the “simple” truths the apostles were teaching about Christ (Chapter 2).

A. The deceitful but alluring heresies of legalism and mysticism were threatening the health of the churches of the Lycus Valley by turning believers’ attention from the sufficiency of Christ.

1. Epaphras’ disturbing report: Jewish legalism (2:11-17) and Greek mysticism (2:18-23) were being taught as a way to go “beyond” Christ to a new state of spirituality.

2. Paul’s disturbing warning: These are captivating lies (2:8-10).

a. Don’t be deceived, stay with the faith! (2:6-7).

b. Legalism is a lie about the Cross and steals your freedom (2:11-17).

c. Mysticism appeals to pride and is perilous nonsense (2:18-23).

B. Colossians, the Warning: The Colossian heresy is a smug spirituality combining legalism and mysticism. Both of these devalue Christ. Legalism denies the sufficiency of His work. Mysticism denies the sufficiency of His Person.

IV. COLOSSIANS AND YOU: Seek Christ! Fill your mind with thoughts of Him and your time pursuing Him. If you deepen your relationship with Christ you will continue in the faith (Chapters 3 & 4).

A. Paul’s simple definition of spirituality: Be like Christ!

1. Be preoccupied with Christ!  (3:1-4)

2. Put on Christ’s character! (3:5-17)

3. Relate to others as Christ would! (3:18-4:6)

B. Colossians, the Hope: The only hope against the Colossian heresy is a life preoccupied with Christ.

All the Bible, Every Book: 1 Thessalonians

Christ Is Coming Soon!

And so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

In one of the warmest of Paul’s letters he writes his beloved church at Thessalonica to encourage them to walk with Christ until He returns. Enemies of the gospel had forced Paul to flee the city, but they couldn’t prevent the Apostle from loving these people he had poured his life into and praying for them. Paul sent Timothy to check on his friends and was so encouraged by Timothy’s good report of their growing faith that he sent this letter we know as 1 Thessalonians from Corinth.

Paul arrived in Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, on his 2nd missionary journey. For three successive Sabbaths he preached the gospel and many believed (Acts 17). When the unbelieving Jews heard of the conversion of so many of their Greek proselytes, they agitated ruffians on the street to attack the house of Jason, the family that had taken in Paul and his team. “Paul wrote this epistle primarily to comfort and encourage those who were suffering for their Lord. Their hope was an essential emphasis in view of this purpose. Both Thessalonian epistles are very pastoral. The epistle deals with the hope of the Lord’s return as this relates to Christian experience.” (Tom Constable, 1 Thessalonians, p. 5)

This book teaches the most practical and illuminating discourses on the Lord’s return (4:13-5:11). All five chapters refer to this next great event in prophetical history: 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23. “Far and away the largest theological contribution of the Epistles [1 and 2 Thessalonians] lies in what they say about eschatology.” (Leon Morris, The Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, p. 19)

1 Thessalonians: When serving Christ seems too hard, think about His soon return!

The other great contribution of 1 Thessalonians to the church is the insight it gives us into the warm pastoral heart of the Apostle Paul.

I. Paul exhorts the Thessalonian believers to remain steadfast under the pressure of persecution, and consoles them concerning their loved ones who have died in Christ by reminding them of the hope of the soon coming of the Lord Jesus.

A. Paul’s personal feelings toward and remembrance of the Thessalonian assembly. (1-3)

1. Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonians for their renowned faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.

2. Paul reminds them of the loving way he and his team brought the gospel to their city.

3. Paul reveals his heart concern for them and deep desire to see them again.

B. Paul’s personal instructions and assurance to the Thessalonian assembly. (4-5)

1. Paul reminds them of their responsibility to continue growing in Christ by remaining sexually pure and united in love. He also assures them that Jesus is coming for His own and exhorts them to continue serving Him diligently.

2. Paul teaches them specific community responsibilities in their assembly.

OUR INTERPRETATION OF 1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-5:11: Why we believe in the Rapture. In the 19th century, teaching concerning the rapture of the church spread widely. We believe that our passage today is one of the primary evidences that Christ is coming for His church before the events of the Tribulation (the seventieth “week” of Daniel) begins.

Since Paul’s authority is from God (4:1-12), believers should listen to him when he tells them to maintain proper relationships in the church in light of the imminent return of Christ. (4:1-5:22)

A. You know that the Lord Jesus told me to teach you how to live responsibly in the church (4:1-12).

B. Keep in mind the urgency of living responsibly in the church—all of you will be resurrected/raptured imminently—before the Day of the Lord begins (4:13-5:11).

1. Be encouraged (4:13-18): You and your dead believing loved ones are destined to be with Christ forever. We who are alive will “suddenly be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air” (4:17). I take the word harpazo, snatched up (Latin translation, rapio, from which we get the word rapture) literally. It occurs 13 times in the New Testament with a literal meaning. I believe it means the actual removal of believers from earth to heaven—the “rapture” of the church. I also believe this will occur simultaneously with the resurrection of those who are dead “in Christ,” Christians—who trusted in Him from the day of Pentecost will be translated “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52; v. 16). Therefore, comfort one another in this truth (v. 18).

2. Stay alert (5:1-11): Since we are sons of light and the Day of the Lord will come suddenly, we should look for signs of His coming, as we are not destined for the coming wrath. I believe this is the assurance that church-age saints will not be a part of the tribulation period when the wrath of God is poured out.

II. 1 THESSALONIANS AND YOU: Paul simply presents the Lord’s return as a fact. He doesn’t try to prove it. No honest reading of 1 Thessalonians can deny that Paul taught that Jesus is coming back for His own, regardless of one’s personal convictions on when and how that might occur. Paul believed that the same Jesus who lived among us, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven (4:16) would come again. My personal view is that Paul is speaking of the Rapture, the snatching up of the living saints prior to the Great Tribulation. That’s the when of the Lord’s return, in my opinion, but whatever your convictions, we can all agree that He will return. I see three practical ways an understanding of the soon return of the Lord Jesus is vital to our walk with Him every day:

A. Understanding the return of the Lord encourages faith in Him (1:9-10). Notice that Paul included the hope of the return of Christ in his gospel proclamation. As Christians our hope comes from our personal redemption that is ours due to His first coming and the redemption of creation that will result from His second coming.

B. Understanding the return of the Lord encourages diligence in following Him (2:19-20). The sure prospect of being rewarded by Christ when He returns motivates Christians to do the hard, messy work of disciplemaking. Paul looked forward to the joy of seeing those he had led to Christ and mentored sharing in his joy at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:58).

C. Understanding the return of the Lord encourages patience during times of stumbling and hope during times of suffering (3:13, 5:14). We can be patient with ourselves and others, knowing that eventually, in spite of our failures and weaknesses, we will be glorified together with Him. We can endure suffering, knowing that eventually Jesus will vindicate Himself and bring justice to this world.

All the Bible, Every Book: 2 Thessalonians

Prophetical Expectations

Now regarding the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him…

(2 Thessalonians 2:1) 

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

Since Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians, false teachers have confused the believers in a way that shook their faith. He had told them that the Lord could return at any moment (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18) and that the Day of the Lord would come suddenly, as a thief in the night—unexpectedly (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Now, due to the heavy persecution the church was experiencing, some were teaching the error that the Tribulation was upon them, and they had somehow missed the gathering together with the Lord in the air (the Rapture).

Paul wrote his second letter to his beloved friends to correct these erroneous ideas with comforting prophetical truths. More specifically, to distinguish between the Lord’s imminent return for His church and the Day of the Lord that would be preceded by the short-lived reign of the man of lawlessness, the anti-Christ. “Both Thessalonian epistles are very pastoral. The epistle[s] deals with the hope of the Lord’s return as this relates to Christian experience.” (Tom Constable, 1 Thessalonians, p. 5)

The Apostle also addresses one of the most common excesses of those who understand the soon coming of the Lord. Some of the Thessalonians were using their prophetic hope as an excuse to live irresponsibly:

2 Thessalonians: Remain faithful until Jesus returns!

 

In the progression of revelation, 2 Thessalonians reveals new information about the Day of the Lord.

I. Paul exhorts the Thessalonian believers to persevere by clarifying events prior to the Day of the Lord and instructs the leaders to deal with lazy Christians.

A. Paul thanks them for their growing faith and love, assures them of their ultimate deliverance from their persecutors who will be judged by Jesus. (1)

B. Paul explains to them that their severe suffering does not mean that Day of the Lord has already come. He had taught them in his last letter that believers are not destined for wrath and now tells them that the Day of the Lord will not come unannounced. A worldwide spiritual rebellion must take place before this Day, and that rebellion will be climaxed by revealing the satanically empowered man of lawlessness. (2, See also: Daniel 9:27; 12:11; Matthew 24:15; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 11:7; 13:1-10). This spirit of lawless rebellion is already at work in the world.

C. Paul asks the church to pray for him as they wait patiently for the Lord and tells them to confront those who are living irresponsibly using the excuse of the soon return of the Lord. (3)

OUR INTERPRETATION OF 2 THESSALONIANS 2: Why we believe the Rapture is imminent, but the Day of the Lord cannot begin immediately. The central message of 2 Thessalonians is the truth about the Day of the Lord. An important distinction in 1 Thessalonians is that the Lord’s return for believers will take place suddenly (4:13-18), but that the Day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night. Believers should therefore remain alert, looking forward to both events because we will be delivered from the wrath of the Day of the Lord. (5:1-11)

A. In 2 Thessalonians 2 he teaches them to distinguish between these two events—the moment of our being gathered together with him (v 1) and the period of the Day of the Lord (v 2).

B. In verses 3-12 he demonstrates the difference between the first event (the Rapture) and the second period (the Day of the Lord).

1. Even now the “hidden power of lawlessness” is at work (7a). I take this to be the trajectory of humanity—rebellion against God the Creator.

2. In the future God will remove what is now restraining this lawlessness (7b). This probably refers to the Holy Spirit and suggests that this could be church-age believers who are indwelt by the Spirit (Romans 8:9).

3. In the future there will be a crisis: “the lawless one will be revealed” (2:8a). I believe that the best view of how this will happen is that God will withdraw the church from the world at the Rapture. After that this human leader of lawlessness will lead the world in unrestrained rebellion against God. I believe this is the Antichrist and this rebellion is described in the events of the Tribulation period.

4. After this crisis, Jesus Christ will return to earth to set up His kingdom (2:8b). He will destroy this Antichrist and curtail this rebellion (Psalm 2).

II. 2 THESSALONIANS AND YOU: To live responsibly for Christ in a world in rebellion against Him it’s vital that we can discern the times according to prophecy. Dr. Keith Krell does an awesome job of distinguishing between what we believe are the next three future events taught in prophecy:

A. The Rapture:

Who: The Lord Jesus snatches His church away.

What: An instantaneous event where believers receive new bodies.

When: The rapture could occur at any moment.

Where: Jesus meets His church in the air.

Why: To protect His bride from the wrath to come.

B. The Tribulation:

Who: God pours out His discipline and wrath on Israel and the Gentile nations.

What: A seven-year period of unprecedented worldwide affliction.

When: Following the rapture of the church.

Where: Planet earth.

Why: To persuade Israel that Jesus is the Messiah.

C. The Millennial Kingdom:

Who: The Lord Jesus sets up His earthly kingdom.

What: A 1,000-year period to demonstrate how world history could have been.

When: Following the seven-year tribulation period.

Where: Jerusalem.

Why: To fulfill Old Testament promises made to Israel.

All the Bible, Every Book: 1 Timothy

Stewards of God’s Word

O Timothy, protect what has been entrusted to you.

(1 Timothy 6:20)

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

Like His Master before him, Paul gathered a group of men to be with him as he ministered the gospel. Timothy and Titus were especially close to Paul (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4), and he mentored them through challenging assignments. Timothy trusted Christ while Paul was ministering in Lystra (Acts 14:6-23). He then joined Paul on his 2nd missionary journey when the apostle traveled through Timothy’s homeland (Acts 16:1-3). Timothy helped Paul on this 2nd missionary journey and Paul began to view him as a faithful partner in the gospel. During the 3rd missionary journey he was with Paul in Ephesus, and then Paul began sending him on extended assignments—to Macedonia (Acts 19:22) and Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), as he was accompanying the apostle.

It seems Timothy asked to be relieved of his leadership duties in Ephesus and the province of Asia so that he could return to Paul. In 1 Timothy Paul instructs him to remain in Ephesus because his ministry was vital, and assures him he would come to him there (3:14; 4:13). Until he arrives, this letter gives Timothy insights into church leadership.

Though this is a personal letter to Timothy, it provides some of the clearest guidance for the order of a local church. First Timothy addresses two sides to the order of the local church—what the life of the church should look like, and who should lead the church:

1 Timothy: The local church should proclaim and live Christ’s truth in the world!

The letter is a challenge to every local church and every local church leader to teach Christ’s truth accurately and to live it out authentically. 

I. Paul exhorts Timothy to set in order the Asian churches by teaching sound doctrine, modeling sound worship, confronting false teachers, leading without prejudice, and with pure motives.

A. Paul salutes Timothy by reminding him of the significance of his work and encouraging him to be faithful. (1:1-20)

B. Paul instructs Timothy concerning the life of the local churches under his charge. Churches should pray for the salvation of the lost, be careful to glorify God in the ministries of men and women, appoint qualified leaders, stay focused on Christ, and confront apostasy. (2:1-4:5)

C. Paul exhorts Timothy to personally stay above reproach, to relate selflessly, and to deal appropriately with widows and elders. (4:6-5:25)

D. Paul instructs specific groups within the church—slaves, false teachers, devoted disciples, and the wealthy. (6:1-19)

II. 1 TIMOTHY AND YOU: God cares about your local church. He cares about its teaching, its leaders, its worship, its relationships, its unity, its holiness, and even specific groups within the church. Do you take the importance of the local church as seriously as God does? The church is not here to meet our surface needs but to meet our deepest need—to connect with other believers in community so that we can teach and represent Christ’s truth in the world.

A. Your local church does not exist to meet Christian expectations, but to proclaim Christ’s truth to the world. Every Christian should ask God to lead them to the right church for him or her. But there’s an unhealthy preoccupation among some believers to find the “just right” church that meets theyir every need. “I’m looking for a church that does this or that for me, my children, my career, or my special interests.” This isn’t what we should be looking for and asking God for. We should be looking for a church that will equip us (Ephesians 4:11-16), love us, encourage us, and challenge us to proclaim Christ’s truth to the world. This begins with our life and then overflows into our words. 

B. Your local church leaders should know the truth and live the truth. When a church hires or elevates leaders due to popularity or the capacity to “grow the church” they are putting the God-given mission of the church at peril. There’s nothing wrong with popularity. Faithful shepherds are usually extremely popular because they love the people well. There’s nothing wrong with church growth. It seems that if we are to make disciples of all the nations we should desire church growth. However, the primary duty of a church leader is to know and live the truth.

All the Bible, Every Book: 2 Timothy

Preach the Word

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus…preach the message (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

Like His Master before him, Paul gathered a group of men to be with him as he ministered the gospel. Timothy and Titus were especially close to Paul (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4), and he mentored them through challenging assignments. Timothy trusted Christ while Paul was ministering in Lystra (Acts 14:6-23). He then joined Paul on his 2nd missionary journey when the apostle traveled through Timothy’s homeland (Acts 16:1-3). Timothy helped Paul on this 2nd missionary journey and Paul began to view him as a faithful partner in the gospel. During the 3rd missionary journey he was with Paul in Ephesus, and then Paul began sending him on extended assignments—to Macedonia (Acts 19:22) and Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), as he was accompanying the apostle.

Rome had burned in A.D. 64 and Nero had blamed it on the Christians. Suddenly the Roman Empire suddenly became a dangerous place for Christians. Paul was in prison and knew he would be martyred. Many believers had decided to go underground to avoid persecution. Timothy may have been tempted to follow their example and to put his ministry on hold until the storm passed. As his spiritual father and mentor, Paul exhorted Timothy to persevere, take the risk, and continue proclaiming God’s word.

In many ways this is Paul’s last will and testament. He wrote this letter to encourage Timothy to fulfill his duty as a leader of the church. It’s a message for hard times, when it spiritual leadership is costly. And it always is:

2 Timothy: Preach the Word, in spite of opposition!

Knowing that his time on earth is short, Paul encourages every Christian to persevere in his or her dedication to Christ and His Word.

I. Paul encourages Timothy to steadfastly fulfill his divinely appointed task—to lead the church by preaching the message faithfully, no matter what the cost.

A. Paul exhorts Timothy to persevere during the present testing of Christians. (1-2)

1. After expressing his thanksgiving for Timothy’s genuine faith, Paul tells him to stand firm in the face of persecution and commends those who have been faithful in spite of the dangers. (1)

2. Paul reminds Timothy of his duty to reproduce by entrusting faithful leaders with the truth. He then uses illustrations of hardship—teachers, soldiers, and farmers, to help Timothy see what it takes to faithfully reproduce and lead mature Christians. Finally, the apostle tells Timothy that he must deal wisely in relationships with others. (2)

B. Paul exhorts Timothy to endure future testing that surely will come. (1-2)

1. Paul warns Timothy that a time his coming when apostasy and wickedness will dramatically increase. People will be more susceptible to empty moralistic religion talk and false teaching. The false teachers will become more arrogant and bold, but Timothy must remain faithful to the Scriptures. (3)

2. The Scriptures are inspired by God and useful to Timothy to carry out the ministry God called him to. Finally, Paul gives a personal update on his situation in Rome with personal requests. (4)

II. 2 TIMOTHY AND YOU: Little has changed since Paul wrote his last letter to Timothy. The world is still opposed to Christianity and men and women still have itching ears for the newest, most intriguing version of religiosity and moralism. This is why Paul’s instructions to Christian leaders remain the prescription for true success in a world that hates the Lord Jesus:

A. 2 Timothy 2:2—Make disciples. “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.” It’s the simplest plan on earth, and one that never fails. The things that mature Christians know should be poured into other faithful Christians … and on and on it should go. Unfortunately, Christian leaders and people alike tend to long for some “quick-fix” formula that will grow the church. True spiritual growth comes as faithful leaders pour into others in ways that are reproducible.

B. 2 Timothy 4:2—Preach the Word. “Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and competence.” The Word of God is the content the Holy Spirit uses to transform lives. Competent handlers of the Scriptures are what the church needs. It’s true that these teachers need to live authentically as disciples of Christ and need to shepherd the flock. But if they don’t know their Bibles, the people are in trouble.

All the Bible, Every Book: Titus

Bring Credit to the Teachings of God

This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths,

so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works.

These things are good and beneficial for all people.

(Titus 3:8)

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

Like His Master before him, Paul gathered a group of men to be with him as he ministered the gospel. Timothy and Titus were especially close to Paul (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4), and he mentored them through challenging assignments. He chose Titus for the most difficult leadership roles. Titus accompanied him uncircumcised to Jerusalem in the middle of the controversy over whether Christians should follow the Jewish Law (Acts 15). He chose Titus to straighten out the problems in Corinth (2 Corinthians). Titus was a leader in the project to collect gifts for the suffering church in Judea (Romans 15:25-26). Paul has nothing but praise for his young companion. Titus was the ideal pastor, genuinely devoted to God and his flock (2 Corinthians 8:16, 17), and effective and earnest in his leadership (2 Corinthians 7:13-15).

Pastoring the unruly churches of Crete may have been Titus’s toughest duty. Paul left Titus in Crete to set the church there in order (Titus 1:5), by dealing with false teachers (1:10-11) and corruption (1:12). “Tradition has it that Titus, having become the first bishop of Crete, died there in advanced years. His successor, Andreas Cretensis, eulogized him in the following terms: ‘The first foundation-stone of the Cretan church; the pillar of the truth; the stay of the faith; the never silent trumpet of the evangelical message; the exalted echo of Paul’s own voice’.” (Philip E. Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 76)

No book of the Bible more clearly connects the grace of God in Christ to the manifestation of good works in His people. “The purpose of the epistle of Titus was to instruct him about what he should do and teach in the Cretan churches. A special theme of the letter is the role of grace in promoting good works among God’s people.” (Duane Litfin, “Titus” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 761) The key word of Titus is kosmeo, the verb that means to “adorn,” to set forth attractively—as a musician does, who plays a piece of music beautifully. (Tom Constable, Titus, p. 4). This pastoral epistle provides instructions for every church to fulfill the God-given assignment to “adorn,” “show the beauty of,” “bring credit to” the teaching of Jesus (God our Savior) in everything:

Titus: Display the beauty of Christ’s teaching through your good works!

The letter divides into two major sections: (1) appoint elders who “adorn” the teaching of Christ; (2) organize the church according to sound doctrine so that its members “adorn” the teaching of Christ.

I. Paul exhorts Titus to set in order the Cretan churches to display the beauty of Christ’s teaching by appointing qualified elders, correcting false teaching, and teaching its members Christ-honoring behaviors.

A. Paul salutes Titus by reminding him of the centrality of the truth of Christ Jesus concerning eternal life that has been entrusted to the church. (1:1-4)

B. Paul exhorts Titus to appoint qualified elders in the church who demonstrate the Spirit’s power in their lives and hold firmly to and teach effectively the faithful message (1:5-9), and to rebuke false teachers whose motives and lives demonstrate they are disqualified as leaders or teachers. (1:10-16)

D. Paul exhorts Titus to instruct the Cretan Christians of all ages and social relationships and strata to adorn Christ’s teaching with good works. (2:1-3:5)

1. Communicate the behavior that accompanies sound teaching. (2:1)

2. Older men and women are to demonstrate mature, selfless behaviors that will encourage younger Christians and model how to live in such a way to bring credit to the teachings of Jesus. (2:2-10)

3. Remind all that the power to live this way comes from God’s grace that redeems believers from slavery to sin, assures them of the “blessed hope” of the coming of Christ, and makes us eager to do good. (2:11-15)

4. Sum up all of this teaching by exhorting believers to live radically different lives as citizens of Crete due to their resources and responsibilities in Christ. (3:1-11)

Be exemplary citizens—obedient to authority, ready to do good works, peaceful, courteous, mature, and unified (3:1-4), because you are recipients of a wondrous salvation by grace (3:5-7). Therefore, stop fighting and living selfishly and start insisting that believers embrace the truths of salvation by grace and live as if it were true—intent on engaging in good works. (3:8-11).

E. Paul gives final encouragement and instructions to Titus and the Cretan church. (3:12-15)

II. TITUS AND YOU: The key verb kosmeo is used in Matthew 25:7 to describe the trimming of a lamp. When the lamp is “trimmed” by removing the burned off part of the wick, the flame burns brighter. This is our privilege—to live a life unencumbered by sin and worldly concerns so that the “teachings of God our Savior may burn brightly in our lives. One of the most practical books of the Bible on the Christian life, Titus gives every Christian three requirements for displaying the beauty of Christ’s teaching in everyday life:

A. Recognize Your Need to Know the Word of God: Titus stresses sound doctrine as the “message” of God who cannot lie (1:1-4), the “faithful message” elders must hold firmly (1:9), “sound teaching” that is the basis of Christ-honoring behaviors (2:1), and the “teaching of God our Savior” (2:10). The honest truth that understanding sound doctrine doesn’t necessarily translate into a Christ-honoring life does not release us from our responsibility to know sound doctrine. Wrong beliefs always lead to wrong behaviors. Any believer who wants to adorn the faithful message of God our Savior must begin with the foundational commitment to know His Word. Are you consistently, persistently, and, as a lifetime discipline, growing in your understanding of God’s Word, the Bible?

B. Rest in the Grace of God: Titus gloriously describes the grace of God. The “chosen ones” “hope of eternal life” is the motivation for godliness (1:1-4). The “grace of God” brings salvation to all people and “trains us to reject godless ways” as we “wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope” of Jesus’ soon coming,” and rely on the fact that “he gave himself to set us free from every kind of lawlessness,” so that we are “eager to do good” (2:11-15). “The kindness of God” in Christ appeared, saving us “not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy” so that we have been made completely new by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit” and are declared righteous as heirs of eternal life (3:4-7). The only works that will adorn the work of Christ flow from the unshakeable confidence that we belong to Him and have been made completely new and totally empowered solely due to His grace. Have you settled this in your own life?

C. Resolve to Do Good Works: Titus reveals the purpose of the grace of God being poured out on undeserving sinners. We are to glorify Christ by doing good works in His name. Jesus wants us to obey Him by displaying His life in the primary relationships of life in community and as citizens. The need to respond to grace by doing good works is stressed six times in three chapters: (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14).

All the Bible, Every Book: Philemon

Bondage to Brotherhood

Therefore, if you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me.

(Paul to Philemon, concerning Onesimus, Philemon 17)

The thirteen Pauline Epistles develop the foundational truths of Christianity introduced in the Gospels. Paul wrote nine letters to churches and four to individuals. He writes from the perspective of the Apostle to the Gentiles, church-planter, pastor, and friend. His letters contain instructions, exhortations, and corrections that were real-time—messages to real people, gathered in real churches, with real problems as they endeavored to follow Christ and make a difference in their world. One consistent theme undergirds all of Paul’s teaching—the reality of every believer’s position in Christ.

Philemon is one of the most unique books of the New Testament. Much like Ruth in the Old Testament, Paul’s letter to his friend is an illustration of some of the greatest themes in Scripture. Philemon was a wealthy citizen of Colossae who hosted the church in his home. Apparently he came to Christ along with Epaphras when Paul was ministering in Ephesus during his 3rd missionary journey. Like most affluent citizens of the Roman Empire, Philemon owned slaves. One third of all who lived in the Empire were slaves. Most of those slaves were more like household, downstairs servants in Victorian Britain than like the African slaves of antebellum North America. (Fitzmeyer, The Letter to Philemon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, pp 25-33) Nevertheless, Roman law ruled that runaway slaves could be severely punished or condemned to a violent death.

Onesimus was a runaway slave living in Rome. He had run to Rome from Colossae and the home of his master, Philemon. It was there that the slave came to faith in Christ as a result of Paul’s influence (v. 10). In Christ, the useless and rebellious runaway became a useful and valuable helper of the apostle. Paul wanted to keep Onesimus on his team, but he knew that God wanted Onesimus to make things right with Philemon. Paul and Onseimus both understood the danger and risk of trusting God, the character of Philemon, and the church in Colossae with this situation. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon with Tychicus and this little letter. Tychicus also carried the letters to Ephesus and Colossae. It is one of the most touching pictures of grace and truth in relationships and community in the New Testament. It’s fitting that Philemon follows Titus in our English Bible, for it is an illustration of the key word of Titus—kosmeo, the verb that means to “adorn,” to set forth attractively—as a musician does, who plays a piece of music beautifully. (Tom Constable, Titus, p. 4). This letter proves that even a runaway slave under a death sentence can fulfill the God-given assignment to “adorn,” “show the beauty of,” “bring credit to” the teaching of Jesus (God our Savior) in everything:

Philemon: God will use your sad and broken life if you’ll trust Him.

Paul skillfully addresses a sensitive issue with tact and warmth. The letter divides into two major sections: (1) affirming Philemon; (2) advocating for Onesimus.

I. Paul appeals to Philemon from prison to display his Christian character in his relationship with Onesimus by pardoning him due to his new status as a brother in Christ and the spiritual debt Philemon owes to the apostle.

A. Writing this letter from the perspective of a “prisoner of Christ Jesus,” Paul addresses Philemon and the church by praying for them, affirming Philemon’s character. He then reminds him of Christ’s desire that he forgive others, especially fellow-Christians, as Christ forgave him. (1-16)

B. Paul takes on Onesimus’s debt to his personal relational “friendship account” with Philemon. He then reminds Philemon of the immeasurable debt he personally owes Christ who died for him and is asking him to forgive others. (17-25)

II. PHILEMON AND YOU: The fact that the Holy Spirit preserved this little letter means that Philemon responded to Paul’s appeal and restored his former slave to fellowship with himself and the church. It becomes a handbook for restoring relationships between believers in the community of faith, the church. It instructs both parties—the wronged and the wrongdoer—to trust God and the community with themselves as the only path to restoration. I see three primary principles to guide us:

A. Life in Christ makes every loser (and that is all of us) a world-changer. In Onesimus “we see the radical change that God works in any life that He regenerates. What was unprofitable became profitable. What was waste, was made valuable. God can change any life so that it becomes something far different from what it was or what it might be expected to be.” (Tom Constable, Philemon, p. 3) This glorious truth was only experienced and demonstrated because Onesimus submitted to the word of God—both written and expressed in spiritual authority.

1. Can you imagine Onesimus’s fear when Paul first asked him to return to Colossae and trust in Philemon’s mercy?

2. What one step of faith are you afraid to take right now?

B. Life in Christ should change every relationship. In Philemon we see the picture of “love seeks not its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5) and the Christlike action of putting others first (Philippians 2:4-5). Faith in Jesus Christ means we become a new creation and that the Holy Spirit is urging us to obey His every command, especially the Great Commandment to “love one another” (John 13:34).

1. Can you imagine Philemon’s surprise and anger when Onesimus showed up with Tychicus and a letter from the apostle urging him to forgive his servant who had wronged him?

2. Who is that person you’ve given yourself permission not to forgive?

C. Christian communities are called by God to truthfully but graciously encourage and support healing in relationships. The relationship between Onesimus and Philemon illustrates the messiness of community. The church at Colossae met in Philemon’s house, and there’s no doubt that they had heard all about this “worthless servant who ran away.” Onesimus came to Christ in the church at Rome, and there’s no doubt that they heard all about the injustices of slavery and maybe even the harshness of Philemon’s household and the treatment of servants. Nevertheless, God’s Spirit was urging Onesimus to make things right with his master and Philemon to forgive his servant. The process that both communities went through demonstrates what God can do with messy lives when the church trusts Him enough to do the hard work of redemptive relationships.

1. Can you imagine each church’s inability to think objectively and biblically when they were emotionally attached to their close friend?

2. Do you have a close friend who insists on just telling you his or her side of the story? What happens when you just buy in and don’t ask some uncomfortable questions? What are you not trusting God to do?

All the Bible, Every Book: Hebrews

Jesus is Better

Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). 

The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.

In A.D. 64 Nero initiated a cruel and comprehensive persecution of Christians throughout the Roman  Empire. It was costly to follow Jesus, but it was especially demanding for Jewish converts to follow their Messiah-Savior. Somewhere in the empire there was a discouraged home church composed primarily of Jewish converts who were being tempted to stop following Jesus as His devoted disciples and return to the practices of Judaism. I don’t believe they were abandoning their faith. They were simply reasoning that following Jesus was too costly. Some of them were reversing their course in life and returning to Judaism to avoid persecution. They were believers (3:1), and had been for quite some time (2:3-4; 5:12).

A church leader and companion of Timothy (13:23), who they knew well, sent them this letter. His purpose is clear: To encourage them to rest in Jesus because He is better than any alternative (4:14-16). And resting in Him, they will persevere in following Jesus rather than turning from Christianity to Judaism (12:1-2). Hebrews is more of a sermon in written form than a letter. The message is summed up in the use of the word “better” (1:4; 6:9; 7:7, 19, 22; 8:6; 9:23; 10:34; 11:16, 35, 50; 12:24). Jesus is better than any and every alternative. Therefore, press on to maturity in Him. “The destiny of the Lord Jesus is precisely to rule oikoumene (2:5) and those who adhere faithfully to him will share in that rule (cf. 12:28). They must therefore hold fast to their Christian profession. (Zane Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, s.v. “Hebrews,” p. 780) Every Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, is tempted to return to their former life because it seems following Jesus is just too hard. The writer of Hebrews destroys that reasoning with this compelling message:

Hebrews: Don’t quit. Rest in Jesus because He is better than every alternative.

Hebrews great contribution to the Bible is its revelation of the present priestly ministry of Christ Jesus on behalf of His church.

I. The writer embeds five warning passages into his presentation of the superiority of Christ to encourage suffering Christians to hold fast to their Christian confession and follow Him.

A. The Superiority of Christ—God’s King-Son (1:1-4:16): Jesus is better than any leader because He is God’s Son and we should not neglect the rescue He has secured for His people. He is also better because He is the perfected “Trailblazer” (archegos, “leader,” “originator,” “captain,” “founder,” “pioneer,” 2:10; 12:2) of our deliverance who perfectly identifies with our plight as humans. Therefore we should endeavor to rest in Him by coming to His throne of grace for our every need.

B. The Superiority of Christ—God’s Priest-Son (5:1-10:39): Jesus is better than any representative before God because He is a compassionate fellow-sufferer, called by God and fully qualified to secure our rescue as the high priest of the order of Melchizedek. Therefore we should grow up in our faith to avoid His discipline. His priesthood is superior because it is based on a superior covenant. Therefore we should draw near to God in Him rather than sinning willfully, but persevere in the encouragement of His final sacrifice for sin.

C. The Response to Our Superior Christ (11:1-13:25): Following the examples of heroes of the Scriptures, we should trust in God because that is the only way to please Him. The way we trust in Him now is to keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, rather than turning away from following Him. Devote yourself to Him and love His people!

II. HEBREWS AND YOU: This epistle was written to every believer who is thinking, “My life would have been better if I had never met Jesus. It’s just too hard to follow Him!” The writer of Hebrews exposes the lie of that conclusion by reminding us of the greatness of Jesus and what’s at stake if we turn from Him. He is better than any alternative, and turning away from Him always brings loss to Christians. Not loss of salvation, but the forfeiture of all that your redeemed heart longs for.

A. Following Jesus is better than any alternative. The revelation of God in Christ Jesus is greater than the greatest revelation to humanity. Jesus is superior to the revelation of the Law through angels, the revelation of the human prophets, and the revelation of the rituals of the Old Covenant. Jesus is the ultimate revelation from God who is sufficient to meet every human need and who has secured the final victory for His people.

When you think your life would be easier if you walked away from Jesus, think about the One you’re walking away from! You’re never going to meet anyone better than Jesus. No one is more powerful and no one loves you more. 

B. Followers of Jesus must learn to rest in Him. The requirement of God is to respond to His revelation by faith. Faith is a choice to surrender to God’s care and guidance in spite of the circumstances of life. It isn’t simply an intellectual exercise; it is a rest in His goodness and love.

When you think your life would be easier if you walked away from Jesus, think about why you’re so exhausted and discouraged. Jesus never meant for you to do the work of following Him. He always planned for you to be empowered to follow Him as you trust in Him. You’re never going to hear Jesus say, “Hey, you didn’t work hard enough!” But you are going to hear Jesus say, “Hey, you didn’t trust me enough to relax and let me love you through this.”

C. Followers of Jesus must fear the loss of turning away from Him. The warning of God to Christians is that there’s something to lose—something real, something valuable, something you really want. That warning isn’t against the loss of eternal life, but the loss of the quality of your personal experience of eternal life. Christians who turn from Jesus invite divine discipline, lose intimacy with Him and His people in this world, and lose reward in the world to come.

When you think your life would be easier if you walked away from Jesus, think about what you’re giving up. You are believing the lie of this world that there is happiness apart from Christ. So whatever you’re grousing about “giving up”—money, travel, surface relationships, esteem, acclaim—is, in the finality of eternity, worthless. What you really want is all that Jesus is offering those who belong to Him and persevere in following Him, even when it costs … and it always does!

All the Bible, Every Book: James

Live Your Faith!

But be sure to live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. (James 1:22)

The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.

James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), shepherded the church at Jerusalem. His passionate speech at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13-21) affirmed the gospel’s offer to Gentile nations, but warned the church against lifestyles that would undermine the message of the Son of God. His passion for godliness is evident in the letter he wrote to his Jewish brethren dispersed throughout the New Testament world. “As you receive the Good News that saved you from your sin be sure to live out that message, regardless of what it costs you!”

God would ask James to pay the ultimate cost for living out the message of Messiah. He was martyred in A.D. 62. His epistle is probably the earliest of the divinely inspired writings of the New Testament, perhaps as early as A.D. 45. Like Hebrews, James is more of a sermon in written form than a letter. “The chief aim of the Epistle is to strengthen the faith and loyalty of the Jewish Christians in the face of persecution from rich and overbearing Jews who were defrauding and oppressing them.” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6:6) It seems James reworked a series of five sermons teaching that faith in God is designed to be lived out in real life. Echoing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, James focuses on five behaviors that demonstrate the righteousness of a Christian in daily life:

 

James: Don’t just study Jesus’ message, live it out in real life! 

James deals with five practical issues that both immature and mature Christians face in life.

I.   James exhorts Christians to live out the message of that saved them in five difficult areas of life so that his readers would move on to maturity.

A. Live out your faith in trials (1). God uses the trials of life to mature us, if we patiently endure them as we trust Him in spite of the pain.

B. Live out your faith in unprejudiced love (2). To love others without prejudice in this prejudiced world requires vibrant faith. If we say we have faith that God can care for the poor and needy but do not act on that faith, our faith is useless to them.

C. Live out your faith in your speech (3). Godly wisdom is demonstrated in our words—words that bless and build up rather than words that hurt and tear down.

D. Live out your faith in your conflicts (4). Those who humbly submit to God maintain peace in personal relationships. Pride resists God’s desire to live for others.

E. Live out your faith in your finances (5). Submit your money to God patiently and prayerfully so that you use your finances to serve others rather than hoarding it for yourself.

Faith and Works in James 2:14-26: I believe that the “dead faith” of this passage is the faith of a Christian who erroneously concludes that believing that God can feed the poor is enough. Their faith is dead, or useless, to the poor person who needs their help. The hypothetical “someone” in 2:14 is identified as “one of you” in 2:16. And one of you would be the Christians he’s addressing (1:2, 19; 2:1, 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 10, 12, 19).

It seems to me that James isn’t concerned with the reality of his readers’ faith, but the quality (1:3, 6; 2:1; 5:15) and usefulness (1:12, 26; 2:14, 16, 20) of their faith. The thrust of the entire book is to exhort Christians to “live out the message implanted in your souls” (1:21-27).  The faith of demons in 2:19 demonstrates the uselessness of faith in a message that isn’t applied. The demons didn’t believe the gospel and they didn’t believe in Jesus as the One who deserved their loyalty. They believe that God is one, but that belief is useless to their state of trembling in fear before the Son of God because they failed to apply that faith to their existence. Their “faith” or absolute conviction that Jesus is God is useless to them. In 2:26 James is not saying that faith energizes works, but that works energize faith. I don’t believe the issue here is whether faith exists in a believer, but how faith becomes profitable or useful to a Christian and His God.

II. JAMES AND YOU: James exposes the gap between saying we believe what Jesus says about the most difficult areas of the Christian life and actually living as if it were true. The warning against useless faith is that until our faith in the truth of God’s word is applied to our lives, the truth can’t deliver, or “save” that area of our life. Living in harmony with God’s will is the best option in life. A good question to ask about each of these five areas is, “Have I trusted God and His truth enough to do what He says with my …

… trials, pain, disappointments and discouragements? God says that He is using the trials of my life to produce the patience that leads to maturity. What am I thinking or saying about my trials?

Are they “mistakes” that shouldn’t happen to a person like me? Are they evidence that God doesn’t love me as much as He says He does? That He doesn’t care for me as much as He says He does? Or, are they sure evidence that He loves me so much that He is always doing something in me that only He could accomplish … even when it hurts?

… unprejudiced love demonstrated in good works toward the hurting and the needy? God says that we should not be respecters of person. What am I thinking, saying, and doing when I meet an influential person? How about when I meet someone who is poor, needy, or irritating?

Are influential people more important because they can enhance my career or esteem? Are the poor, needy, and irritating people those I need to steer clear of because they are just too much for me right now? Or, are the poor, needy, and irritating the ones I need to attend to and trust God for the results?

… wise speech that speaks the truth, blesses and builds up? God says that our words matter to Him. He tells us that we should not use our words to hurt others or to manipulate our world. He says that we should control our tongue. What are you thinking at that precise moment when you are tempted to use your tongue in the precise way God says not to?

Are you thinking, “I have to get this off my chest,” “It’s important for people to know my perspective, my defense, my hurt,” and, “I just think people ought to know this”? Or, are you keeping your mouth shut and trusting God for the results?

… relational conflicts? God says that conflict is the product of covetous pride. Peace is the product of humility. What are you thinking about the personal conflicts in your life right now?

Are you thinking that the reason for this conflict is what others have done to you or not done for you, or how they have misunderstood you? Or, are you admitting that your part in this conflict is the covetous pride that has to make sure that I’m understood, or valued, or right?

     … your money? God says that the reason He gives you money is to bless others, and that when we don’t have enough we should be patient and pray for more to bless people more.

Are you thinking that the reason for your financial trouble is that you don’t have enough money or that God isn’t taking care of you as He should? Or, are you admitting that the primary source of your money problems is that you think of your money as belonging to you and not as a gift of God to bless others?

1 Peter—Stand fast in grace!

Experiencing Grace in the Midst of Suffering

“I have written to you briefly, in order to encourage you,

 and testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it” (1 Peter 5:12, NET Bible). 

It’s 64 AD. Paul’s death under the cruel persecution of the wicked Emperor Nero staggers Christianity. The infant church questions God’s goodness and power, especially on the frontiers of faith—the fledgling assemblies scattered throughout the five provinces of Asia Minor. Today that area is northern Turkey.

The news of Paul’s death and the raw threat of persecution and suffering forces the young church and its even younger shepherds and flocks to ask the questions every follower of Christ will ask:

If God is good, then how could He allow this to happen to us? I thought He loved us!

If Christ is building His church, then why is this so hard? I thought we were the world’s only hope!

Someone needed to step in with the answers to those faith-shattering questions.

Someone needed to bring God’s message to these stumbling fellowships.

Someone needed to teach these immature shepherds and their flocks how to access grace in the midst of suffering.

Someone did. The Apostle Peter writes from his own experience. Our study of Mark traced Peter’s personal struggle with the Lord’s hard message: Those who follow the Suffering Servant must be prepared to suffer and serve in His name.

The lessons Peter learned along the way are the lessons he teaches in this letter to the church. Lessons that take followers of Christ beyond the anticipation of suffering to the expectation of power and grace in the midst of suffering. Lessons to carry you through your darkest days. Lessons to show you how the light of God’s grace in Christ Jesus will penetrate your darkest days and fill you with a joy only those who continue to follow will ever know:

Grace is never more powerful than when life hurts the most!

 

First Peter is a field manual for warriors serving their King in a hostile land.

I. Peter encourages Christians to persevere during hard times by reminding us of who we are and exhorting us to live as if it’s true.

A. The Apostle Peter wrote this letter from Rome to Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor, living as aliens in a hostile land under a hostile king.

1. In the same way Peter referred to Mark symbolically as “my son,” he referred to the Roman church as “she who is in Babylon” (5:13). Peter chose the term “Babylon” to emphasize the evil of the Roman Empire without explicitly referring to it in ways that put the church at risk. This also emphasizes the “alien” dynamic recalling Israel’s exile to Babylon where they lived as aliens in a hostile land.

2. Peter is specifically writing to the geographical areas in Asia Minor where Paul’s ministry barely penetrated (Acts 16:6-7). These congregations were mixed, Jewish-Gentile. His heavy use of the Old Testament and referral to “elect strangers of the dispersion” (1:1) identifies the Jewish believers. His reference to them as a people who “once were no people, but now you are a people of God” (2:10), and the exhortation not to live any longer as “Gentiles” (4:4) identifies the Gentile believers.

3. It seems Peter used Sylvanus as the editor and courier of this letter (5:12). Sylvanus, a traveling companion of Paul would have been familiar to the Gentile readers and more acquainted with Paul’s writings. Peter, of course, was known as a pillar of the church.

B. The Apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage these congregations in the faith in the face of growing persecution and to affirm the teachings of Paul.

1. Paul’s death left them vulnerable to those who opposed Paul’s radical message of grace.

2. Paul’s death left them discouraged and doubting God’s goodness and power in the face of suffering.

C. Outline: Peter reminds us of who we are in Christ and then tells us to live our lives as if it’s true—even during hard times.

1. Introduction: This is a letter to God’s elect, living as scattered aliens in a hostile land under a hostile king (1:1-2).

2. Bless God whose mercy has recreated us in Christ (1:3-2:10).

a. We have a precious salvation which gives us hope and joy was predicted by the prophets and desired by the angels (1:3-12).

b. Our precious salvation compels us to a holy life as our Father’s obedient children who love Him and His children (1:13-25).

c. We have become a chosen priesthood who crave His word and offer genuine worship because we are God’s new spiritual house built upon the precious stone the builders rejected and His new nation to the praise of His glory (2:1-10).

3. Live for God by honoring Him in your relationship with this world and one another (2:11-5:11).

a. Live for God in the world by abstaining from sin and living good lives before non-Christians, respecting everyone (including authorities) selflessly (2:11-3:12), suffering well by remembering God is good, following Christ’s example, hoping in heaven (3:13-4:6), and by clinging to one another to face the hard times together (4:7-11).

b. Live for God in the church by remembering that the time to serve one another is short (4:7-11), knowing that it is a privilege to suffer for Christ (4:12-19), and persevering in spite of suffering (5:1-11).

D. Conclusion: This is a letter encouraging you to stand firm in God’s grace from your friends in the church at Rome.

II. 1 PETER AND YOU The question isn’t, “Will I suffer for Christ?” The question is, “Will I know how to access His grace when I suffer for Christ?”

A. The Cornerstone of our faith is a Person—Jesus Christ. Intimacy with Him will make every difference during hard times.

B. He is the Cornerstone of a community of faith—the church. Intimacy with His people will make every difference during hard times.

C. It’s one thing to say suffering for Christ is a privilege, it’s quite another to believe it. How can your community of faith help you believe that glorifying the Cornerstone of our faith is worth the pain?

D. Remember that Peter learned his lessons on suffering for Christ the hard way—through failure, guilt, and shame.

All the Bible, Every Book: 2 Peter

Grow in Grace and Knowledge!

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). 

The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.

Though Peter’s letters are grouped with the General Epistles, they are primarily to the mostly Gentile churches of Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1). His first letter encourages these fledgling churches to stand firm in grace in the face of suffering (1 Peter 5:12). The second letter admonishes them to grow in grace in the face of false teaching (2 Peter 3:18). Here is a rough comparison of the two:

 

1st Peter

“suffering” 16X

2nd Peter

“knowledge” 16X

External Opposition

Internal Opposition

Suffering from Persecution

Heresy from Apostasy

Need for Submission to Christ

Need for Knowledge of Christ

Comfort to the Hurting

Caution to the Vulnerable

Hope in the Lord’s Return

Confidence in the Lord’s Return

Second Peter was written shortly before his martyrdom (1:13-15) and it reads in many ways like a last will and testament. Early church tradition says that Peter spent his last decade in Rome and the church fathers write that he died there in A.D. 67-68. Like Paul’s 2 Timothy, 2 Peter is Peters’ last message to the church. He focuses on the internal turmoil caused by false teachers whose destructive heresies (2:1) can neutralize a believer’s impact for Christ. Since what we believe determines how we behave, false teaching always leads to a life of self-centered immorality. The only antidote to the impact of false teachers is a strong emphasis on the truth of Scripture and training in the skills of applying those truths to real life by grace. “The purpose of 2 Peter is to call Christians to spiritual growth so that they can combat apostasy as they look forward to the Lord’s return.” (Kenneth Gangel, “2 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 862):

2 Peter: Live responsibly as a recipient of grace—know Christ and live for Him!

Second Peter deals with the proper response to erroneous teaching within the church: Know the truth and use your power to apply the truth to your life.

I. Peter exhorts Christians to fulfill their responsibilities as recipients of grace by accessing the power of God and claiming the promises of God so that they will realize their potential and maintain purity.

A. Diligently appropriate your resources in Christ—true knowledge of Jesus Christ (1). Because of your great and precious promises in Christ, move forward in your faith to be more like Him. Hold fast to the truth of the inspired Scriptures.

B. Resist false teachers who undermine the confidence of believers and entice them into error and sin (2). Peter exposes the motives and dangers of these self-absorbed and arrogant false teachers.

C. Diligently appropriate your resource in Christ—the promises of God in prophecy (3). In spite of mockers who say that Jesus will not return, the day of he Lord will surely come and God will make all things right.

II. 2 PETER AND YOU: If you’re a Christian you have received all the grace you will ever need to live for Christ. With this grace comes the responsibility to use that grace to glorify Him. We are responsible to use God’s power and to claim His promises. Here are four steps toward living out the full potential of our new life in Christ Jesus:

A. Know Your Grace Resources. The more you know Christ, the more you will realize how rich you are in His grace. I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire” (2 Peter 1:3).

B. Know Your Grace Responsibilities. Since we have the power of God and the Word of God, we should diligently pursue disciplines that equip us to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence [moral excellence], to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love. For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately. But concerning the one who lacks such things—he is blind. That is to say, he is nearsighted, since he has forgotten about the cleansing of his past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin. For thus an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be richly provided for you.” (2 Peter 1:5-11)

C. Know How to Identify a False Teacher. Second Peter 2 gives us five identifying characteristics of a false teacher:

1. They deny the sufficiency of Christ. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1).

2. Their sinful lifestyle. “And many will follow their debauched lifestyles” (2 Peter 2:2).

3. Their greed and self-absorbed lifestyle. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words” (2 Peter 2:3).

4. They brazenly speak of demons as if a fallen angel is subject to their personal power. “Brazen and insolent, they are not afraid to insult the glorious ones, yet even angels, who are much more powerful, do not bring a slanderous judgment against them before the Lord. But these men, like irrational animals—creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed—do not understand whom they are insulting, and consequently in their destruction they will be destroyed” (2 Peter 2:11-12).

5. They entice immature believers by offering them a freedom that isn’t freedom at all, but a return to the slavery of sin. Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:11).

D. Know your Bible, especially prophecy. “Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Above all, understand this: In the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges and saying, ‘Where is his promised return? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately suppress this fact. (2 Peter 3:3-5)

All the Bible, Every Book: 1 John

Fellowship with God

And these things we write to you that your joy may be full (1 John 1:4). 

The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.

John was with the apostles who were in Jerusalem (Acts 8:14), and Paul calls him one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9). And then, for decades he’s not mentioned. Early Christian tradition tells us he left Jerusalem just before its destruction in A.D. 70 and headquartered in and around Ephesus. In his later years he wrote the Gospel of John and three epistles, probably as he was serving in Ephesus.

False teachers were confusing the churches John oversaw by saying that Christ only seemed to have a human body. Not only were they denying the Incarnation, but they were claiming to have secret knowledge about God that made them a kind of spiritual elite. Some of the most talented brethren left these fledgling churches to form new communities that denied the reality of Christ’s humanity (4:2) and taught an “advanced” spirituality that promised to take its initiates beyond sin (1:8).

John responds as a father protecting his “little children.” What they must know is that these new teachings are not only wrong, but they will steal the greatest joy any believer will ever know—the joy of life in the family of God.

The theme of First John is fellowship—that experience of intimacy with Christ and His people only available to those who belong to Him and only experienced by those who walk in His light and love. The passion of John is, “don’t lose it by listening to these lying teachers.”

1 John: Don’t lose the joy of fellowship!

 

Both the Gospel of John and 1 John address the subject of eternal life. John wrote his Gospel so that people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have eternal life” (John 20:31) He wrote his First Epistle so that Christians “may have fellowship” with the apostles, with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

I. John refutes the errors of those who deny the humanity of Christ and warns his readers against losing something far more valuable than any “insider knowledge” the false teachers were offering—the joy of fellowship with Jesus Christ.

A. Prologue—call to fellowship (1:4): John declares his purpose that he wants them to experience the joy of fellowship with Jesus.

B. Preamble—live in fellowship with God (1:5-2:11): Fellowship with God is made possible by the blood of Christ, but believers must walk honestly and openly in His light and love.

1. Walk in God’s light by staying on the path of holiness by being honest about your sin (1:5-22).

2. Know the God of light by following Christ and loving His people (2:3-11).

C. Body—live with the confidence of fellowship with God (2:12-4:19): Fellowship with God gives believers confidence.

1. Fellowship with God reassures us that we have the spiritual assets to resist the world and the antichrists (2:12-27).

2. Fellowship with God empowers us to display Christ’s character so that we will be confident at His Coming (2:28-4:19). Confident, or abiding Christians display Christ’s righteousness and love for one another, and display the Spirit’s truth and love.

D. Application—don’t lie about being in fellowship with God (4:20-5:17): Only those believers who love one another from the new nature (even the prodigal!) are living in fellowship with God.

E. Epilogue—the certainties of fellowship (5:18-21): Those believers who live in fellowship with God experience victory over sin and joy in this wicked world.

II. 1 JOHN AND YOU: This epistle was written to encourage every Christian to pursue deeper intimacy with God. The greater our intimacy with God, the more we will experience the full potential of eternal life. Every Christian possesses eternal life (John 20:31; 1 John 5:11-13, but not every believer is living the abundant experience of eternal life God meant for us to enjoy (John 10:10; 1 John 1:3).

Don’t miss the joy of fellowship!

Fellowship with God is the essence of eternal life, and eternal life it not just for heaven. Friendship with the Son of God can be yours on earth if you know His truth as the Spirit teaches it, live a pure life as His Spirit cleanses it, and love His people as He has loved you! 

If you are a Christian, First John says you can live the best life on earth, a life that is absolutely unique and satisfying in this world—a life lived in intimate friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are still thinking about what you will miss if you live in fellowship with Christ—a life guided by His truth, demonstrating His righteousness, and loving His people—you need to know that you will not miss any of it because the joy of fellowship eclipses every “happiness” this world has to offer.

The choice is yours. It’s your way or His way. And His way is an experience of eternal life you will be talking about in heaven forever…what a way to live!

A. If you want intimacy with God, then you must live in His light. Every believer receives the “light” of eternal life. We view the world differently (2:20) and we can know how we ought to live (2:27). But we have a responsibility to walk in that light by knowing God’s will and obeying His will (1:7) and to honestly admit when we’re not in the light (1:9).

B. If you want intimacy with God, then you must love with His love. Every believer receives the “love” of God. God is love, and we receive His life. We have the capacity and even the inner yearning to love with His love. But we have a responsibility to walk in that love (3:11ff) by loving one another, loving Him more than this world, and obeying Him (5:1-4).

 

All the Bible, Every Book: 2 John

True Love

Now this is love: that we walk according to His commandments…

..just as you heard from the beginning (2 John 6).

The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.

John was with the apostles who were in Jerusalem (Acts 8:14), and Paul calls him one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9). And then, for decades he’s not mentioned. Early Christian tradition tells us he left Jerusalem just before its destruction in A.D. 70 and headquartered in and around Ephesus. In his later years he wrote the Gospel of John and three epistles, probably as he was serving in Ephesus.

John’s first epistle was written to a group of churches in danger of following false teachers. His second letter is addressed to one of those churches (elect lady) and its members (her children) who are actually aiding and encouraging these false teachers.

Wrongly concluding that Christian love demands a tolerance of heresy, these believers were in danger of losing all that they had worked for on earth (disciplemaking ministry) and some of what they hoped for in heaven (eternal rewards).

John wastes no words as he makes his point in this letter sent hastily with First John to warn them, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine (the teachings of Christ and the Apostles), do not receive him into your house nor greet him” (v 10).

The message of 2nd John—love is based on truth—is a timeless reminder to every Christian and every church. Truth and love cannot be separated:

2 John: Abide in the truth if you want to love well!

The epistle easily divides into the relationship of truth and love in personal relationships (1-6), and in church relationships (7-13).

I. Abiding in Christ’s truth is critical to maintaining Christian love.

A.   John exhorts the church to love one another by walking in the truth they originally heard.

1. This church (elect lady, the chosen assembling in a local church) of maturing disciples (have come to know the truth, 1 John 2:3-4) should listen to the elder (Apostle John) because he loves them in truth (emphasis of truth, 6X in 3 verses, 1-3).

2. John pleads with them to love one another by abiding in the truth (4-6).

a. John was delighted to discover that members of this church were walking in the truth (note the emphasis on disciplemaking, not just conversion in John’s ministry, 4).

b. In spite of the good report or maybe because of the good report, John now implores them to love one another by living according to the truth they heard from the beginning (apostolic teachings, 5-6).

B.   John exhorts the church to love one another by resisting false teachers who deceive Christians.

1. John instructs them to love one another by resisting error (4-6).

a. The reason (for) they should love one another in truth is because false teachers have gone out to deceive Christians and oppose Christ’s work (deceivers and antichrists, 7).

b. Warning: False teaching in the church severely damages a disciplemaking ministry (all that we worked for) and could lead to a loss of reward (full reward threatened) for all who have served Christ in a local church (we occurs 3X, 8).

c. Identification: Anyone who goes beyond or turns aside from apostolic doctrine (doctrine of Christ) does not have God, is not abiding in His love and truth (9).

d. Instructions: Do not help (receive him into your house, hospitality) or encourage (greeting that is a type of rejoicing) this person in any way (10). In fact, you are either resisting them or joining them (11).

2. This matter is so pressing that John had to write this brief letter, but they can count on a personal letter soon and the love of their sister church from which John is writing (elect lady, the chosen assembling in a local church, 12-13). 

II. 2 JOHN AND YOU: What we believe will determine the quality of our love. If we want to love others with the love of Christ, we need to abide in the truth and abide in Him.

A. We love others best by living according to the truth as the Spirit teaches it!

1. True love cannot be separated from God’s truth (2 John 6).

2. The best gift of love I can give is the objective truth of God’s Word (Ephesians 4:15).

3. The impact of my love is maximized by my obedience to God’s Word (walk in truth, lifestyle). 

B. We love others best by protecting them against false teaching!

1. True love cannot be separated from God’s truth (2 John 6).

2. Heresy always hurts those we love and the ministries we love.

3. Tolerating false teachers in the name of love foolishly risks the spiritual health of those we love.

4. Supporting or encouraging false teachers in the name of love is aiding and abetting Christ’s enemies!

5. When false teachers “come for a visit” to your home, your family, your disciples, or your church, the most loving action is to slam the door in their face!

 

All the Bible, Every Book: 3 John

Love and Power

I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are living according to the truth.

(3 John 4) 

The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.

John was with the apostles who were in Jerusalem (Acts 8:14), and Paul calls him one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9). And then, for decades he’s not mentioned. Early Christian tradition tells us he left Jerusalem just before its destruction in A.D. 70 and headquartered in and around Ephesus. In his later years he wrote the Gospel of John and three epistles, probably as he was serving in Ephesus.

I believe Demetrius, a missionary John was commending to the churches under his influence, carried all three letters. John’s first letter was written to a group of churches in danger of following false teachers. His second letter is addressed to one of those churches (elect lady) and its members (her children) who are actually aiding and encouraging these false teachers. His third letter is to Gaius, a faithful leader of one of those churches.

Frustrated with a self-serving leader by the name of Diotrephes who resisted John’s instructions to support Demetrius and his team, John addresses faithful Gaius. His immediate purpose is to encourage Gaius and to make hospitality provisions for Demetrius. In just a few paragraphs John exposes the pride of Deotrephes by affirming the love of Gaius.

“This epistle presents one of the most vivid glimpses in the New Testament of a church in the first century.” (Charles C. Ryrie, The Third Epistle of John,” in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1483) Third John is the most personal of all the letters in the New Testament, but its message is timeless and applies to every believer and every church: Brotherly love is the product of abiding in the truth.

The messages of 2 John and 3 John portray the relationship between love and truth. Truth and love cannot be separated, and pride and love cannot coexist:

3 John: True love is demonstrated in hospitality and giving!

 

The word “beloved” (NKJV) or “dear friend” (NET) introduces each of three sections in the body of Third John.

I. Christian love that abides in the truth is selfless, hospitable, and generous (3 John).

A.   John is writing a personal letter to Gaius, whom he loves in truth (truly and according to the teachings of Christ and the apostles, 1).  Gaius is either a disciple of John or a man in this church well known to John who has influence in the church Diotrephes is bullying (see below).

B.   In order to encourage Gaius to receive his emissary, Demetrius, John affirms Gaius’s selfless and hospitable behavior and condemns the self-serving and ambitious behavior of Diotrephes—Gaius upholds the truth with love (2-12).

1. Dear friend (2-4): John commends Gaius’s walk in the truth by praying a blessing.

a. John expresses the wish that Gaius may do as well physically as he is spiritually (2).

b. John rejoices over his spiritual well being: Gaius is a man who lives out the truth (3-4).

2. Dear friend (5-10): John contrasts Gaius’s loving display of the truth to Diotrephes’s selfish desire for preeminence in the church.

a. The proof that Gaius walks in the truth is his love for the brethren demonstrated in his hospitality and generous support for Christian workers sent by John from Ephesus, even those he had never met (5-8).

b. The proof that Diotrephes only desires power is his refusal to receive John or his coworkers, his foolish and senseless verbal attacks on John, and his bullying of all that oppose him, even to the point of putting them out of the church (9-10).

3. Dear friend (11-12): John exhorts Gaius to do the good work expected of a child of God—receive and support Demetrius.

a. Don’t follow Diotrephes’ evil ways, but continue in your good ways—sure proof that you, not Diotrephes are following God (of God=behavior expected from a child of God in John’s epistles, seen God is to be in His light, 1 John 3:6-10; 4:1-4; 6-7. There is nothing in this letter that causes us to conclude that Diotrephes either is or is not regenerate. Carnal leaders and unbelieving wolves preying on the flock display the same behaviors (11).

b. Receive and support Demetrius because of the good report I send (12).

C. Farewell (13-15): This letter is brief but necessary; I’m coming soon!

II. 3 JOHN AND YOU: Truth or Power? The difference is real and observable!

A.   Power-broking “love” is conditional and self-serving. It is extended only to those who give them preeminence, can never be trusted, and should be resisted by all!

1. How to identify a “Diotrephes” in the local church:

a. They want to be “in charge.” Desiring preeminence is exactly the opposite of the Lord’s example (Philippians 2:7) and teaching (Mark 10:44) and usurps His rightful place in a local church (Colossians 1:18).

b. They never stop talking about whatever and whoever upsets them. With unbelievable energy, they “prattle on” with malicious words and foolishly nonsensical arguments.

c. They will actually try to throw those who disagree out of the church if they get the chance!

2. How to relate to a “Diotrephes” in the local church:

The leaders should confront them; the people should ignore them, and nobody should underestimate them!

B.   Truth-abiding love is unconditional and selfless. It is extended to workers of the truth through hospitality and generous support, can be trusted, and should be honored by all.

1. How to identify a “Gaius” in the local church:

a. They want to lead, but they do not have to have their way.

b. They are known for their hospitality and generosity, especially for Christian workers.

2. How to relate to a “Gaius” in the local church: Honor them and follow them!

All the Bible, Every Book: Jude

Contend for the Faith

I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith.

(Jude 3) 

The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.

Judas, or Jude, was the half-brother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), and the full-brother of James (Jude 1; Acts 15:13). Jesus’ brothers rejected His claims to be the Messiah during His life on earth (John 7:5), but they believed in Him after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). They were among the believers who gathered in the Upper Room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), and they were traveling ministers of the Gospel in the early church (1 Corinthians 9:5).

Due to the similarities between Jude and 2 Peter, it seems best that Jude wrote his epistle to a predominantly Jewish church sometime after 2 Peter (A.D. 64-66). Both epistles deal with the danger of apostasy (departure from the faith). Peter prophetically warns against the future rise of false teachers         (2 Peter 2:1-2; 3:3) whereas Jude documents the historical fulfillment of Peter’s warnings (Jude 4, 11-12, 17-18). This means that Jude wrote his letter sometime between A.D 66-80.

Much like James, Jude’s letter seems to be an “epistolary sermon,” a sermon he preached that he then sent in the form of an epistle. “One thought characterizes this epistle: beware of the apostates.” (Edward C. Pentecost, “Jude,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 918) Though historically it occurs before the emergence of fully developed Gnosticism, incipient forms of that heresy seem to be involved. “Here, in an undeveloped form, are all the main characteristics which went to make up later Gnosticism—emphasis on knowledge which was emancipated from the claims of morality; arrogance toward ‘unenlightened’ church leaders; interest in angelology; divisiveness and lasciviousness.” (Michael Green, The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude, p. 39)

Apostasy means to depart from “the faith”—the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. It involves a denial or even a repudiation of a major truth of biblical Christianity. I believe it is a matter of obedience to Christ’s teaching rather than salvation. Both Christians and non-Christians can become apostate. It isn’t a changing of your status before God—redeemed or unredeemed, but a change in your conviction concerning the truth of God—accepting or rejecting.

The Book of Jude warns us of the very real possibility that not only must we remain faithful to the faith, but we must also fight for “the faith”—the teachings of Christ and the Apostles:

Jude: Contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints!

 

Like his brother James, Jude used powerful descriptive and cutting terms to describe those who compromise or pervert the truth concerning his half-brother Jesus, the Son of God, Messiah of Israel and Savior of the World.

I. Take care to remain faithful to the faith.

A.   Purpose: Jude addresses believers to warn them against false teachers who undermine the grace of God by teaching licentiousness and who deny Christ. He implores his readers to contend earnestly for the faith (1-4).

B.   Warning: Jude alerts his readers to the dangers of false teaching by illustrating past failures of those who strayed from God’s truth and by exposing the error of those who were teaching error (5-16).

1. Three examples of divine judgment on apostates from the Pentateuch illustrate the danger of apostasy: certain Israelites, certain angels, and certain pagans (5-7).

2. Three tragic mistakes apostates make expose the idiocy of their teaching (8-16).

a. They overestimate the importance of what they think they know. They are so sure of their “new truth” that they defile their lives, reject God’s authority, and even insult angels (8-9).

b. They, along with the gullible, underestimate the seriousness of their error. Like Cain, Balaam, and Korah from the Old Testament, they spout foolish and powerless theories, are dangerous to everyone, and invite judgment (10-13).

c. They, along with the gullible, ignore the consequences of their error. Jesus is coming to judge all wrong, even and especially the wrongs of apostates because their weird but impressive teachings enchant people (14-16).

C. Exhortation: Remember the warning of the apostles that these apostates would show up, motivated only by their ungodly desires. Build yourselves up in the faith through prayer in the Spirit, receiving love from the Father, and looking forward to the mercy of the Son. Have mercy on those who waver due to the impact of these false teachers (17-23).

D. Benediction Praising Christ (24-25).

II. JUDE AND YOU: The slipperiest slippery slope in the universe—the path to apostasy. Keep in mind that an apostate is anyone who denies the truth of “the faith”—the teaching of Christ and the Apostles. This progression of the apostate in v. 4 comes from the notes of Tom Constable, “Jude,” pp. 3-4.

A.   Ungodliness—the conscious decision to refuse to submit to God’s authority. This stems from a lack of reverence for God as the One who deserves obedience because He loves us.

B.   License—now that these people have decided not to submit to God’s authority, their lives become boundary-less when it comes to sin. Their conduct becomes more and more outside the lines of morality and justice. Extremely sinful, hopeless, and hurtful lifestyles are often the result.

C.   Intellectual Rationalization—finally, these people will justify their ridiculously sinful lifestyle with intellectual, religious, and philosophical theories that “prove” they are right and God is wrong. This is always based upon a denial of God’s Word and the conclusion that what God says is “right” is “wrong,” and what God says is “wrong” is “right.”

If you do not live what you believe, you will end up believing what you live.

Jude 4’s perspective on heresy and heretics:

Though heretical teachings are usually defended only on intellectual grounds, Jude 4 tells us that it often begins with rebellion against God that leads to an immoral life that must be justified.

Jude 4’s warning against the slippery slope:

In your own life, or someone you love, do you see evidences of the slipperiest slippery slope of rebellion-licentiousness-apostasy?

All the Bible, Every Book: Revelation

Jesus Wins!

Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things (Revelation 1:19). 

The nine General Epistles point to the person and work of the resurrected Christ. They encourage Christians to cling to Him and exhort them to serve Him faithfully because He is the only source of life. Written primarily to persecuted Jewish Christians, the truths apply to every believer from every culture and in every age of church history.

The canon of Scripture closes with a majestic epistle written by the Apostle John in exile on the island of Patmos during the great persecution under the Roman Emperor Domitian (AD 95-96). John received the Revelation from the Lord Jesus through an angel. The letter was sent to the churches he shepherded in the Roman province of Asia. The book is a “Revelation of Jesus Christ,” an unveiling of His character and program of the ages. Just as Genesis is the book of beginnings, Revelation is the book of completion. In it the divine program of rescue of creation from sin is consummated, and the holy name of God is vindicated in the Second Advent and final victory of His Son, the resurrected Christ, who alone has authority to judge the earth, rescue creation, and to rule the universe in righteousness.

All Bible-centered believers and scholars agree that Revelation was written to assure Christians of the ultimate triumph of Christ over all who oppose Him and His people. The recipients in the early church were facing dark days of persecution and needed to know that Jesus would ultimately win. That’s the big picture message of Revelation—Jesus Wins!

All sincere and believing Christians and scholars do not agree on the interpretation of the message Jesus Wins! There are four major alternatives:

(1)    The symbolic or idealist view sees Revelation as a symbolic portrait of the cosmic conflict of good vs. evil. Antichrist, in this view, is not a real person but the personification of evil.

(2)     The preterist view (Latin word praeter means past) also rejects the prophetic aspect of Revelation, maintaining that it describes events of the first century. It is a symbolic description of the Roman persecution of the church, forced emperor worship under Domitian, and God’s judgment of Rome.

(3)     The historicist view interprets the Apocalypse as an allegorical panorama of the church from the first century to the Second Advent.

(4)     The futurist view we hold at Church of the Open Door, acknowledges the obvious allusions to the first-century persecution of the church by Rome had upon the letter. But we attempt to discern the literal meanings behind the symbolism of Revelation when sound interpretation permits it through the context and by correlation with other Scripture (especially the Old Testament prophets, and the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25). Our futurist view centers Revelation around the second advent of Christ who will return in power and glory to judge all who rejected His free gift of eternal life.

All of my notes and everything I say about the Book of Revelation is from the futurist view of prophecy. We believe in the snatching up of the church prior to the events of the Great Tribulation in chapters 6-19:6, the Second Coming in 19:7-21, a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth or Millennium in chapter 20, and the rescue of creation in the new heaven and earth in 21:1-22:5.

Though we may not agree on the particulars of the Revelation, we should all agree that it is an unveiling of Jesus Christ—His person, His power, and His plan—for the rest of history. This book of prophecy is written to give us confidence that the One who washed us from our sins in His own blood will someday conquer evil and establish His rule over all creation:

Revelation: Live with confidence and be encouraged—Jesus Wins!

 

The three major movements in the unveiling of Christ are previewed in 1:19: what you saw (1), what is (2-3), and what will be after these things (4-22).

I. Live for Christ, because He is coming again to triumph over all who oppose Him.

A.   What you saw (1): Promising a blessing to all who read this book (1:13), the first chapter portrays God concluding with a theophany (visible manifestation of God that overwhelms John. The glory of the omnipotent and omniscient Christ assures the reader that He will subjugate all things under His authority.

B.   What is (2-3): Real messages to seven of the churches close to John’s heart warn and guide all churches until the Second Advent to remain faithful to Jesus Christ. All churches and Christians who have an ear to hear “better hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (3:22).

C.   And what will be after these things (4:1-22:5): John is caught up into heaven where he is given a vision of the divine majesty and the future plans of God.

1. Father and Son are on the throne and are worshiped by the host of heaven because of who they are and what they have done—creation and redemption. Christ is declared worthy to open the seven seals of the book of judgment (4-5).

2. Prophecies of the Great Tribulation (6:1-19:6).

a. Three cycles of seven judgments—seals, trumpets and bowls—are sent from heaven to earth, where the Antichrist persecutes Christ’s people, though 144,000 are sealed for ministry in His name and a great multitude believes in Him (6-16).

b. The great religio-political system (Babylon) rebelling against Christ and parallel to some version of a revived Roman empire falls (17-19:6).

c. Christ is about to return to earth. The marriage feast of the Lamb is a rich time of fellowship with His bride, the church, and all before the throne erupt in praise to God. Jesus Christ returns as King of Kings and vindicates His righteousness and all who have been persecuted for His name (19:7-21).

3. Prophecies of the Millennium (20:1-15). Satan is bound and saints reign for 1,000 years. Satan is released. Incredibly, there is a huge rebellion of those born during the Millennium against King Jesus. Satan is finally judged and tormented forever. All who have rebelled against the grace of God throughout the ages are judged at the Great White Throne Judgment.

4. Prophecies of the Eternal State (21:2-22:5). The heavens and earth are recreated, the New Jerusalem descends, and the New Jerusalem is described. As it was in the Garden, so it is again. His people are in the special place He prepared for them so that He can dwell among them and love them.

D. Epilogue (22:6-21): Revelation concludes with the reassurance that Christ is coming quickly and a warm invitation to all to “take of the water of life free of charge” (22:17). Then, there is a stern warning not to add to the words of the book.

II. REVELATION AND YOU: There’s so much to argue about when it comes to Revelation and prophecy. But here are three truths we all need to hear:

A. The primary purpose of Revelation is to encourage Christians to remain faithful during hard times, knowing that Jesus is going to win.

B. Jesus gave us a roadmap of history. It may not be crystal clear to us now, but I believe that the generation of Christ-followers living through the dark days of chapters 6-19 will have no trouble connecting the prophecies from heaven with events on earth.

C. The warm invitation is the church’s ministry and the words every man, woman, boy and girl need to hear and respond to. Do you want the water of life? It’s free of charge. Trust in Jesus!