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JULY 2004

 

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John 18:4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?

 

The Lord knew exactly how the events of the next few days were going to turn out. Most of us get through tough spots in life by hoping that things will get better. That wasn’t going to happen for the Lord until he had “endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).” The joy would come afterward and yet knowing all this, He was willing to become the sinner’s Savior.

We can be thankful that the Lord is not caught by surprise by anything that happens. He was not caught by surprise when Eve sinned in the Garden. He was not caught by surprise when they came to take Him, saying, “Whom seek ye?” He knew that the only way He could free man from the slave market of sin was to pay the price of redemption HImself. The one who Created us had to buy us back after we had sold ourselves to sin. On this Fourth of July weekend when we celebrate Independence Day, the freedom that we need is freedom from the old master, sin (Romans 6:18). Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon Him, made it possible through HIs suffering on our behalf to free us from involuntary servitude to sin so that we can voluntarily and willingly serve Him. He has said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:36).”

Sometimes we don’t feel free. We feel like the Lord is leading us in circles rather than in the paths of righteousness that the Psalmist speaks about in Psalm 23:3. We wonder where those still waters and green pastures are. But we walk by faith and not by sight. The Lord knew all things that would come upon Him and we do not. If we are trusting in Christ, we are trusting in One who knows all things that will come upon us as well. For the Lord, the story ended with the victory of the resurrection and ascension. We who are saved have victory because of His victory. He has promised “because I live, ye shall live also (John 14:19).” He has encouraged us through David to believe that, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (Psalm 23).” Our encouragement during trials is not that we know how it will turn out but rather we know the One Who is with us. We must believe that He is with us even when Satan uses circumstances to get us to doubt that truth.

The Lord who knew what He was going to pass through was encouraged by the joy that was set before Him (Hebrew 12:2). We who do not know all things are encouraged by the hope that we have in Christ. This is not the hope that we will be saved but the hope (or confident expectation) that comes from knowing that our future is secure with Him. While we don’t know what this life holds we know that we have been freed from sin, we have a Lord Who is with us and not against us, and at the end of the road we are going to be with Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us (see Galatians 2:20).

Week of July 4, 2004

Luke 15:2, And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

 

If a person is known by the company he keeps, then the Lord kept the wrong company. Surely, it would seem that the Messiah should want to avoid sin and, thus, avoid sinners. But the Lord actually spent time in the homes of tax collectors and sinners eating meals with them. He should have been spending His time with the “good” people who could help His career and advance His position. He needed people that could help get him “elected” to this leadership position that He claimed was His right. The Lord did not do this, however. He was interested in helping those who could not help themselves.

We often find that people have two problems when we preach the Gospel. The first problem is that some will not take the title of sinner because “they try to do the best they can.” They try to help their neighbors and they have a reverence for God. We are glad for people like that in our neighborhoods, but even good people sin. When we tell people that they need to be “born again” according to the Lord’s teaching in John 3:7, they assume that “bad people” need a new life in Christ but that good people do not. However, the Lord was speaking to a “good” man, when He told Nicodemus that He needed to be born from above. We thank God for people who are good by our society’s standards, but even good people need to recognize that they have sinned and that they are sinners. Once they recognize this truth, they too will be able to enjoy the fact “that this Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The second problem is that some people think that they are to bad to be saved. These have no problem being called sinners, but some have sinned so grievously that they do not believe that the Lord will ever forgive them. They really don’t believe that “that this Man receives sinners and eats with them.”

We are glad that the Lord eats or has fellowship with publicans and sinners because otherwise he could not have fellowship with any of us. We may think we are so bad that He will reject us, but He has said, “Come unto me, ALL ye that labor and are heavy laden (Matthew 11:28)!” We may think we are good, but God has said, “All have sinned (Romans 3:23)”. So even good people need to take the title of sinner so that they can get the blessing that the Lord offers.

Bad people think the Lord will not want anything to do with them because of their sin. But God makes it clear that He didn‘t call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17). Good people shut themselves out of the blessing of God’s salvation, because they don’t see themselves as sinners. They are the ones who self-righteously accused the Lord of spending time with the wrong people. However, whether the world, our friends or our families, see us as good people or as sinners, God sees us all as sinners. And that is just the kind of person He came to save. Romans 5:6 says, “Christ died for the ungodly.” Only those of us who have recognized that we are sinners and that, therefore, we are ungodly, get the benefit of God‘s salvation and the blessing of eating or of having fellowship with Him. Thank God that the Lord didn’t associate with the people that men thought should be his associates. Instead, “This man receives sinners (us) and eats with them (us).”

Week of July 11, 2004

2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of Jehovah run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly; for from henceforth thou shalt have wars.

2 Chronicles 16:10 Then Asa was wroth with the seer (prophet), and put him in the prison-house; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time.

2 Chronicles 16:12 And in the thirty and ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet; his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to Jehovah, but to the physicians.

 

Sometimes we can see faulty and foolish thinking in others but we have trouble seeing it in ourselves. Why would Asa, who started out being such a good king, end up so poorly? He started out doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord (14:2). He even removed his mother from being “Queen Mother” because of her idolatry (15:16). But when he made the mistake of relying on Syria to save him from Baasha King of Israel, Hanani the prophet was sent by the Lord to rebuke him for entering into this unequal yoke rather than depending on the Lord. Instead of accepting the correction, he locked up Hanani in prison and then oppressed some of his people. What was Asa thinking?

Do you suppose that he thought that God was unjust in criticizing him because of all that he had done for the Lord? Some people are like that. They have invested their whole life in sacrificing for the Lord and now they think that the Lord “owes” them. I have talked to people who think that God is unjust because he allows a thief to go to heaven or paradise based on grace while sending others who have “worked hard” all their lives to hell. Some people tell me that they simply won’t worship a God like that. Is that not faulty thinking?

Do you suppose that he thought that if he got rid of the messenger, that he would get rid of the message? Some people actually seem to think that we have done them an injustice by explaining the Gospel to them because that makes them accountable. And it doesn’t take long for them to figure out that those who are the most privileged also have the most responsibility and thus have the greater punishment if they rebel against the voice of God. So they would just as soon not hear the warnings of God so that they can plead ignorance when they meet Him. How about that for faulty thinking?

Do you suppose that he thought that the prophet didn’t have the right to correct him even if God did send him? After all he was king and people should respect his office, right? I can just hear him saying to Hanani, “Who do you think you are, speaking to me in this way?” And of course, his argument would be like many today who say that it is not what is said but the way it is said that they find offensive. Many times have I seen people who are trying to be helpful by preaching or counseling the truth have those they are helping get mad because they were “harsh” in what they said. I don’t think we should speak about eternal conscious punishment for the unbeliever in such a way that they would think we are happy that some people are sent there. On the other hand, I know of no way to present that truth delicately. Often corrective ministry to the believer is just as hard to present tactfully. Is it good thinking to punish the messenger because he has been faithful to God in delivering a difficult message? I hardly think so!

Maybe it is time we faced facts and realized that there would be no need for the warning message if there had been no sin. Blessing starts with the confession, “I have sinned” as David found out (2 Samuel 12:13) and as the prodigal found out (Luke 15:18). Hating the messenger that has the difficult job of being faithful to the Lord as he warns people about their sin certainly doesn’t solve the problem of sin and certainly is not clear thinking. Humbling ourselves and confessing the sin is clear thinking since John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).”

Week of July 18, 2004

Acts 12:11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

Acts 12:15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad (beside yourself, NKJV).

Acts 26:24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.

 

We often say that we interpret the Bible literally, however, when we say that, we are not denying that there is language in the Bible that must be understood figuratively. The phrase, “he came to himself,” is a very picturesque way of describing someone who was not thinking clearly but now is. The phrase, “thou art beside thyself,” is a figurative way of describing someone whose thinking is confused. Apparently there are times when we are seen as two people and the one who is not really us is calling the shots. When we come to ourselves, we are then in our right minds thinking clearly. Of course, literally we are not two people, and literally we can’t come to ourselves or be beside ourselves. So in the context we have to understand that the literal rendering of the words has a symbolic meaning.

There was a man that we call the prodigal in Luke 15:17 who “came to himself” and was blessed because of it. During the time he was living for self and making his own decisions, he was apparently “beside himself.” When he “came to himself” he realized he had made a grave mistake and had sinned against God and against his father. His confession of sin was the first step in obtaining forgiveness and reconciliation with his father. Though he had left home in rebellion, his father received him back with open arms, a kiss, a ring, a robe and shoes. His father then prepared a feast because his son “was back”. He had “come to himself” and that had brought him back to his father.

In Luke 16:22 we read about a rich man who died and went to a place of torment. Is this a literal story or is it figurative? Since the Lord says that there was a certain rich man as well as a beggar named Lazarus, I believe that the story actually happened. However the Lord told many parables where His story uses real events and real people even though the meaning of the story is certainly symbolic. Luke 16 is certainly based on real events which means that people do experience bliss or torment after they die and the story shows that death is not the end. If this story has a symbolic meaning as some think, the events still actually happened. I am inclined to think that this story has no symbolic meaning and should be interpreted literally.

This story is recounted to help us understand the literal cost of living for self and rejecting the one Who would die for others. It would be better to be poor in life and to know that the Lord died for our sins than to have all that life offers and to wake up surprised in the torment that is the eternal portion of the Christ rejecter. A person would have to be “beside himself” to not believe that there is eternal conscious punishment for the unbeliever. The person who “comes to himself” is the person who prepares for eternity by trusting in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we “come to ourselves” the Lord is waiting to welcome us just as the father of the prodigal was waiting to welcome him.

Week of July 25, 2004