Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What are the 7 Messages of Jesus final discourse?

As I present this final discourse of our Lord, I find it overall to be comforting though he presents many things which, should we ponder them much at all, will cause great distress and should move us to more prayer. I included the words of our Lord here because I felt that the message is the whole point of this question. Please do reflect on his words, and know that, even in these uncertain times, God has planned the end from the beginning, and his sovereignty will reign.

Most of these verses are from Matthew, in what may be regarded as the final discourse of Jesus. John has one entry here, and John is the only apostle to record the many things that Jesus said to his disciples on the last night. Thus, John is the only gospel to tell us that God will not leave his church to suffer this coming wrath. Please note the regular order, and the precise timing or order of all of the events. The last judgments involve first the Jews, and then the Gentiles and will occur at the absolute end of the age—or perhaps, at the very beginning of the new age, when we will reign with Christ on earth.

1. Unseen earthly kingdom
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Matthew 24: 3-8

In this passage the mystery kingdom is revealed. Note that a mystery in the Bible is something that heretofore has not been revealed. During this time the 70 weeks of Daniel are to be suspended, with the Messiah being “cut off” at the 69th week. So all of the previous time, more than 2,000 years now, has been what the Bible refers to as the “time of the Gentiles”, and until the earthly kingdom of the Gentiles is finally at an end, the seventieth week will not begin.

2. The Rapture
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
John 14: 1-3

Note that this passage is the only one not taken from Matthew, and the reason is that it contains information about the Rapture, part of a long personal message to the church given in John to the apostles by Jesus. Please note that Jesus is preparing a place for us, that where he is (heaven) there we may be also. Heaven will be a temporary refuge for us, as this will mark the beginning of the 70th week when judgment is poured out upon the earth. Jude tells us this when Jude quotes from the book of Enoch (Jude 14), saying that the Lord will return with “ten thousands of his saints”. How will his saints return to the earth first, except that they have already gone up to heaven?

3. The Tribulation
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
Matthew 24: 21, 22

The tribulation is a final seven years of 70 weeks of years determined against Israel. The Bible specifically calls the last 3½ years to be the “great” tribulation, a period of judgment unparalleled in the history of man. This period is the subject of Revelation chapter four through nineteen.

4. The preaching of the gospel kingdom
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Matthew 24:14

The message of Christ redeeming the earth is to be given to all of the earth. It is to be proclaimed faithfully unto the uttermost parts of the earth.

5. Coming of the Desolator
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
Matthew 24:15

Note that the Desolator comes not until the last week, the 70th week of Daniel starts. It is very interesting that Jesus points us back to Daniel here, and we should be aware of these famous seventy weeks of Daniel. Many a Christian has wounded himself and the church by attempting to declare who the beast is, and many men throughout history have had this abominable description falsely attributed to them. The world will not know of the Desolator until the final week is started, and thus after the church is raptured out of the world.

6. Judgment of Israel
But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24: 37- Matthew 25:30

Sometimes these verses are misinterpreted to be about the Rapture as different people are taken suddenly. The Rapture, however, is not in view here. Rather the judgment of the people of Israel is here, and the people are taken, not for the delight of the Rapture, but rather to judgment where they are found wanting. Walvoord says: “However, a careful reading of the passage yields exactly the opposite result. At the rapture of the church, those taken are those who are saved, and those who are left are left to go through the awful period, including the great tribulation. Here the situation is just in reverse. Those who are taken are taken in judgment, and those who are left are left to enter the millennial kingdom.”1 Chafer says (nearly of the same passage, Matthew 24:37- Matthew 25:13), “While it is approached from several different angles, the one objective of all this extended section is the exhortation to Israel to be prepared for the coming of their Messiah-King.”2 Chafer goes on to explain why this is written to the church, a mistake many have made. “In the instance of the Church in her rapture, those who are truly saved are without exception taken into heaven and the unsaved who were only professors outwardly are left for the impending judgments which follow on the earth.”3 In other words the saints, i.e. the church, are taken out of the world, and are in the presence of Christ when these judgments are explained. The church is identified by God without mistake, and is raptured up to heaven. There is no separation of believers and unbelievers, for God knows who are his.

1. Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (p. 382). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, L. (1993). The Teachings of Christ Incarnate. In Systematic theology (Vol. 5, p. 129). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
3. Chafer, L. (1993). The Teachings of Christ Incarnate. In Systematic theology (Vol. 5, p. 129). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

7. Judgment of Nations
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Matthew 25:31-46

Walvoord gives a great summation of what these passages say: “
The holocaust and suffering of Jews in Germany in World War II leads to worldwide sympathy for the Jews, resulting in their transition to a homeland.
In 1948, the United Nations recognizes Israel as a nation and allows her to have five thousand square miles of territory, excluding ancient Jerusalem.
Israel, though immediately attacked by those nations surrounding her, achieves increases in territory in subsequent wars.
Though Russia at the beginning is sympathetic to Israel, the United States becomes her principal benefactor and supplier of military aid and money.
Israel makes amazing strides forward in reestablishing her land and its agriculture, industries, and political power.
In the series of military tests, Israel establishes that her army is superior to that of surrounding nations.
Arab power opposing Israel is sufficient to keep Israel from having peaceful coexistence with other nations in the Middle East.
Israel continues in the state of confusion and conflict until the church is raptured.
With the formation of the ten-nation confederacy by a Gentile ruler in the Middle East, Israel is forced to accept a seven-year peace settlement.
The world and the Jewish people celebrate what appears to be a permanent peace settlement in the Middle East.
Israel prospers, and many return to Israel after the peace is settled.
Toward the close of the three and a half years of peace, Russia, accompanied by several other nations, attempts to invade Israel but is destroyed by a series of judgments from God.
After three and a half years of peace, the covenant is broken, and the Middle East ruler becomes a world dictator and a principal persecutor of Israel.
The world dictator desecrates the temple of Israel and sets up an idol of himself to be worshipped.
Worldwide persecution of the Jews begins, and in the land two out of three perish.
A Jewish remnant that puts trust in Christ emerges.
Though the world ruler massacres both Jews and Gentiles who fail to worship him as god, some survive and are rescued by Christ.
The second coming of Christ rescues persecuted Jews and Gentiles and brings judgment upon all wickedness in the world and unbelievers.
The promised kingdom on earth—with Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and David as her regent prince—begins with godly Israel being regathered from all over the world to inhabit her Promised Land.
For one thousand years Israel experiences unusual blessing as the object of Christ’s favor.
With the end of the millennial kingdom and the destruction of the present earth, godly Israel has its place in the eternal state and the new heaven and the new earth.
Those among Israel who are saved are placed in the New Jerusalem in the new earth."

I see much beauty in the final discourse of Jesus. Even though Walvoord may not have the
events exactly correct, for which of us can say with certainty of prophetic events, it should be obvious that God has planned the end from the beginning, and that everything will fall out exactly as God planned. That much is comfort! However, the coming judgment, which we Christians shall evidently escape through the rapture, should nonetheless be causing us much distress and prayer, especially as we see the day drawing closer. Psalm Two says the kings of the earth make their plans against God, but that God sits in his heaven and laughs at those plans. The wrath of God is due to be poured out upon all men and women of the earth in that day, and we certainly see that in the many beheadings and persecutions of Christians in the Middle East. In the final day, there are only two sides to be on. Either we believe in the Messiah, or we reject the Messiah. Ought we not to be reaching the lost for Christ, since we know that the days are short?

1. Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (p. 372). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ringing Reflections

I make an annual pilgrimage through The Lord of the Rings each holiday season, and just completed it yesterday. I have been doing this each year since I first discovered the books at the age of 17, and I turned 63 this year, making a total of about 46. I almost always am most tearful in the last two books (there are 6 books in the series) as the hopeless quest is completed, and the King comes into his own. This last time, I found myself comparing what Tolkien did with the hobbits and what the Lord is doing with us, an apt illustration of the magnificence of God exhibited towards a people of little account. Let me try to share that vision with you.

Frodo has struggled through five books to carry the Ring to the Cracks of Doom, fighting and losing his battles as the Ring seeks to exert its mastery on him. In the final climactic scene, he loses to temptation, standing before the Crack of Doom, and decides to put the Ring on, rather than cast it into the hot depths. As he proclaims his intention, he is struck from evil Gollum who has pursued the return of his Ring throughout the same books. Gollum wrestles with the invisible Frodo until he finds his hand, then his fingers, and finally the Ring. With a violent gnash of his teeth on seemingly invisible air he bites Frodo’s ring finger off. Taken in such a frenzy of ecstasy he dances on the edge of the Crack of Doom, and slips and falls, thus completing the task of Frodo and Sam.

Already the thinking Christian must be getting all sorts of images of themselves trying and failing to do good deeds, only to watch the Spirit of God come in at the last minute and use some hopeless thing (Gollum?) to bring about his purposes. I think of the times that I fail to do that which I am called, and the wonderful grace of God that is able to take in spite of me.

Frodo the Nine-fingered and Sam are taken back to the King, and even the least vestige of enemy clothing that they wore to accomplish their quest is saved. In their ragged and tattered clothes, they are taken before the whole of the kingdom by the King himself, and set in most high honor. In a solemn declaration before the kingdom, the King proclaims to all, “Praise them with great praise!” and when they are done, then he repeats his command yet again, and yet again the kingdom rejoices in their accomplishments.

How like that is for us! Tattered in our clothes of righteousness, we falter and fail at nearly every turn, yet in the end of all things, God has purposed to “praise us with great praise”. Skeptical? Try these verses of Revelation out, near the end of all things: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (19:7,8). Note that she has made herself ready, and that she is clothed in righteousness. NIV says: “Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.”

These are acts that Christians, you and I, are doing, right now. They are, of course, to be done in the power of the Spirit, and not by our power at all, but yet very much with our wills being surrendered to the grace of God. Like Samwise and Frodo, we struggle our way through life’s quest, and too often like Frodo, we find our finger being bitten off to accomplish our heart’s desire. But we are not all the way there yet, for there is more to be had in the reflection.

Has not God declared in these verses that he is honoring that which was done in his name? Is he not lifting up the church for all the kingdom to behold the Bride, and her righteous deeds? Though it is not literal, is he not taking the Bride of Christ, and lifting her up to be praised with great praise? I was talking to Bob Kramer this morning about it, and I saw his doubts fleeting across his face, just as I did when I started contemplation of it. Think about it and surely you will see that I am right. We have all been to weddings—I have been to many, and have never noticed where the wedding guests are focused on the groom. Rather all eyes are upon the beautiful bride, and her exquisite dress, and her happy rejoicing face. The music starts, and every eye turns with respect and wonder at the bride coming down the aisle. All of the kingdom of God, in that moment, will be looking not at the groom, but at the bride, and every piece of clothing that God has wrought in the righteous acts of the saints for that occasion. Like Bob suggested this morning, I might think I am in trouble if I am supposed be dressed in my righteous acts. I would probably end up with a very short dress, woefully incomplete. But we, together as a church, have completed that which we cannot do by ourselves. Together, and with the Spirit of God, he has wrought wonderful works in the likes of small insignificant beings like Frodo and Sam. In union we are complete, and that is the way God sees his church, the way that he will show us off to the kingdom.

I confess that I have always thought of it more through the Bride’s view. But is that not just as it should be? In any wedding that I remember the Bride always has her eyes on the groom, and I do not think it will be any different for me upon that day. The Bride will gaze in rapture upon the face of her lover, the Groom. But it is different for the wedding guests, for they will be interested very much in seeing the wonderful Bride. The marriage supper of the Lamb I always supposed to be one of the most intense rapture I suppose I should ever feel. But how surprised we will be on that day when we find the God of the universe in effect taking the church, holding her before all, and saying, “Praise them with great praise!”

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How can we live properly?

[Many times I open these posts with crediting Chafer with the initial idea, and it is true this time also. He has included many scripture references for this idea, and I am quoting many of them.1 In a delightful read, I am working my way through Chafer’s Systematic Theology, and am nearly finished with volume 4.]

First, I would like to dispel the common notion that since we live under grace and not under the law that we have an easier time—that is, that less is requested in terms of work. It is true that none could succeed in following the law. It is true that many Christians attempt to put themselves back under the law, thinking that somehow the covenant given to Moses and the Jews has somehow translated to them, but it is not so given in the scriptures. Galatians is largely written to dispel this notion, and I shall quote a few passages from that book. First, Paul tells us, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). It is our faith alone that justifies us, and faith alone brings that justification of what Christ has already done for us. Note that Paul tells us specifically that by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Second, we are told specifically that this covenant, or agreement, came 430 years after the first covenant, namely the covenant with Abraham, and it in no way was meant to supersede that covenant. We are called the spiritual children of Abraham, not related at all to him (unless we be Jewish) by physical descent, but rather we have been adopted into the family, but under the Abrahamic covenant. Paul tells us of the temporariness of this covenant of Moses, “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect” (Galatians 2:21).

That covenant of Moses was meant to be only temporary, and for a specific purpose. Lastly, Paul tells us, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24, 25). Thus it is clear that the law was a temporary schoolmaster, meant to point the way to Christ, and does not apply to Christians. As Paul tells us in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

“Well, whew!”, you might sigh. “I am glad we are under grace.”

But not so fast. Actually the challenge to live the life Christians are called to live goes way beyond the demands of the law. Let me illustrate with a few verses. We are called to “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Notice every thought—each and every thought we have we are responsible for. John tells us to walk in the light. Paul, in Ephesians tells us to walk in the Spirit. Elsewhere he tells us not to quench the Spirit. The greatest of all commandments Is to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Who can possibly hope to do that?

The calling is nearly to perfection, something that I am as far as the east is from the west in accomplishing. What then? Thanks be to God, we are not called to do it in our own power, but instead we are to take on the very Spirit of God to accomplish a task that we could never accomplish on our own. Notice, finally, the difference between the law and grace. The law is never said to be accomplished through the aid of the Spirit, while the Bible is replete with the passages telling us to take on the Spirit of God that we might stand. The law was not given that men might evangelize, but grace is given that we might know and understand the inner man, and that we might know our own lostness, and appreciate the desperate need to proclaim the gospel. Men cannot possibly succeed under their own power, but divine enablement makes the impossible possible.

There are a number of verses to be shared that teach this concept of what I term being powered toward perfection. These verses, being handy, are taken from Chafer as noted above, but should be readily familiar to any student of scripture.
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
John 7:37-39
Just a quick comment: the Spirit is to “flow” out of each believer, helping the believer do that which he cannot in himself find the strength to do.
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Acts 1:8
Notice that the promise is to “receive power” after the Holy Spirit comes. It is in that power only that we can hope to live the life to which we have been called.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Ephesians 6:10 and 11
This famous verse directly commands us to be strong in the Lord, putting on the full armor of God, that we may indeed be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

I am reading for a second time, No Compromise, by Melody Green. It is such a precious book, and all the more for reminding me of the times we once walked in. When Keith and Melody Green first became Christians, they noticed an awful lot of people who made professions of faith falling away, not following the Christian life. Even as the Vineyard movement caught them, giving them the gospel of life, and winning them to Christ, they noticed what I would call “fluff” going on around them—men and women who had made decisions for Christ who subsequently went back to their old lifestyles of debauchery.

I lived through those times, and because of Melody’s reminder, I remembered the great many who did seem to fall away. Thankfully she gave an illustration of a concert where thousands genuinely rededicated themselves to following Christ, and I also was reminded of the many besides myself who were very serious about what had happened. It was a time of a great awakening—a time when many fell in error, but many also came to a saving knowledge of the truth.

In my study of the revivals and awakenings of America, one characteristic seems to accompany many of the revivals. The people, sometimes by the urging of a preacher, sometimes by the evident troublesome times, and sometimes just by the evident power of God, a group of people, sometimes quite large, are attracted to the gospel within a very short space of time. The call to perfection involves a call to pray for the lost, and to proclaim the gospel, and if we do it in our own power, we will fail, perhaps spectacularly. But if we go out with both the bidding of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit, who knows but what great things will result? Who knows but what God has another Great Awakening lying in wait for us, if we will but ask.

A central key to living properly is that we are showing the person of Jesus Christ to our world. The hymn sings, “Once we were blind, but now we see,” and if we remember that blindness, we will be busy about, telling others about what they cannot hope to see. James tells us that the proper way to show our faith is just by our works, but the problem is that so long as we remain infants in the body of Christ, we can do no works. The works are not of us, but of the Spirit, and the enigma is that the Spirit may use us only as we voluntarily give ourselves to him.

I like to think that I am a pretty good person, as well as the next chap, and perhaps a bit better, if of course you do not count the fact that I misbehave here and there, and of course, I cannot get along with that part of my family, but, really, who can? I find reasoning like that going through my brain constantly, and it is in the caveats that I have learned to focus. Using the excuse that I am really a good person except when I lose my temper doesn’t really work, for the temper lost reveals a nature only partly given to God, and he does indeed ask for everything, and he even asks that we love those deemed “unlovable” by so many. It is precisely for those whom he died—that is, you and me, unlovable and blind in our sin. How then shall we live properly?

There is a constant call on the body to submit to that which we do not want to do. I think I am getting so spiritual and close to my God until something reminds me of a mundane duty that interrupts. It may be as silly as something like having to go to the grocery store, or taking a friend to the doctor, but no matter what it is, it always seems to interrupt. More often, it is something more righteously my duty, to my family or to my grandkids, but I find it still tearing at my soul, interrupting me from that which God would really have me to do.

And that is precisely the problem, not with me only, but I think with Christians in general. We love the closeness with God, and we seek the precious quiet times when we might hear the counsel of God, but God is in those very interruptions that we despise. It is in going to the grocery store, and speaking to my ex-student helping me with my groceries that God wishes to use us. For my eyes seem to be ever on me, and when the interruption happens, my eyes are forced to someone else.

I am aware that many times people misuse what they call the example of Christ, and do not find salvation for they never come to see that Christ is indeed God come in the flesh, but all the same, I think it is safe for Christians to draw on his example of living here. He sought times of prayer and solitude with the Father, but regularly was pulled back by the pressing needs of others. Reading the gospels will show a Jesus who becomes often weary in well-doing, but always persisting. That example we can follow as we learn that our God is indeed, a God of the interruptions.

Some of erred in thinking these interruptions are to be despised, and have sought solicitude, even to the point of isolation (sometimes putting themselves in a monastery, or at least a similar setting), but God has chosen to use us as vessels of hope, offering ourselves in the hope that others might at last see Jesus in us. Paul reminds us, asking, how shall they hear without a preacher, and it is to that duty that we must faithfully come, day after day, interruption after interruption.

As a retired teacher, I met a few men and women like that in my career, and I remember a somewhat older teacher than myself. I dragged myself to meetings with all my fortitude mustered, thinking that they can make me come, but they cannot make me like it. Meeting this older man, a mature Christian, at those same meetings was like a breath of fresh air. He was able to listen, evaluate, and praise the meeting, but also, at the same time, he was able to make the whole table of teachers around him appreciative, and involved them in asking questions or making insightful comments that would ignite our thinking. It is that kind of maturity that we all should be after. In the words of Paul, pressing onward to the high calling of Jesus Christ. Not alone with God, but in the interruptions, learning to seek and share him in our most mundane times.

A final thought. Revelation (19:8) tells us that Christ will receive his bride, the church, dressed in the fine linen, the righteous acts of the saints. So you and I are to be busy doing the things that Christ has appointed for us to do, one day at a time. God is saving those works up to be acknowledged before all, to be shone out to the world. We are made righteous by the blood of our glorious Savior, but we are made righteous that we might show that righteousness to the world around us, if only in his power, and in the midst of all. And that is the task of proper living.

1. Chafer, L. (1993). Systematic theology (Vol. 4, p. 192, 193). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What are the seven greatest divine undertakings?

Chafer notices things in lists of seven, or so I noticed, almost as often as Scofield did. Nevertheless, the list seems to fit the plan of God, and if I were forced to succinctly summarize the great undertakings of God in one sentence, I would be pressed hard to find a better sentence than this, “These undertakings are: (1) the creation of angels; (2) the creation of material things, including man; (3) the incarnation; (4) the death of the Son of God; (5) the resurrection of the Son of God; (6) the return of Christ to reign forever; and (7) the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.”1 I want to briefly summarize each of these undertakings, with a comment on how the world at large has managed to deny all seven of these mighty undertakings.

First, the creation of angels. In some sense that we do not fully understand the angels were the first creatures made to be free—that is, they had the possibility of disobedience and the Bible says that a third of the angels fell with Satan. A difference appears at this point between men and angels. Men are called upon to repent and can indeed do that, but angels do not seem to be able to change. Having chosen to follow Lucifer, the Shining One, they seemed to be doomed forever with their choice. Perhaps they do have the chance to change their minds, which might explain why Satan is set free after being bound in prison, but in any case, there is no evidence or prophecy for a repenting angel. They seem to persist in their choice throughout all of time. Those who have chosen disobedience will end in the lake of fire, which burns forever and ever. It also appears that God, having created eternal creatures in the angels, is unwilling to undo that creation, and the bad angels, referred to as demons, will be in the lake of fire forever. Apparently their punishment is without end.
All of creation is a constant testimony of the living and working God. The Bible declares to us that all of creation declares the glory of God, and it is a mark of the great blindness of man, that he is able to look at creation and not see the Creator. The creation is marred in unexplained manners, and Paul tells us that “all of creation” groans in waiting for redemption. I gaze at the wonders of creation now, and shiver in anticipation of what God might do when at last the curse of sin is lifted. What splendid things lie before us to observe! To us at least, the act of creation is a most wonderful one, truly one of the seven marvelous undertakings of God.

Today we see intricate design in everything. Just take the coloring and shapes of the various butterflies, just as if a Creator took the simple image of a butterfly and multiplied it wonderfully in beautiful diversity. Similarly, everything shows creation round about us, as it reflects a strong divergence from a central figure—just what I would expect from a glorious Creator putting forth his craft in a work that shows himself on every hand.

The incarnation is certainly a wonder of the universe! Today, as I was thinking about it, I asked my grandson if he knew what the incarnation was, and though he did not understand the name, he was familiar with the story. Around the world, the story of the incarnation has gone into every nook and corner. Even men that dismiss it at their own peril, have heard the story of the Christ child, and of God’s extension of mercy to mankind. That God should lay aside his divinity and become flesh is a story beyond fairy-tale imagination, and all the more marvelous because it is true. Of course it violates all known laws of naturalism—Joseph knew that, and had a special appearance from an angel, assuring him that it was indeed such a violation.

Recently I heard Mark Lowry in one of his comedy routines comment on Mary’s perspective. Mark remarks that it was certainly a good thing that the angel appeared to Joseph, but what about Mary’s mother? Mary might well have appreciated the same angelic visit to her mother! Indeed, it seems as if the scandal of the birth of Jesus followed him his entire lifetime (John 8:41).2 What shame Mary must have had to endure her entire lifetime! Certainly the incarnation broke all of the known laws of the day, and every thinking man would look at the claims of the Christ-child with a great deal of skepticism. Except that the promised Messiah was due to come, and the scholars could quote passage after passage showing where the child was to be born, and many details about his background. I become weary of those who suggest that these people were superstitious fools who knew not the rules of the world. It was precisely because Jesus was breaking these physical laws. The Bible presents an able defense of what actually happened because men knew that all the rules were being broken, and only the most careful documentation would show that it was true.

The death of the son of God is the next mighty undertaking of God. Only by glimpsing the triune God that is presented in scripture can we begin to understand his coming. For God (the Father?) so loved the world that he sent his son says the scripture. I lay my own life down and no man takes it from me declares Jesus. That God should come in the flesh and give himself willingly for a lost world is the wonder among all wonders. That Jesus would allow himself to be mocked, beaten, and scourged, and then crucified so that all men might be saved amounts to the highest cost of all. In giving himself, he gave all that he had, and he could simply give no more. Thus, what he did in dying passes, in depth and breadth, all the glorious work that he did in the whole of creation.

But of course the death, if anything, must be eclipsed by the resurrection. As important as it is to us that we have a substitute volunteer to die for our sins, if it stopped there where indeed would it leave us? The resurrection stands as the symbol of God’s having victory over death, and we stand more firmly on our own hope of resurrection because we see the power of Christ victoriously putting death down forever. The mighty hymn, Up From the Grave He Arose, makes the skin of believers tingle with excitement and anticipation because it is here that God meets our need. Being lost and condemned to death is wonderfully matched by being found and made alive in Christ forevermore. Corinthians tells us that the last enemy, death, will one day be destroyed, and I think many Christians sense the truth of that verse when they are first made alive in Christ.
The return of Christ to earth is looked for by many Christians, but sadly not all. Prophecy is all but ignored in some denominations, and in others prophecy is severely allegorized into meanings which make little or no sense, but they have long historical roots which lay intertwined tightly with their original fictions. It is only when the Bible reader comes to the Bible fully expecting that God is plainly trying to communicate with us that we can begin to hope to understand the meaning. Particularly through the centuries The Revelation has had contemporary meanings assigned to it multiple times—the one thing which ought to warn us about such allegorizing—and the plain and full meaning will no doubt be laid bare as those final days do come to pass.

I have long noticed that there is a three-fold division to all of history, being termed the three main events of history. First, there is the creation itself, then there is the incarnation, and thirdly, there is the Second Coming. Multiple passages of the Old Testament cannot be understood plainly (how they must tax the efforts of those who allegorize!), except as we understand our Christ to be returning as the long-awaited King of Israel, indeed King over all kingdoms. Stories are told by the prophets about Israel having peace, long-life, and honor among all the other nations. All of this has not yet come to pass and therefore must be future.
The expectation of the return of Christ has been the proper attitude taught in the Bible, and followed by most Christians in history, though they have not always got the particulars right. His return is to be both expected and looked for, as well as much longed for, by all of his saints. One day, soon it is to be hoped, Christ will usher in that age, long foretold, where the swords will be beaten into plow shears, and we will at last see peace on earth.

Those who have looked scientifically at the earth have long seen its demise, and how much comfort it is to know that God has already planned for that demise with a new heavens and a new earth. As we are going to share eternity with each other in the fellowship of Christ, what a comfort it is to know that God will not cease to provide for us. We will forever be at his feet!

I am still missing part of my answer; in the beginning of this piece I said that I would also comment on how the world has denied each one of these seven incredible undertakings. Certainly we have had nearly a century and a half of denying creation. Men have long denied the creation of angels in spite of the recorded testimony of many in history. Today we have major deniers of angels trying to tell us that we have had visits from aliens who probably helped our evolution along. With the advent of Darwin, the gloves of the atheists were taken off, and our culture since then has sought to abandon religion as something no longer needful. The problem is that it takes a lot more faith to believe in evolution than it does in creation. To believe evolution one postulates that the universe had an accidental explosion, and order came out of chaos, with mutation and chance conspiring with time to give us ever more complicated species, ending in the ascent of man. Is it not just simpler to believe that a creator started the whole thing? For those who might like to think this through, I would recommend I Don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler.

Of course men have long conspired to deny the death of the Son of God, both denying his physical death, with postulates that he merely “swooned” and recovered in the coolness of the tomb, and him being the Son of God, for they realize if they can make Jesus to be a mere man they can avoid man being responsible for putting God on the cross. But when it comes to the resurrection, men have danced most energetically around the truth that if God did indeed die and come to life again, then most of mankind missed the greatest event in history. Indeed, how will it look in recorded history to note that the Son of God came, died, and was raised again and the whole of mankind barely managed a hiccup?

The return of Christ is not looked for by mankind today, and unfortunately even much of the church is not depending on his return. Still, he has proclaimed his return, and prophesied that return will be like lightning flashing from one side of the sky to the other, seen and appreciated by all. As we push closer to the repudiation of God with humanistic salvation accorded to all, even while suffering of masses seems to be growing to unparalleled heights, the climax of history will surely not linger much longer. He will return, but will he find any looking for that return? And as for the last undertaking, that of a new heavens and a new earth, the world has seemed to develop a great case of schizophrenia, believing mankind is self-destructing, and that the world is going to continue on nearly forever.

If the world has managed to turn a blind-eye to these seven great undertakings, is it any wonder that so few see God? Or the need for God? The blindness that has come upon mankind is now nearly complete, coming in the culmination of time, that the blind should remain blind even to the end. Truly it is observed that there are none so blind as those who will not see.

1. Chafer, L. (1993). Systematic theology (Vol. 4, p. 80). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
2. John 8:41, “Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”