Sunday, August 02, 2020

The Role and Relationship of the Sabbath in the Life of a Believer

Keeping the Sabbath, it is a subject that keeps cropping up. One that never seems to get completely settled in people's minds. Do we or don't we? Is it a requirement or not? If we do keep it, how do we keep it? Is it merely a day of rest or is there something else to it? Is there even a Sabbath to keep for those of us in the New Covenant, post-cross, under grace and not under law era? Is the Lord's Day (Sunday) the New Covenant Sabbath? How do we go about answering all of these questions?  Obviously, the best place to go is the Scripture, and the best place to start is Jesus Himself.

As you follow the life and ministry of Christ through the gospels, one of the things you notice is His continual confrontation with the "Jews." This group was comprised of Pharisees, Saducees, and the chief priests, who were the supposed spiritual/religious leaders of Israel. He was always doing things that not only confounded them, but also contradicted their teachings and interpretations of the Law. He called them blind guides of the blind. Many times Christ is quoted as saying, "You have heard, but I say to you." when He was challenging the teaching of the day. This is important to note, as we see that one of the main things He did that infuriated the "Jews" was healing on the Sabbath. In His healing on the Sabbath it was as if He was saying, "You have heard, but I am showing you." In response to their accusation of his followers not doing what was lawful on the Sabbath, Jesus had this to say in Mark 2:27-28 "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So even the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath."

We know that Jesus perfectly kept the Law, and every jot and tittle was kept and fulfilled by Him. So we see His understanding of the Sabbath was that the Sabbath was given to man for his welfare, not to lord it over him. It is for man's well being, for his benefit, that God has given him the Sabbath; and Jesus, Himself, rules over it so that it does not rule over man, but Jesus does.This then, is the basic understanding that we need to start with.

Also, in both Colossians and Romans we see Paul's insight into the place of the Sabbath. In Colossians 2:15-16a he tells us this "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." So we see here that the Sabbath is a shadow of the substance (reality) to come, which is found in Christ. In other words, the shadow (Sabbath) finds its fruition, its fulfillment in Christ. This is consistent with the typology, the representation of Christ, found throughout the OT, especially in the sacrificial system and the feasts. So if the shadow has found its fulfillment it should no longer be necessary.

Additionally, in Colossians we see that no one is to act as our judge in relation to the keeping of the Sabbath. Paul gives us insight into this in Romans 14. Here Paul teaches us about liberty and responsibility in the practice of our Christianity. Let's look at chapter 14:5-6a "One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord." Notice, here, he does not call the day observed the Sabbath, but it is obvious that this particular day is a day that would have significance to Christians, and the Christians Paul is writing to in Romans are both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  Some may want to observe the Sabbath, some may want to observe the Lord's day, and some may not have any particular day as special. None are condemned. Since Paul was a Pharisee, and called himself a Hebrew of Hebrews, you would think that if keeping the Sabbath day was important or necessary he would have said so, but in fact he said just the opposite. Paul ends the chapter saying this, "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.....and whatever is not from faith is sin." So we have freedom in our faith in honoring a certain day or considering a certain day more important than another. Don't we see this in the celebration of Christmas and Easter as well, as we are not commanded to celebrate either one?

One other insight we can glean from the New Testament regarding the keeping of the Sabbath is found in Acts 15. The setting in Acts 15 is the mother church in Jerusalem when Paul and Barnabas go there to talk to the apostles and elders concerning the matter of circumcision, whether it should be required of the Gentile converts. A group of Pharisees who had come to faith stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the law of Moses." (italics mine).  After much debate, a speech from Peter, words from Barnabas and Paul, the whole church decided to send leaders to the church at Antioch with a letter regarding these matters. The end of the letter states this, "For we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials; that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell." Notice that not only did they not require the Gentile Christians to be circumcised, but they also did not require them to keep the Law of Moses, which would include keeping the Sabbath. 

So we see from Acts, Romans, and Colossians that for Christians in the New Covenant economy, keeping the Sabbath and all its requirements, is not mandatory. And we also see from Acts and Romans that those who did keep it were not condemned. In Mark we see that God's intention for the Sabbath was for man's benefit, not his bondage; so our understanding of the Sabbath must start from that point, God's intention. Also, in Colossians we see that the Sabbath was one of the OT shadows that pointed to Christ, or was fulfilled in Christ, and as such we must also understand how the Sabbath represented the reality found in Christ.  

From Christ, in Mark, we learn that the Sabbath was made for man's benefit. So how is the Sabbath for man's benefit and what was it pointing to that was fulfilled in Christ? These two realities, these truths about the Sabbath are linked together. The OT gives us insight into these truths. So let's go there.

The first mention of the Sabbath is in Exodus sixteen and is in connection with the gathering of the manna. And in this first mention it is called a holy Sabbath. In many other of the references to the Sabbath in the OT you will find the phrase, a holy day, or holy to the Lord in connection with the Sabbath. In the giving of the Law in Exodus 20:8 the Israelites are commanded not only to remember (observe and keep) the Sabbath but to keep it holy. In Exodus 20:11 we are told that God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. So it was to be regarded as a holy day.

The concept of holiness always begins with the idea of separation, of being set apart, of existing in a state of separation. In this idea of separation was the concept of purity, consecration, being set aside for sacred use as compared to a common or profane use. So we see this day was a day that was consecrated, it was to be set aside for sacred use as opposed to common use. We see this concept developed also in the giving of feasts as many of them contained a Sabbath day, a day to be set aside for a sacred purpose, and for the Israelites to humble their souls. So, for the Israelites, keeping the Sabbath meant keeping it holy, to set it apart from the other days of the week, to consecrate it for sacred use and not for common or profane use. This is why the Lord gave them the admonition in Exodus 20:9-10 to not do any work on the Sabbath day, as it was to be a day where they were set apart from focusing on common pursuits or daily endeavors, and instead set that day apart so as to focus on God.

We see this explained further in Exodus 31:12-17...You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you....for six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord.... 

Notice what the Lord says about the Sabbath in these verses as He gives us further enlightenment concerning it.

     1. It is holy to the Israelites (remember what we learned about being holy).
     2. It is holy to the Lord.
     3. It is a perpetual covenant between them and the Lord.
     4. It is a perpetual sign between the Israelites and the Lord.
     5. It is a sign of His sanctifying them.

Now, let's break down the Hebrew a little bit. In Hebrew the word sanctify is qadash, and the word for holy is qodesh. Both essentially have the same meaning (as explained above) except that qodesh is the state of, and qadash means to be made. In other words one is to be made holy/separate and the other is the state of being holy/separate. So not only is this to be a day that is to be holy (qodesh) to the Lord, in essence set apart to the Lord, but it is also a perpetual sign for the Israelites; and the sign is for them to know and remember that it is the Lord who sanctifies/makes them holy (qadash), not themselves. This concept of sanctification is carried over to the NT. Listen to I Corinthians 1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. (italics mine). God has sanctified us (set us apart and made us holy) by placing us into Christ, His holy One. 

So we see that running throughout the Sabbath is the concept of holiness, separateness, purity, and sacredness. These convey the concept of being set apart from worldly pursuits and being set apart to the Lord. The Sabbath was to be the one day of the week when the Israelites laid aside worldly pursuits, the daily cares of the world and set themselves apart to the Lord. Instead of seeking the things of this world they were to seek the Lord on this day. In the keeping of the Sabbath we have a picture of sanctification, both positionally and practically. The Sabbath was the Old Testament picture or shadow of sanctification. We see another fulfillment of this shadow of sanctification in Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my beloved, just as you have always out your salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Sanctification is an important concept, in both the OT and NT. How important? Listen to Hebrews 12:14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

In Isaiah we see the Lord giving further enlightenment on what the Sabbath was to be about. Listen to Isaiah 58:13-14 "If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word. Then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." So the way they were to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy was to desist from living, seeking, and speaking what satisfied them and gave them pleasure; in other words, on the Sabbath they were to cease living for themselves and live for the Lord, and instead of seeking their own pleasure they were to seek what pleased Him. On this day they were to delight themselves in the Lord and find their pleasure in Him.

So with this in mind, how did Christ go about keeping and fulfilling the Sabbath. We see this throughout the gospel of John in verses 4:34, 5:19, 6:38, 10:18, 12:49, 14:31; and perhaps most clearly in John 8:28b-29...and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.(italics mine). Christ kept the Sabbath every day. Every minute of every day He was set apart from the world and set apart unto God the Father. He was totally sanctified, both positionally and practically, and not just on one day of the week, but on every day.  

Next, we see from Exodus 20 that the Sabbath was part of the Ten Commandments, and therefore considered part of the Law of Moses. So the rub here is that the Ten Commandments as God's  moral law are still  effective, still being lived out in the lives of those who belong to Him, and we see these fleshed out throughout the New Testament. So for those of us under the New Covenant economy how do we keep the Sabbath as part of God's moral law?

To answer this question let's look at what takes place in the New Covenant. Remember Christ initiated the New Covenant at the last supper, the night before His crucifixion. First let's look at Jeremiah 31:33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they will be My people." Next let's look at Ezekiel 36:26-27 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances."

According to these promises, what has God done in the New Covenant for those whom have entered into covenant with Him through Jesus Christ?

     1. He has taken out their heart of stone (a hard impenetrable heart).
     2. He has given them a heart of flesh (a soft imprintable heart).
     3. He has put His law within them by writing it/imprinting it on their heart.
     4. He has given them His Holy Spirit.
     5. By His Holy Spirit He will cause them to walk in His statutes, and be
         careful to observe His ordinances (statutes and ordinances
         being synonyms for His law).
     6. He has written His law (statutes and ordinances) on their heart and by
         His Holy Spirit He will cause them to keep it.

So what has happened to the Sabbath in the New Covenant? Remember, the Sabbath is part of the law, an integral part of the law. We are still keeping it because the Lord has put the law in our heart and has given us the Holy Spirit to cause us to keep the law. So when do we keep the Sabbath? We keep it every day, just like Christ did. Every day we live for the Lord. In everything we live for the Lord.  Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord's. We live each day to please Him and not ourselves. So what the Israelites were not able to do on one day a week, we do each day of the week. This is what Christ was referring to in Luke when He said we are to pick up our cross daily and follow Him. So the issue with the Sabbath, is not the particular day in and of itself, but what the day represents and what is to be actually taking place on that day, which is now every day.

We are sanctified positionally (declared holy) when we are placed into Christ (who is our sanctification), and are being sanctified practically (made holy) as we work out our salvation while God is working His will in us for His good pleasure. We walk in our faith further and further away from the sin we were saved out of; and walk further and further into Christ, whose image we are being conformed into, knowing that one day our sanctification will be complete as the Lord completes the work He started in us (Philippians 1:6). 

So, has the Sabbath gone away? No, it is still a requirement, an every day requirement; but a requirement that God Himself is causing us to keep by the power of His indwelling Spirit. So if you are truly born again, and have been given a new heart through the circumcision made without hands, then you will be living for the Lord consistently and daily. In other words, you will be keeping the Sabbath every day by the power that God supplies. Think about how good this news is, another provision that the Lord has made for us to keep His requirements. Another gift of His marvelous grace. One more reason to praise Him greatly and fervently.  Let's do just that.

Friday, July 31, 2020

A Few Great Preachers (my short list)

I have been privileged and blessed to hear some great preachers. Here is a list and a comment or two about the ones who have been most impactful to me.

Sinclair Ferguson-Now a preacher, writer, and theologian at large. He has an encyclopedic knowledge. His sermons are well thought out. He makes you want to know Christ like he does. He preached the best sermon on heaven out of Revelation 5 I have ever heard as he took 5,000 of us at a Ligonier conference up to heaven for an hour. Literally, no one could move or speak for several minutes after he finished. 

Alistair Begg-Pastor of Parkside Church, Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, I started with two Scotsman. He has a way of drawing you in with him, and he is the most winsome and most pointed at the same time. Love how he quotes hymns in his sermons.

Ligon Duncan-Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. He can pull more out of an Old Testament passage than anyone I have ever heard, and always uses it to point to Christ.

Bailey Smith-Southern Baptist pastor and evangelist (at home with Jesus). The best Evangelist I have ever heard. I saw people sweating with conviction when he preached.

Ed Robb Jr-Methodist pastor and evangelist (at home with Jesus). Riveting and powerful evangelist of the old Methodist type. When I heard him preach when I was 16, I could not understand why I was under conviction as I thought I was already a Christian.

Art Azurdia-Yes, I know he fell and fell hard (a warning lesson for every preacher), but was a wonderful wordsmith with brilliant illustrations.

John Bisango-Former pastor of FBC Houston (at home with Jesus). He had a great preaching voice and I always sensed the unction of the Spirit when he preached.

Tom Pennington-Pastor of Countryside Bible Church, Southlake, Texas. Very very solid preacher. You always come away from one of his sermons with something that makes you a better Christian. His sermons stay with you.

Conrad Mbewe-Pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church, Lusaka, Zambia. You don't want to miss a word he says when he preaches. Practical, forthright, thoughtful, and engaging. He has been called the Spurgeon of Africa, but I would call him the John MacArthur of Africa because of his years of faithful preaching and devotion to the church. He has developed an international influence.

John MacArthur-Pastor of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley California. John is the dean of expository preaching. His insights are remarkable and rich. His preaching style has changed over the last few years, but he still brings rich treasures out of the storehouse of God's word. His sermon on Slave is one of the best I have ever heard.

Steve Lawson-One Passion Ministries. The preacher's preacher, and I would say the total package when it comes to expository preaching. What makes Steve a great preacher is not the fact that he went to Texas Tech University (Guns Up and Wreck'em), but that he has such a passion for the word of God and a zeal for the Lord that explode out of his sermons.

R C Sproul-The founder of Ligonier Ministries (at home with Jesus). His zeal for the person of God was inspiring.  His logic, humor, and warmth always came across like a father talking to his children.

Philip Venables-Pastor of Feltham Evangelical Church, London, England. Philip is easily the most unknown of this group. He and I preached during a four day conference last September in India. His passion for and fixation on the exaltation of Christ in his sermons were beyond anyone I have ever heard. I was greatly inspired listening to him. He truly makes much of Christ.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Seeing with Eyes of Faith

while we look not at the things which are seen,
but at the things which are not seen;
for the things which are seen are temporal,
but the things which are not seen are eternal.
...for we walk by faith, not by sight---
II Corinthian 4:18, 5:7

By faith Moses...By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the
wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.
Hebrews 11:24-27

and though you have not seen Him, you love Him,
and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him,
you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
I Peter 1:8-9

"Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see My day,
and he saw it and was glad."
John 8:56

This section of II Corinthians quoted above begins with II Corinthians 4:13, when Paul states, "But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written..."  The crescendo of this thought is in 4:18"while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

How can we walk by faith, and not by sight? How can we endure as seeing Him who is unseen? How can we look upon the things which are not seen? How can we be like Abraham and see Christ's day and rejoice in it? How can we not see Him and yet love Him and believe in Him? The answer to all of these questions is simple; we see with eyes of faith. Living by faith is what all true Christians do. It is living with eyes of faith that see the unseen through the Word of God, because we believe and therefore trust the Word through which God has spoken to us.

Seeing leads to knowing, and we see this played out in the verses in chapter five that follow on the heels of 4:18:
5:1 For we know
5:6 Therefore, being always of good courage and knowing
5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord
5:16 Therefore, from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.

Abraham saw Christ's day through the promises of God. Moses endured by seeing Him who is unseen through His promises to Moses. We love Christ and believe in Him because we see our salvation in Him through the promises of God. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we accept the promises of God, and it is through the promises of God that we see Him and His salvation. These promises are not just words written upon a page, they are the daily reality in which we live.

These can only be seen with eyes of faith, eyes that look upon the eternal, eyes that look to the promises of God. It is the man or woman of faith who sees eternal things, who breathes holy air, who stands upon  holy ground.

When we have eyes of faith, we do not see Christ as a historical figure, we see Him as the Savior; in fact, we see Him as our Savior. We see that in Him our sins are forgiven. We see His blood as our atonement. W e see His death as our life. We see His shame as our glory. We see His resurrection as our victory. We see His ascension as our hope. We see His completed work as our confidence. All that Christ is and all that He has done have become real to us by faith.  

Even though unseen, the promises of God have substance and reality. The Lord talks to us and we experience Him and come to know Him through the Word of God. When we take Him at His Word and believe His Word, He opens our eyes to see Him and to know Him; and the eternal things become a reality for us...just like they did for Abraham, Moses, and Paul.

Do you have eyes of faith, my friend?  Have you seen Him who is unseen? Have you seen His coming day and rejoiced? Have you looked to the promises of God so that the Promise of God, Jesus Christ, has become real to you?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How to Keep Life's Circumstances in Perspective

First, realize that God is absolutely Sovereign over all of your life’s circumstances…both good and bad. Psalm 103:19 says “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” (NASB) The theological term for His sovereignty over our life’s affairs is Divine Providence. This means that whatever life throws at us has to come through the omnipotent knowledge and permission of God; and the course and direction of our life is ultimately determined by the Lord.

This is practically illustrated in the following verses:

 Proverbs 16:9 The mind of man plans His way, but the Lord directs his steps. This verse shows us that we are part of the process, but that in the midst of our thinking, planning, strategizing and praying, God is the ultimate determiner.

Proverbs 20:24 Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way. We never know nor understand where our steps will lead because the Lord has ordained (planned and purposed) them, and they are beyond our foreknowledge; but not His.

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps. This verse show us the futility of thinking that we are ever in total control of our life and its destiny. The unseen providence of God is taking us where we would never have imagined or chosen had we known all that was before us.

Psalm 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in His way. Here we see that the Lord delights (takes pleasure) in the way He has established (planned, purposed, and carried out) for us. His ultimate goal for us is to be completely conformed to the image of His Son in preparation for eternity. His plan for us is not a plan for this world only, but, actually uses this world to prepare us for the eternal world to come, and our final and complete conformity to the likeness of Christ, who, as the God-man, is the complete man. (Philippians 1:6, 2:13, Colossians 1:28, Ephesians 4:11-15, I John 3:2, Romans 8:29)

Romans 8:28 For we know that God cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  This is because God’s plan for us is for our eternal good.  Our time here is short, and even though we are preoccupied with it, God is preoccupied with our place in eternity.

Secondly, what should our response be?

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path. In our circumstances we must have confidence in the Lord, His leading and its outcome, and not lean on (depend fully) on our own understanding. In each and every situation of our life we are to have a reverential regard and respect for God as being God, so that we acquiesce to His leading, so that we do not kick against the goads in seeking our way and not His. 

Psalm 37:3-5 Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and He will do it.  This section begins and ends with trusting the Lord; and this trusting is accompanied by doing good (being godly in our circumstances), dwelling in the land (staying where He has brought us and not trying to seek our own way of escape), cultivating faithfulness (building our faithfulness to Him by being obedient to Him in our circumstances), delighting ourselves in Him (this is a by-product of the joy that comes from our faithfulness and trusting), committing our way to Him (in all our way acknowledging Him…Lord I am going to follow you no matter what).

Finally, a biblical example.

Read Genesis 12 and consider the call of God to Abraham. God called, Abraham followed, and God led him right into the middle of a famine. Was the Lord surprised?…NO!  He knew where He was leading and what would be there, but God had a purpose, a greater and eternal purpose for Abraham; and through all of this He taught Abraham to trust Him, to be faithful to Him; and as a result, Abraham became the father of faith for all who would come to Christ thereafter.

Remember, in God's economy there are no accidents or happenstances. Whatever comes your way has been Divinely ordained for your good, your ultimate and eternal good, and for the glory of the One who has called you to Himself and blessed you with an eternal salvation that transcends your short time here on this earth. All that transpires is part of His eternal plan for you…even to your children. Thank Him for His eternal plan and its working out in both good and hard providence. For His eye is on you, His thoughts toward you are as numerous as His wonders, and what He began in You He will complete for all eternity.  Bless His holy name!

Monday, July 20, 2020

A Christian Perspective on Death

Sometimes a death seems senseless and tragic. Such was the case of the young Southern Baptist pastor, John Powell, who was killed last Saturday evening while trying to help stranded motorists on a freeway north of Dallas. It brought back to my mind the death of Mary Gardner on March 23rd, 2011. Miss Gardner was a Wycliff Bible translator who had lived in Togo, West Africa translating the New Testament into the Ife language. She was in Jerusalem for six months learning Hebrew so she could return to Togo and start on the translation of the Old Testament. She was at a bus station when a bomb took her life. John Powell left a wife and four young children, and although Mary was never married and had no children, she did have family and friends that were left to mourn her loss.

I was thinking about these two deaths, young Christians in the prime of their lives, zealous for the Lord and actively working for him, and also about the death of J I Packer last week. Jim Packer died at age  ninety three after a fruitful and prolific life. The responses to their deaths were so much different. The responses to the deaths of Mary and John were focused on the tragedy of their deaths, while the responses to the death of Jim Packer were focused on his home going and eternal reward. Regardless of the age and the circumstances, there is a sense in which all deaths are tragic and for every Christian our death is a home going in anticipation of that day when we will receive our eternal reward. Death is certain for us all. The mystery is in the Lord's timing and purpose of our death.

Death itself is the enemy of man and we have been dealing with its awful consequences since Adam and Eve. Death plays no favorites. It brings its suffering to us all. However, those of us who are Christians can look at death from a different perspective, God's perspective; and gain insight and comfort from how He views it, and how He works it for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  I would like to give a few ways for a Christian to consider death.

1. We need to understand God's sovereignty over death.

Death is not a random event, as God is sovereign in the timing, circumstance, and purpose of our death. Psalm 103:19 tells us that His throne is established in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all. God is sovereign over all things, even the timing and circumstances of our death, whether it is young and in the prime of life, or after a long and fruitful life. We tend to gloss over God's sovereignty in death; and death, in its timing and circumstance, falls within the bounds of His eternal purpose. The Lord has said this about our time here on earth:  Psalm 139:16"...And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them." Job 14:5 "Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass." Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven--A time to give birth and a time to die." So we see that before we were born, our time here on earth was already established.

We also need to consider Ephesians 1:11..".having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will." We need to understand, especially in light of the verses above that God has predestined our time here upon the earth, both its beginning and its end; and this very time is in accordance with His eternal purpose. So birth and death are not random events, but events that happen in the working out of the eternal purpose of God. This is a mystery, but one that we will understand on the day when God reveals all things to us. 

2. We need to look at the death of a Christian from God's perspective.

Psalm 116:15 "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones" (His saints). Italics mine. This word for precious in the Hebrew is yaqar, and it means precious because of its value or its worth.  As saints our death is precious to God because of the price He paid for us in the death of His Son (I Peter 1:18-19). You always know the value or preciousness of an object by what a person is willing to pay for it. God has rescued us from death, through His Son, so that we can spend eternity with Him and He with us (Ephesians 2:4-8, Revelation 21:3-4). Also, our death is precious and valuable to God, because we will be with Him from that moment on throughout eternity. We are no longer separated from Him, but are with Him forever, and our fellowship with Him is fully completed and will be forever unbroken.

3. We need to consider death from the perspective of those who have died.

Philippians 1:21,23 "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better." II Corinthians 5:6,8 "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord...we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." For the Christian death is the door that opens into the arms of Christ; and, for those who belong to Him, He is waiting to receive them to Himself. First of all, what joy it must be for Him to receive into His arms those for whom He died, to receive unto Himself those whom had been given to Him by the Father in eternity past; and to be with them and to receive their joy at their being with Him face to face. Secondly, for the saint, what a joy it will be to be face to face with the One whom we have loved, the One who gave His life for us to ransom us from the dominion of sin and death, and to finally see His face and hear His voice and experience Him fully; for then we shall know fully, just as we have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:12)

Isaiah 57:1-2 "The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, He enters into peace; they rest in their beds, each one who walked in his upright way." When I read this verse, the verse about Lot's righteous soul being tormented day after day by the sin around him comes to mind. For the believer, death takes us away from all evil into the peace of righteousness; it takes us from being surrounded by evil on every side to the very presence of righteousness incarnate; it takes us out of this body of flesh, in which sin, filthiness, and wickedness remain, to a state of awaiting our glorified bodies; it takes us from a state of torment because of the overwhelming presence and dominion of sin in this world to a state of bliss and blessedness because of the ubiquitous and all encompassing presence of righteousness. For the saint God turns the horrors of death into a blessing, and it is His way of taking us away from evil to experience it no more. It is the rest from the weariness of fighting against the sin that is in our own lives and the world around us. It liberates us from the oppressive presence of sin, and transports us into the freedom of righteousness.

4. There is hope, comfort, and purpose for friends and family.

Since the Lord works all things according to His purpose through the counsel of His will, there is a purpose in the timing and circumstances of death for the surviving family and friends as well. Oh, that we could see it and understand it, but until that time when we know fully, we must rest in Him and His sovereignty. We know the promise in Romans 8:28 that He is able to work all things together for good for those that love Him, who are called according to His purpose. We must take Him up on His promise.

God is compassionate and merciful, and in the time of our distress and pain will provide His comfort to us. We see this in II Corinthians 1:3-5 "Blessed be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions....For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ." In Christ there is a special comfort and generous mercy for those who lose friends and loved ones; and the deeper the wound, the greater the comfort. This is there for those who throw themselves upon Christ, who call upon Him for the comfort that only He can give. He Himself has said that He would never desert us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and that He would be a father to the fatherless and a support for the widows (Psalm 68:5, 146:9). 

Finally, in the gospel is our hope founded. Our hope is a sure and confident expectation that our Christian loved one is in the arms of God, that their death is not a permanent separation, and that God has a purpose not only for the life they lived, but also for the death they died. Their life and death and our trial and suffering have meaning and a place in the eternal purpose of God.    

Well done, Mary Gardner, John Powell, and Jim Packer, faithful to the end. You have entered into the joy of your Master, you have been received into the bosom of Your Savior. You have entered into the rest from your striving against sin, both yours and the world's. You have entered into the eternal peace of righteousness. Rest well precious saints.

Father, we come to you with a sober joy and a full heart. There are so many times when what we have in our heart and our spirit is unspeakable, and we are thankful that not only do You know all things, but You send Your Spirit to intercede for us with utterings and groanings too deep for words. Thank you for redeeming death for us through the death and resurrection of Your Son, and therefore denying sin and death their victory. Thank You for laying claim on us. Only You could do this, only You would do this. 

O how great a love you have bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God. Bless Your name forever and ever.  Amen.

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Value, Benefit, and Necessity of Reminding

In Titus 2:15-3:1a, Paul lays out for us several responsibilities for the Pastor in regards to his preaching. All of the verbs here are present imperatives, which mean they are ongoing commands, not just for Titus but for everyone who occupies the pulpit. 

If you have studied what are called the Pastoral epistles of Paul, and followed his ministry through the book of Acts, most of what is listed here should not come as a big surprise; in fact, the commands are the usual suspects when it comes to preaching the word of God. We understand that we are to be continually speaking the word, and with the word to be continually exhorting and reproving. We understand that when we speak the word we are speaking it under His authority, and therefore with His authority. We also know of the importance of never letting anyone disregard or blow us off as we deliver His word.  However, have you ever thought about how a part of our responsibility as a pastor is to be continually reminding our people about what the word says?

That's what Paul says right there in the very first word of verse one of chapter continually reminding them.  It is the last of the commands, and magnifies and reinforces all the others. When you remind someone, what you are doing is bringing to their remembrance something that they already knew. It is not giving them new knowledge, but is the re-giving them of something already taught. It is the re-telling of Biblical truth. It is the re-explaining of Biblical principles. Reminding is for remembering and therefore reinforcing. What are we to remind them of? We are to remind our flock what the Scriptures say, and what they already know to do in light of what the Scriptures say. We are commanded to remind, so it must be important. 

The Lord is big on reminders, from Genesis all the way through the rest of the Bible. In the Old Testament we have memorials and altars. We have covenant reminders. We have feasts that were to be held every year, and rituals to be continually followed (Hebrews 10:1-3). In the New Testament we have the Lord's Supper, which is to remind us of His death and our covenant with Him. In baptism we are visibly reminded or our union with Christ and our new identity in Him. So why is reminding so important, and why does He remind us so often? So we won't forget or be neglectful.

There are three primary words in the New Testament that are translated remind: 

The first is hupomimnesko, and it just simply means to remind, to bring to remembrance. We see this word used in II Timothy 2:4-14, II Peter 1:12-13, and the purpose of being reminded here is to remind them about the things concerning salvation and sanctification. As used in II Peter 3:1 it is so that they would be stirred up to remember the Scriptures. In Jude 1:5 it is used so as to remind them about the judgment of God upon those who do not truly believe. In Titus 3:1-2 it is used to remind them how they are to behave as Christians.

The second is anamimnesko, which means to remind again, to re-remind, if you will. It is used in
I Corinthians 4:17 to remind the Corinthians of Paul's example, his teaching and its uniformity. In II Timothy 1:6 it is used so as to strengthen and encourage Timothy.

The third is epanamimnesko, which means to strongly or greatly remind, so as to never forget. Paul uses this word in Romans 15:15-16 to tell them that he has written this great epistle to them so that they will never forget the gospel. In other words this epistle was written so that the gospel would be forever etched in their minds.

Additionally, in Philippians 3:1 we see Paul telling the Philippians that to write the same things again is a safeguard for them, so here we see that reminding is also for our protection. 

So in these verses we see some of what reminding is intended to accomplish. 

You see, going to church, studying the Bible, and listening to sermons is not always about hearing or learning something new, but many times it is to be reminded of what we already know. We are never too old in Christ or too old in years to learn something new, and we will never reach a place where we have heard it all or know it all. However, we will also never reach a point or ever reach an age where we won't need to be reminded. You see, so much of our Christian life is about being reminded. We, being the weak frail creatures that the Scriptures tell us that we are, need to be reminded. We need to be reminded so we won't forget. We need to be reminded so our faith will be reinforced and strengthened. We need to be reminded so as to be refreshed when we grow weary. We need to be reminded to be reproved for not doing what we know to do. We need to be reminded so as to be revitalized so we will fight the good fight and press on in our faith. We need to be reminded so we can be restored when we have been wounded or brought low. We need to be reminded so as to be renewed to a greater state of Christlikeness. Sometimes we just simply need to be reminded that we need to be reminded; and, if you  think about it, many times we are the most blessed by hearing a truth that we already hold dear.

So, fellow pastors, let us not forsake, neglect, or forget our responsibility to remind our people about what the Bible says. Let us not be afraid to remind, for we are in the reminding business. Those of us who preach should love to tell the story, again and again. Indeed, that is our charge. 

And how is the best way to do this, so that it doesn't grow stale from the repetition? Preach through the Bible verse by verse, book by book. This is one of the beauties and benefits of consecutive expository preaching. This way you will present the same truths and cover the same themes, but in different contexts and from different angles; and, in doing so, the gospel will be kept fresh, both for you and for your people.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Encouraging Mystery of the Gospel

And He was saying, "The kingdom of God
is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;
and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, 
 and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself 
does not know. The soil produces crops by itself;
 first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain 
in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately 
puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
Mark 4:26-29

As providence would have it, this section of Scripture comes on the heels of the parable of the four soils in Mark 4:1-20; and I believe it is placed here to be an encouragement for those who are sowing the seed of the gospel. As you might know, the parable of the four soils deals with the sowing of the gospel, with the seeds that are sown being the word of God. It is in only one type of soil that the work of God, the gospel, takes a firm root and bears fruit. The questions that are not answered in this parable are when and how does the gospel actually take root and bear fruit. Is it immediately? Are there certain steps or procedures to be followed? What kind of process is it? How long does it take?

God answers those questions in verses 26-29, and His answer is...just as the process of the seed sprouting is unseen and unknown to the sower, so is the gospel that takes root and sprouts in the heart of man. The Scriptures don't tell us how and when the Gospel works, they just tell us that it does. When we share the gospel we don't know what kind of heart soil our gospel seed is falling into, nor can we see or understand how it works; but work it does.

There is a parallel here with Jesus explanation to Nicodemus about being born again. We see it in John 3:7-8 when Jesus tells him, "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of God."  The work of God's Spirit and His word is unseen and mysterious, but real and tangible, just like the plant sprouting from the seed and the blowing of the wind; and is completely out of our hands.

What the Lord is showing us is He is providing the seed for sowing and He is taking care of its results.  We can trust that in His good way and proper time the intended results will happen. Just as God causes the physical seed of the grass to sprout in Psalm 104:7, He causes the spiritual seed to sprout as well.  He is author and giver of all life.

When reading this section in Mark I thought back to a time in Dallas several years ago. My friend Don Conry and I were going to see people who had visited our church. That evening we spent over an hour with one couple sharing the gospel and answering questions. Almost two years later, after a church service, I had a man call my name and run up to me with his wife. It was that couple we had shared the gospel with. He remembered my and Don's name and told me how after their initial visit they did not attend church for quite some time, but all during that time they kept thinking about what we had shared with them and explained to them, and finally they surrendered to its truth. He then thanked me, shook my hand, and told me that he and his wife were being baptized that evening.

For those who share the gospel, be encouraged that when you sow the seed of the gospel that God is at work. In ways unseen and mysterious God germinates the seed of His word in the heart of man so that it takes root and bears fruit. The Lord always honors His word and it does not return to Him empty or without accomplishing its purpose.

For those who have heard the gospel, follow the admonition, the call of James 1:21 and receive the word which has been sown in you, which is able to save your soul.