When Will Christ Return?

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:32-37

We have all become accustom to hearing the predictions of the day that Christ will return. Joseph Smith, the father of the cult religion Mormonism, claimed that all Mormons alive in 1830 would live to see Christ’s return. He was wrong. Harold Camping not once, but twice, predicted the date that Christ would return. First, he claimed Christ would return September 6, 1994 and when that did not happen, he later stated that Christ would return May 21, 2011. Again, he was mistaken. Anyone who claims to know the day or hour that Christ will return is wrong. We simply do not know that information.

The above passage in Mark tells us that no one knows the day or time that Christ will return, only that He will return and we are to be ready. We may not know when He will return, but we can be sure that He will. And as a result we are to be, as Jesus tells us here in Mark, like servants diligently doing the Masters work until He returns. We should be making a concentrated effort to live for eternity even now. We should not be sleep-walking through this life spiritually, we should be awake and alert, actively pursuing a life that means something for Christ.

Paul echos what Jesus says here when he says in Ephesians 5, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). And also in Colossians 3 when he writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2). We don’t know when Christ will return, but we know He is returning and therefore we need to make the most of the time.

We get so caught up with work and school and deadlines and vacations and weekends and future plans that God gets placed on the back-burner. So often we live life and God is not on our mind and His work is not in our plans. And that should not be the case. D.L. Moody once said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.”

And what matters is Christ. What matters is living in light of eternity. Let’s be found diligently doing Christ’s work when He returns or calls us home.

6 Ways to Stay Humble

An old country song goes like this: “Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Most of us would not put it so bluntly, but we all find it hard to be humble. The problem with us is that we forget who we are in the grand scheme of things. We must remember that we are but dust created in the image of God and made to display His worth. One particular passage of Scripture is thoroughly helpful in turning our eyes off our own navels and onto God’s glory: Philippians 2:5-11. By meditating on the gospel in this text, even the most prideful among us will be leveled low.

To stay in a humbled position…

Feast your eyes on the matchless glory of Christ (vv. 5-6)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…”

Paul ascends to breathe the air of Mount Everest in this ancient hymn of the church. He speaks of Jesus’ divinity and equal status as God with the Father and Spirit. By bringing us to heaven, Paul reveals the amazing condescension of Christ coming to earth and the cross. Getting a fresh look at the majesty of Christ always has the effect of humbling the believer’s pride. When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on His throne, he cried out, “Woe to me!…I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). When Peter saw Jesus’ glory in the fishing boat, he fell on his knees before him and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Make it a practice everyday to behold Christ’s glory in His Word and carry it with you. This will put a check on your prideful moments during the day and remind you who you really are apart from Him. Before you open your Bible, pray with Moses, “Show me your glory, Lord” or with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things from your law.”

Contemplate Christ’s humbling Himself in the incarnation (v. 7)

“…but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…”

The steps toward humility are not upward, but downward. Christ stepped down into this world, humbling Himself greatly for us. We must follow Him if we wish to be properly humble. We would be wrong to assume that in the incarnation, Christ was subtracting certain aspects of His divinity in order to save us. It isn’t subtraction going on here, but addition. Stephen Wellum, in his book, God the Son Incarnate, helps us see this when he writes, “Paul’s point then, is not that Christ exchanged the ‘form of God’ for the ‘form of a servant’ but that he manifests the ‘form of God’ in the ‘form of a servant.’ The text says nothing about Christ emptying his divine attributes. Rather, he empties himself by adding to himself a complete human nature and a willingness to undergo the agony of death for our sake and for our salvation.” Wellum quotes theologian Donald Macleod, who also informs us by writing how Christ, “had glory with the Father before the world began (Jn. 17:5)…He possessed all the majesty of deity, performed all its functions and enjoyed all its prerogatives. He was adored by his Father and worshipped by angels. He was invulnerable to pain, frustration, and embarrassment. He existed in unclouded serenity. His supremacy was total, his satisfaction complete, his blessedness perfect. Such a condition was not something he had secured by effort. It was the way things were, and had always been; and there was no reason why they should change. But change they did, and they changed because…Christ did not insist on his rights.”

The thought that this glorious a subject would choose to undergo birth as a human baby with all the limitations of life in this fallen world is truly astounding and ought to keep us ever humbled.

Think over the servant-hearted nature of Christ (vv. 7-8a)

“...taking on the form of a servant…”

It was this divine Sovereign who dwelt from eternity past in perfect fellowship with the Godhead who stooped to wash the filthy feet of the disciples. God’s Agent of creation who lit the fire of a million blazing suns with His powerful words washed a mixture of sweat, dirt, and animal feces off the feet of fishermen. In one of the key passages in John Mark’s account of the gospel, Jesus defines His mission in this way: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)

Behold the wonder of Christ crucified for sinners (v. 8)

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The lowest step was not the manger. It was the cross of Calvary. Keith and Kristyn Getty, ponder the wonder of the cross in their song Gethsemane, when they write:

“What took Him to this wretched place,

What kept Him on this road?

His love for Adam’s cursed race,

For every broken soul.

No sin too slight to overlook,

No crime too great to carry,

All mingled in this poisoned cup ‚

And yet He drank it all,

The Saviour drank it all,

The Saviour drank it all.”

The first place we all must look in our struggle with pride is the cross. As low and despised as the cross was, John presents it as the place where Jesus reigns in the fullest extent of His glory. We see at the cross so many things: the ugliness of sin that it would crucify God’s Son, the wrath of God against sin, and the love of God in Christ for sinners that He would go to such an extent to save us.

Worship the now exalted and glorified Christ on bended knee (vv. 9-11)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Once we come to this point, we are properly humbled. We realize we are nothing and Christ is worthy of all the glory. Now that we are on our spiritual knees where we belong, Paul reminds us that Christ’s pre-incarnate glory has been restored and he promises us that one Day every soul will acknowledge it. Paul’s phrase comes from Isaiah 45:23 where we see this One to receive all glory is none other than the only God Himself. We must make it our aim each moment of the day to keep our spiritual knees bent. Christ will receive all the glory and we must give it to Him through our daily lives.

Get busy serving others in the name of Christ

It would be easy at this point to be so eclipsed and engulfed in this glorious gospel that we forget that it carries with it everyday ramifications. The gospel is never given to us so that we can simply bask in its light and forget the world outside. Christ didn’t die to simply make us worshipers, but to make worshipers of His glory through us. Christ humbled Himself to serve us so that we would follow His lead and humble ourselves to serve others too. Look for humbling and lowly acts of service Christ may be leading you toward. It may mean doing something uncomfortable for you and yet the very doing of it will help you flesh out this gospel theology. There are widows around us who don’t see God’s love in action. There are neighbors around us who wonder if there is such a thing as authentic love. Whether it be a mission trip, a chance to work in the nursery, or the opportunity to bring food to a hurting family, only we will give an account to God for how we practically live out this gospel. But whatever we do, we must carry the humbling gospel message with us and serve out of this glorious news.

What is Church Discipline?

What gospel do you believe in? Do you believe in a gospel that says “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are” (Jonathan Leeman). Do you believe in that gospel? Or do you believe in a gospel that says, “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are. But in His grace and by His Spirit He doesn’t leave us as we are. No, He slowly and surely makes us into different people. People who love Him and hate sin. People who refuse to do life alone but do it in the community of the local church. People who grow in godliness, eager to reflect His holy character and glory to this fallen world.”

Which gospel do you believe in? The first version presents Jesus as Savior, the second presents Jesus as Savior and Lord. The first version points to our new status as children of God, the second points to our new status as children of God as well as our new job description as citizens in His Kingdom. The first version has a view of God’s grace saving us, the second has a view of God’s grace not only saving us but sanctifying us as well.

Everything in the first version is true, wonderfully so. But there’s much more to be said. My guess is that most of you would say you believe in this second version of the gospel, and that’s a good thing. But I am coming to you today with a pastoral question, “Are you sure about that?” So please pay attention to not only what God is about to tell you through His Word, pay attention to how you respond to what is said in God’s Word. Why? Your response to these things reveal which version of the gospel you really believe as well as which version of the gospel you’re really living out.

 

The passage we’ll be walking through today is Matthew 18:15-20, where Matthew would have us consider three points today, all aiming at how we as fellow believers do life together when one of us wanders and how to restore such a person(s) to a right standing within the church.

Notice What’s Before Our Passage (18:10-14)

In the verses that lead up to our text today, we find Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. In this parable Jesus says, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (18:12-14). See here the great love of God for His people. It is so great and so vast that if one of them wanders off, He will always go after them and bring them home. Jesus shows Himself to be here in Matthew 18 what John 10 says He is, the great Shepherd of the sheep. And being the great Shepherd of the sheep, He not only has a great love for the sheep but He also sees to it that every sheep in the flock will remain in His hand until the end. None of them will perish or be snatched up by a wolf or some other intruder.

Church, since this is how God loves His people, since this is how Christ loves His Sheep, isn’t this to be how we love one another? Paul similarly, in Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This means when we come together and commit to one another in the membership of the local church, we commit to chasing down the wanderer, bringing back the sinner, loving one another despite our own foolishness, and pursuing the offender so that they are brought back home.

Into this context, comes one of the most detailed explanations of how to do church discipline. That this parable of the lost sheep comes before v15-20 gives us an example of the spirit in which church discipline is to be carried out. Not to punish, but always to be aiming at restoration, at winning back the wanderer.

Notice What’s In Our Passage (18:15-20)

Jesus has already told us that every one of us is to be about the business of pursuing, chasing, and bringing back the wandering sheep in our midst. But now suppose the shoe is on the other foot, what then? Did you notice the first words in v15? “If your brother sins against you…” If you’re the one sinned against, are you still to chase them down? Or does someone else do that? To see it in yet another manner, get out of your shoes altogether and get into the shoes of another and suppose you’re the one doing the sinning against another. What is supposed to happen then? What actions are you to take? What does the church do? Or the offended party? These are deep questions, loaded with all kinds of baggage, that God has not left us in the dark with. The light of His Word shines into our disobedience with all manner of grace.

Here Jesus gives us four steps that make up the whole process of church discipline.

Step One – Private Admonition (v15)

In v15 we learn that the very first step in the church discipline process is to go to the person who has sinned against you personally and privately. This means when sinned against, you don’t sound off to the whole church about how bad they really are and how they’re the worst thing that’s come into this church in years. You don’t refuse to talk to them anymore, give them the cold shoulder, or close yourself off from them. You don’t build up a bitter resentment in your heart toward them. No, you go them and bring it up privately. They may be aware of what they did, they may not. But by going to them privately you’re protecting the offender’s reputation by keeping the circle of people who know about this offense as small as possible. And you’re also protecting yourself from gossiping about them to others in the church by going to them immediately and personally.

When you go, what do you speak with them about? In v15 when it says “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” it implies that you’re intentions in going to them are to make them aware of their sin and seek repentance from them for their sin. You’re not going to condemn the person, you’re not going to tell the person off, you’re there to share what they did or what they continue to do, how it crossed the line of right and godly behavior for a Christian, and to see if they feel a godly remorse over what has happened and desire to make things right. If they listen to you, express sorrow over offending you, and repent Jesus says you’ve gained your brother back! I’ve often found that when this occurs the result of such a meeting is a much deeper relationship in the future. But if they refuse to listen, don’t acknowledge that what they’ve done or keep doing is sinful even though it’s clear in Scripture, you move onto to step two.

Before we get to step two notice something else here in step one. This initial step doesn’t involve any kind of official organization or leadership in the church. It’s simply between you and the other person, which is where Jesus intends church discipline to begin. In this light see that step one of church discipline is just a normal part of Christian discipleship where we are seek to do spiritual good to one another. I think if we got this step right more often, most of the discipline cases in churches would be solved right away. But sadly in this fallen world, rather than humbly seeking restoration and repentance with those who sin against us, we too quickly go the opposite way, wrongfully involve way too many people in what should be a private matter, and destroy relationships and reputations.

Step Two – Group Admonition (v16)

In v16 we learn that the second step in the church discipline process is not to give up but to again revisit the offender, with one or two others. Now, there is no timeline given here as to the exact amount of time required between these two visits. Patience, love, and grace should allow at least some time between the first and second visit to let the private admonition sink in. But if in time it is clear that the offending member is remaining unrepentant the one who went by themselves now must carefully choose one or two others, probably ones that know and love this person, or an elder, and go back to give another admonition. That a few others go back echoes Deut. 19:15 which says, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” That additional witnesses must be involved at this point encourages the one doing the sinning to come out of their sinful isolation, and encourages the individual sinned against to think deeply about whether or not this case is serious enough to warrant the sound judgment of a few others, or if they’re just making a bigger deal of this than is necessary. If they do deem it worthy of another visit, though the circle is still intentionally kept small here, a small group’s plea with the wanderer to return does make the admonition a bit weightier as well as harder to ignore.

Hope remains, for the offender could hear and heed the second warning, and if they do, you’ve won them back and will rejoice to bring them home! But if they do not, step 3 comes into view.

Step Three – Church Admonition (v17a)

In v17 we learn that the third step in the church discipline process is again, not to give up, but to tell it to the church. As we’ve seen throughout these steps, here also we do not receive a time requirement between step two and three, so patience, grace, and love should allow at least some time between the second step and the third step. When it’s clear that the offending member is still remaining unrepentant Jesus is clear, the matter now comes to the entire church. This is not strictly just telling it to the elders, not strictly just telling it to the pastor, but it really does seem to be the whole body or the entire local congregation in view here. Of course the elders need to take the lead here, they need to be the ones who decide how and when the church is to be told about it to ensure this is done orderly and graciously, but through them the matter is to come to the whole of the assembly. Do you think this is unloving or embarrassing? Remember the parable of the lost sheep. When the first two steps have been employed and the wandering member has refused to listen we’re not to give up, but in this third step we’re to enlist the whole of the congregation to go and gain back the wanderer. David Platt, in his commentary on Matthew says of this third step, “God loves us so much that if we are caught in sin, He will send an entire army of believers to us as a demonstration of His love and mercy.” In this step the circle is no longer small. It is intentionally large. Large enough, by God’s grace, to wake the wanderer out of his or her sin.

So again hope remains, the offending member who has not repented could hear and heed the warnings when they see the whole church pursuing them, and if they do, they are won back! But if they do not listen to the whole church, the final step, step 4 becomes a necessity.

Step Four – Excommunication (v17b-20)

Look at v17b, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” What does this mean? It means that when the offending member refuses to listen and repent after these first three steps, Jesus now commands one thing – excommunication. Though probably stirred quite a bit from the whole sermon up to now, our modern sensibilities are now in full shock. ‘Isn’t the church supposed to be welcoming to sinners? Isn’t the church a where sinners find hope? Isn’t the church where sinners find rest? Yes, of course. The Church of Christ is a very safe place for sinners, but it is not ever to be a safe place for sin. To excommunicate someone isn’t to forsake them or to forget about them, no. To excommunicate someone is a public declaration from the church of which they are a member, that this church no longer believes their profession of faith is true. So by excommunication, they cease to be a member of that church and cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper any longer.

In 1 Cor. 5 we see an example of this when Paul instructs the Corinthians to excommunicate a certain man (who had sinned grievously) so that he would be delivered “…to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). See it is restoration in view even here at this last step not punishment. So when this happens we should never forsake the person, but in treating them like an unbeliever we ought to pursue them with the gospel urgently. And just in case anyone is thinking ‘Who gives you the right to do such a thing?’ see v18-20. Here we receive the promise of authority in v18, that the church holds the keys of the Kingdom so that whatever is bound or loosed on earth is also bound or loosed in heaven. Here we also receive the promise of support in v19, that the Father will give His full support to what we agree about in prayer concerning these difficult matters of discipline. Here lastly we receive the promise of presence in v20. This is not a blanket statement about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer, it’s specifically about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer about excommunicating a wayward brother or sister. So when we do the tough work of church discipline, God encourages us with His authority, His support, and His presence.

Notice What’s After Our Passage (18:21-35)

We’ve seen what’s before and in our passage, now see what’s after it. In v21-35 we find the parable of the unforgiving servant, which asks “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? (18:21). No, Jesus says, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (18:22). Lesson? That the passage describing how church discipline is done is surrounded before and behind, shows us church discipline must be carried out with gospel grace. How often will God forgive us for our sin? His grace never ends. Ours shouldn’t either.

In an age where this topic is as popular as a parent publicly spanking their child…

-We must remember that not all discipline is bad.

-We must remember that the exercise of pastoral authority is not the same as the abuse of pastoral authority.

-We must reject the belief that church discipline is a bad thing, and come to embrace the belief presented to us in the text, that the neglect of church discipline is a bad thing.

-And we must reject the critical/judgmental spirit that we’re all prone to, remembering that because we’ve received extravagant grace in the gospel, we now must extend extravagant grace with the gospel as well. These things are commanded by Christ for the wanderer’s good, for the purity of the church, and ultimately for the glory of God.

What is Heaven?

For as long as I’ve been a Christian I’ve always been captivated by the great hymns about heaven, about glory, and the sweet eternal bliss we’ll enjoy forever with God. Many hymns come to mind like On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand, In the Sweet By and By, I’ll Fly Away, and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. All of these provide a wonderful glimpse into what awaits all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. But one hymn stands above the others in my own heart, and its closing words have long given strength to my soul. The hymn is O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus and the final stanza goes like this, “O the deep deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best, tis an ocean vast of blessing, tis a haven full of rest. O the deep deep love of Jesus, tis a heaven of heavens to me, for it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee.”

These lyrics describe our final hope. Not the glory of being in heaven, not the glory of being in fellowship with loved ones gone before, but the glory an eternal and intimate fellowship with God Himself.

Let’s turn to these things now in the Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation we truthfully could summarize the whole scope of redemptive history in four encompassing terms: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. With these four terms in mind we can conclude that the whole Scriptures lean toward the final consummation of all things, the glories of heaven and the terrors of hell. Consider the following:

Heaven: An Eternal Sabbath

Early on in Genesis, at the end of the creation week we see God command Adam and Eve to keep the Sabbath, just as God had labored and rested from His work. This pattern was to be the norm for His people. This command is repeated again in the 4th Commandment, and throughout the entire Old Covenant God’s people were to keep the Sabbath regularly to rest from their labors. When Jesus comes onto the scene He caused quite a stir regarding the Sabbath. In Mark 2:23-28 He and His disciples are walking through a field on the Sabbath and the disciples plucked off the heads of grain to eat. After being questioned about this Jesus responds by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). By saying this, Jesus clearly declares that He is greater than the Sabbath.

Paul then, in Colossians 2:16-17, states the Old Covenant physical Sabbath rest was a mere shadow of the New Covenant spiritual Sabbath rest that is enjoyed in our union with Christ. Now the New Covenant believer rests not just once a week but rests everyday from our works as we trust in the saving work of Jesus on our behalf. We all know this rest is hard. Our remaining corruption within us tempts us to trust in our own works. So even in the New Covenant spiritual Sabbath rest, we struggle. But the day is coming when the struggle will end. This life we now live in union with Christ on earth is a foretaste of the greater life we’ll experience in heaven where we’ll finally and fully be able to rest from our works in the perfect work of Christ. Heaven therefore, is the eternal Sabbath.

Heaven: An Eternal Tabernacle

Come back again with me to the closing chapters of Exodus where see God confirm the covenant with the people of Israel. Here God gives Israel detailed instructions for many things, chief among them are the instructions for the tabernacle. God commanded such specific instructions for the tabernacle because He intended to dwell among His people through the tabernacle. The tabernacle was completed, and the glory of God came down and filled it, signifying God’s presence among His people.

Fast forward to John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The word ‘dwelt’ here is the Greek word ‘eskonosen’ which literally means ‘tabernacled’ or ‘tented.’ So just as God formerly dwelt and made His presence known among His people in the tabernacle, now God dwells and makes His presence known among His people in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the greater and truer tabernacle. And just as a display of God’s glory came after the completion of the first tabernacle, a truer and clearer revelation of glory occurs again in the Person of Christ. “…we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This means, Jesus is the true shekinah glory of God. Or we could say it all another way: God once filled the tabernacle with His glory to speak with Moses face to face. Now God not only reveals His glory but speaks with His Church in a vastly more intimate way, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, in the face of Jesus Christ.

Because of this, God no longer lives in a temple or tents and He won’t ever return to one. Why? Divine space is no longer confined or located or seen in a place, but a Person. The only temple God now dwells in and will dwell in forevermore is His Son. And by the Holy Spirit Christ is making His Church into a new and glorious and diverse spiritual temple. He will build His Church, this spiritual temple until all the elect have been brought in. And we, as the spiritual temple and people of God, await the day when He will usher us into the heavenly temple, the eternal tabernacle, that will fill the entire earth. Heaven therefore, is the eternal tabernacle.

Heaven: An Eternal Confidence

Many today believe there is no life after death and think our hope of heaven is nothing more than a projection of our mistaken wishes. Yet, though the world may rile against us on this, we have great confidence to hold onto. Jesus gives us such confidence in John 14:1-4 when He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” In v1 Jesus lets them know that He would be leaving them soon, so it’s understandable to see them as being a bit distraught about His departure. Knowing this, He gives them such encouragement in commanding them Do you to not be troubled but to have a sure confidence about their future state. If the hope of heaven were false, Jesus would have told them so. But He encourages them to have a great hope in this by telling them how He is leaving to prepare a place for them. This promise of hope held out to the disciples here is a promise of hope every Christian can hold onto as well.

Heaven: An Eternal Glory

Though we learn greatly of heaven from many places throughout Scripture, in Revelation 21 we find what is perhaps the most extensive and breathtaking description of the life to come in the entire Bible. This is of course the apostle John’s vision of the New Heaven’s and the New Earth. Read it slowly, digest it deeply, enjoy it thoroughly – knowing these things await all those who’ve put their faith in Christ.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and she will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is wthe second death.”

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth swill bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21)

What is Hell?

I will never forget first time I heard the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell explained to me. I was a sophomore in college, I was converted on a Wednesday evening and the evening after I was invited to attend the Campus Outreach on campus weekly meeting. I went, and loved it. It was the first time I worshiped with other believers, and the first time I had heard preaching as a Christian. When the time came for the campus minister to preach he walked to the lectern and his first words were as follows, “If you truly understand the nature of hell, you’ll become the greatest evangelist in the world.” Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. They’ve permanently left an impression on me, and has by and large shaped my understanding of what it means to be a Christian in a lost and fallen world.

Hell throughout History

In the early Church the doctrine of an eternal hell was embraced and taught. One document, The Shepherd of Hermas account we read, “…the age to come is summer to the righteous, but winter to the sinners. For just as in summer the fruit of each one of the trees appears, and so it is known what kind they are…the heathen and the sinners…will be found to be withered and fruitless in that world, and will be burned as firewood, and will be obvious because their conduct in their life was evil.” So too the early Church father Cyprian states, “The damned will burn forever in hell. Devouring flames will be their eternal portion. Their torments will never decrease or end. Their lamentations will be vain and entreaties ineffective. Their repentance comes too late. They will have to believe in an eternal punishment, as they refused to believe in the eternal life.” Augustine also, in his work City of God says, “The more enjoyment man found in God, the greater was his wickedness in abandoning Him; and he who destroyed in himself a good that might have been eternal, became worthy of eternal evil.”

This belief continued onto the Middle Ages and the Reformation. Thomas Aquinas believed eternal punishment must be infinite in time because wicked finite man cannot endure an infinite punishment in one moment. It was during this period we find the great works depicting the wicked suffering an eternal punishment in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Martin Luther spoke of hell as a fiery oven where the wicked will experience constant judgment and constant pain. Calvin spoke of the punishment inflicted as the fury of God’s might bearing down on those in hell. These thoughts and those similar to them continued to be taught by the Church until the dawn of the nineteenth century and the rise of humanistic modernism in western Europe which came over to America in the twentieth century.

One theologian goes as far to say, “Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment.” Theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, William Clarke, A.T. Robinson, Karl Barth, and others began teaching that such an eternal judgment is intolerable to the mind and heart of man and that Scripture doesn’t teach it or is just wrong about this. After this a minority view called Annihilationism, which has always been present in corners of the Church, came back into some kind of influence through the largely orthodox theologian John Stott, and some more modern writers such as Edward Fudge. Annihilationism teaches that God’s judgment is sure and wrathful but is not eternal or conscious. Rather, in the judgment God annihilates the wicked for their rejection of the gospel and they cease to be. In this sense the judgment is temporally eternal because from that point on the wicked no longer exist.

This brings us to our present moment in history.

Much of our current time reflects the liberal position believing the Bible to be wrong about hell. The recent survey Ligonier ministries completed shows that only 41% of self identified evangelicals believe hell is a real place. More than half of those who participated in this survey that identified as Christians, believe hell isn’t a real place. This is telling and saddening for sure. Rather than going with the tide of our time, we ought to stand in agreement with the Church of history. Not because we love Church history, though we do, we stand with them because we believe the position of an eternal conscious punishment in hell is an entirely biblical one.

Hell throughout Scripture

A prominent place to see these things is Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage we see in v31-40 the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats. On the one hand, the sheep will go into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (v34). Why? Because the sheep lived a life characterized by gospel grace before God and man (v35-40). On the other hand the goats will go into hell (v41, v46) for not living a life characterized with gospel grace before God and man. Let’s explore the destination of the goats further.

In Matthew 25:41, 46 Jesus speaking of the goats says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous go into eternal life.”

First see here that Jesus speaks of hell as if it’s departing from the presence of God. “Depart from me…into eternal fire…” This is why so many have spoken of hell as separation from God. But is that really case? I don’t believe so. I don’t believe hell is separation from God because God is omnipresent, which means there is nowhere God is not. So yes, even in hell, we see the full presence of God. What then is the separation being spoken of here? There is a true separation being spoken of here in v41, but it is not a full separation. I believe it to be a separation from God’s gracious presence, or a separation from His eternal gospel favor. How does this view impact our definition of hell? It makes it not the place of separation from God, but the place where the wicked, apart from the righteousness of Christ come into the full presence of God, who is a consuming fire in His holiness. So in hell the wicked are consumed forever by the direct presence of God’s infinite holiness. In this sense we must recognize that hell is the place where the wicked will be forever and tremendously intimate with the wrath and fury of God.

Second, we see here that hell is permanent. v41 speaks of fire that is ‘eternal.’ v46 speaks of punishment that is also eternal. This passage shows that the reward or the punishment coming to all men will be eternal. This means hell is not a temporary place, it is forever. Similarly 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says those in Hell will experience “eternal” destruction and Mark 9:48 says hell is a place where, “The worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” The punishment of hell is eternal and forever, and once you’re there you cannot leave.

Third, this passage shows hell is a place of punishment. v46 says the eternal activity going on in hell is ‘punishment.’ Why punishment? Because the goats rejected the gospel, rejected Christ, and rejected His cross. This means the sins of the goats were not atoned for on the cross, and that hell is the place where they will receive the punishment for their sins. A gospel contrast is evident here. Sin is always punished. Sin is either punished on the cross of Christ by Christ, or hell by yourself.

Ending Thought

Let me leave you with this. “The dreadfulness of hell deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Hell is what we deserve. And hell is what He experienced on the cross in our place. Believing the truth about hell…motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God. By God’s grace those of us who are trusting Christ have been rescued from this horrible destiny. How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God’s gracious provision of salvation? Clearer visions of hell will give us greater love for both God and people” (Tom Ascol).

Affections: Disordered by Nature – Reordered by Grace

I ought to begin this by defining first what an affection is, and second what my affections are as a human made in the image of God. First, an affection is a feeling or emotion. Secondly speaking then, the affections of mankind are the feelings or emotions of man, given by God for our good and His glory, wherein we find the seat of the soul’s activity. This leads directly to the conclusion that man was made by God to feel greatly. But sadly due to our fall in Genesis 3 we must admit that we do not feel as we were intended to, or as we ought to. We too often find a strong feeling toward that which we should feel little for, and a small feeling toward that which we should feel largely for. Or I could say it like this, we have disordered affections, and must believe that part of my sanctification will be the ongoing progressive work of God’s grace in my soul to reorder my soul. We ought to be glad for such work. Though we do not find it so, most of us do find that we deeply desire to feel the right way about right and wrong things. On one hand we want to deeply delight in God, His nature, His ways, His Word, His Son, His Spirit, and His Church. On the other hand we want to deeply hate sin, of all kinds, especially the kinds that affect me the most. The more God does this in me the more useful I’ll be for Him, for my family, and for His Church.

After the second giving of the Law in Deuteronomy 5, v1-2 of chapter 6 reveals the greatest of commandments or decrees of God. What is it? That I and my family ought to fear the Lord. This is where we begin in thinking over our affections, with the fear of God. This is not servile fear or having a fright of God but maintaining and seeking a proper reverence toward Him. How long are we commanded to this fear? All the days of my life. Why are we commanded to this fear? So that our days may be long. This notion of land to Israel is a reference to their time in Canaan. Does this apply to us? Yes and no. No, we are not physical Israelites looking to cross into a physical Canaan. But yes, we are spiritual Israelites and true descendants of Abraham from our faith in Abraham’s Descendant Jesus Christ (Gal. 3), and we are wandering through the wilderness of this present evil age, awaiting the greater Canaan. As Israel was told we are told, fear the Lord, all the days of my life, not that our life would be long (length of days isn’t promised me) but so that our life would be full and abundant here (John 10:10, 15:11).

So what does it mean to fear God rightly? At it’s most basic it means honoring God as God, recognizing His exalted state and nature, His supremacy, His Lordship…while simultaneously recognizing my low condition as man, and fallen at that. He deserves all praise and is worthy of it. This fear is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7), I should serve the Lord with fear (Ps. 2:11), the fear of the Lord is clean (Ps. 19:9), from fearing the Lord I will turn away from evil (Prov. 16:6), the fear of the Lord is safe (Prov. 29:25), and fearing the Lord is part of what brings my holiness to completion (2 Cor. 7:1). Since fearing God is all of these things, not fearing God is the beginning of folly, impure, an entrance into sin, arrogant and dangerous for my soul, and the increaser of corruption in me.

After being asked which commandment was the greatest Jesus responds in Mark 12:30 by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Does this go against my definition of affections as the seat of the soul’s activity? No, I take heart, soul, mind, and strength here in v30 to be synonyms all referring to the activity of the soul (or heart). We may truly love many things in this life, but above them all must be our love for God. If this is absent we begin in the wrong place and that wrong beginning will naturally overflow into wrong action. So if we want our lives to be lived accordingly we ought to keep first things first, and the first thing above all other things is to love God over all things. Not just for the sake of living a well ordered life but for the sake of God, who is in Himself beautiful and worthy to be the cream of our delights and well of our joys. I do not think there needs to be a contrast between fearing God and loving Him, I also take these to be synonyms speaking of the same reality because I do not rightly fear Him if I do not love Him and visa versa. We must admit though, we can only love God because He has loved us in Christ first. So at the root of this ability of mine to rightly fear and love God, lies the gospel grace that changes our hearts and gives us the ability to do so.

So I see these things this morning. I was created with affections, with the capacity to feel deeply, and this is a good thing. But I am a fallen man who doesn’t feel as I ought to. So God must command my disordered affections to feel deeply about Himself as part of re-ordering my affections. He commands me to do this through the gospel, as a reaction to how He has loved me greatly in Christ. I must submit to this command, and when I do, I find that to fear God is to love God. If this beginning is present and active in me, many good and beautiful flowers will blossom in the garden that is my heart.

Are You Content?

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Not long ago a read a story about a man who became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I would like to see it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house that you recently had me list. That’s your house you’re describing.”

So often we are like this man – discontent regardless of our circumstance. 

Whether we are rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, old or young, we always seem to want more – never content with our lot in life. We often allow our circumstances to dictate our contentment. Our joy depends so heavily on bank accounts, good health, and fulfilling relationships. One day, we could be on top of the world and then something negative happens the next day and we are in the valley of discontentment.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be content regardless of your circumstances? That is how life was for Paul. He had learned to be content in all situations of life. Look at how he describes himself here in this passage. He writes, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

In all circumstances of life, Paul had learned to be content. Even in the midst of persecution, imprisonment, and suffering Paul was content. What was his secret? Paul tells us in the next verse. He writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The reason Paul could be content in all situations of life was because he had Christ. He knew that in good times or bad times, in times of plenty or in times of want, no matter what, he had Christ and that was enough.

Paul’s contentment was not found in his circumstances, bank account, or status in world; his contentment was found in the God who gave His life so that he could live. Paul knew that one day He would spend eternity with God in heaven and that is where he found contentment. 

This is a good reminder for us. 

Regardless of our circumstances in life, if we have Christ we have it all, and in Him we can find contentment.

Your Millennial View Matters

Though controversial and debated, any study of eschatology worth your time must include an examination of the views of the millennium. So to set the stage for a brief overview of these views we must examine the passage dealing with the millennium most explicitly, Revelation 20.

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea” (Revelation 20:1-8).

Throughout the history of the Church there have largely been three positions concerning the millennium. Among the many distinctives these positions hold the chief distinctive (from which these positions derive their name) is when the second coming of Christ will occur. For the Premillennial it will occur before the millennium, for the Postmillennial it will occur after the millennium, and for the Amillennial, well there is no literal millennium, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Premillennialism

The Premillennial position has not always assumed the same form throughout Church history, so there is a need to distinguish between Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.

Historic Premillennialism believes Christ’s kingdom began after the ascension of Christ with the work of the apostles. They call this first phase the Church age. In this age the Church of Christ will be successful in many ways but will ultimately fail in its mission and succumb to complete apostasy. This fall into apostasy will be a steady decline as history progresses toward the end of the Church age. After this Church age the great tribulation will begin, which marks the beginning of the end times or last days. During this great tribulation believers will suffer greatly from the antichrist and unbelief will reign on the earth. After the tribulation is over Jesus will return to rapture His Church away and reward the righteous. Jesus will then descend to earth with His glorified Church, fight the battle of Armageddon, defeat Satan, and bind him for 1,000 years. This thousand year period is the millennium in which Jesus will set up His kingdom in full measure on the earth from Jerusalem. At the end of this millennium Satan will be freed from his bonds, he will deceive the nations, but he will ultimately and finally be defeated by God’s wrathful judgment. It is this moment of final judgment where God will also judge the wicked and rescue the Church fully and forever.

Dispensational Premillennialism is a different belief system. The term was coined in the mid 19th century by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Finnis Dake, C.I. Scofield, and other various theologians. This system is known for two things. First, a belief that redemptive history is separated into varying dispensations where God deal with His people in different ways. Second, there is a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church as two separate peoples with two separate promises from God. To the dispensationalist, all of the Old Testament prophecies about Israel will be fulfilled in the current Jewish geo-political nation state of Israel. They believe the entire Old Testament sacrificial system will be reinstituted in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.

In the dispensational view, Christ’s kingdom is entirely future and comes after the church age, whereas in the historic view Christ’s kingdom began after the ascension. In lines up with the historic view at this point when it says the Church will be successful in many ways but will ultimately fail in its mission and succumb to complete apostasy as history progresses toward the end of the Church age. At this point most dispensationalists believe the rapture will occur to remove the Church from the world before the tribulation begins so they won’t have to face such turmoil. I say ‘most’ because some believe the rapture not be here but will occur in the middle of the tribulation, while others believe it will occur after the tribulation. All dispensationalists divide the tribulation into two equal periods of three and a half years. The first three and a half year period called the tribulation, is where the antichrist is revealed. The latter three and a half year period called the great tribulation, is where the antichrist will take up power, persecute what’s left of the Church, set up his own kingdom, and sit down to rule and be worshiped in the Jerusalem temple. After this seven year tribulation Jesus will return, destroy the antichrist, bind Satan, and set up his kingdom and will reign on the earth for 1,000 years. After this millennium Satan will be released, he will attack vigorously, but Jesus will call down judgment from heaven and destroy His enemies. Then the final judgment will occur.

This is the most popular millennial view in the Church today, probably due to the mass production and popularity of end times material published throughout the past generation, culminating in the Left Behind novels and movies.

Amillennialism

In contrast to the Premillennial position the Amillennial position believes Christ’s kingdom began with the first coming of Christ. This time we’re now in is synonymous with the end times or last days. This reveals one of important underlying foundational beliefs, namely, that the 1,000 year millennium spoken of in Revelation 20 isn’t a literal thousand years, but the time where Christ is ruling and reigning between His two advents. This is why the label, coined in the early 20th century, begins with ‘a’. For the amil believer there is no millennium, because we’re in the symbolic millennium now and have been for almost 2,000 years already. There is also a large covenantal, as opposed to dispensational, view of redemptive history where there is no distinction or separation between Israel and the Church in regard to the promises made by God to His people. Amillennialism sees the Church as the fulfillment of Israel. This new and true Israel of God is made up of all believers. “It is not an ethnically, politically, geographically defined people any longer. It has no geographic center. It has no single ethnic identity. It is not a political nation state. It has no system of sacrificing animals, no tabernacle, no succession of priests, no divinely authorized feast days, no requirement of circumcision or dietary particulars. All of these Old Testament patterns were temporary. Jesus has fulfilled them and ended them” (John Piper). And it will not ever return to these things any time in the future. Though these beliefs are prominent in the Amillennial view, the view does leave an opening for Jews to return to Christ in the end. There are varying opinions on this within the amil camp but it is agreed upon that if they’re to return to Him they will come to Him by faith alone.

As to how the Amillennial believes redemptive history will play itself out, here’s the structure. Satan was bound during the earthly ministry of Jesus, and where the gospel is preached and embraced Satan’s influence is held at bay. Believers, therefore, have a true impact on this world and even on the culture in which they live. But they will not ultimately transform the culture. Because, like the premil position, Amillennialism believes the Church will succumb to apostasy, grow in evil, and listen to the antichrist in the very end of days. But Christ will return once to end history, raise the dead, judge all men, and usher in His kingdom in full measure in the New Heavens and New Earth, which is a glorified earth. 

Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is very similar to Amillennialism and very different from Premillennialism. Rather than seeing the second coming of Christ as coming before the millennium, the postmil position sees the second coming of Christ after the millennium. In regard to the millennium most postmils believe it to symbolic while a few believe it will be a literal thousand year period. The Postmillennial view believes Christ’s kingdom began with the first coming of Christ and that the time we’re now in is synonymous with the end times or last days. It holds to a covenantal view of redemptive history along with the Amillenial view, and sees the New Testament Church as the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel. You may ask, what then is the difference between the amil and postmil views? There is one large difference that has been the one distinguishing belief of the postmil position that sets it apart from all the others. While both the premil and amil believers think the great commission will ultimately fail and that the Church will fall into apostasy, the postmil believer thinks the great commission will succeed and that the Church, though persecuted at times, will win in the end. So much so, that by the time of Jesus’ second coming the earth will be Christianized.

Conclusion?

So we have Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism. These three views have been and likely will continue to be hotly debated within the Church. I hope you can see that with each position comes not only a view on what the millennium is all about in Revelation 20, but how one ought to approach, interpret, and apply the whole of God’s Word to the whole of God’s people today.

After my own study I have come to embrace the Amillennial position, because I think this view not only has the most evidence throughout Scripture, I think this view is the only one of these views present in Scripture. I do think Premillennialism has an over exaggerated view of the nation of Israel as well as a thorough misunderstanding of how the two Testaments relate to one another. I also admit, I want Postmillennialism to be true! But I don’t see evidence for an ultimate triumph by the Church throughout the world. I see great things for the Church, but I also see great error in the Church as well as the rise of unbelief in our world.

So, for better or for worse I am an Amillennial.

I say this fully convinced but knowing I may be truly wrong about this. Many of the theologians I admire and have learned much from hold to views I don’t. One thing is 100% sure, God did not inspire His Word in order to give us options of belief about Him and His ways in the world. Whatever position you hold, hold it strongly with deep conviction. Panmillennialism, the belief that it will all ‘pan out’ in the end is not an available option.

Waiting = Worship?

Most Christians that I know are well aware that waiting on the Lord is a large component of being a believer. Yet when it happens to us, when we’re forced to wait, we’re somehow taken aback by this unexpected intrusion of not getting to do what we wanted to (for the Lord of course!), or go where we think He wants us to go.

Many of us know well, stories in the Bible of characters who had to not only wait, but some never even saw promises fulfilled that God had made to them. Moses waiting for 40 years in the desert to go into the promised land, and then not being allowed to go in; Joseph waiting as a servant and then as a prisoner before God elevated him to great status in Egypt, yet not making it back alive to his homeland; David waiting many years between being anointed as king and actually reigning as king; and the list goes on. 

If great saints in the Bible had to wait, what makes us think we won’t have to?
One reason we have found it so difficult to wait is simply that we live in a culture where we don’t have to wait for hardly anything. And then if we do come across something where we are forced to wait, we simply make a fuss and then we get what we want. We have drive through restaurants, dry-cleaners, banks, pharmacie; we rarely truly wait for anything. No wonder we Western believers are so bad at waiting. Our culture completely caters to our lack of being able to wait.

But yet here my family waits. It would not be a stretch to say these past three years of waiting to go to Paraguay have not been easy. We may have comfort in terms of housing, food, clothes, etc…but our hearts are quite restless as we long to go to Paraguay.  This waiting has not been of our own making. At least not that we can see.

Right after finishing our training, one of Bill’s retina detached, forcing a 9-month medical delay. Our support-raising has been slow but when we reached the 75% of needed support, we had the green light that we could leave, only to find out that I need to get my citizenship, forcing another 6+ month delay. There is no need to ask why the delays. We know God is sovereign in orchestrating these delays, and what He is asking us to do in the delay is trust Him deeper. But honestly I’m not liking it. I find I’m floundering from time to time. I’ll have weeks where I’m on task, enjoying my time in His Word, content with where He has us at this time, seeing my need to depend on Him for clarity. And then at other times, well, I’m the opposite of what I just said.

Right now I’m in the season of the latter. Not liking where we are, discontent in our circumstance, cloudy in vision.

I looked on the internet for a good, Biblically accurate acronym for WAIT,  and found my options wanting. So, I decided to make up my own. If there is one out there exactly like mine, it’s purely coincidental, although if anyone is a student of Scripture, it’s not a stretch to think two people could come up with the same acronym. I hope this is an encouragement to anyone else who is in a place of waiting on the Lord.

W – Worship in the Waiting

According to  Romans 12:1-2, our whole lives are to be offered up as an act of worship. This is not nullified during a period of waiting. In fact, I would say striving for this would seem even more urgent during a time of intense waiting. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

A – Acknowledge and Acceptance

My mind goes immediately to Jesus praying in the garden, before His death. Three of the Gospels record His prayer. First, Jesus acknowledges to His disciples that His soul is very sorrowful. Then He prays. It’s a simple prayer, really. Mark 14:36 “And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” It’s OK to admit that the waiting is hard for us. But if acknowledging it is all we do, we’ll end up only complaining. When acknowledging it leads to acceptance, that’s when we are free to…

I – Imitate and Intimacy

Again, Christ is our supreme example here. Many times in Scripture we find Him retreating alone to commune with His Father, whether it was to prepare Himself for the temptations Satan would throw at Him, or just to get away from the pressing crowds who wanted anything and everything from Him. Luke 5:16 says, “But He would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” We gain everything from imitating Christ by pursuing intimacy with God.

T – Trust in Truth

Even though we may wrestle with doubts, those of us who have trusted in Christ’s finished work on the cross can trust that what He says in His Word is true. That not only will He complete the work He has started in us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” 2 Peter 1:3

Whether you are experiencing waiting,  testing, or possibly even persecution, take heart from these words, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).

“Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

So, we will continue to worship in our waiting, acknowledging that it’s hard yet accepting it, while imitating Christ by pursuing intimacy with our Abba Father, while trusting that He is working all things for our good.

What That Verse Really Means – Philippians 4:13

Growing up, one of the only verses I had memorized was Philippians 4:13, which states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” What boy doesn’t want to feel like he can do “all things”? Its a big world out there and there are lots of things which can intimidate us. Knowing that Christ helps us do anything we set out to do makes us feel good. Its almost like Jesus is our life cheerleader, standing on the sidelines shouting, “Way to go! You can do it! You got this!”

What It Doesn’t Mean

One famous UFC wrestler ran out to the ring under Philippians 4:13, on his way to beat someone to a bloody pulp. Defensive linemen in football write Phil. 4:13 in white letters under their eyes to motivate them to tackle the other team’s quarterback. But the Apostle Paul never intended his words in Philippians 4:13 to motivate us in these ways. Paul’s words weren’t meant as a pep talk for those going out into the world to achieve great feats. Rather, his words were meant to motivate us in a much deeper and long-lasting way.

What It Does Mean

Lets take a look at Philippians 4:11b-13, which read, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Here was the apostle Paul sitting in chains in a prison cell for preaching the gospel of Christ, probably chained to a guard on his left and right. He was no ivory tower theologian who enjoyed writing treatises from the comfort of his own home. He was a battle-worn soldier of Christ who had endured much persecution and hardship for the sake of the Gospel. We only need to read of Paul’s persecutions and sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 to find out that the apostle Paul had suffered much for Christ. Yet in spite of all this, he had come to discover “the secret” of true contentment in any and every circumstance in life. He had gone without food, without sleep, and in fear of death often; and now here he sits in prison writing of his contentment. So when he comes to verse 13 and says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, what he meant was: “I can endure any hardships necessary as I live for Christ, because Christ lives in me.”

In his book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones has pointed out, “The Christian is not just a moral man; the life of God has entered into him, there is an energy, a power, a life in him and it is that that makes him peculiarly and specifically Christian, and that is exactly what Paul is telling us here…the Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all through Christ.'”

What it means for us

Instead of giving us an ego boost or a peptalk to go on to do great things in our own power and for our own name, Philippians 4:13 assures us that Christ will empower us for every trial we must face.

This means the worst of life circumstances are not too much for the child of God because Christ gives them strength. Just imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen in your life: the death of a child, the loss of a spouse, a diagnosis of cancer, financial bankruptcy, a debilitating illness; If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, He will give you the strength to endure all of these.

I often hear people say, “God will never put on you more than you can handle”, but that just is not true. I agree with another friend who has said: God will put on you more than you can handle, but not more than He can handle through you. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul describes one particular instance of this in his own life. He and his team were, “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

So the next time you face a trial that seems too much for you to handle, remember Philippians 4:13 and know that Christ will give you the strength to get through this so long as you rely on Him and not yourself. If you seek contentment in your personal comforts, you are doomed to a life of disappointment and discontentment. But if you seek your contentment in Christ alone, nothing will be able to truly disappoint you and no trial will destroy your joy in Christ. You can endure it all, so long as you remember that the strength is found not in you, but in your union with Christ.

The Complete Renovation of the Soul

In his book Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural David Wells says, “Conversions of all kinds are commonplace in our world today. An alcoholic turns from drink to sobriety. Westerners afflicted with boredom renounce their way of life and seek meaning from Eastern gurus. One person joins a cult and closes the door on his or her prior way of life; another looks for the power hidden within and turns away from institutional religion. Although these ‘conversions’ may be triggered by dramatic crises and result in changed behaviors, they are not conversions in any Christian sense. If they do not have Christ as their cause and object and His service as their result…If they do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian.”

Perhaps you feel, even in this quote, the disdain our culture thinks of conversion? Conversion in our day conveys a negative image or a moment of forced decision, as if someone were strong-arming you into making a decision you don’t want to make. But I submit that this notion is largely an unfair view of conversion. For example if we were to look in a thesaurus we would find the following synonyms for the word conversion: change, adaptation, alteration, renovation, transfiguration, exchange, and even transformation. Interesting isn’t it? That our cultures view of the word conversion is so negative while the synonyms bring nothing but positive pictures into view. I suppose the negative idea of conversion has crept in from Church history; specifically those moments on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant side of the aisle when conversion was done by coercion. When it was forced either by trial, by inquisition, or by war. These are stains on the history of Christianity and are evidence that the Church is full of fallen men and women. Events like these have long lingered in the mind of man giving us our modern distaste for the idea of conversion.

 

When we come to the Bible we see an entirely refreshing and positive view of conversion. Rather than being seen as coercion we see it as the great work of the Holy Spirit in beginning the Christian life by raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is the moment of transformation, when we become, by the work of the Spirit, something we never thought we would ever be. Conversion in the Christian sense of the word, in the biblical sense of the word is nothing less than a complete renovation of the soul.

Throughout the Scriptures there is one word rises to the top when we discuss conversion. This word in Greek is metamorphuo, which as you can probably guess is where we get the English word metamorphosis. When this Greek word shows up in the New Testament it is usually translated into English as ‘transformation.’ In regards to the transformation of conversion two passages drive this home to us.

An Unveiling Glory – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Here Paul is comparing the glory of the Old and New Covenants. To illustrate this comparison he speaks firstly of Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites wouldn’t be terrorized by the glory of God. Paul says even in his day when the Law is read there is still a veil over the hearts of the Israelites. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16). More so, Paul seems to interrupt his argument with a statement about the freedom that comes into the heart when the Holy Spirit removes the veils and takes up residence within us. But upon further examination Paul isn’t interrupting anything. Paul makes this statement about the Spirit in v17 in order to tell us that the One who does the work of removing this veil over our hearts is the Holy Spirit Himself, and because the Spirit does this, we now have freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the Law, freedom from the veil over our eyes, freedom from the veil over our hearts. Freedom from the shadowy nature of the old covenant. Freedom in the crystal clear nature of the new covenant. Freedom to see the glory of God with nothing hindering our sight. Freedom to finally draw near to God without sheer and utter terror.

Then, in what has to be one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Paul summarizes by detailing this Spirit produced metamorphosis and transformation saying that in the New Covenant all those who come to Christ by faith, now, with an unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. And from beholding God’s glory we are literally transformed by that glory into another kind of person. Initially this is the moment of conversion, or resurrection, of the new birth. But notice that once God transforms us, that transformation doesn’t end, it continues on progressively from one degree of glory to another. This progressive work of transformation is called sanctification, where God, by exposing us to more of His glory, makes us into His holy image. So the initial moment of transformation in view here is a one time act of God’s free grace on us, and the progressive transformation in view here is the continual work of God’s free grace in us. If there is any doubt in the reader as to who is responsible for this unveiling, transforming, metamorphosing work, Paul makes it clear in v18, “This (all of this grace!) comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

So from this first passage we learn that conversion is a transformative moment, where the Holy Spirit does the work of removing the veil over our hearts so that we can truly behold the glory of God. And from beholding the glory of God, what happens? We are transformed…initially and marvelously and throughout our lives God the Spirit continues to transform us to greater and greater degrees. Notice the end of v18 again, “For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is why Paul is able to call believers letters written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God in 3:3.

Creating A New Creation – 2 Corinthians 5:14-19

“…we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Here Paul is laying out the ministry of reconciliation all believers have received from God. He died so that those who live would no longer selfishly live for themselves but for the glory of Christ who died and was raised for them in v14-15. Because Christ died that we would live for His glory Paul says he no longer regards those who believe in Christ according to flesh in v16. How then does Paul regard believers? v17 tells us, he regards us as what we truly are – new creations of God. The old has passed, the new has come. How did this happen? v18-19 tell us. All of this is from God, who sent His Son to reconcile us to Himself and then give us the ministry of reconciliation after His resurrection.

This is all good and well but where does the Holy Spirit come into this? Through the theme of creation. Back in Genesis 1 who was hovering over the waters? The Spirit. What then did God do to create all we see today? He spoke His Word by the power of His Spirit into the darkness and created all things. Paul uses this exact argument one chapter earlier to describe how God made new creations out of us at conversion. In 2 Cor. 4:6 he says, “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, the meaning of 3:18 and 5:17 is that just as God accomplished creation through His Word and Spirit, so too, God accomplished our conversion by His Word and Spirit too, transforming us and making us new creations.

So…

Yes, change is needed. Yes, change is possible. Yes, we must become new, not just better. Yes, we must know the gospel, believe the gospel, and bank on the gospel. And yes, all of these things, all of this great work of God inside the soul of man that we call conversion, is brought about by living and enduring Word of God.

Our Greatest Problem Is Not What You Think It Is

Mankind has a host of problems to deal with in life.

Some of the major ones we’ve got to deal with are nuclear weapons, war, disease, population increase, cleaner and more sustainable energy, terrorism, injustice, domestic and global economic crisis, climate change, hunger, poverty, and clean water around the world. Some dare to include other problems to this list like tangled ear bud cords, running out of siracha, and posting something on Facebook only to receive a couple of likes. Above these ridiculous first world problems, and above these real global problems we encounter in this life, one problem rises to the top that every man will one day have to face: death.

That statistics will always stand. 10 out of 10 die. Regardless what man in his scientific genius accomplishes in this life the reality of death awaits us all. On this R.C. Sproul says, “Death is the greatest problem human beings encounter. We may try to tuck thoughts of it away in a far corner of our minds, but we cannot completely erase our awareness of our mortality. We know that the specter of death awaits us.”[1]

All the way back in the beginning God told the man Adam and the woman Eve in Genesis 2:16-17, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” They could eat of any tree they so desired as they did life in the garden God had made for them. But they believed the word of the serpent over the Word of God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Upon sinning that first time they spiritually died and became unfit to be in God’s presence, so they were banished from the garden. But spiritual death wasn’t only in view. Up until the point they ate the fruit they were going to be with God for all time, but now that they had fallen, physical death would one day come to them. Paul speaks of this sad moment in Romans 5:12-18 where he says sin came into the world through Adam, and death through sin, which led to death spreading to all men. Thus we read God’s pronouncement upon our first parents in Genesis 3:19, “…for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Therefore, the origin of spiritual and physical death is sin.

 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a funeral. Family and friends gathered to honor this man’s life, memories were shared and tears were shed inside the church and throughout the few days we came together. But for me, the most poignant moment of the whole funeral, the moment filled with sobering reality, was when we gathered around the gravesite for the burial. I knew once the casket went into the ground that this man wasn’t coming back out. The finality of the moment was thick. It seemed impossible to escape. The unbelieving worldview simply thinks of death as the last part of a natural process but standing there watching the casket and hearing the sobs of the loved ones I didn’t feel anything of natural order. It made me feel that death is a cruel master, waiting to carry out its sentence on all of us one day where it will harshly sever the unity of body of soul.

Perhaps this is why Louis Berkhof mentions that “…death is something foreign and hostile to human life: an expression of divine anger, judgment, condemnation, and a curse.”[2] I think we feel such things at moments like this because death wasn’t part of our original state before God. We we’re made to live with Him forever but because we chose to sin by rebelling against God’s command all of us now will (because of God’s judgment on us for our sin) feel the pang of death one day. That is, unless Jesus returns first.

But see the beauty of the grace of God in that while He could’ve put forth an exact judgment as soon as Adam and Eve at the fruit, ending humanity once and for all, He didn’t. In His common grace He restrains the full effects of sin and death, and adding glory upon glory, in His special grace to His people He has conquered sin and death through the work of Christ. So it is true what many preachers have said throughout the ages, “Believers are born twice and die only once while unbelievers are born only once and die twice.” Is this not the outworking of Romans 6:23? “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The wages, or payment, of sin is death. So all those who remain in sin and unbelief will experience death in hell forever. While all those who forsake sin and believe will experience life in heaven forever.

But since the wages of sin is death, and Jesus bore our sin as our substitute, absorbing the wrath of God in our place, since that is true, why do believers still have to physically die? Why can’t God just take us to heaven when we’re saved or sometime before physical death occurs since believers have no more wages for sin to pay? This is a good question, and there are good reasons why God ordains for most of us to go through physical death.[3]

First, for Witness

If we are born again and immediately taken to heaven who would preach the gospel, who would share the gospel, who would gather with the Church? In fact, if God took us away upon conversion there wouldn’t be any Church left on earth, and if there is no Church left on earth, there is no way the great commission would be engaged in, let alone finished. By saving us and leaving us here God gives us the opportunity to be a witness to truth throughout our lives.

Second, for Humility

Nothing humbles the pride of man than an awareness of an impending death. Even if God’s providence brings you death years into the future, the knowledge that death will one day come and bring your life on earth to an end, does much to bring one’s life into focus. That all mankind: rich and poor, young and old, male and female will one day die is a great equalizer.

Third, for Holiness

Death does bring one’s life into focus. The peripheral things get pushed away and the chief things of man come into prominence. And among those chief things that come into prominence, knowing and pleasing God becomes most prominent because He is ultimately the One we must reckon with in the end of all things. Therefore, an awareness of death in the end will lead one to have a greater zeal for holy living in the present.

Fourth, for Heavenly Mindedness

In Colossians 3:1-4 Paul makes this point stating, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

The big idea Paul is getting is that we live this life rightly by considering, inclining our heart to, and wholeheartedly entertaining the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. So to set our minds on things above means using all of our energy to know Christ, continually seeking to mature in Christ, getting out there and pursuing the lost with the message of Christ, reading and meditating on God’s Word to grow in the knowledge of Christ, devoting ourselves to prayer to draw closer to Christ, and giving our lives to the service of the Church following the example of Christ. To flip the popular saying, “The only way to be of any earthly good is to be heavenly minded.”

The Puritan pastors used to teach their congregations to think on death often for the sake of gaining the right perspective in our current lives. In the Puritan prayer book, the Valley of Vision, part of the prayer entitled Sleep reads, “May my frequent lying down make me familiar with death, the bed I approach remind me of the grave, the eyes I now close picture to me their final closing. Keep me always ready, waiting for admittance to thy presence… I retire this night in full assurance of one day awaking with thee.”[4]

For the Puritans, our earthly life is only the title page and table of contents, preparing us to for chapter 1 of the never ending book that is eternity with God.

May the same be true of us as well.

 

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s A Theologian, page 295

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 670.

[3] I say ‘most’ because the believers who are alive when Christ returns will not have to endure through physical death.

[4] The Valley of Vision, page 163.

The Mission of the Church

Sooner or later the question ‘What is the mission of the Church?’ is something every Christian asks. We ask this question because a Christian, by definition, is a new creation. The moment of the new birth, a new life begins, and God intends our new life to be lived out among the new community called the Church. Once involving ourselves in the membership of the Church we begin to grow in our knowledge of the Church’s mission. Or to say it another way, once we’ve been inside the Church long enough we begin to understand that God has called the Church to one certain task above all other tasks.

This task is the mission of the Church.

But with the rise of the term missional, I’m afraid it is now a bit more difficult to discern the chief task God calls the Church to do. Such that almost everything the Church does is seen as its mission. To worship God is our mission. To study the Bible is our mission. To pray is our mission. To disciple is our mission. To care for those in need is our mission. Being missional is abundantly helpful in that it reminds us that everything we do carries a deep sense of purpose along with it. John Stott has said mission isn’t all the Church does, but “…everything the church is sent into the world to do.”[1] But being missional can be less the helpful because when everything the Church does is part of our mission, it can be puzzling to know if God even gives or calls the Church one supreme task above all others.

So we come back to the question, ‘What is the mission of the Church?’ And when looking for the chief or supreme task and activity God has given to the Church, when looking for the mission we’re to give ourselves to we need look no further than Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I and with you always.”

Taking a closer look at this commission shows us that there are three things[2] to see here:

 

Submitting to the Authority of Christ

The authority of Christ is large theme throughout the gospel of Matthew. For example in it we see Jesus healing, casting out demons, teaching with authority, as well as forgiving sin. So when we read here of the authority of Christ in 28:18 it’s not a new authority we see. We’ve seen His authority all along. But because of His resurrection He does now have a new level of authority, indeed the highest possible authority.[3] Because of this, first and foremost, the one reason Jesus Christ can say that He has been given all authority is because He and He alone is the resurrected Lord. He is One who has an unending Kingdom, and He is the One with everlasting dominion. At the beginning of Matthew 28 Jesus was in the tomb and when He rose v3-4 says, “His appearance was like lightning, and His clothing was white as snow. And for fear of Him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” When the stone rolled away from the tomb everything changed. We are no longer free to ignore Jesus as a mere teacher or prophet, we must recognize and submit to Him as the very Lord of all.

Matthew Osborne rightly states that Matthew 28:18 is the highest statement of Christology in the entire Bible.[4] All of the great Christological passages of the New Testament (Col. 1:15-20, Phil. 2:5-11, and Heb. 1:1-3) exists because Matthew 28:18 came first. Jesus has all authority. Therefore all men must humble themselves before Him. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, or perhaps you yourself have once said that ‘you made Jesus Lord of your life.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus isn’t made Lord by our approval and authorization, He is Lord. He doesn’t become God over us when we give Him permission, He is God over us. This means when we repent of sin and turn to Him in faith we are not accepting Him into our lives. No. When we repent of sin and turn to Him in faith, we become acceptable to Him.

Do not miss this: the Lord Jesus holds all authority over heaven and earth. 

Following the Command of Christ

Because Jesus holds all authority He has the right to do whatever pleases Him, and it pleases Him to command us to go and disciple the nations. v19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” David Platt says of this commission, “This is not a comfortable call inviting most Christians to come, be baptized, and sit in one location. This is a costly command directing every Christian to go, be baptized, and make disciples of all nations.”[5] As the first Adam was commanded by God to exercise dominion and spread God’s image with his helpmate Eve, so too, now the Second and Last Adam Jesus Christ is exercising His dominion by spreading His own image around the world through His helpmate the Church.

This does indeed mean that the mission of the Church is to go spread the gospel of Christ and disciple with the gospel of Christ to the uttermost ends of the earth among every people group. But it also means ‘as we go’ about our life we should be about the business of the Kingdom of God wherever we find ourselves to be. Just because some may feel urged to go to the hard places of the world to spread the gospel, it does not mean the rest of the Church has no commission responsibility. We’re all to be about the work of the commission in our own contexts. Or Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Some have interpreted this Great Commission in such a way as to lessen the importance of working hard to alleviate suffering around the world. We should not do this, but we should keep things in the proper perspective. Yes we care about suffering, yes we care about homelessness, yes we care about the quality of food and water, yes we care about slavery of all kinds, and yes we care about serving those in need. But, if we attend to these important physical needs while neglecting the most important spiritual need of all people we sin. All of the Church, throughout all generations, is to chiefly and supremely be about the business of baptizing and teaching disciple making disciples. The Church should be concerned with getting the whole counsel of God to the whole world.

Whatever else we do as the Church in this world pales in comparison to this mission.

Remember, the One commanding us to this mission has all authority in heaven and earth. Who He is and what He has done is the very message we’re to be spreading. And because He is worthy of all worship for who He is and the work He has done John Piper is exactly right to say, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the unredeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity.”[6]

Depending on the Presence of Christ

Lastly, upon whom do we depend in this chief mission of the Church? How do we know this mission will succeed? Are we banking on our own ingenuity or on our own methods? Are we relying on our own stick-to-itiveness and endurance to make it to the end? Are we trusting in our own resources to spread this message to all peoples? No. v20 shows us what we must depend on, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus promises to always be with us. Matthew begins and ends in the same way. The announcement of Immanuel (God with us) began the book, and now the promise of the presence of the resurrected Lord forever ends the book.

To sum all of this up, in submitting to the authority of Christ, following the command of Christ, while depending on the presence of Christ – the Church finds and fulfills its chief mission: discipling the nations. All of His authority, all of the nations, teaching all that He commanded, with all of His presence.[7]

Church, take hope. This mission cannot fail.

 

 

Citations:

[1] John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World: What Should the Church be Doing Now? Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity, 1975, page 30.

[2] David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, page 369-379.

[3] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 911.

[4] Ibid, page 913, and 1036.

[5] David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, page 374-375.

[6] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, page 15.

[7] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 918.

Two Keys to Flourishing in the Digital Age

I have an iPhone. I’m sure some of you do too, if you haven’t jumped on the Android train. Either way, life in our current time is different from other generations that have gone before us. Why? The smartphone. It’s whatever you want access to anything on the planet in your pocket. This can be used for great good, or for great wickedness. How we do use our smartphones for God’s glory and the good of others around us?

Tony Reinke has a good answer that you should pause and give a some time to. Here’s his entire post below from the Desiring God blog this past week:

Always connected to the web, always connected to social media, a smartphone with a camera is the most addictive tool of communication ever invented.Packaged with all its potent blessings come the amplification of its curses. Our phones can allow unnecessary habits in the silent spaces of our lives. And our phones can feed the most insidious impulses that live inside of our hearts.We all seem to sense that — for good or bad — our smartphones are changing us, our habits, and our relationships. We all know it. We feel it. We seem to be more productive, and yet we are more distracted. We seem to be more connected, and yet we are more alone. We seem to be more knowledgeable, and yet we are less likely to understand the very purpose of our lives.The more important questions are these: What can be done about it? And do we Christians have anything relevant to say to the perplexing questions facing our digital age?After three years researching and writing my new book on smartphone habits, I say emphatically: Yes!Let me show you the relevance of the Bible for the “never-offline” smartphone generation.

Four Important Questions

First, technology is a gift from God, when we use it for human flourishing. But new technology is merely a collection of new tools we invent and share and use to make things go faster and run more smoothly. Technology makes what we do easier, but it cannot answer our deepest questions.Specifically, technology cannot answer these four questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I here for?
  • What am I called to do?
  • And am I succeeding or failing at it?

Technology will not answer these four foundational questions of life.Scripture does.

Luke 10

Luke 10 is a good example of Scripture’s relevance in the “never-offline” culture. The chapter begins with Jesus sending out 72 disciples to preach the gospel. All social media gospel spreading in the digital age really can be traced back to the democratization of the message in this sending moment (Luke 10:1–24). I’ll pick up the story in the next scene, in Luke 10:25, what we call the parable of the Good Samaritan.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he [the lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Here we find the two love commands. In two other similar accounts in the Gospels, Jesus himself states the same summary. Here it’s a lawyer. This scheming lawyer fishes for self-justification, and misses the point.Nevertheless, the lawyer is not stupid. He boils down the entire moral will of God into two categories:

  1. Love God with all that you are.
  2. Love others as yourself.

Jesus commends the lawyer’s summary. He’s right.

Love Command One

Here’s the primary love command: Treasure God with everything you are! This is the chief vocation for humans.
We were created to express a heart-soul-strength-mind, holistic embrace of God. Faith is a response to seeing God’s glory and goodness. In the light of his beauty, faith desires nothing on earth more than him and cherishes him above even the most beloved father or mother or son or daughter. Faith joyfully gives all our earthly assets in this life to buy a field that holds the priceless treasure of Christ. Faith considers everything in this life as loss compared to the supreme worth of knowing Christ. That is saving faith. It is seeing and hearing and tasting and touching — holistic metaphors for all the various expression of how faith is treasuring God with all that we are and all that we have (Psalm 34:8; 73:25–26; Matthew 10:37; 13:44; Luke 10:27; 14:33; John 6:35; Philippians 3:8).

In the words of Piper: “Jesus’ demand to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength means that every impulse and every act of every faculty and every capacity should be an expression of treasuring God above all things” (What Jesus Demands, 82).This is our primary vocation — and it’s a lofty one.Now, the lawyer knows that a whole-life embrace of God is the most important thing in the universe. What the lawyer doesn’t see is that this expression of faith is nothing short of a miraculous gift of God’s sovereign grace.

Love Command Two

Here’s the second love command: Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the resulting human vocation, which comes out of the first vocation.Love God.Love others.These are the two pillars of all human flourishing — true in the Old Testament, affirmed in the ministry of Jesus, and no less relevant for digitally savvy Christians today.By affirming these two love commands, Jesus is saying that these are the two load-bearing commands — on them “depend [or hang] all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

So, if you lose the second pillar (to love your neighbor), ethics will collapse and crumble into a heap of pious religious jargon that fails to demonstrate the value of God in service to others. Or, if the first pillar crumbles (to love God), ethics collapses into secular social work that cannot, and will not, give expression to the overflow of God’s all-satisfying beauty.All human flourishing rests on these two pillars.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Next, the text forces us to ask this question in Luke 10:29–37:

But he [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The image of a dying man in the street is so relevant today, after the terror attacks in Boston, Paris, and now in London and Russia. Sadly, it has become a universal experience to see pedestrians bleeding out on public streets.Now, the lawyer himself misses the whole point — he’s not searching for justification in a Savior; he’s seeking self-justification in front of the Savior.

The Ultimate Neighbor

This whole episode for the lawyer will make no sense until he sees Jesus inside the story. Those with eyes of faith will see that we are the man in the gutter of sin and desolation. The pressures of the world, the sinfulness of our flesh, and the conniving of the devil have jumped us, knocked us out cold with brass knuckles, and left us in total ruin and death.In the cross, we find Christ as the Greater Levite. Christ is the Ultimate Mercy Giver. Christ is the Ultimate Neighbor. Christ is the Greater Priest who does not stand at a safe distance near the Purell dispenser. He draws near to me to get his hands dirty and to shed his own blood for me while I am in my most broken place. The One born in a barn because all the hotel rooms were booked is the Savior who makes for you an eternal home in his Father’s house. Don’t miss the echoes of Jesus in this parable.In other words, “you’ll never become a radical neighbor for others until you see that you have been radically neighbored by Christ” (Keller).

Your Neighbor

So, this text answers the question: Who is my neighbor? That phrase, “your neighbor” — appears over 60 times in the Bible, mostly in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Proverbs. The stress, as Jesus points out here, is on embodied place-ed-ness.
For the purpose of an illustration, imagine that you and I, who don’t recognize each other, are sitting inside the same Starbucks coffee shop. At that moment, I exist in the room, and you exist in the room. This is where our bodies coincide. At that moment, we become neighbors in a way that we were not neighbors earlier in the day, not because we follow one another on Twitter, but because our physical presence now overlaps in proximity.Embodied place-ed-ness.Sitting as apparent strangers in the same room, we are neighbors. In this moment, we are now responsible to care for one another. If one of us needs medical attention, the other is obligated to offer help, and to not walk away.My point is that neighboring is rooted in space and time. To have a body is to be obligated to others. We have obligations to our parents, perhaps to a spouse, to children, to a local church, to a boss, and to a neighborhood. And in many of these situations — in the home and church — we have gender-specific obligations to one another. To be a creature is to be obligated to others. That’s fundamental to neighboring.But in the digital age, when we lose a sense of our bodies, we quickly find ourselves in isolation from others, and our sense of what it means to be a true neighbor evaporates.The resulting fallout of this isolation is why the Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, has made it his mantra: “The most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.” Social disconnection. Even in those areas that most root us — our marriages and jobs — our culture has taught us the dance of having one foot in and one foot out never quite committed to anything. We like to keep our options open.So, when a beaten neighbor is lying on the metaphorical path of our lives, we are quick to jump over to the sidewalk of escape on the other side of the street. For many of us, that escapism is found in the virtual world of our smartphones.
Never offline, always within reach, we now wield in our hands a magic wand of technological power we have only begun to grasp. But it raises new enigmas, too. Never more connected, we seem to be growing more distant. Never more efficient, we have never been more distracted.

The Main Point

All of these points in Luke 10 link our evolving smartphone habits to the ancient parable of Jesus.Here’s the point:The priest sees the man in the street, but he’s rushing off to God’s temple to dispense his priestly work. He’s clean, pure, unsoiled, and perhaps his shift begins soon — so he absolutely cannot stop to dirty himself with this filthy, bloody, dying guy in the street. The Levite sees the man, too, but he’s apparently running late for his preaching gig. He cannot stop for the same reason: ministry expectations beckon for his faraway attention. You begin to see the problem here rather quickly. Setting your mind on good and noble things, like remote ministry possibilities, can eventually callous you to the flesh and blood needs around you.Giving over your attention to virtual possibilities, even finding an important role online, can blind you to the gospel needs lying at your feet.If that is not a prophetic warning for Christians in the digital age, I don’t know what is.

Good or Essential?

Jesus clearly wants the lawyer to see the sin of his own neighbor-neglect and repent. In this parable we see the sin of our smartphone abuse, the sin of our hyperconnectivity to the virtual world — even in performing good ministry online. We so often are tempted to withhold mercy from those around us — our families, our roommates, our colleagues, our classmates, our church members, and yes, our neighbors.Neighboring, defined by Jesus, puts great stress on how our bodies root us in a particular place, as both gift-getters (receiving mercy) and gift-givers(offering mercy).Radical neighboring is embodied neighboring. Face-to-face. Real needs met. And there is no exemption clause because you have five hundred followers online.

Offline Authenticity

Taken together, Luke 10 says to all of God’s disciples: Yes, like the 72 sent out, go into the digital world as far as your online influence will spread, and proclaim the good news of Christ — but — don’t get so wrapped up in those opportunities that you forget your essential vocations: (1) to cultivate a genuine love of God above everything, and (2) to care for the needs you see immediately around you.
To put it another way, you can fake online authenticity for a while, but not forever. It will catch up to you. Our authenticity offline is always the basis for our authenticity online.So, if God has called and equipped you to be a Twitter sage, or a hip-hop artist, or an Instagram evangelist, or a podcaster, or a writer, or a social media social activist, or a digital creator of any type, you must take breaks from the scuttle of those ministry expectations — those expectations out in the remoteness of the virtual world — in order to reconnect with the ultimate purpose on this planet that grounds all our flourishing: To be embodied children of God, feeding our faith on the truth of God, cherishing him with our entire being, and then, out of our abundance, serving our neighbors.

Two Helpful Beginning Points About Eschatology

The word eschatology comes from the Greek word ‘eschaton.’ Used throughout Scripture in various forms and tenses this word means ‘last things.’ So when coupled with the ending ‘ology’ eschatology means the study of, or the doctrine of the ‘last things.’ Though eschatology deals with many things, the sum and substance of eschatology is this: “Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and promised to physically return on the last day in order to raise the dead, judge the world, and then create a new heaven and new earth.”[1]

Eschatology indeed has much to say about the future, but what is often overlooked is that it also has much to say about the past and the present as well. Because of the grand scope of this branch of theology, it can feel daunting and overwhelming to begin. Here are two introductory remarks about eschatology that will help you get started.[2]

First, Israel’s prophetic hope is found in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ as well as in the Church. This is to say that all of the Old Testament’s prophecies and promises are fulfilled in Jesus and His Church, and once fulfilled we’re not waiting for any future fulfillment to come.

Take for example, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Temple. In John 1:14 the Word did not only become flesh, it says “He became flesh and dwelt among us…” This phrase doesn’t just mean He resided or settled among us, it means far more. In the closing chapters of Exodus we see God confirm and renew the covenant He made with Abraham to the people of Israel, we see God give Israel detailed instructions for the tabernacle, for all the items that would go inside the tabernacle, and for the priestly garments. God says these things were to be made for beauty and for glory. God commanded all these various things and the tabernacle to be made because He intended to dwell among, or to be present with, His people through the tabernacle in their wilderness wanderings. After Israel obeyed and made these things, God’s glory, the shekinah glory of God, came down and filled the tabernacle, bringing a terrible and awesome joyful fear among the people.

Now go back to John 1:14. That phrase ‘dwelt’ is the Greek word ‘eskonosen’ which literally means ‘tabernacled’ or ‘tented’ among us. So just as God formerly dwelt and made His presence known among His people in the tabernacle, now God dwells and makes His presence known in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. And more so, just as the result of God dwelling among His people in the tabernacle was a display of God’s glory, did you notice what the rest of v14 says? There is another and greater display of glory in our current wilderness of this fallen world. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John is making clear that because God has tabernacled among us in Jesus, God’s glory is now revealed to us and has truly taken up residence among us in the Person of Jesus. Which means, Jesus is the true shekinah glory of God. Or we could say it all another way: God used to come, filling the tabernacle with His glory, to speak with Moses face to face. Now God has come to speak with His people and reveal His glory in a vastly more intimate way, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:6, in the face of Jesus Christ. Therefore, all the Old Testament symbolism of God dwelling with man in the tabernacle and the temple, all that God hinted at in a dim and imperfect fashion is now fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

What does all this mean? We’re no longer looking for a physical temple to be rebuilt in national Israel today that marks the beginning of the end times. God no longer lives in a temple or tent or tabernacle, and He won’t ever return to one. Divine space is no longer confined or located or seen in a place, but a Person. Now, it is entirely possible that modern day Israelites may build a new temple and take up the Old Testament sacrificial system again within it. If that happens, though it may cause all sorts of political and religious turmoil, it will have zero theological significance. To think God would do that to mark the beginning of the end of all things is to make a backward move in redemptive history.[3] The only temple God now dwells in and will dwell in forevermore is His Son. And adding glory to glory, Jesus is now by the Holy Spirit making His Church into a new spiritual temple as we embrace the gospel, treasure it above all things, and spread it to all peoples.

You could also see this first principle in Jesus being the fulfillment of all the priests, all the prophets, all the kings, all the feasts, all the ceremonies, even the Sabbath itself. He is the Person all of the Old Testament points to and finds its fulfillment in.

Second, the biblical authors view the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes as one act in two phases. That is to say, God’s redemptive purposes and His Kingdom truly came with the first advent of Christ, but will finally and fully come with the second advent of Christ. Which means, we now find ourselves in the ‘overlapping of the ages.’

The time commonly referred to as the ‘last days’ begins with the first advent of Christ and ends with the second advent of Christ. We’re not waiting for the end times to come upon us one day in the future, we’re here in them now. Take one example from Genesis 49 when Jacob was blessing his sons.

To his son Judah he says in 49:8-10, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

In this blessing is the promise that all Israel will submit to and bow before Judah’s descendant. Judah is called a lion that holds a scepter, which is an instrument of rule. And this ruling or kingly scepter will remain in the house of Judah until one of Judah’s descendants comes to take it, and once this coming One takes it, the obedience of the peoples will be to him. This promise is fulfilled and confirmed in the Davidic covenant, but it’s ultimately fulfilled in the royal reign of Jesus Christ. Now go back to 49:1 and notice Jacob says all these things will take place ‘in days to come’ or in Hebrew ‘in the last days.’

So what happens to mark the beginning of the last days? Jesus Christ, the long awaited descendant of Judah will come, and take the up the scepter to rule.

Some say this refers to the second advent of Christ when He will come to judge the world and usher in His Kingdom. I disagree and believe this to be speaking of the first advent and not the second. Why do I think this is referring to the first advent? Because Hebrews 1:1-3 confirms that the last days began when God began speaking (revealing Himself) through His Son. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.”

So, when Jesus was born He brought His Kingdom with Him, He began exercising His rule in part, and the last days began. These last days will end the moment Jesus returns for the second time to judge the world and usher His Kingdom in full. Therefore in this sense we see that there is an ‘already but not yet’ tension in our current time. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8), justified (Rom. 5:1), adopted (1 John 3:1), resurrected (Rom. 6), glorified (Rom. 8:30), and redeemed (Eph. 1:4). And yet we’re awaiting the day when we will be saved (Rom. 5:10), justified (Rom. 2:13), adopted (Rom. 8:23), resurrected (1 Cor. 15), glorified (Phil. 3), and redeemed (Rom. 13:11).[4]

Two introductory points, that do much to guide us well on the road to properly understanding biblical eschatology.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Kim Riddlebarger, Reformation Theology, page 721.

[2] These two statements are from Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, pages 15-42.

[3] Ibid, page 20-21.

[4] Ibid, page 29.