Tuesday, February 21, 2012
“But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil” (James 4:16).
Scripture Reading: James 4:13-17
There is a difference between “overconfidence” and “self-confidence.” Overconfidence results from the delusion that you are capable of handling any problem all by yourself. Self-confidence in its most wholesome meaning is born of confidence in Christ and his indwelling presence. Paul’s was this kind of confidence when he said, “I can do all things through Christ” (Phil. 4:13).
1) Overconfidence blinds you to the brevity of life (James 4:13-14).
The repetition of the word “and” four times in one verse indicates a presumptuous confidence.
The brevity of life may catch you unprepared.
In verse 13 this man’s main concern is to “get gain,” to accumulate wealth. After all, this is the world’s criteria of “success.” But as long as he was busy trying to “get gain,” he was not preparing to meet God. This brief life was running out, and chances were that he would be caught by death unprepared.
Life is infinitesimal when compared with eternity.
It is like vapor that is but for a moment (v. 14). But as brief as life may be, it is the only life and chance you have.
2) Overconfidence encourages you to take foolish risks (James 4:13).
Many Jewish merchants were restless adventurers. They traveled from city to city in pursuit of gain. A combination of overconfidence and past successes would often encourage a merchant to take one foolish risk and lose all.
3) Overconfidence ignores the most important single factor in determining the success of your life.
What is this factor? It is the will of God. “You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’ ” (James 4:15 NIV). Even if we do not utter the phrase “If it is the Lord’s will,” in connection with every plan for the future, its spirit should always be retained.
4) Overconfidence disregards God’s law.
“No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin” (James 4:17 Phillips). For a person to know the uncertainty of life and yet to live in utter disregard of the truth is for him to sin. In Luke 12:47-48 Jesus makes it quite clear that the penalty for disregarding God’s law increases with increased knowledge.
God’s law is immutable. It still stands. Attitudes have changed, but God’s law hasn’t. Interpretations have changed, but God’s law hasn’t. It still asserts, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23); “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4); and “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
Now in Conclusion
You will surely stumble and fall if you try to live the Christian life in your own power. You cannot live the Christian life. No one can. God does not expect you to. He simply wants you to be crucified and then to let Christ live through you. You too will learn that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!
God Bless You, Pastor Mike
Saturday, February 18, 2012
“Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:23-25 NIV).
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 7:1-8:13
Hebrews alone among the books of the New Testament calls Christ a priest. Of course the concept is implied in Peter’s use of “holy priesthood” to describe God’s new people (1 Peter 2:5). Paul depicts Christ in terms of a mediator: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). To be sure, there are several Old Testament references to a priestly Messiah. Zechariah prophesied: “He shall be a priest upon his throne” (Zech. 6:13). Isaiah 53 speaks of a suffering servant who will sacrifice himself for Israel’s sins.
Hebrews calls Christ High Priest, not once, but numerous times (5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21; 9:11), using the messianic terminology of the psalmist (Ps. 110:4). There must be a valid purpose behind this recurring theme, a theme so seldom implied elsewhere in the New Testament. It seems apparent that the solution lies in an awareness of the crucial situation to which the author of Hebrews addresses himself. The first Christian converts were Jews steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures and priestly traditions. These early converts continued to attend the services of the temple and synagogues. As the forces of Judaism grew more adamant, a break between Judaism and the church was inevitable. Stephen’s message revealing that God was not limited to working with the physical descendants of Abraham precipitated a rupture that resulted in his martyrdom (Acts 7), followed by fierce persecution of the Christians at the hands of the leaders of Judaism (Acts 8, 9). In spite of this, we find the apostle Paul in AD 58 attending temple services at Jerusalem. Perhaps the final break came with Nero’s burning of Rome, for which he made Christians the scapegoat. In the ensuing Neronian persecution, Christianity was once and for all separated from all strings to Judaism.
As the final break with Judaism came, there were, no doubt, many Jewish Christians who faltered at the prospect of forever leaving behind the Jewish traditions of their childhood training, the temple services, and the priestly rituals. At this moment of hesitation, the Holy Spirit inspired someone to write an epistle dealing with just why Christians must go on to maturity in Christ. Naturally such an epistle would need to show the superiority of Christ over the Mosaic institutions of Judaism, and particularly over the priesthood and its prescribed sacrifices. The epistle is in our canon as the book of Hebrews and delineates sharply between the Old Testament priesthood, marked by dying men replacing dying men, and the living Christ who is our High Priest. This message will deal with the priesthood composed of mortal men. Part 2, next week, will deal with the living Christ, our eternal High Priest.
1) Mortal in nature (Heb. 7:23).
The Levitical priesthood lies dead because, first of all, it was composed of mortal men who were hindered from continuance by death: “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office” (v. 23 NIV).
The priests, being mortal men, were themselves sinful and in need of atonement. Even the high priest was no exception: “For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak” (Heb. 7:28 NIV). The major requirement for the Levitical priesthood was genealogy, not ability or character. Any man of the lineage of Aaron who was not marred by some physical defect could be a priest.
2) Temporary in purpose (Heb. 7:11-19).
Another reason for the decease of the Levitical priesthood had to do with God’s divine purpose for its establishment. The priesthood was divinely ordained as one segment of God’s total redemptive agenda. The time of its servitude was limited. When the purpose for which it was created was fulfilled, it passed from the scene.
When God chose to reveal himself to the Israelites, he was in the position of a parent who sets out to teach his toddling child. The Israelites were primitive and barbaric. To teach them the meaning of holiness was indeed a worthy undertaking. For this reason, the Old Testament is full of shadows and types, of which the priesthood is a part. Neither the Mosaic law in general nor the priestly ritual in particular was ordained as a means of dispensing salvation. In fact, salvation of the soul could be taught only by first emphasizing physical deliverance. Therefore, God delivered his people from Egyptian bondage by a mighty destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. This great intervening act of God became the central redemptive theme of the Old Testament. Always the Old Testament prophets remind the people of God’s salvation by referring to this great incident. Gradually salvation took on a spiritual aspect, though not until New Testament days was this fully seen.
We must guard against the idea that people were saved differently in the Old Testament than in the New. People have always experienced God’s salvation by faith. Abraham believed God, and this belief brought him into a right relationship with God (Gen. 15:6). The nation believed God’s promise to deliver from bondage, and thus they set out toward the Red Sea. By miraculously saving them from Pharaoh, God pointed toward a larger and fuller deliverance. The object of faith in the Old Testament was God’s promise of ultimate deliverance. We are privileged to know the fullness of God’s promised salvation as we see Christ. But the same type of faith is required today.
When Old Testament people believed God, they were at the same time committing themselves to a way of life set forth by God’s law as given at Sinai. The law came to explain and delineate the life that pleased God, as well as to set up the only civil laws possessed by the young nation.
As part of the Mosaic system, the priesthood with its prescribed sacrifices played an important part. The sacrifice of animals was a constant reminder of the serious nature of sin, as well as a foreshadowing of a final sacrifice to come, by which God’s promises would be fulfilled. People of faith sinned against God’s law. The priestly system was there to lead them to repentance and rededication. The sinful Israelite brought an animal from his flock, which was in a sense an extension of himself, for his very existence depended on his flock, and placing his hand on the animal to complete the identification, he gave it to the priest to be slain. As the animal died, it was as if a part of the sinner died. He was reminded that the “soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4 NIV) and that life is in the blood (Deut. 12:23). As the blood poured out, life poured out.
Every sacrifice pointed toward the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 NIV). In a real sense, the priestly rituals taught the serious nature of sin and helped lead people to meaningful acts of rededication much as contemporary Christians periodically rededicate themselves to the Lord’s service as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2).
The high priest entered the Holy of Holies once each year on the day of atonement and made sacrifice for all the people. Within the Holy of Holies he was considered to be in the very presence of God. The whole purpose of that event, in the long-range plan of God, was to prepare people to understand the sacrificial work of Christ.
3) Limited in power (Heb. 7:1).
The Levitical priesthood never offered salvation; its purpose was only to point toward fulfillment as found in Christ. Herein is found the poverty of Judaism. Without Christ, it has nothing final to offer. If the priestly ritual could have given ultimate fullness, then there would have been no need for Christ (v. 1), but it couldn’t! Properly understood, the Levitical priesthood was not a failure. The Israelites forced its failure by ascribing to it a power and permanence never intended by God. When the Levitical system first became an end in itself, God sent the eighth-century prophets to preach against a cold formalism without personal dedication. Micah and Amos thundered out against social injustice. Isaiah looked past the lifeless ritual of the Israelites toward God’s promised Deliverer.
When Israel persisted in their indifference, God used wicked Babylon as a chastening rod. When the seventy-year Babylonian exile was over, the captives returned to Palestine with one burning determination. Never again would they transgress God’s law. It was during this era that the emphasis of the Levitical system superseded God’s intended purpose and the law became, more than ever before, an end in itself. Judaism had taken an instrument of revelation and made of it the final goal.
Now in Conclusion
The poverty of Judaism is that it leaves out Christ, God’s promised Redeemer. To stop short of Christ is to spend one’s life cultivating land and never sowing any seed. It is to spend a lifetime writing letters to one’s betrothed, preparing a house, and planning the wedding yet never having the ceremony. Christ has come. We have no need of dead priests. Our hope is not in dying men but in the living Christ, our High Priest.
God Bless You, Pastor Mike
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 5:6-11
In the final words of his first epistle, the apostle Peter voiced some general spiritual guidelines that must be observed carefully by every Christian if victorious living is to be a reality.
1) “Humble yourself therefore under the mighty hand of God.”
The word “therefore” refers to the sentence immediately preceding. The child of God must yield himself completely to the loving but mighty hand of God. Peter warned against our natural tendency to self-exaltation. Peter remembered the humble submissiveness of Jesus Christ who laid aside the form of God and clothed himself in the form of a servant, being “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Peter could testify from personal experience concerning the tragic results of self-sufficient pride.
Peter himself had once been proud and egotistic. He had been self-assertive. By many bitter experiences of disappointment with himself, he learned the lesson of humility.
2) “Casting all your care upon him.”
The word translated “care” implies anything that distracts, divides, or creates fear.
Peter called for an attitude of trust in the compassionate care of the loving Father. He would encourage each believer to take all of his anxieties and troubles into the presence of God for help. Peter had listened to the Master and had come to believe that the goodness of God could be depended on for the basic necessities of life (Matt. 6:25-34).
3) “Be sober, be vigilant.”
Peter had learned that every believer must be constantly on guard against the subtle approach and the deceptive, destructive purposes of the devil. Peter had no doubt at all concerning the reality and the power of the evil one. He issued a warning to his contemporaries and to modern believers concerning the same devil about whom he himself had been warned by Jesus (Luke 22:31).
The devil is ever on the move, seeking whom he may destroy. He uses many disguises and is most dangerous when his approach is friendly and accommodating. The devil is the enemy of God, of the church, and of your home. He is your enemy. He not only wants to destroy you but also those dearest to you. Our only hope of escape from the power of the evil one is by following our Lord closely.
4) “Whom resist steadfast in the faith.”
Peter declared that the devil must be resisted with all earnestness. The evil one had attempted to thwart the plan of God and to destroy the Messiah (Matt. 4:1-11). On one occasion, Satan had used Peter himself to try to mislead the Savior (Matt. 16:21-23). If the devil could use Peter, he can use others today.
As a fellow elder and as a shepherd who was seeking to protect the flock, Peter warned all Christians against their most dangerous and determined enemy. He stated that with firm steadfastness “in the faith” they must resist Satan’s every move to infiltrate their minds or to misdirect their energies and efforts. By declaring that the devil was the common enemy of all the brothers, Peter sought to comfort them and bind them close to one another. They needed to help one another in order to be victorious over the devil.
Now in Conclusion
Peter concluded his epistle with a doxology of praise to the God of grace who calls us out of the darkness of spiritual death into the light of “his eternal glory by Jesus Christ.” The word translated “perfect” means “to restore.” It is used of setting a fracture. It is used also of mending nets. Peter declared that God will supply Christians with that which is missing in their character and that they will not suffer the lack of any good thing. He assured them that God was at work within them and in the midst of their trials and troubles. He encouraged them to believe that by an attitude of humble submission and continuing trust, they could experience blessings from God in the midst of their sufferings. Peter also encouraged them to remain faithful and obedient in a time of great suffering. He affirmed that to do so would bring firmness of character and strength of purpose that would make life complete and wonderful.
God Bless You, Pastor Mike
Saturday, February 11, 2012
“We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. . . . We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:11, 19).
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 6:11-20
Some people are by nature optimistic. Others are, by the same token, pessimistic. You often get what you expect. One person sees a rosebush in terms of thorns; another sees only the roses. One person sees the dark side of every cloud while the other looks for the silver lining. Yet genuine hope can never be based on one’s subjective outlook, one’s particular temperament. The person whose hope has no basis other than a general optimistic spirit is clutching a false hope, for the only valid hope is Christian hope, and temperament is not its origin.
1) Christian hope grows out of faith (Heb. 6:12).
We are admonished to be “followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (v. 12). The one great distinction belonging to Christian hope is that it is an outgrowth of Christian faith. Hope is said to produce a full assurance that in turn stimulates eager discipleship (v. 11), but faith is the mother of hope. Hope is kept alive because faith endures all disappointments. Faith does not bog down.
Abraham is the prime example of those “who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (v. 12). God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-7; 22:16) was a long-term one requiring patience. The word translated “patience” is composed of two words: “long” (makros) and “spirit” (thumos). Abraham was a “long-spirited” man, willing to wait on God’s promises. He still believed God, even when driven out of the Promised Land. Though no son was born and Sarah grew old in her barrenness, he still believed God would make of his offspring a great nation.
Even when Sarah at last miraculously conceived and brought forth Isaac, the child of promise, Abraham could see God’s promise of a numberless people only in the most germinal way. And as to just how his offspring would bless all nations, Abraham was never told. He did not know how, but he believed God. Abraham, like many other forerunners of faith, never saw the fullness of God’s promises: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them” (Heb. 11:13). The literal figure shows them waving a greeting to these promises, which they saw in the distance. Yet because they believed, it is said of them, as it was of Abraham in particular: “And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise” (6:15).
2) Christian hope is God’s standing offer (Heb. 6:18).
The writer of Hebrews literally speaks of hope as “the set-before-us hope” (6:18). Wherever we turn in this earthly melee, God sets this hope before us. We can ignore it, refuse it, or despise it, but God keeps setting it before us in an effort to gain our attention while the hourglass still contains some grains of sand.
Since the entrance of sin into the world, people have had to deal with disease and death. The fall also left people spiritually sick, victims of Satan’s enticing allurements. “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Moreover, “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). Our last earthly appointment is with death (Heb. 9:27). The music in every funeral home is the music of death. Every empty place in the family circle, every vacant chair, by its silence, screams out the fact of death.
The only answer to death is the hope that God sets before us-the hope of eternal life. We lay the mortal remains of our saved loved ones in the cold earth, but God promises a resurrection. They are absent from our family circle, but God’s promise is that they are with him (2 Cor. 5:6-8). “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). Death fades away in the presence of eternal life.
3) Christian hope is an anchor amid life’s storms (Heb. 6:19).
From the moment people built ships and sailed seas, the anchor became a symbol of hope. Epictetus wrote: “A ship should never depend on one anchor, or a life on one hope.” Pythagoras said: “Wealth is a weak anchor; fame is still weaker. What then are the anchors which are strong? Wisdom, great-heartedness, courage-these are the anchors which no storm can shake.” The Bible rises above pagan wisdom and declares that Christian hope is “an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast” (v. 19).
The word translated “sure” is the source of our word asphalt, meaning our anchor is held firmly. It cannot be dislodged, because it is grounded in heaven, beyond this crumbling earth. The reason so many hopes are torn from their moorings is that the moorings themselves are temporary. Sooner or later earthly vicissitudes shatter our self-installed anchors.
The only sure footing lies outside the physical realm to which we are committed. This age is growing old, like a tattered garment. Soon it will pass away. As Christians, our hope is anchored in the eternal. It is grounded in heaven. The writer of Hebrews uses the figure of the Holy of Holies to depict this: “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil” (v. 19).
The Holy of Holies was a small inner sanctuary containing the ark of the covenant, the lid of which was the mercy seat. The ark was a constant reminder of God’s presence. A heavy veil one handbreadth thick, requiring three hundred priests to carry it, separated the congregation from the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could enter, and this only once each year on the Day of Atonement in order to make intercession by the blood of a sacrificial goat. Even for the high priest, to stand in God’s presence was considered a dangerous, awesome experience.
In Hebrews 6:19-20, the Holy of Holies is heaven itself. Christian hope is anchored in heaven-in the unseen spiritual realities. The veil is no longer a massive fabric but rather our human limitation. Our vision is clouded by the mortal scales over our eyes. We cannot see the solid rock gripping our anchor, but it is there-beyond the mortal veil.
Mental institutions are filled with people who staked everything on self-made hopes of one kind or another and could not stand the fearful experience of seeing those hopes dashed. Dislodged anchors drive people to drugs and alcohol and ultimately to life’s garbage dump. Christians have a hope that never disappoints (Rom. 5:5). Romans reminds us that we are delivered from the despair all about us by our hope: “For we are saved by hope” (8:24).
4) Christian hope is a person: Jesus Christ (Heb. 6:19-20).
As Socrates came to die, he spoke to his disciples the words that since have been declared the “most pathetic cry of antiquity”: “I have faith in the future, and I think I see the golden islands, but, oh, that we had a stouter vessel, or a stronger word!”
Through Christ we have a stronger word and a stouter vessel. We have a living hope because Jesus Christ was raised the third day and ever lives (1 Peter 1:5). Our hope is the living Savior. When Christ ascended to the Father, our hope was firmly planted in heaven. “It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever” (Heb. 6:19-20 NIV).
Jesus is our forerunner. In the contemporary usage of the day, a forerunner was a scout, sometimes an advanced guard of an army. The Levitical high priest came before God’s presence as a representative of the people but never as a forerunner. Jesus blazed the path of God. In effect, he became the path to God. Our hope is anchored in heaven because of Christ.
In ancient times every Mediterranean harbor had a great boulder deeply embedded at the shoreline as a mooring for ships within the harbor. When prevailing winds and stormy seas prevented small vessels from entering the harbor, a forerunner would carry a line ashore in a small boat. Once the line was fastened to the great rock, the vessel could be drawn to shore. Our hope lies in Christ, to whom we are grounded, who draws us ever nearer to our heavenly harbor. His death was a sacrifice for our sins, opening the way to forgiveness and eternal life.
Now in Conclusion
But this living hope must be claimed. It is set before all people but is possessed only by those who, forsaking all other offers of hope, surrender to Christ. It belongs to those “who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18). In the background of these words lies the Old Testament cities of refuge to which lawbreakers could flee and remain safe (Deut. 4:41-42). Christ is the only refuge for sinful people-the only hope! To live without Christ is to live without hope. A faith surrender to Christ allows him to enter our lives as Lord: “Christ in [us], the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
God bless you all,
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).
Scripture Reading: James 3:13-18
What is wisdom, and how does one determine it? Who is really wise? Is it that person who thinks he is a “smart operator” because he can cheat on life and get by? Is it that green college professor who is still infatuated with his doctorate and feels that at last he has a license to speak as an authority in every field, including religion, the Bible, and theology?
1) What wisdom is not (James 3:13-16).
Wisdom is not arrogant.
“Are there some wise and understanding men among you? Then your life will be an example of the humility that is born of true wisdom” (James 3:13 Phillips). Learning is in vain and worthless if it does not teach us to be humble in our attitude and conduct toward others.
Wisdom is not divisive.
“If you have a fierce divisive spirit, even while defending your belief, you have neither genuine religion nor true wisdom” (James 3:14 Phillips).
Certain pseudopious people often form private “holy clubs” within the church. Under the guise of having a prayer group, they sit around and criticize others “less spiritual” than they in the church. Some even draw around them unsuspecting young people and turn them against the older members of the church. In the name of piety and spiritual wisdom, they become divisive. This is not “wisdom from above”!
Wisdom is not sensual.
“Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil” (James 3:15 NIV).
A prevalent attitude is, “The old idea that ‘you reap what you sow’ just is not true-that is, if you are wise enough to know how to get by.” Cold facts refute this. For example, some people use condoms to commit fornication and call it “safe sex.” They may not conceive an unwanted child or contract any sexually transmitted diseases, but have they avoided all negative consequences? What about guilt? What about shame? What about that unclean feeling? What about the loss of self-respect? You see, there is such a thing as right and wrong, regardless of the consequences.
2) What wisdom is (James 3:17-18).
Wisdom is “pure,” clean, and free from lustful indulgence (James 3:17).
Wisdom is “peaceable,” free from self-assertion, living in peace with others and promoting peace among others (James 3:17).
This is the opposite of divisiveness and strife. Not much wisdom is required to create a “stink” in a church, for even a skunk can do that! But it takes a person of real wisdom to fill the air with the sweet fragrance of peace.
Wisdom is “gentle” (James 3:17).
This speaks of being gracious in your interpretation of the actions and works of others. Such wisdom makes allowances for others.
Wisdom is agreeable, “easy to be entreated” (James 3:17).
One who has such wisdom is approachable, not stubborn or obstinate.
Wisdom is merciful, “full of mercy and good fruits” (James 3:17).
This characteristic of wisdom enables us to overlook wrongs done against us and graciously grant forgiveness to those who offend, while we at the same time perform every possible act of kindness.
Wisdom is fair to all (“without partiality,” James 3:17).
Wisdom will prevent us from being a respecter of persons. It will keep us from favoring some over others because of what they can do for us.
Wisdom is unpretentious (“without hypocrisy,” James 3:17).
A Christian must always act in his own character and never work under a mask.
Now in Conclusion
“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?” You can be that person if you lay aside what wisdom is not and practice what wisdom is.
God Bless You, Pastor Mike
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