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Archive for Gospel

Stephen – a Piece of the Puzzle

Not long after my new birth experience, I waded into the waters of the Word of God with the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit as my mentors. God used Paul’s words in the book of Galatians (the first of his 13 letters) to begin to put my puzzle together – one piece at a time. The first small piece of the puzzle, ultimately leading toward the big picture of the new heaven and new earth, was through the testimony of Stephen and his providential meeting with Saul of Tarsus. Stephen was said to be a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5). He was one of the first deacons. God used Stephen in a dual role. The Lord Jesus had instructed the church to leave Jerusalem and carry the message of the gospel throughout the world. The little band of believers and the disciples had grown comfortable with home cooking. They found it difficult to let go and begin to spread the gospel.

God used Stephen in a special way to begin to motivate them to leave quickly. He also used Stephen to become a prick in the heart of this man Saul, who was to become a major grace champion. In a special sermon given by Stephen to group of religious leaders, Stephen reminded the Jewish crowd of their rebellious hearts against the living God by recapping their history. He recalled how they had persecuted and killed the prophets that God had sent to them. The sermon ended with these scorching words: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51).

The mob hated the truth of this message so much that they began to stone Stephen. Before they began to pick up the stones, they laid their cloaks at the feet of a young Pharisee named Saul (Acts 7:58). Saul had become a notorious religious leader who was at the top of his religious game. He was educated in the Mosaic Law. In fact, he sat under the best legal mind of his day, a Jew named Gamaliel. From Gamaliel he learned to know and love God’s law and to defend it at all cost.

Saul was aware of a small group of nobodies called simply “The Way,” who were following a strange Rabbi named Jesus Christ. To Saul this was nothing less than a religious cult set on destroying the law of his God – the law that Saul’s father had taught him to live by his whole life. Note carefully how God began to put the pieces of His puzzle together. Again, Saul was on hand to participate in the tragic murder of Stephen. Saul, the lover of God’s law and a hater of anyone that he felt stood against it, was on hand to witness the whole scene. Just before Stephen died, he saw the heavens open and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. He cried out before he died, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit” (Acts 7:59). Young Saul must have been amazed and emotionally moved. What did Stephen see and who is this Jesus who could motivate people to love Him so much that they would gladly die for Him? Stephen’s death worked to perfection. A great persecution broke out against the church, causing them to run for their lives, leaving their happy homes in Jerusalem, and in a most amazing way, they began to obey their Lord. This put into place God’s first way that He used Stephen’s death. The seed of the gospel was being scattered. It is interesting that during the times of the persecution the gospel seed prospers.

The second way that God used Stephen’s death was to change Saul’s life. Saul’s love for God’s law quickly plunged him back to reality, and he continued his relentless attack on the church. He had grown to hate this small band of no names so much that he attempted to kill or imprison them all, thinking he was doing God’s will. He found himself on a horse heading to the city called Damascus. Then Saul, breathing out threatenings and slander against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and received letters to go to Damascus synagogues and arrest and bring Christians to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2). It was through this trip to Damascus that God began to change the world.

Saul had in his possession a written indictment from the authorities to continue his demolition of this small group of antagonists. What happened next was a miracle! God in the person of Jesus Christ performed a single person flash mob right in front of Saul’s face. Christ’s glorious presence shot a blinding light right into the eyes of this arrogant Pharisee; it was a light of God’s presence and power knocking this arrogant Pharisee off his horse. The piercing words coming from the light were right on target. “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” (Acts 9:4-5).

One glimpse of our Savior in His resurrected glory immediately deflated Saul, leaving him quivering and shaking to his very soul. Saul at once addressed the risen Christ as “Lord,” recognizing that he was standing in the presence of God. The Lord Jesus compassionately asked Saul why he “kicked against the goads.” A goad was a small stick used to prod livestock along. In this context, however, goads symbolized the little pricks or stabs in the conscience of Saul used by the Holy Spirit to convict him of his sin and need of grace. The stoning of Stephen along with others who had died for the cause of Christ was no doubt used by the Holy Spirit to provide the goads pricking Saul’s conscience.

The Holy Spirit still uses the testimony of faithful believers today as goads to convict lost sheep of their need of His wonderful grace. The Lord Jesus changed Saul’s life and the mystery of the church began to unfold. From this one meeting, the truth of the gospel began to spread all over the world. The Lord Jesus Christ led Saul into the desert and there met with him. He began to teach Paul the message of grace, face to face. Later, Paul would simply write, “And called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:16a). Now for a meeting with a man named Ananias.

Blessings!

 

How to Share Your Faith

I am pondering the value of the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. You may have never been taught how to share the gospel. This is one way to do it. In fact, I started my Christian life by sharing the gospel using what came to be called simply “the hand gesture.” Using my hands, I raise my left hand letting it represent Adam’s entire fallen world – every human being born throughout history, those from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Pulling my wallet from my pocket and placing it on this hand, I let the wallet represent the sin of said race – all sin. I explain that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Sin separates this fallen world from a holy God. We have all broken God’s laws by thought or action. We have lied, stolen, desired things that others have, and blasphemed God with our words. All clearly affirm what the Bible says. There are none good, no not one. There are none righteous, no not one. All have turned away from God (Rom. 3:10-13).
When someone dies with this sin debt remaining (represented by the wallet on the left hand), then that person is separated from God forever in a place called hell. Hell is the only judgment big enough to forever satisfy a holy God’s demand for justice (Matt. 25:41). This is how immensely magnificent God is. The wages for sin are death, and only death – eternal separation from God (Rom. 6:23). Sin cannot be removed by human works of any kind – not by reforming one’s life, joining a church, giving money, helping the poor, keeping the Ten Commands – no human works will ever be enough to remove the stain of sin.
I turn the wallet over and over while repeating all the above steps but never removing it from my left hand. Sin remains no matter what the sinner may do to try to be rid of it (Titus 3:5). Sin becomes a barrier that separates sinners from God. A barrier that we cannot remove. I place the wallet between my two hands to illustrate the barrier.
Then the good part. God Himself, motivated by His great love, determined to pay fallen man’s sin debt of death. But God as God could not die! God is eternal life and eternal life is eternal. I then lift my right hand, saying that this hand represents the Lord Jesus Christ (not done in a flippant way, but reverently). I explain that God Himself became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. He was born a spiritually free man – conceived of a virgin, not attached to Adam’s sin. He lived for 33 years and never sinned (Jn. 8:46). He was born equal with both God and man, fully God and fully man – the God/Man. As man, He could die – and He did. By His death He took the place of sinful people, paying the debt of death that they owed God. As God, He could receive the payment without ceasing to be God. Amazing!
As I say this, the wallet – representing sin – is passed over onto my right hand, showing that Jesus Christ took our sin upon Himself, becoming sin for us on the cross. God in Christ removed the barrier. While making this gesture, I quote 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” I explain that Christ rose from the dead, clearly verifying the truth of His words and the eternal nature of His work and becoming the guarantee that others will rise.
I personally believe that the value of Christ’s shed blood is sufficient to pay the sin debt of Adam’s entire race and had it been the will of God to save the entire world, then He would have – but it was not. It pleases God to save only those who trust Christ by faith and by faith alone in Christ, and Christ alone (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:5; 1 Jn. 5:11-13). The value of Christ’s cross work is applied to thosewho trust in Him (John 3:18, 36). Christ’s death and resurrectionhas potential significance – saving no one until trust is placed in Him. If no one had trusted in Christ, His death would have been meaningless. But praise God, His sheep will come to the voice of the Shepherd (Jn. 10:11). It is God’s promise! Not one drop of His precious blood fell from the cross to ground without accomplishing its purpose – not one (Jn. 10:27-30)!
Blessings!

Japheth is Still Dwelling in the Tents of Shem

YHWH is the living God, and He is the Divine Architect of all human history. In fact, He declared the way history will end, from the very beginning (Isa. 46:8-10). Let’s connect some dots today. Noah’s prophetic glimpse of “Blessed be the LORD God of Shem” points to the founding of the Jewish nation – the coming of Messiah – Christ’s death and resurrection – and the delivery and spread of the gospel – and the promise of Christ’s coming kingdom (Gen. 9:26). The prophecy of Japheth’s dwelling in the tents of Shem – another small glimpse – points to the many ways that Japheth will help Shem accomplish his goals. Both prophecies (Shem and Japheth) are still alive and active (Gen. 9:27). In our last post we left Israel in God’s woodshed – smelling the smoke of their burning temple, battered, scattered and struggling under His fifth cycle of discipline (Lev. 26:33). Israel may have forgotten God, but God will never forget her – never.

Assisted by a pair of Japheth’s feet (Greece and Rome) stepping into the tent of Shem, the Jews had sufficient help to get Jesus Christ to the cross and to an empty tomb. These same countries assisted in giving the gospel the inertia necessary to move throughout the ancient world. For their part in rejecting and killing the Messiah, God allowed Satan to destroy the Jews along with their magnificent temple leaving them hated and homeless in Satan’s world. No people on the earth have been persecuted like the Jews. As the Jews began to disperse throughout the world, the truth of the gospel was turning the world upside down. Satan slowed this move by ramming paganism like a battering ram headlong into the growing church – confusing the gospel and silencing its voice.

During the medieval age of darkness, the public gospel was plunged into a sea of religious confusion for one-thousand years (476-1453). Japheth once again put his foot into Shem’s flailing tent – coming to the rescue. The public gospel amazingly reappeared in Germany – ground zero of Japheth’s homeland. Amazing! This should come as no surprise to the reader by now. The fires of the gospel of God’s grace quickly burned from Germany through England and the surrounding countries of Scotland, Wales, France, and Spain. The gospel, standing on the backs of many martyrs, found its way to the outer banks of America. God’s truth will never be chained.

I believe that there are two amazing reasons that God raised up America, and both are connected to Shem and Japheth, and Abraham’s cursing and blessing promise (Gen. 9; Gen. 12). The first reason is to be used of God to give the Jews a homeland. Over a century ago, on December 6, 1916, Great Britain’s prime minister David Lloyd Jones introduced the Balfour Declaration. Jones believed that the Jews deserved a homeland. The declaration was designed to restore Israel to their God-promised land of Palestine. Through a series of absolutely incredible historical events – all having to happen in mysterious yet miraculous ways – the document was written and signed off as a small part of British foreign policy (Japheth’s toe in Shem’s tent). Prime Minister Jones knew that is was not yet a done deal. It needed some special help. On October 6, 1917, president Woodrow Wilson signed the declaration, putting the powerful political clout of the USA behind the plan. It was not a popular political move for Wilson, but he did it for the Jews. Japheth strikes once more! Prime Minister Jones said that in his opinion the Balfour Declaration would have never passed without that single signature. It passed through the United Nations in 1922, and on May 14, 1948 Israel became a nation again.

Almost every president in American history from that time until now, has stood with Israel. This country has provided the financial support and military technology necessary to keep a democratic presence in the Middle East. This has been done at some peril, making the USA a target for terrorism. In my opinion based on God’s blessing and cursing promise to Abraham, God began to make America great in the eyes of the world – in this patriot’s opinion “the greatest.” Paul’s words also silently echo in the back of my mind: “I say then, have they [the Jews] stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall isriches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness” (Rom. 11:11-12). The full story of Israel is yet to be told.

The other reason that this country has prospered greatly is also connected to Japheth. God opened a huge window for the movement of God’s powerful gospel of grace around the modern world. Because of our freedom to publicly practice religion, the gospel breeze just keeps blowing through this window. God raised up seminaries and Christian colleges, training thousands upon thousands of missionaries who are being equipped and sent to every language group on this planet. Wow! The gospel has burned hot here for years and years. But alas, the window is slowly being shut. We now live in a generation that has forgotten Joseph. Blessings!

 

Satan’s Religious Snare

Jesus’ final word from the cross was “tetelestai” and it should be the final word (Jn.19:30). It is translated into the English “It is finished.” These words ring just as fresh, sweet, and glorious today, as when they were spoken. God’s penalty for sin has been once and forever paid in full. Jesus Christ’s body was buried, and God the Father miraculously raised Him bodily from the dead. Christ stood up and walked out of that tomb – alive, to die no more.  He ascended back to the throne of God and was seated there. He lives today at the Father’s right hand to be a continuous Mediator – our faithful High Priest – mediating for us.  

 

These miraculous facts are all reflected in seed form in Jesus’ words “it is finished.” The final exclamation mark was added. The precious benefit of what the God-Man had achieved on the cross can only be received today by personal faith in Him and personal faith in Him alone (Eph. 2:8-9). Nothing needs to be added or removed; it has been finished.

 

The truth of this gospel of grace was unleashed and was moving through the world at amazing speed. It was being spoken throughout the world and turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6; Rom. 1:8). Satan had to act and act quickly. He had to stir the pot.  He knew of man’s prideful lust for power. Many religious works and traditions were added to the gospel. The perpetrators of these religious acts were not any worse than this writer. I am a sinner. The people involved were sinners, and they became trapped – ensnared by Satan. They could not free themselves. Satan used these people to add human works to the finished work on the cross but in humanly pleasing ways. They began to deify human beings as saints; they painted and displayed eye-appealing, heart-touching pictures of Mary holding little Jesus; they added graphic heart-wrenching images of Jesus hanging from the cross; they created the mystic worship of the Lord’s Supper, teaching that the bread and wine actually become the real body and blood of Christ. They added sacraments – visual signs reflecting that only the church could extend grace and only the priest could read and teach the Bible. And they included the worship of the rosary (prayer beads), supposedly started by St. Dominic when Mary mysteriously appeared him and asked him to pray the “hail Mary’s.”

 

All of these additions became religious traditions that strongly appeal to man’s  lusts: lust of the flesh, lust of eyes, and the pride of life (Jn. 2:16), and all quietly whispered that Christ’s death on the cross was insufficient to pay man’s sin debt.  Did I mention that wealth came pouring in? Satan knows that religious traditions, once instilled become engrained – implacable, almost impossible to lose. This became Satan’s weapon of choice. Add pride-stimulating, eye-appealing, heart-wrenching, power-enhancing works to the finished work of Christ and then make these works strongly traditional, and your snare is in place (Rom. 11:6). The result led to a landslide of religious works being added to grace – stimulating man’s pride, but nullifying grace.

 

Satan’s knowledge of man’s prideful lust for power never ceases to amaze. Stop and think!  How in this world could salvation be truly finished if it is then weighted down by human works any works. This should shout to the readers that any religious system that adds human works to Christ’s finished work – no matter how well intended – does not truly believe that Christ’s death and resurrection was enough. All of the Christian martyrs discovered that it is – it is enough – it is finished.  They protested against any added human work.  They became Protestants. These protests were at first private and quiet. But they could not help but speak. They became public and loud. How did the religious crowd respond? They shut them up! And they had to send a message. They burned and beheaded the them.

 

When the smoke from the burning martyrs settled, the church in England (the Anglican Church) had not fully made the trip. They still reflected a blend of Catholic ceremonies and Reformed teaching. But two strong groups of believers came out of the fires of the martyrs: the Puritans and the Separatists. What I know of each group comes as a result of the writings of the Puritans and studying the history of the Separatists. The Puritans were truly purified by the fires of their burning brethren. They wanted the church to change.  They became believers who – like the Reformers – had a passion to know God only through His Word. They wanted the church to reflect this passion. They were committed to Biblical scholarship, and a knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin because they believed that a knowledge of these languages could be tools to know the Bible better. Then there were the Separatists who became the first pilgrims to America. They – like the Puritans – had a hot heart to know the word but were a little less enamored with scholarship and more with knowing and doing the word (James 1:22). The Separatists wanted a simpler Christianity where the Word of God was not only revered and read but was also reflected in the life – and they longed for the freedom necessary to truly live a Christian lifestyle. It seems to this writer that they would fit more snugly in the “not wise, not strong, and not noble” category. This would have probably been my group.  Said simply, many in England had come to know God’s grace and the freedom that it brings, and because of this they also saw more clearly the malicious tyranny that can come from religion run amuck. Both groups had experienced the refreshing freedom from the penalty of sin that grace affords, and they had also witnessed with their own eyes the tyranny. Now they wanted freedom – they wanted to be really free.

 

On to America! Blessings!  

The Seed Spreads

What is not repeated will soon be forgotten. It is time for a little theological mucilage: repetition. When God gave His eternal word to the human race, each word was guarded and guided by the Holy Spirit as it passed through the minds of sinful men down through their pens and onto the pages of paper (2 Pet. 1:20-21).  These words are being preserved and reserved for those who receive the precious benefits of the gospel accompanied with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:2).  These receivers are taught by the same Spirit the meaning of words (1 Cor. 2:10-13).  God breathed each word into its very spot in the Scripture for this very purpose (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Not one word is missing. Every word has a meaning intended by the Creator to be understood – and taught – every word.  

 

The Bible contains the precious and powerful seed of the gospel of His amazing grace (1 Pet. 1:23-25). The gospel is the priceless worth of Christ’s true identity as the God-Man, His substitutionary death on the cross, and the amazing power of His resurrection. This combined truth is God’s seed (1 Pet. 1:23-25; 1 Jn. 2:8-10). This seed is guided by the Holy Spirit and being planted into the soil of human minds all over the world (Isa. 55:10-11).  This seed is then germinated by faith, and faith alone, in Christ, and in Christ alone (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9). This seed can be heard and believed, but without mixing the truth with personal faith in Christ, the seed will never germinate. This seed cannot be added to or taken from, or it will give no life. This seed results in a spiritual birth and baptism in the one in whom it germinates.

 

Upon hearing the gospel, the moment faith is placed in Christ, the seed explodes, bringing a heavenly birth into a new world and an unseen immersion into the person of Christ. Wow! The believer is instantly reborn into God’s Kingdom (Jn. 1:13; James 1:18) and baptized (immersed) into God’s Christ (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27).  Both mysterious events occur at the moment of faith. The believer instantly receives Christ’s life (1 Jn. 5:11-13), Christ’s citizenship (Phil. 3:20-21), Christ’s righteousness (Phi. 3:9; 2 Cor. 5:21), Christ’s relationship (Gal. 3:26-29), and Christ’s home (Jn. 14:1-3).  Said simply, the believer in a moment receives Christ’s destiny and His identity. This is why the phrase “in Christ” became the apostle Paul’s favorite name for Christians. The believer is born into God’s forever family as a babe in Christ. Time and teaching spent in the Bible are necessary to grow to spiritual maturity (1 Pet. 2:2; 1 Cor. 2:12-13).

 

The Holy Spirit alone has the power to teach us the living words on the paper (John 14:26-27; 16:13-14). It was pleasing to God to reserve and unpack the Bible’s truth for a special group – not many wise (human wisdom), not many mighty (strong or powerful), and not many noble (with royal blood) are called to Him.  Said clearly, God called those that the world thinks are fools, weak, worthless, to become His own special trophies. God did this to suppress man’s pride so that His glory only would shine through (1 Cor. 1:25-31).  It was God’s genius to not allow a human being to come to know His Word through human wisdom. In fact, the world though its own wisdom will never know Him. To the contrary, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached (the gospel) to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). This is a fact that must be hidden in our hearts as we observe God’s seed moving through history.

 

With these words in mind, go back to the Reformation. The Reformation in England was burning hot. Not with just the burning of the flesh of evangelical martyrs but with the white-hot power of true line-by-line and word-by-word teaching of the Word of God. The true gospel of the grace of God was being preached and believed. This proved to be a lethal combination and began to diminish the darkness of Satan and bring to light the immense value of God’s love. But no doubt confusion still reigned. Satan had not left the building. Many were giving their lives for the value of the truth of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:7-16), while others were taking lives; burning or beheading them. Some were teaching that salvation comes in its fulness through the true identity of Jesus Christ alone, His death as payment for sin alone, and His bodily resurrection from the grave alone (1 Cor. 15:1-8), yet others hated this message along with those who were giving it.

 

The message had the power to destroy the magnificent stained glass buildings, the beautiful rituals and religious services, the gorgeous robes and crowns of the clergy, the heart-stopping sound from the huge pipe organ, the smell of burning candles and incense, and the great financial gain that followed these religious acts. Ah, follow the money! Think hard once again about the powerful words connected to Noah’s prophecy. “Praise be to the LORD God of Shem.” The LORD God of Shem is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is prophet-speak pointing to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was going to come through the line of Shem – which He did. Think also about Noah’s prophecy concerning Japheth. Japheth is going to dwell in the tents of Shem (Gen. 9:25-27). This is prophet-speak saying that Japheth is going to help Shem accomplish his task. Japheth helped get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and is continuing to help spread the gospel around the world. The gospel launched by the Lord Jesus Christ through what is called “the great commission” began to spread. But it spread upon the backs of the many martyrs who were dying for their faith. In a time of persecution, the fire spreads. The gospel was moving so quickly around the world that Satan counterattacked.  The public proclamation of the gospel was submerged and confused under a sea of truth mixed with paganism. God resurfaced the public proclamation of the gospel in Germany (a land of Japheth) and it burned through England (a land of Japheth) and is headed for the USA. Blessings!