Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thoughts on Mother's Day

Today is Mother’s Day, and all across our country thousands and thousands of mothers are receiving a highly-deserved day of recognition and appreciation. I think Mother’s Day is an especially important day to celebrate because of the concerted effort of our culture to diminish motherhood. The radical feminists equate motherhood with legalized slavery. If you think that is an overstatement or even a misrepresentation of their position, then you haven’t read the novel The Color Purple or listened to Renee Zellwegger recently, because that is a word for word quote of hers from August of 2009.

Now, I realize that many women in our culture don’t go that far; but generally speaking, our culture’s attitude toward motherhood is that to have as your life’s ambition the bearing, nurturing, and successful raising of children is an unfortunate squandering of your real potential as a woman.

In the movie 101 Dalmations, the villain Cruella DeVille, upon hearing that the aspiring fashion designer Anita would leave her fashion house if she got married utters this line: “Marriage. More good women have been lost to marriage than war, famine, and disaster combined.” That is the attitude our mothers are up against today, so when we have an opportunity to elevate motherhood and honor it, we need to take full advantage of it.

 The gift of choice to give to Mothers is flowers. How many of you ladies received flowers sometime this weekend? As I was growing up, my Dad always got my Mom an orchid for Mother’s Day, and in church we always gave flowers to the Mothers (the oldest, youngest, most children, newest, etc). I would imagine that Mother’s Day is second only to Valentine’s Day for the florists in our country.

Have you ever thought about why we give flowers at Mother’s Day? Well, in addition to the general truth that women love flowers, I believe flowers are the perfect gift for a mother because of the similarities between them. When you think of the qualities flowers are known for, you immediately think of beauty, delicacy, and fragrance. And isn’t that a pretty good description of a mother?

So in keeping with the image of flowers for the Mothers on Mother’s Day, I have some flowers I’d like to present to each mother here today. These aren’t real flowers, but I’d like you to imagine them as such, and by the time we are finished this morning you will each have a nice bouquet of flowers to take home with you and keep for all time.

First of all, I’d like to present each Mother here with the Rose of Resilience. Let’s turn in our Bibles to 2 Cor. 4:7. When I think of a mother, this is perhaps the first character quality that comes to my mind. Mother’s are resilient. Mother’s have the ability to spring back into shape after anything life throws at them. Why is it that a woman can go through the physical trauma of childbirth and be on her feet and back on the job in a couple of days? Why is it that a woman can raise children, manage a household, hold a family to a budget, and administrate a family calendar? It is because of this quality of resilience.

In this passage we are going to read, the Apostle Paul is speaking of his personal experience but I think it could equally well be a life verse for every mom. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels [there is no career as significant as motherhood], that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves [you will never be the mom you need to be on your own ability]; 8 [now doesn’t this sound like the life of a mom?] we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Motherhood is no easy task, and the ability to bend without breaking and to take a hard hit and get right back up and keep on going is part of what being a mother is all about. So for all you mothers, this morning I give you the rose of resilience. Nurture it and display it prominently.

Next, I’d like to give you the Pansy of Patience. Can you think of a quality more descriptive of a mother than patience? It’s hard for me to come up with one. From the first moment a woman feels the stirring in her womb and realizes she is carrying a new life, she has to demonstrate patience. She patiently endures nine months of fetal development. And then comes the next period of patiently nurturing that infant. Those are trying months. Endless feedings, diaper changings, baths, spit-ups, sleepless nights, ear infections – I can remember the relief I used to feel at being able to go off to work every morning! That is because it takes patience to be mother.

And it is curious to me that I have never read of a baby dying of shaken baby syndrome where the perpetrator was the mother of the baby! Why is that? Because of patience. In Gal. 5:22 we see that one of the Fruits of the Spirit is patience. That means that patience is a sign of being under the influence of the Spirit of God. It is a proof of being a child of God. So for the mothers here this morning I give you the pansy of patience for your Mother’s Day Bouquet. And again, it is something to display prominently and nurture as well.

The next flower I’d like to add to your bouquet is the Sunflower of Stability. Have you ever wondered why there are so many more single mothers than there are single dads? I’m sure that part of it is the biological connection between the mother and baby, but probably just as strong is her maternal drive to provide stability for her children. Part of being a mother is a desire to provide her children with a center. Somewhere a child can anchor his life. Something they can count on not to change from day to day. It can be as simple as mom always being at the end of the driveway when the bus drops off the children, to mom always being there when advice is needed, to mom always being there when we need a shoulder to cry on. Mothers bring stability to their family.

This quality of stability is something that the Apostle Paul prays for the Corinthian believers to develop in their lives in 1 Cor. 15:58. As we read it together, I want to change just one word, the word “brethren.” I want to change it to “mothers.” “Therefore, my beloved mothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” I can’t think of a better prayer for our mothers than that God would grant them the ability to be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord.

There is another flower I’d like you to add to your bouquet. In addition to the rose of resilience and the pansy of patience and the sunflower of stability, I’d like you to add the flox of forgiveness. The next flower I’d like you to add to your bouquet is the Flax of Forgiveness. Being a mother is just asking to have your heart broken. If you want a life free of heartbreak, by all means, please stay away from motherhood.

When I think of this truth, I think of the Angel talking to Mary in Luke 2. He had told her she was going to be the mother of Jesus, and then he told her that her child, Jesus, was “appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed, [and then he makes this statement that is so indicative of motherhood] and a sword will pierce even your own soul.

As I explained to the class several Sunday night’s ago, the word for sword the angel was using referred to a huge, two-handed broadsword. The only other place this kind of sword is used in the NT is in the book of Revelation, and that is to describe the devastation and death that comes with the rider on the pale horse. The point the angel was making to Mary is that her motherhood was going to be a heart-breaking experience. I doubt that there isn’t a mother here who has not been deeply hurt by the motherhood experience. If you haven’t, just wait. One of the problems of living in a sinful world is that it isn’t uncommon for that child you have invested your life in, and sacrificed tremendously for to defy all you have poured into him and pursue a life course that will not only bring him pain you grief.

How are you going to handle your son coming home from college and announcing to you that he is gay? What is your response going to be when your 16 year old daughter tells you she is pregnant? One of the things a mother has to get good at is forgiveness. Not forgiveness in the sense of overlooking or excusing the wrong behavior, but forgiveness in the sense that Jesus used it when He was being crucified and looked on the perpetrators of His agony and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He was not excusing their sin. He was not exonerating them from the consequences of their actions. They had not repented and asked Him for forgiveness – He was simply declaring that their actions had not created an irreparable breach in the relationship. He still loved them. He still cared for them. He still desired a relationship with them.

And that is the beauty of forgiveness. I broke my mother’s heart repeatedly as I was growing up, but last night on the phone as we were chatting away, you’d never know the pain I caused her. Why is that? Because of the quality of forgiveness.

The final flower I’d like to give each mother this morning is the Pansy of Prayer. I’ve saved the most significant flower for last because prayer is the mother’s most potent attribute. As a mother there may be many things you can’t do. You may not be as efficient as you’d like to be, or as tidy as you’d like to be, or as accomplished as you’d like to be. Multi-tasking may not be one of you strong points and household administration may be as foreign to you as Feng shui.

But there is one thing you can do that will more than make up for any gaps in your mothering ability, and that is that you can be a prayer warrior for you children. In fact, prayer is so important that if you were the most accomplished Super-mom in the world but weren’t a prayer warrior for your children, you’d be a failure when it comes to the important qualities of motherhood!

In James 5, we read this amazing promise about prayer. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” Do you really grasp what James is saying? He is telling us that prayer can actually alter the natural order! That is pretty potent.

Let me draw your attention to another passage on prayer that gives great hope to the mother. In Luke 18 we read a story Jesus told to illustrate an important principle of prayer. Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, 2 saying, “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man. 3 "And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, 'Give me legal protection from my opponent.' 4 "And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out.'" 6 And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night?”

There is a sense in which it is right for us to “bother” God, and that is with prayer. Do you suppose God has ever said to himself, “I am going to answer this mother’s prayer, lest by her continually coming she wear me out?” One of my precious memories of my high school years is how my mother spent her Saturdays. Not only was that her day to catch up on everything that had been put aside for the week, that was also her day to pray and fast for her son Murray. I can say with absolute certainty that I am where I am today because of a praying mother.

Mothers, let me challenge you to be an intercessory prayer warrior for your children. It isn’t easy to be a mother in today’s culture, but with resilience, stability, patience, forgiveness and mostly prayer, you can be everything God expects you to be.


Our Father, we come before you this morning full of gratitude for our Mothers. When we think of them our thoughts usually turn to great character traits like sacrifice, servanthood, generosity and compassion. Thank you for gracing us with their presence. We acknowledge that our mothers have left an indelible imprint on our lives, and we publicly thank you for them.

At the same time we want to lift them up to you in prayer because we know their job is not an easy one. Our culture diminishes motherhood in many ways, some blatant but many others much more subtle. Because of this we ask that you would richly bless these moms standing before us this morning. May they sense your strong hand sustaining them through the tedious times, may they know reality of your presence during the heart-breaking times, and may they fully appreciate the magnitude of their role in life.

We ask that they would not grow weary in their role, that they would find You to be their greatest source of strength, and that You would minister to each one in a very special way. Thank you for their impact and may it continue to be strong and godly. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thoughts on Mother's Day

Thoughts on Mother’s Day, 2013 Mt. 16:25 The passage we are going to be meditating on this morning is found in Mt. 16, and it is verse 25. How many of you ladies are glad we aren’t turning to Prov. 31? That is the passage where the qualities of the excellent wife are laid out, and so there are many pastors around the country preaching out of Prov. 31 this morning. And I always feel bad for the mothers when that chapter is being taught because the standard is set awfully high. On the other hand, I doubt if you’ve ever thought about this verse in the context of Mother’s Day, but I believe there is a truth in here that is beautifully exemplified by motherhood. When we think of motherhood, we often think of it in positive terms, don’t we? I once asked an audience to tell me what terms came to mind when they thought of their mothers, and the terms were all positive – loving, caring, patient, sacrificial, kind, selfless, hard-working, gentle, serving, and so forth. But I hope you can appreciate that if the demographics of our group were a little different – in other words, if we weren’t rural, educated, and middle class – we wouldn’t be hearing such endearing terms. All around our country there are people who would describe their mothers as selfish, addicted, aloof, abusive, or even evil. For most of us, motherhood conjures up warm, positive feelings; but for many, motherhood conjures up images of pain and alienation and rejection. We are all disgusted when we hear stories of mothers who give birth and then abandon their newborn babies in dumpsters, or starve them because they need money for drugs, or drug them so they can beg for money, or discipline them by keeping them chained to a radiator. And the reason we recoil when we hear these stories is because these kinds of actions are so aberrant. They are contrary to nature. So we are familiar with good mothering, and bad mothering, and then, of course, there are all kinds of mothers between these two ends of the spectrum. So when we think about mothers, the question comes up, what separates an outstanding mother from a good mother from a mediocre mother from a terrible mother? And I believe the key is in this verse we find in Matthew 16:25. “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” In the immediate context, Jesus is talking about your eternal destiny. Biblical Christianity is all about dying to self and living for God. We offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), we die daily (1 Cor. 15:31), we put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13) – and we do this because it is that mortification of the flesh that opens the way to eternal life in the presence of God. That is the specific point Jesus is making. But at the same time, we can generalize this concept by saying that Jesus is also teaching, in broad terms, that when you make self the focus of your life, you will ultimately end up missing your goal. In other words, if you make your goals and your comforts and your plans and your desires the focus of your life’s energy, you will end up tragically short of what you are living for. And it is this matter of dying to self that separates the excellent mother from the good mother from the mediocre mother. I can state this same principle positively by saying that it is living for someone else that sets the excellent mother apart from the average mother. So what I want to show you this morning is three ways excellent motherhood exemplifies this principle of dying to self, or living for someone else. We see it first of all in the very activity that makes a woman a mother – childbirth. When a woman conceives and then chooses to carry that new life for nine months and then give birth to the child, she is demonstrating this principle of losing her life to gain something greater. And she does it in two ways. First of all, she is exemplifying dying to self from the perspective that her life, and her goals, and her comforts, and her personal space, and her time, and sometimes even her dreams are basically put on hold for the next 18 years, or until that point when the child leaves the home and starts his own life. When you think of all the physical inconveniences a mother goes through year after year after year when she is raising her family; all the sleepless nights, all the runny noses and dirty diapers, the tedium of being at home all day long when the husband gets to go out and go to work – the mother who excels in this environment is the mother who has a firm grasp of this principle of dying to self and investing her life in her children. When I was in college I did yard work every weekend for a couple of years for a very successful young couple. He was CPA, and she was a doctor in the local hospital. When I first started working for them, she had just had a baby and was on a 12 month maternity leave (which she should be commended for – companies are only required by law to give you 12 weeks!), and then went back to her practice. She would drop her baby off at a Nanny’s house every day on her way to the hospital, and then pick him up again on the way home. And it wasn’t uncommon for them to bring in a Nanny for the weekend when Clemson was playing and they would have a big party. They did not want to be saddled with the responsibility of child oversight when they were getting ready for and then hosting the party. That is not an example of dying to self and investing your life in something important. Where was her time being spent? Where were her energies being expended? Many of us here today grew up under mothers who were highly capable and tremendously talented who could have pursued lucrative careers outside the home – yet they gave it all up to raise their children and nurture their family. That is excellent motherhood. Secondly, when a woman conceives and gives birth, she is demonstrating this principle in a very real way because childbirth is an activity that genuinely puts the life of the mother at risk. When you consider everything a woman goes through in those nine months of pregnancy, and then add to it the trauma of labor and childbirth, I can’t come up with a better illustration of this principle of dying to self. Fortunately for us today, medical care has come a long way in the last 200 years, but the mortality rate for birth-giving women in the 1800’s was sometimes as high as 40%! That is hard to comprehend, isn’t it? If you got pregnant in the early 1800’s, you basically had a 50 – 50 chance that you were going to die in the process. At the beginning of the 1900’s it was down to about 1 in 100, and today it stands at about 24 per 100,000, or .024 %!1 So today the decision to give birth isn’t as “life and death” as it was 200 years ago, but you can see how the decision to actually carry through with the pregnancy and give birth is a great illustration of this principle that defines excellent motherhood. I remember after Holly gave birth to Julie Ann, I was so traumatized by the ordeal that I told her, “no more babies! We’re done!” That attitude is the exact opposite of what I’m talking about here in excellent motherhood. And unfortunately, this is precisely the attitude that is so prevalent in the pro-choice movement. Many times, the driving force behind the decision to abort is the impact the child is going to have on the mother. She’s either on a career track, or doesn’t want to be saddled with the responsibility of motherhood, especially if the father is nowhere around, or simply doesn’t want the inconvenience that pregnancy and parenting necessarily involves. So do you see how excellent motherhood is demonstrated by childbirth? Few things exemplify this principle of dying to self like this does. The third way excellent motherhood illustrates this principle of dying to self is by living in front of your children in such a way as to perpetuate the next generation of excellent motherhood. This is something I feel like I can speak with authority about (unlike childbirth), because if being an excellent mother is anything like being an excellent father, it’s easier to talk about being an excellent mother than it is to actually be an excellent mother. It’s easier to be an excellent mother at church than it is to be an excellent mother at home. But being an excellent mother demands that you live in front of your children, in the home, in such a way as to perpetuate the next generation of excellent motherhood. Little boys learn how to father by watching their own fathers, and little girls learn how to mother by watching their own mothers. I came across a good quote the other day. “Children have never been very good at listening to their parents, but they have never failed to imitate them.” So moms, if you are going to be excellent mothers, you are going to have to live it out in the most difficult arena there is, the home. I believe the greatest legacy my first wife left our children was her walk with God. Almost every morning when I woke up, she was already awake and reading her Bible in bed. And I am immensely blessed and our children are fortunate that Nancy has perpetuated that very same legacy. The two most enduring memories I have of my own Mother are her prayers during family devotions (and you could tell by her prayers that she had a vital relationship with God), and her fasting and praying every Saturday for nearly two years for her out-of-control teenage son who happens to be your pastor today. I have been blessed in my lifetime to see outstanding examples of excellent mothering in the trenches of life at home, and Moms, I assure you that living your faith in front of your children involves this principle we are talking about – dying to self. It is no easy thing to live in a biblically consistent way, day in and day out, year after year, in the home, but that is one of the marks of excellent motherhood. In the Bible we have many wonderful examples of this, the most prominent one in my estimation being Timothy’s mother and grandmother. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Tim. 1:5, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” It is very curious that there is the absence of a father or grandfather being mentioned in Timothy’s spiritual lineage. And I believe illustrates the profound impact a godly mother can have. We don’t know if Eunice was a single mom, or simply married to an unsaved man, but the testimony of Scripture is that she was directly responsible for the successful transmission of her faith to her son. That is excellent mothering. It doesn’t require a degree, it doesn’t require education, it doesn’t require lots of resources at your disposal, it doesn’t require a nice house, or a husband, or lots of money. What it does require is living for others and not yourself. So as we think about the spectrum of mothering types, we see all kinds of mothers in our society, but hopefully for you mothers this morning, your goal is to be an excellent mother. You know as well as I do that the absence of children in the home makes no difference – you never stop being a mother. And I can assure you that every mother here is already on the path to being an excellent mother! How do I know that? Because of you willingness to go through with the pregnancy and give birth to your children. But that is only the first mark. It needs to be followed up by nurturing and raising the child instead of delegating that responsibility to someone else. And then it needs to be carried on by living in front of your children in such a way as to perpetuate the next generation of excellent motherhood.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Introduction to Revelation

This morning we start our study of Revelation. As tempting as it is to jump right into chapter one and start looking at the message God has for us in this great book, we have to take the time to set up the foundation we are going to be building on for the next few months (years). The planks that we lay down this morning will determine where we end up as we go through the book. Now, I want to start by warning you that Revelation is a complex book. We have talked before about how the Scriptures are simple, but not simplistic; and Revelation is about as good an illustration of this truth there is. Vast amounts of ink has been spilt writing books about it, churches split over how to interpret it, profiteers make lots of money claiming to have unlocked its secrets, and in general, Revelation can be controversial. And in light of this, let me make something explicitly clear right here at the beginning of this series. There is no doctrine in the book of Revelation that you have to believe in order to be genuinely saved. Now of course, the clarification here is that yes, Revelation talks about Jesus and you have to believe in Jesus to be saved. Revelation talks about God, and you have to believe in God to be saved. But there is no doctrinal issue that Revelation teaches that is vital to your salvation. For instance, there are people who believe that everything that goes on in the book of Revelation has already taken place. And believe it or not, they have evidence to back them up in the repeated insistence of John that the things in the book will take place soon, or quickly, or shortly. They would insist that there is nothing futuristic about it at all, that everything John prophesies was fulfilled by AD 70 when Titus destroyed Jerusalem. They would say that there is benefit in reading it because it is part of the inspired Word of God, but as far as giving us any insight into the future, Revelation has no value. You are going to be spending eternity in heaven with these people! Now of course, they will have changed their view by then, but for right now, they are genuinely born again followers of Christ. So in a nutshell, and this is the first plank in our foundation, just keep in mind that how you interpret Revelation has no bearing on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of your salvation. I can promise you that I am going to say things you disagree with. But don’t let that throw you for a loop. We can agree to disagree over these issues of secondary importance. The second plank I want to lay down has to do with keeping your focus on the big picture. When we study the book of Revelation, we run the same risk we had when we studied Leviticus. Leviticus is full of curious, even odd details, and our tendency is to focus on the minutia and miss the main point. I gave you the illustration at the beginning of that series that will serve us well now as we get into Revelation. Do you remember the man who had the house on Long Island with the huge picture window overlooking the ocean? He invited his friend over to show him the view, and the visitor walked over to the window and started examining the molding around the window. He said, “Is this cherry?” And the owner said, “Well, yes it is, but look at this amazing view.” And the visitor said, “I’ve never seen this design before. Did you make this trim yourself? It’s exquisite.” And the owner said, “Yes, I did make it myself, but what do you think about this view?” And the visitor looks at the corners and says, “You did an amazing job joining these corners – you are an incredible carpenter.” And the owner said, “Why, thank you. But what about this view? Isn’t it amazing?” If we aren’t careful, we’ll spend all our time scrutinizing the incidentals and miss the big picture. So I want to warn you in advance that we aren’t going to spend a lot of time speculating about all the bizarre things you will read in this book. What those creatures are that come out of the abyss with the body of a horse that can sting with its tail and has hair like a woman and teeth like a lion isn’t important. The point of that passage is in no way tied to their identity. So we are going to keep our focus on the big picture. The third plank we need to lay down has to do with the type of literature we are dealing with when we read Revelation. When you pick up a book and start reading, and the first sentence says, “A long time ago in a land far away there lived a beautiful princess,” you know you are reading a fairy tale and you are going to follow a certain set of guidelines as you interpret it. And those guidelines are going to be very different from the ones you will follow when you pick up a book that says on the cover, “A Thorough History of the Civil War.” And the way you read that history book is going to be different from how you read a James Michner historical novel. Because even though the Michner book is rooted in real history, he takes liberties with the facts and it isn’t designed to convey genuine history. In the same way that we have a variety of literature types in the English language, you need to understand that the Bible is comprised of a variety of literature types as well. We have historical sections where the author simply records the events of the age. We have prophetic sections where prophecies of the future are made. We have poetry where the author uses highly figurative language to convey concrete truths. We have what is called wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) and there are special guidelines we follow for interpreting them. We have the gospels and the epistles, two distinctly different types of literature. And then we have a type of literature in the Bible called apocalyptic, which we’ll talk about in a minute. Each of these types of literature has a specific set of rules you need to follow to interpret it correctly. If you try to interpret the historical sections of the Bible the same way you interpret the epistles, you are going to get into trouble very quickly. If you try to interpret the book of Proverbs the way you interpret the book of James, you are going to have problems. And when it comes to this matter of apocalyptic literature, which is what Revelation is, there are some very specific ways we need to view it. So what is apocalyptic literature? The full definition is “the communication of a vision using spectacular imagery [do you see how Revelation is already fitting into this definition?] designed to move the recipient beyond his current situation and into a transcendent reality.” What that means is that apocalyptic literature is designed to broaden the readers perspective and help him see reality. “The result is a reversal that makes heavenly mysteries real, and the earthly situation temporary.” From a historical perspective, what is curious is that apocalyptic literature flourished when God’s people (both Jew and Christian) were being persecuted (in Daniel’s day during the Babylonian captivity, inter-testamental period between Malachi and Matthew, the 60’s AD). So what we see is that the purpose behind apocalyptic literature is to bring assurance and comfort to those in doubt or undergoing persecution. The overall message of Revelation is that God wins! Good ultimately triumphs, evil ultimately is punished, so don’t throw in the towel when things seem hopeless. Yes, you may die in the process, but that is when you really start living! That is the basic message of Revelation and it is seen in the 12 references in the book to “the one who overcomes.” Let me give you two things to keep in mind about apocalyptic literature. 1) As a form of communication, it is even less direct than poetry. 2) The message uses symbols, drama, cataclysmic images, vivid imagery and hyperbolic language. One author puts it this way, “In apocalyptic, nothing is revealed in a straightforward fashion.” And it is because of this intentional vagueness that followers of Christ have interpreted the book with such diversity over the years. As I said earlier, there are some who think that everything in the book has already taken place – there is nothing futuristic about it at all. This is the preterist viewpoint. The historical perspective is that the events of the book describe world events starting from the days of the Apostle John and going through the end of the age. For instance, the breaking of the 7 seals in Rev. 6 and 7 refer to the Barbarian invasions that sacked the Western Roman Empire, the scorpion / locusts that come out of the pit in Rev. 9 are the Arab hordes attacking the Eastern Roman Empire, and the beast of Rev. 13 was the Roman Papacy. Interestingly enough, this was the prevailing perspective in the church for hundreds and hundreds of years. In fact, the biggest names in Christendom held to this perspective: Wycliffe, Knox, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon, etc. The predominant school of thought today in evangelical circles is the futuristic perspective. This is the idea that all the events from chapter 4 through the end of the book have yet to take place. They say the symbolism and imagery is an attempt by the author to describe things that could not be expressed in the vocabulary of the day (i.e. a nuclear explosion being described as a star falling into the sea). Unfortunately, this preoccupation with interpreting the symbols and imagery has caused this perspective to come into some disrepute. I can remember hearing sermons about a special breed of red heifers being bred in Arkansas for use in the temple sacrificial system, and a special limestone being quarried in Tennessee for use in rebuilding the temple, and a computer in Belgium that is called the beast, and the list goes on and on. It’s all rumor, and speculation, and sensationalism and the net effect is that of discrediting the futuristic view. The final perspective on how to interpret Revelation is called the idealist method. You could also call it the “spiritualists” method, or the “allegorical” method, or the “symbolic” method. However you want to label it, the focus is on a non-literal interpretation. The idealist doesn’t focus on either historical or future events, but on the spiritual truth that underlies the story. He would say that the text isn’t about swords and dragons but about God’s Word and Satan. So the obvious question is, how are we supposed to interpret it? Out of the four possibilities, which one am I going to follow? And the answer is, none of them exclusively. Each one of these viewpoints has merit, which is why each perspective has godly adherents. But if you try to follow any of them rigidly, you will eventually run up against indefensible interpretations. I want to close with a word of warning. After all this talk about how difficult this book is, and how there no consensus of opinion in the evangelical world about what much of it means, and how it is purposefully vague, and about how there are no critical doctrines in it, our response may be to throw up our hands and say, “Why bother?” Let me give you three reasons why we are going to do this. First of all, Revelation is in the Bible and therefore worthy of our time and effort. Secondly, Revelation is the only book of the Bible where we have an explicit promise given to us if you hear it read out loud. I want that blessing for us! And finally, by way of illustration, if you knew that the IRS was going to audit you this coming Dec. 21, when would you start getting ready for that audit? Probably sometime in Oct. or even November. On the other hand, if you got a notice from the IRS that said, “we are going to audit you soon,” when would you start to get your books in order? Right away, right? The uncertainty of when the audit was going to take place would keep you in a place of readiness and expectation. That is a large part of what is going on in Revelation. God is coming back and He is going to judge the world in righteousness and justice and we better be ready. If Revelation was as clear and straightforward as the epistles, and if we could interpret the symbols and figures and ascertain when all these things would take place, we’d be lulled into a sense of complacency. God doesn’t want that. He wants us on our toes. He wants looking for His return. This is why He tells us in Rev. 3:2, “Wake up!” We do not know when the end is going to come, nor can we figure it out from what we see in Revelation. So we are going to whet our appetite for the Lord’s return by studying this book, and we are going to follow the advice Jesus gives in Mt. 24:42 – “Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is returning.”

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Prayer For Our Fathers

Our Father – I want to thank you for each of these men standing up here this morning. The simple fact that they are in a church early on a Sunday morning says something about them. There are many other things they could be doing right now, so I thank you that they have their priorities right. Thank you for their willingness to place themselves under the teaching of your Word. Thank you for the example that they are setting for their family. And Father, my prayer for these men is fourfold: First of all, I ask that you would enable them to fulfill the role they play in their family. It isn’t an easy job to be the provider, and the protector, and the priest of the family. On top of that, there are some things you call them to do that don’t come naturally to them. So Lord, would you enable them to be the kind of fathers you would want them to be? Secondly, I ask that you would encourage them in their calling. Being a father goes way beyond a biological function, and these men need that mindset and your encouragement as they minister to their wives and children. Being a good father is a high and noble calling, and at times it can be tedious, so please encourage them and strengthen their resolve. Thirdly, I ask that you would enlighten them as they juggle the many responsibilities they carry. Help them as they prioritize their busy lives. Help them to be able to see what activities have eternal value and what activities have only temporal value. Give them your vision for their family. And finally, Father, I ask that you would invigorate them as they protect their family. Help them to understand that the most dangerous threats to their family are not the physical ones, but the philosophical and spiritual ones. I ask that they would be vigilant as they do battle with the forces of evil that are so prevalent in our world. So Father, I commend these men to you for your favor, protection, strength and grace. May they lead their families in such a way as to be able to stand before you some day and hear those wonderful words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Amen.

Thoughts For Fathers on Father's Day

How many of you men celebrated “National Man Day” last week? For those of you who were not aware of it, it apparently took place last Tuesday. To participate in it, one was supposed to “stand up and do manly things.” Things like watching Rocky movies, sitting in your favorite chair and scratching yourself, and blowing things up, or shooting an animal. You are supposed to ignore the salad bar and light salad dressings, and instead, order the 20 oz. steak. More than a few people followed this on Facebook, in fact over 250,000 guys signed on in support of it. Last year on Father’s Day I shared with you that manhood has fallen on hard times in our culture. There is obviously a lot of ignorance about what being a man is all about, as seen in this National Man Day. For many, being a man is all about muscles, or procreative ability, or stoic indifference. The popular media portrays men as bumbling dolts. And as I analyze the list of things to do for National Man’s Day, there is a new layer of opprobrium being spread on men and now we see that an expression of manhood is to focus primarily on the gratification of a personal desire. Now, in fairness to the two brothers who started this I will say that they eventually they started advocating bringing flowers to you wife and being an honest and God fearing man, but after scattering these crumbs to their critics, all the ways to celebrate National Man Day were very self oriented. As I think in general terms about what the Bible teaches about manhood, I see that a man is characterized primarily by self-denial, not self-gratification. A real man, a biblical man does the right thing in every situation, and I have learned that doing the right thing is almost never the easy thing. In fact, you could almost say that whenever you are faced with a choice where one course of action is hard and the other one is easy, the easy course of action is almost always going to be the wrong thing to do. Biblical manhood is all about doing the right thing. What I want to share with you men this morning is three things that it is right for you to do. It is right for a man to provide for his family. It is right for a man to protect his family. And it is right for a man to shepherd his family. If we can do those three things well, we will be men according to the biblical sense of the word, even if we happen to enjoy the salad bar and low-fat dressing. Turn with me to 1 Tim. 5:8 and we will see the first point. I. It Is Right For A Man To Provide For His Family – 1 Tim. 5:8 In 1 Tim. 5:8 Paul tells us that “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” What is Paul after here? Obviously, I think we can make the assumption that he is talking about the physical provision that a man is supposed to make for his wife and children. In the immediate context, Paul is telling the church how to provide for the physical needs of widows, and then we come to this verse. So it is pretty clear to me that as man, I have a biblical responsibility to provide for my family. It is the husband’s responsibility, before God, to bring home the bacon, not the wife’s. I knew a guy several years ago who stayed at home and raised the four children, while his wife went off to work every day. They didn’t do this out of necessity, they did it by choice. She was very capable and could earn more money than her husband could. But that kind of a setup results in a role reversal in the home which always carries with it bad consequences. God gave Adam the job of tending the garden, and then He created Eve to help him out. Adam was the provider, Eve was the helper. That act of creation set the model for all time, and here in 1 Tim. 5:8, we have Paul affirming this setup. But there is more going on in this verse than simply a command for men to be in the work force and bring home a paycheck every week. “Providing” for your family involves much more than giving them food, clothing, and shelter. The word Paul uses that is translated as “provide” literally means to “think in advance.” It has the idea of “foresight.” A man who is going to provide for his family has to have the ability to look down the road and see what is coming, and then get his family ready for it. There are many ways we could make application here, but I want to focus on one in particular. Men, you need to be actively involved in the training and raising of your children. Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you work hard and bring home enough money to pay the bills that you have fulfilled the biblical command to provide for your family – because that activity is just the beginning of your responsibility to provide for your family. I was speaking recently with a young man that had been married for several years, and he and his wife had a couple of children. That got us into a conversation about child rearing, so I told him about a very influential book I had read that radically changed my philosophy of parenting. The book is called “Shepherding the Heart of Your Child,” and so I mentioned it to him. He interrupted me and said, “Oh yeah, I know about that book. In fact, I bought it and gave it to my wife to read.” That is the attitude I’m talking about here. Guys, providing for your family is much broader than simply financing them. So I told the guy, “Don’t buy that book for your wife to read, buy it for yourself to read!” So as we think about what it means to be a man in the biblical sense, we see first of all that it is right to provide for your family. The second thing I want to call to our attention is that part of being a man is that it is right to protect your family. Turn with me next to Eph. 6:11-12. II. It Is Right To Protect Your Family – Eph. 6:11-12 When we think of protecting our family, our thoughts usually immediately go to the idea of physical protection. That is legitimate and certainly biblical. We see this concept taught in Eph. five where husbands are told to love their wives just like Christ loves the church, and then Paul gives the standard to which a husband must be willing to aspire in his love – even to the point of giving his life for her, just like Christ did for the church. Because this truth is self evident, we aren’t going to spend a lot of time developing or defending it. What I want us to do instead is think about another kind of protection a man is supposed to provide for his family, and that protection is seen here in Eph. 6:11-12. Paul lets us in on a critically important truth when he says that we are to “put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Men, one of the easiest things to do in life is to protect our family in the physical realm. It comes naturally to us. There is nothing that arouses the fight in a man more quickly than when his flesh and blood is threatened. But Paul tells us in this passage that our battle isn’t with flesh and blood. Did you see that? Rather, our battle is with “spiritual forces of wickedness.” Do you know what that means? It means that Satan and all his demonic forces are invisibly and insidiously (that is the significance of the phrase “heavenly places”) trying to destroy your family. And just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he isn’t engaged in a full scale firefight with you. Let me share with you guys the three venues Satan uses primarily to attack your family: the public school system, television and popular media, and the computer and other personal electronic devices. Now, I’m not saying that if you work with in a public school, or if your child attends one, that you have aligned yourself with Satan and are committed to the destruction of the Christian family. What I am saying is that the public school, the television, and the computer are six lane super-highways bringing your adversary into your home. And part of being a biblical man involves protecting your family in these three arenas. We don’t have time to develop this point and talk in depth about how we can protect our families in these three areas (maybe we need to have a separate session some day), but the point I want to drive home is that if you are going to be a biblical man, you are going to have to protect your home from these three insidious influences. And I will warn you again that doing the right thing is not the easy thing. It never is, but being a biblical man is all about doing the right thing. So as we continue to think about what it means to be a biblical man, we have seen that it is right for us to provide for our family and to protect our family. Let’s finish our time together this morning by looking at the importance of being the spiritual leader of your family. III. It Is Right To Shepherd Your Family – Eph. 5:25-27; 6:4 At the end of Eph. 5, Paul is telling men how they are to love their wives, and then he sets this amazingly high standard – we are to love our wives like “Christ loved the church.” We have already looked at the truth of loving to the point of giving our lives for their protection, but in verses 26 and 27, Paul introduces a new element to the husband – that of sanctifying your wife. “25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.” One of the roles Christ plays in the life of the church is that of “sanctifier.” What is a sanctifier? Well, it means is that it is His objective to “cleanse us” (v. 26) through the use of the Bible (“the washing of water with the word” – v. 26) with the result that one day He will be able to present us to God as His holy and blameless wife who has neither “spot nor wrinkle (v. 27).” The fact that Paul elaborates on this matter of Christ sanctifying the church in the middle of his teaching on the relationship of the husband to wife is not accidental. He is telling us men that one of our responsibilities to our wives is to promote spiritual growth in their lives. That is the concept behind sanctification. Now, keep that idea in the back of your mind and look at chapter six and verse four. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Note that this verse is addressed to fathers, not mothers! It is pretty obvious from these passages that Paul gives the responsibility of spiritual leadership in the home to the father. Men, we need to lead our family in the things of God. Your wife’s spiritual growth and maturity is your responsibility. Your children’s spiritual growth and maturity is your responsibility. Part of being a biblical man is shepherding your family. Let me give you two quick ways you can shepherd your family. First of all, set the example. Men, we need to live in a way before God that we can say to our children, “follow my example.” Don’t expect your kids to go to church if you don’t go to church. Don’t expect your kids to have a clean mouth if you have a foul mouth. Don’t expect your kids to honor their mother if you don’t honor your wife. Set the example. It’s part of being a biblical man. Second, take the initiative. What I mean by that is your wife shouldn’t lead the family in prayer before a meal. Your wife shouldn’t be the one praying with the children before they go to bed. Your wife shouldn’t be the one getting up early on Sunday morning to get the kids ready for church while you sleep in and get up at the last minute. Men, we are the ones who should be demonstrating initiative in this matter of shepherding our families and teaching spiritual truths to our children, and our wives. Don’t delegate this responsibility to your wife. Being a biblical man is all about doing the right thing. It is right to provide for your family. It is right to protect your family. It is right to shepherd your family. Do you remember how I said at the beginning of the message that the right thing do is never the easy thing to do? Doing each of these things is hard, isn’t it? I have discovered that it is never convenient to provide for my family in the biblical way. Or to protect them from our adversary, or to shepherd them in the things of God. But being a biblical man is all about doing the hard things. May God give us men the grace, the strength, and the tenacity to do what we have been called to do.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Creations in Christ

New Creations in Christ
2 Cor. 5:17

There are many benefits to being a follower of Christ in a country like the United States where we have freedom of religion. We have tax exempt status as a church, we don’t worry about your leaders being hauled off to jail, we can have public baptisms down at Dean’s Mill, we can post Bible verses to Facebook, we can go on mission trips and pass out Bibles and other religious literature at the Youth Fair, you can pray with your Christian co-workers, and the list goes on and on. And when you think about it, we live in a country that is saturated with Christianity – Christian colleges and seminaries and Christian schools, Christian camps, Christian television, Christian Radio, Christian movies, Christian music, Christian artists.
There is no shortage of “Christianity” in our country.

But at the same time, there is a very serious danger, even an insidious danger, that necessarily goes along with the freedoms we enjoy, and that is the danger of embracing Christianity without embracing Jesus the Christ. And guess who is most prone to this danger that results in people passing into eternity separated from Christ, doomed to eternal torment? People who grow up in religious homes. People who are raised in Christian families. It is because of this danger that I feel compelled to speak to you this morning about what it means to be a new creation in Christ. So if your parents are or were Christians, if “church” has been a major part of your life for as long as you can remember, I want you to pay special attention to what we are talking about today.

Our text is found in 2 Cor. 5:17, and in this verse Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The point Paul is making here is that you cannot have a genuine experience with Jesus Christ, and remain unchanged. Let me say that again. You cannot have a genuine experience with Jesus Christ, and remain unchanged. In other words, if you claim to be born again, if you claim that Jesus is your savior, if you claim that you expect to spend eternity in heaven and you are no different today than you were before you came to Christ, you better give some serious though to your salvation claim. Because the point Paul makes in this verse is that a genuine salvation experience changes you. You are a “new creation.” “The old has passed away, the new has come.”

Let’s look at some passages in the New Testament that illustrate this truth. We will start in the book of 1 Corinthians, and look how Paul shows this truth in chapter 6, verses 9 – 11.

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

Let’s look next at Eph. 2:2-7. And again, note the presence of a changed life. It is seen primarily in the tenses.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

The third passage we need to look at is Eph. 4:17-32. This passage is important because it shows us the process of becoming a new creation. In other words, what steps do we actually have to take if we want to change from our former way of life to a way of life that pleases God?

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind,
18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;
19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
20 But you did not learn Christ in this way,
21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus,
22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,
23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Now at this point, Paul is going to illustrate that threefold process in five different ways. He addresses the issues of lying, sinful anger, stealing, unwholesome speech, and destructive behavior.

25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.

Lying – you replace with truth

26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. Sinful anger - you replace with resolution
28 Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

Stealing – you replace with honest work

29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Unwholesome speech – you replace with edifying words

31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Destructive behavior – you replace with kindness, etc.

So do you see how it works? You put off the old, change your thinking, and put on the new. Now the final passage I want us to see quickly is in 1 Pt. 4:1-5, where again we see the contrast between life lived before Christ, and life lived after coming to Christ.

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

So here we have four biblical examples of what a new creation in Christ looks like. Do you see the reality that when a person has a genuine experience with Jesus, he is changed? Do you see that he is a different kind of person? Now building on this, I want to take you the book of 1 John to show you four evidences of this new life. In other words, we just looked at illustrations of how this change works, now I want to show you proofs, or evidences, that you are a new creation.

1. You will have a new desire to obey your Lord. 2:3-6, 2:28-29

3 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1Jo 2:3-6 NAS)

28 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him (1Jo 2:28-29 NAS)

Cf. how my parents used to take the Bible and appeal to me as a teenager to change my ways, and my response was, “So, what’s your point?”

2. You will have a new love for other Christians. 2:9-11, 3:11-15

9 The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.10 The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1Jo 2:9-11 NAS)

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. 13 Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1Jo 3:11-15 NAS)

Cf. people who say to me, I really love God, it’s just his people I can’t tolerate.

3. You will have a new attitude toward sin. 3:4-10, 5:18

4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (1Jo 3:4-10 NAS)

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him. (1Jo 5:18 NAS)

Cf. how I used to love sin, it was enjoyable; but now I’m grieved by it.

4. You will have a new understanding of who Jesus is. 5:1

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1Jo 5:1 NAS)

Cf. how differently people think about Jesus. A radical revolutionary, a wise teacher, a moral philosopher, a good luck charm. In reality though, He is the Christ, the anointed one, the promised Messiah and Savior of the Old Testament.

So as we skim through the book of 1 John we see that when a person comes to Christ for salvation, there is visible evidence of the change that comes into his life. He will have a new desire to obey his Lord. He will have a new love for his brothers in Christ. He will have a new attitude toward sin. And he will have a new understanding of who Jesus is.

Something that is interesting to me as I read through 1 John is what is missing. There is nothing here that says:

 “And you know you have passed from death unto life because you go to church every Sunday.” Reality: hell is going to be full of people who were in church every Sunday!

 “And you know you have passed from death unto life because you love southern gospel music.” Reality: hell is going to be full of people who love southern gospel music!

 “And you know you have passed from death unto life because you prayed the “sinners prayer” when you were a child.” Reality: hell is going to be full of people who prayed the sinners prayer at their mother’s knee as a child.

 “And you know you have passed from death unto life because you believe in Jesus.” Reality: hell is going to be full of people who believe that Jesus was a literal, historical, man.

The question I want to leave you with this morning is, “are you a new creation in Christ?” Remember Paul’s point: “It is impossible to have a genuine experience with Jesus Christ and remain unchanged.” So just take a moment and think about it. “Are you a new creation in Christ?” If your answer is “yes,” what evidence can you appeal to as proof? What “old” things have passed out of your life, and what “new” things have you replaced it with? How are you doing in these four areas John mentions? John uses very strong, categorical language in these verses that is designed to make us stop and analyze where we are.

So as you examine your life this morning, if you don’t see the change in your life that the Bible talks about, why don’t you deal with that right now?

Christ in Isaiah?

The Birth of Jesus Predicted in Isaiah
Isa. 7:1-16

Several weeks ago we were looking at Old Testament predictions about the birth of Jesus. We started in the book of Genesis (which contains three), and it is there that we see God revealing to mankind that even though there was a great failure on the part of man in the garden, He wasn’t going to abandon His desire to live in fellowship with His creation. So immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, God promised them that eventually He would send them a Savior to make things right between God and man.

That first promise, made 1,500 years before it was fulfilled, was somewhat vague and indistinct, but it revealed God’s heart. He wasn’t content to let His creation languish in a state of alienation, living lives characterized by toil and fear and ultimately death. And so right in the immediate context of a massive failure on the part of man, God was making a way to get things back on track. Then, we saw that after hundreds of years of silence about the coming savior, again, in the context of sin, rebellion, and failure on the part of man, God gave His people another glimpse of their coming savior. We saw this in the book of Numbers when Balaam prophesied in Numbers 24 that a scepter was going to rise from Israel. Their deliverer wasn’t in the immediate future, and He wasn’t from the immediate area, but God’s plan was still on track.

And so what I want to do this morning is take you to the book of Isaiah and show you what is perhaps the most well known - as well as misunderstood - of the Old Testament prophecies about the birth of Jesus. It is found here in chapter 7, and we’ll read it together and then look at some interesting things about it.

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it. 2 Now the house of David (the court, or royal family) was told, "Aram has allied itself with Ephraim"; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer's Field. 4 Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood--because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.

5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it."

7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "'It will not take place, it will not happen, 8 for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.'"

10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test." 13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

The first thing I want to share with you about this prophecy is that once again it is given in the context of fear, and despair, and certain defeat. Ahaz, the king of Jerusalem, is facing two nations intent on destroying his country. They have been very successful in their march toward Jerusalem, and now they have encircled the city and a state of siege is in place. Food and water is limited, and the psychological dimension of this kind of warfare is setting it. On their way to Jerusalem, Rezin, king of Aram has already destroyed most of Ahaz’s army (120,000) and deported 200,000 people.

So what is Ahaz, as the king of God’s people, supposed to do? He has two choices. He can turn to God and look for deliverance, or he can turn to man and look for deliverance. In a situation like this, turning to man would be the idea of forging some kind of alliance with a stronger nation and ask them to come to your aid. That is exactly

what Ahaz does, even though our text doesn’t say it. But let me read to you 2 Kings 16, which is the historical account of this passage.

In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, became king. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done. 3 But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out from before the sons of Israel. 4 And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. 5 Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to wage war; and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him. 7 So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, "I am your servant and your son; come up and deliver me from the hand of the king of Aram, and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are rising up against me." 8 And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king's house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria.

So in spite of the alliance Ahaz has forged with the king of Assyria, the message Isaiah is to give to King Ahaz is found in verses 3 – 6. In a nutshell, God’s message is, “Don’t panic.” He refers to the two kings of the invading armies as “smoldering stubs of firewood.” This is a reference to a branch that has been thrown part way onto a campfire, and when the fire eventually goes out, you can pick that branch up and what will it be doing? It may have a red coal on the end and be smoking, but it is only a matter of time before it goes out. That smoldering branch isn’t really a serious threat. That is the point God is making to Ahaz. Don’t worry about these two kings, there is some smoke here, and a little heat, but no serious concern.

Now, Ahaz may be a little reluctant to accept God’s assessment of the situation. After all, he has seen the devastation, so in verses 7 and 8, God explains the specifics. In the previous verses He simply says, “Don’t worry about these guys.” Now he shows why, and the essence of God’s message is that these two nations won’t even be in existence in the near future. God graciously gives Ahaz insight into the future and assures him that the plans of Ephraim and Aram won’t stand. (v. 7) – “It will not takeplace, it will not happen.” And because of this, God’s message to Ahaz in v. 9 is, “Stand firm in your faith.”

So it is in the context of Ahaz’s disbelief, and wavering trust, and unwillingness to throw himself on the care of God that God gives Ahaz an amazing offer. Look with me in verse 11 where God says, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” This is what we call carte blanche, right? Anything you want, Ahaz, make it as big or as small as you want, and I’ll do it to prove to you that I will take care of you. This is an unprecedented offer on the part of God!

And in verse 12, we have Ahaz’s answer. Now on the surface level, it sounds pious, but from what we know about Ahaz he has no godly impulse, no interest in a right relationship with God, he has participated in barbaric idol worship, he has pillaged the temple of God to pay off Assyria, so his words, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test” is really nothing more than a pious dismissal. We know this as well because of Isaiah’s rebuke in verse 13 – “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?” He has cast his lot with the king of Assyria, so nothing God can do will change his decision.

What would you do at this point if you were God? Wouldn’t you say to Ahaz, “OK, if that’s the way you want it, that’s the way you’re gonna get it!” That would have been my response, but note what God does in verse 14. God gives him a sign anyway! And the sign is very curious. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He (this son)will be eating curds and honey (the equivalent of fast food as opposed to food produced agriculturally, necessitated by the land having been decimated by war) when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” In other words, within a few years of the boy’s birth, the lands of Aram and Israel themselves will be destroyed.

The amazing sign that God was going to give Ahaz involved four things. First of all, God predicts that “the virgin” was going to get pregnant. Secondly, that conception was going to produce a male child; third, that the child was going to be called Immanuel, and fourth, concerning a time frame, that before the little boy was old enough to exercise moral judgment, the lands of these two kings Ahaz was so afraid of were going to be destroyed.

Now, the question we have to ask is this. When was this prophecy fulfilled? Another way we could put it is, “Is this a prophecy about Jesus?” Now remember, the prophecy is serving as a sign to King Ahaz – “the Lord Himself will give you a sign.” In other words, it is going to have to be fulfilled in his lifetime if it is going to accomplish God’s purpose in giving it. So, let’s look at the fulfillment in the next chapter. Look with me at chapter 8 and let’s read the first 10 verses that are describing the coming invasion.

Then the LORD said to me, "Take for yourself a large tablet and write on it in ordinary letters: [Maher-shalal-hash-baz – KJV, NIV] Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey.

2 "And I will take to Myself faithful witnesses for testimony, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah."

Starting in v. 3 is where we start to see the fulfillment of the prophecy of 7:14.

3 So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son.
Who is this prophetess? Obviously, she is Isaiah’s wife, and we see the prophecy of the conception producing a male child come true. The problem though is the part about the virgin conceiving. How does that work? There are two theories.

The first theory is that Isaiah’s first wife had died (remember in 7:3 he takes his son with him), and so “the prophetess” is his second wife. Now what about the virgin thing? Do virgins ever conceive? Probably on a regular basis! I’m not sure what the statistics are, but it isn’t out of the ordinary for a virgin to get pregnant on her wedding night. Now for a virgin to conceive without the aid of a male – like Mary – that is spectacular. So the first theory is that Isaiah married this woman and their first union resulted in a conception that eventually produced a son.

The second theory is this is an example of a prophecy that has both an immediate and a future fulfillment. Or sometimes it is called a near and a distant fulfillment – portions of it being fulfilled immediately with other parts coming true at a later date. If that is what is going on, the virgin conceiving part was fulfilled at the time of Christ.

Then the LORD said to me, "Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for [and note the parallels here] before the boy knows how to cry out 'My father ' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria."

In other words, these things will come to pass in the child’s infancy. In ch. 7 that concept was conveyed by making reference to things happening before the child had reached the age of discerning between right and wrong; here his infancy is described by saying these things were going to come to pass before he speak coherently.

5 And again the LORD spoke to me further, saying, 6 "Inasmuch as these people have rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah [also known as the pool or stream of Siloam in Jerusalem], and rejoice in Rezin and the son of Remaliah; 7 "Now therefore, behold, the Lord is about to bring on them the strong and abundant waters of the Euphrates, Even the king of Assyria and all his glory; And it will rise up over all its channels and go over all its banks. 8 "Then it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass through, It will reach even to the neck; And the spread of its wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.

Who is God talking to in v. 8? Is it Isaiah? Has Isaiah’s name changed? Most probably, He is talking to Isaiah’s son. Back in verse 3, he was named Maher-shalal-hash-baz, a name that was designed to convey a message, so it isn’t out of the ordinary to believe that this son was also called Immanuel, another name designed to convey a message. And before you start to think that I’m really reaching here, and seeing things that aren’t in the text, remember that for the prophecy of 7:14 to be fulfilled as a sign to Ahaz, this is how we need to understand it. Otherwise, there isn’t a sign.

Now, Immanuel means “God with us,” and that is precisely what comes out in verse 9. Starting in v. 9, the speaker changes, it is no longer God speaking to Isaiah, but Isaiah speaking to the nations that are coming against his land to destroy it.

9 "Be broken, O peoples, and be shattered; And give ear, all remote places of the earth. Gird yourselves, yet be shattered; Gird yourselves, yet be shattered. 10 "Devise a plan but it will be thwarted; State a proposal, but it will not stand, For God is with us."

The Hebrew there is what? Right. Immanuel. The idea here is that Isaiah’s son was a living, walking, object lesson to the nation of Judah and the people of Jerusalem that even though their nation was going to be overrun, and even though they were going to suffer through all the privations of war and siege and captivity, God was still with them. The essence of these two verses is that the hostile nations can give it their best shot, but God’s people are always going to come out on top. The temporary destruction is not an accurate reflection of the long term reality.

So what we see here is another example of the pattern that has been established by God as He comes to His people in the context of fear and distress to give his people glimpses of their eventual deliverance. This is why we read in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus (1:23), “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." Isaiah 7:14 fits so perfectly the model of the messianic prophecies that God told Joseph the birth of Jesus was in fact, a secondary fulfillment, another fulfillment of the original prophecy.

Let me give you several lessons we can take away from this passage.

First of all, God doesn’t always grant us immediate deliverance from our oppressors. Isaiah’s nation still had to suffer through destruction and eventual deportation. But in spite of that, God’s people ultimately end up on top!

Secondly, note how God always appears in your extremity. In each of the prophecies we have looked at, God stepped into the situation and gave His people hope. That is God’s nature. And so we endure because we know how God works.

Third, we look forward with expectation to the return of our Savior. In the very same way that God fulfilled each of the prophesies of the OT concerning the birth of Jesus, so too will God fulfill all the yet to be accomplished promises of His return. It may not be this week, it may not even be in our lifetime, but we know “He is not slack concerning His promises.”

And finally, where are you looking for your salvation? Ahaz looked around him for earthly deliverance and spurned the offer of God. That was a disastrous decision and the consequences were enormous. How about you? God offers us salvation through the death of His Son, and we have to decide if we are going to accept it or not.