And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)
Regardless of your political view, it is obvious our nation is erupting at the seams over the issue of race. It is under this heralding battle cry that the armies of man have risen and gathered together to protest what is now being called systemic racism, as seemingly offensive monuments are being toppled, buildings burned to the ground, people injured and sometimes murdered as anger becomes the primary emotion. My goal is to not give my political spin on Black Lives Matter, the removal of the Confederate flag, or what I think about sports leagues such the NBA, NFL, or MLB as they have each made controversial decisions. Rather, this article is a call to think and live as Bible-believing Christians. In times like this, we need to think clearly not as citizens of this world, but as citizens of the kingdom of God. In other words, the Bible is our guide for such things, and what does the Bible say about race?
The Purpose of Race
There exists great diversity and unity among humanity within ethnic groups. Each ethnic group shares in much unity as they often have common characteristics but many within each group also diverge from these similarities while still being part of the greater group. These similarities may be based on physical shared traits but also could be a collective history, language and perhaps a special way of communicating ideas, and physical location. There are so many people groups and languages in this world that even the most skilled polyglot would be unable to speak to all of them with intelligibility. Revelation 7:9 says this about the great number of people groups in this world, “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands.” Notice the Bible does not define them by race, but rather they are equals as they are defined as “a great multitude” who are worshiping the Lord. This multitude’s ethnicity is described as originating from every nation and all peoples. This should encourage us because there will be some people saved from every people group in the world. There will not even be one left out. It is not a promise for every person but every people group.
What is the purpose of race? God could have made everyone look the same, but we should remember racism does not have its origin with God, but sinful humanity. The purpose of race is for the glory of God and we should glorify God by our own race and the ethnicity of others. This purpose is made abundantly clear in Revelation 21:22-27 as only two main ideas are proposed. The first is the extreme value of the glory of God as he is physically the light of the nations, and the second is that the nations will be present in the kingdom of God in the conclusion of Revelation. These two are significant as it fulfills God’s intention for the nations. God never intended to save just the Jewish people, but they were made to be a kingdom of priests for the world, and they were the people God chose to bring the Messiah into the world. This is not to diminish the importance and value of the Jewish people, as they were beautifully used by God throughout their great history.
Genesis and Race
The book of Genesis is instructive concerning race, and there are a few important passages I would like to discuss. First, obviously is the creation passage in Genesis 1-2, as God creates humanity. We should notice that God does not create all the races in Genesis, but he creates the potentiality of all races within the one man and woman he makes. The beginning place for any discussion concerning humanity and the multiplicity of races is they are all created in the image of God. To be human is to be created in the image of God which elevates all of us in worth above all creation. Genesis 1:26 records God’s words at creation when he says, “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness; and let them rule. . .” I believe all racism begins when we do not remember this fact about all people. Every one of them is created in the image of God and racism often views one race as more important than another.
During the flood, one family of the earth is saved, and it is important to focus on that particular family, because it is from them the peoples of the earth derive. Noah’s three sons board the Ark and preserve those who will dwell on the earth. Shem and his wife would become what would later be those who make up the people of the Ancient Near East, or the Semitic peoples. Ham became the father of the people from Africa and Japheth of the European peoples. It is interesting and tragic to see how some would permit racism from a biblical argument. At one point in Christianity, some thought Ham’s sin against his father was God’s eternal punishment for all future generations so they believed it was biblical to enslave his descendants.
Genesis 10 is often called the Table of Nations as it records the families that would come after Noah and his sons. Genesis 10 is a treasure to those who are interested in genealogy and geography within biblical history as it is our history as well. Moses describes Genesis 10:32 as the summary of the entire chapter when he says, “These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.” There was nothing inherently sinful from one family to another. Genesis 10 simply informs the audience of the multiplicity of families on the earth after the flood and is preparing the reader for what will happen in Genesis 12.
Genesis 11 describes the sin of disobeying God’s command to fill the earth because they were concerned about being scattered over the face of the earth. The world was literally one people group with the same language and background. With their great audacity they decided to make a name for themselves so they would not have to obey the Lord, so they decided to make a capital for all humans and a great tower. It was there God made the first languages of the world and they were forced to obey God and scatter. Whereas Genesis 10 lists the peoples of the earth, Genesis 12 focuses on one small family in order to save all of the peoples. After the flood, Noah built an altar to the Lord and God said in Genesis 8:21, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.” Although God saved humanity through the Ark, those who survived were still sinners, and they needed the Savior promised in Genesis 3:15. This issue is at the heart of Genesis 12 as God chose Abram to bless the nations. Notice the language in Genesis 12:3 as God said, “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Our Lord’s intention was not to just save Abraham and his family but to save all families through that one family.
The New Testament and Race
The gospel is not about God’s plan to save the Jews alone but to save sinful humans. The basis of salvation is believing in Jesus for salvation. Romans 1-3 describe both Jewish and gentile rejection of the Lord. This rejection is not abnormal but is the starting place for those outside the kingdom of God. The tragic reality is that God can be clearly seen but is still rejected because of humanity’s sinful desires as described in Romans 1:20-23, “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
The gospel saves the one who believes in Jesus. The gospel has never changed nor will it ever change. We cannot change it to make it more appealing to others or it will cease being the gospel. The world rejects Jesus but the one who believes in the name of Jesus will be saved, and it has nothing to do with the color of the person’ skin or the language spoken. This is the reason why the Bible is translated in so many languages. The gospel is for all the peoples of the earth. Notice the simplicity of the gospel in John 1:10-13 describing the world’s universal rejection and the effect on a person who goes against the grain and believes, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own and those who were his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were not born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The big challenge is if everyone who believes in Jesus is a child of God, then where is the possibility of racism for the Christian? Christians of all people should despise racism because how could a brother or sister in Christ be seen less than that?
Biblically, there are only two types of people on the world today, and which group they belong depends on their relationship with our Sovereign Lord. The Old Testament did this by declaring those who were outside of Israel as gentiles. It did not matter where a person was from or what God was worshiped in his land but were simply called a gentile because he was not Jewish. As we look at our world today, we see much unnecessary division and tension among people. Truly, the gospel should unite us and not divide us. The spirit of division today is the work of Satan in our world, and he will not win the day, because the victory belongs to the Lord. We should unite with other believers and stand for the gospel and the kingdom of our Lord. We should not be fearful to stand for the Lord even if it is uncomfortable and we should stand firm on the truth of Scripture and not back down regardless of what comes against us. We should not quickly judge based on the color of a person’s skin because that is what those outside of Jesus do. Leave that for them. We know what unites us is the Lord and Christianity should destroy racism because it is through the gospel that people of various ethnicity become brothers and sisters. Could it be that all of this hate and division could be destroyed if they would put down their signs and weapons and run to the gospel of the cross?
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2:23-25)
Egypt captivates the imaginative modern mind with the great pyramids at Giza and the Egyptian dynasties as one wonders about its mysteries and what life was like for those ancient people. The Bible also describes life there in Egypt. There are at least two clear cultural/theological realities in the Pentateuch concerning Egypt. First, the greatness and glory of Egypt was built on the back of its slaves and these slaves were found among their own people, enemies conquered, and through the practice of slave trade. Historical evidence can be found outside of the Bible, but God uses this historical truth to bring about his will. Joseph’s brothers intended to kill their brother but instead decided to sell him into slavery. It was an easy choice for them because slavery was so prevalent in the Ancient Near East. Second, God delivering his people from their distress is also another them surrounding Egypt. God’s mercy is evident in both the beginning and the end of his people’s captivity in Egypt. It was by God’s mercy they were saved from the great famine and later from slavery as they cried out to God.
The temptation for the Christian is to minimize the depth of God’s mercy by elevating our perceived holiness. I think it is a sign of Christian maturity to understand our lack of holiness before the Lord of all creation. Paul compares his own righteousness to dirty rags which emphasizes the worthlessness of human merit as he falls before the Lord in his need for mercy. I will discuss three important aspects of divine mercy in this brief article.
God’s Mercy and Distress
An important theological point is that God grants mercy to those who are in distress when they call out to him. God’s people were under great distress in chapter 2 because of the affliction of their difficult slavery under Egyptian rule by the monarch who did not know Joseph. Their affliction is described, “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.” In other words, God delivered his people not because of their distress, but because they cried out to God in their distress. This is an important element of God’s mercy we should not miss. Sometimes people are too proud to cry out to God for help. Often we have a tendency to bear our own burden and in great pride not ask anyone for help, and God’s people did that for years, but there was a time when slavery was too much for them to handle and they cried out to God. It was not until that moment did God do anything. He was patiently waiting for them to cry out to him, and they endured their persecution for a long time, but notice as soon as they cried out to the Lord, he began to work. The very first verse in the next chapter begins the Moses narrative, “Now Moses. . .” God was working out their deliverance before they could even see it, and it would be a glorious salvation.
Bartimaeus was a blind man and he was employed as a professional beggar. Every day he would sit on the road begging people to be merciful to him. Certainly, he had no pride as it was crushed every day when his next meal depended on other’s compassion and pity. He was reminded of his situation every morning as he opened his eyes to a dark world. His need for deliverance was no less than the Israelites need to be freed from slavery, except the beggar’s slavery was his own eyes. It is certain he knew about Jesus and the miracles he performed and when he heard the crowds going by, he cried out to the Lord and said, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The people told him to remain quiet probably thinking of him as a burden of society and unworthy to speak to the Master, but Jesus heard even him and responded, “What do you want me to do for you?” I cannot even imagine what he was thinking and feeling when the darkness of his eyes was replaced with light as he looked around and could see but his response is recorded in Luke 18:43 which was appropriate, “Immediately he regained his sight and began following him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.” Those people who earlier told him to be quiet were no longer quiet, but they praised God with the formally blind man named Bartimaeus. Why was he healed and shown mercy? Because he cried out to the Lord for mercy. This is an important element of God’s mercy and if we want to receive God’s mercy then we must cry out to him in our time of need like one who is helpless.
God’s Mercy and Love
Love is God’s motivation for mercy. God will show mercy because he is compassionate toward us in his love. God’s love for his people which the Old Testament calls lovingkindness or steadfast love is the basis of God’s mercy for his people. Psalm 25:6 connects God’s love with his mercy in this way, “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” The Psalmist wants the Lord to remember two of his attributes he had from the beginning toward his people and they are his love and mercy. God’s mercy is demonstrated in the very beginning when he judged Adam and Eve for their sins. He could have destroyed them but instead he showed them mercy by making clothes for them, letting them live outside of the Garden, and then providing salvation demonstrated in Genesis 3:15 when he declared, “And I will enmity between you and the woman, and between your see and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” This is the promise of future Messiah Jesus Christ who will be the seed of the woman as he destroys Satan.
God is merciful in the midst of our sin as well just like he was with Adam and Eve. God is slow to anger and quick to forgive. God will even forgive one who commits the most heinous and unspeakable evils if he will approach God with a humble heart and contrite spirit. For this fact, we should be eternally thankful. One example of God’s forgiveness is found surrounding Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 describes God’s speech to Moses about what it would mean to be a people for God’s own possession, and the people whole-heartedly agree to follow the Lord. Moses ascends the mountain to receive the Law and the people have already broken the commandments by constructing a golden calf and most likely worshiping it instead of the Lord. Moses sees what they are doing and he breaks the commandments of God. They make restitution and then Moses ascends the mountain again and God makes another copy of the 10 Commandments on stone tablets as he says beginning in Exodus 34:6, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands who forgives iniquity. . .”
God’s Mercy and the Kingdom of God
God’s mercy is not only for those in the Old Testament but for the 21st century church as well. Our salvation is evidence of God’s mercy in our lives. None of us would be saved had it not been the mercy of God being lavished upon us by our God who loves us. 1 Peter 1:3 teaches about God’s salvation given to believers as being a demonstration of his mercy when it says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Notice the connection between God’s mercy and our salvation. The reason why we are saved according to this passage is because the Lord is merciful to us. I also find it interesting to note that a person is saved calling out to God for mercy. Once again, the idea of God’s mercy being demonstrated when one is oppressed and calls out to the Lord. Romans 10:9-10 states it perfectly, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
The kingdom of God also is a demonstration of God’s mercy. The Sermon on the Mount including the Beatitudes emphasize the importance of mercy in God’s kingdom. Jesus in his great sermon illustrated those priorities about God’s kingdom that are often not seen on earth. Jesus, in Matthew 5:7 emphasizes the importance of God’s mercy being reflected in his people when he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” We do not only receive God’s mercy, but God’s mercy is reflected in those who have received it and is clearly seen by those who observe biblical Christianity. Mercy is so important Jesus connects it with an Old Testament passage about the expectation of God’s priority of worship when he quotes, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” In other words, a true worshiper is not the person who goes to the temple and brings a sacrifice only, but is a person who brings a sacrifice with joy because his life reflects one who has been in the presence of God.
In conclusion, we have received great mercy from our awesome God and hopefully our lives reflect this truth. We were like the Israelites at one point in our lives when we saw our affliction and cried out to God for relief. The result was God’s salvation and it was not based on our goodness but God’s mercy, and now our lives should reflect God’s mercy. I think we should think about God’s mercy with deep seriousness and thank him for his great mercy and ask him if his mercy is evident in our lives. Our God is so good and he has provided us with a merciful salvation.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. . . and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:1; 16)
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with Go. All things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These words are the beginning of the literary classic written by Charles Dickens called, A Tale of Two Cities. A good introduction captures the attention of the audience leaving them to want to hear the rest of the story. Sometimes the introduction is the most compelling element of the story while other times it undersells how important the rest of the story will be. I think the beginning of each gospel account fulfils the latter because of the importance and power of the gospel. We are going to look at the prolegomena of each gospel account as we think about what the author was communicating to his audience.
Matthew: The Genealogy of God’s Fulfilled Promises
Matthew is unique from the other gospel accounts because he begins with a lengthy genealogy divided by 3 sections as he summarizes in Matthew 1:17, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” This genealogy seems logical and we could have many lengthy studies on each person as they are notable, but Matthew announces what truly is important.
Matthew 1:1 begins with the phrase “the book of the genealogy,” which is more powerful than one might think. Many people today are interested in genealogies especially as we age and gain a certain perspective. I remember as a child my grandmother telling me stories about my great-grandfather as a young man and his parents whom I never met. I only knew my great-grandfather during the last ten years of his life but was interested in his stories even though I am certain they were not true, and I can barely remember my great-grandmother as she died much earlier than him. Now, we can do so much better than genealogies as you can send a sample of your DNA and then have it tested. If we think the same way about Matthew 1:1; that it is a genealogical account of those who preceded Jesus on this earth, we have missed the main point. The phrase “the book of the genealogy” can be translated as “a book of the genesis.” This is a powerful point as one considers this is a book of the genesis of the gospel being realized in Jesus. Genesis 1:1 is the book of the beginning of God creating the natural order, and Matthew 1:1 is the book of the beginning of God redeeming his creation. What a powerful beginning creation account!
The irony of this genealogy is the son is honored more than the father. In other words, the glory of the familial line is found at the end and not the beginning. Jesus is to be honored more than any of the patriarchs who came before him in the genealogical record. This is an irony in the ancient world because fathers were honored more than their children, and Jewish people held the Patriarchs, namely Abraham to a high honor. This genealogy is not about Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, but it is about Jesus! Even the Patriarchs knew this fact as they knew it was never about them. Hebrews 11:9-10 describes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s desire in life, “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder if God.”
Matthew 1:1 gives a summary of verses 2-17 with a single phrase concerning Jesus, “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Do you notice anything interesting by this phrase? Isn’t it backwards for a genealogy? Yes, it is. We would think it should say the son of Abraham, the son of David, but it does not. He only mentions two names out of this long genealogy, and he does this because he wants us to focus on something about these two men. They were given the promises of God. In one sense, David receives precedence because of the nature of God’s promise to David often called the Davidic Covenant. 2 Samuel 7:12-16 is the text concerning God’s promise, “when your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” This promised summarized means one will sit on the throne of David forever, and this promised one is no one other than Jesus Christ. This is an incredible promise from God and the one he made to Abraham was also important because the Lord promised him one who would bless the nations. Listen to the great promise of God in Genesis 12:2-3, “and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” How will the nations be blessed? It will be by the one who will come through Abraham’s line. Revelation 7 describes the fulfilment of that promise as it describes “the multitude no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” as they worship our Lord in heaven.
Mark: The Beginning of the Gospel
The gospel is synonymous with the birth of Jesus. If Jesus was not born then there would be no gospel, and if we understand the gospel to be the good news then we conclude there is no good news without Jesus’ birth. The gospel must begin with the arrival of God’s Son on the earth and the miracle of his birth is no less amazing than the miracle of his resurrection. They both are incredible and necessary in Christianity. Many people will place a manger scene somewhere in their house or in their yard during Christmas season, but I wonder how many people think about the miracle of God in the virgin giving birth to Jesus, the eternal Son of God?
Mark describes Jesus by two names. He first calls him “Jesus Christ,” which causes the reader to think about the promises of God. The Christ was understood to be the one who deliver his people. The Jews throughout the pages of the Old Testament were looking for this Christ. The promise of the Christ is first found in what is called The Fall. God, speaking to the serpent said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his hill.” This may sound odd at a first reading, but Satan is being told that he will be destroyed, and the woman will be saved by her offspring. Jesus is the promised offspring and he destroyed Satan on the cross while Satan stroke a blow when Jesus died on that cross. In other words, Satan’s crushing blow to Jesus’ feet led to a crushing blow of his own head. Jesus death was temporary while Satan’s is eternal. Perhaps John Owen said it best when he titled his book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
The second name he assigns to Jesus is the Son of God which shows his belief that Jesus was not an ordinary man but divine. All Christianity affirms that Jesus is the Son of God throughout all generations. This is a non-negotiable and if one does not affirm Jesus as the Son of God, then he or she is not a believer. I believe Peter’s confession must be the confession of every member of the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was asking his disciples who people say he is and they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” This is a good and honorable list, but it is not enough for salvation. Jesus then turned the question on them, “But who do you say that I am?” They probably looked at each other while God was doing a work in Peter causing him to speak up as he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, claiming to be God’s Son after Lazarus’ resurrection caused the Jews to quickly put Jesus on the cross. Jesus announced before the death of Lazarus concerning his friend, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John never could get over Jesus being the Son of God because at the end of his gospel account he announces the reason why he wrote his gospel, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Luke: A Doctor’s Perspective on the Gospel
God used imperfect people to communicate his perfect word and Luke’s personality is easily seen throughout the pages of his gospel account. Luke was a doctor by training and his lengthy introduction makes this point clearly as he is logical by training and clear in communication. He states that many people have attempted to organize narratives about Jesus, and he wanted to put together one that is orderly. Of course, many people were writing about what Jesus did, because what Jerusalem beheld was no small thing but a constant conversation discussing the importance of the events surrounding Jesus. Luke summarizes his gospel account when he wrote in Acts 1:1-3, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
He doesn’t actually say much about Jesus during his introduction, but he does become very specific as he writes later. He does tell us that he wrote it for Theophilus which has been confusing for me throughout my Christian life. Is this an actual person or does it represent a type of people? Theophilus means lover of God so it would make sense that he is writing this letter for those who love God, but he also might be writing this for one person. Logically, it makes sense that he is writing it for public consumption. Luke/Acts are lengthy books and would seem to be written for Christians and those who would become part of the family of faith. Either way, it doesn’t really matter that much, but God knows.
The gospel is clearly seen in Luke’s account but not in the introduction, however we quickly see Matthew’s point of Jesus fulfilling the Davidic Covenant and Mark’s emphasis on him being the Son of God in the very first chapter of Luke when the angel named Gabriel spoke to Mary saying, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
John: The Eternal Son of God
The first truth that should catch the attention of the careful reader is the closeness between the beginning of John and Genesis. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and John 1:1 reports, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The idea being communicated is the eternality of Jesus. In other words, Jesus was in the beginning with God when the material world was being created and he makes the point Jesus was creating it as he says, “all things were made through him.” Jesus’ was not born into existence in 3-5 B.C. when he was born but was always alive even before Abraham breathed his first breath. Jesus is eternal.
Jesus relationship with the Father is seen in his sonship from the very beginning. Jesus called himself the Son of God and this point is made early in the gospel account in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Genesis 1:26 makes more sense when we understand the Son’s role as Creator with the Father in the beginning as the text says, “the God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” The Jews understood this to mean God with the angels, but it makes more sense that it is the Father speaking to the Son.
In summary, John mentions Jesus’ eternality and relationship with God the Father in the beginning as his Son who creates. Lastly, Jesus is also called life and light which describes his ministry. John communicates the connection between light and life in his introduction as he says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jesus is life because of the gospel that brings life to those who were dead in their sins and trespasses. Paul makes this point clearly in Ephesians 2:1-2;4-6, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. . .But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. . .”
There is so much more we could say about Jesus, but a brief look at these introductions should result in our joy when we consider how great Jesus is and the gospel he brings. Each of these gospel accounts are unique in their own ways, but there are exists so many similarities resulting in praise. Obviously, the good news of the gospel accounts is the gospel itself so in this understanding let us conclude with perhaps the most beloved passage of Scripture describing the glorious gospel in John 3:16-18, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
The people of Israel had religious fervor during the time of the great apostasy under the reign of King Ahab. They rebelled against the lordship of God and turned to other gods, particularly Baal, but their religious expression did not change that much. For example, when the great showdown between the Lord and Baal took place, they both had altars, prophets, sacrifices, worshipers, and prayer. The difference is that God answered not the prophets of Baal, although they outnumbered Elijah, but the one prophet who worshiped the true and living God. In other words, God answers the prayer of the one who knows him. Perhaps a great passage that makes this point is found in the first chapter of 2 Kings, when Ahaziah proceeded to reign briefly after the death of Ahab. He angered God because he sought Baal instead of the Lord when he became ill. He arrogantly ordered a large procession to retrieve Elijah who by this time was infamous among the pagans after the death of prophets of Baal. Notice what 2 Kings 1:9-10 proclaims, “Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his fifty. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, ‘O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’ But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, ‘If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.’ Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.” Elijah informs them that his relationship with God is the reason why the Lord answers his prayers.
Recently, I have heard people say that we need to pray in times like this. Many of us have even heard about the power of prayer before our recent pandemic began. Once I heard an interview of a doctor saying how important faith is for one who is undergoing surgery. He was not specific about which faith but only said faith is important. This philosophy of religion within the medical establishment is dangerous because it replaces the value of God with what he provides. Prayer is nothing but an overflow of one’s relationship with the sovereign Lord of heaven. We do not need books to teach us how to pray but what we truly need is to be closer in the presence of God. I am thankful for the famous song’s lyric that proclaims the truth from Psalm 84:10, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” It is idolatrous to love the gift God provides more than God himself. Sometimes, a non-believer will pray for God’s help, but that person does not want God but only his power fulfilling the person’s desire. During this pandemic, we do not need Christians praying more, but we need them drawing near to the presence of God. Who will God answer? The person who prays continually all day long, or the person who has been in God’s presence all day and humbly asks for the Lord’s help?
John Bunyan wrote the famous book called The Pilgrim’s Progress which is an allegory of a Christian’s life. I believe it is one of the greatest books I have ever read and highly recommend it to all who would ask. Bunyan wrote the book while serving a twelve-year sentence for preaching the gospel. They offered to release him if he would promise to not preach and he told them that if they released him today, he would preach tomorrow. C.H. Spurgeon once said he read The Pilgrim’s Progress at least 100 times in his life and he often quoted it in his sermons. He said regarding John Bunyan, “Read anything [by John Bunyan], and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. . .Why, the man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him” Bunyan defines prayer as “a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart and soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.” Prayer is the supernatural overflow of a Christian’s devotion to the Lord for Bunyan. He knows nothing of a lukewarm Christianity pleading with God in times of trouble.
Hebrews 4:14-16 is often used as a comfort for Christians regarding their prayer lives as the passage declares, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” It is interesting to note the emphasis of the passage is not on the act of prayer but nearness to the Lord. The only way we are able to have more effective prayers is to draw closer to the Lord in our relationship with him.
The Gospel as the Means to Approach the Lord
God is unapproachable without the power of the gospel applied to the soul of believers through Jesus. We cannot approach God in our own righteousness, and 1 Timothy 6:15b-16 describes this truth, “he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion, Amen.” This truth is not well known among those who proclaim they are good people and God will accept them. In theological terms, they are claiming a certain righteousness that Paul rejected referring to the Jews when he said, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”
The Christian has an imputed righteousness through Jesus who is called the great high priest. The high priest had the role of approaching God on behalf of the people of God, and now Jesus has that role. There is no longer any need for a human priest because God’s Son fulfills that role today, and he is far superior than any priest in the Old Testament. They all had shortcomings and agendas, but Jesus is called great, which indicates he is better than all of those who were before him. Jesus was tempted just like all the other high priests and humanity for that matter but was perfect without sin. The author of Hebrews argues that Jesus is greater than the prophets, patriarchs, Moses, and the angels. Jesus’ position is also greater because he does not enter the most holy place once a year with great fear, but he sits on the right hand of the Father in heaven. We are reminded of this fact when Stephen is being martyred and he looks up and Jesus is standing in heaven.
The text says concerning Jesus, “has passed through the heavens.” Every believer rejoices in this fact, that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised on the third day. Jesus passing through the heavens is a reminder of the fulfilment of the gospel and the promise of God concerning our own resurrection. Christians rejoice in their future resurrection when they leave this temporal world and enter God’s eternal kingdom. Heaven is the place where we belong and desire throughout our journey in this world. When the passage tells us to “hold fast to our confession,” it means to not let go of the gospel but be reminded by it and believe it with all our heart. The resurrection is essential and is a non-negotiable theological truth. If Jesus was not raised from the dead then there is no gospel and Paul makes this same point in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
Confidence in Approaching the Lord to Receive Grace and Mercy
Prayer may not be the act of lifting our voice to heaven as much as it is the response of those who are in the presence of God already. It is a matter of “already but not yet,” because we are not physically in heaven but positionally we are members of his eternal kingdom. In this way, prayer is less about asking God for things, and more about being in his presence. Think about the Psalmist’s prayer life. He asks God for deliverance and protection, but he prays like he is already in the presence of the Lord as he thanks him for his mercy and goodness. One does not have much difficulty seeing this in the Psalms, but one example is Psalm 113:1-3, “Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!” It is not difficult to notice the Psalmist’s nearness to the Lord as he praises God for who he is.
The Christian’s life should be described as one that is confident positionally in Jesus, belonging to heaven, as a recipient of the promises of God, and even in God’s love. There is no uncertainty in Christ. We should be confident that we have received God’s grace and it is not based on works but God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes this evidently clear, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Our confidence will be evident on the day of Jesus’ return when he separates the sheep and goats. We should be confident because the Lord knows who are his own. Non-believers should also be confident they will not be able to fool God because perceived good works, church attendance, and even records of baptism will not save. Praise God that he saves his unworthy servants and that he calls us to enter into his presence with confidence and boldness.
What do those who are able to approach the throne receive? They receive grace and mercy at an urgent time in life. Grace is God’s gift to those who have not earned it. This certainly describes our salvation. We do not deserve to be saved and we have not earned it, but it is the gift of God. John connects our receiving grace with Jesus’ work in John 1:16-17, “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God’ the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” If Jesus never came to the earth, where would we be? We would be lost without any hope but praise the Lord he did come and die creating a people for his possession. We also receive mercy in our time of need. Whereas, grace is an unearned gift, mercy is not receiving what you have earned. We know the cost of sin is death, and so death is what we deserve but we have a merciful God who grants to us eternal life and does not give us the eternal death we have earned. Romans 6:23 sums the idea well, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, we have earned death, but God has graciously given to us by his grace and mercy eternal life.
In conclusion, what is there to say about prayer? We should definitely pray, but we should also remember that we cannot out-pray our devotion to the Lord. Our prayer life will suffer if we keep God at a distance. The closer we are to the throne of God’s grace and mercy, the more fervent and powerful will be our prayer life. We should not get close to God because we want something from him, but rather we should approach him because we want to be near our Lord. Prayer is not the goal, but the glory of God is, and God is glorified when his people desire to be near him as they lift their voices to him in both their joy and in times of distress.
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy your life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (Eccl. 9:7-10)
It is all about focus. Younger people often focus on the future while neglecting the present as they think about what life will be like in five, ten, or even twenty years. Older people are often amused by how these young people are unable to enjoy the present because of their future focus. Older people have the opposite problem as many of them dwell on what is often called the good ole’ days. The problem for both groups is their failure for enjoying the present gifts of God. Often when I watch television, I hear the catch phrase, “We are living in unprecedented times.” People are focused on the future when they can leave their homes without the fear of contracting the Coronavirus. Let us be reminded that this is the day the Lord has made, and we should rejoice in it regardless of the dangers around us. We will look at Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 as we consider how to live our life during these unprecedented times.
Ecclesiastes was written by the one who is often identified as the preacher within the book. The preacher is King Solomon and he lived during a time of unprecedented peace unlike his father David who such a man of war God left the building of the magnificent temple to Solomon. The book of Ecclesiastes portrays the king as an observer of life as he sees people living out their lives within the covenant community. He sees much of life as folly and in at the end of his book he informs the reader what really matters when he writes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Throughout the book, the preacher has many carpe diem, seize the day, statements that would benefit us if we were to heed them. In other words, we live in an unprecedented time where the temptation is to live for yesterday or tomorrow, but not today. We must reject this tendency and live for the glory of God today.
Find Happiness in the Sustenance God Provides
The author mentions three areas of life we should find happiness and he begins with what we eat and drink. Many people have an unhealthy relationship with food as it becomes a coping mechanism for what they are going through in life. Also, there is a tendency for us to eat our food and drink our beverages in a mindless way as we watch television. So much so, we forget to enjoy it as we eat through bags of chips, popcorn, 1.25-1.5-quart containers of ice cream, or whatever we choose to eat. Even if we do sit at a dining table with others, we rush through it without savoring the flavor of the foods. When was the last time you took your time and really enjoyed the flavor of a meal? In this passage, the author says, “eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with merry heart.” He does not want his people to eat without joy, but every bite should lead to their happiness.
Is it wrong to find happiness in food and drink? Absolutely not, because it is a gift from the Lord. When we eat our food, we should thank the one who prepared it for us, but above all things we should praise the Lord for his provision that sustains and grants to us happiness. Solomon does not find his pleasure only in the food but in God who gives. It is obviously wrong for a creature to worship the creation rather than the Creator, but the believer can worship God as he eats and drinks. Think about this point for a moment. The very next time you put food in your mouth, it can become worship as you glorify God by enjoying what he has given you to eat.
Also notice the phrase, “God has already approved what you do.” I think within the context of this book it means God does not want you to live devoid of happiness. He wants you to enjoy your life because it is temporary. Think about it in this way. We glorify God when we truly find happiness in his provision. A giver of a gift finds greater delight when the recipient truly finds joy in the gift. The Christian should have more happiness and delight over a meal than a nonbeliever because she knows who has provided the meal. When Solomon says clothing should be white and oil on the face it is a statement of a joyful life. The opposite of white clothing is the darkness of sackcloth and ashes representing one who is mourning in crisis. Mourning was always temporary in the Old Testament as the day arrived when the dark clothing was cast aside for clean garments. I think this has a current context as well. There are a lot of things we are not permitted to do in this current hour, but can we joyfully receive our food and drink? Worship is not just what we do at church on Sunday morning, but it is a decision we do everyday in response to God’s daily provision. The Lord’s Prayer includes God’s provision of our sustenance and our appropriate response to it.
Find Happiness in the Relationships God Provides
Solomon instructs the reader to enjoy life while that remains a possibility. He does not say to enjoy it when everything is going your way, but this should be a general practice among God’s people. Life is precious and short so we should enjoy it while we still have it. Some people are not finding much joy in life and certainly our lives have changed a lot recently, but does that mean we cannot find joy? Paul was content with his life and wrote these words to the Philippian church while he was under house arrest, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. . .I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” A few observations from this Philippian passage comes to mind. First, Paul’s rejoicing is focused on the Lord and not outward circumstances. In other words, we should still be thankful and joyful if we are focused on the Lord regardless of what is going on in our world and lives. Second, Paul knows that life is full of mountains and valleys of circumstances, but God never changes. Third, Paul understands God is his source of strength and not outward circumstances or help by others.
Christianity is certainly about relationships as we think about God’s relationship with us as he created us to be the children of God. We also think about our relationships with one another as we are brothers and sisters. All of us are created to have a variety of relationships with others and this time has made it increasingly difficult to draw near to others, but it should cause us to reflect and be thankful for those relationships. Solomon tells husbands to enjoy life with their beloved wives. One thing is for certain, married people will have great difficulty enjoying life if they do not love their spouses. Once again, your spouse is a gift from God for which you should be thankful and should lead to joy in this life. Once again, the danger is when we elevate these relationships to a level of idolatry. We do not love the gift more than the giver of the gift. God is to be loved and worshiped above our spouse. We, of course, understand that if we love God like we should then it is more likely we will love our spouse the way we should. Oh, Christian, think about all the wonderful relationships God has given to you throughout your life. I attempt to say this with sensitivity, because I know many have lost their spouses through death already, but God should still be praised as you think about the years God gave you with your beloved. There is also hope as you know there is an approaching day when you will be reunited with your loved one. It is to this point, that he uses the word “vain.” Life is vain not because it is pointless but because it is temporary. He is saying to enjoy your life and wife before death arrives.
Find Happiness in the Work God Provides
I hear people complain often about their jobs and how they cannot wait to retire. The only problem with this desire is that God created us to find delight in work. Work is not a result of the Fall but a call of God in creation. Do you believe Adam awoke in the mornings hating the fact that he had to tend to the Garden and had to name the animals? Certainly not, the temptation to not delight in work occurred after the Fall. We should find happiness at our tasks we perform in this life and sometimes it is not until they are taken from us that we finally see how important they are to us. I have heard of many retirees who wish they were able to go back to work after they discovered its importance in their lives.
In this passage we learn of work as being temporary as he instructs his hearers to toil with all their might. He obviously is referring to daily work the laborer is to perform, and he also states that the ceasing of work will be brought on my death, and not an announcement of retirement. When we become older, we still need to labor although we may need to slow down. Just as the text says concerning work, “whatever your hand finds to do,” which means it does not need to be a 9-5 job but something. As Christians, we should also remember that God has given to us a large task we are to be a part of working for his Kingdom. The Great Commission calls us to proclaim the gospel to our lost and spiritually dead world, and Jesus even instructs us to pray that God would send our workers in the field. I do not know about you, but there is great joy seeing a spiritually dead person being raised to life by the power of the gospel of our great Lord Jesus.
In conclusion, our lives have been changed over the past few weeks, but we should delight in God and the gifts he has given to us. So often, we can become unthankful and stressed because of what is going on around us, but isn’t God greater than our circumstances? Hebrews 13:15 reminds us of our delight as believers, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” This praise is not lessened because of our circumstances but emboldened because of our circumstances.
To God be the Glory!
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This time has certainly been difficult for most of us as we stay home except in cases of urgency such as grocery shopping. When we do go out, we see people wearing gloves, masks, and purposely avoiding others as a constant reminder of the virus that has changed the intended direction of our lives. Businesses are not open, and churches have closed their doors temporarily until this viral epidemic has run its course. Last week was a particularly difficult time because it was Easter Sunday and I remember thinking out loud that we would be having our Son-rise service at this time if it were a normal Sunday. The good news is that we are a church separated and not a church destroyed. We know there will is an approaching day when we will have the opportunity to open the doors again of our church and worship the Lord. We must remember God’s strength compared to the power of this virus. Today, I want to focus on Jesus’ dialogue with his disciples in Matthew 16 and make some points that I hope might encourage us as a church.
A Return to Worship in Crisis
God warned his people for a long time about the consequences of their sins. He sent prophets to warn them and was patient waiting for them to repent and return to the God of their salvation. Instead, their stubbornness and pride created a spiritually deaf people in all the Promised Land. Those residing in Judah saw their northern brothers and sisters fall to the might Assyrian empire in 722 BC, but they refused to return to the Lord. They thought God would not judge them and they took pride in God’s promises while not delighting in the Lord, himself. It took a long time, but God raised up the Babylonians and in 586 BC they defeated Judah and forced them to leave creating an exiled people. They had about 136 years to repent after they saw what happened to the north, but they never repented of their idolatry. One of the most tragic and emotional scenes in the Bible is in Lamentations as the people are forcibly removed from their land. Jeremiah describes the scene in Lamentations 1:1-3, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies.”
Judah’s crisis was not their exile but worship as they served the gods of the surrounding areas. God put them in exile so they could remember what was significant in life. Jeremiah describes the process from God’s judgment to returning to him in worship when he writes in Lamentations 3:16-24, “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.’ Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” This crisis should not be a time of distancing ourselves from God but drawing near to him in worship. Our worship should not become more distanced, but more intense. Worship does not end because we are unable to meet corporately but we must worship the Lord individually. How wonderful would it be for us during this time of isolation to draw near to God in worship as we never have before?
A Return to the Fundamentals in Crisis
This text in John is focused on the identity of Jesus. He asks his disciples who others think Jesus is and who they think he is. This is not a minor point in Christianity, but it is the main emphasis of Christianity. It is not a minute point, but it is of deepest significance. It is identity confusion and rejection keeping many people out of heaven. It is not the one who does good things who shall inherit the kingdom of God, but the one who knows the King. Jesus makes this point in this passage but also listen to what he says in Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Every true heaven-bound person knows who Jesus is as the basis of their faith. This is the reason why Jesus is so focused on his identity in this passage and his earthly ministry.
Our focus needs to be in the right place and this time of isolation is a wonderful opportunity for us to check our intentions and truly realign our priorities with the Lord’s desire and command. Is it possible for us to be busy doing things for the Lord while not obeying what he told us to do? Based on this passage, I think our greatest priority must be to tell people in our community who Jesus is because their eternity hangs in the balance between heaven and hell. There have been many people who have died from the Coronavirus and I am certain many more will die in the following days. Many of them, I am certain, have left their earthly bodies of comfort to find themselves under eternal damnation because of their rejection of Jesus as the eternal Son of God. When the dark night of this virus fades and the sun rises, may we have a renewed determination to be the church and proclaim the excellencies of the One who has saved us by his eternal gospel.
Knowing Jesus as the Son of God is so important that God the Father revealed this truth to Peter and the future church would be identified by its confession. When Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is, Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus then says he will build his church on this truth. The emphasis was never on Peter, the man, but his confession. In other words, any person who claims to be a Christian and rejects this truth will never enter the Kingdom of God. It also took divine intervention for Peter to get this right, which I think implies that every person who believes Jesus as the Son of God needs God working in his or her life convincing and convicting. This truth should encourage us because God does not send us out without his power, but the Lord has gone before us preparing the way.
In summary, I think we need to get back to the fundamentals of our faith and emphasize, focus, and love them again. I think we should reject things, attitudes, programs, and speech that does not build the kingdom of God. I think we should be busy doing the things that will enlarge the kingdom rather than wasting our time doing things that accomplishes nothing, because if I have learned anything, it is, that we are mortal, our time is short, and life is precious.
A Return to the Promises of God in Crisis
Take heart fellow believer because God is not powerless in this crisis, but he is sovereign and powerful over any difficulty in this world and in our life. The church has been through many crises in its history and has overcome all of them. The early church had the crisis of persecution as many believers died horribly painful deaths such as being fed to animals, burned at stakes poorly constructed increasing pain, decapitation, placed on crosses, and being quartered as a few of the worst. The Coronavirus is not even on the same plane of difficulty as the first century church endured. Although, the church has dealt with persecution throughout the years, it also had to deal with disease as we are doing now. The general population including the church met a great crisis in the form of a plague supposedly introduced to the people by fleas on the back of rats. It is believed that nearly ½ of the population of Europe died by what was called Black Death. We will make it through this crisis because God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
Our passage also gives to us confidence when Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Two things we should pay attention to in this text. First, Satan is against the work of God. The church is not a neutral or safe environment. The church is dangerous because the god of this world would like to shut it down and destroy you. He would like for all of us to be removed from this world and it is by the grace of God we are still here. God certainly has plans for us and our desire should be to glorify the Lord every moment from when we wake up in the morning to when we lie down in the evening. Second, God is active in the world as he builds his church. Yes, we are called to build the kingdom of God, but we cannot do it if the Lord is working against us, but here we learn his will. His desire is for his church and that it would become all it can be, and our comfort is found in the fact that we don’t build the church simply by our plans, but we are able to destroy God’s plans by our sinfulness.
In conclusion, I agree this is a difficult time for us, but it does not have to be a destructive time as it gives us the opportunity to realign our lives and church toward the Lord. Just think of the opportunities. When I was a kid, I always looked forward to the next year of school because it provided new opportunities. There would be new teachers, new subjects, new clothes for the year, and perhaps new students. There was a great hope of expectation and perhaps this summer break from church will renew our spirits and expectations in what the Lord may do in the next season of our church life. To God be the glory and may his people continually praise him until he returns!
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
People gathered to witness the public spectacle before them as Jesus and the criminals were raised to their death on their crosses. It had been a cruel day of humility and pain but now it was over. What was raised must be lowered. On that day, the living was raised to their death and now must be lowered to their final resting places. Perhaps the sun was setting, and people started to leave to go back to the places where they were staying during the great festival of Passover not realizing the significance of God’s Son as their own Passover Lamb. The disciples were most likely the most distraught, confused, and heart wrenched to their most inner being as they just witnessed the death of their beloved Messiah.
Jesus’ death on the cross appear to many people as only a significant historical event. They fail to see the continuing significance of what Jesus did nearly 2,000 years ago. The history of the world is full of events that could have been much different if Adam and Eve did not rebel against the Lord’s command in Eden. Could you even begin to imagine if death and decay had never been introduced to the world? Two of the most important events in the history of world was the fall and Jesus’ resurrection. The fall resulted in death, but Jesus’ death resulted in life. Decay and death entered the world through the first sin, but redemption began through Jesus. The world is not what it will one day be, but there exists a future hope of redemption. I love what Romans 8:18-19 says regarding the day of full redemption, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”
Easter commemorates what Christians celebrate every Sunday and that is the resurrection of our beloved Lord from the dead as he granted eternal life to those who believe in his name. This devotional will not be focused on the historical and theological events of the resurrection, but on the effect of the resurrection in the believer’s life. The applicational effect of the resurrection will be discussed within the context of Colossians 3:1-4.
Being Raised with Jesus
Colossians 3:1 describes the positional standing of those who belong to the Lord. The opening phrase says, “If then you have been raised with Christ,” which identifies to whom the rest of the passage is written. This is a conditional phrase which means it should be true of those who belong to a particular group. He is not saying one is redeemed by doing certain things but rather those who are already saved should live their lives in a specific way. Imagine with me that you have a leaky sink you are unable to repair. Who would you contact? Should you call the exterminator, your family doctor, or a plumber? We would expect a plumber to be able to fix the situation. You probably would continue using the exterminator if he wasn’t able to fix your problem but if your plumber was unable to take care of the leaky sink then you would be well advised to start looking for another one.
The characteristics that follow in this passage are those that are common to those who “have been raised with Christ.” The joy for the believer in Jesus is focused on resurrection. Jesus was killed on the cross and was buried in the tomb, but on the third day he was raised from the dead. The hope for believers is not focused solely on Jesus’ resurrection but the hope of their own resurrection as well. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead then so too the Christian will be raised from the dead. Resurrection means one goes from death to life. There are two resurrections every Christian will experience. The first is the spiritual resurrection when our dead spirit is made alive. Every child who has ever been born through a natural birth has been spiritually dead at birth, but through Jesus we are made alive. The second is the physical resurrection as a future hope. One day, we know death will come, but we also know there is a coming day when the believer in Jesus will be made alive at the return of our beloved Savior. 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 describes this future resurrection for believers, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
Seeking Things Above
Christians are people who live on a physical planet and in a physical body, but we are told to keep our focus on the spiritual. We cannot physically see the spiritual reality but when the Lord resurrects our spirit at salvation then our focus begins to shift. The temptation is for us to focus on our physical priorities while neglecting the spiritual ones. We have been going through this pandemic that has limited our mobility, but it should not affect our spirit. We need to keep our focus on the things above as Paul reminds us here. Someone may say that not being able to go to church has affected their relationship with the Lord, and I admit being physically separated from the body of Christ is difficult, but what a tremendous opportunity has been given to us to focus on the Lord. Paul was often restricted from seeing other believers when he was in jail but listen to his words in Philippians 1:3-6 as he was under house arrest, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What an attitude of thanksgiving during a time of great separation.
What things should we seek above? I think the Sermon on the Mount is a great place to start. Perhaps during this time of separation, it would be a great time to seriously consider the instruction of our Lord in Matthew 5-7. The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 are the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven we all should all possess as citizens of God’s kingdom. The rest of Jesus’ otherworldly sermon applies those principles in practical ways. The obvious truth is that these principles are not the same principles as our world, but when the Lord awakens our spirit, they become our desire. An example is found in Matthew 5:5 which says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Our world generally does not exalt the humble but the proud. We are told to be proud and let everyone else know about it, but the humble spirit is often trampled by the foot of the arrogant boasters. Where will the proud be in heaven? They will not be found because who will be able to boast in the presence of God? What was the first thing John saw when he was transported to heaven in Revelation 4:2, “At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” In other words, God is the focus of heaven, and we will spend eternity praising and worshiping his greatness. For those who don’t know the Lord, this does not seem desirable, but for those who know the Lord, it is our desire to worship the Lord with this type of nearness to him.
Set Your Mind Above
The believer who has been redeemed by the Lord will focus on heaven. The idea is focused on our thinking. Christians do not think the way others think and this is a result of the resurrection. We often remember the way we used to think before we knew the Lord. Our thinking was often selfish and not seasoned with love. We desired to satisfy what was best for us while we didn’t care about other people but when we were saved those things began to change. The changing of our thinking is part of the sanctification process. Sanctification is the process in which we become more like Jesus throughout the course of our lives. We don’t transition from worldly thinking to a heavenly focus in a single day, but it is a lifelong struggle of growth. There is an approaching day when we will be completely heavenly focused, but that day is probably not today. I believe many of the struggles in this life between two believers is in relation to not being heavenly minded, but practically this is where our joy is located. Joy is stolen from the one who focuses completely on the things of this world. I don’t know about you but about 30 minutes to an hour of the news is all I can handle, especially with the outbreak of the Coronavirus. I would rather think of heaven and the beauty of our Savior who has given to us his great and precious promises.
Perhaps one of the greatest passages in Scripture in relationship to our thinking is Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to your therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” It seems this passage in Romans connects worship with right thinking, and I have heard people talk about worship as a feeling they get, but genuine worship is informed by the mind and felt in the heart. Both are required, and if we think like one who does not know the Lord then our worship will certainly be affected.
Focus on Future Glory
Paul states simply and powerfully, “for you have died,” which serves as reminder that we have been changed. There is a death that occurs at salvation and it is the death of sin’s power over the believer. We continue to sin, but we can also resist it in our daily lives by the power of God and the Spirit’s work in our lives. There is also a connection between Jesus on the cross and our death to our former spirit. This should be joyful for us because we should rejoice, we are not what we once were. There should not be a single Christian who wishes to go back to his or her former lives. In other words, let us not focus on what lies behind us but focus on what is in front of us. We should always keep our eyes focused on the Lord as we live our lives and not live in the past. A good reminder of this is found in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” This is an exhortation for us to not turn back but to walk while keeping our eyes on Jesus, himself.
Our joy is in our hope that the Lord is returning. We should focus and rejoice in this truth every day and especially at Easter. The text states clearly, “When Christ your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Christianity does not live in the past but in the future, and the end of the universe as it is currently is constructed will be at the return of Jesus. The world fears the apocalyptic events such as a heavenly body striking the earth and some fear a zombie apocalypse, but we rejoice in the real end of the world, and that will be the return of Jesus. I want you to rejoice as we conclude with the return of Jesus in Matthew 24:29-31, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect form the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” What the world will mourn we shall rejoice. There is a day when heaven will collide with the earth and the only thing that will remain is what is holy. Come quickly Lord Jesus!
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.
The wrath of the Jews was on full display for all to see as they demanded the crucifixion of Jesus as he we mocked, given a trial without due process and nailed upon the cross to die. Our Lord displayed great power as he demonstrated great mercy to those who were oppressed. He gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, and freed the man who was made insane by demonic possession. Matthew 15:30-31 describes Jesus’ actions by the Sea of Galilee, “And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.” So, why would these people turn against the compassionate healer of Israel? The quick answer is because he claimed equality with God. To the Jews this was blasphemy, but this testimony did not cease when Jesus died.
Others proclaimed his true identity when Jesus could no longer speak about himself because of his death. After Jesus’ death, the earth, the source of Judaism, the dead, and the guard all confirm Jesus’ own testimony about himself. First, the place of God’s abode, the temple had its curtain torn from the top to the bottom. This was the curtain that separated God from man and now it no longer exists. Its testimony was Jesus is Lord and his death made the temple unnecessary. The second testimony involved the earth as it divinely shook pronouncing the true identity of Jesus resulting in an amazing declaration in Matthew 27:52-53, “The tombs were also opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” The Jews quickly sought to kill Jesus because he raised Lazarus from the dead, but now many deceased people are raised to life after Jesus dies. Their presence and perhaps speech glorified God’s Son, Jesus. How will they silence the deceased? Lastly, those who witnessed these events proclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” They were mostly right, but they saw things from the earthly perspective. They did not know the Son of God nailed on that cross would soon be raised from the dead.
Good Friday is the day when we remember Jesus on the cross as he took our sins upon himself enduring the wrath of God for our sins so we might be forgiven. Many people do not think rightly about the severity and effect of their actual sin, but in one sense it began the destruction of the entire universe once called good by the Lord. There exists clearly a relationship between Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday and our sins. We will examine Romans 5:12-14 as we think about the seriousness of sin and then conclude with the good news from Romans 5:15
The Birth of Sin in the World (12)
There is a difference between beautiful and good. I am certain most of us have beheld the beauty of God’s creation at various times in our lives, whether we looked at the night sky and beheld the starry heavens, looked up at the mountains, gazed down at a valley, or made the journey to the Grand Canyon. These sights are certainly beautiful, and our universe has no shortage of beauty, but good is another matter. None of us have ever gazed upon a good creation with our own natural eyes for a single moment. This assertion is a bold one considering how easily the word, good appears in our language. I suggest we use this word too often to describe things that are pleasant to us, but do remember when Jesus was called good, and he reminded the people that on one is good but God. Throughout the creation account, God often gazed upon his creation and called it good. This word has a lexical range of meanings such as pleasant, desirable, or even good, but we must remember it was God and not a future generation and fallen creatures calling it good. It was good based on God’s standards and was a sort of extension of heaven upon the physical earth.
Why is the universe no longer good? It was because of the destructive force of sin through a single agent, namely Adam. Romans 5:12 announces the arrival of sin, “just as sin came into the world through one man.” God created the physical universe to be without sin and to enjoy the goodness of God, and it did for a time. Adam walked with God in Eden and was able to enjoy a world without danger. He truly was safe in this world as he did not need to fear carnivorous beasts, insects carrying disease, or invisible viruses leading to illness or even death. He knew none of these things but enjoyed a good world and perfect union with the Lord but destroyed all these things because he chose to sin. He did not choose to sin the way we do on a continual basis throughout the course of our lives. Adam and Eve did not have a sinful nature bent toward evil but was fully able to obey the command of God, but their choice was to follow Satan. That choice parents of all nations made on that day destroyed the goodness of creation.
The Effect of Sin in the World (12b)
Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s command to them. No, they defied the Lord, himself, as they chose to become children of Satan by doing what he suggested. The Creator’s command was not unclear or vague but extremely clear when he said, “but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Apparently, Adam and Eve even placed further restriction on the fruit of the tree by refusing to even touch it, but the serpent removed all those barriers.
The effect of their sin was clearly death, just as the Lord said. Death was not introduced to them alone, but also to those generations who would come after them. It was death to all creation including every being and thing that is alive. The once good creation became corrupt and began to die that day. Adam and Eve would be driven from their home in paradise and forced to live in a corrupt world awaiting their sentence of death as every year revealed their mortality in their bodies as they aged. Our beautiful world is diseased with sin and it is dying just as we realize our own mortality.
The Name of Sin in the World (13-14)
Adam and Eve did not call their defiant action sin, but they knew what it was. They rebelled against God and I am certain they regretfully thought about it perhaps everyday of their lives as they labored for produce and saw the effect of sin all around them as animals became dangerous and their offspring became increasingly evil after every generation until the flood. Cain, the first naturally born human on the earth killed his brother because of jealousy. Many believe it was the type of offering God rejected, but this is never the case. God disproved of Cain’s offering because he did not approach the Lord in worship as he should have. He had a form of worship, but his heart was far from God. How do we know this? Because God does not rebuke his offering but Genesis 4:5, “but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” Cain was the problem and not his offering, because God will reject the offering that does not proceed from a heart of worship. God warned him about his sin, but instead of repentance, he decided to kill his brother. Humanity’s expression and participation in sin became pronounced after every generation. Just a few generations in Cain’s line, we meet a man named Lamech who said to his wives, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” This certainly is evidence of every generation becoming more arrogant in their participation of sin instead of godliness leading to the flood. Just before the flood God observed humanity’s heart in Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
None of those early generations called their actions sin, but they knew they were rebelling against God, and they knew the consequence of their sins was death. It was the Law that clearly defined for the people what sin was and then announced them guilty of breaking their covenant with the Lord. I think God’s motivation for giving the Law however was not to identify humanity as sinners worthy of death, but by enacting a covenant in which the Lord would create a people for his own possession. So, in this sense, there is hope in the Law, because God is merciful as he initiates a relationship with sinful humanity.
The Hope of Good Friday (15)
I know it is not very inspirational when we speak of sin and death, but it is necessary as we think about Good Friday. Some may have difficulty thinking how Jesus’ death on the cross could be good, but there are certainly a couple of answers. First, it is good because Jesus will restore the good back into the universe. In other words, that which was lost at the Fall will be restored on the last day. We know this is the case as we read Revelation and it will not be an easy process but, in the end, God will restore the entire universe for his glory. Revelation 21:1-4 describes this recreation in this way, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” We should notice a few things about this Revelation passage. God will destroy the old heaven and earth and he shall recreate one not affected by sin. God will again dwell with his people in this holy city. Also, the consequence of sin will be no more as there will no longer be death or pain. In other words, there is a day approaching when God will cause death to die.
Another reason why Good Friday is good is because of what Jesus did on the cross. As stated earlier, Jesus endured the wrath of God for us on the cross, which means if Jesus did not die on the cross then we would still be in our sins awaiting God’s judgment for our sins. Jesus on the cross, means there is hope for salvation for humanity. Not only is Jesus a hope of salvation for us, but he is the hope of salvation for all who call on his name. Jesus’ death on the cross was the beginning of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:3 describes the gospel in this way, “for I delivered to you as first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. . .” Logically speaking, if Jesus did not die on the cross, then he would have neither been buried nor raised from the dead, but because he was killed on the cross, buried, and then raised from the dead then we certainly have hope.
We do not celebrate the death of Jesus on Good Friday with lightheartedness but it should be approached with serious, soul-heavy reflection as we consider the depth of our sin and what it cost God to redeem us from it. I am reminded of a line from what is called the Seminary Hymn at Southern Seminary that reads, “A world by sin destroyed and dead; a world for which the Savior bled.” I exhort you today, on this Friday to consider the death of Jesus on the cross with seriousness and prepare your heart for the joy of the resurrection because even the disciples had to experience the agony of their Lord’s death before they could experience joy of his resurrection.
For I hear the whispering of many—terror on every side! —as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make you face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! (Psalm 31:13-16)
Relating to Fear
Emotive responses to life situations is a common experience for nearly every person that has ever lived. We all experience them to varying degrees throughout the course of our lives depending on our life situation. People often remember an emotion with a place or an event even after their memory of the event fades. One day, when 2020 fades and the coronavirus is in the past, what emotions will remain from this experience? Will we remember anger, loneliness, confidence, or possibly fear? Fearful anxiety is the emotion many people express during this horrible pandemic. Is this wrong for the Christian? And if it is, then how should we respond?
Fear is a common emotion described throughout the pages of Scripture. Psalm 31 is one of many Psalms attributed to David, and he commonly describes his own battle with fear. His life was surrounded by many dangers to put his life in jeopardy. We often remember his fight with the terrifying giant named Goliath, but when Saul was trying to convince him to not fight David said to him about the danger in his youth, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from his flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.”
Experiencing an emotion is a common human experience but how we respond to it makes the difference. In other words, being fearful is normal, just as it was for David, but it should not cause you to lose faith in God’s love for you and power in your life. David was fearful many times in his life, but he relied on God during those times. When David was preparing to fight Goliath, he said to Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” How was David able to continue when he was surrounded by enemies such as lions, bears, nations, Saul and his army, and Absalom and his army? It was always the Lord! David said in Psalm 31 that he had “terror on every side,” which means he was surrounded, and they wanted to kill him.
I don’t think being afraid is necessarily bad if it causes us to be cautious and not careless, but what of the one who may be gripped in fear? I believe this powerful passage in Psalm 31 shows us what caused David to keep pressing on.
Remembering God’s Providence
Psalm 31:14-15 demonstrates the power of David’s strength was in his confidence of God’s providence. The providence of God is his ability to sustain the world as he directs it to its appropriate end. In other words, God is in in complete control and he will care for us until the end. David understood this principle in this text, and we should often remember and remind others of this theological fact. When our world seems to be out of control as we hear the latest numbers of infection and death in our world and our country every morning on the local news. What will keep us from being gripped in fear? Is it not that God is in control during this time of worldly confusion and chaos?
David announces his first response to fear when he says in verse 14, “but I trust in you.” Think about the strength of this statement. He trusts in God when his world spins out of control and he has nothing but fear as his enemies seek to kill him. He does not accuse God of wrongdoing or being powerless, but his response is trust. We should respond like David! Our prayer to the Lord is obviously for the end of this pandemic, but we should do so while we fully trust in the Lord. There is a danger for the one who loses trust in the Lord during times of great difficulty. If David could trust in the Lord when the Lion approached, Goliath mocked the army of Israel, Saul threw spears at him and pursued him, and Absalom sought his life, then should we not also have faith in God with the spread of this virus?
Our second response should be to remember our identity with Jesus. David says, “You are my God,” and this is powerful for us as well, because sometimes we forget this fact. We are children of God no matter what happens in this life and the Lord has given to us precious promises we should never forget. God has promised heaven to those who belong to him. We should never forget dichotomy between earth and heaven because the things of the earth are temporary while heaven is eternal. Our focus should not be on the things that do not last but should be focused on what lies ahead beyond this life. Romans 8:15-16 gives us a powerful reminder of our identity with the Lord, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Thirdly, we should remember God’s sustaining power in the universe and in our lives. Nothing is outside the power of God and certainly David remembered this when he said, “My times are in your hand.” We should both understand this fact and live our lives that demonstrate this truth for all the world to see. We should stay at home being careful to not become ill while obeying our leaders, but we don’t fear as the world fears because we know our times are in the hand of God as those who preceded us in this life and those who proceed us. We don’t see it now, but I believe a day is approaching when God will reveal to us in eternity all the times our lives were in his hand. Rejoice as you consider how your life is in God’s control.
Rejoicing in God’s Love
David desired to worship the Lord no matter what he was going through in his life because he knew the infinite worth of God. Worship is less about us and it is about God and his worth. God is not glorified in worship when everything in our life is perfect, but God is glorified in worship when his people praise him in the midst of great affliction, and not we are under great affliction. We are under some affliction in our lives in this present day. We are told to stay in our homes unless we really need to leave, but even if this continues for many months, we are still able to say the Lord is good and worthy of worship.
Worship is being described by David as “make you face shine on your servant.” He does not want less of God during his trouble, but he wants more of God’s presence. He knows his salvation and hope lies in God and he rejoices that he knows the Lord. Christians should be abundantly joyful because they know the Lord. Could you imagine not knowing the Lord during this pandemic crisis? I am reminded of Jonathan Edward’s illustration in his great sermon called, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, in which he describes a spider over a flame with only a single strand of web keeping him from the fire. Those who don’t know the Lord are like this spider today. They are hanging on the hope they won’t get the virus, but what if they perish and enter their eternal abode without Jesus? Oh, how we should pray for our world during these days that God would awaken them to their sins and point them to Jesus.
David uses the term steadfast love which is God’s saving love for his people. It is a description of God’s love for his people. It should remind us of the redemptive promises of God based on his love for us. God’s love has not lessened for us because of this pandemic. God has made us promises and he will fulfil those promises because he is good and because he loves us. Let us be reminded of God’s love for us and its intended purpose from Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God is so good to us and he loves us so much. Pray for me as I pray for you during these days, and one day we shall meet again to worship the Lord as we rejoice in our common salvation. Until then, let us draw close to the Lord as he draws near to us.
To God be the glory.
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20)
So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is the east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. (1 Kings 17:5-6)
Sunday morning worship particularly glorifies God because it is a local community of faith gathering to corporately worship God. I have heard many people proclaim that they don’t need to come to church to worship God. They are right in their cry against the local church in what they proclaim. Most of us are fully capable to worship God wherever we are. We are capable to worship God from any room in our house or wherever we find ourselves, but this is not complete, and fails to grasp the reality of heaven. Christian community is the foundation of what God desires from us, and over the last few weeks we can sense this is true. Community is the foundation of God’s intention for his people and the Lord does not desire any of us to be outside of this essential structure.
Let us think briefly about the necessity of the community of faith. In the Old Testament, God called one man to follow him, Abram, individually by himself. If it was God’s intention to have Abram as an individual follower then he would have left it there, but then his first promise to Abram was to create a community of faith. This is evident by the name God gave to him. Abram means father, and at the point he began to follow God he was not yet a father, but then our Lord named him Abraham which means father of many. God made him a promise called the Abrahamic Covenant in which the Lord said, “And I shall make you a great nation. . .” God’s intention was for a nation to worship him. If we fast forward to the moment after this promised nation flees from Egypt and stands before the Lord at Sinai in preparation to receiving the Law and becoming the people of God we hear the Lord’s words, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” In other words, the single man Abram became a nation of God followers as they corporately followed the Lord.
Heaven is not rural area but an urban one in which people from every nation, tribe, people group, and language will gather to worship the Lord. It is not a place of individual worship but corporate as all the people of God worship him in splendor. Even our beloved mansions in heaven is not a promise for each of us to have a mansion, but that he will provide us room in those massive dwellings, once again pointing to the fact that others will be there in this urban setting. So, why do people suggest they don’t need the people of God in worship?
This is not an easy exclamation, but for us to worship God as we ought, we truly need each other! The local church is a shadow of the reality in heaven. Perhaps, the result of us being separated because of the Coronavirus pandemic is so painful for us. I have heard several people over the last few days explain how they miss church and feel isolated from the body of Christ. It is my hope to encourage you by looking at two important passages.
Paul and 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20
Paul states the painful situation of being torn away from the church at Thessalonica. This painful tearing was not the fault of Paul or the church. The word for torn means to be orphaned which obviously is emotionally powerful for both parties. Paul is the parent whose children have been ripped away from his hands, and the church is the young child who is painfully separated from his parent. Our current situation feels this way for many of us. We feel we are torn from one another as we are in our homes obeying our President and Governor. This pain is intensified for us especially on Sunday mornings when we are at our homes rather than in worship. At this point, I want to share my opinion about something, and it may not be popular. I know many pastors are preaching on Facebook Live and other social media forums as they continue their preaching ministries. There are many popular and faithful preachers on television and the internet who glorify God and edify the church by their faithful teaching ministries. During this time, I truly would encourage you to listen to them, but this is not the power of the local church. The power of the local church is not that you have a good preacher who preaches good biblical sermons, but it is that the body of Christ worships the Lord together regularly seeking to glorify the God of our salvation.
The text also says, “for a short time,” which served as an encouragement for the church because they knew they would see Paul again. This should also serve as an encouragement for us because everything in this world is temporary and we should not act as though they are eternal. This virus is temporary and there will be a day when we shall gather together again to worship the Lord. Times of difficulty seem to last a long time as a day seems like a week and a week seems to be a month. There are two truths here. First, our separation is temporary, so I want to encourage you to hold on until we are able to meet again. Draw near to the Lord as he draws near to you and attempt to connect with other members of our church whether it is by phone call, email, or social media. Two, this life is temporary and there is a day arriving when all of us will leave this physical world and enter into our eternal abode with those who have gone before us and we will worship the Lord with great delight.
We should also remember the value of other Christians. Paul states the church’s value when he says, “you are our glory and joy.” Separation should cause the Christian to gather again with other believers especially those beloved ones whom they have worshiped with for many years. We have heard of our intrinsic worth to God but how often do we think of others value to us? Who do you wish to see again? I would suggest that every worshiper should be precious to us as we are separated. How often do we focus on the meaningless things and neglect the greater thing? In the end, it is about worship! When we gather, we are to worship the Lord together. If we have not worshiped the Lord, then what have we done?
Elijah and 1 Kings 17:5-6
Elijah ministered during a time of spiritual apathy where the people attempted to serve idols and God at the same time. Elijah had a difficult ministry because the people did not want to hear what God was saying. The life of a prophet or any person who speaks for God is isolated and lonely, but it is even worse when they do not want to hear what God has said. We may look down on Elijah when he thought he was the only follower of God left even though the Lord still had a remnant.
Elijah’s isolation is described in 1 Kings 17:5-6 as the Lord hid him temporarily during the days of drought when Ahab was looking for him. These days must have been difficult for the prophet as he was by himself. He did not have Facebook, cable television, radio, or even mail service. He was isolated at the brook of Cherith and was fed by ravens and drank from the water at the brook. The loneliness must have been overwhelming for him, but he endured. His isolation is more likely more difficult than ours which is evident if you are able to read these words. God cares for you regardless how lonely you are.
Another point is the provision of the Lord in the midst of hardship. God did not forget about Elijah but provided him with everything he needed for life. He was being cared for by God in a way that only God could. Who has ever been fed by the daily provision of birds? These birds were used by the Lord to care for his prophet, and he must have been reminded of this twice every day as they delivered his meal. God will care for us as well. God will get us through this situation and our task is to simply trust in him.
Do you feel isolated? Yes, I feel it too, but I am not alone, and neither are you. God cares for you and will meet all your needs. I would encourage you to draw nearer to the Lord during these days. Read your Bible with urgency, pray with devotion, and may your love for the Lord continue to grow. Although, we cannot worship the Lord together in our sanctuary, we are able to call one another, pray for one another, or even send a physical letter or email. In other words, continue loving the Lord and one another as this is obviously what the Lord told us to do. May the Lord grant you patience and peace until we meet again.
Pastor Steven Lookabaugh has been our pastor since 2016 and is passionate about proclaiming the gospel of God through the weekly exposition of God’s Word; believing application is possible when one understands the historical/cultural meaning of the text. He leads our church in fulfilling our purpose toward the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, and to the Great Commandment as we seek to love one another. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in Expository Preaching from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis on parabolic exposition. He is married to Jennifer and they have three children, Andrew, Kate and Olivia.