Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In the Jailhouse Now

Continuing the back story to Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers at Philippi.

Well, it had been a long day for Paul and Silas, what with preaching the gospel, casting out a python spirit, being hauled before the magistrates because of that, then stripped naked, severely beaten, placed in stocks and thrown into the dungeon (Acts 16:16-24). But it was not quite over yet.

“But at midnight …,” Luke continues, and what follows is not what we would have expected, “… Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). The Greek word for “pray” here is proseuchomai, turning toward (pros) God in prayer (about which, see The Towardness of Prayer). They were pressing into God, in intense prayer and praise and fellowship.

You can tell what is going on in a person’s heart by listening to the words that come out of their mouth, especially in pressure situations. I’m sure you will agree that Paul and Silas were under intense pressure, but it only pressed them deeper into God and they threw themselves into worship. Luke adds, “And the prisoners were listening to them.” They did not just hear, they were listening, intently. They had great interest in what Paul and Silas were praying and singing, perhaps wondering how they even had the presence of mind and peace of heart to be able to do that.

Suddenly, there was a great earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison. It may have been a natural event but the timing was supernatural. All the doors sprang open and the prisoners were all loosed from their chains (v. 26). John Chrysostom, in one of his ancient homilies on the book Acts, commented on this scene. “This let us also do, and we shall open for ourselves — not a prison, but — heaven. If we pray, we shall be able even to open heaven” (NPNF, First Series, Vol. 11, Homily 36).

The prison warden (a.k.a., the Philippians Jailer) woke up and saw all the doors hanging wide open, and he supposed that the prisoners had all fled. It seemed to him to be the worst night of his life, for he was responsible to see that the prisoners received their due punishments and, failing that, he would be punished in their place. With all the prisoners escaped, his future did not look at all bright, so he drew out his sword and was just about to kill himself (v. 27). But Paul called out to him just in time and said, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (v. 28).

Now, it would be easy at this point to go on and talk about Paul’s encounter with the Philippian Jailer and what happened from there. That was my original intention in this section (and that I will do in the next section). But something in Luke’s report caught my eye and I think it deserves a little bit of our attention.

As miraculous as the timing of the earthquake was that shook them all free, here is something I think might be an even greater miracle: None of the prisoners left. The doors were open, the chains were off — and nobody bolted. “We are all here,” Paul said. Amazing.

Why did they not leave when they had the chance? I think it was because of all they had just witnessed. They heard Paul and Silas, in stocks and deep in prison, singing and praising King Jesus and the power of God — and it preached to them. Then they saw the miraculous power of God shake open the cell doors and break them free from all their chains. Now, instead of running, they wanted to see what God would do next, and I don’t think they were disappointed.

We don’t know what happened after this. Again, Luke does not say and Church history appears to be silent. But it is no real stretch to suppose that some of them became followers of King Jesus, and perhaps when (or if) they were released, they joined together with the others at Philippi who came to know and rejoice in the Lord.

Focus Questions
  1. Suppose you had been in that prison that night, what would you think if you heard Paul and Silas loudly singing and praising God?
  2. When the earthquake happened, opening the doors and loosing the chains, would you have connected it to what Paul and Silas were singing about?
  3. If you the chance to run at that moment, would you have fled? Why or why not?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Python Lady

Looking at the “back story” of Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers at Philippi, we recently met Lydia, the “Seller of Purple.” Now let’s meet the Python Lady. We do not know her name. All we know is that she had a spirit of divination. Luke tells the story.
Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days.

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. (Acts 16:16-19)
Now, the reason I call her the Python Lady is because of the Greek word for “divination,” which is … python. According to The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich), python referred to “the serpent or dragon that guarded the Delphic oracle; it lived at the foot of Mt. Parnassus, and was slain by Apollo. Later the word came to designate a spirit of divination, then also a ventriloquist, who was believed to have such a spirit dwelling in his (or her) belly.” This woman was not a ventriloquist as we think of today, but she was being used as a mouthpiece by the demonic spirit that somehow had possession of her.

This young girl followed Paul and his team (which included Silas, Timothy and Luke) around and the demonic spirit in her “cried out” (the Greek word means to croak, like a raven, to scream or shriek): “These men are the servants of the Most High God.” It is unclear what this spirit hoped to gain in that. Various answers have been proposed.
  • Perhaps it was to give the impression that Paul and Silas were somehow associated with this spirit, so to blunt their effectiveness.
  • Perhaps it was to somehow gain favor with them by affirming them, so that they would not cast out this demonic spirit.
  • Perhaps, recognizing that they were from God, it was to gain status as one who identified them and what they were doing.
After a number of days, Paul had finally had enough of it. He turned and cast out the spirit in the name of Jesus the Messiah. It is important to note that Paul’s problem was not with the young slave woman but with that spirit that possessed her. For she was not just enslaved by her human masters, who sought to exploit her unusual ability for their own profit, she was enslaved by the evil entity that invaded her being. In expelling the demonic spirit, Paul set this young woman free. But her masters were not happy about this.
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” (Acts 16:19-21)
Paul commanded the demon to “come out” (Greek, exerchomai) and it “came out” (exerchomai). The girls masters realized that, with that, their expectation of profiting from her “was gone” (exerchomai) — literally, that it, too, had come out of her. So, instead of rejoicing that this young woman had been freed from demonic oppression, they forcefully seized Paul and Silas, hauled them before the city authorities and lodged their complaint.

The crowd that had gathered rose up together against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten. After being severely scourged (let it be sufficient here to note that this was not a sight for the squeamish), they were put into stocks and thrown into the dungeon. (We will look at happened with them next when we continue our “back story.”)

But what about the young slave woman who was now delivered from demonic oppression? Luke does not say and Church history does not really tell us. But having now been set free by the power of King Jesus, perhaps she became a follower of Jesus, just as Lydia and her household had done.

Focus Questions
  1. Though specifically led to Macedonia by the Holy Spirit, Paul and associates were beginning to face strong opposition. Should that be surprising?
  2. Luke does not tell us the name of this young woman. Why do you suppose that is?
  3. At this point, what would you imagine the prospects would be for a healthy, vital and joyful Church being formed at Philippi?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Marriage According to Jesus

Some people say that Jesus did not say anything about “gay marriage.” In a way, that is true — He did not recognize any such a thing as “gay marriage,” so He did not mention it. But in another way, what Jesus did say about marriage is very important in regard to that issue. It leaves no room for marriage between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman.
But from the beginning of the creation, God “made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate. (Mark 10:6-9)
According to Jesus, marriage is between a male and a female, a man and his wife, joined together by God. That’s how it was from the beginning. Jesus did not change that in His day and He left us no option to change it in ours.

Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-a, started a firestorm when he affirmed in a recent interview that marriage is between a man and a woman. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” he said.

Protests, insults, slurs and charges of bigotry have rained down on the company since. The city of Boston, MA has told the restaurant chain that it is no longer welcome to open up locations in that city.

In response, supporters of the chain and the stand it has taken are planning a “Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day” for Wednesday, August 1. That sounds like a good day to go in and have a chicken sandwich and some waffle fries, or in my case, chicken strips and a salad. Come Wednesday, I will be heading over to my local Chick-fil-a store around lunch time to enjoy a nice meal.

Anybody who wants to protest or cast slurs and insults at Chick-fil-a might as well do the same to Jesus. Because their view on marriage is the one Jesus taught.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Confidence in Prayer

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
When we do not have confidence that God answers our prayers (in the Bible, to “hear” is to answer), we will not be very inclined to pray. A lot of Christians pray with little confidence and little expectation that they will receive the answer they need. Instead, they salt their prayers with “if it be thy will.”

That’s well and good for prayers of consecration, when you’re looking for direction and committing your way to the Lord. But the apostle John is talking here about petitioning prayer, and that is about praying “according to His will.” Now, he is not speaking of the will of God as some mysterious thing that God plays close to the chest and about which we cannot know but must continually guess. That leads to a sort of fatalism, and “if it be Thy will” becomes an escape clause when our prayers are not answered — “Oh, well, I guess that just wasn’t God’s will.”

But John is speaking of the will of God as something that we can know. Indeed, the Scriptures are full of the will of God. He makes it known at every turn — through His words, His deeds, His promises.

So, for example, when we go to the Lord about a particular need, we do not have to add, “If it be Thy will,” because God has already revealed His will about that: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). When we add “if it be Thy will” where God has already revealed His will, we are not standing in faith but in doubt. Faith comes claiming the promise.

When we know and understand the will of God, and we pray according to it, in agreement with it, claiming and confessing it, we can pray with confidence, knowing that God will hear and give us the answer we seek. And when we have confidence that God answers our prayers, we will be going to Him regularly about everything.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gospel and Kingdom Fulfillment

The more I read the Bible, the more I see what a rich tapestry it is, intricately woven together into a grand design from beginning to end. I see this in the Gospel According to Luke, even from the very first verse, where Luke lays out his purpose. “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us …” (Luke 1:1). It is there in the word “fulfilled.” What he writes is about fulfillment. It is an indication that what we have here is not a brand new story but the continuation, leading to completion, of an old, old story, one that God began with the creation of the heavens and the earth. What is fulfilled is the trajectory of that story, and all the promises God made concerning the Messiah who would come to rule and reign and set everything right in the world.
  • We find this echoed when the angel of the Lord comes to the aged Zechariah and announces that he and his wife Elizabeth (also old, and barren) would have a son. This son (John the Baptist) would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, that he would, in the words of Malachi, “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Luke 1:16-17, quoting Malachi 4:6).
  • We see it again when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she would bring forth a Son who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and His name would be Jesus (which means “Yahweh saves”). He would sit on the throne of King David, to whom He was heir. “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).
  • We hear it in the song Mary sang, magnifying the Lord because He had now come to rescue His people and set things right in the world, in fulfillment of the promises He made to Abraham and the fathers of Israel” (Luke 1:46-56).
  • We hear it again in the song Zechariah sang over his newborn son, John, about how the Lord had remembered His covenant promises to Abraham and the fathers of Israel (Luke 1:68-79).
  • We hear it in the song the angels sang when they announced the good news to the shepherds, about the birth of the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, in the city of King David. The time of God’s messianic peace was at hand (Luke 2:10-14).
  • We hear it once more in the song Simeon sang as he held the infant Jesus in his arms. His eyes were now beholding the salvation which God had prepared for all peoples. God’s promise was beginning to be fulfilled, right before his eyes (Luke 2:29-35).
  • We see it in Anna, a prophetess who was standing nearby at the time. She had long been looking for “redemption in Jerusalem,” and now here He was in their midst (Luke 2:36-38).
  • We see it again in the witness of John the Baptist, who came in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the LORD” (Luke 3:4-6, quoting from Isaiah 40). This Messiah, soon to come, would baptize with the Holy Spirit and also with fire (Luke 3:16-17). He would gather in the “wheat” (the just) and burn the “chaff” (the wicked). All this in fulfillment of major prophetic themes and promises in the Old Testament.
  • We see it when Jesus was baptized of John (Luke 3:21-22). The Holy Spirit descended upon Him and the voice of the Father said, “You are My beloved son; in You I am well pleased.” This echoes the messianic passage in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him.”
  • We read it in the genealogy Luke gives, where he traces the lineage of Jesus all the way back through King David, all the way back through Abraham, all the way back to Adam, and from Adam to God (Luke 3:23-38).
  • We see it when, after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where He was tested by the devil. “If You are the Son of God …” came the taunts, and the offer of all the kingdoms of the world — on the devil’s terms. But Jesus the Messiah would fulfill God’s promise only in God’s way (Luke 4:1-13).
This brings us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He returned from the wilderness “in the power of the Spirit” and began preaching in the synagogues of Galilee and the surrounding regions (Luke 4:14). Mark’s account puts it this way: After the temptation in the wilderness, John was put in prison, and “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:14-15). Matthew’s account shows Jesus, after the temptation, coming to Galilee with the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). A fuller explanation is given in Matthew 5, in what we call the Sermon on the Mount (I like to call it The Sermon of Heaven on Earth, which is what the kingdom of God is about). It begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Luke, however, chose to use a different moment to highlight Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom. After the temptation, when Jesus began preaching in Galilee and the regions, He came to Nazareth, his home town. On the Sabbath day, He went into the synagogue, where He was invited to give a Scripture lesson. They handed Him the scroll of Isaiah, which He opened up to the portion we know as Isaiah 61 (there were no chapter and verse divisions in those days):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
(Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)
It was a passage about the messianic age and the one anointed with the Spirit of God. It was about good news for the poor, healing the broken, freeing the captive and oppressed. It was about the time of God’s favor, of God’s kingdom coming into the world, with God’s anointed King establishing righteousness (that is, setting everything right).

Jesus closed the scroll, handed it to the attendant and sat down — the sign that He was about to give the lesson. All eyes were on Him as He began to teach:
Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
This was a stunning announcement, and from one of their own, the son of Joseph the carpenter. Jesus knew that many of them would not be willing to accept it, because it did not come in the way and the form they wanted. But He also knew that, though many in Israel would reject it, many Gentiles would gladly welcome it. And that morning, He told the congregation as much. This infuriated them and they wanted to throw him over the cliff — literally.

But He somehow passed through their midst unscathed, and He went to other towns to preach the message. “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43).

There is fulfillment all the way through. But we will stop here for now.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Have You Met Lydia?

There is an old song that goes, “Lydia, oh Lydia! Say, have you met Lydia? Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” Okay, so post this is not about that Lydia. It’s about Lydia the “Seller of Purple.”
Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
Paul and associates, concluding from a dream Paul had that the Spirit of God was leading them to minister the gospel in Macedonia, came to Philippi and settled there for a little while. On the Sabbath, as was his habit, Paul and team went to speak with the Jews about Jesus, whom God had anointed to be King.

However, there was no synagogue at Philippi. Apparently there were not enough Jewish men to form one (Jewish law required a minyan, a quorum of ten Jewish males). But there was a group of Jewish woman who regularly met to pray, at a place outside the city and down by the riverside. So Paul went and spoke with them about King Jesus.

One woman was very prominent in that gathering, a well-to-do woman named Lydia. She was from Thyatira, which was in the region called Lydia (in what is now western Turkey), in Asia Minor. She was a “seller of purple.” The Greek word for this is a technical term that referred to a guild that produced and sold richly dyed cloths. They were, shall we say, “comfortable.”

Another thing we should note about her is that, although she was praying Jewish prayers with the Jewish women, she herself was not Jewish. Luke says she “worshipped God,” which was a way of saying that she was a proselyte. Though a Gentile, she revered the God of Israel. So here she was with the others, and she heard the good news Paul was preaching about Messiah.

In his letter to the believers at Rome, Paul said that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). And that is what happened here. The word of God came and opened Lydia’s heart to embrace the message of Jesus the Messiah. God initiated, she responded and the grace of God bore its fruit in her life.
And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us. (Acts 16:15)
She turned to the Lord, believed and was baptized, which is the pattern we find consistently throughout the book of Acts. It was the natural progression, and Luke speaks of it in passing: “when she and her household were baptized.” Oh, and not only was Lydia herself baptized but so were those of her household who were with her that day. Her faith became a source of influence for them and they believed also and were baptized. Church tradition says that Lydia was baptized by Silas, with assistance from a deacon on the team (see the image at top).

Lydia was so grateful, she invited Paul and his associates to come and stay at her home, “if you judge me to be faithful to the Lord.” The sense of “if” here is “since. Having baptized her, it was obvious that they did indeed consider her faith in the Lord to be real. So they went and enjoyed the hospitality of her house — she simply would not take no for an answer!

There is one more thing that is significant about this encounter. Remember that Paul had originally intended to go to Asia Minor with the gospel, until he was redirected by the Holy Spirit to come to Macedonia instead. And now here at Philippi, in Macedonia, the first one to come to the Lord was a woman from Asia Minor. She is regarded in Church history as the first convert to Christianity in Europe.

Focus Questions
  1. How was the grace of God evident in Lydia’s life?
  2. How do you suppose God opened her heart to consider the message about Messiah?
  3. How was faith evident in Lydia’s life?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dynamics of the Kingdom of God

Christians often speak of the kingdom of God as something that we bring in or advance in the world. But the New Testament uses different language to speak of the dynamics of the kingdom. First, it is God’s kingdom. It comes from and belongs to Him. It comes into the world as a matter of God’s grace and the initiative is always His. Our part is to respond to it in faith. Let’s examine some of the dynamics.
  • The kingdom of God has come. Mark tells us that Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). In saying, “The time is fulfilled,” He was announcing that the wait was over. “The kingdom of God is at hand,” means that it has now come into the world. The proper response is to turn to God and believe the good news about His kingdom, and God’s Anointed King, Jesus.
  • We seek the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The Greek word for “seek” does not speak of a casual activity but of an intense and focused one. The kingdom of God has come and we are to make it our priority in everything. In one of His parables, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). Seeking the kingdom of God is about our purpose and priority.
  • The kingdom of God is anticipated yet unexpected. Jesus said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). The idea of the Greek word phthano is that what was previously anticipated has now come. Ironically, though, for those who are unprepared for it, the kingdom comes suddenly and unexpectedly. So the J. B. Phillips translation puts it this way: “But if I am expelling devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has swept over you unawares!” On the other hand, there are some who, though they do not expect the kingdom, are ready to receive it. In another of His parables, Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). The man was not looking for it, but coming upon it, he recognized its value and gave everything for it.
  • The kingdom of God is given to us. Jesus said, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). It is an inheritance we receive from the Father. When Jesus returns to judge the nations, He will say to those at His right hand, who received His brothers and sisters and the message of the gospel, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
  • We receive the kingdom of God. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28). The Greek word for “receiving” is paralambano, from para, what is near, and lambano, to take hold. Receiving the kingdom means taking it unto ourselves. It is not passive but active. The kingdom is given to us, but we respond to it by taking hold of it.
  • The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing. Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12 NIV). There is a parallel passage in Luke: “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached [Greek, euaggelizo, ‘gospeled’], and everyone is pressing into it” (Luke 16:16). The kingdom of God continues to press into the world, and those ready to receive the good news about it are pressing into it.
  • We proclaim the kingdom. The end of the book of Acts finds Paul under house arrest in Rome, but still continuing his ministry there. “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31). The word for “preach” here means to announce or proclaim. In the Great Commission, Jesus announced that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth. Then He sent out His disciples to announce the good news to all the world and make disciples of all nations.
The kingdom of God has come into the world because of God’s grace and initiative. It is His kingdom but is given to us as an inheritance. The nature of the kingdom is that it starts small, like a seed, but increases until it pervades everything. Our part is to believe the good news of the kingdom and turn to the King, to take hold of the kingdom, seek the rule and reign of God in everything and proclaim it wherever we go.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Defining the Gospel of the Kingdom

Someone asked me what “the gospel of the kingdom of God” is. Here is a brief answer.

To see what the gospel of the kingdom of God is, let’s look where the Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus came preaching it (Mark 1:14). We find it in the very next verse, where Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). The promises of God and the expectations of the prophets in the Old Testament were all about the coming age of God’s kingdom. When Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled,” He was announcing that the wait is over. When He said, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” He was saying that it was now coming into the world.

The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God. It is the will of God being done earth as it is in heaven, just as Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:10). Jesus preached and taught about the kingdom, what it is about, what it looks like, and He even manifested the kingdom itself through healing diseases, expelling demons and through the other miracles He performed — they revealed the power of God and the kingdom of God.

The end result of the kingdom will be that all things in heaven and on earth will be gathered together into one in Jesus, God’s anointed King (Ephesians 1:10). And all things in heaven and on earth will be reconciled to God by King Jesus, having made peace through the blood of the Cross (Colossians 1:20).

We are not yet at that point, and the kingdom has not yet come in all its fullness. That will not happen until King Jesus returns. But it has already begun. We are presently living in between the times of the beginning of the kingdom and its complete fulfillment. As the apostle John said, “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

Now, within the good news of the kingdom of God, God has provided a plan of salvation by which we can enter into the kingdom and have eternal life (which is the life of the age to come, that is, the life of the kingdom of God). We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, God's Anointed King. We enter into the kingdom of God by being “born again” through faith in King Jesus (John 3:3). But the plan of salvation is only part of the gospel. The gospel is bigger than whether you and I go to heaven when we die, it is as big as the kingdom of God. Eternal life is not just about the age to come, it is about this life as well, because the age to come, the age of God's kingdom, has already broken through into this present age.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Dream of Macedonia

Today I am beginning new series, a study through the book of Philippians, Paul’s letters to Jesus believers at Philippi. But first, a little back story.

Open up just about any Bible to the back pages and you will find a section of maps, usually in full color plates. Almost always, you will find one titled something about “Paul’s Missionary Journeys.” Look in the upper left section of that map and there is Italy. To the right you will find Macedonia, and below that, Greece. A little further right, you will see the regions of Galatia and Phyrgia.

Phrygia and Galatia are where the apostle Paul and his mission team had been ministering, about AD 50, and they desired to go on into the western region of Asia Minor. But the Holy Spirit would not let them. So they skirted around to the west until they came to Mysia, to the north. They had thought to cross eastward from there over to Bithynia, but again, the Holy Spirit stopped them. So they continued westward to Troas.

At Troas, Paul had a dream, a vision in the night. In this vision, he saw a man of Macedonia who begged him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” That settled the matter for Paul and his ministry associates. Since the Holy Spirit would not let them minister in Asia or Bithynia, and now Paul had this vision calling them to something that had not been on their itinerary, they concluded that the Lord was calling to them to go to Macedonia and preach the good news about King Jesus there. So they set sail from Troas to the small Greek island of Samothrace. The next day, they landed at Neapolis, and from there came to Philippi, about ten miles inland.

All of this is in Acts 16:6-12, a transitional passage of how the Lord interrupted Paul’s plans and directed his way for a very significant change of course. Some very important times of ministry lay ahead for Paul and his team at Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. However, we will be focusing on what happened at Philippi.

Focus Questions
  1. How to you suppose the Holy Spirit might have kept Paul and his associates from going on to Asia and Bithynia?
  2. How did those prior actions of the Holy Spirit give greater significance to Paul’s dream?
  3. Do you think God still leads us in this way today?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fresh and Flourishing and Full of Energy

Just saw a little thing on Facebook, perhaps you’ve seen it, too: A sign that breaks down the stages of life into three categories:

  • Teen Age: Have Time + Energy … but No Money
  • Working Age: Have Money + Energy … but No Time
  • Old Age: Have Time + Money … but No Energy
This was said in jest, of course, but even in jest it can have a powerful influence on the way one thinks. We start talking it, we start thinking it, we start believing it … and we might well end up receiving it. My mouth, my mind, my heart and my life were created for better things than that. And I have better things to confess and look forward to when I get old:
Bless the LORD, O my soul …
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103:5)
My wife and I have added this to our table grace at meal times: “You satisfy our desires with good things and renew our youth like the eagle’s. (The other day, Suz asked if I had noticed that my hair is getting darker. Maybe. Sometimes it does look that way to me.)

We are both in our fifties — we call it “middle age,” because we expect to live a long time. But one day when we reach “old age” (maybe when we are about 90 or so), we are looking forward to good things because of the goodness of the LORD.
The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Those who are planted in the house of the LORD
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
To declare that the LORD is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
(Psalm 92:12-15)
Instead of saying that we will have no energy when we are old, this is our confession*:
The LORD satisfies our desires with good things and renews our youth like the eagle’s. We will still bear fruit in old age. We will be fresh and flourishing in His courts, and full of energy to declare that our lives our built on Him, and He is right in all He does.

Personal Confessions from the Psalms
Personal Confessions from the Psalms
Prayers and Affirmations for a Life of Faith, Happiness and Awe in God
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Priority of His Presence

Therefore do not worry, saying “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear … But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31, 33)

Jesus spoke these words in His “Sermon on the Mount” (which I like to call “The Sermon of Heaven on Earth”). But they are reminiscent of the words spoken by Haggai the prophet to the governmental and religious leaders of Judah. Judah was the southern portion of the divided kingdom of Israel. After years of exile in Babylonian captivity, they were finally allowed to return to their homeland (though still under foreign rule).

Work on the restoration of the temple at Jerusalem began, but then stalled for about 15 years because of Persian politics. In that time, the Jews apparently were content to do without it. They had their lives to lead and personal concerns to attend to. They had gotten used to the way things were under the Babylonian system, thinking the way the Gentiles think. And the house of the LORD went neglected.

But the temple of God was never about a building, it was about a presence — the Presence. It was God’s dwelling place among His people, His home on earth. It was the place they knew they could always find Him. To be content without the temple was to be content without the presence of God in their lives.
So God spoke to His people by Haggai the prophet: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4). He challenged them to take a good long look at themselves and the shape they were in: “Consider your ways.”
You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.
(Haggai 1:6)
In neglecting God, they were ignoring the source of their provision and prosperity, their sustenance and security. God challenged them again to take a hard look at themselves and then to do something about it. “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified” (vv. 7-8).

This was on the first day of the sixth month. By the twenty-fourth day of the month, work on the house of the LORD resumed. Three months later, the word of the LORD came to them again:
Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid — consider it: Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you. (Haggai 2:18-19)
This was not the day things began to change for them — that happened three months earlier, when they decided to make the glory of God their priority. But this was the day the change was confirmed and began to manifest: “From this day I will bless you.”

On this same day, God spoke once more, this time with powerful prophetic force that signaled the time of full and final deliverance for His people.
I will shake heaven and earth.
I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms;
I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms.
I will overthrow the chariots
And those who ride in them;
The horses and their riders shall come down.
(Haggai 2:21-22)
By the time of Jesus, they were still waiting for this prophecy to be fulfilled, for the kingdom of God to be established on the earth. It is hard for me to imagine that Jesus did not have the word of the LORD through Haggai in mind when He spoke these words in His sermon on the mount:
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33)
The way of the world is to worry about how we will eat, what we will wear, where we will live. It is the mindset of Babylonian captivity. It is a system that is passing away because the kingdom of God has come into the world, in fulfillment of the ancient prophecy.

Our job now is to seek His kingdom (that is, His rule and reign) and His righteousness (that is, His way of doing and setting things right) — the priority of His presence and glory in everything we do. When that becomes our focus we will not have to worry about anything else; God will take care of us. Keep your eyes on King Jesus and follow Him.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Word by Which We Understand All Words

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
The Greek word for “word” is logos. It speaks of meaning and purpose, of logic and reason. The Logos John speaks about is a Person who presents the wisdom of God and is, indeed, God. This Word is identified as the one who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Father.

This Word is further identified as the Creator: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). When we read in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” it is speaking of the Word, of Jesus. He is the Creator.

John the Baptist gives this testimony concerning Jesus: “For He who God has sent speaks the words of God” (John 3:34). The Word is God and therefore speaks the word of God. Indeed, Jesus is the Word by which we understand all the words of God. John begins his account of the Gospel with the same words that begin the Old Testament, connecting the gospel of Jesus the Messiah with God’s original purpose.

Not only Genesis, but all the Old Testament scriptures speak of Jesus, as He told the Jewish leaders. “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me ... If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me” (John 5:39, 46).

After His resurrection, Jesus spoke with the Emmaus disciples: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). These were not merely the merely the particular messianic prophecies scattered throughout, but the whole trajectory and thrust of the Old Testament pointed to the fulfillment of all God’s promises and purposes found in the Messiah, Jesus.

The words of Scripture are ultimately about Jesus. All their meaning is centered on Him and apart from Him we cannot understand their fullness. In Him we have the complete and ultimate revelation of God.
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power … (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Jesus is not only the Word by which we understand the words of God, He is the Word by which we understand all other words. For the world itself comes forth from the Word of God. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). Heaven and earth were created by the Word, Jesus, and all things are sustained by Him. The reality of the physical realm as well as the spiritual find their meaning and purpose in Him and cannot be fully understood apart from Him.