Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ascension: Daniel’s Vision Fulfilled

I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
Jesus often referred to Himself as the “Son of Man.” This was not merely a way of indicating His humanity but, more than that, has great eschatological significance. It identifies Him in terms of God’s final plan for the world.

In Daniel’s vision, the scene shifts to heaven in verses 13 and 14. The Son of Man is the one who comes with the clouds of heaven and appears before God the Father, the Ancient of Days. This is not the Second Coming, when King Jesus will come down from heaven. This is the Ascension, when Jesus was carried up with the “clouds of heaven” (see Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9).

In the vision, the Son of Man is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom.” It reaches to all the peoples, nations and languages of the world so that all on earth should serve Him. Matthew’s gospel account does not describe for us the actual ascension, as does Luke’s, but it does show us the essence of it. We see this at the end of the book when Jesus comes to His disciples and announces, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Mathew 28:18). This language portrays the significance of the ascension: glory, dominion and kingdom.

The dominion that is given to the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision is a dominion that last forever. Nothing can destroy it, nothing can prevent it from filling the earth. This is similar to an earlier vision in Daniel, where Daniel interprets the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great image that had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet a mixture of iron and clay. These represented a succession of kingdoms. Daniel vividly describes what happened next:
You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34-35)
The stone “cut without hands” is of divine origin and corresponds to the Son of Man in Daniel 7. It completely smashes the great image — the kingdoms of the earth — and continues to enlarge until it becomes a great mountain that fills the earth. And now Daniel gives the interpretation of this final scene:
And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold — the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure. (Daniel 2:44-45)
This is the kingdom of God, the dominion given to the Son of Man. It cannot be destroyed but will fill the earth and endure forever. Notice that it does not first appear as a great mountain but as a stone. By the end, though, it becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth. So it is with the kingdom of God and the dominion of the Son of Man. The Lord Jesus has ascended to heaven and been given all authority, glory and dominion. And, in the words of Paul, “He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet,” at which time He will deliver the kingdom to God the Father, “when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25). What has begun with the Ascension will end when King Jesus comes again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ascension: The Good News That Our God Reigns

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)
In Isaiah 52, God speaks of a coming day when He would comfort and deliver His people, establish peace and reign over them. In the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word for “brings good news” and “brings glad tidings” is euangelizo (to evangelize) and refers to preaching the gospel. God’s promises was that one day there would come one who would proclaim the gospel, the good news that “Your God reigns.” At the end of that chapter, God speaks of “My Servant,” which is a reference to the Messiah. “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high” (v. 13). All of this is fulfilled in the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to His throne in heaven. God has exalted Him, given Him the name that is above every name and made Him Lord over all.

Paul refers to this reality in his letter to the Jesus believers at Rome. In chapter 10, he says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 9). Then he explains:
For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:10-14)
This is about the preaching of the gospel. Then he refers to the text in Isaiah: “As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’” (v. 15). What he describes in Romans 10 is the fulfillment of what God said in Isaiah 52. The good news of the gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord.

This proclamation was very politically charged, particularly in the Roman Empire, where Caesar was supposed to be the one who was proclaimed as Lord and King and the one who brought peace and salvation to the world. But the confession of the Church and the good news of the gospel declared that not Caesar but Jesus is Lord.

All who heard Paul preach understood this very well. We can see it in Acts 17, when Paul taught in the synagogue at Thessalonica and announced, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ” (v. 3). Though some of the Jews there believed the good news, many others rejected it. When those who rejected it saw that many Gentiles also believed the gospel, they gathered a mob to go after Paul, who had been staying at the house of a man named Jason. Not finding him there, they dragged Jason before the rulers of the city and said, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king — Jesus” (vv. 6-7).

Indeed, there is another King, and His name is Jesus. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth, and God the Father has seated Him at His own right hand. That is the good news, the message that brings salvation to the world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ascension: God Has Made Jesus Lord

At Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and ten days after He ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father, Peter preached to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem:
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2;33-36)
God has made Jesus Lord. That might sound unusual for many Christians because, after all, the confession of our faith is that Jesus is Lord — has He not always been so? How then can it be said that God has made Him Lord?

We often assume that the words “God” and “Lord” have the exact same significance. There are, however, important distinctions to be made. The confession that Jesus is Lord is not merely a statement about His divinity, an identification that He is God. More than that, it has special import in regard to God’s plan for renewing the world, and Jesus’ role in that plan.

Jesus has always been fully divine in His essence. He is the Word who was with God in the beginning, who is indeed God and who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). He has always been the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead, the Holy Trinity. In the Incarnation, He became fully human, in addition to being fully divine, and it was then that He was called Jesus. But there came a point in history, and in His humanity, when God made Him Lord.

In making Jesus Lord, God fulfilled in Him the promise He made long ago to His people Israel. It was the promise that He would anoint one who would come redeem Israel, subdue the nations, set everything right in the world and reign forever. Jesus is that “Anointed One” — that is what is meant by Messiah or Christ.

Paul, in his letter to the believers at Philippi, speaks of how Jesus, though being in the form of God, took the form of a servant, in the likeness of humanity. As God who became man, Jesus further humbled Himself to the point of a humiliating death on the cross. But now listen as Paul describes the result of that great, and greatly surprising, act:
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
God has highly exalted Him. He has given Him the name that is above every name by appointing Him as Lord over everything in heaven, on earth and under the earth — every realm of existence. Paul says it a bit differently in the book of Ephesians, when he speaks of the mighty power of God, “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21).

Before Jesus ascended to His throne in heaven, He came to the disciples and declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). In regard to His divinity and His identity as the eternal Son of God, Jesus has always been sovereign over creation from the very beginning. But in regard to His humanity, He was given all authority in heaven and on earth.

In the time-space continuum of the world, then, there came a moment when God highly exalted Jesus the Messiah, gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth and made Him Lord over all. He appointed Him as the rightful ruler over everything — the King of the world. The Church identifies and celebrates that moment in history as the Ascension.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ascension: At the Right Hand of the Father

Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus the Messiah, whom God anointed to be Lord over all, ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father. Today is Ascension Sunday, on which the Church around the world celebrates that great redemptive truth. A simple search through the New Testament for the words “right hand” reveals the enormous significance of this event.
  • But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64)
  • “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:68-69)
  • Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” (Acts 2:33-35)
  • The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31)
  • But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)
  • Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:34)
  • And what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21)
  • If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)
  • Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3)
  • But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”? (Hebrews 1:13)
  • Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
  • There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)
The ascension of the Lord Jesus connects to the messianic meaning of Psalm 110, which is often quoted in the New Testament concerning Him.
The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
Your people shall be volunteers
In the day of Your power;
In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,
You have the dew of Your youth.
The LORD has sworn And will not relent,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
The LORD is at Your right hand;
He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.
He shall judge among the nations,
He shall fill the places with dead bodies,
He shall execute the heads of many countries.
He shall drink of the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He shall lift up the head.
That day has already come and has already begun to be fulfilled. Jesus the Messiah has been seated at the right hand of the Father, far above all principality and power and might and dominion. “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). This work will be complete when King Jesus returns again at the end of history. Then the will of God will be done thoroughly and completely on earth as it is in heaven. “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24).

The Ascension of the Lord Jesus also has great significance for all who are His. Just as Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, those who belong to Him are seated at His own right hand. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34). In Ephesians 1, Paul tells of Jesus’ enthronement at the Father’s right hand, but just a few verses later, in Ephesians 2, he speaks of what this means for all who trust in Him:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
God has made us alive together with Christ, raised us up together with Him, made us sit together in the heavenlies with Him. The Greek verbs here are in the aorist tense, which signifies completed action. In other words, this is not merely future promise Paul is talking about, it is present reality. Ascension Sunday reminds us that not only has the Lord Jesus been seated at the right hand of the Father, but in a very real sense, all who belong to Him by faith have now been seated there with Him.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Created to Be Like God

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

Put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)
In the beginning, God created humanity, not according to its own unique “kind,” as were all the plants or animals of sky, earth and sea, but in His own image and according to His likeness — that is, to be like Him. Another way to say this is that we were created to reflect and reveal the glory of God.

The problem is that mankind, in the person of the first pair, rebelled against God — and we have all been corrupted by that rebellion. Paul put it this way: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Though created to bear the glory of God, which is the highest calling, we fell short. But that is why Jesus the Messiah came, to restore us back to God, so that we might once again reflect His glory, “being justified by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

This is not automatic, however. We take hold of this grace, this redemption, this restoration, by faith in the Lord Jesus. We are new beings in Christ, who is in the process of making all things new. We are new creations, part of His new creation. In Him we are no longer the same beings we once were. So we must put off the old ways we used to live and think, and allow the Spirit of God to renew our thoughts and attitudes, will and emotions. And as the NIV says, we must “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nicodemus and John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
John 3:16 is one of the most well-known verses of the New Testament. It is regularly used in evangelism and is one of the first verses new Christians are encouraged to memorize. And who can forget “Rainbow Man,” with his multi-colored hair, holding a “John 3:16” sign at televised sporting events. Or Tim Tebow with the Scripture reference painted in his eye blacking.

Usually people hear or read John 3:16 outside of its context, as though it was somehow plucked out of thin air or wafted down on a cloud one day. But it is actually part of an encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus one night. And it comes toward the end of the discussion, as a climax to the conversation. It can certainly stand on its own, at a certain level, and many people have come to the Lord through it. It is wonderful news, even all by itself.

However, there is an even richer meaning that Nicodemus would have gotten from John 3;16. To understand it in the fuller sense in which it was originally intended, we need to go back to the beginning of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Because the whole thing, from beginning to end, is all of one piece. So let’s take a brief look.

Nicodemus came to Jesus one night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (v. 2).

Jesus responded in a way that did not address Nicodemus’ words but instead one that answered his need: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3).

Nicodemus was confused by this, but Jesus said it again, in a bit broader fashion. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5).

Clearly, the theme of these statements is the kingdom of God. “Born again” is what people usually focus on in this part of the conversation. However, being “born again” is not the end toward which Jesus was directing Nicodemus. It is a necessary means to that end. The new birth is necessary in order to “see” and “enter” the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the main concern, and it is through the new birth that one becomes a part of it.

The concept of the kingdom of God was not something new Jesus originated. It was the long held Jewish expectation that arose from the promises and prophecies God gave in the Old Testament. It was about the age to come, the messianic age, when God’s Son, the “Messiah” (which means “Anointed”), would be king over Israel and all the nations.

Psalm 2 portrays this promised reality. In Psalm 2:2, we read about the LORD’s Anointed, who turns out to be God’s Son (v. 7), and the one whom God would set as King over Israel (v. 6). To Him are given all the nations (v. 8) and they are called to submit to Him and serve Him with reverence and rejoicing (vv.10-12).

Now that kingdom had come into the world. It is what the preaching of Jesus was all about. Mark tells us, “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). His teaching was all about the kingdom and His miracles demonstrated the world-changing reality of the kingdom that was now at hand. As we can see from John 2:2, Nicodemus was not unfamiliar with the teaching and miracles of Jesus, and would no doubt have recognized that it was somehow concerned with the God’s promised kingdom.

Moving forward in John 3, we find that Jesus refers to Himself also as the “Son of Man.”
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:13-15)
“Son of Man” is another title that has messianic and kingdom significance in the Old Testament. We find it, or example, in the book of Daniel, in a messianic passage about one who would come from heaven and whose reign would fill the earth:
I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
In view of the messianic kingdom theme that begins in verse John 3:3, when verse 16 speaks of God’s Son being given out of God’s love for the world, it has great messianic significance. God’s Son is the one God has uniquely anointed to be King over Israel and the nations — that is, over all the world.

“Eternal life,” in John 3:16, also carries this theme. We often think of “eternal life” as life that lasts a really, really long time (forever, in fact). And indeed it is. However, it does not tell us just about the length of that life. More importantly, it tells us about the nature of that life. The Greek words for “eternal life” are zoen (“life”) and aionion (“eon,” or “age”). Literally, it would be the “age life,” or the “life of the age.” But what age would that be? It is the age God had long promised His people: the age to come, the messianic age — the age of God’s kingdom.

In John3:3-5, Jesus said that one must be “born again,” born of the Spirit, in order to participate in God’s kingdom age. This new “birth” speaks of the life of that kingdom. It is the life of God’s kingdom age. In verse 16, Jesus explains how that new life comes: through faith in God’s Son (who is the Messiah, the one God has anointed to be king). Those who believe on Him receive the life of the age to come, which has now already broken into the world in this present age. It is new life that begins now and lasts forever, because the kingdom of God, which has now come into the world, will endure forever.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Raising the Dead

The Bible records a number of accounts in which someone who died was restored to life. In the Old Testament, Elijah brought the widow of Zaraphath’s son back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24). When the son of a Shunnamite woman died, Elisha raised him from the dead (2 Kings 4:25-37). A dead man who was thrown into Elisha’s grave was restored to life when his body came into contact with the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:20-21).
  • The New Testament records three people Jesus raised back to life.
  • The son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15)
  • The daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40-56)
  • Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, of Bethany (John 11:1-45)
Jesus also sent His disciples out with these instructions: “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons” (Matthew 10: 7-8). In the book of Acts, Peter raised Dorcas back to life (Acts 9:36-42) and Paul raised Eutychus back to life (Acts 20:7-12).

However, raising the dead did not end with Jesus and the apostles. It has continued down through the history of the Church. Here are some examples, abstracted from my book, Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church.
  • Ireneaus records a church community that, through prayer and fasting, saw a dead brother restored to life. (ANF Vol. 1, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 31, Section 2)
  • Sozomen, in his Ecclesiastical History, tells of a pregnant women who fell from a height in the church and died on the spot but was restored to life at the prayer of the congregation. (NPNF Second Series, Vol. 2, Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book 7, Chapter 5)
  • St. Augustine, in his City of God, tells of a Christian woman of Caspalium who became ill and died but was restored to life. Also a young Syrian girl at Hippo, the son of a man named Ireneaus, and an infant that died — all brought back to life in the name of Jesus. (NPNF, First Series, Vol. 2, The City of God, Book 22, Chapter 8).
  • Sozomen tells of a man who man who was brought back to life under the ministry of Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem. (NPNF Second Series, Vol 2. Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, Chapter 1)
  • Martin of Tours restored to life a man who had hanged himself. (NPNF Second Series, Vol. 11, Suplicius Severus, On the Life of St. Martin of Tours, Chapters 7-8)
  • Martin also brought a young boy back to life (NPNF Second Series, Vol. 11, Suplicius Severus, Second Dialogue, Chapter 4)
  • John Cassian tells of a dead man raised again to life by Abbot Macarius of Egypt. (NPNF, Second Series, Vol. 11, Conferences of John Cassian, The Second Conference of Abbot Nesteros)
  • Benedict of Nursia (the father of western monasticism) raised to life again a young monk who had died. He also restored the son of a country man back to life (from the Second Book of Dialogues, Chapter 11 and Chapter 32, by Gregory the Great)
  • St. Dominic restored a man to life (Brewer, Dictionary of Miracles, pp. 80-81. Citing Edward Kinesman, Lives of the Saints, 1623)
  • St. Vincent Ferrier is also recorded as raising the dead on a couple of different occasions. (Ibid, p. 86, citing Peter Ranzano, Life of St. Vincent Ferrier)
  • John Welch, one of the Scottish Covenanters, raised a young nobleman back to life. (Howie, Biographica Scotiana)
Even today, many people have been brought back to like in the name of Jesus. (These examples are also cited in my book.)
  • Archbishop Benson Idahosa, of Nigeria, restored to life an infant girl who had been dead for two hours. He also raised his wife who had been dead for over a half hour.
  • British evangelist Smith Wigglesworth is said to have raised 13 or 14 people from the dead. Roberts Lairdon records one of these in his book, God’s Generals. Stanley H. Frodsham describes a few other in Smith Wigglesworth: Apostle of Faith.
  • Roland and Heidi Baker, founders of Iris Ministries, tell of many who have been raised form the dead in Mozambique. They record some of these in their book Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision Among the Poorest Children on Earth
  • Ben Peters, of Kingdom Sending Center, reports numerous modern-day resurrections in his book Resurrection: A Manual for Raising the Dead.
  • David Hogan, founder of Freedom Ministries, an outreach to the peoples of Latin America, records numerous resurrections. Reports of this ministry estimate that out of 2,300 attempts, about three hundred have been raised from the dead.
  • Early in 2002, Christ for All Nations, founded by evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, released a video called Raised From The Dead: A 21st Century Miracle Resurrection Story. It documents how Daniel Ekekchukwu, a Nigerian pastor who was fatally injured in an automobile accident, was certified dead and even embalmed, was miraculously restored to life after three days through prayer and faith in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • James Rutz recounts that same incident in his book Megashift: Igniting Spiritual Power. He also gives several other examples of the dead being restored to life in Guatemala, Mexico, South Africa and India by the power of the Holy Spirit. One woman he interviewed, a sixty-year-old Dalit from New Delhi who converted to Christ, was involved in sixteen resurrections in the six years she had been in ministry.
Here are a couple of recent videos about Jesus believers bringing the dead back to life.

Miracle on Rama Cay Island from Global Celebration, 
the ministry of Georgian and Winnie Banov.

DEAD RAISER (Official Trailer) HD from Mountain Light Cinema.

You can find additional examples here. God is still doing what He has always done in His Church.

Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church
Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit
in the History of the Church

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

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

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Faith Claims in Public

Someone has argued, publicly, that public arguments should not be based on faith claims. Sounds like he was making a public faith claim about public faith claims, in which case his argument is self-defeating.

Faith is an understanding. Faith is a decision one continually makes. Faith is a commitment. Christian faith is enabled by God: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, and no one can confess, apart from the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is Lord. Because of the divine element involved, faith is more than merely a preference. Faith is also more than private, because it affects every area of one’s life, both private and public.

Everything comes down to faith claims because everything comes down to one’s philosophy, worldview, presuppositions or assumptions. Eliminate all faith claims and you eliminate all discussion about anything. It is important, then, to be able to identify what our philosophies, worldviews, presuppositions or assumptions are, to recognize what lens we are looking at the world through and how it might affect how we see.

Our presuppositions are not irrelevant. They are the foundations upon which we build the rest of our thoughts. They are the lens through which we view the world and identify this as “evidence” or that as “fact.” Not all presuppositions, assumptions or philosophies are equal, and they must each be evaluated. And, of course, not everyone will agree on what value is to be given to each. But everyone should be aware of their own presuppositions (actually, the complex of presuppositions they hold), and the nature of those presuppositions as being, ultimately, matters of faith.

I acknowledge my presuppositions as including a faith in the existence of God, that He has revealed Himself in the world and that He has given us revelation of Himself in a holy book. Others do not share those presuppositions but presuppose the opposite. However, if they claim to have knowledge that is not based on revelation, even that begins with presupposition. For example, it is a presupposition that there even is such a knowledge base apart from revelation, or of what that knowledge base consists. These are presuppositions of epistemology (principles of how we know anything).

Every truth claim is essentially a faith claim, a statement of what one believes, for whatever reason, revelatory or non-revelatory, to be true. Every claim to knowledge is likewise a faith claim, a statement of what one believes he knows. The man who is aware of his faith claims (philosophies, presuppositions, etc.) has an advantage over the man who is not.

Let every faith claim, then, come to the table and be analyzed. However, to analyze a faith claim one must first be aware of the faith claim they are bringing. The person I referred to above made a faith claim about faith claims and apparently did not even realize he was doing so. The result, in this case, was the incoherence of making public the faith claim that faith claims have no business being made public.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How the Book of Acts Begins and Ends

Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The other week I came to realization about the book of Acts, particularly about how it begins and how it ends. Now, I already knew how it begins and I also knew how it ends. But what occurred to me is that it begins and ends with the same theme. See if you can spot it:
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)

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)
Do you see it? Can you identify the common theme? Acts begins with Jesus during the forty days between His resurrection from the dead and His ascension to His throne in heaven at the right hand of the Father. And what does He do during those forty days? He speaks to the disciples about things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

The book of Acts closes decades later with Paul under house arrest in Rome for preaching the gospel. He was there for two whole years. And what does he do during all that time? What is the theme of His preaching and teaching? The kingdom of God, and everything that concerns King Jesus the Messiah.

What do you think is the significance of that? And what do you suppose that says about all that is recorded in the middle, between the beginning and the ending?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

There is Always Joy!

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PAUL was in prison. The Jesus believers at Philippi were facing increasing persecution. Add to that an undercurrent of personal disagreements and division in the fellowship, and things were not looking very bright. Yet Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” There is always joy, and in his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul shows us how to find it.

Joy saturates this letter. It shows up in unexpected turnarounds in the midst of difficult circumstances. It is found in knowing Jesus in His humble, self-giving servanthood, in the power of His resurrection — and even in the fellowship of His suffering. It is discovered as together we pursue the Jesus-shaped life. In this book you will also learn about:
  • God’s blessing of favor and total well-being
  • How divine humility is divine greatness
  • The power of God at work in you to both desire and do His good pleasure
  • The attitude that can fill you with joy
  • The attitude that can rob you of joy
  • The joy of heaven on earth
  • How to replace worry with divine peace
  • Paul’s secret to contentment in all things
These are “bite-size” studies to help guide you through Paul’s letter, a little at a time. At the end of each study are focus questions to help you think further about the truths Paul brings. They are open-ended questions to allow for maximum personal reflection and group discussion.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Doxology, Greetings and Benediction

Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar's household.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Philippians 4:20-23)
Paul has thanked the Jesus believers at Philippi for their faithful support and partnership with him in the ministry of the gospel. He has urged and encouraged them to work out the differences they have among themselves and come together as a team for the sake of the gospel. He has given them the supreme example of the Lord Jesus Christ and His attitude of humble servanthood to guide them. He has shown them that God is at work in them, creating in them the desire for His way and empowering them to do His good pleasure. He has offered himself, Timothy, Epaphroditus and others as good patterns for living out their life in Christ. He has shown them many reasons to rejoice and celebrate in the Lord. And now he brings his letter to a close, with familiar elements that appear in all his letters: doxology, greetings and benediction.


The word “doxology” comes from doxa, the Greek word for “glory.” A doxology is a prayer that lavishes praise and honor on God. It has two main features: A statement of God’s glory, goodness or praiseworthiness, and an expression of His eternality.

At the beginning of this letter, Paul offered a benediction of grace and mercy, “from God our Father.” Now he invokes glory “to our God and Father.” As believers in the Lord Jesus, we share together in the same faith and the same family, with God as our Father. Even in his doxology, Paul is reinforcing one of the main themes of this letter: We are all in this together.

The ultimate reason for everything Paul has written in this letter, and indeed in all his letters, is that God may be glorified. He is worthy of all glory, honor and praise for ever and ever.


Greetings customarily appear at the end of Paul’s letters and convey his own warm regards and those of his companions. Here he sends them to each one of the believers at Philippi. The church as a community matters but so do the individual believers, and together they are one. Paul refers to them as “saints,” just as he did at the beginning of his letter. Individually and together as a church, they are holy ones who have been set apart by God as His own.

Paul also takes this opportunity to send greetings from “the brethren,” who are his ministry companions, and also from all the believers with him in Rome, especially those who are part of Caesar’s household. Remember that Paul is under house arrest there for preaching that Jesus is Lord and Messiah. Earlier in his letter, he mentioned how this had become evident “to the whole palace guard” (Philippians 1:13). No doubt, those who guarded him heard quite a bit about the gospel, and apparently some came to the Lord Jesus through his ministry.


A benediction is a prayer of blessing, calling on the power and goodness of God to be present and active in the life of the one being blessed. Paul began his letter with a benediction: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2). Now he closes with one: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

The grace that comes to us from God comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to us and with us and for us. God always has grace towards us, it is always with us, it is always for our benefit. And it always brings Him glory.

From God we receive grace, to Him we give glory. Forever and ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Focus Questions
  1. How does giving glory to God our Father bring us together?
  2. How does recognizing our identity as “saints” strengthen the purpose of Paul’s letter?
  3. How might you extend the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ others?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized 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, March 21, 2013

Paid in Full

Working through Paul's letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi, I came across a Greek verb that caught my interest: apecho. It is a compound word, made up of apo and echo. The first part, apo, is a preposition that literally means “off” or “away.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says that, “in composition (as a prefix) it usually denotes separation, departure, cessation, completion, reversal, etc.” The second word, echo, means to hold or to have.

Apecho has a number of meanings and uses. Thayer’s Greek Definitions shows these:
1) have
     1a) to hold back, keep off, prevent
     1b) to have wholly or in full, to have received
     1c) it is enough, sufficient
2) to be away, absent, distant
3) to hold one’s self off, abstain
But it is one use in particular that interests me, one that is commonly attested in ancient Greek documents. It was frequently used in a commercial sense, as a matter of accounting, specifically as a receipt to acknowledge that payment in full had been made. In A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich), the first entry under apecho has it as a commercial term, to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.”

That is how Paul used it in Philippians 4:18, speaking to the believers at Philippi as partners in the ministry of the gospel. They had a relationship of “giving and receiving” (v. 15; the Greek words were commonly used of credits and debits, or expenditures and receipts). He brought them the gospel and discipled them in the faith; they sent him out with financial assistance and other support to carry the ministry to other cities and regions. In his letter to them, Paul acknowledged the gift they recently sent him when he was under house arrest in Rome for preaching the gospel: “I have all,” is how the NKJV puts it. The NIV and ESV bring out the meaning more precisely: “I have received full payment.” The NRSV says, “I have been paid in full.”

We can find apecho used with this same significance elsewhere in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, where Jesus says:
Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:2)

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have [apecho] their reward. (Matthew 6:16)
Jesus chastises the hypocrites (used of actors or stage players) for the showiness of their giving, praying and fasting. They are engaged in a bit of theater, to be seen well by others. And that is all they will receive for their efforts. God has nothing for them — they have already had their payment in full, the paltry praise of men. Luke’s parallel account of Jesus’ Sermon records this:
Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received [apecho] your consolation. (Luke 6:22-24)
For those who love and trust and serve their riches, there is no reward for them in heaven. They have already received their payment in full, in the uncertainties of material wealth.

We have already looked at Paul’s use of apecho in Philippians, but he uses it again in his letter to Philemon. Philemon had a slave, Onesimus, who ran away to Paul for relief from his master. Paul then brought Onesimus to faith in the Lord Jesus, just as he had earlier led Philemon to the Lord, and Onesimus proved to be a great help in Paul’s ministry. Legally, however, Onesimus needed to be returned to Philemon, his master. So Paul wrote this letter, desiring that Philemon would now receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother in Christ.
For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive [apecho] him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 15-16)
In receiving Onesimus as a brother in Christ, Philemon would be gaining much more than he would from having Onesimus as a slave, and in this way he would be “paid in full.”

One other thing I find interesting about this word is this: In the “negative” instances, where the hypocrites have their reward and the rich who trust in their riches already have their consolation, there is no more that is coming. No more reward and no more consolation.

On the other hand, in the “positive” instances (Paul’s use of apecho), there is the sense of full receipt plus more besides. In Philippians 4:18, “I have received full payment and even more” (NIV). And in Philemon, “That you might receive [apecho] him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother.” That speaks to me about the abundance the grace of God brings.

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

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We’re in This Together

Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:15-19)
Paul and the Jesus believers at Philippi are partners in the ministry of the gospel. The language of “giving and receiving” speaks of this partnership in terms of accounting. The Greek words literally refer to credits and debits, or as The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament puts it, “an accounting of expenditures and receipts.” Paul borrows these terms to describe the reciprocal nature, the “give and take,” of their relationship.

He was the one who first brought them the good news about Jesus the Messiah, and trained them up in the faith. In return, they have been very supportive of his ministry, faithful partners with him in it right from the beginning, when he and his team first departed from Philippi to minister the gospel in Thessalonica and other parts of the empire. They are very good examples of what Paul instructed the believers in Galatia, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In fact, Paul mentions their great generosity in one his letters to the believers at Corinth:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
They were not only willing to be a part of the good news going out into the world, they begged to be a part of it, such was the intensity of their desire. The secret of their generosity — and the abundance of their joy! — was that they have first given themselves to the Lord.

Paul is not one of those con men who goes around dressed up like a philosopher in order to part fools from their money. Not at all. He has been often severely persecuted for proclaiming that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, and he is quite prepared to die for His sake. He does not hunt for or hint after money. He has already learned the secret of contentment. But what he seeks after is this: that fruit may “abound” to their account. Here again is the metaphor of a business partnership. The word for this “abound” speaks of increase, and the New International Version translates this phrase as, “But I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” Though Paul is out evangelizing abroad while they remain at Philippi, they reap the reward just as Paul does.

“I have all and abound.” The Greek word for “I have all” literally means “I have received” and was commonly used as an accounting term indicating that full receipt has been made. The NIV translates it as “I have received full payment,” and the New Revised Standard Version has, “I have been paid in full.” Paul adds, “and abound.” He considers himself to be “paid in full,” with more besides.

“I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you.” His needs are quite sufficiently met by their gift. Departing from the language of business for a moment and taking up a different metaphor, the Old Testament language of sacrifice, Paul calls their gift, “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Their offering is certainly pleasing to Paul, but more than that, it is pleasing to God. It is not out of their abundance that they have given — they have needs themselves — but they have given themselves to God and then, out of that, to Paul’s ministry.

Paul goes on to add, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Notice that he does not simply say, “and God,” or “your God,” but he specifically says, “my God.” He is not only in partnership with the Philippians, his entire life and ministry is a partnership with God.

Paul is not presently in a position to supply anyone’s needs, but his God is, and He will more than make up for what is lacking in Paul. The Philippian church gave supply for Paul’s need, and God will make good on it, to supply their own needs as well. As Paul noted to the believers at Corinth, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Notice that this supply from God is according to His great riches. It is not limited to the dimensions of their own gift to Paul, or to Paul’s obligation. It is not even limited by the size of their own needs. It is according to God’s unlimited wealth, which is now available to us in Jesus the Messiah, who has reconciled us to the Father. The Philippians’ generous, sacrificial gifts to Paul and the ministry of the gospel will not leave them short in any way but are an occasion for the abundance of God to be revealed in their lives.

Focus Questions
  1. Why do you suppose Paul uses accounting terminology in this passage?
  2. What do you suppose is the “fruit” that is credited to the Philippians’ account?
  3. What does all this say about their partnership with Paul?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized 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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Paul’s Secret

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. (Philippians 4:10-14)
Paul is in their hearts and on their minds. But he is also under house arrest in Rome, over 800 miles to the west and not an easy journey, so they have not had much opportunity to express their love for him in tangible ways. Finally though, they were able to send Epaphroditus to him, along with some supply for him and his ministry. Paul was overjoyed to hear from them again and grateful to receive their gifts of love.

Not that Paul is overly concerned about his needs. He’s been in itinerant ministry for years now and has endured numerous persecutions, imprisonments, lashings, beatings, stonings and other perils for the sake of the gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-33). But regardless of whatever situation he may find himself in, he has “learned to be content.”

There are two different Greek words that are translated as “learned” in this passage. The first one is manthano, which in this case means he has learned something through experience or practice. We will look at other word for “learned” in a moment.

Now, God did not ordain or meticulously plan all those experiences Paul endured but He certainly used them in Paul’s life to teach him. And so Paul learned to be content. The Greek word for “content” is autarkes. It is a compound of autos, a reflexive pronoun that can be translated as “self,” and arkeo, which means to be sufficient or satisfied. Literally, it means “self-sufficient,” which was considered a virtue by ancient Greek philosophers.

However, Paul uses it differently here. The contentment he has learned is not because of any self-sufficiency that comes from his own ability or strength but one that comes from someplace else, which we will see in a moment. The Amplified Bible, in its usual expansive way, translates autarkes as, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted.” Paul’s peace and well-being are not dependent upon his circumstances but on something that is within him, though it does not originate from him.

So Paul knows how to respond when he is humbled — humiliated — by his persecutors and has everything taken from him. Had not the Lord Jesus willingly subjected Himself to that for Paul’s sake? The Greek word for “abase” is the same word Paul used when he spoke earlier about Messiah, who “humbled Himself” to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). So Paul is quite willing to be humbled now for Jesus’ sake.

Paul also knows how to view his abundance when he has more than enough (the Greek word for “abound” literally means to superabound). He welcomes those times but does not trust in them for his well-being. Both circumstances, being humbled and having abundance, are always subject to change.

How did Paul come to this understanding? He learned “the secret.” Behind the second “I have learned” in this passage is the Greek verb mueo, which speaks of being initiated into a mystery. There is something Paul discovered going on inside him that changed everything for him. So whether he is hungry or full, experiencing lack or having more than enough — it is all the same to him.

So what is this secret, this mystery into which he has found himself initiated? Simply this: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul’s “self-sufficiency” does not come from himself but is the ability and strength that comes from the Lord Jesus. In his letter to the Jesus believers at Colosse, Paul speaks of the “mystery,” which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This ability Paul experiences is the ability of Jesus the Messiah in him, strengthening him for everything that comes his way. Surely that is part of the glory of which he speaks.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul gives an example of this strengthening and the sufficiency of Jesus in his life. Paul was being harassed by a “messenger of satan,” and cried out to God for relief. But the Lord spoke to him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). The Greek word for “sufficient” is arkeo, which is part of the compound word Paul uses here in Philippians, autarkes.

Paul’s “self-sufficiency,” then, is not one that originates with him, it is the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus at work in him. So Paul’s weakness, lack and humiliation becomes an occasion for the strength of the Lord Jesus to come forth in him in all its glory. Paul concluded, “Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For it is God who is at work in him “both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

All the same, Paul commends the believers at Philippi for this fresh expression of their continuing love for him. They have done well to “share” with him in his current difficulty. The Greek word for “share” is sygkoinoneo, a compound of syn, which means “together,” and koinoneo, which means to take part with. They have truly “partnered together” with Paul in his ministry, his life and his present circumstances. And that is cause for rejoicing on Paul’s part.

Focus Questions
  1. Who are the ones who would be glad of your assistance, and what are the opportunities that lay before you?
  2. Who are the ones who partner with you and make you glad for their help?
  3. How have you experienced the sufficiency of Jesus’ strength in your life?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized 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, March 15, 2013

Think on These Things

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
Having shown how to displace worry with the peace of God, Paul now presents a list of virtues. Things for us to think about. Things that will focus us on the Lord Jesus, because all these things are found in Him and can well be said of Him.
  • Whatever is true. Facts can quickly change. What is true endures.
  • Whatever is noble. Worthy of honor, uplifting.
  • Whatever is just. Promotes what is right and worthy of community.
  • Whatever is pure. Thoroughly good, unmixed, undefiled, unsullied.
  • Whatever is lovely. Points us toward and promotes love.
  • Whatever is of good report. Well spoken, gracious and promotes the good.
Paul concludes this list with a sort of catchall: “If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy.” This sums up the preceding list and leaves it open-ended for more besides. Excellent things that promote the good can show up in unexpected places. Look for them.

“Meditate on these things.” Literally, take account of them, reckon with them. Carefully consider and reflect on them. These are the kinds of things that should fill our thoughts.

What we fill our thoughts with is important because how we think affects how we act. So now Paul moves from theory to practice, from the kinds of things to think about to the kinds of things to do. He does not speak abstractly about what to do but offers them something very concrete: his own example. “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do.”

For years now, Paul has known them, ministered among them, partnered with them in the gospel. He was the one who brought them the good news about Jesus in the first place, and along with Silas, Timothy and Luke, discipled them in the faith. We saw earlier how he offered these, along with himself and others, as a pattern for living out their faith together in the Lord Jesus. “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Philippians 3:17).

Now he reminds them again of what they have learned and received from him, how he taught them, discipled them, trained them. They took hold of all that and embraced it. There is also what they heard the reports about Paul and how he conducted himself as he ministered in other regions. And, of course, they witnessed for themselves how Paul lived when he was there with them.

He has shown them what kind of things they should pay attention to and how to translate those things into living. Now it comes down to two words: “These do.” Literally, put them into practice. Do them regularly, habitually, not as a one-off but as a way of life.

With this comes a promise: “And the God of peace will be with you.” Earlier Paul spoke of the peace of God guarding their hearts and minds. Now he speaks of the God of peace being with them. That completes the circle. But what does he mean that God will be with them? God is everywhere, of course, by the nature of His existence. And God is at work in them, not only enabling in them the desire to do the good things God wants them to, but also empowering them to do it (Philippians 2:13). But it is as they actually set about doing these good things, putting them in practice, that they will experience that desire and power of God at work in them. God will be there helping them every step of the way. And that is certainly something to rejoice about.

Focus Questions
  1. What does discipleship look like?
  2. How does what we do reflect what we think?
  3. How does this all lead to joy?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized 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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eternally Fresh Awe and Wonder

I think of eternity with God as something like the vision of God in His temple in Isaiah 6. The seraphim about Him cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (v. 3).

They are not saying the same thing three times over. Each time they exclaim “Holy,” it is because they have just seen something in God that they have never seen before. And it leaves them in fresh awe.

I think eternity with God will be like that. We will always be discovering something new in God that we have not seen before. After all, He is infinite while we are finite. That leaves plenty of room for eternal wonder.

There will be continuity. We do not lose our identities. We will be in resurrected bodies. We will live upon the earth. There will also be discontinuity. No sin, no death, no sickness, no injustice. The kingdom of God will be fully manifested, the will of God done, fully and completely, on earth exactly as it is in heaven. Heaven and earth will be joined together as one. Forever. And we will live in a continual state of awe and wonder.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Replacing Worry with Divine Peace

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
The Lord is with us, “at hand,” as Paul said in verse 5, so we don’t ever need to worry about anything; we can bring everything to Him. Nothing is too big for Him to handle, nothing too small for Him to care.

Dealing with worry is no small matter. It is an important issue, a question of whether we are going to trust God. Jesus addressed it in the 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? … 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. (Matthew 6:25, 31)
God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, so how much more will He take care of those who belong to Him? So Jesus and Paul say, “Stop worrying” (that is how Wuest’s Expanded Translation puts it).

However, it is not enough to just get rid of worry. We must replace it. In fact, we must displace it, because it will not leave on its own — it will need to be pushed out. But how do we do that?

Jesus’ answer in the Sermon on the Mount is, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Peter’s answer, in his letter to Jesus believers who were scattered everywhere, is, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). And Paul gives us this: “But in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Prayer and thanksgiving — that’s worship. Supplication is a particular type of prayer, also known as “petition,” where we bring our needs and concerns to God and look to Him for the provision He has made. But notice that this kind of prayer happens in the context of worship, wrapped about with praise and thanksgiving. It is in worship, standing in awe of God, that we gain fresh perspective and our faith is strengthened. There we can lay requests before the Lord, knowing that He will hear and answer with His provision and protection. Knowing that He is our God who takes care of us, we give Him thanks.

When we replace worry with prayer, praise and petition to God, the result will be peace. Divine peace. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Paul uses the Greek word irene here for “peace,” but being Jewish, he no doubt has the Hebrew word shalom in mind. It is a word that speaks of wholeness and well-being. It comes from the Lord and is a gift and a blessing for His people.

The peace that comes from God is not something we can think our way to. It is much more than we can understand. However, we do not need to be able to explain it in order to enjoy the benefit of it. Paul says it will guard our hearts and minds. It will be like a hedge around our affections, desires, thoughts and perceptions, so that we are not pulled away by anxious emotions and distracting cares. It will keep us properly focused and on the right path. The peace of God comes to us through Jesus the Messiah, for it is through Him that we have peace with God.

Focus Questions
  1. Why is it important to replace worry with something else?
  2. How does worship give us the proper perspective on the things are concerned about?
  3. How does giving thanks help replace worry with peace?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized 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.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Kingdoms of This World

Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Consider for a moment the story of the kingdoms of this world that can be told in three passages from the book of Matthew — one from the beginning, one from the middle and one from the end.

First there is the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. It begins after the baptism of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. The Spirit led Him out to the wilderness in order for Him to be tested. Three times the devil comes to put Him off His purpose. The third temptation was this:
The devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:8-11)
Notice carefully that Jesus did not argue over whether satan had the right to all the kingdoms of the world. He accepted the premise that they were the devil’s to offer. It was the condition He rejected, that of falling down and worshiping satan. Only God is to be worshiped.

When Jesus returned from the wilderness, He began preaching about a different kingdom, the kingdom of God, announcing that it was now at hand (Matthew 4:17).

In the middle of the story, we find Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons. The Pharisees accused of Him of expelling those demons by the power of Beelzebub, that is, by satan. Jesus answered:
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. (Matthew 12:25-29)
Jesus was casting out demons by the power of God, not of satan, and that could only mean that the kingdom of God had now come into the world. Jesus was binding the “strong man” and plundering his house. In other words, He was binding up satan and taking away everything that belonged to him. The kingdoms of this world would no longer belong to the devil but to God.

Near the end of the story, after the cross, where the victory over satan and all the principalities and powers was ultimately won, and God raised Jesus from the dead in triumph, Jesus appeared to the disciples and announced:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18)
All the kingdoms of the world now belonged to Jesus, God’s anointed King. With the authority He now possessed, He sent the disciples out to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them everything King Jesus taught (vv. 19-20).

In the beginning of Matthew, the kingdoms of the this world belonged to satan. At the end, they belonged to Jesus. As the voices of heaven announce in Revelation 11:15, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”