Tag Archives: prophecy

Being faithful in the waiting [First Sunday of Advent, part 3]

5 Dec
Photo by Jonsung Lee on Unsplash

Thus far the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have begun with a prophecy from 600 BC that God would send a new king to Israel, and that the people needed to get ready for that king by practicing repentance.  We looked at Luke 1, which describes Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy.  As we move from the Old Testament readings to the two New Testament readings, we’re going to encounter more prophecy, once again looking to the future.  The next reading is Thessalonians 3:9-13.

From the time of David who wrote Psalm 25, which we studied in part 2, we’re moving forward in history 1000 years to 50 AD.  One of the earliest followers of Jesus is a guy named Paul, and he is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was the largest city in what was then called Macedonia.  It is still today a bustling town, a favorite of tourists, and in the middle of the city is an archaeological site with ancient ruins. Today it is called Thessaloniki, Greece. If you want, you can read about Paul’s first visit there in Acts 17.

At the time Paul visited, scholars estimate 200,000 people lived there, because Thessalonica was located in a favorable position on one of the main highways in the Empire, the Egnatian Way, and it was a port on the Aegean Sea.  Because of its large population and prime location, of course Paul would want to share the good news of Jesus there.  As was his practice, he went to a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica and preached about Jesus. Many people started believing in Jesus. That made the staunch Jews mad, and Paul and Silas had to flee, but a church was started.  Though Paul moved on, his thoughts and prayers were still with the church in Thessalonica, and in the following weeks and months, he wonders how they are getting along. 

We read in 1 Thessalonians 3:6 that his assistant, Timothy, visited Paul, reporting good news about the Thessalonian Christians’ steadfast faith and love, that they longed to see Paul again.  Paul knows he won’t be headed back to Thessalonica anytime soon, so instead of a visit, he writes them a letter, hoping to keep investing in their lives. 

In this section of that letter, Paul says he was encouraged by their faith, since they are standing firm in the Lord.  Paul is overflowing with thanks for them.  And in verse 12 he prays to God that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.  He prays that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of God.  That’s a very similar prayer to what David prayed in Psalm 25!  Hmmm…maybe there is a reason these passages were selected to be read on the same day?

Then in verse 13, Paul mentions the return of Jesus.  Actually in this letter of 1st Thessalonians, you can scan through the end of each of the five chapters and you will notice that the return of Jesus is mentioned each time.  When Paul wrote, he didn’t include chapters and verses.  They were added       much later.  But by seeing this repeated mention of Jesus’ return, of Jesus’ coming again, we can see that it was a major theme for Paul.  Paul is asking the Christians in Thessalonica, and by extension he is asking us, “Will we be blameless when Jesus returns?”  Unlike the Davidic kings who turned away from the Lord, Paul calls Christians to remain faithful and blameless before the Lord while we are waiting for his return.  And when will Jesus return? 

That brings us to the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36.

Advent is a season when we remember Jesus’ first coming, his birth, so that we might prepare ourselves for his second coming.  But when will that happen?  Jesus talks about this in Luke 21:25. 

In this passage, Jesus is in his final days.  He has arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover to great fanfare.  On what we call Palm Sunday, the crowds wanted to make him king. Many Israelites saw Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jeremiah. But they were mistaken about Jesus’ Kingdom.  They wanted a ruler like David who would wage war against the enemy and give Israel independence.  But Jesus was not that kind of King.  His Kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world, though it would make a great impact on the world! 

And so here in Luke 21 Jesus and his disciples are at the temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples are commenting about the beauty of the temple.  Their beloved church building.  The temple was the center of Jewish life and faith.  And Jesus says in verse 6, “you know, this temple is going to be destroyed.” 

The disciples are aghast.  What is he talking about?  When would this happen?  They want to know details!  How will they be able to tell?  Jesus goes on in verse 8-24, giving them two levels of prophetic teaching. 

First the near level.  In verses 12-19 he talks about the persecution the disciples will go through, and that actually took place only a few short months after Jesus said it.  You can read about it in Acts 3-4.

Then the medium range level.  I verses 8-10, and 20-24, he talks about a time when Jerusalem would once again be attacked, just as it was in Jeremiah’s day.  This time, not the Babylonians, but it was the Romans in 70AD who destroyed the city. Before we move too quickly past this, I think we need to just pause and think about how astounding this is. Jesus in 33 AD prophesies that the temple would be destroyed.  And it happened!  Let’s just pause and think about how amazing that is.  Jesus says that a major catastrophic event will happen, and he gives some fairly specific detail about how this event will occur, and 40 years later it happens?  That is Jesus.  He can tell the future like that. That means we can trust in him when he gives the next level of prophecy too.

Next Jesus says there will be third, future, level of prophecy.  That is what we are focusing on today.  Look at verses 25-36.

There will be various signs for sure, and then he will come again!  As he said many other times, we don’t know the day, time or hour.  His coming will be like a thief in the night, like a lightning strike, surprising.  So we should practice humility about signs.  We should be very guarded about our confidence in our ability to interpret signs of the times. What does it mean, then, to be ready for his return?  Jesus will teach us in the next post in the series, as we continue study Luke 21:25-36.

How to survive the holiday blues

12 Dec

surviving-the-holiday-bluesAre you feeling low this Christmas?  Though there are Christmas lights everywhere, does your life feel like a dark place?

In the sermon intro blog post, I introduced a story in the history of the Israelite nation of Judea.  At the time, Hezekiah was King, and he was trapped inside the Judean capital city, Jerusalem.  Outside the walls of the city, the powerful Assyrian juggernaut, 185,000 soldiers strong, was knocking on the door saying “Surrender or die.”  If you want, you can read that post before continuing here.  And look up Isaiah 36-37 to catch up with the story.

When we left off, we were on the battlefield just outside the walls of Jerusalem.  The Assyrian field commander had just mocked the Jews.  In fact, take a look at verse 20 and notice the very last thing he said: “How can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”  He had just pointed out that so far no one else’s god has saved them.  If you look back just a few verses farther to 18, he says to the scared Jewish soldiers on the city walls, “Don’t let your king Hezekiah mislead you when he says the Lord will deliver you.  We’ve been bulldozing our way through every town, and they all have gods too, and no one is stopping us.  You think your God is any different?”

What a challenge!  He even uses God’s personal name.  YHWH.  Notice in verse 20 how the word LORD is in all capital letters?  That means the Hebrew here is actually using the personal name of God, YHWH.  That’s a real slap in the face of God. This Assyrian field commander thinks YHWH is a joke, just like the other so-called gods that had put up no fight.

Hezekiah’s envoy returns to the palace and tells him the dire news.  It’s not looking good for Jerusalem.  The choices are awful: either try to hold out on a siege and slowly starve, or surrender and lose everything.  What would you do?

Hezekiah’s response is amazing.  Look at chapter 37:1.

He tears his clothes and put on sackcloth.  Instead of calling his response “amazing”, I could have said that it is strange.  If you didn’t know this was in a Bible story, you’d think it was a Hulk Hogan move, tearing off his t-shirt.  In our culture, tearing your clothes is not what you normally do when you are sad, afraid, scared or nervous!  What do you do you when you’re upset?

Lay in bed.  Get a huge bowl of ice cream.  Shop online.  You probably wouldn’t tear your clothes and put on a canvas bag.  That would be seen as odd. And no one would understand you.

In the Ancient Near East, however, when you were really worked up, you tore your clothes and put on sackcloth.  It was how you showed everyone that what was going on was a big deal to you.

What Hezekiah does next, though is awesome, and it will seem a lot more familiar to you.  He goes to church.  In Jerusalem, the church was the temple.  Hezekiah is deeply distressed, and so often when we are distressed like that, we do what Hezekiah did.  We seek God.  Then he sends for the prophet Isaiah.  He wants to hear from God.  He is seeking out counsel.  This is just like you and I might seek out wisdom from a trusted spiritual advisor, a pastor, a counselor, and we might go to the Bible and pray.

Hezekiah tells his envoy to pass a message to Isaiah the prophet telling Isaiah all that has been going on.

Isaiah hears and responds.  In fact, he has a message from YHWH.  Now this is getting good.  YHWH, who has just been defamed by the field commander of Sennacherib, is now speaking back.  What does God say?

“Do not be afraid of that underling!”  Isn’t that awesome?  God calls the field commander an underling.  And what’s more, God says that field commander is not going to last long.

“Do not be afraid.”  Maybe you’re are one of those people who likes to count things.  How many times in the Bible do think God says “Do not be afraid”?  There are people who have counted it.  And they found that God says “do not be afraid” 365 times in the Bible.  One for each day.  That would be a cool study to do throughout a year!

Will Hezekiah give in to his fear?  Or will he trust in God?  And what will his men do?  Will they be faithful to their king, or will they mutiny?  We’re about to find out.

Briefly the setting of the story moves away from Jerusalem.  We read that the Assyrians are winning still more battles, and Sennacherib continues to taunt Jerusalem in a new letter to Hezekiah saying that there is no stopping them.  Not Jerusalem’s God, no one, can match the power of his Assyrian army.

Now what does Hezekiah do?  Things have gotten worse.  Any help that Judea might have gotten from surrounding cities and nations isn’t coming.  Assyria controls it all. What’s worse, YHWH hasn’t shown up yet.

Sometimes when life is low, the hardest part is the waiting.  When you pray, how long should you have to wait for God to show up?  We want him to respond immediately.  He might, but he might not.  The fear, the uncertainty, can start to eat away at our already-thin faith.

Was Hezekiah starting to lose faith?  We’ve been learning a thing or two about Hezekiah.  He was a good dude.  He does what he did before.

He takes this new letter to the temple. He spreads the letter out before God and starts praying and says “All this stuff Sennacherib is saying, Lord?  It’s true!  Nothing has been stopping him.  But you, Lord, deliver us, so that all may know that you are the one true God.”

And just like last time, after Hezekiah went to the temple and Isaiah had a word from the Lord, now Hezekiah has gone to the temple again, and Isaiah has another word from the Lord.  This time the Lord rips into Sennacherib’s arrogance and says to him “I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth and make you return.”  That’s YHWH saying “I will totally dominate you Sennacherib.”

Then YHWH speaks directly to Hezekiah in 37:30: He talks about the future, planting vineyards, and a remnant of people that will take root and bear fruit, a picture of growth and health and vitality.  This is a new vision of hope, and he says “the zeal of the Lord will accomplish it!”

Zeal is not a word we use all that much.  Here the word in the original Hebrew is often translated “jealousy” or “envy.”  God is saying that he has strong feelings for Israel, and he will achieve his goal.

What about this massive Assyrian army?  YHWH says in verses 33-35, “Don’t worry about the Assyrians.  I have got this.”

What happens next is absolutely mind-boggling.  That Assyrian camp of soldiers that was laying waste to everyone and everything?  An angel of God goes out and puts 185,000 of them to death.  It is total decimation.  The men on wall of Jerusalem wake up the next morning to get a look at their enemy, and to their shock, they see nothing but dead bodies.

Sennacherib?  He doesn’t make it either.  By the end of chapter 37, the war machine of Sennacherib is gone.  YHWH did what he said he would do.  And why?  Look back at 37:21!  One little phrase tells us why.  “Because Hezekiah prayed to YHWH.”  Hezekiah trusted in God. God said “Do not be afraid,” and Hezekiah believed and trusted.  Therefore the prophecy was fulfilled.

There are generally three kinds of fulfillment we normally see in prophecy: the conditional, the immediate, and the future kinds of fulfillment.

The story of Hezekiah and the Assyrian attackers is so helpful for understanding the prophecy one chapter earlier in Isaiah 35.  Notice that for the one who listens to the prophecy and trusts in it, the promises come true!  Most prophecy is like that.  So often we think of prophecy as just telling the future no matter what.  But most biblical prophecy is conditional. When I say “conditional”, I mean that most prophecy says “I will tell you what the future will be like, IF YOU TRUST IN ME.”  Fulfillment of the future vision was contingent on the people trusting in and obeying God.

As we walk through the prophecy in Isaiah 35, we see these elements of prophetic fulfillment.

First, in verses 1-2, this prophecy with its images of a desert wasteland blooming into a garden reminds us of a future peaceable kingdom similar to the one we talked about the previous two weeks.

Second, in verses 3-4 we see the admonition to the people, such as those in Hezekiah’s day who were possibly the first ones to receive this prophecy, to stand firm, and wait for God to come and save them.  That is a conditional prophecy.

Third, verses 5-6 sure seem like they are describing the ministry of Jesus don’t they?  The blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.  That is future fulfillment.

Next, the second half of verse 6 and into verse 7 we find an image very reminiscent of Moses’ ministry, through whom God provided water for the children of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt.   Some people have talked about how modern-day Israel has done a lot with irrigation, and thus how this passages shows us that we are in the end times.  Or is this image just a symbolic of the Messianic peaceable Kingdom?  We don’t know.  Again, what the prophecy is suggesting is future fulfillment.

The final section of the prophecy is in verses 8-10, and there we see the future ministry of the Messiah to make redemption possible.

While there are five parts to the prophecy with various levels of fulfillment, two of these I would like to look at further for the practical way they relate to our lives.

In verses 3-4 the prophecy says “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come.”  We might not get to be the ones who see this part of the prophecy fulfilled.  When this same thing was happening in Hezekiah’s day, not all people in Jerusalem got to see it.   People still were born, lived and died.  Generations of them did not see it.  But it did happen.

Yes, there was an immediate fulfillment of deliverance in the story of Hezekiah that they did see.  But there was also a future fulfillment 700 years later in the birth of Christ they did not see.  The same goes for us.  We might not live to see the second coming of Christ.  That is hard to take because we look around our world and there is much to fear.  But we have the same words spoken over us: be strong, do not fear, your God will come.

No matter how low you feel this Christmas, be encouraged.  God will keep his promises.  It doesn’t mean that we go hide in our houses and just let wickedness and injustice rule.  No we work for the flourishing of God’s mission now.  We don’t sit on our hands and wait for God to come.  We do what Hezekiah did.  We pray for deliverance, we seek godly counsel (meaning that we avoid individualism, we avoid going it alone), and we faithfully obey God.  We obey even when we don’t feel like it, when it seems ridiculous.  Imagine how tempting the thoughts of surrender would have been for Hezekiah.  As he is waiting for God to keep his promise, maybe Hezekiah feared the Assyrians were right, and the Judeans would have a better life in Assyria?  I can see how Hezekiah would be wrestling with this.  Yet he obeyed the Lord.

The next practical application in the prophecy is found in verses 8-10, and there we have a problem.  The vision describes a highway, the Way of Holiness it is called.  This is the Way to God.  The problem is that the unclean, the wicked will not be able to walk on the Way of Holiness.  Aren’t all of humans unclean and wicked?  Surely there are many of us who aren’t that bad as to be called wicked, when you consider how deeply evil some people can be.  But none of us are holy.  This Way of Holiness requires perfection.  That’s a huge problem.  Who can walk on that way to God?  Who are the clean, the righteous ones that are able to walk in that way?

Look at verse 9-10.  The ones who can walk on that highway are the redeemed, the ransomed of the Lord.  So what does it mean to be redeemed, ransomed of the Lord?  1 Timothy 2:5-6 tells us that there is someone who can ransom us.  Jesus.

We need to remember the story of the Good News of Jesus, starting with Christmas and carrying through Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection.  When we trust in him by believing and obeying him, we can be redeemed.  Have you been redeemed?  Have the chains of sin been broken in your life?  If you’re not sure, I’d love to talk with you about that.

Hezekiah is a great example for us.  We show that we trust not just by believing something in our mind, but by staking our life on God’s promises.  Hezekiah’s decision to go to the temple, to pray, to not give in to the powerful Assyrians, was an amazing act of faith.  It was risky.  It was literally putting his life on the line.  God had to show up, or Hezekiah and Jerusalem were finished.  There was no human way of stopping the Assyrians from destroying Jerusalem.  And God did show up.

The same thing goes for us.  When we look around our world and we don’t have hope, when there doesn’t seem to be a human solution, we can feel hopeless.  In those moments, when we still obey God, when we still walk in his way, we show that our faith is real.

So put these two applications together.  Combine them in the middle of your life situations.  I know that there are many situations in life that can bring us down. Scary situations.  Hardships.  God says to us “Be not afraid.”  He is a faithful God that we can trust in!  I’m not saying that he is promising to make all the bad stuff of life go away.  Instead I am saying that when we trust in him, we can know that we will always have his promises in our lives.

First there is the promise of a future in his peaceable Kingdom.  Even if life is hell on earth on for us now, we can hold on to the hope we read about in verses 9-10, the hope of gladness and joy, everlasting joy, and our sorrows and sighing fleeing away one day in his Kingdom.

But second, there is also the abundant life of Christ that we can experience now.  And I would love to talk with you about that.  If you feel like the word “abundant” is not describing your life now, and you have little hope that you will experience the abundant life of Christ, please don’t be forlorn or upset.  You’re not alone.  Many people don’t experience it.  And many wonder why.  What should you do?  The first step is to talk about it. Follow Hezekiah’s example.  Reach out to the Lord and to the people who know him.  Please feel free to comment here to talk further!  There is hope!

Speaking in Tongues is not the point – 1st Corinthians 14:1-25

3 Sep

Last week I mentioned that this past Sunday’s sermon was going to be about speaking in tongues.  We have been working our way section by section through the book of 1st Corinthians, and on Sunday we finally made it to chapter 14, which is all about speaking in tongues.

I started the sermon off with a audio example of speaking in tongues.  There a many such videos online.

What Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 14 is that speaking in tongues, while very dramatic and potentially spiritually encouraging, is not the point of worship.  Over and over throughout the chapter he says there is another point, edification. That’s not a word we use very much in our regular conversation.

What does edifying mean? Paul uses it a bunch a times in this passage. The NIV also translates it “strengthening” in verse 3 and “build up” in verse 12. And through those two words you get a clue. It means “to increase the potential of someone or something, with focus upon the process involved” (Louw & Nida). This is a great word for the process discipleship, for growing in Christ.

But you can’t be built up if your mind isn’t involved in the process! That is huge. Paul is emphasizing how important our minds are in the process of becoming like Christ. As Christians we don’t check our brains at the door. But Paul is concerned that the overuse or the improper use of tongues is like checking your brains at the door. Turning them off. Look again at what he says in verses 13-17. Our priority should be for communication in a real language that leads to understanding and edification!

That’s why Paul’s comments in the next few verses are so helpful. While he is glad that he speaks in tongues, what he really wants is intelligible words. In verse 19 he says that five intelligible words to instruct are superior to 10,000 words in a tongue.five_words Obviously Paul is speaking hyperbolically, with exaggeration for effect, to make a point. Churches and individuals who gather for worship should be emphasizing clearly understood teaching far, far above speaking in tongues.

To grow into a mature disciple we need to move in the direction of understanding, of knowing the Word of God, of learning who God is, what his heart beats for, and what it means to love and obey him.

This is why I emphasize that you get a Bible you can really understand. Get the Life Application Study Bible in the New International Version, and read it, including the study notes. Be involved in a small group for further Bible Study. Don’t just come to worship and then leave. Stay for sermon discussion or a Sunday School class. Join us on Wednesday evenings for Bible study and prayer.

Examine your motivation. Excel in gifts that build up (edify) the church, Paul says. That means that the focus of serving should not be on us. We should not serve so that people can see us serve and thus think that we are good servants. We should serve to build up the church. Not to get credit for ourselves, but to encourage and strengthen others. The focus of the use of our gifts, of serving in the church is others.

The point of worship is edification.  So let’s be passionate about edification!