Monday, August 27, 2007

Flying Out

Dear friends,

This afternoon I leave by plane for Cache Valley, Utah, and ask for your prayers for me while on this mission trip to Mormon country. I'll be meeting with brother Evan Schaible to preach open air on two university campuses down there, and will be staying with a Christian family in town. Please lift up the students in intercession to God, that they would "open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." (Acts 26:18)

Yours in the service of Jesus Christ,

Friday, August 17, 2007

Justification and Resurrection

"Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification." - Romans 4:25

For any devout student of the Word of God, the most intriguing, mysterious and powerful of all truth that is found in the whole of Scripture surrounds the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel itself is primarily comprised of these three things, and they, the climax of Christ's ministry as foretold by the Law and the prophets, are what constitute in Christ the power of God unto salvation. It is unfortunate how shallow an understanding so many Christians possess concerning these blessed essentials, and how much richer will our life in Christ be as we begin to apprehend these divine mysteries, growing "in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18)

The resurrection of the dead, both of Christ and also the greater future resurrection, is a basic Biblical tenet that has been shamefully misunderstood, if not neglected. The sixth chapter of the Book of Hebrews names the resurrection of the dead among the utmost elementary principles of Christ (Hebrews 6:1-3). In my previous article called Total Redemption, I briefly commented on the fact that the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hope of the believer's resurrection are so inseparably connected that any degradation upon either part of the union causes the annulment of the other. Paul declared that if there were no resurrection of the dead even those who died in Christ would still remain in their sins! Therefore the resurrection of the dead is an indispensable doctrine. The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, were rebuked by Christ with these telling words: "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God." (Matthew 22:29)

What then is the significance of resurrection, and why does the Bible give such strong emphasis upon this? I believe the answer to the whole question is found in our text, Romans 4:25, "Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification."

The King James Version, as well as several other modern translations, has caused this Scripture to be frequently misunderstood. Many have thought that what the verse is trying to say is that Jesus' resurrection ACQUIRED our justification, since the wording states he was "raised again FOR our justification." However, this interpretation simply will not do, and there are two main reasons why it cannot: First, no where in the Bible is it taught that Christ's resurrection purchased our justification, as we shall examine further. Secondly, such an interpretation is inconsistent with the original Biblical language.

The Word of God teaches us precisely how we are justified. If we look forward to the very next chapter in Romans, we shall find Paul making this very important statement: "Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For, if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:9-10) If we look backwards a chapter in the Book of Romans, we read one the most conclusive Gospel verses in the whole of Scripture: "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood." (Romans 3:24-25)

It is not possible that Paul would contradict himself in the fourth chapter by saying we are justified by the resurrection of Christ, thereby nullifying the great Christian truths he spent so much care meticulously setting forth. That we are justified through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, by His vicarious sacrifice and atoning blood, is non-negotiable. It is by the shedding of blood that sin is remitted, or how else could it be forgiven? Had Christ taken our sins to the grave, how could He have loosed Himself from them therein? Therefore, to misinterpret Romans 4:25 is to miss what the beloved Apostle is truly trying to express regarding justification and the resurrection of our Lord.

But to fully confirm this distinction, the true language of the text gives us aid. That the injunction "for" is not meant to be interpreted as Christ obtaining something the first part of this verse proves: "Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification." Seeing that the same Greek word, dia, is used in both cases, can we apply the same interpretation to the first part, "Who was delivered for [to obtain] our offenses?" Absolutely not, for Christ did not go to the cross to buy our sins but to pay for them! In fact, as the correct translation of the word dia shows, Christ was delivered up to death BECAUSE of our offenses. "But he was wounded for [because] our transgressions, he was bruised for [because] our iniquities..." (Isaiah 53:5) The correct translation of Romans 4:25, as the NASB and all other literal Bibles have correctly translated, is: "Who was delivered because [in consequence of] our offenses, and was raised again because [in consequence of] our justification." This is the correct understanding and it makes all the difference.

What this reveals to us is this: the resurrection did not purchase justification; but rather, justification purchased the resurrection! In fact, this does not only apply to Christ, but if you are NOT justified then you will not be resurrected, and if you ARE resurrected it will prove that you have been justified.

If Jesus Christ had not resurrected three days after they laid Him in the tomb, it would have shown that He was not Messiah and that His death on the cross was meaningless. That is why the disciples, during those three dark days, were so depressed. "But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place." (Luke 24:21, NIV) This is why Paul said that if Christ had not been raised we would still be in our sins... because it would have proved that the cross had been powerless to atone for sin! But oh, it is not so! The preaching of the cross is in fact the power of God unto salvation for all who will believe! For Christ indeed died, and is risen, and therefore we have assurance before God that redemption is truly found in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:25), and "he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25) The resurrection proved the death of Christ victorious! Hallelujah to the Lamb of God!

In closing, I must now mention once again the inseparable relationship that exists between Christ's resurrection and our own future resurrection. Because Jesus died for us, we are justified in God's sight, and because we are justified, just as Christ rose from the dead, "for it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Acts 2:24), so to shall we be risen from the dead as proof that we are the redeemed children of God, free from the law of sin and death. And just like Christ's resurrection, our resurrection will prove the death of Christ victorious to the ultimate end of the glory of God. It is to this end that all creation groans, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God, when the creature itself "shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Romans 8:21) Praise be to God!

"For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
(1 Corinthians 15:53-57)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Angelic Announcement

"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." - Acts 1:11

The eleventh verse in Acts chapter 1 reveals to us the very first words spoken immediately following our Lord Jesus Christ's ascension into heaven; a message of foremost importance which God in His wisdom delivered to the awe-inspired apostles as they stood breathlessly gazing up to heaven on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had just ascended, and two angels suddenly appeared to announce again the promise of our risen Saviour's future return. What a fitting time for such a proclamation! How this would infuse hope and strength into the Apostles' hearts! It would do us well to seriously examine such an announcement as this, for I believe the reason why there is so much confusion surrounding the doctrine of the second coming of the Lord is because we have failed to take to heart this first and most fundamental Scripture concerning it!

Therefore let us look at the whole passage together, starting at verse nine:

Act 1:9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
Act 1:10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
Act 1:11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
Act 1:12 Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.


Right away we notice a very important phrase, "this same Jesus". Oh, I am glad the Holy Spirit inspired the angel to say this little phrase! For He knew that in the future many false doctrines would arise to try and confuse this very solemn fact. Today I have heard the strangest teachings put forth on the Second Coming of Christ... some have said that the Church, the corporate Body of Christ, is the fulfillment of the coming of the Lord to earth. Others have said that Jesus has already returned in a spiritual or ethereal way. But that is not what our Bible says. "This same Jesus!" It is He, the risen Lord, whom we are expecting.

That 'this same Jesus' is to be clearly represented upon our minds is no light matter according to the Holy Scriptures. Paul was full of godly jealousy to protect the Bride of Christ from similar error. In 2 Corinthians 11:4 we read, "For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him." Peter, when preaching to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, emphatically declared, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Anytime the Bible is speaking about Jesus, it is never meaning another Jesus in some alternative way; it is always referring to this same Jesus, "the man Christ Jesus", who was born of a virgin, crucified on a cross, buried in the grave and resurrected the third day.

Therefore the Jesus the angel is speaking of is the same Jesus who minutes earlier stood before the apostles giving them their marching orders to go and be His witnesses in "Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Observe how many times He is mentioned within our short passage:

-And when He had spoken these things
-He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight
-And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up
-As ye have seen Him go into heaven

The subject is clear: Jesus, the same Jesus who ascended before their very eyes into the clouds of heaven, will so come again in like manner as they had seen Him depart.

We come now to examine the actual details of our Lord's ascension, for as the angel announced, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven", and therefore such details illustrate a direct parallel with Christ's future return. Again, I thank the Holy Spirit for inspiring these words, for now we find in such a simple announcement exceedingly useful prophetic insights.

1. The first parallel we shall notice is that Christ ascended from earth to heaven, and therefore He shall return from heaven to earth. There are many people who believe that Jesus will not again return to earth but will only appear in the sky, however this passage does not allow for such an interpretation, nor does the whole of Scripture for that matter. The Word of God is clear that when Jesus comes He shall descend from heaven to earth as our text reasonably indicates. Christ shall once again set His foot down upon the earth, only this time as earth's rightful triumphal King, and then shall be the times of the restitution of all things, for as it was at the beginning, so shall it be in the end, when once again "the tabernacle of God shall be with men." What a wonderful conclusion!

2. The second parallel in this passage is that of His ascension in the clouds. "And a cloud received them out of their sight." This is a foreshadowing of Christ's final return in the clouds, as Jesus Himself stated in Matthew 24:30, "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." There are numerous verses in both the Old and New Testaments that foretell the great day of the Lord, when Messiah shall descend in the clouds of heaven. Consider the psalmist in Psalm 104, who spoke of the majesty of the Lord's power, singing, "Who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind." (Psalm 104:3) The Apostle John wrote in the opening of the Book of Revelation, "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen." (Revelation 1:7) It is not an accident that this detail is mentioned in our text.

3. The third parallel, and most important of all, is that Jesus ascended visibly in the sight of the Apostles; a fact that will again be realized when Christ appears a second time in the full vision of all the world. There was nothing secret or invisible about His ascension. Notice how the Spirit accents this detail by its strong reiteration within the text; He wants us to understand this critical point:

-While they beheld, he was taken up
-And a cloud received him out of their sight

-And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up-Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?
-Shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven

What care the Holy Spirit took in choosing such words! It is not surprising that this same emphasis is found all throughout the Scriptures which deal with our Lord's second coming. As we have already read in Revelation 1:7, John does not neglect to highlight this very truth: "...every eye shall see him", and also as we have read of Christ's own words in Matthew 24:30, "...they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." When the Lord returns what a sight that will be to all the inhabitants of the earth! Jesus said "as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." (Matthew 24:27) There is nothing secret about this at all.

4. The last parallel we can draw from this passage is found in the last verse, "Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey." The place from which Jesus ascended was the Mount of Olives, and to that very place will He return once again, setting His foot down, when He comes to be glorified in His saints and rule the nations with a rod of iron. To this we turn to the prophet Zechariah, the fourteenth chapter and read, "Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south." (Zechariah 14:3-4) It is no coincidence that today there is a major fault line that runs under Jerusalem and through the Mount of Olives, and if there should be a great earthquake then that mountain would split entirely in two forming a great valley from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Dead Sea in the east. We know that when Jesus Christ returns this will be a reality, a direct fulfillment of this prophecy in Zechariah.


I find it extraordinary that throughout the Bible there is only one hope and one glorious coming ever expected at the end of the age, whether it be from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to the Book of the Revelation of John, from the Olivet Discourse to the angelic announcement after the ascension, or from Enoch the seventh from Adam to the letters of the dear Apostle Paul. There is but one event described, and only one event ever anticipated. That one event is our blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

May we never lose sight of the Church's great expectation.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Keeping His Commandments

"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." - John 14:21-23

For a long time I used to stumble at this verse, never quite understanding what it was truly saying. I used to believe that keeping Christ's commandments basically meant not sinning, or ceasing from all known sin in your life. I would get frustrated when the heavens would be like brass and God would seem so far away even though I was not committing any sins, thinking I was obeying the commandments of the Lord. How I was wrong!

Then one day God began to show me what I had been missing all this time. I saw that Jesus isn't talking about NOT doing something... He's talking about DOING something: an active commission, not a passive cessation. There I was, sitting around not sinning, but I wasn't doing anything, and I was expecting God to reveal Himself to me! But what exactly was I to be doing? The answer is one word: LOVE. And love is the fulfillment of all the commandments of God.

I see now that when we love, that is when Jesus manifests Himself to us. When we love, God, who is love, makes His abode in us. "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." (1 John 4:7) To love one another is to keep the commandments of Jesus, and not only does this manifest Christ to ourselves, but it also manifests Christ to others, for "by this (and by this alone) shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35) Love in deed is the bond of perfection. It's not a passive sinlessness, but a real, deliberate, purposeful, practical, dynamic, enthusiastic LOVE.

But what about sinlessness? Was my ceasing from sin in vain? Absolutely not. For by this lesson God taught me an indispensable truth which I'd also like to share with you:

Ceasing from sin does not make a man special, it makes a man normal. You were not created to sin, and when you do sin you make yourself sub-human, like a demon from hell, a rebel against God, a wicked perversion of nature, and you deface the image from which you were created. When a man refrains from disobedience, he essentially fits the form for which he was made, but nothing more. He becomes like a tree, or an animal, doing exactly what he is suppose to do, fulfilling the elemental laws of nature as a static human being. He eats, he sleeps, he works, he believes in God, he does not sin. There is nothing special about this, yet sadly so few even attain to this normality.

But when a man loves, it is then that he touches the celestial plane! He is lifted above the human standard and begins to partake of the Divine nature, and it is then that Christ's promise is fulfilled, "...and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." When we love, we experience the life of God flowing in us, and through us, and all about us, manifesting His very presence in our steps. It is in our very acts of love that Jesus Christ promised to reveal Himself.

Have you stopped this sin or that sin? That is truly great, and God desires that you do so. You were never made to commit such things and Jesus died to cleanse you from it all. But do you love? For without love you may reach the place of mere human normalcy and status quo behavior, but the Bible says you are nothing. If you are without love you are without Christ, and what a sad place that is to be.

My friend, perhaps you are like I was, striving to experience the risen Christ by only ceasing from your sinful deeds. Why not today reach out to those around you in love, following the example that Jesus gave us, and you will know the truth of His promise. Your life can be supernaturally transformed today, when you are no longer merely ceasing... but now actually doing.

"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me..."