Revelation 17: “Mystery, Babylon the Great.”

1] Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2] with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”

3] So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness.  And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.  4] The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.  5] And on her forehead a name was written:

MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.

6] I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  And when I saw here, I marveled with great amazement.

7] But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel?  I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.  8] The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition.  And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

9] “Here is the mind which has wisdom:  The seven heads are ten mountains on which the woman sits.  10] There are also seven kings.  Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yer come.  And when he comes, he must continue a short time.  11] The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.

12] ‘The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.  13] These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.  14] These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

These verses describe a “woman,” but who is she?  John himself tells us.

In v. 5, he sees that she has a title:  “Mystery, Babylon the Great.”  But in v. 9, he goes even further:  the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.  What one city in the world is known for sitting on seven hills?  It’s Rome, the capital of Italy.  If you don’t believe me, google “city of seven hills.”  And in v. 18, she is described as “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

But what does Rome have to do with Babylon?  What’s the “mystery”?  (In Scripture, a “mystery” is not something to be solved, but something not previously revealed.)

We dealt at some length with this in our post of the letter to the church at Pergamos, so here let’s just say that the link between these two is found in the title Pontifex Maximus, the title held by the Popes since the time of Constantine, and before then by the High Priest of pagan religions, which originated in Babylon, hence she is the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.

In this chapter, John shows the final development of the Church, completely allied with the world.  The beast on which she sits is described as one who was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition.  While I won’t be dogmatic about it, it seems to me that this refers to what we’ve already seen in that the beast, in this case, the head of the final world government, who will die and be allowed to come back to life.

This will result in the world saying, “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him? Revelation 13:4.  Revelation 17:8 continues, and those who well on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they seen the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

I attended a Bible Conference with several hundred pastors.  One of the speakers had as his text Revelation 17.  As he read the chapter, he got to verse 8, and read the first part. Then there was silence for what seemed like a long time, but probably only a few seconds.  He skipped over the part of the verse we quoted in the last paragraph, went to v. 9 and read it and the rest of the chapter.  He never once read or referred to the part of the verse he left out.

I understand there’s a lot of controversy over the topics of election and predestination – the group to which I belonged at the time was very opposed to the Reformed view of them, but to skip over and not even read a portion of Scripture simply because it doesn’t fit a doctrinal viewpoint??

I’m not going to get into those subjects myself at this time.  I’ve done that enough in other posts.  Just remember, our Lord commented that the deception John prophesied would be so great as “to deceive, if possible, even the elect,” Matthew 24:24.

In v. 12, John explains the meaning of the ten horns.  There’s a lot of discussion about who they are, some trying to find them in historical figures, some finding them in consecutive forms of government or rulers.  But John says they’re all contemporaries of the beast and will with one mind yield their power to him.  They will be at the forefront of the “battle” when the Lord comes back, having gathered together with all their armies to invade and conquer Israel.

There’s an interesting description of those who will accompany the Lord Jesus when He returns:  they are called, chosen, and faithful, v. 14.

1. They are called.

This is a common designation of believers, especially in Paul’s epistles.  Cf. Romans 1:6; 8:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 9, 24, 26, chapter 7, to name just two of them.  Then there’s Romans 8:28, a favorite verse of many, and a comfort to believers:  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (emphasis added).

There are those who look at the word “foreknew” in v. 29 and say that God simply looked down the corridors of time and chose those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  On that basis, He chose them.

The Scripture itself uses that picture.  Psalm 14:2 says, The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God.  If the “foreknowledge” view is correct, we’d be told that God saw some folks who would receive Him.  Is that what we’re told?

Not at all.

Psalm 14:3 says, They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none good, no, not one.  Paul quoted this portion in Romans 3:11 as he shows the complete and utter corruption of mankind, concluding, There is no fear of God before their eyes, v. 18.

2. They are chosen.

What does this mean?  We’ve already commented on “called.”  Our Lord put “called” and “chosen” together when, in the parable of the wedding feast, He said, “For many are called but few are chosen,” Matthew 22:14.

I heard a pastor quote that as, “Many are called, but few choose.”

There’s a common mindset that just simply cannot wrap itself around the idea that God chooses people to be saved.  But without that “choice,” there would be no one saved.  In Romans 9:29, Paul wrote, And as Isaiah said before:  “Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah.”

While it’s true that Paul was referring to Israel, it holds equally true for us Gentiles as well, for there is no difference [between Jew and Gentile], for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  If God didn’t choose us, we would never choose Him.

But there’s a final word describing these believers:

3. They are faithful.

There’s a charge made against those who hold the doctrine of God’s sovereign election that we can live as we like and don’t have to worry about holy living.  And it’s true that some do live just like the world, but that’s not a result of the doctrine, but of a misunderstanding of it.  Ephesians 1:4 says that He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him.

In vs. 16-18, John closes his description of this wicked woman and her surroundings.  “The waters” are simply the nations of the world over which, with their rulers, she holds sway, v. 18.  The “ten horns,” whatever kind of alliance that turns out to be, will turn on her and destroy her.  Perhaps this will be because she does claim to represent God, and the beast will himself claim to be God – and will allow no competition.

V. 17 again reminds us that God is overseeing and superintending what goes on in this world.  It also answers the common idea that we must be “willing” before God can work with us.  Here are godless, wicked rulers and yet God has no difficulty putting it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose,…until the words of God are fulfilled (emphasis added).  It’s their purpose, but it’s God’s as well, cf. Genesis 50:20.  A lot of people are bothered by that idea, as Daniel, or rather Nebuchadnezzar, put it, in Daniel 4:35:

“He does according to His will in the armies of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ ” 

But why is God so opposed to this “woman”?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the golden cup she holds.  What is the central part of her worship?  Is it not the Mass?  And what is the central part of the Mass?  Isn’t it the offering of “the unbloody sacrifice” of the Lord Jesus in that bread and wine, which are said to be transformed into His actual body and blood?  In this way, what the Lord Jesus Himself did on the Cross is negated and the efficacy of His sacrifice is made to depend on the utterance of a few words by a priest.  This is presumption of the highest order.

There is no salvation in such things.

We cannot, we dare not, try to add to what He did or to say that men must come to Him through some ritual or ceremony as part of a church service, whether it’s the Mass or an altar call.

There is only one way of salvation, and that is through faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross.  There is nothing to be added to it.  Indeed, such “additions” only subtract from what He did.

Is your hope of heaven in what some man has done?

In what you have done?

Or, in what the Lord Jesus Christ did?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

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Revelation 8:1-6, The Sound of Silence.

1] When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  2]  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.  3] Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne.  4] And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.  5] The the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth.  And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

6] So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.  (NKJV)

This title has nothing to do with the song originally put out by Simon and Garfunkel in the 60’s, which I remember, and later versions, which I do not know or remember.  I’d forgotten about the song when I decided on the title for the post.

So, why this title?

How can “silence” have “sound”?  Isn’t silence the absence of sound?

Let me tell you a story.  I had a friend in Bible College whose family I would visit every so often.  One time in particular I remember.  The room they put me up in had the air conditioner in the window.  It gets hot in Tennessee.  Anyway, this one time it was running, very noisily.  As morning drew near, someone turned it off.  That was what woke me up, that sudden, deafening, silence.

As we come to our text in Revelation, remember the scene John has set:  chorus after chorus, anthem after anthem, shout after shout, of praise, adoration and worship continually being voiced by the multitudes gathered around the throne.  Then, suddenly,

there was silence in heaven….

Perhaps for the first time ever.

The sound of silence….

No “background music” to set the scene.

Just utter, complete silence.

Then…

Seven angels are given trumpets.

Another angel holding a golden censer approaches the golden altar in front of the throne.  He’s given “much incense” to offer “with the prayers of all the saints” on the altar.    Then he takes the censer, fills it with fire from the altar and hurls it to the earth, which results in noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

The seven angels prepare to sound their trumpets.

We don’t often think of heaven as having an altar or censers, but Hebrews tells us that the OT tabernacle was modeled on things in heaven, Hebrews 9:24.

It’s interesting that the prayers of the saints are mentioned twice.  And by “prayers,” I don’t think John meant those repetitive, formal prayers recited during church services or repeated during quiet times.  To be sure, they can be heart-felt and fervent, but I’m afraid that too often our mouths are saying one thing and our mind is thinking of something else.

When the Lord wanted to convince Ananias that it was safe to go find Saul of Tarsus, He said, [B]ehold, he is praying,”  Acts 9:11.  Now, Saul had been a zealous Pharisee before his conversion and, no doubt, like that Pharisee mentioned in Luke 18:11, had often “stood and prayed…with himself,” telling God what a great guy he, Saul, was.

What was the difference?  Before, he had simply “said” prayers.  Now, he was “praying.”  He wasn’t just going through the motions; he had literally been stopped in his tracks.

“The prayers of the saints.”  Those prayers themselves are described as “incense” in Revelation 5:8.

Without getting into the typology of the Tabernacle and offerings, the incense offered with the prayers of the saints refers to the merit of the Lord Jesus.  It is He who makes them presentable to a holy, righteous and just God.  That’s why, in Colossians 3:17, we’re told, Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

John brings up a subject we don’t really think about, don’t even like to think about, apparently.  Paul mentioned it in Romans 11:22:  consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness.  Otherwise you also will be cut off.

Our society and culture is all over the idea of “the goodness of God.”  “God is love” is apparently all the theology many people have.  And we are thankful that “God is love,” else we’d all be in trouble.

There is more to God than “love.”  That same book that mentioned the love of God also said of God, This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.  “This is the message” – not that “God is love,” but that “God is light,” that is, that He is holy, righteous and just.  That is the God with whom we have to do, not this sentimental, grandfatherly type that we seem to have today that chuckles over the foibles and folly of His children.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, we ARE NOT His children, in spite of what is commonly believed today.  We are His subjects, He is our God and King, against whom we are traitorous rebels who are doing everything we can to dethrone Him.  We are the subjects of His wrath.  There is coming a time when that will be plain to all, when the inhabitants of the earth will have to acknowledge that wrath, Revelation 6:17.

The truth is, apart from the Lord Jesus there is nothing but wrath and condemnation for the unbeliever:  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. … He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him, John 3:18, 36, emphases added.

That’s true of nations, as well.  Psalm 9:17 says, The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.  History is littered with the ruins of nations that have come and gone.  This country will not be exempt.  I’m encouraged by recent events that perhaps God has given us a breather, so to speak, but still, there is abundant evidence that the voice of the enemy has not been silenced, only muted a little.  Indeed, those same events may stir the enemy up.

Heaven may seem to be silent for the time being.  Life goes on.  But there is coming a time, sooner or later, when it will speak loudly and clearly, and finally, to the inhabitants of this world.

We do not rejoice in the idea of judgment.  God Himself has no pleasure in judgment.  Ezekiel 33:11 says, “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’  And Isaiah 28:21 calls judgment, His unusual work.

Indeed, God has gone to great lengths to make a way of escape from the judgment rightfully due us.

Seeing a mankind that would universally reject Him, He chose from among these rebels a vast number to be saved.  For those who object to such an idea, for Him to have chosen only one to be saved would be more than any of us deserve, let alone the countless multitudes that He has chosen.

Having chosen these otherwise condemned sinners to be saved, God sent His Son to take their place under His wrath.  The Lord Jesus suffered what we should suffer, who are by nature children of wrath, just as the others, Ephesians 2:3.  Because He suffered, there is no more wrath for us, those for whom He died, Romans 5:9.

But there was still something that needed to be done.  Because we were dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1, because we once were alienated from the life of God, Ephesians 4:18, and were alienated and enemies of God, Colossians 1:21, God sent the Holy Spirit:  God has revealed them to us through his Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:10.

Our Lord referred to this work of the Spirit in John 3 as the new birth, a birth not of flesh and blood, but of or by the Holy Spirit.  Without this birth, we are unable either to see or to enter into the things of God, John 3:3, 5.  Without His work, there is no understanding at all of spiritual truth.  Religion, yes, spiritual truth, no.

Oh, there is so much more we could say about this.  It’s enough for now to say that judgment is coming.

Only those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ will be spared that judgment.

Have you believed on Him?

Revelation 3:20a, “Behold, I Stand At the Door”

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.”  

Revelation 3:20 is a very familiar Scripture.  One of my earliest memories is sitting in a church service in which a famous picture derived from this verse was being explained.  I don’t remember a lot about it anymore, except that it was the usual approach that Christ is standing at the door of the heart of the lost sinner, calling to him to open the door and let the Lord in.  One preacher in this vein even went so far as to refer to our Lord as “the Christ of the bloody knuckles.”

Ah, beloved, the Lord God and His Son have more interest in and concern for the salvation of sinners than you or I can even begin to imagine.  Look at all they’ve done to bring it about.  Salvation isn’t just the thing of a moment, the result of an “oops” on God’s part when our first parents fell.  It wasn’t some result of a “hastily called emergency meeting,” as one writer put it.  How anyone can even think such a thing of our God is beyond me.  There are no “emergencies” with God.

No. no.

Scripture tells us salvation stretches from eternity past, when it was conceived in the heart, mind, purpose and action of God, through today and the work of the Spirit in regenerating sinners and bringing them to faith in the Lord Jesus, into the boundless eternity of the future in the presence of These who loved us and gave themselves for us.  It was the Lord Jesus who died on the Cross, but the others have been or are just as active and have their own part in our salvation.

Christmas, just a few days from now, should remind us of all this.

But that’s not what John is telling us.  Our Lord is not talking to sinners, but to His own churches!  And since churches are made up of individuals, He’s talking to the individual members of those churches.

It ought to be a staggering thought – that the Lord of the church stands on the outside!  Asking for entrance!  No wonder John records Him as saying, “Behold”!

This doesn’t mean that the Lord is impotent, or that He “must” wait for us to “take the first step.”  It does mean that we are responsible for how we respond to His commands, and His entreaties.  Besides, Scripture tells us that He is quite able to open the door Himself, cf. Acts 16:14, which tells of us of Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened…to heed the things spoken by Paul.

And we are responsible to respond.  Make no mistake about it.  Some have taken the sovereignty of God to such an extreme that they almost make men puppets or robots.  Or take them out of the picture altogether.  They’re like those who responded to William Carey, “the father of modern missions,” who felt a call and desire to go to India.  In effect, he was told, “Young man, if God wants to save the heathen, He can do it without you.”  Others go to the other extreme and make God little more than a humble supplicant at the throne of man’s will.

We’re not sticks or stones.  And we don’t just run on instinct, as much of the animal world seems to.  We’re creatures with intellect, emotions and will. We’re able to think, to feel, and to do.  The fact that these faculties have all been corrupted by the Fall of Adam doesn’t make us any less responsible to use them, or for how we use them.

Churches.

The Lord’s talking to them.

I wonder how many in their church services really look to see if the Lord is with them, or if He’s on the outside.  Or if they assume that just because they’re there, then so is He.  And Baptists tend to be as bad at this as those “formal” churches they differ with.  After all, their “order of services” is pretty much as “set” as any routine in any liturgical church.

But He’s not talking just to individuals in churches.

There’s so much application here.

He’s talking to churches, yes.

But I think He might also be talking to –

Families…

Neighborhoods…

Cultures…

Our nation….

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock….”

 

Hebrews 2:17, 18: “A Merciful and Faithful High Priest”.

[17]Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  [18]For in that He himself has suffered being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (NKJV)

Having shown the superiority of the Lord Jesus over angels, and that He isn’t just another angel, the writer has turned his attention to the reason why the Lord Jesus entered humanity in the Incarnation, namely, to be a sacrifice for sins.  And not just a sacrifice, but the sacrifice for sin.

This sacrifice wasn’t just to be a willy-nilly, haphazard affair, dependent on sinful men for its “success,” but had in mind a definite people – the brethren, the children God had given Him, the seed of Abraham – and a definite purpose – to destroy the devil and to release those who are under bondage to him.

Our text for today begins with the word, “therefore.”  As someone has said, “When you see the word ‘therefore,’ you need to find out what it’s there for.”  In this case, it introduces the current place the Lord Jesus holds for His people, namely, that of a merciful and faithful High Priest.  In order to be able to become that,

He had to be made like His brethren.

The writer’s already mentioned that the Lord “took part” (KJV) in the flesh and blood of those for whom He came to be the Sacrifice.  Though miraculously conceived, His was a real body, truly flesh and blood, as human as anyone has ever been, as human as you and I.  There was only one exception:  He was without sin.  This is the only way He could be a suitable sacrifice, acceptable to God.

As you read through all the regulations in Leviticus, you see over and over again the requirement that both the sacrifice and the priest who officiated had to be “perfect.”  No blemish was permissible.  This was one of the complaints God had against Israel all through their history.  In Malachi 1:8, God rebuked His people with this, “When you offer the blind [animal] as a sacrifice, is it not evil?  And when you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil?  Offer it then to your governor!  Would he be pleased with you?”  See also v. 12.  He says, “You wouldn’t offer this to those who rule over you!  Why do you offer it to Me??”

This is why it is impossible for us to atone for our own sins.   Neither we nor what we can do is “perfect.”  In speaking of Israel, Isaiah 64:6 says, But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  The word translated “filthy rags” refers to a menstrual cloth or to a rag a leper might use to care for or bandage his sores.  Not very pretty, is it?  And it’s used of our righteousnesses – those good things we do that we think so highly of.  What must our unrighteousnesses be like in His sight?  If it’s objected that this refers to Israel, and it does, yet Romans 3:22, 23 says, there is no difference [between Jew and Gentile]; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

“No difference.”

Our “ethnicity” doesn’t matter.  We all stand in abject depravity and sinfulness in the sight of God.  Apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, we all stand condemned already before Him, John 3:18.  It’s too late for good works or reformation or “religion.”

Too late.

Too late.

Too late….

THAT is why Jesus had to be born into this world.  He’s the only One Who could ever do anything about our sins.

in things pertaining to God.

Life isn’t just about family, or work, or getting ahead, or having a good time or any of the thousands of other things life may involve.  Many of these, like family, have their important place, but, too often, we get wrapped up in things which are temporary, and forget the things which are eternal.

The atheist or unbeliever will tell us that this life, this world, is all there is.  There is no God.  There is no heaven or hell.  This is it.  When you’re dead, you’re dead.  “Religion” is for the weak, the ignorant.

But I think life itself tells us that there has to be more than this.  Years ago, a singer named Peggy Lee had a song in which, after going through all the various good things in life, she asked, “Is that all?”

“Is that all?”

Certainly, Scripture tells us that this life isn’t all there is.

it is appointed for man once to die, but after this the judgment…, Hebrews 9:27. (NKJV)

We will yet stand before God and give an account of our lives.  The faithful believer, the atheist, the agnostic, the followers of “the world’s religions,” the important, the insignificant, all of us will stand before God.  And woe to us if we don’t have an Advocate there with us , cf. 1 John 2:2.  I know that verse refers to the present, but I think it might apply to the future, as well.

And woe to us if we don’t have “propitiation.”

There are several words used of what Christ did on the Cross.  This particular word means, “appeasement.”  A poor example might be the bouquet of flowers a husband brings home to soothe an offended wife.

Romans 1:24-27 tells us that God gave early man over to his depravity.  I believe this is the background to the story of the call of Abraham.  God had given mankind over to judgment, but He called one man through whom He would eventually reclaim the human race to Himself.  Not every member of that race will be redeemed, but the race itself will be saved.  Had God not so intervened, had Christ not come, that would not happen, could not happen, cf. Romans 9:29.  There would be no salvation, only richly-deserved judgment.  In the OT, God chose only to reveal Himself to one nation.  Though Israel was to be a witness to other nations, they had to come to her to find the truth.  Judgment was still on them.

But when Christ died, He “appeased,” as it were, that wrath and judgment, so that, now, the Gospel is to be preached to every nation.  We are to go to them; they don’t have to come to us.

But life isn’t just about what happens after death, it’s about “now.”  So the writer concludes,

For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted, v, 18.

Some people object that, since the Lord Jesus couldn’t be tempted by sin, He really can’t understand our being tempted.  But may I suggest that the Lord was more bothered by sin than any of us ever will be.  He was absolutely holy and sinless in the midst of a people who were anything but.  Further, He knew the realities of heaven and hell in the midst of a people who often didn’t seem to care.  After all, they were God’s chosen people, weren’t they?  We read in the Scripture that He groaned and wept, but we never read that He laughed.  This doesn’t mean that He was a miserable spoil-sport.  He just knew the differences.

The word translated, “tempted,” means “tested.”  It doesn’t necessarily mean “tempted to sin”.  There are many “tests” in life which have nothing to do with sin.  Every day brings tests of one kind or another.  Just because He never used a computer or drove a Chevy doesn’t mean the Lord doesn’t know what goes on in our lives.  After all, Isaiah 53:3 describes Him as A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  In speaking of Israel in the OT, Isaiah 63:9 says, In all their afflictions He was afflicted.  Though we cannot “humanize” the God of Scripture, He is not the unfeeling monster the atheist and skeptic would have us to believe.

And through the Lord Jesus, God has, in a manner of speaking, been “humanized.”  He brought Himself down to our level, so that He might, as it were, bring us up to His level. We’ll never be God, but we will one day be perfect.  Writing to believers, the Apostle John said, Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

 

March Memories: “If Jesus Is God,….”

[In a couple of our last “March Memory” reviews, we looked at what the Bible says about the deity of the Lord Jesus, that He was truly God manifest in the flesh.

“Yes, but…”]

“If Jesus is God, how can the Father be greater than He is?”  “Does Jesus pray to Himself?” “Doesn’t that make Him His own Father”  “”How can He call God, ‘My God’?”  “Why were there things He didn’t know?”

And on and on go the questions.

All such questions were answered by Paul in Philippians 2:5-11:

Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  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 those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This incredible Scripture has three parts.

Jesus as God, vs. 6, 7.

1.  His being, in the form of God.

In our post on “The Third Genealogy,” we noted that nowhere does the Bible speak of Jesus “becoming” or being “created” as God, or a God.  John said that as the Word, “Jesus” being His human name, He was, or, existed as, God.

To us, the word form carries the idea of “shape.”  However, to the Greek mind, the word carried the idea of nature or character.  In agreement with John, Paul was saying that the Word was Deity, was God.

2.  His thinking, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.

Though there is discussion among scholars about the meaning of the words translated, “consider it robbery,” it seems to me that the best meaning is that He didn’t think equality with the Father was something to be selfishly held on to.  We’ll return to this thought in a moment.

3.  His action, made Himself of no reputation.

Scripture teaches that there was a group of people who would otherwise have been lost who were chosen by the Father, Who gave them to the Son.  Jesus called them “His sheep.”  However, since these people are by nature the children of wrath, Ephesians 2:3, something had to be done about their sin and their sinfulness.

Jesus agreed to come into this world as the Redeemer and Representative of His people, “His sheep,” Matthew 1:21.  He was their “Shepherd.”  However, He didn’t come with glory and honor, such as He had in Heaven with the Father, and which He could rightfully have claimed.  He didn’t “hold on to” the honor He had as God.  He didn’t come as a “personality” with a huge following, like some in the Church today.  He was born into an ordinary family in an obscure village in a part of Israel that was looked down on.  He spent 90% of His life unknown and even when He began His ministry, it was to ordinary people, the rulers and leaders wanting nothing to do with Him.  Indeed, it was they who ultimately demanded His death.

He didn’t just “think about” doing something.  He went ahead and did it.

The phrase could be translated, “He emptied Himself,” and there is discussion about what this means.  Some teach that He emptied Himself of His deity, that as Man He ceased to be God.  That isn’t what the term means at all.  We’ll come back here in a minute.

Jesus as Man, vs. 7, 8.

When Paul wrote that Jesus took on the form of a bondservant and the likeness of men, he wasn’t saying that Jesus just “looked” like a man.  He was emphasizing that Jesus was really and truly human.  As human as you or me, without the sin which plagues us.  Though we speak of “the virgin birth,” it was His conception which was miraculous.  Once conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, though, He developed like any other baby.  Like any other baby, He was born into this world, where He grew and developed as a baby, a toddler, a child, a teenager (though that is a recent concept), and then as an adult.  Indeed, in His culture, once He reached adolescence, He would pretty much have been considered an adult.

It’s difficult to visualize the Creator of the Universe as having to learn how to walk,

This is where all the questions come in about the so-called limitations of Jesus.  As a human being, He didn’t have the infinite capabilities that He had as God.  It is this He divested Himself of, His divine glory and the independent exercise of His divine power, though there are still glimpses of them.  He turned water into wine, walked on water, stilled storms, healed the sick, raised the dead.  These aren’t ordinarily human activities.  Though Man, He did not cease to be God.

As for those who say that He never claimed to be God, those who heard His statement in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM, clearly understood that’s what He was saying, that He was Jehovah.  That’s why they tried to kill Him – and why they couldn’t.  See also John 5:18; 10:33.

Even though Jesus was, and is, God, He had a human mind and mere human abilities.  This is why, though as God He is omniscient, there were things He didn’t “know.”  It wasn’t because He wasn’t God, but because He was also Man.  As God, He is omnipotent.  As a Man, He got tired and hungry.  As God, He is omnipresent, being here and there.  As a man, He had to walk from here to there.

In addition, Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the Law, Galatians 4:4.  As such, He was responsible to live by its demands.  This would include acknowledging the Father as His God just like any other Jewish person.  This is why, when talking to Mary Magdalene about His ascension, He could say that He was going to “My God and your God,”  John 20:17.  Notice, however, He didn’t say, “our God.”  There was still a distinction.

As a Jewish man under the Law, He would have been subject to the Father.  It was because of this that He could say that the Father was greater than He.  It has nothing to do with some “inferiority” on His part, but has everything to do with the relationship He had with the Father at that time.  It had nothing to do with His not being God, but everything to do with His being human.  In addition, He had come to do the Father’s will, John 5:26 and many other verses.  He had come as the Servant of Jehovah, Isaiah 42:1-4.  As such, He was  obedient….

As the ultimate evidence of His humanity, He died.  God cannot die.  This is why the Word had to take on Himself true humanity, so that, as “Jesus,” He could die.  But He didn’t die easily, in glory and honor, with a morphine drip, as terminal patients do today.  He even refused what relief was available back then, Matthew 27:34.  He died the most cruel death imaginable, a death even the Romans considered despicable, though they weren’t slow to use it.

In the words of Paul, He died even the death of the cross….

But, His story doesn’t end there.

Jesus as Lord, vs. 9-11.

As far as the world is concerned, Jesus has little, if any, relevance or significance.  He might as well still be dead.  Many believe that He still is.  Certainly, there is no government which honors Him or tries to live by His word.  Even “Christendom” has relegated Him to a secondary, or less, role.  In fact, many churches still have Him on the Cross.  Others have taken His place as Head of the Church or as who guides how it functions.

To many unbelievers, Jesus is little more than a cuss word.  Or a name to be mocked and ridiculed.  Many doubt that He really existed.  Sadly, even many professing Christians don’t give Him the honor He deserves, seeing Him only as a buddy, or “a Jewish carpenter.”  Views about Him are more likely to be from sentiment than they are from Scripture.

Scripture says that God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand.  There is a lot of discussion about what this means, and the place of the Lord Jesus in the current scheme of things.  Arguments abound over the interpretation of Old Testament Scriptures which tell of a “kingdom” over which Messiah will reign.  It’s not the purpose of this post to get into all that.

It’s enough to say that there is coming a time when every single created being will bow before the Lord Jesus and confess that He is who He said He is. Every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.  There are those who believe that this means that everyone will eventually be saved.  Scripture teaches otherwise.  The atheist, the skeptic, the false religionist, the demon, all will be forced to bow before Him and acknowledge Him.  This bothers some people who are concerned about “free will,” but there is no “free will” in this, any more than in a criminal forced to acknowledge his sentence and enter prison.  And there will be no appeals from this court.

God WILL be glorified in this, His Son, this One despised and rejected of men.

Though one day, even the lost will have to admit that He is Lord, He is Lord, and He has willing subjects.

Are you one of them?

There’s really only one thing left to consider….

What do you think about Christ?  Matthew 22:42.
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(originally published, May 8, 2013.)  edited and additional material.

March Memories: Jesus, The Good Shepherd.

In John 10, the Lord Jesus had a lot to say about His sheep.  Shepherds and sheep were a common sight, and He used them to illustrate redemption.  Without going into great detail, and in no particular order, there are several things in this chapter which illustrate the care of the Lord for His sheep.

1.  The shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.

By the very nature of his job, the shepherd is responsible for the welfare of his flock.  It is what he does.  He isn’t there for himself, but for them.  Further, he is accountable for what he does.  We see the Lord’s responsibility in John 10:16 (NKJV), where He said, “…other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring….”  Notice the phrase, “I must bring.”  He has responsibility for the sheep.

He also has accountability.  In John 17:2, the Lord told the Father, “Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”  The Lord is accountable to the Father for those whom the Father has given Him.

2.  The shepherd has authority over the sheep.

Because He is the shepherd, He has the right and the authority to enter the sheepfold, vs. 1,2, and to lead them out to pasture.  The doorkeeper, or security guard, to use the modern term, knows Him and will let Him in.

Indeed, our Great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20, has been given authority over all flesh, John 17:2 (emphasis added).  Have you ever really thought about that?  Does it just mean, as some seem to think, that He is now “ruling” in heaven?  I don’t wish to be difficult, but it seems to me from His own words that such a thought has nothing to do with what He actually said.  John 17:2 says, “…as You [the Father] have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him  (emphasis added).  A lot of people don’t like to hear that.  I do understand.

Our religious culture has been so filled with the idea that God’s done all He can do, and now it’s up to us, that any idea that that may not really be true is hard for some to accept.  This is not to deny our responsibility to preach the Gospel or to believe it.  Preaching is the means God uses to call in the sheep, and faith is the evidence that one is a sheep.  And “preaching” doesn’t just mean from a pulpit.  It has to do with anything that focuses attention on the Lord Jesus.  That might just be how we do our job.  A tract, this blog, a word of encouragement, all these may be included in “preaching.”

The shepherd has authority.

3.  The shepherd knows the identity of the sheep.

Perhaps there would be several flocks of sheep in a fold, but the shepherd knew which ones were his, vs. 4, 5.  And the sheep knew him,  Furthermore, he knew them individually.  He had named each of them, and called them one by one.  Naming animals is nothing new.

We’ve mentioned elsewhere the lovely duet sung in church to the effect that “when He died, He didn’t even know my name”!  That is a truly sad view of the death of Christ.  He knew His sheep when He hung on the Cross, dying for them.  He knew them before Genesis 1:1.  Their names were written in His Book of Life before time began, Revelation 13:8; 17:8.  And He will know them forever.

He knew everything about us,…and He died for us, anyway.  We are His.

4.  The shepherd guides the activity of the sheep.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings them out, he goes before them, vs. 3, 4.  The Psalmist put it like this:  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still water, Psalm 23:2, 3.

5.  The shepherd seeks the prosperity of the sheep.

Now this doesn’t mean a fat bank account, a nice house and a Lexus out in the driveway, perfect health and wonderful relationships, as many in the church think, who seem to have no interest in anything beside this world.   The shepherd wanted his flock to be fed and watered and protected.  Our Lord has that for His own, but He has so much more besides.  He said, “I have come that they might have life, and they might have it more abundantly,”  v. 10.  Once again, the “abundant life” doesn’t refer to material things, though the Lord may give those to us.  Nor, as some believe, does it refer to a state of sinless perfection.  After all, the life the sheep have is eternal.  In the Lord Jesus Christ, the poorest believer has for free what all the wealth in the world for all time could not buy:  eternal life.  “Abundant life” isn’t the privilege for an elite few among believers.  It belongs to all of us because our Shepherd has given it to us.

6.  The shepherd provides security for the sheep.

In vs. 11-14, Jesus said, “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.  But he who is an hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches them and scatters them.  I am the good Shepherd, and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”  

Further, He said in vs. 27-30, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  My Father and I are one.”

In those four verses is clearly stated the hated (at least by some), the hated doctrine of eternal security, centuries before John Calvin and the generation after him, which actually formulated the so-called “5 Points”.  Our Lord said that His sheep would never perish, and no one could take them away from Him or the Father.  To the idiotic idea that, well, yes, but they can leave, – that would just show that they weren’t sheep to begin with.  Cf. 1 John 2:19.

In v. 27, the tenses are all “present;” the sheep are hearing, the Lord is knowing, and the sheep are following.  Salvation isn’t something that just happened years ago with some “decision” or church rite.  It’s a “today” thing – which doesn’t mean that we can lose it tomorrow.  When tomorrow gets here, then it will be “today,” and the sheep will still be following….

Jesus and the Father are “one” in Their determination to save the sheep.  It’s a commentary on the sorry condition of Christianity that the belief that that can be thwarted is so widely held.  The sheep are Christ’s.  He cannot and will not lose them.

7.  The shepherd tends to the productivity of the sheep.

Leaving aside the fact that sheep can be food, they produce two things: wool and more sheep.  In John 15:5, 8, the Lord said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you shall be My disciples.”  The goal, and responsibility, of the Christian life is fruitfulness.  After listing several things to be developed as corollaries of faith, like virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, Peter goes on to say, For if these things are yours and abound, you shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 1:5-8.  This could really be a post in itself.

The LORD is my Shepherd….  These thought are just a small portion of what Psalm 23:1  means.
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(Originally posted on April 12, 2013) edited and new material.

 

 

 

“The Kindness of God.” Part 8: “…those who are called.”

IV. Called by Grace.

So far, we’ve looked at the role of the Father in planning salvation; we’ve looked at the Son and His securing of it.  In this post, we want to look at the role of the Holy Spirit in one aspect of our salvation, namely, our entering into it.

There are whole movements which focus entirely on the Spirit, but our Lord said that the Spirit’s work isn’t to emphasize the Spirit or to give believers something to be proud of because they have a particular gift.  It’s to emphasize and glorify the Lord Jesus, John 16:4, and it’s emphatic, “Me [the Lord Jesus], He shall glorify….”  

There are some who focus almost entirely on the work of the Father.  Every message must be about or at least include a reference to the sovereignty of God.  Even in the midst of appeals for people to believe on Christ, they will have to insert, “if you’re one of the elect, you will be saved.”  I’ve had this happen.  That may be doctrinally true, but no lost person in Scripture was ever told that.  Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus that he had to be one of the elect.

Without doubt, the Father and the Spirit are important to our salvation.  Indeed, they are essential to it!  Without them, there would be no salvation!  However, the focus of our faith is to be on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus:  Who He was and what He did.  The Philippian jailer was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

We’re told the same thing.

At the same time, we’ll never do that without the work of the Spirit.  There are more than 75 references to “calling” in Scripture.  Not all of these, of course, refer to the Spirit, but verses like John 6:44; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10; Titus 3:5, etc., are clear that “calling” is a work of the Spirit which infallibly brings an elect and redeemed sinner [the work of the Father and Son] to faith in Christ.

Another word used to describe the Spirit’s work is “efficacious.”  It is “effective,” that is, it gets the job done.

The word most commonly used is “irresistible,” because it fits the particular acronym which inadequately summarizes these doctrines,  This word is usually rejected as being something coercive:  God saving people against their will.  However, even in daily life, there are many instances of people being saved against their will.  People who are drowning sometimes struggle against their rescuers and have to be subdued before they can be rescued.  People trying to commit suicide are sometimes prevented from doing this, and some of them might never “forgive” their rescuers.  Still, such people are looked on as heroes.  It is only God, Who rescues from a far greater danger than anything this world knows about, Who is told that He can’t do that.  We must be “willing,” or He is helpless.

There is, however, another way of defining the word, “irresistible.”  It is food to someone who is starving.  It is water to someone who is dying of thirst,  Our Lord used both of these figures in His own teaching:  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Matthew 5:6.  See also John 4:10-14; 6:35, 48.  That’s the Spirit’s work – to make us hungry and thirsty.

In this post, we want to look at two men who experienced God’s call:  Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus.  Two words broadly summarize our topic:  regeneration and reconciliation.  Nicodemus gives us great insight into the first and Saul into the second.

A.  Nicodemus:  You must be born again, John 3:7.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why Nicodemus?”  Why not the woman at the well, or any of the other people Jesus dealt with?  Why is Nicodemus the only one given that message?  It’s never mentioned in the Book of Acts, either.  If Jesus and the Apostles had been like some modern preachers, it would have been in every message.

1.  The man, Nicodemus.

Who was Nicodemus?  In the first place, he was a Jew, and as such already identified with the people of God.  This brought him and them great advantage:  Romans 3:1, 3; 9:4, 5.  Second, he himself was a leader of those people:  the teacher of Israel, John 3:10, perhaps signifying a unique place among his people.  This would have brought him great prestige, honor and wealth.  Third, he was a Pharisee, a bad thing in our day because of those who abused their position, but something highly respected in his own day.  Fourth, simply as a Jew, he would have believed that righteousness before God was something which he could accomplish himself.

Scripture seems to support that idea.  In Deuteronomy 6:25, Moses told Israel, “Then it shall be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”  However, even Moses himself, and God, as well, recognized that Israel would never do that.  There isn’t a single verse in the Old Testament to indicate that they would actually be obedient, even though they twice agreed to do all that the Lord commanded.  Moses wasn’t even down from Sinai before the people had violated the first and seventh commandments in a wild orgy in front of the golden calf.

So, Nicodemus thought it was up to him.  As far as he knew, he was already “in”.  Our Lord’s message, as it were, blindsided him.

What was the message?

2.  The message to Nicodemus.

a.  He needed something he didn’t have.

For all that he had, he didn’t have the one thing necessary:  life.  That’s what “birth” is all about:  life.  Without getting into the abortion debate, birth is the evidence of life, not its beginning.  A “dead birth” is a contradiction in terms.  (If you, or someone you know, have suffered a “stillbirth,” I’m so sorry.  I don’t mean to add to or make light of that loss and grief.)

b.  He needed something he couldn’t do.

John 3 is the story of one very likely who thought that his heritage, his position, his keeping of the Law – who he was and what he did – were more than enough for him to “enter the kingdom”.  After all, he was a member of the family of Israel, God’s chosen nation.  However, our Lord said to him, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough.  You must be born into God’s family.”

In addition, Nicodemus was and had done this and this and this.  Yet the Lord in effect said, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough.  You need something you can’t do.  Even if you could return to your mother’s womb, it would do no good.  All that the flesh can produce is ‘flesh’.  You need something the flesh can’t do; you need a spiritual birth, a birth produced only and solely by the Spirit of God,”

Boiled down to one sentence, Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he, Nicodemus, needed God to do something for him that he himself couldn’t do.  He needed a second birth, a spiritual birth, something that was not, and could never be, the result of anything he could do.  He needed something that could not be done or started by “the flesh”.

Modern error has turned that exactly around.  Now we’re told that God needs us to do something for Him that He Himself cannot do:  “God’s done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

That is not what the Lord told Nicodemus.

So many folks today are just like him, trusting in what they are or have done. They are quite content with their religion or church, or lack thereof, thank you. They have walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, had a few drops of water on their foreheads when they were infants.  Their father or mother or grandmother was a Christian.  They have been baptized.  Confirmed.  Seen a vision.  Do their best,  Pay their bills.  Take care of their family.  And on and on.

They are secure in their belief that God will welcome them into “a better place,” but have no understanding that they are under His condemnation because their sins have never been dealt with, and they have no righteousness He will accept.  They are dead in trespasses and sin, Ephesians 2:1, and need a life they can neither generate nor initiate.

The Lord rebuked Nicodemus because, as “the teacher in Israel,” he should have known the OT references to “a clean heart,” “circumcision of the heart,” etc., found in verses like Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 18:31; 36:36.  The promises made to Israel in the New Covenant go far beyond anything human nature or effort can produce.  Yet Nicodemus, like the rest of us apart from the grace of God, missed the message.  We “must be born again.”

Without regeneration, or the new birth, you and I are “in the flesh,” that is, we’re just ordinary human beings with a sinful nature and the corrupted faculties – mind, emotions, will – that go along with it.  Those who are the flesh cannot please God, Romans 8:8.  Repentance and faith in Christ are surely pleasing to God; yet things which are pleasing to God are impossible for the flesh to produce.  “Flesh” cannot produce “spirit,” nor can fleshly efforts have spiritual results.  One can “make his decision,” or do any of a multitude of other things men say will save them, every day for the rest of one’s life and not be saved, because that which is born of – that which comes from – the flesh is flesh.

The new birth is as impossible to mankind as the Virgin birth; both must be of God.

B.  Saul, called…out of darkness into His marvelous light, 1 Peter 2:9.

In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul wrote, …for this cause I obtained mercy, that in my first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting (KJV).

Paul wrote that he was a “pattern,” a “schematic” for believers.  This doesn’t mean that we’re to travel our world starting churches, though some are called to do that.  Nor does it mean that we receive and write down new revelations from God.  Some have claimed that, some still claim that, and they are all wrong.  God calls no one to deliver further revelation – of any kind – from Him.

What Paul meant was that in himself we can see how God works in every believer, not exactly, of course, because we’re all different, but generally.  There are many ways we could develop this.

1.  The surprise of his conversion.

The last thing on Saul’s mind on the morning of that fateful trip to Damascus would have been that before he got there, he would be a disciple of the very One he was determined to destroy!

In John 6:44, 45, the Lord Jesus gave a capsule summary of the problem we all have. It is that not one of us, on our own, has the ability to come to God.  He must “draw” us before we will or even can come to Him.  Some make a great deal out of the fact that the word the Lord used in John 6 for “draw” is the same word used to describe Paul being “dragged” out of the city and left for dead in Acts 14:19.  They just simply cannot conceive of the idea that God would or could, for that matter, “drag” people into the kingdom.

However, in reading the Book of Acts, it seems to me that Paul was indeed “dragged” kicking and screaming to the very edge of salvation.  This leads us to  our second thought for this post.

2.  The “stages” of his conversion.

It seems to me that Paul passed through four stages, the first two not necessarily consecutive, in his journey from darkness to light.

a.  resistance, Acts 6:10 (KJV).  Though not specifically mentioned, we believe that Paul could well have been one of those from Cilicia, cf. Acts 22:3; 23:34, unable to resist the witness of Stephen, yet unwilling to receive it.  Cf. Acts 9:5; 26:14.

b. rebellion, cf. acts 26:9.  Paul was certainly present at the stoning of Stephen, Acts 7:58.  From that time, Paul did all he could do to stamp out what he considered blasphemous heresy, and at the same time drown out the conviction coming from the testimony of those whom he was persecuting, Acts 9:5 (KJV); 26:14.  Cf. Romans 1:18, of those who suppress the truth. 

He was breathing out threats and murder against Christians.  He wasn’t asking God to show him the right way; he thought he had it.  He was convinced that he was serving God.  Cf. John 16:2.  Jesus didn’t come to him and ask him if he’d like to be saved. The Holy Spirit didn’t try to “woo” him or in some way “cooperate” with Saul’s will, as is so often taught today that He must do with our wills.  Saul’s will was to kill Christians! That was his “decision.”

In his testimony before Agrippa, Acts 26:11, 12, he says that it was while he was thus occupied in persecuting and killing Christians, being exceedingly enraged against them(!), that the Lord appeared to Him.  Paul didn’t even know who this One was Whose brightness he saw.  This leads to our third point.

c.  realization.  Paul must have been shocked beyond belief to hear a voice from the brightness saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  He thought he had been persecuting blasphemers and heretics, thus being obedient to the OT teaching about such things – and thus to God.  Now, this “voice” from what must have been the Shekinah glory accuses him of persecuting its owner!  in effect, of persecuting God! The fourth point follows closely.

d.  reception.  We mentioned earlier that we believe Paul was indeed “dragged” kicking and screaming to the very edge of salvation.  However, when he found out what was involved, and who “Jesus of Nazareth” really is, he willingly walked over the border, as it were.  He asked, “What do you want me to do?” and then he went out and did it.
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We’ll deal more with this in our final post, Lord willing, but for now, there are multitudes of people just like Paul – and Nicodemus, firmly convinced of their standing before God. They’re members of the church, perhaps even active in it or leaders in it.  They’ve gone through the proper ceremonies or rituals, sprinkled as unknowing infants or walking an aisle or praying a prayer.  Why, they’re not heathen, they believe in God! They have their “docs” (doctrines) all in a row and can recite the Catechism from start to finish.  They’re thoroughly orthodox, and thoroughly lost, because they’ve never come to the point where they ask the Lord what He wants them to do.

For far too many others, “faith” is about God doing what they want Him to do.

Where are you in this progression?  Resistant to the truths of the Word, though perhaps you’ve heard them all your life?  Rebellious against them, wanting nothing to do with Christ, even though perhaps you come to church?  Realizing that you do need something only Christ can provide?  You’re a sinner justly under the condemnation of God and you know that only Christ can do something about it, having died for sinners.  Don’t stop there.  You must go through the last step:  receiving.  Coming to Him as your Lord and Savior, trusting Him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Believing on Him, resting in Him, relying of Him in every area of life.  Following His leadership.

There is another possibility.  Paul grew up with his beliefs.  So did Nicodemus. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve ever heard, or read, these things.  What will you do with them?  Now that you’ve heard them, where will you start on this progression?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…, Acts 16:31.

Questions

1.  What does “efficacious grace” mean?

2.  What is another way of looking at the term “irresistible” beside “coercive”?

3.  Why is Nicodemus the only recorded person told about the new birth?

4.  What four things did Nicodemus have “going” for him?  Can you think of any others?

5.  What was the meaning of the message he was given?

6.  What was God’s purpose in saving Saul of Tarsus?

7.  Would Saul have “accepted” Jesus?  Why or why not?

8.  What is the significance of the first two “stages” of his conversion?

9.  What is the significance of the final two stages of his conversion?

10. At which stage are you?  You don’t have to write, just something to think about.