Acts 13:42-52: Turning To The Gentiles.

42] So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.  43] Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
44] On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.  45] But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.  46] Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.  47] For so the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”
48] Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the LORD.  And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
49] And the word of the LORD was being spread throughout all the region.  50] But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them for their region.  51] But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium.  52] And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (NKJV)

These verses show us the response to Paul’s first message as he begins to emerge as a leader after having been teamed with Barnabas.  After the message was over, the Jews left, but Gentiles who were in the audience begged that they might hear the message again on the next Sabbath.  We’re not told all that was said, except that Paul and Barnabas persuaded them to continue in the grace of God, v. 43.  We’ve dealt with this idea of “continuing” elsewhere, so will just briefly touch it here.

A few days ago was Easter, and many people attended church who normally don’t.  They probably won’t back until Christmas.  But “salvation” is meant for Monday as well as Sunday, for days on the calendar that aren’t “special days”.  “Being saved” isn’t just about our eternal destiny; it’s about how we live until we get there.

So a week passes, and we read, almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.  Gentiles were excited; the Jews, not so much.  After all, they were the chosen people; Gentiles were less than nothing.  As we’ve noted before, believing Jews had a really difficult time with the idea that, as far the Gospel was concerned, Jews and Gentiles were on an equal footing. Throughout their history, Jews had been commanded to remain separate and more than once had gotten in trouble for mingling with Gentiles.  God had chosen Israel to be His special people, Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 135:4.  But now, that distinctiveness was being set aside and the Jews were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul, v. 45.

The Jews should have understood that God intended all along to bless Gentiles; He had promised throughout the OT – Scriptures which the Jews believed.  Even before the beginning of the nation, God promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” Genesis 12:3, emphasis added.  It’s true that God never actually said how he would do this, just that He would.  It’s only in the NT that we find out about a body called “the church,” a distinct body, a body separate from Israel.

Now we come to a verse that causes an uproar:  And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed, v. 48b.  In fact, just recently a pastor who was teaching through Acts completely ignored this verse in his posts.  And there are some who turn it around to say that “as many as believed were appointed to eternal life.”

How can God do such a thing?

In the first place, He’s God and can do whatever He wants to.  But beyond that, and I’ve done a whole series on this, if He had not chosen some to be saved, none of us ever would be.  The Scripture is clear that there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God, Romans 3:10, 11.  As we’ve mentioned before, these verses show a progression:  not even one among us is “righteous,” that is, has that moral and spiritual character which would allow us to stand before God uncondemned; not one of us understands our spiritual condition, and because of that, not one of us seeks God, Who is the only One who can do anything about it.  We think our religion, our good works, our best, is good enough.  If He had let us go, we would all wind up in hell.  I’m thankful He didn’t.

Vs. 49-52 show the pattern that has continued to this day; there is always opposition to the preaching of the Gospel.  Men do what they can to get rid of such preaching, but the Gospel is always preached somewhere.  And disciples, not just church-goers, but disciples – those who are students at the feet of the Lord Jesus – are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

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Acts 6:5-9:43: Men, Martyrdom and Miracle

In this portion of Acts, we have the first lapping of the “water of life” beyond the shore of Jewry.  If one takes Acts 1:8 as the “outline” of the book, then chapter 8 gives us preaching “in Samaria,” and then the first convert from “the uttermost part of the earth,” i.e., the Ethiopian eunuch.  In this portion, we note the beginning of changes from a narrow and limited view of evangelism to a wider world-view, all in accord with the revealed will of God all along, Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 28:19.  God’s purpose in grace has never been as narrow as some would make it, although, to be fair, neither has it been as wide as others tend to make it.

This section focuses of four men of martyrdom or miracle:  Stephen, Philip, Saul and Peter.

1. Stephen, 6:5-8:4.

His Ministry, 6:5-8.  Chosen as one merely to help in the distribution to the poor, Stephen evidently soon excelled.  SInce the early Christians seem greatly to have been filled with the Spirit, he was probably one of many such men, but he is noteworthy because his life in particular impinged on and greatly influenced a young man named Saul of Tarsus, 7:58.  Also, Saul may have been one of “them of Cilicia” who were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke, Acts 6:9-10, although that isn’t certain.

What an encouragement this young man is to us – and what a rebuke to our expectations!  We want huge crowds and wonderful “ministries,” but even in the ministries of men like Spurgeon – may God raise up some men like him! – the working of God’s Spirit is always “one-on-one.”  As an encouragement to us – here was a young man apparently cut off very early in his life, yet his testimony was part of the means of the conversion of one who forever influenced the church.  We have such a narrow, sometimes fatalistic, sometime ineffective, view of the sovereignty and purpose of God.

His martrydom, 6:9-8:4.  Stephen’s witness before the Sanhedrin is a masterpiece.  It isn’t simply a collection of facts, or a mere historical recitation, but a careful account of God’s dealing in grace throughout Israel’s history, not leaving out their rebellion and sin, which ultimately consisted in their murder of the Messiah, 7:51-53.  He probably never got to finish.  His mention of God in v. 56 would have been intolerable blasphemy to the Sanhedrin, v. 57, and for that they killed him.

2. Philip, 8:5-40

Philip was another of “the seven,” and like Stephen was greatly used of God.  He is interesting for several reasons.  He was used in a great city-wide “revival,” for lack of a better term, and yet was caught away in the midst of it all to go way south to talk to a single individual.  What we said about Stephen is also applicable here.

One result of his ministry was the “conversion” of a man named Simon.  A lot of discussion centers around the question of whether he was actually saved or not.  I don’t think he was, but then I don’t really know.  We can’t see the heart of people.  According to our Lord in Matthew 7, there will be a great number of people who can say, “Lord, Lord,” who will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  It is not without reason that another of these four men – Peter – warned his readers to make your calling and election sure or certain, 2 Peter 1:10.

3. Saul of Tarsus, 9:1-31.

In the audience listening to a heretic named Stephen was a young, zealous Jew named Saul of Tarsus.  This same Saul later preached a sermon which echoes the sermon of Stephen, Acts 13:16-41.  We doubt he ever forgot that episode or that preaching, for we believe it was the means of his eventual conversion.

But even though the seed had been sown, it was not yet God’s time for the harvest.  In the meantime, we believe that Saul fought tooth and nail against what he had heard.  In some circles, there is a great and often heated discussion about whether God’s grace is effectual or whether it can be resisted no matter what God might try to do.  I think Saul indeed had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the border of the kingdom of God, 8:1-3; 9:1-2, 5, but when he found out who Jesus really was, he “willingly” walked into it.

4. Peter, 9:32-43.

Just because the Gospel emphasis is beginning to shift from Jew to Gentile does not mean that things were not happening with the Jews.  Peter was still being mightily used  of God.  This section shows him being moved into place for what was not his final ministry, but it is the one we Gentiles are the most concerned in, for it shows the door of faith being opened wide to us.

Acts 4:5-18, “No Other Name”

5] And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6] as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.  7] And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”

8] Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel:  9] If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made whole, 10] let it be know to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.  11] This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’  12] Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

13] Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.  And they realized that they had been with Jesus.  14] And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  15] But when they had command them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16] saying, “What shall we do to these men?  For, indeed, a notable miracle has been done through them, and we cannot deny it.  17] But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

18] So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

Chapter 4 divides into three sections:  the detention of Peter and John, vs. 1-4; their defense, vs. 5-20; their dismissal, vs. 21-23.  In the post today, we see that Peter and John have been arrested and we enter the courtroom where they are being questioned.

1. The Court, vs. 5-7.

a. The Council, vs. 5, 6.  In the providence of God, it seems the whole rulership of the Jews was gathered at Jerusalem, perhaps still the result of Passover and Pentecost.  In this court, as it turned out, there was a confrontation of those who said they were the rulers of the Jews – and they were, and those who claimed to represent the King of the Jews.  The contrast must have been startling.  On the one hand – power, wealth, influence, position.  On the other hand, three men, one dressed in beggar’s rags, all of them dirty and disheveled from a night in a prison where “criminal rights” were still a fantasy of the far distant future.
b. The Question, v. 7.  Our Lord faced a similar question in Matthew 21:23, perhaps from some of the same fellows.  There is more to that incident than might appear on the surface.  Controversy had raged over whether or not the Lord Jesus was doing miracles by demonic power, cf. Matthew 12:24.  If such in any way could have been proven, He would have been discredited before the people and the rulers would have had legitimate and Scriptural ground to execute.  Indeed, they would have been obligated to do so.
Something of the same holds true here.  The word translated “power” is “dunamis,” from which we get the words, “dynamic,” “dynamo,” “dynamite.”  It refers to power to get the job done. If “magic,” that is, demonic power, had entered into this man’s healing, it would have been a capital crime, worthy of death.
I wonder if something else might not also be here.  After all, these two men were nobodies:  uneducated and untrained.  They weren’t the first to run afoul of the authorities, and they weren’t the last.  History flows with the blood of martyrs who were outside the “official” church.  I do respect the Reformers and, considering the times they lived in and the corrupt church they left, am surprised they did as much as they did.  At the same time, I wish they would have gone all the way back to the New Testament instead of stopping with the early church fathers.

2. The Confession, vs. 8-12.

Peter acknowledged that the healing of the lame man was the reason he and John were before the council.  However, he denies that they themselves healed the man, giving a three-fold answer as to who had performed the healing.  In each answer, there is a difference between seems to be and what actually is.  Each answers revolves around Jesus Christ.

a. The Risen Christ, v. 10.  3:12 echoes here:  “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this?  Or why look so intently on us, as though by our power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  Peter refused any credit before the crowd, and he refuses any credit before the rulers.  The crucified, risen “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”  In this description of the Lord, Peter offers positive proof of the resurrection.  The “name” of an ordinary executed criminal would have had no such power.  Peter did not say, “We serve (the memory of) Jesus and we did it,” but rather, by Him (that is, Jesus) this man stands here before you whole.  He did it, not us!

b. The Resurgent Christ, v. 11.  I admit this word also means “risen,” but it seems to me to convey much more than just that Jesus rose from the dead.  He didn’t just “barely” rise from the dead; He rose in complete triumph over sin, death, hell and the grave!  He conquered them, not just escaped from them!
By crucifying the Lord, the rulers, including at least Annas and Caiaphas, had vehemently rejected the claims of Jesus as to His Person – Deity – and to His office – Messiah, or Christ, Matthew 27:41-43.  The Resurrection vindicated those claims, cf. Romans 1:1-4.  Even though Romans hadn’t been written yet, Peter did know this truth, Acts 5:29-32.
This exaltation of Christ was prophesied in Psalm 110:22-24 and Isaiah 28:16.  After rebuking the chief priests and elders for their refusal to listen to Him, Jesus quoted Psalm 118 and it’s telling truth that their rejection of Him would only further God’s purpose of redemption.
Psalm 118:22, 23 is a clear example of the truth that NT truth is hinted at, though never revealed in the OT.  In Ephesians 2:29, after telling the Ephesian believers that they have been included in the people of God, Paul wrote, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…, emphasis added.
So it seemed to the rulers of Israel that this Galilean interloper had finally been silenced.  In truth, Peter told them, the fulfillment of all God’s promises and purpose rests in and upon Him, and even one’s eternal standing before God, as the Lord Himself taught in Matthew 21:44, hinges on this Crucified, Risen One, a truth which Peter emphasized as he continues to speak.

c. the Redeeming Christ, v. 12.  Little did the chief priests, scribes, and elders realize the truth of what they said as they mocked the crucified Lord, “He saved others…,” Matthew 27:411, 42.  Peter said the same thing.  There are two thoughts in what he said.
1. Christ is the particular Redeemer.  Peter said it twice, “There is not any other, there is no other” Savior.  In this day of diversity and “inclusiveness,” this is not a welcome idea.  If the idea is even accepted that we need to be saved, there are any number of ways, of saviors, to get us into heaven.  So it is said.  Peter said otherwise.  So did our Lord.  He said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, except through Me,” John 14:6, emphases added.  There will be an enormous multitude at the Last Day who will find out to their everlasting dismay and loss that they’ve been lied to by their priest, teacher, prophet, preacher, imam, holy man, guru or whatever.  There is only one way into heaven:  faith in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus.  He saved others.”   There are no other “saviors”.
2. Christ is a personal Savior.   Peter said, “…we must be saved”  He included himself.   In some circles, there is a vigorous debate about “the extent of the atonement,” which is not our purpose to enter into in this post.  In the matter of our salvation, that discussion is irrelevant.  By faith, the true believer is able to say, in wonder, “Christ died for me.”  That is the only “extent” which really matters.  Salvation has always been “one-on-one:”  Christ dying in the place and for the sins of the individual sinner; the individual sinner accepted, forgiven and restored in and because of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Psalmist exclaimed,

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
  Psalm 103:10.

That’s because He dealt with the Lord Jesus according to them.

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

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.

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.