The Door of Grace

“You shall make a screen for the door of the tabernacle, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver.  And you shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five sockets of bronze for them, Exodus 26:36, 37.

He also made a screen for the tabernacle door, of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver, and its five pillars with their hooks.  And he overlaid their capitals and their rings with gold, but their five sockets were bronze, Exodus 37:37, 38 NKJV

We’ve looked at the various “doors” or entrances into the tabernacle in earlier posts, so will not go over that material again.  We want instead to focus on the five pillars which supported the fine woven linen screen on the way into the tabernacle itself.

There were five such pillars.

“Five” is the number of grace.

What is grace?

There are several definitions.

The best one is:  “God’s unmerited favor in spite of our merited disfavor.”

In other words, we don’t deserve it, it’s unmerited.  But we do deserve God’s disfavor, His wrath and judgment.

Or just the three words, “In spite of.”

“In spite of” our rebellion…

…our religion.

I don’t believe in coincidences.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this post and “Good Friday” are on the same day.  I did not plan it that way. 

This is the day that the religious world has declared to be the day Christ died on the Cross.  While I don’t see how it’s possible to fit the “three days and three nights” our Lord said He would be in the tomb between Friday evening and Sunday morning, Matthew 12:40, the thing is, He rose from the dead.

 “We serve a risen Savior.”

No other religion can say that. 

“Three days and three nights” might have been for the Jews.  We do read in Acts that the early church  preached the resurrection: Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2; 4:33; 17:18, 32; 23;6, 8; 24:15, 21.  It was their main focus.  The Jews had 40 years of preaching by the church between the resurrection and the destruction of their nation in 70 AD.  They rejected that message and the nation disappeared for 1878 years.  

Five pillars.

Grace.

Wonderful truth.

Saving truth.

By grace you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8 NKJV.

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God’s Altar

“You shall make an altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide – the altar shall be square – and its height shall be three cubits.  You shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it.  And you shall overlay it with bronze.  And you shall make its pans to receive its ashes, and its shovels and its basins and its forks and its firepans; you shall make all its utensils of bronze. You shall make a grate for it, a network of bronze; and on the network you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners.  You shall put it under the rim of the altar beneath, that the network may be midway up the altar.  And you shall make poles for the altar, poles pf acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze.  The poles shall be put in the rings,and the poles shall be on the two sides of the altar to bear it.  You shall make it hollow with boards; as it was shown you on the mountain so shall they make it, Exodus 27:1-8 (NKJV).

He made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood; five cubits was its length and five cubits its width – it was square – and its height was three cubits.  He made its horns on its four corners; the horns were of one piece with it.  And he overlaid it with bronze.  He made all the utensils for the altar: the pans, the shovels, the basins, the forks, and the firepans; all its utensils he made of bronze.  And he made a grate of bronze network for the altar, under its rim, midway from the bottom.  He cast four rings for the four corners of the bronze grating, as holders for the poles.  And he made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with bronze.  Then he put the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to bear it.  He made the altar hollow with boards, Exodus 38:1-7.

My early days as a believer were spent among fundamentalists.  The word has a bad connotation today because of its association with people who blow things up and murder other people, but it originally just meant those who believed the basic truths of Christianity as opposed to the “modernists” who denied them.  The practice at the end of the Sunday service with these folks was to urge people to “come forward to the altar” for salvation or any number of things.  Someone just the other day posted a picture of a group of people praying at such an altar.  It is still used by many groups. 

And there are some “fundamental” truths in Christianity.  If those truths aren’t there, then it’s not really Christianity no matter what it’s called.

The thing is, God has only ever had one altar and it wasn’t at the front of a building.  It was on a hill outside Jerusalem where the Lamb of God was sacrificed for the sins of the world.  It seems to me to say that there is another altar is to disrespect or even to disregard that one.

The current view of “an altar” at the front of an auditorium has only come into prominence over the last 150 years or so as a result of the shift in focus from the Scriptural understanding that God’s regenerating power is necessary before a sinner is even able to believe on the Lord Jesus, to the unScriptural idea now that the sinner can believe on his own, maybe with some help from the Holy Spirit, who “woos” him but can be rejected, and then, as a result of his faith, the sinner is regenerated, or “born again.”

In John 3, the Lord teaches the former viewpoint.

As the Israelite came to the entrance to the tabernacle courtyard, the altar was the first thing he saw, the first thing on the way in.  He couldn’t avoid it.  If he wanted access to God, he had to use it.  He couldn’t just admire its beauty or its architecture.  He had to bring a sacrifice.  Even though we quoted from Exodus at the beginning of this post, Leviticus is the book of instruction for the sacrifices to be made on the bronze altar.  In that book, there are nearly 60 references just to burnt offerings, to say nothing of the other sacrifices.

Some people are offended by what they call “a bloody religion.”  It may be, but the idea of sacrifice wasn’t introduced at Calvary.  It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where God rejected the fig leaves with which the guilty couple had tried to cover their nakedness and gave them coats of skin for a covering.  Doing this, He taught them the only reason they lived was because an innocent substitute had died. Every single sacrifice after that taught that same truth – substitution and sacrifice – every single one.  Later, after the Flood the first thing Noah did was to build an altar, Genesis 8:20.  Job, who probably lived before the time of Moses, knew about altars and burnt offerings, Job 1:5. Abraham knew that “God would provide Himself a sacrifice,” Genesis 22:8-13, which He did for Abraham in the ram caught by its horns, and then, once and for all, in the death of the Lord Jesus.  The first murder, Cain killing his brother Abel, was ultimately over what was the right kind of sacrifice, Genesis 4:1-8.

The idea of sacrifice was nothing new to Moses here in the wilderness.

This altar served only one purpose:  to meet and satisfy the claims of God against guilty sinners, in this case the Israelites.  The thing is, it couldn’t.  It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins, Hebrews 10:4.  Hebrews 10:3 tells us that the continual offering of these sacrifices served as a reminder, an object lesson.  The sin, though “forgiven,” wasn’t really “taken away;” it was only “covered:” the meaning of “kaphar,” the word translated “atone,” “atonement.”  It awaited the coming of the One who could take away sin.

The altar was made of acacia wood, a wood common to the area.  Likewise, our Lord didn’t come to this earth in His pre-incarnate form as the Word, or as an angel, but, as Hebrews 10:5 tells us, as a human being, in a body specifically designed and prepared for Him.  This brings us to the necessity of the virgin birth, because anyone conceived and born in the usual way would be a sinner, unable to atone for sin.  And He wasn’t born to privilege and rank.  He spent His life among ordinary folks, what some today would call, “the little people.”  He worked for a living.  Even after dying a criminal’s death, He was buried in a borrowed tomb.  But He didn’t stay there.

This one is the “altar” before which we must bow.  There is no “advancing” without it.  There is no salvation, no life, without it.  It’s for this reason that Peter preached on that long-ago day, “nor is there any other, for there is no other name under given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.   What name is that?  The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” Acts 4:10.  See also vs. 7, 17, 18 and 30.

It mustn’t be assumed that the mere “saying” of the name of Jesus as some sort of “abracadabra” is all that’s meant in these verses.  As Peter and the others were facing the Sanhedrin, Peter accused these leaders of crucifying the Lord Jesus, “whom God raised up,” v. 10.  The Jesus who saves is the Jesus of Scripture, God incarnate in the flesh, who went about doing good, who was crucified, but rose from the dead, and who, one day, will return to this world to claim it as His own

Our Lord died because we couldn’t.

If we want access to God, or heaven, we have to come by way of His sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is no other way.

“Beginning At Jerusalem,” Part 2.

This post continues and concludes our last post.

Scripture texts:  Luke 24:26, 27, 45-49; John 20:21-23.

3. Luke 24:26, 45-49, The Message Committed to the Churches.

Verse 26 gives us the essence of Gospel preaching.  There are many Biblical subjects we can preach and teach on, but the Gospel itself is about the two things in Luke’s text.

a. An Awful Reality, vs. 26,

1). “the sufferings of Christ”.

We pretty much don’t like the idea of suffering.  If we have a headache, we take an aspirin.  If we have to have surgery, we welcome the anesthesiologist.  In every part of our life, we try to be as comfortable as possible.  Even typing this, I’m not sitting on a hard, straight-backed chair.  We want air-conditioning and heat in our cars, comfortable pews in our churches.  We’re pretty spoiled.

Even in our views of Christ, we don’t think a lot about His suffering.  I’ve heard preachers describe the agony of crucifixion with the dispassion they might use with some ordinary topic.  And, truly, we have no idea what a crucifixion was like.  We are concerned in capital cases that the criminal suffer as little as possible and great outcry is made if, by some chance, something goes wrong and he does suffer.  I’m not advocating cruelty toward criminals, but the Romans had no qualms about things we cringe at.

Our pictures of His death have been pretty sanitized, as well.  One branch of the church even boasts of its “bloodless icons.”  But with the beatings, the scourging and the nails in His wrists and ankles, in the words of Isaiah 52:14, His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.  In the common vernacular, He was a bloody mess.

Now, some men and women do have an idea of what physical suffering can be like, with serious injuries and such.  But there was more to it than just the physical.  Isaiah 53:6 says, The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Paul carried it even further, he made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

“He made Him to be sin….”

I don’t think we have any idea what that meant to the Lord Jesus.  Incarnate holiness to be made imputed sin.  That One who had enjoyed eternal fellowship with the Father now turned away and suffering His wrath against sin.

No.

We have no idea….

But He didn’t just die.

2). and that He should rise from the dead.

The Cross isn’t the end of the story.  He’s not still hanging there.  The crucifix gives a false narrative.  There is no grave holding His remains.  Yes, it was necessary for the Christ to suffer,” but something else was necessary, as well.  That was for Him to rise from the dead the third day,” Luke 24:45.  The Cross is empty.  So is the tomb.

The truth of the Resurrection is what distinguishes Christianity from religions of the world.  Other religions have holy books, death, angels, “visions,” etc.  But none of them has a resurrection, indeed, may even deny the resurrection.

Without the Resurrection, there is no proof that Christ’s death was any different than the deaths of the two men who dies with Him that day.  But He did rise from the dead.  This also proved His assertion that He was God, Romans 1:4.  Some deny that He ever claimed to be God, but that claim was the main reason, humanly speaking, He was crucified, John 19:7.  And, further, because He did rise from the dead, then we have –

b. An Individual Applicability, Luke 24:47.

“and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

The announcement of our Lord’s birth to Joseph was that “He will save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.  The Cross was the payment that made salvation even possible.  The Resurrection was the receipt, if you will, for that payment.  We enter into that salvation through two things:

1). Repentance.

Why didn’t Peter mention “faith”?  To hear some preachers, repentance has nothing to do with it.  We have only to “believe.”  Some even say that repentance is a “Jewish doctrine,” and not applicable to us.  Is that true?  Why did Peter mention it?  – and not faith?

And, yes, just to be sure, we are “saved by faith.”  Scripture is very clear about that:  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, Ephesians 2:8, 9, emphasis added.

At the same time and regardless of what men may say about it, our Lord specifically commanded repentance to be preached.  In his last remarks to the Ephesian elders, Paul told that he had testified to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,”  Acts 20:21.

“Repentance toward God.”

Too many people have the idea that we’re already the children of God and He is our Father.  He is indeed our Creator and in Him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17:28, but we are not little children wandering from the side of a loving Father.  We are traitors and rebels against the God of Heaven and would dethrone Him if we could.  Granted, there are different degrees of rebellion, but it is still true that we all go astray.  Isaiah 53:11 says, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.  While that verse refers directly to Israel’s repentance at the Return of our Lord, Romans 3:23 says, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We have to do with God.  “Sin” is not defined by the latest social or cultural ideas.  It isn’t determined by “social justice warriors.”  Those who can riot and cause the most damage or kill the most people have nothing to say about it.  Indeed, such ideas lead only to the filth, violence and perversion we see engulfing our world and our cultures.

To “repent” means to change our mind so that we agree with and obey God, not this world or our own sinful inclinations.  It doesn’t mean just to be “sorry” for our sins, which too often just means that we’re sorry about the results of our sin.  It doesn’t mean just to “show remorse” at our sins, which just usually means that we got caught.  It means to reject our sins, to view them as God views them: as terrible, heinous things deserving of judgment and punishment and ourselves as wicked felons for doing such things and having pleasure in them.

Even the most decent and moral among us have “fallen short” in this matter.  Too often we judge ourselves by seeing someone worse that we are.  But that person isn’t the standard.  God’s Law is.  The Lord Jesus is the human example of what that looks like.

We have sinned, we have “fallen short.”  This brings us to the second thing our Lord mentioned:

2). remission of sin.

In the words of Paul, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

He didn’t come to this world just to give us a reason to give each other presents or to dye eggs.  He came into this world to be a substitute, to be a sacrifice.

He came to take care of our sins.

That is why He lived and died:

to save His people from their sins.

It took the death of the incarnate God to pay for sin.  Money can’t do it.  Our “good works” can’t do it.  A few “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers” can’t do anything about our sins.  Indeed such things, the good works or trying to “bribe” God in some way, only add to our sin.  No “priest,” no human effort or idea, can cause “remission of sin.”  There is nothing and no one in this world that can forgive sin.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, even the very best we could possibly do is sin.  Apart from Him, there is no hope, no salvation.  He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.

And “to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” isn’t some physical thing: walking an aisle, “saying a prayer,” “raising a hand for salvation.”  It isn’t baptism or communion.  It isn’t about some ritual or ceremony.

It is to have a “death grip,” as it were, on Him as the Only One who can rescue us from our sin.

4. John 20:21-23, The Means Given to the Churches.

a. His promise, v. 21.

The Lord is not saying that He is sending out His disciples in the same way that the Father sent Him.  There are two words translated “send” in this verse.   The word translated “send” as it pertains to the disciples is more general than the other word.  Some translate the verse so as to indicate that even though the disciples are being sent out, it is still the Lord who is responsible for their mission.  This is a great blessing.  We have enough on our plates to think about without having to worry, as some think, about the results of our faithfulness.  It is the Lord’s mission and it will accomplish what He wants it to, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8.

b. His power, vs. 22, 23.

Many think that the disciples didn’t receive the Spirit until the Day of Pentecost.  However, John indicates that they received Him here.  They received the power of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Verse 23 presents a great difficulty.  The KJV and some other translations seem to indicate that the loosing and remitting of sin is done by the disciples.  A more correct translation indicates that these actions have already been done, and the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, are merely confirming what has already taken place, as people either receive or reject the message.

This is solemn.  It is time to quit “playing church.”  We are dealing with eternity-bound men and women.  We are eternity-bound men and women.  How little do we really act as if we realize that we will soon stand before God and give an account of our lives.  The Word of God is all that really matters in this sin-cursed world.  Only the Lord Jesus is able to make “life” what it’s supposed to be.

“Beginning at Jerusalem”

With this post, we start a series on the Book of Acts.

1. Purpose of the Study.

We’re not interested in merely developing some “doctrine of the church.”  There may be a time and a place for such a thing, but in these posts we’re more concerned with “why” the church is than with “what” it is.  For example, when the Lord Jesus ascended, why did He leave only a small, powerless band of men who had no idea what was going on?  Further, what did He expect them to do?  The Book of Acts gives ample answer to these questions, as well as telling us why we have been left in a world increasingly hostile to the Lord Jesus and His message.

2. Some Things to Think About.

In some circles, we hear about a lot about “The New Testament Church.”  More than one group believes it can trace its roots back to Jerusalem, and so, of course, they are The New Testament Church.

An honest comparison between Acts and today shows such differences that it’s sometimes difficult to believe that there is any relationship between us and them at all.  Nor do we believe that it’s necessary to provide a “genealogy” for a church so as to put it in direct succession with the church at Jerusalem.  The only “link” that’s necessary is found in the Lord Jesus and not in some organization or group of organizations.

There are some things to keep in mind:

1. The “New Testament Church,” as such, is a concept, an ideal, that has never existed.  The disciples themselves were blatantly far from perfect and even the church at Jerusalem had its problems, as noted in Acts 5 and 6.  Indeed, most of Paul’s epistles were written to address problems and difficulties in “New Testament” churches.

At the same time, “New Testament churches” seek to be guided by principles of the New Testament and not by church edicts or dictates.

2. When we think of the New Testament church, though, we usually think of the first church, the church at Jerusalem.  A moment’s thought should serve to show that the church at Jerusalem would be absolutely impossible to duplicate today.

a. Many of the people in Jerusalem, both believers and unbelievers, had seen the Lord Jesus and had witnessed or participated in the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord.  Remember, the Lord was crucified less than two months before Pentecost.  Further, many Jews had seen His miracles or heard His teaching during the three or so years of His earthly ministry.

b. Pentecost, though not the “birthday” of the Church (a thought to which we’ll return later on), was the catalyst igniting it, as it were, and getting it going.   A second “Pentecost,” though some might earnestly long for it, is as impossible as a second Calvary.  It is no more necessary for the Spirit to be poured out as He was in Acts 2 than it would be for the Lord to be crucified.  Both were “once-for-all” events, though it is true that the effects and benefits of those two happenings must be individually applied and entered into.

3. Though many disagree, Acts records a final presentation of her King to Israel.  In Matthew 12:39-41, the Lord stated that Israel would be given one final sign that He was who He said He was:  He would only spend three days and three nights in the grave, no more.  He would physically and bodily rise from the dead.  Cf. John 2:19-21.  See also Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29, 30 (note “this generation” in v. 30).  This is why the preaching in Acts always mentions the Resurrection.

Finally, it is sometimes said that Acts is historical and “transitional,” and so we shouldn’t rely on it to teach “doctrine.”  Acts is transitional, but it contains some very strong doctrinal statements.  Now, these must not be isolated from the rest of Scripture, as some do, but neither are they to be ignored.  Acts shows the “transition” from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  Further, it shows the transition of Christianity from a local sect only in Jerusalem and Judea to an influence which moved the world of its day.

Revelation 20:1-6, It Can’t Possibly Mean That!

1] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  2] He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3] and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.  But after these things he must be released for a little while.

4] And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.  The I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not receive his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.  And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  5] But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.  This is the first resurrection.  6] Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.  Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Revelation 20 continues the events begun by the return of our Lord in ch. 19.  The events in this chapter conclude human history.  They include the binding of Satan, the 1000 year kingdom, the loosing of Satan for the final rebellion, and the Great White Throne judgment.  We’ll look at the first two in this post.

1. The binding of Satan.

We’re not going to spend a lot of time on this, just a couple of things.  Satan will be bound, not just “hindered,” as, say, by the preaching of the Gospel.  Some have the idea that he’s just going to be like a dog on a chain in the backyard, but still have a limited amount of freedom.  Scripture says he will be bound up and put away. Out of sight and out of mind.

Some object to the idea of a “chain” binding a spirit creature like Satan.  However one may choose to look at this, the teaching is plain:  Satan will literally be taken out of the picture, by whatever means God chooses to use.

2. The “1000 years”.

These verses are some of the most controversial in Scripture.  The very idea of “an earthly, carnal, kingdom” where the Lord sits on an actual throne in the actual city of Jerusalem is just too far beyond what some can accept.  According to this mindset, these verses can’t possible refer to an actual 1000 year period, but, as one writer put it, simply refer to our present Gospel dispensation of nearly 2000 years (!)

I think there’s a reason the Holy Spirit inspired John to use the phrase “1000 years” five times in six verses.  It’s to impress on us that He means 1000 years, not just some indeterminate amount of time!  Besides, isn’t it an insult to our Lord to describe any rule of His, regardless of where it is, as “carnal”?

Revelation doesn’t tell us a great deal of what will happen during these years, but other Scriptures give us some idea.

1. Satan will be bound.

We’ve already seen this.  The chief enemy of God and His people will be taken out of the picture.

2. Israel as a nation will be saved, Zechariah 12:9-14.  They will realize that this One whom they crucified is actually their Redeemer.  Some have objected that their sin shut them out of the possibility of being saved, but, in fact, it will be the means of their eventual conversion.

3. Israel as a nation will be judged, Ezekiel 20:33-38.  When our Lord come back, not every Jew will bow to Him as Lord.  Those refusing to do so will be purged out of the nation.

4. The living Gentile nations will be judged, Matthew 25:31-46, apparently on the basis of how they have treated the Jews.  This might have some reference to the invasion of Israel.

5. The curse will be removed from the earth, Isaiah 65:17-25.  This is the time Paul said that creation was looking forward to, Romans 8:19-21, where creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption.

Some have take Isaiah’s reference in  65:17 to new heavens and a new earth to mean eternity.  Revelation 21:1 also describes such a creation.  However, I don’t think Isaiah and Revelation refer to the same thing.  I may be wrong, but Isaiah says there will still be death in his vision:

“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days’
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed, Isaiah 65:20.

In contrast, John describes a place where “there shall be no more death, no sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away,” Revelation 21:4.

Considering the radical changes that will take place when the Lord comes back, I think it can safely be said that things will indeed be “new”.

The beast and his minions had killed those who refuse to bow down before him and receive his mark.  Here we find, though, that these same martyrs are resurrected and share in the millennial glory.  This isn’t simply “conversion,” as some teach, but an actual coming back to life of those who gave their lives for the Lord.

What about OT and church saints?  Paul taught that OT saints will come back with the Lord at His return and NT saints will be resurrected then.  These won’t be left out of the blessings.

Man longs for and dreams of a “utopia” in which everyone lives happily ever after.  That will not be realized in any real sense until our Lord comes back and establishes His kingdom on this earth.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 15:3-4, The Giver, Not The Gifts

They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints.
4] Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify
Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before
You.
For Your judgments have been manifested.”

John has been describing the terrible desolation that has been poured out on the earth because of man’s rebellion and sin.  Here and there, though, there have been as it were rays of sunshine through the dark clouds of judgment as we’ve seen that there will be many who are saved by the grace of God in spite of the wickedness and ungodliness around them.

Chapter 15 records one such group, those who’ve been redeemed from the worst time this world will ever see and who now stand in the presence of God.  John gives us a record of their worship and praise in vs. 3 and 4.

it’s noteworthy that they don’t talk about the blessings or the gifts they’ve been given.  There’s no talk about what they did or who they were on the earth.  There’s nothing about their loving God or serving Him.  There’s nothing of themselves.  Perhaps we could learn from this in our own worship and praise.  God isn’t just waiting around for us to tell Him what we want.

The whole focus of these verses is on the greatness and majesty of God.  In v. 3, they describe His works:  great and marvelous.  They had seen something of this in what had happened in the seals and the trumpets, to say nothing of what they might have known of God otherwise.

Now, though some do, I don’t believe we live in the time of the seals and trumpets.  There’s nothing so obvious to show the presence of God.  We live in a time of relative “silence” as far as the heavens are concerned.  However, we can look around and see the marks of His handiwork everywhere, if we will but just look.  Whether through a microscope or a telescope, whether in the intricate structure of a single cell or in the awe-inspiring beauty of a far-off galaxy, we see evidence of a master workman.  It’s beyond reason that men believe all this just blindly “happened” without a guiding hand.

But further, just and true are His ways.  On facebook the other day, there was a video of a preacher dealing with the question of God and the existence of evil.  I really couldn’t hear what he was saying, my hearing not being what it once was, but it is a question folks ask:  “If God is good and almighty, why did He permit evil to exist?”

God never answers that question in Scripture.  He simply asserts that it will not forever have free reign, as it now seems to have.  I suppose that’s really the important thing – where it’s going, not where it came from.

However, God didn’t make Adam and Eve as puppets or robots.  He didn’t simply “program” them to do what He wanted.  He gave them minds, emotions, will.  They could think.  They could “feel”.  And they could make decisions.  And God gave them simple and clear instructions; they could eat of any tree in the garden except one.  They couldn’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

It just really struck me that the tree was about good as well as evil.  We have to remember that Adam and Eve were in a state of innocence.  Though they hadn’t yet sinned, they were not “sinless” as we understand that.  We might say that, in a sense, they were a blank slate.  They had no “experience” to draw on, nothing to tell them about things except God.  And we’re told nothing about what He said except as it pertains to their fall.

When Satan tempted Eve to disobey God, he implied that they could decide for themselves what was “good” and what was “evil”.  They wouldn’t need God.  We’ve seen, and see, the results of that.

However we may understand the answer to the question of evil now, there is coming a time when we will indeed see that God’s dealings with Adam and with every one of his descendants have been and are just and true.

However, all this isn’t just some arcane discussion reserved for clerics and scholars in musty halls of academia.  The question is asked, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?”  It brings us out into where we are and what we are doing right now.  It brings us face to face with a God who alone is holy.

Holiness isn’t about experience, or the name of a religious group.  It’s about essential nature and character.  Though used in a variety of ways, the word “holy” means “separate from defilement or impurity.”  It refers to a state of being morally and spiritually clean and pure, absolutely clean and pure.  No hint of impurity or impropriety.

Only God is like that.

We are anything but….

This is why the question is asked, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord?”

There is coming a time when the heavens will not be silent.  When men will no longer be able to ignore or reject the God of heaven.  Even on this earth, to say nothing of what will happen to us after death.

“For all nations shall come and worship before You.”

Zechariah 14 gives us a graphic description of this:

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left all of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts…, v. 16.  And this will be mandatory, as vs. 17-19 tell us.

But all of that is yet future.  What about today, this Tuesday morning that I type this, or the day that you are reading this?  One day you will stand before God to give an account of this life.  Are you ready?  Oh, that you might consider this, that apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no hope for any of us, but only, as Hebrews 6:2 puts it, a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  Modern culture may not believe in a God who would do such things, but that doesn’t nullify what God said.

But God sent His Son to do what we can’t:  live a perfect, sinless life and die a death that would satisfy the requirements of the Law.  The Resurrection is God’s assurance that the price has been paid, and that all those who receive the Lord Jesus by faith are saved.

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

Revelation 2:8, The Christ Who Was Dead And Is Alive.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life.”

It’s with good reason that the Lord starts each letter with a reference to Himself.  Especially in this day of mega-churches and “personalities” (“Chrislebrities,” ugh! what a terrible word!), Jesus seems almost irrelevant.  Of course we believe in Him – we are Christians, after all – but with all the programs and projects and politics and all our efforts for the betterment of mankind, He kind of gets put on the back burner until something goes wrong, and then we run to Him, wondering why He doesn’t do something.  (Although, in this day of fast foods and microwaves, I wonder how many people know what a “back burner” is.  Anyway.)  If Christ were indeed to go away, how many churches would notice the difference?

I don’t mean to be critical, though I am, but without the Lord Jesus, there is no reason for “church.”  There is no salvation.  There is nothing.

Our Lord is simply reminding each church of that fact.  After all,

He is –

– “The First and the Last.”

Several cities in the Roman Empire claimed the title, “First (of something).”  There were several different categories for this.  Ephesus, Smyrna and Thyatira were among these cities.

I think the Lord was simply reminding them that long before Smyrna had been thought of, He could say, “I AM”, and long after the last ember of this planet has burned out, cf. 2 Peter 3:10, He will still be able to say, “I AM”.

We forget that.  Like Smyrna, there are places of incredible beauty and awe-inspiring scenery in this world.  Some of you have traveled all over it.  I’ve just seen a little of this country.  The vastness of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, fall colors in the Ozarks, the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak (the mountain in the header of this blog), the impressive vista of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the awesome feeling of the world’s highest suspension bridge holding sway 1000+ feet over the Royal Gorge and the Arkansas River.

And it does sway (move).  royal-gorge-bridge-again

Just a little….

You used to be able to drive over the bridge, but that’s long gone.  Cars got too big and heavy.

It’s enough to walk over it.

As an aside possibly only of interest to me, my grandfather worked in the steel mill in Pueblo CO where the steel cables were made that support the bridge.

With all that, there’s a great deal of beauty in this country that I haven’t seen.

Doesn’t matter.

One day, it’ll all be gone.

The Lord Jesus will still be the First and the Last.

But He also is the One –

“Who was dead and came to life.”  The Greek reads, “Who became dead and lived.”

It’s a study in itself just to consider the Lord’s “becoming.”  That’s why we split this letter into two parts.

In the first place, He became flesh, John 1:14.

The thing about this is, who was He before He became flesh, before He was born to the virgin in Bethlehem?  Everything rides on the answer to that question.

If, as some who knock on your door insist, He was just another created being, albeit maybe a little higher than you or me, if that’s true, then there’s no hope for any of us.  As and if only a creature like us, He would be completely responsible to God for Himself.  He would have to be perfection Himself in order not to be condemned.  His life would have value in this way only for Himself.  He would have nothing left over, as it were, for anyone else, or you or me.  We’d be doomed.

But John 1:1 says that before He became flesh, He was God.  Those same folks who knock at your door insist that John meant that Jesus was only “a god.”  It is true that in the original, there is no article, no “the,” before “God” in John 1:1.  If there were, then the Word would be the God, and the “oneness” folks are right.  But there is no article before the word, “God.”  In the Greek, there is no indefinite article, no “a,” and thus no way for John to write “a god.”

So?

The difference might be seen in comparing these two phrases:  you are the human; you are human.  The first phrase, “You are the human,” indicates a particular person.  It’s true, in English, to say, “You are a human” is possible, meaning that you are one among several, or as distinguished from them, but in NT Greek, you can’t say that.  To them, “You are human” would mean that you have the characteristics of a human, as opposed, say, to fish or birds.  And, no, we are not animals, although that’s another post.

What John is saying is that, whatever characteristics God has, the Word has.  He is God, not “a god.”

But these same folks again, persistent, aren’t they, will say, “Yes, but Jesus Himself said that the Father is greater that He is, John 14:28.  According to them, this means that He isn’t equal with God.  He isn’t Jehovah God.

Is that true?

Not at all.

When the Word became flesh, He laid aside His divine prerogatives, His “rights,” and came to this earth as a human being.  And He was truly human, not a phantom or apparition, as some teach.  In doing so, He did not cease to be God.  He just quit acting like it, for the most part.  Walking on water isn’t ordinarily a human thing.  When He comes back, He will act like it.

As a man and as a Jew, He was born under the Law, Galatians 4:4, and was as responsible to obey it as any other Jew.  In this way, because He was truly human, the Father was greater than He.  This doesn’t deny His deity at all, but merely affirms His humanity.

Further, He didn’t come to glory and fame.  He wasn’t born in Rome to a wealthy or noble family, but in Bethlehem, to a poor family from a despised race.  How do we know His family was poor?  When His mother, Mary, made the required offering after His birth, she offered turtledoves or pigeons, the offering prescribed for the poorest Jew, Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8.

He made Himself of no reputation, Philippians 2:7.

But more than all that, and the reason for it, He became a sin offering, Hebrews 9:26, but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  

Then there’s 2 Corinthians 5:21, For He [God] has made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  I don’t even begin to understand all that’s involved in that.  I don’t think we ever will.

But the cross and the tomb weren’t the end of it.

“He became alive.”

This was the message of the apostolic church, And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:33.  It’s what they were supposed to preach:  Then He [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations,” Luke 24:46, 47, emphases added.

Why go through all this “doctrine”?  Why emphasize it?  Because if that isn’t who Christ was to Smyrna, they had no hope.  They were suffering for nothing.  And if that isn’t Christ to us, we have no hope.   Indeed, as Paul put it, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable, 1 Corinthians 15:19.

(photo credit:  2roadsdiverged.com)