Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 3: THE PREACHER ON TIME & ETERNITY

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven__” (3:1).  This chapter doesn’t feel as gloomy as the first two but he considers the issue of “time”.  What is time in this context?  According to the Preacher, time is a successive series of events which begin and end (e.g., a time to give birth, a time to die 3:2).  There are several aspects I want to consider.

First, there once was a “time” I did not exist, then came the time of my birth, and a day awaits when I will finally die.  One day, life as we experience it and know it will no longer be.  But will “I” or “we” cease to exist?  There are some who would concur that eventually we go out of existence.  However, according to the Scriptures and especially in the Gospel accounts (i.e., Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) you and I will either live forever in the blessed presence of Christ or in the eternal wrathful presence of God called hell.

Second, the Preacher acknowledges that God has made all things appropriate in their time (v.11) and He has also set eternity in the hearts of men (v.11b).  What’s interesting to me is that God, “in” time, which will never end, has placed eternity into men’s hearts.  I’m not altogether certain why that is but the purpose seems, “so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (v.11c).

This beginning and end seems to refer to “everything under heaven or the creation”.  Eternity here can very well be the state in time where man will forever gaze into the works of God, eternally beholding the Master’s handiwork in order to marvel at the immensity and the intricacies of His glory.

Third, the preacher knows that rejoicing and, doing good in one’s lifetime is the ultimate goal for existence (v.12).  This after all is in the contexts of eating, drinking, and laboring.  The one who recognizes that these activities are good must then acknowledge that they come from God.  This is not luck, fate, karma, nor destiny.  Instead, it’s the kindness of the Creator toward the creature who too often does not give honor nor give thanks to Him.

It’s been my experience even as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, that I have not found any delight in work but rather loathed it.  I often have not been thankful nor appreciated the skills for earning wealth I possess.  Perhaps you can relate friend to this kind of experience.  We need to pray that these three activities are seen for what they are—good.

This is important because too often, we tend to miss the splendor of the mundane by longing for the splendor filled day.  According to the Preacher, (v.22) “…nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities because that is man’s lot….For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?” The three activities (of eating, drinking, and laboring,) apportioned to us (by God) are our lot.  Enjoying them now is all that we are assured.  For when we die these activities, like our lives will cease.

What a challenge to be in the moment and maximize our joy in these activities, rather than squander the opportunity “in the time” allotted to us.  These are all gifts from God.  Today LORD God, give us your people the wisdom to live in light of eternity in this present fleeting life.  Teach us LORD to be happy in the lot you have determined for us to experience by keeping us from forfeiting said delight through actions and thoughts that dishonor your name.

(SDG)

 

 

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Reflections From 2 KINGS 21-24: “WARNING COMES BEFORE…JUDGEMENT IS REALIZED”

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            The last chapters of 2 Kings, concludes with God’s judgment being exacted on idolatrous Israel and Judah.  The word was given at Sinai, God’s dealings in Israel were known, but the people followed their “hearts” to exile.  The patience of God was taken for granted such that the mind of the nation became mad due to their calloused hearts.

We’re no different.  As God used the Assyrians and Babylonians to discipline back-sliden Israel, so He may very well do it again today…even if it’s not as clear from a written text.  When the herald proclaims his masters will, eventually it will come to pass.

Idolatry at the core propels us to ask, “Has God said?…” or question what He has already clearly revealed.  We doubt His integrity and treat Him as the creature.  The creature ends up calling the creator a liar by implication and decides to become His judge.  But those who ontologically and epistemologically are finite can’t be trusted to become the infinite One’s judges, nor should they be trusted.  But as it was then so it is today.

Nothing has changed and nothing will until God transforms the stony heart into one of flesh by His Spirit.  In all my studies, I must give myself over to intercession and guard my soul from idolatrous bents the creature constantly encourages.  So must the church in a day where what is wrong is called right, what is evil is called good, and what is righteous is labeled wicked.

(SDG)

 

Reflections From ROMANS 16: “THE GOSPEL OF GOD BEARS THE FRUIT OF OBEDIENCE FOR HIS NAMES SAKE”

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            Paul in this chapter rounds off his Gospel opus by first acknowledging the Gentile and Jewish fruit borne by the power of the holy resurrected Lord (vv.1-16, 21-24), secondly by warning converts to turn away from those preaching a contrary Gospel to his (vv.17-20), and lastly by offering an amazing benediction (vv.25-27).

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.  Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, the approvedin Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 GreetRufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”

21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.  22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.  23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]

Paul begins by acknowledging the fruit the Gospel bore through mentioning the names of both Jewish and Gentile men and women, some prominent others common, but all participants in one way or another with their gifts and talents in the Gospel work (i.e., the obedience of faith).  These were committed to Paul through being committed to Christ.

What is apparent to me is that real, named people in space time history demonstrated in differing capacities the genuineness of their profession by how they lived.  This life was fueled by a love for God which sometimes led to peril and other times brought about pleasure.  But regardless, this was a faith demonstrated through words and deeds and was worthy to be praised and mentioned.

This Gospel touches real people who Paul called, “fellow workers”, “fellow prisoners”, “who risked their own necks”, “in the Lord”, “my first convert in Asia”, “a choice man in the Lord”, etc.  What an honor to be named in this list, to be mentioned in this letter.  Often in Scripture when people’s names are mentioned we see accentuated their dark side, their shameful acts.  But here what’s being accentuated is Gospel fruit…please don’t miss this friend.  In a day with twisted, anemic, impotent views of what it means to be a Christian, this text accentuates that to be a real believer Gospel fruit must be evident or one is not real, period!

Moreover, this Gospel which produces fruit in space time history issues from the God who is there, the God of the Gospel who while justly wrathful is nevertheless benevolently merciful to those who through the preached Gospel are called, chosen and elect (Rom.9-11).

17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Secondly, Paul urges believers to guard the truth of the Gospel and the church through guarding the Gospel they received.  This requires knowing it, loving it, being convinced of its veracity, being vigilant for false gospels which would try to subvert the real Gospel delivered to them through the prophets and the apostles.  They are to do this command by turning away from false teachings.

In other places Paul is seen arguing forcefully against those who teach a contrary Gospel (e.g., Acts, Galatians) but here he commands the Roman church to turn away, not even engage them in debate.  Is he contradicting himself?  In order for a contradiction to be in order, there would have to be a text that commands to always turn away and never debate concerning the message but there isn’t.  Instead, there’s a time and place for everything as evidenced in the life of Christ, Peter, Paul, etc.  There’s a time to engage false teaching (Acts 17, 1 Pet.3:15, Jude 3) and there’s a time to refrain (Mt.10:14; Mk.6:11; Lk.9:5).  Paul is not just confident that the Roman church will obey him, but he wants to assure them that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”.  That is, this present struggle has a definite end which God in his wise timing will bring about.

25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.

             Lastly, Paul offers a benediction which in my estimation is up there with texts like (Num.6; Heb.13; 1 Tim.1, etc,) and offers a prayer on behalf of the Roman believers that God establish them evidenced by their being led to live an obedient faith.  Paul’s Gospel delivered through preaching Christ Jesus which is the revelation of the mystery previously hidden but now revealed through the prophetic Scriptures which are sourced in the eternal self-existent God, has now been made known to all the nations (not just to Israel) for the purpose of bringing eternal glory to the only wise God, revealed to us through the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son, the 2nd person of the Triune God.

What Paul is accentuating is that God has spoken through this gospel whose authenticity is sourced in God, reveals God, and thus produces the life of God in those who claim to know God.  To Him, Be the glory forever.  Amen!

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 13:3-14 “BEFORE RULERS, WHAT ARE BELIEVERS CALLED TO DEMONSTRATE?”

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In verses 1-2 Paul commands believers to submit to the governing authorities, not because they are ultimate but because God who is ultimate has placed them in said positions according to His all-wise counsel and purposes.

In the following verses Paul further explains this command of why we are to submit, who these in authority actually are, and as a result the way we are to live our lives in light of the consummation.  Paul starts by explaining the reason believers are to submit to rulers tying it to verse 1:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”    

Paul here implores believers to do the good (C.f., Rom.12:1-2) so that they need not fear rulers.  A great remedy for not fearing man, and especially those who are in authority, is to walk in God’s precepts.  Paul calls rulers, “a minister of God for your good” and they are “a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath” on evil doers.  Thus rulers bring a “”double-edged sword” ordained by God to keep order and peace through fear of lethal force.  He continues and says:

Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

Paul here appeals to wrath (we should fear) and to conscience (I take to mean: we should care about our witness) for why we are to be law-abiding citizens.  But is there ever a time when rebellion is warranted?  What do we do if a ruler calls what is good, evil, or conversely calls what is evil, good?  Throughout Christian history believers have differed on this issue.  We have Old Testament examples lauded by the Hebrews writer who actually disobeyed those in authority:

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict… 31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.”    

             The king’s edict was disobeyed; Rahab lied to save these spies (she turned on her leaders).  How about Daniel’s three friends who defied the kings command to bow before the golden statue?  How about the apostles in the book of Acts who disobeyed the rulers command to stop preaching in the name of Jesus?  What of Corrie Ten Boom who hid Jews and lied about it, in order to save Jews from Nazi sure destruction?  How about the “Machine Gun Preacher” fighting off ruthless murderers in Africa in order to rescue and save orphans?

Some things are clearer than others granted, but all of us will give an account to God of how we lived in our time with the light given to us.  Nevertheless, what makes Paul’s command so weighty is that he will be eventually executed by the Roman Emperor of his day.  He continues in verses 6-10 calling believers to walk in love and thus fulfill the law:

For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

                        To love God and neighbor is what stirs the heart to obey Christ’s great commission to disciple the nations—nations which along with their rulers are even hostile to the message.  We are being commanded to do what Christ did—go to those who hate you and love them through sacrifice.  That’s powerful!  Paul not only considers this present time, but also appeals to the consummation as a motivator, or carrot of how we are to live and why:

11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.  

Here the apostle calls all believers to vigilance during their journey on earth.  He calls for strategies to be put in place so that our sinful inclinations don’t get the opportunity to manifest.  Opportunities to sin that numb the senses so that we don’t have to think about life’s perils under rulers like: carousing and drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and sensuality, strife and jealousy.

It’s because of God’s mercies that Paul is calling believers to show this sin-riddled, broken and confused world the way of real love which comes from the Master alone.  It’s a call to be and do exactly the opposite of what the world commands.  It’s a call to love which will often require our lives in the process.  God, may Your people submit to the grace and power of the gospel that alone can propel us to action of this sort.

(SDG)

Summary of CHAPTER FOURTEEN: THE GOD WHO TRIUMPHS [Pages 213-224]

 

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In this final chapter, Carson first explains what it means “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also” from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.6:21).  He explains that it means we are to choose our treasure, not guard our hearts. Here Jesus presupposes that our hearts will follow our treasure.

The term heart is that aspect of our being created in God’s image that contains what we think, cherish, and who we are.  It’s not merely our emotions.  The heart is that apparatus of the soul where we eat, drink, breath, sleep and dream of (x).

Our imagination lingers on those things we treasure most.  Unfortunately, good things become bad things when they keep our appetites only on the present state of affairs, at the expense of the new heaven/earth that are forthcoming.  This however does not happen in places like the Sudan/China where persecuted believers await the deliverance from said evils.

Moreover, unlike the Greek dualism of salvation—consisting of the flight of the soul from the earthly and transitory to the spiritual and eternal, the Biblical view is where—man is always placed on a redeemed earth, not a heavenly realm removed from earthly existence.[i]  The future of this earthly existence is specifically described in the book of Revelation.

Second, Carson explains the forthcoming New Jerusalem.  When the scriptures describe the New Jerusalem being built like a cube, we must understand that its’ symbol laden.  The only place a cube is found in all of scripture is the tabernacle—the Most Holy Place. This is where the Ark of the Covenant lay, the place of meeting with God—on the Day of Atonement.  This was the place where God manifested his glory when the blood of sacrifice was poured on it.

The New Jerusalem, the entire city is a cube which is a way of saying that we will forever be in the presence of God.  We will no longer need a mediating priest, neither a blood sacrifice, equivalent when the veil was rent in two after the crucifixion.  So not only is it described as a cube, but it’s also described in terms of negation—what is not there.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev.3-4)

Carson is of the view that the reason we speak of the New Jerusalem in terms of negation rather than in a positive description is because it’s easier to describe it negatively in light of the effects of the fall in our lives.  The negative description assures us there will be the absence of: tears, pain, mourning, death and nothing bad.  The positive side is incalculable pleasure.  We have yet to experience anything like this!

There are also many things missing from this city: the temple, sun and moon, impurity.  The reason for the temple missing is because God Himself will be there.  Here the heart of God is revealed for in a real sense we’re in His heart!

The sun and moon are lights no longer needed in light of Gods glory and the Lamb our lamp.  The ancients were given structured times through these two lights.  Moreover, they experienced much danger when night came—hence cities were closed at night for safety.  Thus when it comes to this city there will be no more danger, curse, sin or rebellion because God is in the midst.  Thus, an immaculate perfect moral state will obtain.  Such a thought is utterly foreign to any of our references to life.  And yet, an absolute God-centeredness will be the norm because that is the way it should be. This means that the culture in the new heavens and new earth will be infused with absolute shalom—whose measureless source is the God of heaven and earth.

When it comes to the best feature of the New Jerusalem, is the its’ peacefulness.  This peaceful habitation of the lion and the lamb will be amazing.  It’s the unfettered, unhindered beatific vision that will be most joyfully glorious.  It is the contemplation of the manifold perfections of our spectacular, unimaginable God.  Here, we see face to face and live for our sins have “been burned away”.

Third, Carson explains what means to live now in light of the new heaven and the new earth.  He points to the need that we understand that all I have is Christ; to live is Christ and to die is gain; God alone is our true heart’s desire; it is truly making it our aim to: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and you’re your strength. 

Friend, are you ready for the new heaven and the new earth?  I’d like to say yes honestly and truly.  I fear that this world and the cares of this life want to drag me down so often.  I want to be more vigilant, resting in His grace that empowers me to say no to ungodliness and embrace the holiness purchased for me to walk in by Christ’s blood.  Lord, help me thirst for the new heaven and earth and help me be the light that I am.  (SDG)

[i] Mounce, The Book of Revelation, NICNT, pg. 368, © 1977 Eerdmans Publishing House]

Just In-New Messages!

micUnder the Resources Page called “Sermons” I’ll periodically link sermons for your personal edification and challenge.  Recently, I’ve been preaching through the book of Daniel.  It’s fascinating to see how our relativistic religious pluralistic society is mirrored in this account of the book of Daniel.

Moreover, it’s fascinating to behold God’s faithfulness toward those whose minds are fixed on Him because they trust Him.

Check out the sermons below and leave us your feedback.  We ‘d really  appreciate it.

“CAN WE TRUST GOD IN THE WORST OF TIMES?” Daniel 1: http://www.sovgracefellowship.org/sermons/sermon/in-the-world-but-not-of-it

Reflections From ACTS 12: “PERSECUTION AND JUDGEMENT BECAUSE OF THE WORD”

petrus_et_paulus_4th_century_etchingWhenever God moves we should not flinch at the opposition that often accompanies it by His enemies.  The purpose for why rulers oppose the disciples is because they really hate Jesus and his message.  The text says:

“Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.” (V.1)

The king’s purpose was nothing less than to mistreat his captives such that he had James the brother of John put to death by the sword (V.2).  Peter is then incarcerated but an angel of the Lord rescues him from his chains (Vv.4-11) and those praying for Peter’s release doubt he’s been rescued (Vv.12-17).  O men of little faith!  Can’t we relate?!

So persecution came because of the word and it’s that same word which will judge and end Herod’s life.  Not only does Herod have the guards executed because of Peter’s escape but (Vv.18-19) he’s eaten by worms in Caesarea after the angel of the Lord struck him.  This death took place because the people cried to Herod “the voice of a god and not of a man!”, as he was delivering a speech in royal garb (Vv.21-23).  Somehow it seems that the king’s appearance and voice so captivated the hearers that they were moved to adore him.

Nevertheless, the word of God the king tried to squash continued to grow and multiply (Vv.23-24).  Herod reminds of king Nebuchadnezzar who also did not glory God—he did not acknowledge from where his might and pomp came—and was as a beast for seven years grazing with the cows.

Luke is however making the point that the church has angelic help even when persecution erupts.  These angels both rescue God’s people and kill the church’s enemies.  The word preached caused all this unrest!

Today the word of the Cross, Christ’s exclusivity and many other things are bringing persecution to the church through a totalitarian system increasingly being unleashed in the West.  Yet believers should not forget that there are more with us than those who oppose us (E.g., Elisha angelic vision).  God’s word can’t be chained if those who belong to Him will proclaim and live the message.  Maranatha!

(SDG)

Remembering My Friend: Mike S. Wilson

11753272_10207165204034285_1595941229438045497_nIt was a sunny late Wednesday afternoon when I received David’s call that his eldest brother, and my dear friend, Mike had died of a heart attack.

This news was not surprising to me because I knew Mike had health problems for some years, and yet it made me very sad.  Too young to die, all too soon!  Or was it?

Mike and I met in the late 1980’s while I was a steward at Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach, California.  He was part of the surf ministry and I recall his physical presence grabbed my attention.

He looked like a “jar-head” surfer with a stocky build.  It reminded me of those “bad-surf-dudes” from 1970’s that you did not want to mess with.  But as is often the case, first impressions are misleading.

When I got to actually know him, he was witty, funny, and courteous. One afternoon in Hope Chapel’s sanctuary he asked me about  possibly going to the College I was attending—LIFE Bible College—in order to get more prepared for pastoral ministry.  I don’t remember the details of our conversation but the tenor was of “one serious about the kingdom of God”.  As so many do, Mike had a bright mind and was sensing a call to pastoral ministry.

Approximately one to two years later, I found myself driving out to LIFE Bible College three times a week with Mike and James Day—another dear brother wanting to get better equipped for kingdom ministry.  We three formed a special bond and as brothers tend to do “iron” often “sharpened” iron.

Sometimes we’d challenge one another to walk closer to Christ or wrestled with what Scripture taught about a subject.  Other times we’d comfort each other through tearful prayers.  And when appropriate, we comforted each other through laughter triggered by impersonations of the “Three Stooges”, “Cheech and Chong”, “Tony Montana”, and yes even “Staff and Church Members” at Hope Chapel.

Twenty-three years later much water has gone under that proverbial bridge.  What we envisioned for our lives in those earlier years of being in pastoral ministry in many ways—did not materialize.  This was a source of pain in Mike’s life and one I understand well.  But God addresses this reality and supplies His wisdom to us:

“The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” And “Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 16:9; 20:24)

There’s a lot we don’t know because we are creatures, limited in our knowledge.  What we do know, is that God is lovingly working out His eternal purposes in and through us because of Christ.  Here’s our comfort, here’s our joy, here’s our inheritance as God’s people.

Solomon wrote: There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die (Ecc.3:1-2).  Mike’s time came, our time is coming.  What are we doing with the time God has graced to us?

Appropriate to this occasion is a partial exhortation from a poem Missionary C.T. Studd penned:

“Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.[i]

I miss my friend Mike.  It hurts deeply.  But to my brothers and sisters in Christ who remain, I pray: “that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess. 1:11-12).

[i] Accessed (7/30/2015) http://i-am.org/members/index.php/156-devotional/493-only-one-life-twill-soon-be-past-only-what-s-done-for-christ-will-last

Reflections From Mark’s Gospel: Chapter 13

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“CHRIST AND THE END TIMES—BELIEVERS WILL SUFFER”

One of the most sobering sections in all of Scripture is where the eschaton—the end times—is taught.  It’s sobering because of how the biblical texts describe the horrific events that will transpire.  In this chapter, perhaps the critical verse is (v.31):

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away”

Maybe nothing is steadier to our understanding than the heavens above us and the earth below.  We take these for granted.  Nevertheless, they are preaching something of eternal weight and glory that we ought to heed.  The heavens and the earth were here before we arrived on planet earth and they’ll be here long after our existence is forgotten.  But the one holding it all together is declaring that his words are more solid, more sure than these phenomenal gifts of the heavens and the earth.

Thus what Jesus is prophesying will certainly come to pass.  It’s surer than the earth below and the heavens above.  In response to an observation one of Jesus’ disciples made, he said:

“Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” (vv.1-2)

Later on Jesus’ disciples asked him to explain what he meant in (vv.3-4) about the last days.  The first words recorded are; “See to it that no one misleads you….”  Jesus said that because many false Christs and prophets will arise and mislead many (vv.5-6, 22).  Several observations warrant their heeding Christ’s warnings:

First, “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he’ and will mislead many.” (v.6) Deception always lurks in the shadows and no deception is as lethal as religious is manifold.  As in the Garden when Eve was deceived by the serpent, so too Christ’s hearers must guard against the deceiver.  Thus, deception is assured!

Second, wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, and famines will occur (vv.7-8) but these are only “birth pangs”.  Just what is meant by “birth pangs” I’m not sure, but contextually it seems that predetermined fearful events caused by human and divine agency must precede the end—the eschaton.  This also is assured.

Third, religious persecution will manifest, personal suffering will be endured at the hands of Jewish leadership, “you will be flogged in the synagogues…” followed by civic persecution, “you will stand before governors and kings, for My sake as a testimony to them.” (v.9)  This gospel message is costly and must be preached to all nations (v.10).  Arrests await but God’s presence will be there to shepherd the disciples in their interrogations:

“When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.” (v.11)

Thus, for Christ’s sake—His testimony will be heard by all who rule.  This too is assured.  This not only reminds me of Peter, John, and Paul in the Acts of the Apostles under Roman rule, but also of Daniel and his three friends in Babylonian captivity under king Nebuchadnezzar.  These men were severely tested but nevertheless remained faithful to the God of the covenant.

Fourth, the pain will not end with strangers but will “come home” when betrayal occurs via family members, thus showing their hatred of Christ and putting to death his messengers (vv.12-13).  To be hated by enemies is understandable, by countrymen it’s painful though bearable, but to be hated by family—brother, father, children—it’s heart breaking.  This is the cost of discipleship; it’s the cost of loving Jesus, it’s also a mark of a true believer.

Jesus continues, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (v.13).  Notice how the amplification of fear comes in degrees: it starts with deceivers, goes to natural disasters, then is followed by persecution form outsiders, and culminates in death from those closest to us.

Recall that Christ’s call to follow Him must trump our dearest relationships—this is true discipleship, this according to Him is what will show our worthiness.  Worthy not because of our smarts, nor our status in life but because of our choice of treasure—His loving kindness is better than life!  No one can compare, he’s Creator, He’s our Redeemer, and He is Judge!

Just as the architect of a house is more glorious then his creation by virtue of essence, so too is God when compared to the creature.  But the idolatrous move of treasuring the creature above the Creator is what dooms us all.  Therefore, whatever it is we do, may it not be treasuring the creature above the Creator.  Thus, death by family members because of the name of Christ is assured.

Fifth, there’s an end toward which history is moving and it can’t be stopped nor avoided.  There’s the Tribulation (vv.14-23) and the Post-tribulation period (vv.24-31) where signs are given to describe it:  “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand)…” (v.14)  Here, there’s an understanding, a knowledge his hearers can grasp and know the point of which is a tribulation unlike any that preceded it (E.g., Flood, Babel, Exodus?)  Consider Jesus:

“For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will” (v.19)

Scripture has recorded some horrible events but here Jesus is saying to us “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”  These future events have no comparison which reminds me of the book of Revelation—God’s last act—where He completes His redemptive plan for those who love Him.  Note how Jesus says these things in advance so that when they are occurring, his hearers will trust his word.

This time will see Christ’s return and the final redemption of the elect, but unlike the first tribulation period, where the hearer is to look for signs and thus act accordingly (vv.14-17), in this second tribulation the time of arrival is only known to the Father, nevertheless, the season does not seem to be hidden from the hearer (vv.28-37).

The doctrine of judgment in Scripture is the first one that came under attack (Gen.3) and continues to come under negative scrutiny.  Recall that in the OT where signs and wonders occur; two things are evident people experience: Rescue from God’s wrath or the Reception of His wrath (E.g., Flood, Babel, Sodom/Gomorrah, Exodus, Possessing the Land, Elijah and Baal Prophets, etc.) so too in the NT (Book of Revelation).  Why judgment? One may ask and Christ would respond,

“because you are bad at the core, your sin has separated you justly from your Creator, but I have come to fix that problem—that’s why I died and rose from the grave.  I’m your only hope, no others can help.”

It’s in light of this that the hearer is to be on the alert!  They are to be anticipating these moments when what precedes is evident to them.  Wow!  Many things did take place already but there are things yet to come, obviously since we are here.  But in view of this text, what manner of life ought to professing Christians live?