Simeon and Anna Rejoiced

(Please read Luke 2:22-40 in your preferred version of the Bible.  My quotes are from the NIV.)

MESSAGE: In Jesus, God fulfilled the hopes of two godly people and they rejoiced to see it.

The front cover of New York’s Daily News for Thursday takes a strong stance against how some politicians are reacting to the San Bernardino shooting with calls for prayer instead of tighter gun control laws.

The headline says, “God Isn’t Fixing This.”

“As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes,” the cover reads.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP presidential hopefuls Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham all responded with “prayers” for the victims of San Bernardino.

The tweet of the Daily News provocative front page is currently the most retweeted of 2015 for the news organization, according to Twitter.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, took a different tone and called for “action” to stop gun violence.

President Obama underscored the need for stronger gun control laws in the United States after Wednesday’s mass shooting, which left at least 14 dead and 14 wounded.  “There’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of the mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently,” Obama told CBS News.

<Retrieved from http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/daily-news-provokes-with-cover-on-calif-shooting-god-isnt-fixing-this/ar-AAfXrhd?ocid=ansmsnnews11 on 12/3/15.>

  1. The context: Joseph & Mary’s faithfulness (22-24).

Dr. Luke wrote for a non-Jewish audience, so he provides enough detail so that those unfamiliar with the Law of Moses will know why Jesus’ parents brought Him to the temple (22+24).  WHEN THE TIME CAME and REQUIRED BY THE LAW OF MOSES are phrases that indicate Joseph and Mary were faithful to observe the Law in all its particulars.  Luke uses the word LAW five times in this chapter, more often than it is used in the rest of his Gospel.  He very much wants the reader to understand that Joseph & Mary were godly people.

The PURIFICATION RITES were for Mary; her “purification” after birth.  This was a period of 40 days after birth if the first born was a son, 80 days if the child was a female (Leviticus 12:3-4).  (This is THE TIME referred to in v. 22.)  During this time the mother was not allowed to leave the house and was considered “unclean.”

Leviticus 12:8 allowed for the sacrifice of birds instead of a lamb in the case of those who were poor.  So Jesus’ family was part of the peasant class; they were poor but pious.  One bird was a burnt offering, the other a sin offering.  There is a fair amount of chatter among Bible commentators about how a sin offering was not needed in this case, as the Virgin Birth did not involve sin.  I believe this is simply Joseph and Mary being careful to observe the full requirements of the Law.  Besides, would YOU like to try to explain to the priest why you are the lone female in all of history who did not require a sin offering?

The consecration rite was for baby Jesus, as the Law dictated, EVERY FIRSTBORN MALE IS TO BE CONSECRATED.  The firstborn son had to be “redeemed.”  This was because the firstborn male of any species was considered to belong to the LORD (see Exodus 13:2; 34:19; Numbers 18:15-16).  That’s what CONSECRATED means.  In order for the parents to keep the child, they had to buy or redeem him from service to God by paying 5 shekels to the priests.

  1. Simeon was overjoyed to see the Messiah (25-35).

Simeon’s qualifications as a man of God are impeccable.  Luke wrote that he was:

– RIGHTEOUS or “just;” Simeon was faithful in his dealings with both God and man.

– DEVOUT or “feared God.”  Luke uses this word three times in the book of Acts to describe Jews who carefully kept the Law of Moses.

– WAITING F/T CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL.  This CONSOLATION was in the form of comfort, but also counsel from God, sending a leader who would lead His people to true freedom. This phrase was typically used of people who were expectantly awaiting the coming of the Messiah. This same phrase was used later in Luke to refer to Joseph of Arimathea, the man who provided the tomb in which Jesus was buried (see Luke 23:51).

This hope was so widespread it manifest itself in their culture in a couple of ways.  Jews who wanted to swear an oath to verify their statements would say, “May I never live to see the consolation of Israel if I am lying.”  This hope was also expressed frequently in prayer; “May I live long enough to see the consolation of Israel.”  This was clearly Simeon’s greatest hope and desire in life, the most important thing to him.

– THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS UPON HIM: at this time they were still under the Old Testament system: the Holy Spirit was only given to specific persons to do a specific job, and then withdrawn.  THE HOLY SPIRIT…REVEALED 2 things to simeon.

First, that he WOULD NOT DIE BEFORE HE HAD SEEN THE LORD’S CHRIST. From this people guess that Simeon was an old man, but the point is the God had encouraged him w/ a promise that his own eyes would behold God’s salvation.  The non-biblical “Gospel of the Nativity of Mary” sets Simeon’s age at 113.

Second, the true nature of the baby Jesus.  I’m sure there was nothing about baby Jesus or His family that stood out to the unaided eye.  The Spirit gave Simeon true insight.

– MOVED BY THE SPIRIT (v. 27) means that God put Simeon at the right place at the right time to reveal the truth to him.  In contrast to Anna, Simeon did not stay in the temple courts all the time; he was MOVED physically and spiritually to be there right at the appropriate time.

Simeon’s relationship with God was manifest in a gift of prophecy.  Luke records what he prophesied about Jesus in vs. 29-32, 34-35.

– He would be the means of SALVATION God prepared for His people (v. 30).  We are saved because of what God has done for us, never by what we do for Him.  The universal offer of salvation is also affirmed in the phrase IN THE SIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE (v. 31).  I think this also implies that God had been working toward this end from day one and anyone who had, like Simeon, the Spirit-led eyes of faith, could understand that fact.

– He would be A LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES (v. 32) so that non-Jews could be saved.  Verse 32 uses the word LIGHT in both of its typical biblical senses: revealing and understanding the truth and as the visible manifestation of the presence of God.  This was foretold by the prophecies in the Old Testament, Isaiah 9:6-7, 49; Psalms 98:3; Malachi 4:2.

He would bring GLORY to Israel because He was one of their own; a Jew (v. 32).  We need to remember that non-Jewish (Gentile) folks like us were ADDED to the Kingdom of God.  He has not abandoned His promises to Israel in order to save the rest of us.  Instead, as Paul explained in RMS 11, Gentiles were like a wild branch grafted onto an existing olive tree.  This means that the most glorious thing Israel is capable of doing is taking the Good News of God’s salvation to the Gentiles.

– He was DESTINED TO CAUSE THE RISING AND FALLING OF MANY IN ISRAEL (v. 34).  This is in fulfillment of Isaiah 8:14-15; “[The LORD Almighty] WILL BE A SANCTUARY; BUT FOR BOTH HOUSES OF ISRAEL HE WILL BE A STONE THAT CAUSES MEN TO STUMBLE AND A ROCK THAT MAKES THEM FALL. AND FOR THE PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM HE WILL BE A TRAP AND A SNARE.  MANY OF THEM WILL STUMBLE; THEY WILL FALL AND BE BROKEN, THEY WILL BE SNARED AND CAPTURED.”

In any of us, being a stumbling block is a bad thing.  But where Jesus is concerned, He is the cornerstone that sets the rest of the building as true.  He is the standard that will condemn some as sinners and commend others as saints.  Even though the word CAUSE is used here, it is clearly a matter of individual choice, the individual’s destiny chosen by themselves in relation to Christ.  Jesus is like the line drawn in the sand and the content of our inner self is revealed by the side on which we choose to stand.

– A SIGN THAT WILL BE SPOKEN AGAINST (v. 34).   A SIGN is a symbol; something we can see that points to and explains something unseen.  Jesus would be SPOKEN AGAINST because He revealed things about God and from God that people did not want to hear.  This prophecy was literally fulfilled when people mocked Jesus at his trial and crucifixion.  But earlier, during His ministry, Jesus’ opponents insulted Him in many different ways.

– THE THOUGHTS OF MANY HEARTS WILL BE REVEALED (v. 35).  In the first case, the inner state of every person is revealed by their reaction to Jesus.  By faith in Him and their righteous living, the true followers of Jesus reveal themselves.  On the other hand, a lack of faith and the absence of good behavior are self-condemning revelations.  In the second case, all hearts were revealed to Jesus’ mind.  He supernaturally knew what others around Him were thinking (see Mark 2:8).  In the Bible, the word “thought” often had an evil shade to it; the word was used most often with the adjective “evil.”

What he prophesied about Mary in v. 35 is dramatic:  A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR OWN HEART TOO. This is a special word for SWORD; it refers to a large, two-handed weapon.  In this sense, Simeon may be using it as a symbol of a particularly strong grief.  It is the word used for Goliath’s sword in 1 Samuel 17.  Simeon predicted that Mary would share in the pain of Jesus being rejected by His own people.  Mary already had a strong faith, but God is speaking through Simeon to prepare her for even more heartache.

I had never thought about how unsettling this prophecy may’ve been for Mary over the next 33 years until I read this quote; “The childhood in the Nazareth home, and the early manhood in the Nazareth carpentry, were no doubt her happiest days, though, in those quiet years, expectation, fears, dread, curiously interwoven, must have ever torn that mother’s heart. The days of the public ministry for Mary must have been sad, and her heart full of anxious forebodings, as she watched the growing jealousies, the hatred, and the unbelief on the part of the leading men of her people. Then came the cross. We know she stood by it all the while.” <From the Pulpit Commentary, retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/2-35.htm on 12/4/15.>

We know Simeon found joy in Jesus.  There are several clues in the text.

– HE TOOK THE CHILD IN HIS ARMS (v. 28).  If he was a priest, this would have been expected behavior.  BUT, there’s nothing here to indicate priesthood, so Joseph and Mary were probably surprised at Simeon’s sudden action.

– He PRAISED GOD (v. 28).  Every experience in life should turn us to God.  Good times and bad should likewise result in praise.  Even so, THIS is the most praiseworthy moment in Simeon’s life.

– He blessed Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (v. 34).

– His joy was so complete that Simeon was content to die.  Now that God’s promise to him (v. 26) had been kept, his greatest desire fulfilled, he could see no further use of life in this world.  Imagine the level of satisfaction that is indicated in these words!  He is ready to be dismissed from this life.  DISMISS is a word that carries a lot more emotion in the Greek language: it means to “deliver from bondage or misery.”  It makes me wonder if Simeon was not old, but had a terminal or chronic illness.  We have all known someone in that kind of situation who is admittedly waiting to die.  He adds the words IN PEACE, implying that his life previously had not been peaceable.  This hymn of Simeon is called the Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “now you dismiss”) and has been used by Christians throughout history as a prayer to end the day.

– FOR MY EYES HAVE SEEN: Ironically, it was the spiritual vision supplied by the Holy Spirit that enabled Simeon to recognize the baby Jesus as Messiah when he beheld the baby with his physical eyes.

Of all the people we’re going to talk about this Advent, Simeon is arguably the best example to follow.  He was one focused individual!  You get the sense from Luke that Simeon’s life revolved around waiting to celebrate the appearance of t Messiah!  That should be our focus during Advent; not all the usual fluff-n-stuff we add during the season.

  1. Anna was overjoyed to see the Messiah (36-38).

Anna’s qualifications as a woman of God are impeccable.

– Anna was recognized as a PROPHETESS at a time when no men were recognized as prophets.  From the perspective of the New Testament, the office of prophet ceased with Malachi and there had been 400 years of silence, no prophecies given.  Some consider John the Baptist to be the last of the prophets in the Old Testament sense.

– Her family relationships were summed up as DAUGHTER OF PENUEL, TRIBE OF ASHER. It is strange that Anna is mentioned in connection with her father not her husband.  Perhaps this is because her father was a more noteworthy man.  The tribe of ASHER was NOT part of the southern kingdom.  This woman’s ancestry was Israelite, but not of the tribe of Judah.  In the strict sense, she wasn’t Jewish.  Women of this tribe were known for their beauty and were frequently wed to important people.

– A WIDOW: the text mentions the length of her brief marriage to establish that Anna was a godly woman and to show how long she had been a widow.  The reader would understand that Anna is on equal footing with Simeon in terms of religious authority.  In this society, widows typically held a very low spot on the social ladder.  Apparently Anna was the exception to this rule.  Though an old woman, she had never remarried after her husband died.  Her deep piety would have endeared her to the faithful who frequented the temple and always found Anna there.

– SHE NEVER LEFT THE TEMPLE, BUT…  Technically, only the priests resided in the temple district.  If this verse is literally true, then Anna was exceptional in this detail as well.  Her name means “grace” or “gracious,” so her personality may have also endeared her to the priests and they made an exception to allow her to live in the temple district.

Anna did not just occupy a space in the temple courts: she WORSHIPED NIGHT AND DAY.  There were set hours for prayer in the temple and she was on hand for all of them.  She was FASTING AND PRAYING; godly Jews fasted at least two days a week.

Anna’s relationship with God was manifest in a gift of witnessing.  Here’s something interesting; the phrase AT THAT VERY MOMENT means that she must have heard what Simeon prophesied about Jesus & added her affirmation.  We often overlook this detail of the narrative, but it’s important to connect these two events.

The witness she gave was not only immediate, but ongoing; SHE…SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD TO ALL WHO WERE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM.  Like the shepherds, Anna went from the presence of the infant Jesus and told everyone about Him.  Like Simeon, she had been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah (the phrases CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL and THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM both mean this).

We know Anna found joy in Jesus because SHE GAVE THANKS TO GOD and SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD.

  1. Joseph & Mary were joyful at what they heard.

THE CHILD’S FATHER AND MOTHER MARVELED AT WHAT WAS SAID ABOUT HIM (v. 33).  I think the word MARVELED is perfectly appropriate here, because when we “marvel” at something, we don’t fully understand it, but still regard it as something great.  We welcome it even though we don’t have enough information to accurately gauge its importance.

Vs. 39-40 make it clear that they raised Jesus in their faith.  (Luke made a similar summary statement about the childhood of John the Baptist in 1:80.)  The point of these verses is two-fold:

– One, that Joseph & Mary continued to observe the law of Moses in all its details and that they raised Jesus to do the same.

– That Jesus was a human being; He grew as all human beings grow.  He was born a baby and grew up through all the stages of life that are common to our experience.

“The Year I Cancelled Christmas”

Author: Jon Weece                                Date Published: 12/4/2015

            Some years ago, Christmas fell on a Sunday: I challenged our church family to spend Christmas visiting people they wouldn’t normally visit to give gifts to people they normally wouldn’t give gifts to.

I cancelled Christmas.

Or at least that’s what I was accused of.

Instead of coming to church that Sunday I challenged them to be the church. Jesus came to us in person. So what better way to capture the incarnation than to go to people in person.

I didn’t feel like I was canceling Christmas. I felt like I was promoting Christmas.

Across town a 6-year-old girl named Rebecca baked brownies and stood at the entrance to the library at the University of Kentucky on Christmas morning and gave a free brownie to any college student who walked by during finals week.

“Why are you giving away free brownies to total strangers?” a Muslim student stopped and asked.

Rebecca is sassy. So she put her hand on her hip, and with a “no duh” kind of tone said, “Because Jesus wants me to. That’s why!”

Little did she know that this Muslim student had been wrestling with what he believed and had been questioning the tenants of his faith for over 2 years. Dumbfounded by her emphatic response he said, “Can I come to church with you?”

“Sure you can!” she blurted out without consulting her parents.

So here’s my favorite part–instead of bringing this PhD student into the big room with all the big people on Sunday, she took him into her children’s ministry environment where he sat on the floor and heard a lesson about Jesus’ love for Zacchaeus.

After months of sitting and listening he took a stand for Jesus and was baptized. His family told him they would kill him if they ever saw him.

As scary as that threat sounds, he’s safe.

He’s safe because he’s saved.

And all of it happened because a little girl partnered with Betty Crocker and the Holy Spirit.

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

When we express the love of Jesus in simple ways, people express their need for him in beautiful ways.

<The entire article may be found at http://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/jon-weece-the-year-i-cancelled-christmas-2332.asp.>

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“A Fool and His Money”

(Please read Luke 12:13-21 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Today we’ll start with a simple quiz: Who said the following?  “I TELL YOU, USE WORLDLY WEALTH TO GAIN FRIENDS FOR YOURSELVES, SO THAT WHEN IT IS GONE, YOU WILL BE WELCOMED INTO ETERNAL DWELLINGS.”

It may surprise you to know that these are the words of Jesus.  Look it up: he said this in Luke 16:9.  As is the case with many of the things Jesus taught, this is contrary to worldly wisdom.  I’m sure you’d have a hard time finding a financial advisor who will recommend using money to GAIN FRIENDS.  Note that Jesus did not suggest “buying” friends.  Instead, He’s suggesting that generosity is a way of showing grace and making friends.

That part shows an understanding of human nature.  Nothing very surprising here.  It’s the concluding statement that is particularly radical as Jesus connects generosity with eternal life.  Of course Jesus is NOT saying that we can spend our way into heaven.  What He is affirming is that people who are saved, who will be WELCOMED INTO ETERNAL DWELLINGS, are marked by a generous nature.

Some folks want to draw a dark line between money and faith, but that is not biblical teaching.  The Bible teaches that all of the resources God entrusts to us are to be used in obedience to God.  This is called “stewardship” and is an important part of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

MESSAGE: It is foolish to put your trust in any worldly thing.

  1. Jesus the Unwilling Judge (vs. 13-15).

The man in the crowd asked Jesus to act as a rabbi, but he had an ulterior motive: GREED (13).  He called Jesus “TEACHER.”  In that culture, rabbis were often asked to settle disputes like this.  The rabbi’s authority would be ethical, not legal.

The man was not at all subtle.  He practically orders Jesus to take his side in the dispute about an estate; “TELL MY BROTHER TO DIVIDE THE INHERITANCE WITH ME.”

Jesus was unwilling to judge between them (14).  Jesus did not disagree with the man about His being a teacher, but protests that no one has agree to Him acting as a JUDGE OR ARBITER between this man and his brother.  No agreement of arbitration has been struck.  The man’s request is entirely one-sided.  He’s asking Jesus to use his authority to come down on his side.

Instead, Jesus turned the moment into a teaching as He turned from the man to address the CROWD (15).  He warned the man; “WATCH OUT!  BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST ALL KINDS OF GREED.”  In so doing, Jesus exposed the man’s true motive.  This is an emphatic, emotional appeal on Jesus’ part: “WATCH OUT!  BE ON YOUR GUARD.”  He kept it universal: “ALL KINDS OF GREED.”  GREED is a sin.

– It is defined in the Bible as an insatiable desire for any earthly thing.

– Its flaw is that earthly things take t place of God in our life.

– In Colossians 3:5, GREED is listed among other sins that come from a person’s EARTHLY NATURE and is condemned as IDOLATRY.

GREED can quickly ruin relationships.  Indeed, the experience is so common that I would not be surprised if everyone in this room has observed it personally.   It often happens in situations just like this one; disputes over inheritance drive grieving family members apart.

I believe that is what Jesus implied in the condemnation of the rich man in v. 20; “WHO WILL GET WHAT YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR YOURSELF?”  Jesus didn’t just lay down the law; He instructed the man in the moral reason why he should guard against greed.  He said, “A MAN’S LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN THE ABUNDANCE OF HIS POSSESSIONS.”

  1. Jesus the Story-teller (vs. 16-21).

A parable is a story told to make a point.  The details are only important as they contribute to that one main point.  The main point of the parable is that it is foolish to put your trust in anything from this world.  Let’s take a look at how the parable develops that theme.

Externally, the rich man did nothing wrong.  From a moral standpoint, he did not steal to become wealthy. V. 16: THE GROUND…PRODUCED A GOOD CROP.  From a business standpoint, the rich man’s decisions make a certain amount of sense.  Vs. 17-18: I WILL TEAR DOWN MY BARNS AND BUILD BIGGER ONES.  From a worldly standpoint, you can’t blame him for his confidence about the future.  V. 19: “TAKE LIFE EASY; EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY” sounds an awful lot like the goal of retirement planning.  In fact, I expect that by this point in the story, people in the audience are smiling, nodding in agreement, may be saying “AMEN!”

But internally, God knows our hearts and He knew that the rich man was not merely a good businessman; he was a practical – if not actual – atheist.  The rich man makes no mention of God in vs. 17-19.  He neither expresses gratitude to God, nor does he make plans to share his wealth with God or with people in need.  The rich man in this parable acts in line with his sin nature; he is only concerned about himself.  There is no accountability to God or even tradition, much less others.

This character is condemned in v. 20.  God called him a FOOL.  In the Old Testament, a fool is a person who rejects God and does self-destructive things (for example, Psalm 14:1).  It is a very strong condemnation with the word only used twice in the New Testament.

God warned him that his wealth could not save him from imminent death.  The word for LIFE here is psyche i/t Gk and is often translated as “soul.”  Jesus has set up a contrast between the inner life of the man and the outward life.  He’s saying, “Your attention is all focused on your external life, but your internal life will soon be taken away and you will die!”

God condemned his selfishness, asking him who would end up possessing the wealth he thought was his.  This man thought he had created his own future, but God appeared to remind him who was really in charge.

Jesus made His point plain in v. 21: anyone who shares the rich man’s attitude will also share his outcome.  The problem is not wealth.  The Bible does not commend or condemn having material things.  Instead, the rich man condemned in the parable was judged guilty of having sought wealth over God.

In MTW 6:19-21, Jesus made it clear where our priorities should lie: “DO NOT STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES ON EARTH, WHERE MOTH AND RUST DESTROY, AND WHERE THIEVES BREAK IN AND STEAL.  BUT STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES IN HEAVEN, WHERE MOTH AND RUST DO NOT DESTROY AND WHERE THIEVES DO NOT BREAK IN AND STEAL.  FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE YOUR HEART WILL BE ALSO.”

This Bible passage was written for everyone who ever thought, “If I just had more money.”  It’s for people who look for security in a bank account or compounding their possessions.

And we’re not just talking about the obvious ones, the hoarders, the greedy, the thieves and cheats.  We’re talking about the folks who may have legitimate-sounding goals like providing for their retirement or their family.  Whether obvious or not, the point is that you can’t trust worldly things to provide security or happiness or peace.  The man’s prudence is not condemned, only his godlessness.

Trust in God only.

Let me tell you what money is.  It is a tool.  Like a hammer, money is a tool.  It has a specific purpose but it has absolutely no ethical nature.  It is a thing that can be used to build or to destroy.  The only ethical part of it is how it is used.

If you want to drive a nail, then a hammer is the right choice of tools.  If you want to paint a wall, then I doubt it’s going to work very well for you.

Here’s the thing: If someone told you they absolutely loved hammers, that they collected hammers and wanted as many hammers as they could get, that they researched hammers on Google and Ebay, that they felt most secure in their showroom of hammers, then I don’t think you’d wait too long to wonder if they were nuts.  If they told you that the person with the most hammers will live eternally, you’d stop wondering and conclude they were nuts!

Darrell L. Bock wrote, “The fundamental test for the use of resources is whether they become tools of service that benefit others and enable them to be in a position to serve God better.”  (Bock, the NIV Application Commentary on Luke, Zondervan Publishing House, 1996, pp. 345-346.)

So why take that same approach to another tool, money?  Why covet it, collect it, try to be consoled by having lots of it, why waste your life worrying about it?  It’s just a tool, one of many God has placed in your tool box.

Get over it.

Here’s the attitude God wants us to have toward money and all material things:

#1 = Agree with God that everything is HIS.  The notion that we’ve earned it or otherwise deserve it is an illusion.

#2 = Trust God that He will provide what you need when you need it.  Find your security – true security – in Him.

#3 = Give to God first, not the leftovers.

– Start with a cheerful and worshipful attitude.

– Give proportionately.  Set a percentage; that is your TITHE.

– Give generously.  In addition to your TITHE, make GIFTS or OFFERINGS that provide for organizational & individual need.

– Give sacrificially.  Anyone can give leftovers or out of their excess, but only sacrificial giving – giving when it is not convenient or even hurts a bit – that is the only kind of giving that shows our love is real.

#4 = Be careful.  Jesus spoke more often about money than any other subject because he knew it is a window into the soul of a person.  Their attitude about money quickly reveals what’s truly most important to us.

High Altitude Attitudes – the Beatitudes

A preacher was walking to his office one sunny day when he noticed a very little boy on a porch across the street.  The boy was jumping, trying to reach the doorbell of the house to ring it, but it was situated high enough to be out of his reach, even when jumping with all his might.

The preacher stopped to watch the boy’s efforts for a bit and then decided to offer his help.  He crossed the street and got the little fellow’s attention.  “I notice you can’t quite reach that doorbell, son.  Can I help you?”

“Sure,” he replied.

The preacher rant the doorbell then stooped over to get on the boy’s level.  “And now little man,” he said with a smile, “What happens now?”

The boy giggled and replied, “Now we RUN!”

There are an unlimited number of ways we can bless one another, isn’t there?  But moments like that one can discourage us from trying.

We must not neglect the power of blessing.  God entrusts us with an unending supply so we can exert the power of blessing in our homes and community.

The power of blessing is beautifully expressed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  There our Lord described nine examples of how we can exercise a ministry of blessing.

Today we’re going to start a series of messages on the Beatitudes.  In each case, we will compare:

Our Attitude: what is typical to human nature and often expressed in human cultures as desirable or valuable.

Jesus’ Beatitude: virtues that are expressed in the character of Jesus.  They become real in us through the Holy Spirit.

The Adjustment: the means the Spirit uses to change us from attitude to beatitude.

The Reward: God authorized motivation by means of desire for reward by offering a reward for each of these changes.

High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Spiritual Poverty (3).

            Our attitude is pride, which should be understood as every manifestation of self-sufficiency, every act of trust in something other than God.  For example, Pride is trusting in any worldly riches.  In Matthew 19:23-24, Jesus observed how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Jesus beatitude is humility.   This is NOT humiliation or self-abasement.  Those are still acts of self-sufficiency, exercising our will.  Instead, humility is possessing an accurate self-understanding; seeing ourselves as God sees us:

– In need of His salvation by grace.

– Individuals w/ strengths and weaknesses.

– Its inward truth, not outward appearance

The adjustment is the experience of being POOR IN SPIRIT.  True holiness requires ruthless honesty.  To be honest is to admit one’s sin and complete dependence on God for salvation.  It’s no shame to admit to poverty when one is poor.  And spiritually speaking, we are all poor.   Our very best behavior falls short of God’s standard (see Isaiah 64:6). We have no hope apart from God’s grace. Changing our attitudes is something we can’t do on our own – we depend on God. The Bible honors those who are poor in terms of what this world offers, but are faithful to trust and obey God (see Psalms 149:4 and Isaiah 49:13; 61:1-2; 66:2).

The reward is experiencing the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN now and in the future.  In order to enter the Kingdom, we must submit to the authority of the King and accept His work of salvation. The POOR IN SPIRIT experience the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN in two ways.

– In the PRESENT, we experience the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN by the work of the Holy Spirit (prayer, worship, fellowship, etc.).   (See MTW 11:11-12; 12:28.)

– In the FUTURE we will experience the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN by being in heaven; living eternally in the presence of God and with His people.  (See Matthew 7:21; 8:11; 19:23-24; 26:29).  This is the most fundamental change, so it comes with the greatest reward.

High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mourning (4).

            Our attitude is frivolity.  (I struggled with this choice of words.  If you can think of a better one after reading how I define it, I’d happily receive a suggestion.) Human nature wants to avoid sorrow. Two mistakes we make under this attitude I’m calling “frivolity:”

– We busy ourselves in activity, working and playing hard, attempting to avoid dealing with sorrow.

– Or we bury ourselves in alcohol or drugs or other addictions in the same doomed quest for avoidance.

The Jesus beatitude is ­­sobriety.  We tend to think of “sobriety” only in terms of not being drunk or high.  Actually, “sobriety” is the virtue of being serious when mature, balanced behavior is needed. It avoids t extremes of goofy immaturity one hand & taking things only or overly serious on the other.  It is the virtue of appropriate behavior based on sensitivity to one’s context.

Jesus calls us to neither seek nor shirk suffering; but instead to use it, when it comes, to become more mature ourselves or helping others to find more maturity.  It is worldly to seek to be entertained every waking moment.  The believer seeks God’s Kingdom first, finding the true joy of service. It is a vice to treat sin lightly; believers sorrow over sin and ignorance of God. It’s a mistake to make happiness our goal.  Those who love Jesus seek holiness before happiness.

The adjustment is the experience of mourning.  What causes us to mourn?  The most obvious example is death, but there are a lot of other things that cause us to suffer, experience sorrow, or feel a sense of loss.

The word MOURN meant “to bear sorrows.”  Sorrows are a result of God’s choices, our choices, the choices of others or more likely a combination.  There are real and imagined sorrows.

The reward is being comforted by God.  This isn’t simply a matter of going around with a long face, unsmiling, unhappy, or in tears.  If it were just those behaviors, we’d be earning our salvation, right?  Again, it’s a matter of trusting God, not self.

The word “comfort” means to be fortified.  It describes an outcome of faith that finds security in knowing that God is in control and He’s working for our good.  Part of God’s purpose in mourning is to make us stronger in our faith, more spiritually mature. Another purpose is to make us more sensitive so we can help those who MOURN as we have. A third purpose is to strengthen our faith in the best way possible – by surviving and overcoming.  (Two examples: Paul in Romans 5:3; 8:37-39 or John in Revelation 21:4.)

High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Meekness (5).

            Our attitude is self-centeredness.  The more we dwell within ourselves and ignore others, the more we are prone to hurt them. It can be in our nature to be competitive, stubborn, and vengeful, all of which are attitudes that reduce the value of other people, making them objects to be used or enemies to be violated and defeated. The world values success and excess; it sees self-reliance as a virtue, even when taken to ridiculous extremes.

The Jesus beatitude is gentleness.  To be gentle does NOT mean to be a door mat.  Two of the greatest achievers in history were called “gentle:” Moses in Numbers 12:3 and Jesus in Matthew 11:29.

To be gentle is to do the right thing without doing harm.  This takes great intelligence, courage, and patience; all of which the Holy Spirit provides.  A gentle person never insists that the ends justify the means or that principles have greater priority than people.

The adjustment is meekness.  Meekness starts by placing God’s will and the good of others ahead of self-interest.  Putting God first helps us do t right thing.  Putting the good of others ahead of self helps us do the right thing in the right way at the right time.  Meekness is a virtue because it was part of the character of Jesus.  When He was being tried by the authorities Jesus suffered their accusations in silence.

The reward is inheriting the earth.  In biblical language, to INHERIT something was to

receive it as a gift from God.  (See Psalms 37:11, 22, 34.)  THE EARTH refers to all creation.  In both testaments, God promises His people that they will reign with Him as “kings and priests.” The irony is that those who reject worldly standards of power shall be given power.

Because we who believe know the end of the story, because we trust God to keep His promises, we can relax.  We can afford to be generous and gentle w/ others. Logically, we don’t have to be greedy in this moment because we know eventually we will inherit all of it!

“According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statics, the average [American household spent] $50,486.”  Of that amount, $2,827 or 5.6% was spent on “entertainment.”  “Entertainment costs included audio and visual equipment and services; pets, toys, hobbies and playground equipment; fees and admissions; and other entertainment spending.”

<Retrieved from http://visualeconomics.creditloan.com/average-american-spends-on-entertainment/#ixzz3OLpfG8lh  on 1/9/15.>

            Even under that very narrow definition, we spend a lot of time and resources on doing nothing more than being entertained.  We are a people who prize happiness, sometimes to the point of misidentifying it as a virtue.  This is the frivolous lifestyle to which I referred earlier.

            Let me give you a quick example as we close.  The song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.  I love this song.  It is catchy and hearing it makes you smile.  But it’s as weighty as styrofoam and about as useful in mass quantities.        The song was written for the animated movie, Despicable Me 2, but was much more popular than the movie, becoming a world-wide pop culture phenomenon.

Williams, the song’s writer and performer, made these comments about Happy: “The creation of the song was fun, but it was the tenth song after nine songs didn’t work for what the movie company described as a pivotal moment in the film.  It’s just been wonderful to see how the universe has rewarded us, my whole entire team. I’m surrounded by greatness.  It’s essentially changed my life and changed the tune of how I look at things, my perspective,” he says. “Me and my wife, we were just jumping around because I got that song in that film. We didn’t think it was going to turn into this.”

<Retrieved from http://radio.com/2015/01/05/grammys-behind-the-song-pharrell-williams-happy/ on 1/9/15.>

Little Lady, Big Plan

(Read Luke 1:26-38 (NLT).)

Mary Had a Little Lamb (Christmas version)

~ Author Unknown ~

Mary had a little Lamb, He was born on Christmas day.

She laid him in a manger bed To sleep upon the hay.

Angels filled the night-time sky And they began to sing.

Shepherds heard them all proclaim The birthday of a King.

Wise men saw a blazing star Up in the sky that night.

They followed it until they found The King of love and light.

Mary had a little Lamb, But He wasn’t hers, you know,

He was the very Son of God, The One who loves us so.

The Father of this little Lamb Loved the world so much

That He sent his only Son to earth So we could feel His touch.

He came to give us joy and peace And take away our sin.

So when He knocks on your heart’s door, Be sure to let Him in.

Why do I love this precious Lamb? What can the reason be?

The answer is quite plain to see, It’s because He first loved me!

(“Mary Had a Little Lamb (Christmas version)” retrieved from http://www.empoweringchristianwomen.com/2007/12/mary-had-little-lamb-christmas-version.html.)

The little lady had a big SPIRIT .

          Luke tells us more about Mary than the other Gospel writers. Let’s examine what we can learn.

1:27+34 = She was a VIRGIN. This is the most important fact about Mary.  The Bible makes it very clear that Joseph is in no biological way the father of Jesus.  The birth of Jesus was supernaturally accomplished, a fact that establishes His nature as divine, His identity as the Son of God.

1:27 = She was ENGAGED to Joseph.  Joseph provided a name and home life, protection for the baby, and was a man who obviously nurtured Jesus, teaching Him his trade. Though his role was a supporting one, Joseph was nonetheless essential for God’s plan.

1:28 = She was a FAVORED WOMAN.  Let’s remember the purpose of the Gospels is to tell us about Jesus.  What we can learn about Mary serves that purpose. Even though she was a peasant girl in a neglected corner of the ancient world, she had found great FAVOR with God.  That reflects favorably on her moral character; it also reflects favorably on her spiritual life.

This does not, however, justify making Mary some sort of super-saint or demi-god.  She was a woman whom God chose for this task.  Being chosen doesn’t necessarily prove that the person was the most qualified in any sense that we can observe; God picks people to do His will on the basis of what He knows.  Favor is bestowed, not earned.

1:28 = The LORD was with her.  This may have been the most encouraging thing Gabriel said to Mary.  In effect, he said, “All will be well; God is with you to protect and empower you.”  The Apostle Paul would later write, FOR I CAN DO EVERYTHING WITH THE HELP OF CHRIST WHO GIVES ME THE STRENGTH I NEED. (Philippians 4:13)  That sounds a great deal like verse 37 as well.

1:38 = She was faithful and obedient.  This is seen in her own words:

  • “I AM THE LORD’S SERVANT”
  • “I AM WILLING TO ACCEPT WHATEVER HE WANTS”
  • “MAY EVERYTHING YOU HAVE SAID COME TRUE.”

In that moment Mary could not have grasped all that this decision would mean to her.  But that’s what makes her an even better example of faith; she took God at His word and trusted Him to handle the details.

1:46-56 = She was humble & faithful to see the personal implications of what she’d promised.  She referred to herself as “HIS LOWLY SERVANT GIRL.”  SERVANT is a polite translation; t word means slave!  LOWLY means “humiliated.” She used strong language, suitable to conveying deep conviction.  Mary’s devotion to God is not diluted by ego or self-interest.

“GENERATION AFTER GENERATION WILL CALL ME BLESSED” Her cousin Elizabeth had, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, just blessed her (see 1:41-45). This meant that Mary understood and appreciated her absolutely unique place in history and in God’s unfolding plan.

“HE’S DONE GREAT THINGS FOR ME” is written in the past tense, so I speculate that Mary is looking back at her life prior to Gabriel’s visit and concluded she had already been blessed.  But it’s also clear that Mary is thinking about the angel’s promises and she counted it an honor to serve the Lord in this way.

2:19 = Mary remembered what the shepherds said about Jesus.  More than that, she TREASURED them in her HEART.  These promises would be a sentimental and spiritual foundation to which she could return again and again in the years ahead, when the actions of God did not make sense to her.

2:35 = Simeon prophesied the grief she would feel at Jesus’ crucifixion.  When you consider all that had been said about Jesus – starting with Gabriel and the shepherds – and all He had done, the tragedy of the cross must’ve felt like unkept promises to Mary. I wonder if she recalled this warning at that time.  If it made any difference to her.

John reveals a little more information about Mary in the narratives of two incidents that bracket the ministry phase of Jesus’ life.

John 2:1-11 = Mary goads Jesus into performing His first miracle; water into wine.  Her method is indirect; she alerts Jesus to the problem and instructs the servants to do as He directs them.  And yet, despite the “stage mother” kind of approach, Jesus’ first miracle was for HER.

John 19:26-27 = She was at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion; that took extraordinary courage, given Simeon’s prophecy 33 years earlier.

God’s big plan: our SALVATION.

          Gabriel’s words promise that her child will be the greatest man ever born.

1:32 = VERY GREAT is a paraphrase of the Gk word megas, which is familiar to us as a prefix.

1:32+35 = SON OF THE MOST HIGH.  This is a round-about way of saying “Son of God.”  “Son of” does not in any way mean less divine, it is to be understood as fully divine.  In ancient Israel, the phrase “Son of God” was also used to refer to the king.  So this phrase has both theological and historical meaning.

1:32 = THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS ANCESTOR DAVID.  David was seen as the ultimate king and the promise of an eternal throne was seen as being fulfilled by the Messiah.  This particular expression is unique to Luke’s Gospel.  It’s interesting that these items are found in the only Gospel authored by a Gentile.

1:33 = He shall rule Israel eternally. This too, is an expectation associated with the Messiah.

Mary understood that part of God’s plan involving her baby was nothing less than a new world order. She reveals this understanding in the song called “The Magnificat,” in vs. 46-56.

1:49 = HE, THE MIGHTY ONE, IS HOLY. “Mighty One” is also a term used for the rulers of Israel and for God.  Mary’s song emphasizes God’s power wielded on behalf of His people.

1:50 = HIS MERCY…GOES TO ALL WHO FEAR HIM. God’s MERCY specifically refers to the way He keeps the covenant even when His people break it.  He is always faithful; he does good to the undeserving

1:51-53 = He will turn the usual world order upside down to deliver those oppressed by it.

  • He SCATTERS T PROUD & HAUGHTY.
  • He deposes PRINCES to exalt t LOWLY.
  • He has SATISFIED T HUNGRY, but sent the rich away with nothing. (See Luke 16:19-31.)

1:54-55 = He will keep all the promises He made to His people.  Though the times may have indicated otherwise, God honored his promise and delivered His people.  His means of deliverance, a baby born to a peasant family, was not what they expected or desired.

Dave Berry, a popular modern humorist wrote, “You can always tell the Christmas season is here when you start getting incredibly dense, tinfoil-and-ribbon-wrapped lumps in the mail.  Fruitcakes make ideal gifts because the Postal Service has been unable to find a way to damage them.  They last forever, largely because nobody ever eats them.”

(Joyful Noiseletter, Nov./Dec. 2012, p. 4.)

As proof that Dave Barry wrote truthfully, consider the following tale of woe surrounding the world’s oldest fruitcake; 136 years old!  On November 28, 1878, (remember that date) Fidelia Ford baked a fruitcake for Christmas.  Not long afterward, she died.

The fruitcake was never eaten and has been passed on by Fidelia’s descendants, all of whom have died too.  The most recent inheritor of the cake was Morgan Ford, Fidelia’s great-grandson.  In 2003 Morgan was a guest of Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.  Jay dared to sample a bite and declared that it needed “more aging.”  Morgan ate some too.  Ten years later, Jay Leno had to turn over the Tonight Show to Jimmy Fallon and Morgan Ford had died.  Draw your own conclusions about the wisdom of eating fruitcake.

How about something more lasting and more savory than fruitcake?  How about having the faith Mary has demonstrated?  What do we have here? A lady who was little in the eyes of the world – had the world taken notice of her at all – whom God chose to occupy a unique and pivotal place in the history of creation.  Mary is not to be idolized, but her example is one we can all aim to follow. After only a single question, maybe a moment’s hesitation, she chose to obey God’s will.  Mary didn’t sit around to estimate the cost; she quickly and unconditionally obeyed God.

Rest for Your Weary Soul

Part Two of the Previous Post

When you’re weary, go to Jesus for rest.

(Please read Matthew 11:25-30.)

        Let’s begin by examining the context. The New Testament is the record of the New Covenant, the new agreement between God and man, mediated by Jesus Christ.  The first book of the New Testament is Matthew, where we see that the New Covenant is established by Jesus Christ, the long-anticipated Messiah.  In chapter 11 the emphasis is on John the Baptist who, enduring the rigors of imprisonment, sent some of his disciples to Jesus to settle new doubts that Jesus was the Messiah.  Jesus’ answer attracted a crowd and these words were directed at them. And specifically, we learn in verses 28-29 that those who, like John the Baptist, become weary and have second thoughts, can find REST in Jesus.

What’s central to our purpose today is the truth that whatever wearies us, we find true REST in Jesus. When Jesus said, “COME TO ME,” He’s reminding us that our part is to seek Jesus.  Similarly, in Matthew 7:7-8 He said, “ASK AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU; SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND; KNOCK AND THE DOOR WILL BE OPENED TO YOU.  FOR EVERYONE WHO ASKS RECEIVES; HE WHO SEEKS FINDS; AND TO HIM WHO KNOCKS, THE DOOR WILL BE OPENED.” Jesus’ promise echoes Jeremiah 31:25; “I WILL REFRESH THE WEARY AND SATISFY THE FAINT.”

Our need to seek Jesus is the second step of faith; God has already sought us. We try all sorts of worldly remedies, but only Jesus gives us true rest; only He can restore our souls.  Would the worldly wise folk mentioned in verse 25 come to him?

Jesus invited ALL who are “WEARY AND BURDENED” to seek Him. As Paul pictured this state in Galatians, here too we have the picture of the “weary warrior;” someone burdened with cares that become a detriment to their health and sense of well-being. What’s different here in Matthew is that it doesn’t matter what causes the weariness –what matters is where go for REST.

Jesus promises ultimate REST in this world and in the world to come. In verse 28 He said, “I WILL GIVE YOU REST.”  The promise is repeated in verse 29; “YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS,” which is a phrase directly quoted from Jeremiah 6:16.

Jesus’ teaching about REST takes in 3 aspects. The first is a personal sense of security based on membership in the family of God (see Matthew 12:46-50). The second is assurance of care and provision for our daily human needs (see Matthew 6:8, 25-34; 7:11). The third is an expectant hope for blessing in the world to come (see Matthew 5:2-12).

But Jesus also makes it clear that we don’t come to Jesus on our own terms; we find REST on His terms.  When He said, “TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU,” He was using a common idiom of His time.

In the Jewish faith, a YOKE was a symbol that meant to come under the authority of a rabbi to be trained by him in t use of the Law. But Jesus offered a respite from the burden of keeping the Law.  He offered REST to those who’d been wearied by the religious burdens the rabbis created with their manifold interpretations and applications of the Law. “LEARN FROM ME” is another way of saying the same thing.

His REST is easier, more positive, and more pleasant than merely being religious and significantly better than living the world’s way.  This is, in part, due to His character; “I AM GENTLE AND HUMBLE IN HEART” These qualities feel more restful, don’t they?  Jesus has the authority to offer rest because of His GENTLE and HUMBLE character. Also, He was the fulfillment of the “True Servant” prophecies of Isaiah 42:2-3; 53:1-2 and Zechariah 9:9.

He mentioned the YOKE twice; “MY YOKE IS EASY” He said the second time. Some have speculated that as a carpenter, Jesus specialized in making yokes and that this expression may have been something like a slogan. EASY is Chrestos in the Greek and it means “well-fitting;” it referred to a yoke that had been expertly made to fit a certain beast.  When it fit well, it did not chafe the neck or shoulders of the animal.

In spiritual terms, this means that God will not call you to do anything for which He has not already equipped you.  Whether by experience, ability, talent, or Spiritual Gift, God has already made you able to succeed.

Jesus’ use of YOKE is meant to explain His REST. It is not refraining from work, but doing work that we love.  Or, better still, doing work because we love. It is doing work that has meaning and significance; that makes an eternal difference in God’s kingdom.

Similarly, He added, “MY BURDEN IS LIGHT.” Things are not a BURDEN to us when we do them in love.  Whether we love what we’re doing and/or we love the people for whom we are doing them, we don’t mind hard work as much. The difficulty comes in aligning our will with God’s; learning to love the things He loves in the first place and then doing the things He wants us to do in the second place.

One quick and easy method to experience a bit of Jesus’ peace is to take a short break from whatever you’re doing.  Go into what I call “record mode.”  Similar to pushing the “record” button on a camcorder, take careful note of your surroundings.  Take several seconds to indulge each of your five senses to the fullest.  Deliberately make a memory for what you’re experiencing.  If you’re deliberate, this will be a memory you’ll be able to access again, and the feelings may come back with it too.

At first, the idea is to pay attention to the details that your mind automatically filters out as unimportant.  Focusing on the details will help you to experience your situation more fully.

Then, when you have fixed the memory, and you feel your attention may start to wander, thank God for all the individual items you have experienced with your five senses.  This is not a complicated prayer; just a feeling of gratitude and a connection with the Spirit is what you seek.

As a result of the first two steps, you will begin to sense God’s presence in a way to which you have not been attentive to Him before.  This will give you a sense of peace.  You will experience a transcendence of the moment even though you are, paradoxically, more aware of the moment than you were before you began.  The purpose is not to empty your mind, but to fill your awareness with all the variety of the moment and surety of God’s abiding presence.  In that, you will feel His peace, know His rest, and receive a refreshing time that only He can provide.

Try it.  Let me know how you fare.

Be Brave Until the End

(Please read Matthew 24.)

           Imagine the General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches in the USA, Roy Medley calling a meeting of all the regional Executive Ministers. When they have all assembled at the national office, Dr. Medley begins the meeting with, “I have some really fantastic news and some very terrible news.” 

          Of course, all the executive ministers want to hear the good news first, so Dr. Medley tells them, “Jesus Christ has returned to the world. The time of judgment is at hand, and our faith in his existence is justified.” 

          There are happy cheers all around the room – the moment we’ve been waiting for!  After the commotion dies down a bit, one of the executive ministers speaks up; “After that, how can there be any terrible news?” 

          Dr. Medley replies, “He was calling from Salt Lake City.”

          That would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?  Fortunately, it’s not going to go down that way.  When He comes again, Jesus is going to appear to all people, all around the world, all at once.  And He won’t be using the ‘phone to call.

          But His appearing will vindicate our faith following a time of judgment. so that much was not hard to imagine.

          Here we are, our last Sunday to take a look at what may be the most significant passage in the Gospels about the last things, Matthew 24.  As we conclude, my prayer is that this series has helped you get a handle on a difficult chapter and has also replaced all your doubts and fears with confidence and faith so we look expectantly for the Second Coming.

REVIEW:       1. The End is near but unclear. (1-3, 32-34)

                      2. Sign #1: False Christs will appear. (4-5, 23-28)

                      3. Sign #2: The world will be in turmoil. (6-8, 29)

                      4. Sign #3: The Church will be persecuted, but will be triumphant. (9-14)

5. Sign #4: The Holy Land will be attacked.(15-22)

          In this passage, Jesus switches back and forth between predictions about the temple and predictions about His Second Coming.  With verse 15, He turned His attention to the temple.  As this prophecy concerns the temple, this section was fulfilled by the Jewish followers of Jesus who escaped when the Romans took Jerusalem.

         What is “THE ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION” to which Jesus refers? It is a phrase that came from the Old Testament prophet Daniel. The point is, this phrase refers an abomination (an awful, evil event) that results in desolation (God’s abandonment of the temple). This is the sign that God has judged Israel & His plans will now be centered on the Church.

          Daniel 9:27 = AND ON A WING OF THE TEMPLE HE WILL SET UP AN ABOMINATION

          THAT CAUSES DESOLATION UNTIL THE END THAT IS DECREED IS POURED OUT ON HIM.

          Daniel 12:11 = “FROM THE TIME THAT THE DAILY SACRIFICE IS ABOLISHED AND THE

          ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION IS SET UP, THERE WILL BE 1,290 DAYS.”

          In history there were at least three occasions when the temple was desecrated. In 168 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus in the temple. Or this may refer to the time members of the Zealot party took over (November 67 or spring of AD 68). They allowed crime and criminals in the temple, – even in the holy of holies.  Or this may refer to the desecration done by Emperor Titus when the temple was taken and Roman flags – with their pagan symbols – were brought into the temple courts.

          “LET THE READER UNDERSTAND” is a phrase that is difficult for us to understand because we do not have the inside information Matthew assumed his readers possessed.  However, what is clear is that this is a warning.  Jesus is saying, “When the sacrilege happens, the faithful are to flee Judea, for its destruction is imminent.” Since it is that serious, in verses 17+18 Jesus warns against making any worldly preparations, just run away. Jesus foresaw that time will be worse for the most vulnerable and immobile people; pregnant women and those who have newborns (v. 19).

          They are to pray it doesn’t happen in winter (v. 20) is because of the rainy weather; also because in winter the streams were swollen and hard to cross.  Jesus also warns them to pray that it doesn’t happen on a Sabbath because fleeing while carrying anything  would be work and that’s forbidden on the Sabbath.

          Verse 21 speaks of a previously unknown severity of suffering and persecution.  Even so, the Greek grammar in v. 22 makes something plain that doesn’t translate into English.  It implies that what Jesus is describing here an unreal condition. The people of God are not really in danger because God will cut short those days of distress.

          In spite of all these troubles, Jesus wants His followers to keep their minds on their witness for Him. God will not allow His people to be harmed by persecution or deceived by false messiahs. The purpose of this chapter is to warn Jesus’ followers about all these things so they’ll be prepared & understand t significance of these events.

6. We have nothing to fear. (30-31, 34-51)

          Starting in vs. 30+31, Jesus further develops His teaching about His Second Coming.  The cosmic signs Jesus gleaned from OT prophets will appear in the sky to indicate the end of reality as we know it & the coming of the Son of Man. This image of the Son of Man riding on a cloud with POWER AND GREAT GLORY is like various OT descriptions of God’s coming. The Son will come to judge all people, which, as is developed in chapter 25, will have 2 outcomes:

– He will recognize His faithful ones and gather them from all parts of the earth.

– He will not recognize those who have refused Him, condemning them to the Second Death.

          As the angels are God’s messengers, they will collect God’s people from the four corners of the earth and from one end of heaven to the other (see Deuteronomy 30:4-5;  Isaiah 60:4ff; Micah 4:1ff.). No one will be overlooked in God’s search for the faithful.

          Verse 35 is Jesus’ assurance that the world will fail before Jesus fails to fulfill all these promises.  His word is more reliable than the seemingly unending universe in which we live.

          Some people have a problem with verse 36 because it asserts that there is something Jesus didn’t know. They shouldn’t think that way because the point of verse 36 is the same point Jesus made throughout His ministry; to direct attention to God. If the master does not know the timing of His Second Coming, neither do His disciples and they should not speculate on when it will happen.

          Verses 37-39 illustrate the suddenness of the Second Coming with the way in which Noah’s neighbors were overwhelmed by the flood (Genesis 6:5-24; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:6).  Prior to the flood, people carried on with all normal activity, right up to the point Noah entered the ark. They were unprepared for what happened. Similarly, nonbelievers will be unprepared for the Second Coming.

          The phrase “took them all away” in verse 39 is the context that clarifies the language about one “taken” and one left in verses 40-41. Contrary to our usual understanding of the passage, the “taken” ones are the unfortunate ones because they are swept away by judgment. The ones left standing are the fortunate ones, like Noah.

          The parable in verses 42-43 is the story of an unexpected break-in and how it might’ve been prevented.

          Verse 44 makes plain what v. 32 made implied—Jesus is talking about being alert and prepared when the crucial moment arrives.  Similarly, the parable that concludes the chapter (verses 45-51) is about a wise servant who is prepared for the return of his owner.  The servant who is found doing his job wisely will be blessed when the master returns. The reward is greater service and more responsibility. The foolish servant goofs off and is wicked because he thinks the master will gone for a long time, and so he has time to misbehave. The punishment of the wicked servant will be swift and unsparing—he’ll be dismembered and assigned a place with the hypocrites, where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth.  The unknown timing of the return motivates wise behavior. The issue here is not knowing the timing of the master’s return, but faithfulness & preparedness whenever it happens.

          From the following website http://www.nowtheendbegins.com/pages/israel/the-coming-third-jewish-temple.htm I learned that rumors I’d heard about preparations being made to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem have been underway for over two decades!

          “It Will Be Built In Time For The Fulfillment Of Daniel’s 70th Week!  Dare To Dream – Dare To Build. The 3rd Jewish Temple is fast becoming a reality in Jerusalem.

          “Daniel was given a vision far into the future, pointing to a time when the Jewish Temple would be rebuilt. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and for nearly 2,000 years now it has laid in ruins, with just parts of the Temple walls and some of the foundations remaining.           “Watchers of end times bible prophecy have long speculated as to whether or not the Temple would be built for a third time. But Daniel, verse 27, clearly sees that there is a rebuilt Temple.  How can you have sacrifice and oblations ceasing if there is no Temple from which to have sacrifices and oblations? Clearly there needs to be a working, functioning, rebuilt Temple, and the only place where God would allow a Temple to be built is exactly where the ruins of the last 0ne stand.

          “People have said that since all the various items need to stock the Temple would take so long to recreate according to the Bible’s exacting standards, that 7 years is just not enough time to complete that mission. And they are correct. It would take years, decades, to rightly create all items needed for proper Temple worship. Items like these:

Oil Pitcher for Replenishing the Menorah

Small Golden Flask

Silver Libation Vessels

Menorah Cleaner

Gold-Plated Shofar

Silver-Plated Shofar

The Crown for the Copper Laver

Modeling the Priestly Garments

The Golden Tzitz

Golden Frankincense Vessels

          “The Temple Institute, in Jerusalem, has been working since 1987, recreating the items that will be needed and used in the about-to-be-built Third Temple. Now, you can argue all you like about what will happen to the Muslim mosque that’s there now, and all the other points.”

          These are NOT the kind of end-times preparations Jesus called us to make.  Based on verses 17+18 especially, material preparations are useless.  The material world as we know it will soon end.  What counts is spiritual preparedness, a vigilant holiness that looks forward to the literal, physical return of Christ, but realizes that loving God and others as self is the best state of preparedness.

Faithful to the End

(Please read Matthew 24.) 

          Note this is the second in a set of three blogs developing the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24.  Please read the preceding blog in order to orient yourself in this passage.  Last week we learned two things:        

1. The End is near but unclear. (1-3, 32-34)

2. Sign #1: False Christs will appear. (4-5, 23-28)

           The second millennia A.D. saw a number of notable predictions of the Second Coming.  One thing they all have in common is their failure to accurately predict an event that Jesus Himself declared was known only to God the Father.

10) Doomsday, 1000 AD.  I guess this was known as “Y1K.”

9) 1844 AD. Baptist preacher William Miller predicted it; the end of the day saw no Jesus but lots of people atop barns.

8) 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942 – Dates set by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

7) 1981 – Chuck Smith predicted Jesus would “probably” return by 1981.

6) 1988 – Edgar C. Whisenant published 88 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1988.

5) 1992 – “Mission for the Coming Days”, a Korean group, predicted October 28, 1992.

4) 1993 – Seven years before 2000, presumably dating backward from the end of the first millennium.  People forgot how that failed a thousand years earlier.

3) 1994 – Rev. Harold Camping’s first failed prediction.

2) 2000 AD – Programmers making a lot of Y2K money wasn’t the end of the world after all.

1) Rev. Camping’s reputation plummeted when May 22, 2011 came and went without Jesus’ appearance.

0.5) December 21, 2012 – was it the Mayans or their self-appointed interpreters who couldn’t tell time? 

Sign #2: The world will be in turmoil. (6-8, 29)

          International conflict. “YOU WILL HEAR OF WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS”  Wars are starkly disturbing things, but Jesus warns His disciples well in advance so they will not be upset by these reports. “NATION WILL RISE AGAINST NATION, AND KINGDOM AGAINST KINGDOM.”  This is typical language for apocalyptic writers of the day. (See Isaiah 19:2.)

          International disasters: “THERE WILL BE FAMINES AND EARTHQUAKES IN VARIOUS PLACES.”  FAMINES can be the result of wars, but earthquakes are always acts of God.

          Extraterrestrial events: “IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE DISTRESS OF THOSE DAYS…” These events are so extraordinary, so catastrophic, that they will herald the ONLY event that truly begins the end o/the world: the Second Coming. (See Amos 8:9; Ezekiel 32:7-8.) “THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT” (see Isaiah 13:10); THE STARS WILL FALL FROM THE SKY (see Isaiah 34:4), “AND THE HEAVENLY BODIES WILL BE SHAKEN” (see Joel 2:10; Isaiah 13:13; Haggai 2:6+21).  The point is that this language is not original with Jesus; He appropriated existing and familiar forms to express His vision of the future.

          This language as it appears here and elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments, is metaphorical, not literal.  But as this is a visible sign, it’s not just a metaphor; while this may not be a precise description or scientific, it will be an observable phenomena.  So observable, in fact, that these signs will arouse fears and doubts.  But God’s people are to be assured, God is in control.  “BUT SEE TO IT THAT YOU ARE NOT ALARMED” The key is to be prepared, NOT ALARMED. “SUCH THINGS MUST HAPPEN” is a typical Jewish expression of faith in Providence – the work of God in the world.  God is in charge.

          As we observed previously, this is not the end, but the beginning of the end. “THE END IS STILL TO COME” Jesus’ point here is that the end of this world will come, not that it will necessarily come soon.  Our relief is not that the Second Coming’s immediacy, but in its surety; it is going to happen and that it’s happening is in God’s hands, not man’s.  “ALL THESE ARE THE BEGINNINGS OF BIRTH PAINS.” Not the ending.  The beginning of labor, not birth. This was a common word picture in the day, used in reference to the time before the Messianic age. 

Sign #3: The Church will be persecuted, but will be triumphant. (9-14)

          Persecuted by the outside world. “THEN YOU WILL BE HANDED OVER TO BE PERSECUTED AND PUT TO DEATH” The word for WITNESS is martyria, Which refers to the ultimate kind of witness for Christ, laying down one’s life. “YOU WILL BE HATED BY ALL NATIONS BECAUSE OF ME” The Church will be the target of the movement of godlessness. The activity the world hates the most is the witnessing of the Church.  Have you noticed how the ungodly in our own culture have attempted to curtail our first Amendment rights?

          Persecuted by betrayers inside the church.  “AT THAT TIME, MANY WILL TURN AWAY FROM THE FAITH.” Not everyone in the Church will be an overcomer. “[They will] BETRAY AND HATE EACH OTHER.”  Betrayal and hatred will be signs that their heart was not really with Christ at all.

          Persecuted by those who’ve been deceived. “MANY FALSE PROPHETS WILL APPEAR AND DECEIVE MANY PEOPLE” (see verses 5 and 24).  The conflict of heaven and hell over human souls will reach a pitch previously unknown. “BECAUSE OF THE INCREASE OF WICKEDNESS, THE LOVE OF MOST WILL GROW COLD.  The “INCREASE OF WICKEDNESS” will be manifest in a love for worldly things and giving up on the faith when persecution gets too hot.  On the other side of that metaphor, “THE LOVE OF MOST WILL GROW COLD.”  The exact nature of this phrase is uncertain, but it seems to imply a loss of hope; the mistaken belief that there is no need to cling to faith in the face of persecution.  Personally, I think Jesus meant those who fall between the extremes of betrayal and faithfulness; that the majority of church-goers won’t take a stand one way or another.  “Stay under the radar.”

          Still, the church is encouraged and unmoved in their devotion to Christ. “HE WHO STANDS FIRM TO THE END WILL BE SAVED.” (See 10:22, the sending out of the 72.) The ultimate gift – salvation – belongs to those who remain devoted to Christ throughout this frightening and difficult generation.

          The Church is to stay focused on job #1: “AND THIS GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM WILL BE PREACHED IN THE WHOLE WORLD AS A TESTIMONY TO ALL NATIONS, & THEN THE END WILL COME.”  Hasn’t the Gospel already gone to THE WHOLE WORLD and ALL NATIONS?  After all, the Church has been going out into the world for nearly two centuries.  American missions are over 200 years old.  If not, what are we waiting for?  If this verse teaches that we can bring on the Second Coming by taking the Gospel to all nations, why haven’t we been doing it? (See 2 Peter 3:9.) Universal proclamation is a typical feature of apocalyptic literature.  Generally speaking, there will be a greater concentration of godliness and godlessness competing against one another as the end draws near.

          Remember, one of the questions that started this teaching was the disciples asking “WHAT WILL BE THE SIGN OF THE…END OF THE AGE?”  This phrase is Jesus’ most direct answer to that question.   I wonder if they realized that there was no way THE END was near because the Gospel had hardly been taken out of Judea, let alone THE WHOLE WORLD.

          “Doomsday Preppers” is one of the weird reality shows you’ll find on the National Geographic Channel.  “It explores the lives of otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it. Unique in their beliefs, motivations, and strategies, preppers will go to whatever lengths they can to make sure they are prepared for any of life’s uncertainties. And this season, the preppers are testing the limits of ingenuity as they develop extreme doomsday survival machines, high-tech shelters, and specialized escape routes. With customized features, super-secret locations, and home-spun engineering, these extreme Armageddon defense systems are ready for anything.”

          That quote came from  http://channel.national geographic.com/channel/doomsday-preppers/.  You can go there to find out about this American sub-culture that looks a lot like the bomb shelter crowd of the 50s and 60s.  You can take a quiz to find out how prepared you are for the coming apocalypse.  (My score was a 14, which predicted I’d last a week or two in a future disaster. The top score was 94.)

          Obviously, building bunkers and squirreling away supplies is not the kind of preparations Jesus has called us to make.  His idea of preparedness is standing firm in one’s faith in Him.  Jesus warned all His followers that difficult times were not the end, but the beginning of the end, the first of many signs and difficult times that will test their perseverance.  Those who have strengthened their faith by reliance on the Holy Spirit will remain faithful and only the faithful can expect to be rewarded with eternal life on the day He comes again.

NEXT WEBLOG: 5. Sign #4: The Holy Land will be attacked.(15-22)

                             6. We have nothing to fear. (13, 35)