Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)


This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.


Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.


Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.


FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.


While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).


A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.



Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Paul Prayed for Us

Paul in Prayer

Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.

          If you want an education on prayer, google the words “prayer rules.”  It will take your computer a little over six-tenths of a second to populate a list of 125 billion hits.

That’s how I found Christian comedian John B. Crist’s video on the subject of table grace.  He provided a refreshingly honest and funny take on praying for your food.  The video has over a million views, so the guy may be on to something.  I’ll spare you the whole three minute video and give you just the highlights.

Do you pray to receive chips and salsa or any other appetizer?  Not if you’ve ordered an entrée – pray over that when it comes.

His rule on salads – “If it comes with dressing, it doesn’t need blessing.”

You should pray for soup only if it is served in a bowl; “If it comes in a cup, no need to lift up,” is what Crist advises.

The policy on French fries is that you can eat up to three of them before praying.  Before reaching for that fourth fry, you’d better be holding your hands in prayer first.

Crist’s views are harmless silliness, but historically there have been some serious differences of opinion on the subject of prayer.  That google page I mentioned has websites from the major world religions on the subject of prayer.

The best rule for prayer is to follow the Bible.  The second best rule is to model your prayers after prayers recorded in the Bible, the obvious example being the Lord’s Prayer.  Today we’re going to take a look at Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus.  There’s a lot we can learn from Paul’s example.

CONTEXT (vs. 14+15) = FOR THIS REASON refers back to 2:11-22 and to what we learned last week: the MYSTERY OF CHRIST had been revealed.  God had made the Gentiles part of His family.

There are a couple different outcomes listed here in v. 14; one is that we are all one FAMILY.  The former distinction between Jew and Gentile is meaningless as we Gentiles have been adopted into God’s FAMILY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH.  In fact, we share a family NAME; a mutual identity in Christ.

The second outcome is where we want to devote our attention this morning.  The powerful revelation that we are one FAMILY motivated Paul to pray.  He knelt before God the Father to express a prayer for all who believe (vs. 16-19) and pronounce a blessing as well (vs. 20-21).  The content of this second prayer is similar to that of the first prayer (1:15-23); knowing God better.

My hope is learning how Paul prayed for us will give us fuller knowledge of what God has done for us and motivate us to deeper fellowship with one another and with Christ.  Let not Paul have prayed in vain.

As Paul prayed for the WHOLE FAMILY, he prayed for us too.

  1. Paul’s prayers for us. (16-19)

Paul prayed for us to be strengthened by the supply (OUT OF) that is God’s GLORIOUS RICHES.  That might be a bit misleading; it is not God’s RICHES that are GLORIOUS, it is God Himself.  He is full or “rich” in glory.  GLORY is some earthly manifestation of the presence of God.  Whether it is light, or a miracle, or an overwhelming feeling of awe, God causes us to know His presence with our five senses.

He prayed we would be strengthened WITH God’s POWER.  In the Bible, the strength God gives us is most noticeable when we face opposition.  When we need it most, we feel God’s POWER more clearly. If this is NOT your experience, there is something wrong at the core of your faith, because all followers of Jesus are invited to receive God’s POWER.  Our resolve to remain faithful and to do right do not to come from our own will and strength but are God’s gifts to us.

God imparts strength IN our INNER BEING.  By way of contrast, Samson prayed for strength and received miraculous physical strength in the face of his enemies (Judges 16:28-29).  Because it is directed toward our INNER BEING, we know this empowering is NOT for physical but spiritual strength.

INNER BEING (16) and HEARTS (17) are two terms that refer to the same thing: our emotional, mental, moral, and spiritual life.  In Romans 7:22 and 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul wrote about his INNER BEING as being the means by which he received daily renewal by God.

The means of this strengthening is receiving the indwelling presence of Christ (17).  Paul prayed Jesus would dwell in our HEARTS.

As Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of the Father, our point of connection with Him is obviously not physical.  We are connected spiritually.  Everything we just said about a person’s INNER BEING applies to this statement about the HEART.  In 1:18 Paul prayed that their EYES of their hearts would, through the Holy Spirit, know Jesus better.  In 4:18-19 he wrote about hard-heartedness that makes people spiritually insensitive and leads to all kinds of sin.

The indwelling of Christ is possible THROUGH FAITH.  Faith is trust that the words of God are true and His promises reliable.  This trust allows everyone who will, to open their INNER BEING up to God, receiving Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord.

The effects of the indwelling of Christ are three-fold.

Firstly, BEING ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE (17).  This is a mixed metaphor, but both metaphors describe the same thing.  From agriculture we know that plants that are deeply ROOTED can withstand the wind and draw nutrients from the soil to ensure survival.  From architecture we know that buildings established on a good foundation are ready to withstand  all the trials of nature.

Secondly, to HAVE POWER, as a church, to GRASP the dimensions of t LOVE OF CHRIST (18-19).  Paul used the word GRASP to in the same way we use it to describe a firm understanding of something. Physically, to really GRASP something requires strength in one’s hands.  A weak grip allows things to slip thru one’s fingers.  Metaphorically, a weak GRASP of something implies the person doesn’t fully understand and/or truly appreciate the knowledge under discussion.

People with a GRASP of this passage will notice that Paul offers four dimensions to measure the love of Christ, when three dimensions are all that are normally required to measure objects.  He will say in the next verse that the love of Christ SURPASSES ALL KNOWLEDGE.  That fits with a four-dimensional measuring.

Remember we said the Ephesians were very involved in the occult before becoming Christians.  Two magic-using texts that survive from Paul’s era use exactly this set of four dimensions as means of “measuring” a god’s power.  We see Paul constantly using local words and things to make connections to the Gospel that local peoples would understand.

It also fits with what he wrote in 3:10; the MANIFOLD (“multifaceted”) WISDOM OF GOD.  Paul used a paradox to get us to GRASP the LOVE OF CHRIST.  To paraphrase, “You will never know the full extent of Christ’s love, but you are to spend your lives trying to know it.”  We have a limited capability and a limited lifespan but we aren’t to let that stop us from knowing in our heads and hearts the unlimited LOVE OF CHRIST.

Thirdly, to be FILLED with the FULLNESS OF GOD (19).  This prayer request is also a paradox.  Logically, we who are limited cannot be FILLED to the FULLNESS OF GOD who is UNlimited.  Paul knew this, as he wrote to the Corinthians; FOR WE KNOW IN PART AND WE PROPHESY IN PART (1 Corinthians 13:9).  His prayer, then, is that we would know all we can know of God and that our capacity to know Him would increase.  Our access to the FULLNESS OF GOD is in Jesus Christ.  In Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 Paul taught ALL THE FULLNESS of God dwells in Jesus Christ.  As Christ dwells in our hearts (17), we indirectly but entirely have God’s fullness.  This simply means that more and more of our conscious thought centers on God.

– When we ask “Why?” we ask in recognition that God is in charge.

– When we make a decision, we ask God to reveal His will to us.

  1. Paul’s blessing on us. (20-21)

God’s ability to bless us defies our capacity to define or appreciate it (20).  Just as he said earlier (18) in the four dimensions of God’s love, Paul states it again here with another paradox: “We must understand God wants to bless us more than we can possibly understand.”  Our limited language, brain power, and narrow experience can’t begin to IMAGINE, let alone know, all that God wants to do for us.  Each of the times Paul sets our limits alongside God’s limitlessness he is hoping to motivate us to humility. We have no business trying to force God into our theological systems or petty legalisms.  Instead, we should be awestruck by His power & open our mouths only to praise Him.

This fact does not diminish the need for prayer.  It makes prayer more valuable because it is only by prayer that God’s unimaginable will to bless becomes part of our understanding and experience.

God blesses us by means of HIS POWER THAT IS AT WORK WITHIN US (20).  Clearly, God does not limit His action to the scope of our prayers.  He exerts His will over all creation and does not wait for us to give Him permission.  But He has chosen to WORK WITHIN US.  He has offered to make us partners in this task of bringing His offer of salvation to the entire world.

We do God a disservice when we reduce the life of faith to the “Killer B’s;” Buildings, Budgets, and By-laws.  When we mistake the tools for the trade we are guilty of trying to place limits on our limitless God.

God is worthy of our worship (21).  GLORY is the key word.  Paul located the glory of God in two sources.

First, IN THE CHURCH.  When the Bible speaks about giving glory to God, it means to make God known in the world.  We give the spiritual nature of God a human face when we act like His disciples.  It’s a big job, but we serve a limitless God, so get to it!

Second, IN CHRIST JESUS.  This is the third time Paul made this point.  As we observed in v. 19, in Jesus we find the fullness of all the members of the Trinity.  The unlimited entirety of God finds us to the degree that Jesus dwells in our hearts (17).

Glorifying God inserts eternity into our everyday lives.  Paul expressed this truth in two phrases.

First, THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS.  We see just a few generations before us now, but we stand in a line that stretches through all of human history.

Second, FOR EVER AND EVER affirms our decisions and deeds outlive our days.  What we do for God survives into eternity.  It becomes proof of our claim to be a member of God’s family and determines our reward in heaven.

As Paul prayed for the WHOLE FAMILY, he prayed for us too.

          We can see three essential things for which we can ask God, regarding both our church and ourselves.  There are three prayers that need to be a daily part of our prayer life.

“Father, strengthen us with Your power.” Far beyond the empty promises of the world, far beyond the unheeding false gods people promote, far beyond our understanding or imagination, God offers us His unlimited supply of strength, knowledge, and life.  Christianity is NOT just another self-help movement or form of groupthink.  It is a window God opened so we can see a portion of who He is.

“Father, renew us with a vision of Your love.”  Suffering tries to convince us that God is either weak or unloving or both.  It can be convincing and can drain the vitality from our spirit.  When that happens we often retreat into formalism or legalism or any of hundreds of ways that we show we don’t really care.  God really cares and His people do too.  We need to work at showing God’s caring.

“Father, rule over us.”  We show God’s love by the sacrifices we make to accommodate one another.  We show our love for God by obeying Him.  In both cases, selfishness needs to disappear.  All of us together – NOT THE BUILDING – are where God dwells.  We are to be lead by God.  Following any other lead makes it painfully obvious how little we have learned of grown or matured.  People need to be inspired, not made comfortable.  Inspiration comes along with responding to God’s leadership.



Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

The Teacher Got Schooled

JC and Nick

Please read John 3:1-21.

          CONTEXT = As this is only the third chapter of John’s gospel, this encounter obviously happened early in Jesus’ ministry.  That is important, however, because Jesus’ teachings in John 3+4 set forth facts that are foundational to our faith.

Faith requires a willingness to learn.

  1. The bell rings: school is in session. (1-2)

What we know about Nicodemus the “teacher/student.”

– He was a Pharisee. (1)

– The name “Nicodemus” meant “victory of the people.”

– He was on the JEWISH RULING COUNCIL; aka the Sanhedrin, aka the Seventy (it had 70 members).

– John 7:50 tells us he was ONE OF THEIR OWN NUMBER; a follower of Jesus.  This proves the teaching Jesus gave Nicodemus here in chapter three took root and bore fruit.

– John 19:39 informs us that, along with Joseph of Arimathea, he buried Jesus.  As Jesus’ burial is one of the chief proofs of His Resurrection, this means the conversion of Nicodemus has great historical significance.

This passage gives evidence of Nicodemus’ belief in Jesus at that moment. (2)  HE CAME TO JESUS AT NIGHT.  We suppose this is due to fear of being seen.  This may imply anything from a case of curiosity to a tentative faith (I do not believe John would include this detail in his narrative if there were not some significance to it), but it clearly shows Nicodemus’ initiative.

“YOU ARE A TEACHER,” Nicodemus said to Jesus.  Jesus was not part of the religious establishment.  His status as a rabbi was not recognized by the established authorities, so this statement implies anything from simple respect to a decision that Jesus held authority regardless of the recognition Nicodemus’ own party (Pharisees) extended or withheld.

“WHO HAS COME FROM GOD.”  Nicodemus is volunteering his opinion here.  As we unfurl his statement, he is making a greater and more accurate assessment of Jesus.

On the basis of the miracles Jesus had wrought, Nicodemus was convinced God had sent Jesus. “FOR NO ONE COULD PERFORM THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS YOU ARE DOING IF GOD WERE NOT WITH HIM.”  Nicodemus is not expressing a belief that Jesus is God, but is, with his words, confessing there was a great deal more to Jesus than any of his colleagues were willing to allow.

  1. Nicodemus’ first lesson: you must be born again. (3-8).

Jesus taught Nicodemus something brand new: “Be BORN AGAIN.” (3)  This teaching had no connection to Nicodemus’ opening statement; it is unrelated to the MIRACULOUS SIGNS he’d mentioned or Jesus’ role as a TEACHER.  This teaching had nothing to do with any previous Jewish teaching.  For these reasons, Nicodemus’ surprise (as Jesus recognized it in verse six) is understandable.

Nicodemus surprise is also implied in his first reaction: he took Jesus too literally (4).  Obviously, it is not physically possible to re-enter the womb and be born a second time.  People tend to say things like this in moments of surprise.  They are thinking out loud, checking their perceptions to see if they misheard or misinterpreted the speaker.

Jesus explained the teaching as a figure of speech in verses five to eight.  Being BORN AGAIN is figurative; not a physical repetition of childbirth, it is a spiritual event.  It is the formational spiritual event, required to enter the KINGDOM OF GOD (5).  Jesus developed the difference between physical birth and spiritual birth by making a distinction is between WATER birth and SPIRIT birth.  Being born of WATER refers to physical birth, what Nicodemus assumed Jesus was talking about.  Being born of the SPIRIT is the spiritual act of faith.

In nature, each species reproduces in kind.   Similarly, in matters of faith, FLESH reproduces FLESH and SPIRIT, SPIRIT (6).

Though Nicodemus was surprised, Jesus informed him this call to be saved is like the wind, coming unseen and unanticipated (7-8).  This is another description Jesus used to make a distinction between being born and being BORN AGAIN.  Like the WIND, the Holy Spirit comes to whomever He wills.  As the WIND is invisible to our eyes, the Holy Spirit is invisible to physical senses.  His coming and going, His actions, can only be perceived in the effects the Spirit has on people.

Jesus’ explanation of the second birth puts the initiative for salvation where it belongs; on God.  The Holy Spirit acts; we observe the effects of His ministrations and react by faith in order to be saved.

  1. Nicodemus’ second lesson: you must believe. (9-18)

Nicodemus questions this.  He doesn’t yet understand but deserves credit for hanging in there.  Because he’s asking questions, we see he’s trying to get it (9).  The idea of being born again boggled him (4) and Jesus’ explanation involving the Holy Spirit (5-8) didn’t clear it up as much as Jesus hoped.  As a Pharisee, Nicodemus’ theology must have included belief in the Spirit, but the part about the Spirit’s role in spiritual rebirth was news to him.  So he asked, “HOW CAN THIS BE?”

Jesus’ response starts with a mild rebuke, “YOU ARE ISRAEL’S TEACHER AND DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS?” (10-12) Jesus is effectively saying, “You’re the authority on all matters of faith and you don’t get this?”

His remarks assess the reaction of the Seventy to His teaching.  Jesus’ teachings are THE TRUTH.  They are all things He has learned and have been confirmed by His experience.  Even though His teaching is with divine authority, Nicodemus’ party (the Pharisees) had rejected His teaching.  Since they had rejected His teaching on EARTHLY THINGS, they could not hope to understand His teaching on more advanced subjects: HEAVENLY THINGS.  To paraphrase Jesus, He said to

Nicodemus, “Your people have rejected my message so it’s plain you don’t understand it.”

Jesus concludes His second lesson by clarifying His authority and mission in verses thirteen to fifteen.  In verse eleven Jesus taught His teaching carried divine authority because it was testimony of the things He had seen.  His teaching was authoritative because His experience had been in HEAVEN.

He taught them the TRUTH because He had personally experienced the TRUTH; He’d seen it for Himself in HEAVEN.  Referring to Himself as the SON OF MAN, Jesus related that His life did not begin at birth, but He existed in heaven before then.  This is a proof of Jesus’ divine nature.  The SON OF MAN exercised divine authority and told the truth because He was in HEAVEN was sent to Earth to do that very thing.

There is another aspect to Jesus’ mission.  He didn’t come just to tell us the truth, but to save us from the penalty of sin (14-15).  Verse fourteen refers to an incident that happened as the Hebrews moved from Egypt to the Promised Land.  It is recorded in Numbers 21.  Some of God’s people complained and rebelled against God.  As a disciplinary measure, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp.  Only the bellyachers were bitten.  All of those bitten got sick.  In mercy, God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze snake.  It was held aloft on a pole and everyone who saw it was spared death.

Jesus used this historical account as a symbol of His own mission.  He came from heaven to earth to be lifted up on a cross to impart life.  One difference being, with Jesus being lifted up, belief – not sight – is what is required to be saved.

Another difference is that the Hebrews were only restored to earthly life; they still died later (hopefully older and wiser).  Jesus’ being lifted up achieved ETERNAL LIFE for all who believe in Him.

In verse sixteen to eighteen, Jesus explained the promise of ETERNAL LIFE.  Verse sixteen is the familiar one-sentence explanation of the Good News; ETERNAL LIFE is available to all people because God’s Son perished on the cross.  Those who believe in Him receive the life God the Father offers.

Verse seventeen explains that saving people is what God intended in sending His son from heaven to Earth.  As 2 Peter 3:9 states, God’s will is that all people be saved.  Unfortunately, most people will exercise their will negatively to reject Him, and are self-condemned to hell.

Verse eighteen promises that the invitation to be saved is universal: WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM IS NOT CONDEMNED.   Free will is not really “free” if there is no actual choice involved.  Refusal to believe must logically be an option, but that option has the most negative consequence possible: the unbeliever is CONDEMNED.  The consequence is eternal death instead of ETERNAL LIFE.

  1. Nicodemus’ third lesson: you must step into the light. (19-21)

THIS IS THE VERDICT (19) means, “This is the decision of God the Righteous Judge.”  God sent His Son to be the “Light of the World (John 1:1-9).  LIGHT is a biblical symbol of purity, knowledge, and understanding (“enlightenment”).

Because Jesus has revealed all this truth about God and His salvation (v. 11), people are without excuse.  Instead, when they have seen the LIGHT and been told the TRUTH and they still reject God, they are utterly self-condemned.

Why would anybody see the LIGHT and still make the choice to reject God?  Why would they do the foolish thing and turn down His offer of ETERNAL LIFE?  Jesus explains in vs. 19-20.  They reject the LIGHT because they love the DARKNESS; they mistakenly think it hides the fact that their DEEDS WERE EVIL.  The LIGHT exposes their true nature.  They FEAR being seen for who they truly are, their deeds being accurately seen as evil.

On the other hand, everyone who is truly a believer comes into the LIGHT (21).  They live by the truth and want others to do the same, so they will also be saved.  The LIGHT here is not a “spotlight.”  True believers don’t want to draw attention to themselves through their deeds.  Instead, they want to draw attention to Jesus.  Just as the LIGHT exposes evil, it also verifies the TRUTH.  The LIGHT helps people to become believers by showing them the truth.

Faith requires a willingness to learn.

True disciples are revealed in a humble attitude that acknowledges their need to mature and acts upon it.  Nicodemus is an example of that attitude and the way Jesus taught him is an example of how to work on it.

The Savior You Need


Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this article.

If you were asked, “What kind of savior do you want?”  How would you reply?  Some would question whether they need a savior at all.  Many people assume they’re good enough to deserve a place in heaven or deny that heaven exists at all.

Biblically, we know that is nonsense.  No one is good enough, because God’s standard is perfection and none of us can live up to that.  We all need a savior as human nature alone keeps us out of heaven.

In an article entitled, “Why do I need a Savior?” Eric Segalini compared human nature with the famous literary character Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde.  After a disturbing dream, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote feverishly for days to complete the book.  Segalini sees the dual nature of the title character as illustrating the dual nature of every human being.

Dr. Jekyll is a symbol of the polite, public side of most people while Mr. Hyde is the private side that we want to “hide” from others.  You recall that the story revolves around the good doctor’s experiments leading to a formula that split his personality and transformed him physically.

Eventually, the brutal Mr. Hyde committed murder.  His evil alter ego showed up at bad times and fought Dr. Jekyll for dominance.  It was Hyde that murdered, but Jekyll was no less guilty.  The two personalities shared the guilt, and that’s how we can show everyone needs a Savior without having to open our Bible.  Every person with enough sense to be honest must concede to having their own Mr. Hyde.

Segalini concludes: “Instead of leaving us to the harsh demands of justice, Jesus stepped in on our behalf. He extended both justice and mercy. He offered to be our Savior.

“If we come to Jesus in surrender, sick by our sin and certain of justice’s demands, He will take our place.

“In exchange for our sin, Jesus gives us love, gives us hope, gives us Himself.

“Things didn’t end well for Jekyll, by the way. He kept thinking he had Hyde under control, but they both wound up dead.

“The good Dr. Jekyll disappeared first.

“Jekyll and Hyde’s case is not as strange as the novel’s title suggests. The problem isn’t out there; the problem is me.

“I know what I need, like it or not. I need a Savior.

“Because my dark side lurks. And so does yours.”


We learned Wednesday night at our Study of Proverbs that the “foolish” or ungodly person is self-deceived.  They have rejected God on the basis of the mistaken belief that they are OK all on their own.  This is a difficult deception to dislodge.  Once the problem of sin becomes personal, the search for the Savior can rightly begin.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.



V. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.

V. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.

V. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.


V. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.


V. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

V. 7 = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM = Self-condemned people will lost.


V. 8 = THE ALMIGHTY = Jesus has all power.

V. 13 = “LIKE A SON OF MAN” = Jesus is divinely empowered.



V. 14 = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW = Jesus has a purity of spirit.

V. 14 = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE = He judges fairly.






A SHARP DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD is a biblical symbol of judgment. Hebrews 4:12 is the example of how the word of God cuts through the externals and reveals a person’s true self: FOR THE WORD OF GOD IS LIVING AND ACTIVE. SHARPER THAN ANY DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD, IT PENETRATES EVEN TO DIVIDING SOUL AND SPIRIT, JOINTS AND MARROW; IT JUDGES THE THOUGHTS AND ATTITUDES OF THE HEART.  As words come out of a person’s MOUTH, this is an obvious symbol of Jesus’ pronouncing judgment.


This reminds us of the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (see Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9), where we read THERE HE WAS TRANSFIGURED BEFORE THEM.  HIS FACE SHONE LIKE THE SUN, AND HIS CLOTHES BECAME AS WHITE AS THE LIGHT.  In the Bible, the presence of God is often described as a brilliant light and is called the “glory” of God.  Artists have illustrated this brilliance by painting a halo around the head of Jesus.

The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a Savior.


LOVE is something easily claimed; it is proven by sacrifice for the beloved.  That’s why John’s claim Jesus loves us is paired with the greatest evidence; His self-sacrifice for us.  Jesus demonstrated His love by freeing us from slavery to our sin nature and from the penalty for our sins.  His death on the cross did it.

In the Old Testament, blood sacrifice was the God-given means to forgive sin. As Paul explained in HBS 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of there is no forgiveness.”  When Jesus came, God did not just drop that system.  He accepted Jesus’ blood as the final and perfect sacrifice, satisfying forever the demand for blood. In 1 John 1:7 it is written, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”


This is borrowed from Zechariah 12:10: THEY WILL LOOK ON ME, THE ONE THEY HAVE PIERCED.  This verse tells us two things about the Second Coming.  One, everyone will see Jesus at the same time.  This is possible because He is God and is present everywhere at once.  Two, to people who reject Him, it will be a sudden reversal of what they expected.  This will be as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:37-38 and Luke 17:27; “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.”

It’s natural to expect things to continue in the way we’re used to – some people can be quite insistent on it – but people of faith are supposed to know better.  Jesus’ Second Coming will bring about the completed work of God and with it, a complete change to life and the world as we know it.


His death on the cross is not the end of Jesus’ story.  He does not remain dead, but is alive; THE LIVING ONE.  This expression is used of God the Father, enthroned in Revelation 4:10 and 10:6.  We have identical descriptions of God the Father and God the Son, showing they are as one.  Jesus was not defeated by death; He lives and defeated death: THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DEFEATED IS DEATH. (1 Corinthians 15:26)


Biblically, KEYS are a symbol of authority.  In Matthew 16:19 Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus holds two keys.  One is the key to DEATH.  The One who has authority over DEATH has the authority to give life.  The other is the key to HADES.  This Greek word refers to a place where the spirits of the dead reside until the Second Coming.  It is equivalent to the Hebrew word sheol; it is not a place of torment; it is just a kind of residence or holding area.  This is consistent between Jewish beliefs and Greek mythology.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

          Another way to approach the self-reliant person is to invite them to think about what they have based their self-view on.  A person’s self-worth is likely based on these five areas:

  1. Approval from others.
  2. Appearance.
  3. Achievement.
  4. Your character.
  5. Your faith.

The first three items on that list are material, worldly, and temporary.  Character takes some time to form and good character takes the Holy Spirit and some effort on our part to achieve, but can still be subject to compromise and change.  It’s only the fifth   item that is unchanging and reliable.

Here’s a new thought: what we believe about Jesus Christ is the only good basis for what we believe about ourselves.  It is ironic, but a faithful focus on Jesus is the surest foundation for our self-image.

Here in Revelation 1, we have seen the divine side of Jesus emphasized.  We have had our hope in Him renewed by focusing on the Second Coming.  When we center our life on the person of Jesus, we will be less invested in what others think of us, how we appear to them, what worldly achievements we have piled up, and even our own personal growth.  What should be most determinative of who we are is who Jesus is.  When we seek to duplicate Jesus in what we say and do, one of the beneficial effects is that we find freedom from worries about anything this world says about us.  The truth sets us free!



The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leon Morris

Superman or Son of Man?


Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

The comic book character Superman turned 80 on April 18th last year.  Did anybody celebrate?  Imagine the effect if he used his “super breath” to blow out the candles!

Twelve years ago the movie “Superman Returns” had a line in it that got me thinking about the subject of Superman and Jesus.  From the first time I heard it, it sounded like a paraphrase from the Bible and it offended me to hear it used that way.

The line is spoken by Sir Anthony Hopkins, voicing Superman’s father, Jor-El.  As Superman orbited the earth, we hear Jor-El say, “They are a good people, Kal-el, or they want to be.  But they need someone to lead them, to show them the way.  That is why I have sent you to them, my only son.”

The director of this picture, Bryan Singer, is quoted as saying, “Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes.”  This is evidence of many intentional parallels between Superman and Jesus as a means of making the comic character more popular.

Ironically, the character of Superman was created by two Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster.  A compelling argument can be made that Superman was created as a counter-point to the growing threat of Nazi Germany in 1938.  I’ve read that Superman was modeled after Moses and seems designed to counter the Nazi ideal of an ubermensch, a member of the Master Race.

Superman may have started out being modeled on Moses, but there’s no doubt his handlers have turned a New Testament corner since then.  I have compiled a list of parallels between Jesus and Superman.  There’s too much evidence there to explain it in any way other than a deliberate attempt by those who’ve handled the character for EIGHTY YEARS to wrap Jesus in blue tights and a red cape.  It may be shrewd marketing, but I don’t like it and between the two – Superman and the Savior – there’s no question who’s real and who’s more powerful.

In order to deepen our understanding of Jesus, we’re going to use this occasion to take a look at Him in a slightly different light – the supernatural portrayal of Jesus in Revelation.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

  1. The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

Verses four and eight = HIM WHO IS, AND WHO WAS, AND WHO IS TO COME.  This expression of praise is offered by the FOUR LIVING CREATURES to God the Father, seated on His throne in Revelation 4:8.  It refers to the present, past, and future – all three tenses of time – as a way of saying God is eternal.  As God, the Son of God existed before His birth in this world, He lived in a particular era of human history, and He will come again to this world to complete His victory.

Verse four = He is enthroned.  He is KING OF KINGS in 1 Timothy 6:15.  That same title is used in Revelation 17:14 and 19:16.  This title is a way of saying Jesus has the right to rule over all creation and that His authority and power have no limits.

Verse five = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS.  Palm 89:37 refers to the moon as a FAITHFUL WITNESS God set in the sky.  It is a dependable predictor of tides and is regular in its phases.  Revelation 2:13 refers to Antipas as a FAITHFUL WITNESS.  In John 14:6, Jesus referred to Himself as THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.

Taken together, this is a way of saying as the moon is dependable and predictable in its appearance and effects, Jesus can be trusted to tell the truth about God the Father.  In fact, theologians refer to Jesus as the “Personal Revelation” of God.  In His words and deeds Jesus taught and demonstrated God’s begin and His character.

Verse five = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD.  Throughout the Bible, the FIRSTBORN always gets special treatment and the “first fruits” are the most special part of the harvest, offered to God in gratitude.  Paul applied this to Jesus’ resurrection in Colossians 1:18; AND HE IS THE HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH; HE IS THE BEGINNING AND THE FIRSTBORN FROM AMONG THE DEAD, SO THAT IN EVERYTHING HE MIGHT HAVE THE SUPREMACY.  In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul similarly described Jesus as the FIRSTFRUITS of the dead.  All this reminds us that Jesus has led the way into eternal life.  Our resurrection will be like His; if we want to know more about our life after death, we need to study His.

Verse five = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH.   THE KINGS OF THE EARTH is an expression is found four more times in the Revelation (6:15; 17:2; 17:18; 18:3), each time denoting the rulers of worldly kingdoms that have allied themselves to resist God.  The fact that Jesus is RULER over them is not meant to imply that He is responsible for their bad behavior, only that His rule is complete.  Though THE KINGS OF THE EARTH oppose Jesus, it is a futile gesture; His power is irresistible.

To His disciples enduring persecution, this is welcome news.  Though the KINGS of this world seem to hold power, God is in charge; He will sustain His people.

Verse six = He has MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER.  KINGDOM = Because Jesus Christ is RULER over all, He is able to make us part of His KINGDOM.  We are called out of earthly “kingdoms” to be obedient to Jesus’ will first and foremost.

PRIESTS = Way back in Exodus 19:6, Moses told the people that God’s will was to make them a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS.   This promise is mentioned again in Revelation 5:10, virtually word-for-word. This promise is unusual because only rarely in the history of God’s people have priests also been kings.  But that’s part of the point – when Jesus comes again, the world will be set back in the order God intended.  The New Testament makes it plain that all believers are PRIESTS and no longer need another human being to intercede between us and God

The purpose of all this is plainly spelled out: TO SERVE our GOD AND FATHER.  We do not rule on our own authority or serve as priests on our own will.  Instead, God delegates this power to us so that we can serve Him.

Verse six = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER! This verse reads like a hymn of praise.  It is repeated as such in Revelation 19:1.  It is here to remind us that the focus of true service is never on self, but is always, only on God.  He deserves the GLORY and alone possesses the POWER.

Verse seven = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS.  In Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27 Jesus predicted that at the end of this age, the world would see Him appear in the CLOUDS with great glory and power.  Psalm 68:4 locates God in the clouds, a symbol of His rule over the Earth; SING TO GOD, SING IN PRAISE OF HIS NAME, EXTOL HIM WHO RIDES ON THE CLOUDS; REJOICE BEFORE HIM – HIS NAME IS THE LORD.  (see also Psalm 104:3).  In Ezekiel 30:3, the prophet linked the appearance of CLOUDS with THE DAY OF THE LORD, which is the Old Testament’s way of referring to the events related to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  In the book of Exodus, God directed His people on their travels with a PILLAR OF CLOUD during the daylight hours and by means of a pillar of fire at night (13:21-22).  In the DNL 7 vision the Son of Man came from the CLOUDS and is clearly God; this also predicts how Jesus will appear to us. At the end of the Gospel of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts, we are told that Jesus left His disciples and returned to heaven, disappearing among the clouds.  Angels standing nearby promised that He would return the way He’s left: among the CLOUDS (Acts 1:9-11).

This expression looks ahead to the day when this promise is kept: Jesus’ Second Coming.  It is reassuring to know this will happen; it can happen any time.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

We’re so entrenched in the “Gentle Shepherd” version of Jesus that we’re troubled by John’s depiction of Jesus.  It’s as if we expect the Second Coming to arrive as a gentle tap on the shoulder, followed by an apology for disturbing us.  It’s ludicrous that we should expect the sudden appearance of Jesus as conquering king to be meek and mild, accompanied by a gentle swell of violin music.

The end of the universe as we know it will be with a bang, not a whimper.  John’s vision of the ultimate triumph of Christ should mobilize us to action, not bore us into a little nap!

This is important because Jesus’ Second Advent will occur without any warning other than what we’ve been given, so preparedness is the issue here.  Are you ready?  Are you helping others become ready?

Readiness comes after accepting God’s gracious offer of salvation.  It is doing the daily work of prayer, study of Scripture, and loving one another.  We demonstrate our eagerness for heaven by making earth as much like heaven as we can.


Message #1172

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce

The Studious Type

Please read John 5:36-40 & 2 Timothy 2:14-19 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this article.

In a Dec. 16, 2018 article in The Jerusalem Post, Yafit Ovadia reported that a digitized time capsule will be on board an unmanned spacecraft when it is launched to the Moon this spring.  The time capsule will contain Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a traveler’s prayer “Tefilat Haderech,” the Bible, the Israeli flag, maps of the State of Israel, the national anthem, a photograph of Ilan Ramon (Israel’s pioneer astronaut who died on the Space Shuttle Columbia), and pictures drawn by Israeli children. The spacecraft will be carried by into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, making Israel the fourth country after the US, the USSR and China to attempt a lunar landing mission.

Israel will spend $95 million to put the unmanned lander on the moon, which is a bargain compared to NASA’s Apollo 11, which cost the US close to $9.9 billion in 1969.  80% of the funding was raised from private donors.


I hope and pray the project is successful so afterwards I can say, “They can put a Bible on the moon; you can open one and read it!” There’s a great potential for sermons and exhortations to get people into t word of God!

Before we get started, let me clarify one thing.  We refer to Jesus as the Word of God (capital “W”) because He is the personal revelation of God to us.  In Jesus’ words & deeds we learn all we need to know to b saved.

We refer to the Bible as the word of God (small case “w”) to distinguish the specific revelation of God, the words on the page.   It may be a little confusing otherwise.  So I hope you can follow this: we must have the Word of God in our heart before we can truly understand and use the word of God.  A life-changing study of the Bible begins with a life that has already been changed by Jesus.


(Which of the statements below are actually found in the Bible and which originate elsewhere?)

  1. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
  2. “To the woman he said, ‘Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
  3. “I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by.”
  4. “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.”
  5. “Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you.”
  6. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.”
  7. “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
  8. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.”
  9. “A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them.”

Jesus Christ is the Word of God we must know first.

  1. We don’t study the Bible to earn salvation (John 5:36-40).

CONTEXT: These verses are part of Jesus’ rebuke of JEWS who faulted Him for working a miracle on the Sabbath, as is spelled out in verse sixteen; SO, BECAUSE JESUS WAS DOING THESE THINGS ON THE SABBATH, THE JEWS PERSECUTED HIM.  In this portion of His reply Jesus revealed who He really was, attempting to persuade them that He had the authority to act in ways their version of the Law prohibited.  (Maybe you could say He pulled rank on them!)  He attempted to show them that He was their Messiah, the one whose coming had been foretold in the Scriptures they studied.  Toward the end he concluded, “YOU DON’T BELIEVE T ONE HE SENT” (v. 38).

COMMENT: Studying the Scriptures will not, by itself, make anyone right with God.

In verses 36-40 Jesus appealed to the witness of Scripture because they held the Scripture in high regard.  However, the problem was they had misused the Scriptures to justify their prejudice and excuse their sin.  They were good students in the sense that they DILIGENTLY studied God’s word.  Jesus gave them that compliment.           Unfortunately, they approached the Scriptures with a closed mind and a bad motive: “YOU THINK THAT BY THEM YOU POSSESS ETERNAL LIFE.”  In other words, they sought to master the word of God intellectually and morally and thereby earn or deserve eternal life.  They sought to provide for themselves a place in heaven.

This thinking is identified in one of their own authoritative writings, “The Sayings of the Fathers.”  Here are two examples:

“He who has acquired the words of the Law has acquired for himself life in the world to come.” (2:8)

“Great is the law for it gives to those who practice it life in this world and in the world to come.” (6:7)

The end result was self-condemnation.  Jesus said, “THESE ARE THE SCRIPTURES THAT TESTIFY ABOUT ME, YET YOU REFUSE TO COME TO ME TO HAVE LIFE” (vs. 39-40).  We’d like to think this sort of thing never happens in the Church, but it does.  People can study the Book without ever knowing the Author.  Of course, they will never get it right and will not enter heaven, but they may gain enough proficiency to fool themselves and/or fool others.  People search the bible for evidence supporting their theology, when the process is supposed to work the opposite way.

William Barclay warned, “[The Jewish religious leaders] did not humbly learn a theology from scripture; they used scripture to defend a theology which they themselves had produced.  There is still a danger we should use the Bible to prove our beliefs and not to test them.”

  1. We study the Bible to show we’ve received salvation (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

CONTEXT: Because he was a pastor, Paul challenged Timothy to hold himself to a higher standard, including biblical literacy.  Timothy’s best defense against false teachers, busybodies and other trouble-makers in the church is to know God’s word and hold fast to it.

COMMENT: Every follower of Jesus needs to increase their understanding and use of the Bible.  There is no other way except to study it.

Paul wrote that Timothy was to PRESENT himself to the church as a leader who met three important qualifications.

APPROVED.  The word literally meant “has passed the test.” It was used to refer to building materials that were inspected and worthy: it was a metal object refined by fire, a stone cut to the mason’s specifications.

WHO DOES NOT NEED TO BE ASHAMED.  Like the materials he uses, the builder’s craftsmanship is also evaluated and deemed worthy.

WHO CORRECTLY HANDLES THE WORD OF TRUTH.  The phrase CORRECTLY HANDLES pictures a farmer handling a plow, making a straight furrow or a builder whose wall is plumb or road straight.  This is a WORKMAN who faithfully studies the word of God in order to understand it truthfully, apply it rightly, and teach it in a way that makes genuine disciples of Jesus.

What is the difference between Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s?  Only a difference of focus; both talk about diligent study of the word.  Jesus approved only one use of the Bible; to receive salvation, not to create it.  He condemned self-righteousness.  Paul called Pastor Timothy to handle Scripture with extra care.  Timothy would not earn salvation by taking this care, but he would show others how to be saved by teaching Scripture in this way.  Taken together, these teachings commend the diligent study of God’s word, but only if you first know who Jesus Christ are and have accepted His gracious salvation by faith.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God we must know first.

          Though many of the Jewish religious leaders were excellent students of the Bible (most of them had memorized the Old Testament in its entirety!), Jesus condemned their failure to see the truth.  In order to know the truth, we must become more familiar with what God has revealed through daily study and practice.  To illustrate that fact, I now offer you the answers to the “Bible vs. Baloney” quiz.  Number one is a quote from Benjamin Franklin and number five is a quote attributed to Buddha.  If anyone says they can be found in the Bible, they’re feeding you baloney.  How did you do?

Doubt is not the great enemy of faith; self-sufficiency or self-righteousness is.  People who have doubts are testing their faith.  They possess at least the humility to confess they don’t have all the answers and are working to try to better understand.

People who think they have it figured out are self-deceived.  They know the words and actions that give an appearance of godliness, but because they have sought to achieve it on their own, they do not have life in Christ.

Because salvation is by grace, no self-reliant person will ever have it.  Being proud of one’s big brain or big heart prohibits a person from putting their trust in Christ.  William Barclay commented on this passage, “The function of the Bible is not to give life, but to point us to the One who can.”

Our attitude needs to be the same as the Apostle Peter.  On an occasion when many of His followers left Him, Jesus asked the twelve if they’d be leaving too.  Peter’s reply is instructive; he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life?”

Peter’s reply shows us two things we need to practice:

One; refuse to compromise on the word of God.  One of the core doctrines of our faith is that the Bible is the revelation of God.  We don’t have to argue with people who think they know better, but we must stubbornly insist on the Bible as the authoritative rule of faith and practice.

Two; refuse to quit on the Word of God capital “W,” Jesus Christ.  He is the single source of eternal life.  That is an unpopular notion among people who have self-made religion but not Christianity.  Again, we don’t have to argue with anybody but we must not surrender this truth.

I realize not everyone is “bookish,” but there is no substitute for studying and applying God’s word to realize spiritual maturity.



Sermon #1302

The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay

The Zondervan Bible Commentary

Searching for the Perfect Gift


Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Please read Matthew 7:7-12 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Last Christmas a little boy did not get what he wanted.  He decided to negotiate with Santa and wrote the following:

“Deer Santa, I am riting this on the day after X-mas and I am very sad.  I only received 1 of the 2 presents I asked for.  Sense you ate my cookies I will asoom that my missing gift was a miss take.  I will give you 1 week too fix this.  Jeremy.” (Spelling errors are his.)

His parents saw this as an opportunity to teach their son a lesson and composed a very professional-looking “reply” from Santa: “Dear Jeremy, I’m sorry you are disappointed with your presents.  You asked for two very expensive presents and Santa can only do so much.  You need to learn to be grateful for what you have, not upset about what you don’t.  If you continue to complain I will have no choice but to add you to the naughty list next year.  Santa.”

Jeremy fired back with another note to Santa: “Deer Fatty, your threats don’t scare me.  I played your game and you did not deliver.  This is not O.K.  I will give you 1 week and then you will pay.  Jeremy.  P.S. I don’t know why you care that it is expensive when you have elf slaves to make things for you.  I think you are naughty for having slaves.”

What would you do next?  Jeremy’s parents decided another reply from Santa was needed: “Dear Jeremy, You are being a very bad little boy.  Because you cannot be happy with what you have, I have talked to your parents and told them to take away your Wii U.  Now you have nothing.  Once you learn to be grateful, perhaps you can have it back.  I am very disappointed in you, Jeremy.  You will need to be an extra good boy this year if you want to make it back on the nice list.  Santa.”

Jeremy is one unforgiving kid.  He wrote a third letter; “Deer Santa, I do not like that stunt you pulled with my parents.  You are on my naughty list.  Be afraid.  You look slow and easy to kill.  Enjoy your cookys next year because the will be poison.  I hope you die.  Jeremy.”  (Emphasis his.)

(You can see these notes for yourself at https://thoughtcatalog.com/callie-byrnes/2017/12/this-boy-didnt-get-everything-he-wanted-for-christmas-so-he-decided-to-get-back-at-santa-with-these-hilarious-letters/.)

I wonder what Jeremy’s Christmas will be like this year?!!  This is a sad and ridiculous example of how disappointment can overtake a person’s better judgment, resulting in toxic words and deeds.

Sadly, sometimes people have this kind of feeling toward God when His answers to their prayers don’t match up.  I know a very intelligent man who remains an unbeliever because his childhood prayers were not answered as he wanted.

Today, we hope to encourage you to pray by proving, with Jesus’ own words, that prayers to God are always heard, always answered, and always make a difference, even if the difference is limited to our own attitude.

  1. Be encouraged: God hears & answers seekers (7-8)

Three verbs appear twice: ASK, SEEK, KNOCK.  There is an ascending level of commitment/ involvement.  Each requires more of you.  The verbs are repeated for emphasis and to model persistence in prayer.

The tense of the verbs is called “infinitive,” which describes a constant, ongoing activity.  We are to keep on asking, never cease seeking, and keep on knocking on heaven’s gate.    Persevere in prayer until you receive a clear answer from God or He changes your mind.

As God knows what I need better than I do, and as He will do what He wills, why should I pray?  There are at least four excellent reasons to PRAY CONTINUALLY, as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says.

The first is the most obvious: God commands prayer.  Be obedient and pray.

The second is that God designed prayer for our sake, not His.  Let’s be clear; God is not waiting for any of us to pray to “activate” His will.  He does not depend on us for anything.  Instead, He commands prayer because communication is key to all relationships and loving communication promotes loving relationships.  God commands prayer to deepen our spiritual maturity.


Third, we should pray because Jesus’ promises regarding prayer are unconditional.  For example, in this passage EVERYONE’s prayer is answered.  When people talk about “unanswered prayer” they really mean is “God said ‘no’ or ‘wait,’ or said ‘yes’ to something they didn’t want.”

Fourth, the Bible clearly promises that prayer changes things; it has an effect on our world.  As James 5:16b says, THE PRAYER OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN IS POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE.

  1. Be encouraged: God’s answer is always what’s best for you (9-11).

More than any earthly parent, God knows our needs.  He will not tease or do evil to us.  Nor is He a child-centered parent who will indulge our wants.  Jesus used humor to make this point:

BREAD versus STONE = Some loaves of bread are baked so hard they become stone-like, some stones take on an appearance similar to bread.

FISH versus SNAKE = Both fishes and snakes have scales, some snakes swim and eels look like snakes.

The point is, if our earthly parents (YOU WHO ARE EVIL) can be trusted to tell the difference and not give us something bad, we can trust God (who is good) to do even better.

Whether God’s answer is what we want or not is not important; it is not the basis for evaluating prayer.  Rest assured God’s answers are always GOOD GIFTS.  Our theology of prayer is not to be centered on us.  God’s answer to prayer reflects His nature and His will.  It is never about our sincerity, posture, gesture, or choice of words.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is false.  Prayer is designed by God to be humbling and focused on Him, because self-focus is hardly ever healthy or helpful.

Full disclosure: it gripes me when people preach negatively about prayer: “Don’t do this or that.”  They reveal their ignorance of Scripture and the true purpose of prayer.  The best prayers are like tears: they flow from a heart overrun with either happiness or sorrow.  Prayer is the inner self expressing itself to God; every other consideration is secondary at best.

  1. Be encouraged: life with God is simple (12).

There is a big difference between simple and easy.  Following Jesus is not easy in the sense that it is a lifelong commitment to change and growth; hardships will be faced, expectations raised, persecution endured.

But living for God is not complicated.  Jesus reduced our ethical life to two commands, both to love, and one simple rule on how to treat others: just the way we want to be treated.

In guiding people’s behavior, you can take two approaches.  The Legalistic approach is to try to anticipate every kind of wrongdoing and write a law to cover it.  Congress is an example of this approach of multiplying the rules.

The Principled approach is to advocate for what is good by setting forth principles.  Everything else is evil.  As an example of reducing the rules is our work on constitution review.  One of our goals is to streamline the current constitution.

The Golden Rule – like the board game “Othello” – “takes a moment to learn, a lifetime to master.”  Using this rule requires us to embrace the principle of the preciousness of others.  Paul explained this principle: Philippians 2:3 = DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELF.  See also Romans 13:10 = LOVE DOES NO HARM TO ITS NEIGHBOR.  THEREFORE LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.

We will always learn new ways and be confronted with new situation in which we can apply this principle, because Jesus said we were to apply it IN EVERTYTHING.  Motivation to use the Golden Rule is also quite simple: it comes from a love for self.  To the degree that we have a healthy self-image and take care of ourselves, it makes it easier for us to treat others in the same way. It may sound backward to say it this way, but a sensitivity to others is founded on knowledge of self; particularly what makes me feel loved.

Interestingly, a variation of the Golden Rule appears in all the world’s major religions.  However, Jesus is the only one who expressed the principle positively.  All others said it negatively; “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”  In this, Jesus sets an example of positivity that we should seek to follow.  His positive version embraces both sides of goodness: it is actively doing good works as well as avoiding evil ones.  Jesus’ version can be applied more broadly.

  1. How to help another seeker find God.

A = Active Listening (withhold your own opinions, suspend judgment for the moment).

B = Begin Where You Meet Them (match the need(s) they express with biblical teaching & church ministry).

C = Consider Their Experience (avoid using terms or making references that they don’t know).

D = Develop Your Own Story (stress points of your own experience common to all and/or similar to theirs).

E = Engage in Dialogue (your goal should be to do about half the talking and half the listening).

F = Find a Time to Continue the Conversation (initial encounters should be brief, later ones lengthier).

G = Get to an Application (an invitation to church is the place to start, invite a decision as the Spirit leads you).

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Earlier in Matthew’s version of these teachings, Jesus taught His disciples to avoid praying out of a hypocritical motive (to earn the praise of others).  In this section, He clarified what our motive for prayer should be.  Then He told us how to live out the godly life that goes into our prayers.

Teaching about our relationship with God and our relationships with one another should go hand in hand, because people who love God will love others.  The Bible teaches a lack of love for neighbor betrays a false love for God.

This is one reason I felt lead to express some “ABCs” of how we can have conversations about God even when we have just met the other person.  We do all we can on Sundays and Wednesdays to present the word of God truthfully and compellingly.  But the living out of that word is something we all must do as much outside the church walls as we do within.

During this season, many of us will spend more time out in the public than we normally do, as we search for Christmas gifts.  (After all, you don’t want to let Jeremy down again!!)  Part of our ambition for the remaining days before the Christmas Holy Day must be to use these public moments to tell others about Jesus.  It is wise for us to make best use of the public’s general affinity for Christmas to make Jesus Christ more widely known.

The first step is to not be in such a hurry.  Linger in public places, make time for conversations.  Then start some!  Make an invitation to church.  We will have Christmas Eve at 6 pm.  Do someone an act of kindness and explain why you did it.  Start somewhere!



Sermon #929

The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, Scot McKnight