Starting the Passover Over

Please read 2 Chronicles 30:1-31:1 in your Bible.

Starting Over (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

“A story surfaced from Operation Desert Storm about a soldier who got a ‘Dear John’ letter from his girl; she wrote that they were through. Worse than that, she was getting married to someone else! Adding insult to injury, she wrote, ‘Will you please return my favorite photograph of myself? I need it for my engagement picture in the paper.’

“The poor guy was devastated but not defeated. From every corner of the camp, soldiers handed over extra photos of their girlfriends. There were hundreds of photos. The jilted soldier put all the photos in a shoe box and mailed it home with a note. ‘Please find your picture,’ he wrote, ‘For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly which one you were!!’”

How’s that for making the best of a bad situation?  When we think about the Passover, that’s a time when God turned evil into good. And as we’ve seen, at the center of the Passover is the lamb.  In the centuries that would follow the first Passover, lambs had died for the sins of the nation.

“Inside the walls of the Temple, two lambs died every day (Exodus 28:29-31), one at 9 a.m. and the other at 3 p.m. It had been a sacrifice marked by blood, for the literal meaning of ‘sacrifice’ in Hebrew is, ‘to slit the throat.’

In addition to the twice-a-day sacrifice of lambs, there would have been countless lambs dying on the major Jewish holidays.”  (Andy Cook, Lifeway.com)

So our identification of Jesus as the Passover Lamb is an important, even essential biblical image.

Rediscovering the Passover revived the devotion of God’s people.

  1. A quick history lesson.

Hezekiah served as king over Judah from 715-686 BC.  His reign ended 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Judah.  2 Chronicles 29:1-2 tells us he took the throne at age 20 and ruled for 29 years.  He had not been on the throne for a month when he reopened the temple (29:3).  He brought back the priests and their assistants, the Levites, whom he commanded to purify the temple.

The temple was closed because King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, was an idolater and a very bad king.  He had ordered the temple’s furnishings removed and its doors shuttered (2 Chronicles 28:24-25).

Finally, after purifications, consecrations, and preparations, worship in the temple was restored (29:35).  The Passover would be the first sacred day to be observed in the reopened temple

  1. What we can learn from it.

Worship is supposed to be a unifying act. (30:1, 5-11)  Hezekiah invited all the tribes of Israel, even though the northern 10 tribes had already been conquered by the Assyrians and dispersed. Hezekiah may have hoped the unification of the tribes in worship would have political benefits too.  Having a secondary motive in no way diminishes Hezekiah’s loyalty to God or what was accomplished in this Passover observance.

We should be eager to worship. (30:2-4)  God commanded the Passover be observed on the 14th day of the first month. However, they did not have things ready at that time (the priests were not ready and not enough people had returned to Jerusalem).  Rather than wait until next year, they agreed to hold the Passover in the second month.

God directed them to worship. (30:12)  THE HAND OF GOD gave them UNITY OF MIND, FOLLOWING THE WORD OF GOD.  Unity of mind is something to which all church folk should aspire, and it will only come as we jointly follow Jesus, the Word of God.

Worship required them to purify themselves according to the will of God. (30:13-17)  Offerings were made in accordance with the Law and almost everyone complied with ritual purity.  The response of the people was so enthusiastic, it made the priests and Levites feel ASHAMED at their relative apathy.

Worship brought healing. (30:18-20)  Not everyone kept the Law as they should.  Some of the Israelites from the north (30:11) came late and did not undergo the ritual purification. Hezekiah offered a wonderful prayer for their forgiveness and God HEALED THE PEOPLE.  This shows us that sometimes ritual needs to be set aside to meet people where they are.  After all, the ritual was made for the people, not the other way around.  A sincere heart is a more important qualification for worship than ritual purity.

Worship requires follow-through into daily living. (30:21-22, 31:1)  Those who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover followed up with the week-long observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread too.  They worshiped the Lord every day of that week. When the time of worship ended and they returned home, they continued the program to get rid of idolatry.

Worship ought to be something we enjoy and want to do. (30:23-27)  THE WHOLE ASSEMBLY (23), THE ENTIRE ASSEMBLY (25) found such joy in their worship they wanted to continue it another week!  There was nothing in the Law to require or even advise this; their decision to stay together was entirely voluntary.  Part of their joy was the knowledge that God was pleased with their worship (27).  King Solomon is mentioned here, the builder of the temple.  Hezekiah, the temple rebuilder, is compared with Solomon.

Rediscovering the Passover revived the devotion of God’s people.

In 1998 Ray Boltz recorded a song entitled “Watch the Lamb.”  It recounts the story of Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha.  Here are the lyrics of the latter half of the song:

At first I tried to resist him then his hand reached for his sword.

So I knelt and took the cross from the Lord

I placed it on my shoulder and started down the street

The blood that he’d been shedding was running down my cheek.

 

They led us to Golgotha.  They drove nails deep in His feet and hands.

And yet upon the cross I heard Him pray, “Father, forgive them.”

Oh, never had I seen such love in any other eyes.

“Into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” He prayed, and then He died.

 

I stood for what seemed like years.  I’d lost all sense of time

Until I felt two tiny hands holding tight to mine.

My children stood there weeping.  I heard the oldest say

“Father, please forgive us.  The lamb ran away.”

 

“Daddy, Daddy, what did we see here?

There’s so much that we don’t understand.”

So I took them in my arms, and we turned and faced the cross

And then I said, “Dear children, Watch The Lamb.”

(Ray Boltz, 1998, Gaither Music)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary,

1 & 2 Chronicles, J. Kier Howard

The Daily Study Bible Series,

I & II Chronicles, J. G. McConville.

Andy Cook at https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-easter-passover-lamb-jesus

http://www.higherpraise.com/lyrics/superduper/b/ray_boltz/watch_the_lamb.html

Advent Attitudes: Reverence

Advent 4

When we worship God we make Him known.

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 & Luke 2:8-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

Every year about this time we lament the “commercialization of Christmas” and silently pledge not to go to such extremes next year.  Somehow eleven months go by and here we are again.  it seems the only solution is to laugh at ourselves and stay out of the stores until February!  In that vein, I offer a couple of Christmas stories involving kids and gift-giving.

“Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began at the top of his lungs:

‘I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE…’
‘I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO…’”

“His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, ‘Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf,’ to which the little brother replied, ‘No, but Grandma is!’”

One father thought he’d found a new angle and told his daughters that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and he only received three things.  So they were not be upset with what they found under the tree.

As it happened on Christmas morning, one little gal expressed her disappointment with her gifts, very nearly in tears.  When the father reminded her about Jesus only getting three things, she responded “How do you think Jesus felt when he got three things and none of them were toys?!”

(http://desperatepreacher.com/christmas/xmashumor.htm)

Now, at the end of Advent, we add the fourth and arguably the most necessary Advent Attitude: Reverence.  We must seek to regain a sense of the awe of the shepherds, the wonder of Mary, and reenact the worship of the Magi before we throw ourselves into gifting and feasting.  We must pray for God to recreate some of dazzling light of the star that will lead us to Jesus.

Reverence is quiet.  It is understated.  It requires a little solitude and some time for undistracted attention to the Spirit of God in us.  Hands need to be folded and kept still.  Hurried thoughts need to be gently brought back to an inner vision of the radiant baby, the Son of God.

  1. The Magi worshiped God with their giving (Matthew 2:1-12).

Their first gift was to seek Him because their journey was long in both mileage and time.  We have so little information on these visitors, all we can say with certainty is that there more than one (“magi” is the plural form of “magus”) and that they came FROM THE EAST.  Not knowing an exact point of origin it’s impossible to say when they started, but we have four clues about the timing of their arrival.

In v. 1, it plainly says AFTER JESUS WAS BORN. Matthew doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ birthday; all that comes from Luke.

In v. 7, King Herod directly asked the Magi THE EXACT TIME the star appeared to them.

Add to that v. 16 where King Herod had all the boys in Bethlehem TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER killed.  This was an attempt to slay the newborn king whom he thought must be no older than two years, based on the TIME the Magi told them.

In v. 11 the text says they came to a HOUSE, not a stable.  For whatever set of reasons, the family did not immediately return to Nazareth, but remained in Bethlehem for some time.

Their journey started with one fact (a new Jewish king was born) and an idea where he might be found (in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews).  That’s going to a lot of trouble on the basis of very little information.

Their journey had some danger.  In addition to the usual hazards of travel, there was the danger indicated in Herod’s lethal reaction to the Magi not reporting in to him as he’d commanded.

From the Magi we learn that worship is more about the giving than the gifts.  Their gifts have been thoroughly analyzed by Bible scholars, without much insight added.  People have tried to say that the various gifts are various symbols.  What makes the most sense to me is that they were the kind of expensive gifts one would present to a king to curry favor.  What’s more important is following their example by making sacrificial gifts, whatever we might see as “valuable.”

God’s purpose in these gifts is that they funded the family’s escape to Egypt.  They were small but sold for a hefty price.

  1. The angels worshiped God with their singing (Luke 2:8-20).

The song was the culmination of their message.  The message was: “The most wonderful thing has just happened.”

“I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY THAT WILL BE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. This is a major theme of Luke’s Gospel.

“TODAY IN THE TOWN OF DAVID A SAVIOR HAS BEEN BORN TO YOU; HE IS CHRIST THE LORD.

“THIS WILL BE A SIGN TO YOU: YOU WILL FIND A BABY WRAPPED IN CLOTHS AND LYING IN A MANGER.”

The song is an example of heaven-sanctioned worship.

“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST.”  In other words, “May God be praised in heaven” and/or “to the highest degree.”  Pointing to God is one job humans and angels share; we give Him the glory. For example, in Luke 19:38, the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem shout, “PEACE IN HEAVEN AND GLORY IN THE HIGHEST.”

“ON EARTH PEACE TO MEN ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS.”  What we generally hear at Christmas is “on earth, peace, good will toward men.”  That line is based on a mistranslation in the KJV.  It should actually read as the NIV translates it.  The point: God bestows PEACE on whomever He chooses and He chooses His people.  Paul confirmed this teaching in RMS 5:1; THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, WE HAVE PEACE WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

Worship is more about the singing than the song.  Of course I am NOT referring to any quality of musicianship.  Seven times the Psalms urge us to MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD.  Those verses put the focus on the worshiper’s heart, not his or her vocal chords.  I am referring to the attitude of the worshiper.  As usual, the inner parts are more important that the outer ones.

Because we are committed to your having a MERRY Christmas, I want to conclude with a couple humorous versions of the account of the visit of the Magi.

Three wise men walk into a barn…yes I said BARN…and see Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Joseph asks why they are disturbing them as his wife had just given birth and needed rest. The first wise man said “I have brought gold for the child.”
Joseph thanked him but asked them to leave. Then the second wise man said “I have brought frankincense for the child.”
Again Joseph thanked him but was getting annoyed as they were interrupting a special moment between him and his wife. He then, forcefully, asked them to leave.

The third wise man said “But wait there’s myrrh!”

It is true that most of what we think we know about the magi has come from tradition or legend, not from the Bible.  As we’ve seen, the Bible does not give us a number of Magi, but legend says there were three, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  They are so named in the book Ben Hur.

I recently came across a legend of a fourth Magi named Jacques.  Jacques did not make the trip to Bethlehem but stayed behind in Persia.  He refused to go because he was caring for a baby dolphin.

When the other three came back, they were full of wondrous tales of the journey and praise for the newborn king of the Jews.  When they had at last told all, Balthasar sighed and leaned back and said, “Poor Jacques, you missed all these things to stay home and feed that baby dolphin.”

Jacques merely waved him off.  He said, “I like to think I have served a youthful porpoise.”

<https://upjoke.com/three-wise-men-jokes&gt;

Throughout this Advent season we have observed the attitudes of joy, expectation, obedience, and reverence.  May the days ahead bring all these experiences to you.  May they transcend all the distractions the world offers so you will know the fullness of joy and satisfaction that only God can provide.

When we worship God we make Him known.

With this in mind, let us make worship the central part of Christmas.  Let us make Jesus known in our homes, our community, and our world.

Right from the Beginning – #4

Please read Genesis 1:24-2:25 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

“Taxonomy” is the science of classifying plants and animals into various groupings.  If I were to ask you which animal you think of that defies scientific classification, what might you say?  Would you mention the duckbill platypus as an example?

The point simply is this; science has its own challenges.  There are plants and animals that overlap different categories and/or have exceptional features; classifying them can be difficult.

In studying Genesis one and two, we face a similar problem.  If we study the creation account with the intent of systematizing it, we are going to be thwarted by details that overreach our system or do not fit it precisely.

And yet, we – by faith – understand that there is a unity present, a coherent system of thought with a message God has intended for us to receive.  So we start with the fewest preconceptions possible and do the careful work of allowing the text to have its own voice first.   After we have heard Genesis as it original listeners (and readers) received it, then we adapt our preconceptions to fit what we have learned.

For example, we retain the preconception that God created.  It is, after all, a central tenet of our faith.  What we pitch is that the Bible and science have to agree.  We set aside the notion that “Creationism” must be proven (with all the politico-social baggage accumulated by that movement) and learn what we can from the text about God’s creation of the world.  We accept that the “How?” question will never be as important as the “Who?” question, and less important than the “Why?” question.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2).
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5).
  3. Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).
  4. Day Three: Separating the sea and the land; growing plants on the land (1:9-13).
  5. Day Four: Creating heavenly lights (1:14-19).
  6. Day Five: Creating animals for the sea & sky (1:20-23).

NEW

  1. Creation, Day Six: Creating life on the land (1:24-2:25).

First, creating animal life on the land (1:24-25).  Verse 24 reads; LET THE LAND PRODUCE LIVING CREATURES, just as it said that THE LAND produced plant life in v. 15.  That sentence made a lot more sense in verse fifteen as we all know plants grow out of the ground (generally speaking), but we’ve never planted a dog and had puppies grow in the spot.  But – look ahead – what did God use as raw material for the man?  Dirt.  Also, as science informs us, animal bodies are, chemically, minerals and water.  As we noted previously, the term LIVING CREATURES includes all animal life, whether its habitat is land, air, or water.

ACCORDING TO THEIR KINDS (24+25) develops this thought a bit.  As is usual in this passage, these three divisions of animal kind is a functional one.

– LIVESTOCK = domesticated animals.

– CREATURES THAT MOVE ALONG THE GROUND = undomesticated animals that are prey.

– WILD ANIMALS = undomesticated animals that are predators.

Second, we come to the real focus of the creation narrative: creating human life on the land (1:26-2:25).  The text relates eight important truths about the human race.

#1 = We were created in God’s image (1:26).  The Heb word for IMAGE was defined as a physical representation of something that had no physical form. This was contrary to idol-worshippers who believed superstitiously that their idols not only represented the physical form of their gods, but also contained some of their spiritual essence.

As with the rest of the Genesis account, the emphasis is on function; the function of the IMAGE is for us to represent God in creation.  God is a spirit and wants to be present in creation in a physical way, a way tangible to the five senses He gave us.  So, being created in the IMAGE OF GOD means that you and I were created to represent God in our bodies.  We are to reproduce, in daily life, the character and nature of God.

Theologians have haggled over the exact meaning of this word.  (For example, In Genesis 5:3, Adam’s son Seth is described as the IMAGE and LIKENESS of his father.  Since this is said about Seth at birth, this must refer to a physical resemblance; any similarity of character or personality would not be known for several years.  Does this assert that the IMAGE is a physical resemblance?)  I believe it’s not necessary to be specific or precise in or definition of this term any qualities that human beings possess but the rest of creation does not may be considered part of the IMAGE OF GOD.

The IMAGE is God’s intention that human beings be the part of creation that represents the Creator.  Isn’t that enough of a responsibility?  Paul linked the IMAGE with the “new self,” the life of a believer, and saw it as our responsibility to make God known.

– Epehsians 4:24 = …put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

– Colossians 3:10 = …put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

#2 = We were created to exercise dominion over creation (1:26, 28-30).  This is a delegated authority.  We do not, by virtue of being human, have any “rights” that make us rulers of creation.  Like everything else, this is a gift from God.  Though it has been misused by some people, being given RULE over creation is not an excuse for mismanaging it.  Instead, it puts us in a managerial position, responsible for taking g0od care of the environment.

The blessing “BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY” is pronounced on all LIVING CREATURES, not just the human race.  God blessed all the creatures he put on Earth; His plan was for the prosperity of all creation.

#3 = We were created from dust (2:7) and from a rib (2:18, 21-2).

The man was created from DUST.  This Hebrew word refers to dry dirt; the loose, granular stuff you and I would call “topsoil.”  It may seem contradictory that something given the honor of bearing God’s IMAGE should come from such humble beginnings: mere dirt.  I should think that’s exactly the point.

However, this “earthen vessel” was not alive in that instant.  The text tells us that the man became alive as God put His BREATH OF LIFE into it.  This phrase always refers to the breathing that all living people do, implying what God did with Adam is not just a one-time event, but is how God bestows life to all of us.

The woman was created out of Adam’s rib.  The Hebrew word for RIB is not anatomically precise.  It can refer to a single rib, the entire rib cage, or a hunk of flesh and bone from the upper torso.  Fortunately, we don’t need it to be precise because we’re not writing a book of anatomy.  The point is that part of the man’s body was used to fashion the woman.  As we will see, the stress is on their similarity, not their difference.

#4 = We were created to live in paradise (2:4-6, 10-14).  The word translated as GARDEN is used to refer to a paradise.  In our culture, the word “park” would be a more accurate translation; it is a place set aside for trees and other landscaping to create a peaceful nature refuge. The most prominent feature of any park is the trees and this one has two tree identified as being special.  We’ll talk about them next month.

In the ancient world, kings spared no expense in creating these kinds of spaces.  In fact, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The name EDEN is more than a point of geography; it means “abundant” and modifies the word GARDEN in the sense of “a garden of abundance.” The fact that the GARDEN is well-watered by four rivers that flowed out of EDEN is the explanation of its abundance.  What we’re to learn here is God put the man in an ideal place; of all the places on the surface of the earth, this was the best habitat possible.

#5 = We were created to work (2:15, 19-20).  Adam was not to just live in the GARDEN, he was to work in it.  He is God’s partner in nurturing the life of the GARDEN, both plants and animals.  This is evidence that it has always been God’s plan that work is central to human life.  God didn’t simply provide for the man; Adam was active, working to grow and collect his own food.  God commissioned Adam to name the animals.  This served several purposes, one of which is to show that not all work is manual labor.  God created us to do mental and manual work.

The Hebrew word for WORK is most often used in connection with labor done in service to God; in fact, some commentators would rather see this word translated as “worship.”  We need to remember that we’re all created to work and that nearly all work can be a form of service to God.  In our culture, we split work and discipleship, which often leads to a double standard; we have one set of behaviors for the workplace and another set for the church.  This distinction is somewhat false and does not express God’s plan.

#6 = We were created to choose to obey God (2:16-17). God created people with the ability to choose; “free will.”  This is also a delegated authority and the responsibility that goes with it is to choose to obey God.

We won’t go into any detail here, but will note only that God gave the man commands about work/worship and about one tree in particular; he commanded the man to leave it alone.  This was not a complicated set of commands to keep.  God’s plan was not to leave His people alone and let them figure things out for themselves.  He identified obedience as the thing that leads to life. Jesus taught that obedience is the way we demonstrate our love for God (see John 14:15, 23-24).

# 7 = We were created for companionship (2:18-25).  Another purpose God had in giving Adam the job of naming the animals was he would see that there were a male and female of each.  But the text says twice for Adam THERE WAS NO SUITABLE HELPER to be found.  The phrase “suitable helper” is one of those details I warned you about.  It is hard to interpret as it is found only here in the Bible.  The task has been complicated by centuries of misuse by persons trying to prove a paternalistic world view.

However the word HELPER is found repeatedly by itself in the Bible and is most often used in reference to God as our HELPER.  Obviously, there is no diminished status associated with this word.  A HELPER is not a second-class person.  The word SUITABLE actually means “opposite.”

So a SUITABLE HELPER in this case, is the opposite sex.  As all the animals had male and female genders, Adam needed a counterpart, a female, to be a completed species. This is true biologically, emotionally, and spiritually.  The text give a rare commentary in verse 24 when the writer sums up God’s purpose in making Eve as a counterpart for Adam: THAT IS WHY A MAN LEAVES HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND IS UNITED TO HIS WIFE, AND THEY BECOME ONE FLESH.

In case we miss the fact that God created both male and female people, the text makes it perfectly obvious in 1:27, SO GOD CREATED MAN IN HIS OWN IMAGE, IN THE IMAGE OF GOD HE CREATED HIM, MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM.  Both men and women bear the all-important IMAGE OF GOD.  In this detail alone, but also in all of the creation account, the book of Genesis shows far more respect for women than the creation myths recounted in other ancient cultures.  God wants us to know right from the beginning that male and female people are two sides of the same race.

Adam affirms this truth in v. 23.  First, he emphasized the similarity of the sexes when he said Eve was BONE OF MY BONE AND FLESH OF MY FLESH.  Second, he approved her suitability as his counterpart: SHE SHALL BE CALLED ‘WOMAN,’ FOR SHE WAS TAKEN OUT OF MAN.  Of course there are differences between men and women that continue to this day; we’re not aiming at being so “PC” that we deny what is obvious.  But those differences are matters of degree, not destiny.  Men and women are to manage creation together.

#8 = We were created pure, without any reason to be ashamed.  No less than four times (2:25; 3:7, 10-11) the account mentions Adam and even being NAKED.

In chapter two, Adam and Eve were NAKED but without shame.  The point here is their innocence.  As we observe with innocent children, nakedness is not a cause for shame.

In chapter three, Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness after they chose to disobey God.  The first sin brought the first sense of shame along with it.

Different Hebrew words are used in chapters two and three.  In chapter three, the word used for NAKED is elsewhere used as a punishment, a sign of being abandoned, a penalty for sin.  Of course, that comes after the disobedience of Adam and Eve and implies that their nudity was no longer a sign of inn0cence, but something they despised and felt was a punishment; a shameful thing.

The account of Adam and Eve speaks to our personal lives.  Their experience is a symbol for what all of us experience as we grow up, the loss of innocence as we deliberately choose to do what we know is wrong.

Finally, the text revisits the creation of plant life on the land, elaborating that it was created to be food for the LIVING CREATURES (1:29-30: 2:5-6). Yes, I suppose this does imply that all animals and humans were vegetarians in the beginning.  But be of good cheer – God later approved meat for our diet (see Acts 9:9-16)!

The GARDEN depicted in today’s text was a literal place that carried a function similar to that of the tabernacle, temple, and church; it was a place to meet God.  It was a sanctuary where God’s people could go to worship Him.  In fact, what’s clear in this creation account is that the human race is the primary part of creation.  The details we’ve examined all week show that God created with human beings in mind.

God made people to take care of that sacred space and to dwell with Him there.  God said that creation was GOOD and He blessed all the LIVING CREATURES He created to live in the world.

The one thing about it that was NOT GOOD was for the man to live alone in the GARDEN.  God fixed that with the creation of the woman and everything was fine until sin entered the picture in the form of the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve.

Let’s not get ahead of the text.  The second chapter ends with the affirmation that the week of creation ended with God’s plan perfectly in place.  All was prepared for creation to work as a habitation for people.  Adam and Eve lived and worked and served God, all without any SHAME.

PREVIEW

  1. Creation, Day Seven: Instituting the Sabbath (2:1-4).

An Invitation to Dance

(Please read Jeremiah 31 in your favorite translation of the Bible.  I have used the NIV.)

God’s people have reason to dance with joy.

  1. Look who’s dancing. (vs. 4 +13)

In the Bible, dancing is an act of WORSHIP on occasions of JOY. The Bible records occasions when God’s people danced.  Generally speaking, these were worship services, feasts, and at military victories.  (The men danced a/t battle site, immediately after the victory was won.  Women danced in a parade with the returning soldiers.)

There are two familiar examples of joyous dancers in the Bible.  In Exodus 15, Miriam, beside the Red Sea, danced immediately after God vanquished the Egyptian army.  In 2 Samuel 6, David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was finally brought to Jerusalem.

In the New Testament era, dancing was a point of controversy, so we don’t read much about it.  Some early Christians distrusted it because pagans danced as part of their worship.  However, some of the church fathers wrote in favor of including dance in worship.

Let’s take note of our passage for today: dancing in Jeremiah 31.  Who is dancing in this prophecy?  THE JOYFUL (4) = Everyone who celebrated what God has done for them.  MAIDENS…YOUNG MEN AND OLD AS WELL (13) = Neither age nor gender were no barrier to praising the Lord in this way.

Why were they dancing? Because at last God’s promises were being fulfilled; they were delivered from their enemies.

  1. You too have reasons to dance. (vs. 3, 5-20, 31-34)

While this prophecy was fulfilled in part during the lifetimes of the Jews returning from Babylon, part of it remains to be fulfilled in our lifetimes.  Also, the spiritual principles that are at the heart of these promises are just as true today.  So let’s take a look at the reasons for joyous, worshipful dance that are detailed in Jeremiah 31.

First, God LOVES you (v. 3).  God’s love is definitively stated: I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE and I HAVE DRAWN YOU WITH LOVING-KINDNESS. The national history of Judah is the same as our personal history; we’ve gone our own way, defying God.  We have benefitted from His discipline and enjoyed His forgiveness.  Take the promises personally

Second, He promised you will enjoy the fruits of your LABOR (v. 5).  When the Babylonian army invaded, they reduced Judah’s fields to rubble.  From that point on, the people served their Babylonian masters and they enjoyed the fruits of the labor of God’s people. To work and enjoy the fruit of your labor is grace, a gift from God.

One of the most frustrating things in life is to work and receive no reward. For example, consider Tax Freedom Day.  That is the day experts calculate you have been working for the government, that the money you’ve made hs gone to pay your annual taxes.  Tax Freedom Day came to us in South Dakota on April 8, the rest o/t nation averaged April 24!  We are 4th earliest!

<Retrieved from http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/TFD%20Map.png on 5/14/16.>

Third, you can WORSHIP God (vs. 6-7, 12).  The Bible does not endorse any one style of worship as more pleasing to God.  All styles of acceptable worship are the reaction of believers to their experiences of God at work in their lives.  It is a matter of choice, with three caveats.

– It focuses on God’s glory.

– It is sincere. Sincerity is proven in different reactions, including the sorrow of repentance and the joy of salvation.  Feel all emotions in worship!

– It is done decently and in order.

Jeremiah 31 is a vision of God’s people reunited in worship.  They are GOING UP TO ZION, up the temple mount to worship God.  He reunited His people for this purpose.

Fourth, God saves us, bring us together, and makes us one FLOCK (vs. 8-11).  This FLOCK is constituted by God’s grace, not by the strength of the sheep.  In this text, they are described as folk needing assistance.  It is the BLIND…

LAME…EXPECTANT MOTHERS who God leads back to Zion.

Because it’s clear they did not save themselves, this FLOCK returned with WEEPING and prayer (v. 9).  We can’t understate this point: joy comes from knowing we’re saved by grace, not our hand.  They rejoice because the LORD RANSOMED and REDEEMED them.  Rejoice and dance because it is not about you and it never will be.

Fifth, your TEARS will be dried: God Himself will be your comfort (vs. 15-17).  RACHEL represents the nation of Judah, who wept over all she lost: her people, freedom, temple, and land.

In his Gospel, Matthew saw fulfillment of this passage in the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem by King Herod.  He quoted it in Matthew 2 to explain the horrifying deaths of infant boys to satisfy Herod’s fear of being supplanted and ruler of Judea.

This passage shares our grief but more importantly affirms our hope.  We all suffer loss, but thanks to God, we are defined by our joy, not our grief.

Sixth, you will be disciplined, but God is eager to forgive you (vs. 18-20).  God took His people into exile, but 70 years later, He brought them home.  Just as promised.

In this section we hear the voice of repentance.  By faith, they finally understood the seriousness of their sin. They finally felt the necessity of repentance.  Best of all, they finally experienced the relief of forgiveness.  Flooded with joy, they danced in spirit in worship of the One who forgave them.

Seventh, we’ve been brought to a NEW COVENANT; a new relationship with God (vs. 31-34).  These verses are the climax of the passage: the very best news possible.  The Old Covenant was bound to be replaced.  The New Covenant provided a better, more personal relationship with God.

Under the New Covenant, God’s will is put in our MINDS and written on our HEARTS, not on tablets of stone. Under the New Covenant, all people of faith – FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST – can have an intimate, personal relationship with God.

Of all the reasons that a person might dance, this seems to be the best, doesn’t it?  Life can be like a musical, if only you will have faith to hear the notes.

(You may view the video version of this message at YouTube.com.  Look up “EBCSF” to find it.)

The Magi Rejoiced

(Please read Matthew 2:1-12 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare the following remarks.)

MESSAGE: The joy of the Magi resulted in worship and giving. May we follow their example.

Headline: “President Of European Parliament: Christians Most Persecuted Group, Not Safe In Europe”

By Taylor Tyler | Dec 04, 2015 11:57 AM EST

Christians are “clearly the most persecuted group” in the world, and Europe cannot afford to continue ignoring the breach of their fundamental rights, the President of the European Parliament (EP) said Wednesday in a high-level meeting on religious persecution in Brussels.

EP President and German MEP Martin Schulz said the persecution of Christians is “undervalued,” does not receive enough attention, and “hasn’t been properly addressed,” according to Breitbart.

“I can assure you that Parliament will make its contribution wherever it can to protect Christians,” Schulz said, according to Church Times. “Persecution is happening outside the EU, but we can’t afford to ignore it. All of us, particularly in the EP, are aware that dialogue and mutual respect are needed. Fundamental rights are under great threat today and persecution of a religion.”

EP Vice President Antonio Tajani, an Italian MEP in the Parliament’s European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), echoed the concerns of Schulz, warning that Europe sometimes “falls into the temptation of thinking we can ignore” the task of protecting persecuted Christians.

Tajani cited a new report from Open Doors that found that “Islamic extremism is by far the most significant persecution engine” of Christians and that “40 of the 50 countries on the World Watch List are affected by this kind of persecution.”

“Every month at least 200 churches or places of worship are attacked. Every day, in every region of our planet, we register new cases of systemic violence and persecution against Christians. No other religious community is faced with such hatred, violence, and aggression as is the Christian community,” Tajani said.

He claimed that more than 70 percent of Christians have fled Iraq since 2003 due to Islamic persecution, with another 700,000 Christians being displaced in Syria since the start of the civil war.

“The West must break the silence on the persecution of Christians in the world,” said Tajani, and Europe must establish “a model of society in opposition to religious radicalism and brutal and criminal projects, such as creating an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria and then extending its tentacles into to Libya,” reported Breitbart.

“It should shake us up, that on our continent, Christians are not safe,” Schulz said.

Tajani also said that he was convinced that the battle against religious extremism can only be won with the help of religion. “No one may, in fact, forget that in all the great monotheistic religions life, a gift of God the Creator, has sacred value. In the name of religion, we have an obligation to condemn all those who show contempt for life and kill in the name of God. Who shoots in the name of God, shoot against God,” he said, according to EU News.

Copyright @ Headlines & Global News.

(Retrieved from http://www.hngn.com/articles/157094/20151204/president-european-parliament-christians-persecuted-group-safe-europe.htm on 12/11/15.)

In today’s post we’ll see how people from the East travelled to see the infant Jesus.  It’s a sad irony of our time that same region of the world is a focus of persecution of followers of Jesus Christ, as the article above proves.  While we actively protect ourselves and our fellow believers, one thing we must guard is our joy.  Joy that comes from God is terror-proof.

  1. The Magi volunteered (1-8).

They volunteered to seek out the newborn King (vs. 1-2).  Notice that they don’t ask IF a king has been born, but WHERE the newborn king is.  These men were confident enough about their prediction to undertake a long and dangerous journey and come to find out the details.

There’s been lots of speculation on who the Magi were.  What the text tells us for certain is that they were astronomers; “WE SAW HIS STAR IN THE EAST” (v. 2).  The timing of the visit of the Magi can be a little confusing.  The STAR appeared on the day of Jesus’ birth.  A trip from anywhere considered EAST would have taken several weeks.  So the STAR started them on their journey but they completed the trip with their arrival in Bethlehem up to 2 years after Jesus’ birth (this based on Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents” in Matthew 2:16-18).

However, the STAR did not guide them to Jerusalem; logic did.  If you’re looking for a new king, the logical place to start looking is in the capitol city.  Ancient Roman historians tell us that people from many different cultures were looking for a king to appear among the Jews.  It was a question to which many learned men had devoted study. This came about as Jews travelled and lived in places across the Roman Empire and took their expectation of a Messiah with them, sharing that with their neighbors.  In Roman culture, heavenly phenomena always accompanied the birth or death of a king.  They believed, for example, that a comet appeared at the time of the death of Julius Caesar.  Stars and other heavenly phenomena were widely believed to both reveal and influence human events, similar to people’s belief in astrology today.

In Greek culture, the word MAGI was either an insult, referring to frauds who used illusions to convince superstitious folk they had “powers” (that is how Luke used it) or to learned men who were trained in astrology and other arcane subjects, advisors to kings on supernatural matters (that is how Matthew used it).  It doesn’t really matter which these men were because Matthew’s emphasis is on the Holy Birth, not these messengers.  He offers their visit as evidence that Jesus fulfilled Scripture and was recognized as the KING OF THE JEWS; just not by His own people.  Their identity as MAGI, their origin in the EAST, and their superficial familiarity with Old Testament prophecy are clues that these Magi were not Jews.

The motive they gave for their search: “WE HAVE COME TO WORSHIP HIM” (v. 2).  This is the honest truth.  We know this because that’s exactly what they did when they found the newborn King (v. 11).  But I wonder what else motivated them.  It seems like a lot of trouble to satisfy some intellectual curiosity.  Did they hope to gain influence in the court of the new king?  Did they misunderstand the sign and think BORN meant coronated?  In some ancient cultures, a king’s “birthday” was his coronation day.

Their arrival turned Jerusalem upside down (vs. 3-8).  WHEN KING HEROD HEARD THIS HE WAS DISTURBED, AND ALL JERUSALEM WITH HIM (v. 3).  Why?

– Herod ruthlessly guarded his power. He would have been DISTURBED because this news would’ve been seen as a threat to his rule.

– He had been on the throne for more than 30 years by this time and history shows that his reign would not last much longer.

– As seen by his senseless slaughter of all the ale children of Bethlehem later in this chapter, Herod willingly resorted to any steps that removed rivals to his throne.

OK, that’s easy enough to see. But why was ALL JERSUALEM disturbed along with Herod?

– The people might’ve joined Herod in his worry because of a variation on the old saying, “If the king ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Herod was bloodthirsty and widely feared.

– They were excited to think that the promise of the Messiah would finally be fulfilled.

– They might have been afraid because every change of authority brought bloodshed and turmoil; Herod’s especially.

– The appearance of such a caravan of distinguished persons, even in a city, would cause a sensation of gossip. The MAGI may’ve started asking the minute they arrived at the city gates and from there word would’ve spread rapidly.

In response to this growing “threat,” Herod put together a staff to answer the magi’s question and they way he conducted this matter demonstrated political savvy (vs. 4-8).  Herod was vicious, but he was also capable of some subtlety.  We see this in v. 4 where he asks the religious leaders where the CHRIST would be born, not the KING OF THE JEWS.  He was trying to make this look like a religious symposium, not a political investigation.  Herod realized the CHRIST and the KING OF THE JEWS would be the same person, though this may have been a popular belief.

This group was not the ruling members of the Jews, but an “invitation-only” assembly of scholars and students of Scripture.  They arrive at the correct answer: BETHLEHEM IN JUDEA. Interestingly, their quotation of Micah 5:2 is not correct.  It’s a melding of Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2.  If we assume the Jewish scholars are at fault and not Matthew, then it raises the interesting question of why they misquoted it.  This may indicate their use of a different translation than the ones that survived to our day, or that they deliberately misquoted it.  If they are deliberately misquoting it, I assume they are doing so out of fear of Herod.  This was one king you didn’t make angry, for fear of your life.

We see more of Herod’s careful political maneuvering in vs. 7+8.  He did not put the Magi and the scholars together, but kept them apart, so that neither side would know what the others were doing.  The word SECRETLY is an important clue, evidence of Herod giving both sides the “mushroom treatment.”

Herod questioned the Magi first, looking for exact information about the STAR (v. 7).

This was not necessary to answer their question, for he already had the answer in hand, but was expedient for his later violent actions. Their information was useful for determining the age of the newborn KING OF THE JEWS.

This is a way of throwing academics off the scent of your real purpose; get them started talking about their favorite subject and they become wrapped up in the sound of their own voice and forget all else.  Herod got information and allayed suspicions.

After this one-sided exchange of information, Herod ordered them to go to Bethlehem, search out the child, and then report back to him.  In that way, he used the magi as unwitting spies to protect his throne (v. 8).  Bethlehem was just 6 miles from Jerusalem.  Being so close, Herod had to tread lightly or give away his plan to assassinate the newborn King.  That is part of the reason he deceived the Magi and used them as proxy spies.

Obviously, Herod had no interest in worshiping the child.  His intent was to secretly send a squad of soldiers to assassinate the newborn after the MAGI had departed and also out of the knowledge of the people.  This is nothing new or out of character for Herod; ancient historians tell us that he invited his own son, Aristobolus, to the palace for a meal and had him drown in the royal bath afterward.  To the world, he feigned grief at the awful “accident.”

  1. The Magi rejoiced (v. 9-11).

They were OVERJOYED to see the star again and it led them to the newborn King (vs. 9-10).  Following the directions from Herod , they set out from Jerusalem and headed south. However, after they left the city, the Magi got their direction by following the star.  By its guidance, they found THE PLACE WHERE THE CHILD WAS.  There have been lots of attempts over the years to explain this star.  That’s OK, but clearly this STAR is not something astronomy can explain.  The fact that it led them to the very place WHERE THE CHILD WAS is important.  I cannot imagine any natural heavenly body being that specific. It’s a miracle.  Period.

The fact that they followed a STAR means that they travelled to Bethlehem at night.  This would be advantageous for Herod, who wanted to keep the whole thing as secret as he could.  Maybe he “suggested” it.

The point is found in the words THEY SAW.  These Magi had a personal experience of the Christ.  Likewise, our faith has to be a personal experience, not just intellectual agreement with theological particulars.

Their reaction?  They were OVERJOYED.  Again, the Greek word is more emotional than the English; this could be translated, “they joyed a great joy, very much.”  This is great excitement, not cool satisfaction.  When was the last time you got that excited about anything?

There are three demonstrations of the Magi’s joy in v. 11: they BOWED DOWN…WORSHIPED HIM…PRESENTED HIM WITH GIFTS.  In the shepherds, baby Jesus was recognized and honored by His own people, the Jews.  In the Magi, honor was bestowed by Gentiles.

They worshiped Him and gave Him gifts (v. 11).  Did they worship Him as a king or as God?  It is safe to assume the MAGI did not WORSHIP Jesus in the same way as we do or for the same reasons.  They looked for a KING, not a Messiah.  In this situation, what they’re likely talking about is show respect; paying homage to a king in the way typical to their cultures.

Was there any particular reason for these gifts?  The FRANKINCENSE and MYRRH were luxury items that originated in eastern countries.  These gifts may be another clue that they came from the EAST.  Lots of people have tried to see symbolism in these gifts but there’s simply nothing in the text to support that kind of interpretation.  They are simply expensive gifts – TREASURES – that would be appropriate to give to a king.

  1. The Magi responded to God’s warning (12).

God warned them in a dream.  He had to; these “wise men” did not see through Herod’s subterfuge on their own.  To these men, dreams would carry the same weight of evidence as the portent of the star.  This isn’t reliable evidence that the MAGI found faith in God, for God also spoke to unbelievers in their dreams.  Had they travelled to Bethlehem at night, as we have supposed, then it naturally follows that when the Magi left the Holy Family they retired for the night before going any further.

Risking Herod’s wrath, they went home another way.  We must give the Magi credit for being obedient to the revealed will of God.  Defying Herod and risking his wrath was no small risk to ask them to take.  God took care of these devout Gentiles and sent them on a way that avoided the peril of Jerusalem.  Even if they were “kings” as some suppose, we can’t be sure that Herod wouldn’t have them killed to eliminate witnesses.

The Magi are our latest example of JOY.  When they saw the star the rejoiced and when it lead them to Jesus, they rejoiced again and presented him with gifts appropriate to a king.

People will tell you “You can’t be happy all the time.”  I don’t believe it.  Why?  Because the Bible says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS,” (Philippians 4:4).  And, in case they didn’t really believe him, Paul repeated himself in that verse, “I will say it again: Rejoice!”

God will not command you to do something He knows you cannot do.  SO – what we should more accurately assert is that joy will not come naturally or easily in all circumstances.  Some seasons of life will push us in the opposite direction.  But we can find, if we look with the eyes of faith, reasons for joy even in the most sorrowful trials.

Hugh Otter B. Fruitful

(Read Acts 2:42-47.)

        A woman in Alabama was to bake a cake for her Baptist Church ladies’ bake sale, but entirely forgot about it until she awoke on the morning of the sale.  Rifling through her cupboards, she found an old angel food cake mix and threw it together.  While it baked, she dressed for work.

        When she took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured.  There was no time nor resource to bake another.  Not wanting to lose face among the church ladies, she hurriedly looked around for something she could use to build up the center of the cake.

        She settled on a roll of toilet paper which she put in the droopy center of the cake and then covered the whole thing over with icing.  Standing back to admire her handiwork, she pronounced it “Beautiful!”

        Before leaving the house to drop the cake off at the church on the way to work, she woke her teenage daughter and told her to be at the bake sale precisely when it opened at 9 am, buy t cake & bring it home.

        You may be surprised to find that the drowsy daughter didn’t make it to the church exactly at 9 am.  When she did arrive, she found that her mother’s cake had already been sold!  She called her mother to deliver the horrifying news.  The woman spent the entire day and a sleepless night worrying about who had purchased the faux cake.

        The next day an elegant bridal shower was being held at the home of a fellow church member.  While she wasn’t particularly friendly toward the hostess – she considered her a snob – the woman felt obligated to go.

        She was horrified when her cake was presented as dessert!

        She was about to take the hostess aside and confess when one of the other guest exclaimed, “What a beautiful cake!”

        The snobbish hostess grinned with pride and said, “Thank you, I baked it myself!”

        The woman thought to herself, “God is good.”  She sat back and watched as her hostess grabbed the cake knife…

        We naturally think god is good when the other person gets their “just desserts,” but are less likely to think that way when it’s us.  Getting what we deserve is what Jesus called the “fruit” of our character.  Decisions made repeatedly become character and the outcome of all that reveals the character within each of us.

        What’s true on an individual level is also true on a church level.  What we look like on the outside does not determine what fruits we bear, it’s what really exists under the icing. We must choose Christ to bear Christian fruit.

(George Goldtrap, as quoted in The Joyful Noiseletter, Vol. 27, No. 4, July-August 2012.)

THESIS = The First Church enjoyed fruitful ministry because they were faithful followers.

Vs. 46-47 (NIV) = Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

WHERE they met reveals a lot about the First Church.

        They met publicly in the TEMPLE.  Because the temple courtyards provided a large open space where their mega-church could gather.  The courtyards were accessible to Gentiles and frequented by Jews.

        Originally they saw themselves as practicing the Jewish faith completed by Jesus.  Therefore the temple was still God’s house; it was still sacred in their lives, their faith and practice.  They shared the pride godly Jews felt about the Temple and all it represented.

        It was a familiar place and a physical focus of their faith. When in Jerusalem, a godly Jew went to the Temple three times a day to pray.  Living elsewhere, a godly Jew faced the direction of the Temple to pray.

        The courtyards of the Temple were the customary place to meet for teaching.  Later, as the Church was dispersed from Jerusalem, they took this practice with them and met in the local synagogues.

        They also met privately in their HOMES.  They held services in courtyards  of private homes (see Philemon 2; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 16:19).  This was a practical solution and good stewardship.  Buildings require resources.  the practice kept the local churches smaller & more personal, like our “cell groups” today.  It was customary for Jewish feasts (i.e., the Passover) to be observed in homes.

        This “multi-site plan” is a comprehensive approach to ministry we can find useful and worth copying.  The temple gatherings were primarily evangelistic in nature, but also met worship and service goals.  The “living room” gatherings in private homes had a primary purpose of discipleship, but also met worship and fellowship goals.  Of course, the extraordinary stewardship exhibited in the First Church empowered both.

WHAT they did AS they met reveals more.

        The text informs us they BROKE BREAD and ATE TOGETHER.  BROKE BREAD refers to both a meal and the Lord’s Supper: the eucharisto.  This Love Feast was THE means of worship and service, & feeding the underclass.

        They were PRAISING GOD daily.  Every activity of the church should be a service of worship, celebrating God before all people.  If not for God we wouldn’t be here!

        They enjoyed THE FAVOR OF ALL PEOPLE.  I wonder what that feels like.  It might mean that people know where we’re located, at least!  This was a church full of joy: because they spread it about, they enjoyed wide favor.

HOW they did it sets an example for us to follow.

        They met EVERY DAY.  Any mention I make of daily worship falls on blank stares and deaf ears.  “Not realistic,” people inform me gravely.  Both clergy and lay people alike think the notion of daily worship is as quaint as togas.

        Let me provoke your thinking on this subject with two questions.  Is it possible that we are over-invested in our personal, private lives?  If we restore balance by investing more in God will it result in a better blessing?  If the answer to either of those questions is “Yes,” we’ve got to re-prioritize.

        They had GLAD and SINCERE HEARTS.  Every Christian ought to have a GLAD heart.  When done right, the Christian faith is fun.  Joy is an inevitable result of true discipleship.  If church is boring, uneventful, or unfulfilling, the fault is not with God.  In the original language, the word  SINCERE means “without stones to trip on.”  With nothing false in their character, they gave no excuse to trip others up.

WHY did God do this?  Simple: to build His Church.

        The phrase THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER is a needed reminder that it is God who saves.  Our part is to create a space where God is made known.  If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.

        This is also a way God shows His approval of a church.  If a church is worthy of His trust, He will place new believers in their care.

        It also reinforces the necessity of true faith being the qualification for membership. This phrase summarizes New Testament teaching that makes a distinction between those who are converts in appearance only & those who are a new creation.  Human eyes can’t always telling the difference, but God knows.

        I hope I’ve clearly placed an emphasis on the sovereignty of God.  That doctrine is no excuse of inactivity or even passivity, however.  God calls us to be more than consumers.  We are to be producers as well.  One part of discipleship is producing fruit.  The outcomes of a faithful life are two-fold:

  • See Matthew 28:19, where Jesus identifies disciple-making as our mission. That includes producing new converts and maturing existing ones.
  • See John 15, where Jesus teaches that LOVE is both a means and an end to discipleship. Real disciples love more often and more deeply. 

        OK, I admit to being guilty of making this word my soap box.  Don’t miss the word DAILY in the text. Does anyone really think it is a coincidence that they met daily and the Lord added to their number daily?  I’d suggest we are seeing a spiritual principle at work: “Whatever you sow, you shall reap.  If you sow sparingly, you shall reap sparingly.”  The greater sacrifice opens the door to greater blessing.  That’s biblical.

        Who was the Lord adding to the First Church?  THOSE WHO WERE BEING SAVED.  “Being saved” is a curious phrase.  What’s that imply?  A Greek word for “church” means “the called-out ones.”  Who is doing the calling?  God.  We don’t  call ourselves.  So again we are reminded that salvation is 99.9% an act of God.  It is not by any work that we are saved, but only by a faithful acceptance of the work of God.

        I believe that phrase is also meant to throw us back upon our dependence on the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s Spirit who empowers everything we do that is godly.  For a wonderful and unique description of this, see Judges 6:34, where it is written, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CLOTHED HIMSELF WITH GIDEON.  The Bible also says that the Spirit is within us, but I prefer this reading because it places the emphasis squarely on the Holy Spirit.

        While we may be assuming too much from a single portion of a sentence, I believe this oddly passive-voiced verb without a clear temporal reference is also meant to remind us that salvation is a life-long process.  BEING SAVED is like saying, “Under Construction.”  Kind of like the streets and highways of our land during the summer months…

        “A wealthy lawyer walked along a crowded sidewalk in London when he felt a hand slip into his pocket.  He whirled around and seized the thief by the wrist.  ‘Why did you try to rob me?’ James Henderson demanded sternly.

        “‘Because, sir,’ the would-be pickpocket said, ‘I am out of work and hungry.’

        “‘Come along with me,’ Henderson said.  He took the penniless man to a restaurant and ordered two meals.

        “When they had finished eating, the man told how he had been in prison and found it difficult to obtain a job because of his bad name.  ‘I have no name,’ he said.  There is nothing left to return but to return to the old life of crime.  What can a man do without a name?’

        “The man’s story and question greatly impressed the lawyer.  After some thought, he said, ‘For forty years I have borne the name of James Henderson unsullied.  You say you have no name?  I’ll give you my name.  Take your new name out into the world and keep it clean and honorable.’

        “‘Do you really mean it?’ cried the thief brokenly.

        “‘Of course I mean it,’ said the lawyer.  ‘And to prove it, I’ll recommend you, in the name of James Henderson, to a manufacturing firm with whom I have some influence.’

        “The lawyer found a job for the former thief and kept in touch with him for many months.  However, through travel and a change of residence, he lost contact with his namesake.

        “Fifteen years later he was told a visitor awaited him in the reception room of his office.  He was startled to read the name ‘James Henderson’ on the man’s business card.  Entering the reception room, he met a tall, strikingly handsome man dressed like a gentleman. 

        “As they shook hands, the visitor said, ‘Sir, I have called to tell you today I have been made partner in the firm to which you recommended me fifteen years ago.  All that you see me to be, I owe to your noble generosity; and above all, to the gift of your name.  The name of James Henderson is still unsullied.  God bless you, sir, and reward you!’

        “The thief was offered a new name and made a new start in life.  We, too, have been offered a new name – Christian.  And it is the plan of the One who has given us this new name that we make a new start in life.”

(Desmond Hills, Signs of the Times, June, 2004.)

We “Otter” Be Devoted to Worship

Please read Acts 2:42-47.
Thesis = The Church must devote herself to worship.
The BREAKING OF BREAD = the Love Feast.
The First Church’s practice of the Love Feast (eucharisto). Was a meal and worship service rolled into one. They met daily, at the end of the day, to share a meal and the Lord’s Supper. Outside Jerusalem, most worship services were held in a member’s home.
As they did with their other possessions, the disciples shared their food – a daily potluck! These services were informal because formal liturgies were still centuries away.
The Love Feast became one of the First Church’s outreach programs. After all, it’s easier –then as now – to invite someone over for dinner than church.
It was also a service program – slaves, widows, and the poor were invited – perhaps their only meal of the day. The Love Feast met physical, social, and spiritual needs all at once.
• Physical = hungry people need to be fed so they can attend the Gospel message.
• Social = there is no substitute for time and no better time to build relationships than mealtime! Today this is absent in homes.
• Spiritual = worship and instruction in the Apostles’ teaching accompanied these meals. Spiritual food served with physical food.
It was a big success, as verse 46 attests – THEY ATE TOGETHER WITH GLAD AND SINCERE HEARTS. And, more importantly, verse 47 says, THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER DAILY THOSE WHO WERE BEING SAVED.
As we see repeated throughout Acts, the great sacrifices the believers made were connected to great blessings from the Lord. They were devoted to three components of worship; the teaching of the Apostles, the Lord’s Supper, and also to prayer.

Devotion to Prayer.
Follow my reasoning here. Prayer is a major part of the First Church’s ministry. So, in order to have much to say on the subject of prayer, I needed to look beyond the borders of our passage. Thinking about the Apostle’s teaching, I reasoned that they primarily passed on what they knew about the teaching and actions of Jesus. So it seemed natural to assume that the teaching the First Church had about prayer was what is recorded in the Gospels. Finally, that lead me to ask, “In Jesus’ teaching, what are the conditions to powerful prayer?” My search to answer that question lead me to three separate Gospel passages where we learn three things.
First, we learn that faith is a major component of powerful prayer. (Please read Matthew 21:21-22.) The occasion is Jesus having withered the fig tree. His disciples were amazed. He assured them faith makes all things possible.
Faith is a conviction that what God says He will do. In spite of the way things may look otherwise, we can trust in Him.
The real power source for prayer is God, not us. It’s not positive thinking, self-hypnosis, or anything else that is based on us.
Read James 5:15; here we learn what’s most important about prayer. Prayer is not a matter of “when, where, how,” or “what.” When we pray is not important because the Bible doesn’t set times for prayer; we’re commanded to pray without ceasing. Where we pray is not essential because our connection to God not limited to any one building. Our choice of words, posture, and gesture are not essential items; in that sense it doesn’t matter how we format our prayers. And what we pray about isn’t essential in the sense that we don’t limit our prayers to the “big things.”
Prayer is more a matter of “who” and “why.” We are to pray to God the Father through God the Spirit, in the name of Jesus the Son. Prayers to anyone else are just thoughts that rattle around inside us. Our motive for praying is the secondary factor; pray in God’s will, not ours. Notice that the “why” takes care of the “what” factor. If we are praying in God’s will, we won’t be asking for vain, evil, or worldly things.
Our method of prayer is to converse with God, to speak to Him with genuine humility and complete honesty. We need to also listen for His voice. Prayer, like other forms of communication, is best when it is a dialogue, not a monologue.
A second condition to powerful prayer is that it will occur only in relationship with Jesus (read John 15:7+16). The key is to “remain” in Christ. This is maintaining our connection to Him. Our spiritual linkage is maintained by our obedience to His will, and with communication by prayer.
We remain in Christ when we keep praying; even when it doesn’t seem to be working. He is the origin of our faith, according to verse sixteen. There Jesus said, “YOU DIDN’T CHOOSE ME, I CHOSE YOU.” Our relationship with God began in His mind. He loved us first and most. God has already done 99.9% of the work of salvation; all that remains for us is to accept His gracious offer. Our work begins after salvation and it is the work of discipleship and sanctification.
The outcome of faith is also described in this passage; it is to bear fruit. God did not save us so we could be consumers. He saved us to be a producers.
In Jesus’ teaching, “fruit” is the outcome of your choices. It is the effect, where your attitude and actions are the cause. Being productive – bearing godly fruit – is a benchmark of true discipleship. The fruit that true disciples bear is Spiritual Maturity in one’s self and in others. We will be fruitful as we remain in God by prayer & obedience.
The third condition is that prayer must be offered only in Jesus’ name (see John 14:12-14). This requires that we pray in conformity with Jesus’ will. That our prayers are not sinful, but godly. Not selfish, but puts God first and others second. We ask God to supply our needs not our greeds (i.e., “daily bread”). Prayer must flow from our relationship with Christ, not from any worldly source.
It will be an expression of His character.
A simple test for appropriate prayer is to ask one’s self: “Is this something for which Jesus would pray?” I suspect most disciples do not have a problem with inappropriate prayer; that’s a problem for hypocrites. Instead, our problem is not praying frequently enough and not trusting everything to God in prayer.
Jesus said: “ASK ANYTHING IN MY NAME AND I WILL DO IT.” Those words are simple, but they…
… challenge us. Do we literally believe that His promise is true? Do we trust that when He said “anything” He meant it?
… comfort us. Jesus’ promise of powerful prayer means we can overcome every circumstance when we rely on Him.
… confirm our faith. We don’t have the experience of faith until we take a risk and try something only God can do.