Sunday, April 28, 2013

In His Own Eyes

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man [was] great in the earth, and [that] every intent of the thoughts of his heart [was] only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.    Genesis 6:5-6  NKJV
The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. Genesis 6:11-12  NKJV

Like many who are familiar with how Jesus describes the last days, I have often considered His reference to the conditions to be found on earth at the time of Noah and wondered what the root causes of them might really be.  Not a week goes by without hearing or reading something from other believers wondering just what this world, and especially our own country, might be thinking to explain the actions of many people.  I am reasonably sure many if not all of us would agree that we are fast approaching, if not already arrived, at a place where today could be described in the same manner as this passage from Genesis; “the wickedness of man was great” and “the earth was filled with violence”.
As I thought about these things this week, and tried to understand how the world could arrive in this situation, the Spirit reminded me of a phrase found many times in scripture which, as I thought about it, seems to explain just how easily man has arrived back at the same place as the men in Noah’s day.  Rather than seeking God for the answers to questions about acceptable behavior, men have decided that those standards are to be found “in his own eyes”.  I think today will be one of those times where I do very little talking, and instead will allow the Word to explain what the Father thinks about where we are to look for guidance.

…in his own eyes,

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but He who heeds counsel is wise.    Proverbs 12:15  NKJV
How often do you make a decision to do something without seeking the advice of God?  One of the hardest things I went through as a father was watching each of my daughters mature to the point where they slowly began making decisions on their own without coming to me for advice.  Of course, as they grew this was to be expected and I learned to accept my new role as the occasional source of counsel, but spiritually, do we really ever reach a point where we no longer need to look to God for guidance?  Truthfully, with my track record I know I need to look to Him for everything.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil.   Proverbs 3:5-7  NKJV

…in his own eyes,

All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits.     Proverbs 16:2  NKJV

Is the motivation behind your decisions based on what is pleasing to God, or pleasing yourself?  The spirit of this world seems to revolve around self-gratification as the gold standard by which we measure our decision making.  If the only law which governs our actions is whatever makes us happy, in reality there is no law and just as in Noah’s day the earth will be “filled with violence”.  As believers we have been given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us know what will be pleasing to God, and in turn guide our decisions.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.     1 Corinthians 2:12  NKJV

…in his own eyes,

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.   Proverbs 21:2  NKJV.
I think we would all agree that when you truly love someone, your heart is always filled with thoughts of how to please them.  If you look at the condition of the world today is it really very hard to come to the conclusion that most are motivated by self-love?  Not a week goes by without hearing someone use the word “entitlement” to describe someone’s motivation for doing something.  The heart of the believer on the other hand, should be focused on searching the scriptures to find ways to please God, and do His will here on earth.

For the word of God [is] living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.     Hebrews 4:12  NKJV

…in his own eyes,

The rich man is wise in his own eyes, but the poor who has understanding searches him out.  Proverbs 28:11  NKJV

If you read the first ten verses of this chapter you will see that in this verse the “him” that the poor man searches for refers to the Lord.  The picture painted for us here is one of a rich man believing he is wise because of his success and therefore needs only look to himself, and a poor man who understands that true wisdom and understanding comes only from the Lord. How much better would this world be if every man sought out God and tried to walk in such a way as to please Him?  It was Paul’s prayer to the Colossians, and may it be our prayer as well both today and in the weeks ahead.
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing [Him], being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;     Colossians 1:9-10  NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Our Advantage

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; … John 16:7  NKJV
How do you define the word “advantage”?  When I think of it, what comes to my mind is anything that will help me be successful in what I am trying to accomplish.  I think at some point in time, just about everyone has found themselves in a situation where they considered how they might gain an advantage, be it in sports or some other competition against an opponent or even in the workplace because of a desire for advancement.  In whatever situation we find ourselves, it’s a natural desire to want an advantage that will help us succeed.
With that in mind, I like how Jesus chose to use this word in His explanation for leaving the disciples at His ascension.  It seems perfectly understandable that the disciples would be taken by surprise to find that after witnessing the resurrection, and spending the last forty days with Jesus, that He was going to leave them.  I believe, too, that they had come to depend on His presence with them for their strength, confidence, and the teaching He provided.  It was with this in mind that Jesus uses the word advantage to explain to the disciples, and to us as well, the benefits available to us because He ascended to Heaven.

We received the Holy Spirit. 
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. John 16:7  NKJV

Have you ever asked someone for help?  Why?  Have you noticed that two is better than one?  At some point in time we have all needed help for something, and I’m sure at the time we were all grateful for that help.  We discover along with the disciples at Pentecost that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit in this passage, yet I like the fact that rather than telling us “who” He was sending, He chose to use the term “Helper as a way to alleviate the disciples concern about being left alone.  In the Greek, the word is “parakletos” which can be translated helper, comforter, advocate, defender, and intercessor among others.  In other words, it’s much more of an advantage than most of us probably realize.  Not only do we receive the living presence of God in our lives, Jesus is performing other duties for us as well.

 Accessibility to the Throne

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast [our] confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all [points] tempted as [we are, yet] without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16  NKJV
Ever watch a movie where a subject is taken before the throne of the King or ruler of a particular realm?  Notice the fear and trembling as they realize the King has the power and right to administer any punishment he may desire?  I often think that would certainly be my reaction if I were to be summoned to appear in front of God’s throne, yet look closely at what this passage says.  First of all we need not be summoned; rather we can go before Him at any time when we need help.  In fact, because Jesus was tempted as we were, and is acting on our behalf as our High Priest, we can go boldly to His presence and there find grace and mercy from someone who can sympathize with what we are going through.

Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? [It is] God who justifies.  Who [is] he who condemns? [It is] Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Romans 8:33-34  NKJV

Although I may not have understood it at the time, I certainly remember the first instance of intervention on behalf of another.  Like many, conflicts arise at an early age most often on the playground at school.  I recall vividly one of the first because it involved family and not friends.  At recess one day I saw a notorious bully picking on my older brother and pushing him around.  Understanding my physical limitations in relation to someone older and bigger than myself, I picked up an equalizer, (a baseball bat) and ran to help my brother.  I can still remember the look in the eyes of the boy picking on my brother when he saw me coming!  Needless to say I “interceded” on behalf of my brother.
Can you imagine what goes through the mind of Satan as he approaches the throne to accuse us and Jesus slowly stands up and gets between Satan and the throne?  How frustrating it must be to try and accuse us for whatever sin we may have committed, however we may have stumbled, and to have Jesus tell Satan that it doesn’t matter because He has already paid the price by His death and we are covered by His blood?  Every single time, whenever we try and fail, we can find strength in the knowledge that it is Jesus who justifies us, and because of that fact there is no condemnation for sin.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in [His] kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-7  NKJV

The greatest benefit of all, of course, is that Jesus by His death and resurrection has made it possible for us to spend eternity in Heaven with God the Father.  Notice in this passage the phrase “in the ages to come”.  I don’t think we can ever wrap our minds around the concept of eternity, or come to an appreciation of just how long that is.  Yet I think here we are told that we will never go a day in Heaven without understanding and being reminded that it is by His grace and kindness that we are even there at all.  It is God’s love towards us that provided the means necessary for us to spend eternity with Him.  If only we are willing to ask.
If you have never made the decision to accept the sacrifice Jesus has made for you I encourage you to do it right now.  Simply pray this simple prayer or put it in your own words, but do it now and begin to enjoy the benefits of being a child of God and having the advantage of Jesus standing with you.

Jesus I know I am a sinner and have broken your commandments and sinned against you. I believe you died and rose again for me as a sacrifice for my sins. I ask you to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart so that I can begin to live for you. Amen.

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Promise

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This [same] Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."     Acts 1:9-11  NKJV
How old were you when you first understood the importance of making a promise?  When I was young it was “cross your heart” but when my daughters were young it was “pinky swear”, which involved making a promise while locking little fingers with each other.  I never did get where that came from but it was cute and as a good father I did a lot of pinky swearing! 

I think it’s hard for us comprehend exactly what went through the minds of the disciples as they experienced the ups and downs of their relationship with Jesus.  Making the decision to leave all they knew and to follow Him was certainly a life-changing event.  As they followed Him during His ministry they slowly began to believe that He was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah.  Try to imagine what they thought when finally coming to that conclusion they had to watch Him be crucified on the cross; confusion, disappointment, disbelief? Then they experienced the greatest joy imaginable to see Him reappear as the resurrected Christ standing in their midst and explaining all that He had previously told them.

So I think it’s probably safe to say they had no idea that He was about to leave them again when He leads them on a walk to Bethany on the Mount of Olives and begins to teach them just as He had been doing for the past forty days.  I think that is probably a safe conclusion based on their question to Him that day.

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"   Acts 1:6  NKJV
My thought is that although at this time they probably had a good idea of the plan, the one thing they were not aware of was the timing!  So Jesus goes on to explain that there was one more thing that needed to be accomplished before the kingdom could come.

And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  Acts 1:7-8  NKJV
Then as they were probably trying to digest what He had just said, we are told He was lifted up out of their sight into Heaven!  When I read this account the part that touches me is in verse ten where it says that they “looked steadfastly toward heaven”. I just bet they did.  Do you really think they were expecting this?  I think it’s safe to say their thoughts were somewhere between “are you kidding me?” and “now what?”, not to mention a few of them thinking “come back!”.

Yet fortunately for them and for us there were two men there, most certainly angels, who gave us the promise that we are all waiting so patiently to see fulfilled.

This [same] Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."    (v.11)
So the promise is that Jesus will return in the same way that these disciples saw Him leave, and that is with clouds. The Greek word for cloud used in this passage is nephele, and is also used of the cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness.  This certainly leads us to consider that these were not ordinary clouds, but quote possibly the Shekinah glory or the radiant presence of God the Father which dwelt among His people both in leading them out of bondage, and also resting in the Holy of Holies in the temple.  The picture here then is of the Father reaching down and welcoming His Son back to His seat at the right hand of God.

The same word for cloud is used to refer to both future returns of Jesus, both at the rapture of the Church,
Then we who are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  1 Thessalonians 4:17  NKJV

and His Second Coming when He returns to the Mount of Olives at the conclusion of the tribulation.

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.   Revelation 1:7  NKJV
It is this promise which we so look forward to, waiting and watching for Jesus to return in the clouds to take us to be with Him forever, which motivates us to live “expectantly” knowing that this world is not our home.  I also think it important to notice what this promise motivated the disciples to do after they watched Jesus disappear.

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James [the son] of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas [the son] of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.  Acts 1:12-14  NKJV
I find myself using the word for “supplication” a lot lately, as it is defined as “entreating” towards God.  I wonder how many of us are entreating Jesus to return for His Church?  Is our hope in the glory of spending eternity with our God, or are we so caught up in this world and the temporary pleasures it provides that our thoughts are not on Jesus return?  My hope is that we all can take a lesson from the disciples and look to the heavens for the return of our Savior, and pray without ceasing that His coming for us will be soon.  He left this earth forty days after His resurrection, so how wonderful would it be if His return “in like manner” also meant on the same day He left?

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Very Busy Weekend

Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and [to] My God and your God.' "  John 20:17  NKJV 
As a result of being blessed with another grandchild two weeks ago, I have been experiencing the joys of driving hundreds of miles at a time between here and there several times in the past ten days.  Maybe it’s a result of getting older, but I have come to the conclusion I’m not fond of driving long hours at a time.  If there is any upside about long hours behind the wheel though, it would be that you have plenty of time to spend praying and meditating on the Word.

Having just celebrated Easter, I thought I might explore the question of all the traveling Jesus did in His three days after the crucifixion.  Now if that sounds funny, it took me quite awhile before I understood just how busy Jesus was in the time between His crucifixion and when He appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room after His resurrection.  If you look closely at this passage from John 20, you see Jesus telling Mary not to cling to Him because He was on His way to Heaven to see the Father.  This obviously begs the question, “where has He been for three days”?

Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."  And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise"  Luke 23:42-43  NKJV
For many years I thought that Paradise was Heaven, as many people do, but in Old Testament times paradise meant something completely different.  The Greek word for paradise is also another name for Abraham’s Bosom, the place within the earth where the believing dead were comforted, while the unbelieving dead suffered in Hades, the Greek word for Hell.  Jesus Himself referred to this in His teaching to the Pharisees in Luke 16.

"So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Luke 16:22-23  NKJV
How do we know that these places were located within the earth?  We need to remember what Jesus said about His own death as well while talking to the Pharisees.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  Matthew 12:38-40  NKJV

Again, for many years I just thought this was referring to Jesus laying in the tomb, but what it really is talking about was His mission to go to Paradise and Hades in order to preach the Gospel to both believers and the unbelievers and to explain how His death and shed blood fulfilled the requirement of the Old Covenant that a sacrifice for sins be made.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,  1 Peter 3:18-19   NKJV

It was after Jesus spent those three days and nights in the “heart of the earth”, that He rose again and appeared to Mary outside of the Tomb.  His words to her as she hugged Him was to stop clinging to Him because He was on His way to the Father, and to go tell the disciples that He was alive and on His way to Heaven.  Now many have wondered if the “ascension” Jesus is talking about to Mary was in reality the “ascension” we find forty days later when Jesus commissions the disciples and rises into the clouds. 
If you notice however, in the passage from John Jesus tells Mary “I am ascending”, as in, I’m on my way right now and just stopped by so you could go and give this message to my disciples.  Why was He ascending?  Remember under the terms of the covenant, the blood of the sacrifice had to be sprinkled on the mercy seat.  Jesus had to ascend to the tabernacle in Heaven where He could sprinkle His own blood on the mercy seat in atonement for not only the sins of the past, but the future.  We are told about this in the book of Hebrews.
But Christ came [as] High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  Hebrews 9:11-12  NKJV

It was after Jesus had fulfilled His role as our High Priest that He returned to the earth and appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that afternoon,
Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.  Luke 24:13-15  NKJV

and then to the disciples in the Upper Room that evening.

So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those [who were] with them gathered together, saying, "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" And they told about the things [that had happened] on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you."  Luke 24:33-36  NKJV
Forty days later Jesus commissioned His disciples and ascended once again into Heaven as they watched.

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This [same] Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."  Acts 1:9-11   NKJV

It is because of His sacrifice that we can look forward to seeing Him come again “in like manner” to take us home to be with Him for eternity.  Next week we will talk a little about that thought, and what it may mean.
Keep watching.