Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 3:9-20

“There is none righteous, no, not one:” is a sentiment that is not felt by everyone in our modern, secular, humanistic culture. This unpopular view of mankind is seen by many as abrasive and unloving. But the fact of the matter is, there truly is no more loving view point. You see, this is a key ingredient of the gospel. Namely, man is desperate and without any hope. He must fully rely on the saving work of another, because there is nothing that he can do about his lost position. This lack of righteousness leaves us in an eternally dangerous position under the wrath and judgment of Holy God.
“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”-Gal. 4 “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Rom. 5 You see, the work of Jesus is completely of no effect if we don’t need His help. If we are all “pretty good,” then we would never need Jesus to die for us. But the prophet Isaiah corrects us our self-righteous misconception by indicating that even many of the good things that we accomplish are “as filthy rags.” We are not inherently good enough, and the majority of the best things that we can possibly come up with are like dirty old puss-filled rags. That is a pretty desperate situation. Of course we need Jesus.

Food for Thought: Read Romans 3:9-20. Pick one of the phrases that describe man’s depravity and explain it in your own words.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 3:1-8

In chapter 2, Paul spent a lot of time explaining to Roman believers that man is in a serious predicament when it comes to his being judged by the one true and holy God. Chapter 2 goes on to explain that God is righteous and therefore judges righteously, and that the Law condemns man… Every man will be judged according to his works whether he is a Jew or a Gentile (2:6, 11). Chapter 3 takes that thought even further by telling us that not one man is righteous and that ALL have fallen short of the holiness we need.
In chapter 3, Paul seems to know that he is going to receive some opposition for what he is saying so he answers a few “supposed” questions from the audience. In verse 1 he asks, “If there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile, then what advantage did the Jew have as one of God’s chosen people?” Paul then answers this question in verse 2 by saying that the Jews had the advantage of having God’s Word. What an advantage it is to have the Word of God that we might know Him and what He has revealed about Himself! In verses 3 through 8, Paul again asks and answers several questions concerning God’s faithfulness in relation to our sinning.
Verse 3 addresses the promises God made to the nation of Israel and asks, “If some Jews are not faithful to God and don’t believe Him, what happens when God judges them? Is God not being faithful to His promise if He judges Jews to whom He has promised He would be faithful?” In verse 4, Paul resounds with “God forbid!”
In this, Paul brings to light a massive truth: In a question of who is true, God or man, God will ALWAYS be true.
In other words, God will always be just and fair and right in His judgments because He’s God! If He were not just and fair and right in His judgments, He would cease to be God.
Verse 5 asks another interesting question: Does God receive glory from our sin? Our initial response would be “No way, our sin is against Him.” But Paul goes on to tell us that God will judge our sin and it is always righteous for God to judge sin. Therefore, God is glorified even in His righteousness judgment of sin.
So here’s the question of verse 8: If God gets glory out of our serving Him, and He will get glory out of judging our sin, should we just sin so that He will get glory? No. Here’s the summary of the passage. Do you remember verse 2 when Paul mentioned the “oracles of God,” meaning the Scriptures? Paul was bringing our attention to the fact that what God says He will do, He will be faithful to do… always. When God promises a blessing, He will bless. When God promises judgment, He will judge. God always keeps His Word. So what happens when someone takes the Word of God and twists it to get away with sin? That person will be judged and his “damnation (condemnation) is just (right).”
Be thankful for your God who is always true and just!

Food for Thought: Read Romans 3:1-8. What do we find about the character and nature of God from these eight verses?

Alan Obrien
Assistant Pastor |
Alan and his wife, Amy, have been serving the church family of Landmark Baptist Church since 2008. They have a daughter, Allison.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 2:17-29

There are two views that you can bring to obeying God’s law: “letter of the law” thinking, and “spirit of the law” thinking.
“Letter of the Law” thinking
When you follow the letter of the law, you wake up every morning and in fear operate under the exact phrasing of the law. You see a law like “Thou shalt not steal,” and all day, every day live with this weight of fear that “I will not steal.” When you go to the store, the temptation to pocket the candy bar at the check-out aisle is easily thwarted with this self-aware “I will not steal!” You go to Foot Locker and see the latest pair of Jordan’s in the window. As you walk by the window, the temptation to grab and run rises in your wicked heart, but the powerful “letter of the law” thinking pulls out the abstinence pistol and shoots that temptation in the head. As you walk out of the store, the victory is yours. Like Rocky at the top of the stairs in Philly you raise your arms and jog in circles of victory because today, you nailed the law. You are a letter of the law master. You have followed all four words of the law and you don’t have a “hot” candy bar or pair of sneakers. When you get home, it is just in time for lunch. Mom sets out the sandwiches and snack cakes for you and your little brother. As you sit down, you notice that his sandwich has more jelly on it….so, you trade…without him knowing. You didn’t necessarily steal…you traded. You are still earning God’s favor because you followed the exact wording of His law: Thou shalt not steal. Whew! Good thing it wasn’t worded: Thou shalt not trade.
“Spirit of the Law” thinking
This one is simple. A person who lives a spirit of the law lifestyle sees in every law of God conjoining attributes of God. The call of “Thou shalt not steal,” does not end at “I will not steal,” but instead sees God’s Providence as the defining call of the law. It says “God has given me the things that I have need of, and I will trust Him to provide all that I need. I do not need to take for myself out of greed or any selfish desires, but rather trust Him only for all things.” This new view will make stealing unnecessary. Why would I take the candy bar or the sneakers? Why would I even “trade” what I have for something else? You see, the spirit of the law lifestyle takes the focus off of “Look what I can do in my own power,” and turns it to where it should be “Look at Who God is and what He has done, I will trust Him for all things.”
It is for this reason that in Romans 2:29, Paul says that we should be living “in the spirit, and not in the letter.” He finishes the verse with the view that living in the spirit of the law is what pleases God. Now, which one defines how you obey God?

Food for Thought: What are the two ways of thinking in Romans 2:17-29? Explain them in your own words. Which does God desire of us?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 2:11-16

I once watched an episode of "what would you do?" that tested how people would react if someone were obviously stealing something. The show placed a locked bike in a park and had three different people try to steal it at different times. It then showed the reactions of others in the park when they saw each particular thief trying to lift the bike.
I could not believe the results of the test. The first fake thief was a thug-looking African-American teenage boy. When park-goers saw him cutting the lock on the bike, they yelled at him and called the cops. The second thief was a skater-looking Caucasian boy. This time, passers-by stared for awhile and asked him what he was doing, but walked away after the boy lied a bit. A few reported the suspicious behavior, but most just walked by. The last thief was a pretty, blonde lady, and this time, not only did they not report the theft, they helped her cut the lock! In one case she told a man she was stealing it, and he helped her do it.
There really should be no difference in the situations, right? They all were committing the same crime; they all were stealing the same bike. The only change was in race and gender. Paul talks about something very similar in this section of chapter 2 when he says that God is no respecter of persons. Jews, Gentiles, and Christians are all the same in His eyes. We all commit the same crimes and violate the same laws. Even if the Gentiles weren't breaking the Jewish law, God says they knew what was right and wrong because of their conscience.
This thought should spur our thinking toward two things. One, in following God's example, we are commanded to not respect others based on their outward appearance only, but rather on their inward character. The quiet nerd may make a better friend than the pretty, popular one. Secondly, when you stand before God, you will not be judged by how many rules you followed, but by your heart attitude while you served. (It's not only about obeying the authorities in our lives, but also about having the right heart while you do.) Thanks to Paul for keeping us in check on these two important thoughts!

Food for Thought: What two things can we learn from the passage, “God is no respecter of persons?” Would you say that your attitude has been right towards others?

- Amber Allen
My Wife and Best Friend

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 2:1-10

In Matthew 6, Jesus says,
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
When He said these words, He had just finished a message about how the birds and the lilies never have to worry about food and clothes because God takes care of it for them. The springboard-point He then makes is that we don’t have to live our lives for clothes and food and temporal, non-lasting things, a Providential God will provide the things for us that we need. Rather, we should live for eternal things, things that build the kingdom of God. The old hymn
“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” tells how that when we finally turn our gaze toward the things of Jesus the things of this world “grow strangely dim.” I agree with the old preacher, Leonard Ravenhill, in his assessment of this song that if we truly turn our eyes on the Holy and Righteous God, the things of this earth will not just grow strangely dim, but will ultimately “look strangely grim.”
Paul segues this thought in Romans 2:6-7, when he says
“God will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life:”
Often we can get side-tracked and think that the end of the Christian experience is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Yes, believe and you will be saved. But God’s design for your life doesn’t end that day, otherwise He would have just taken you to heaven. He has left you here, but not so that you can be biblical dead weight. He left you here so that, as Paul said, you can live “by patient continuance in well-doing…” Now, live that way. It is a call to godly living, not a life of blatant indifference. Live for Him.

Food for Thought: According to Christ and to Paul what should we be seeking? According to Romans 2:6-7, how can we live a life that seeks this?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 1:24-32

In Romans 1:24-32, Paul lists a myriad of things that are in direct opposition to the design of God for human living. I find it very revealing of His nature that in the middle of a list including “fornication, murder, and deceit” Paul lists, “disobedient to parents.” What an indictment against our common way of thinking. Now you have to see this how God sees it. In God’s eyes there are those who obey Him and those who don’t. There is no middle ground. No doubt, if I were to mention murderous henchmen like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, anyone would admit that these men are desperately evil, and possibly even devilish men. But if I talk about your not obeying your Dad or Mom, “well, that is just not even the same thing,” is the natural retort. But in God’s eyes there is no gradient of sin. There is no “Top Ten Sins” in God’s eyes. All sin is a distrusting of His nature and character and shows a lack of faith and an utter rebellion to His perfect design. The disgust that you would have for the actions of Hitler and Stalin’s butchering of innocent people should be the same disgust that you have for any rebellion in your own life against the God-given authority and direction in your life. Maybe it is time to repent of this wickedness before the merciful, forgiving, Gospel-originating God.

Food for Thought: When is the last time that you disobeyed your parents? Why? What does God think about disobeying parents? What should you do about it now?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 1:18-23

In Romans 1:18-23, Paul has a two-fold perspective that he wants to introduce. He starts this perspective with “God reveals his wrath to all of those who are ungodly and unrighteous, who have the truth but live in unrighteousness.” He then moves into v.19 and 20 with “God has shown Himself to them, so that they will worship Him for His greatness and power. But they don’t.” He goes on to say in verse 21-23 rather, “Instead of worshipping God, they find transient, fleeting things to worship. As a matter of fact, they get rocks and carve little idols out of them and then worship the idols that they made with their own hands.”
Do you see the two-fold perspective? They know to worship God because He unmistakably reveals Himself to them, but they don’t. Instead they worship everything and anything but Him. They find little things in their lives to worship instead of God. When they should be “WOW!-ed” by the magnificent all-powerful, star-making, ocean-pouring, mountain-forming God, they instead sit and oogle over, and worship self-made little rocks in their own hands. The two-fold perspective is this: 1) they have the truth, 2) but they don’t act on it.
What an indictment against those Paul was talking about here in Romans 1:18-23. However, we are lying to ourselves if we try to say that we don’t do the exact same thing that these ungodly and unrighteous people did. When we should be searching after God and worshipping Him, we find anything else to worship instead. When His Spirit calls us to prayer or to meditate in scripture, we find any other thing to occupy our time. When we could worship the great God of the universe who made everything by just talking, instead we devote our time and energy to Facebook and X-box. Oh, that God would save us from the indictment of Paul and the pointless worship of menial things.

Food for Thought: What are the two steps to disobeying God like these people did in Romans 1:18-23? In what ways have you disobeyed God like this?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 1:1-17

These first few verses of the letter to the Roman believers display for us the passion Paul had in wanting to preach in Rome. He loved the believers in Rome even though he had never met them! All he wanted was to meet them and to teach them the depths and the riches of Christ.
But stop and think with me. Paul had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, laughed at in Athens, regarded as a fool in Corinth, and stoned in Galatia, and yet somehow he remained eager to preach in Rome?! Ok, before we go any further, what was Rome? Rome was the headquarters of both contemporary political power and pagan religion. With the reception that Paul had in the previous cities, why would Paul want to go to Rome and go through all of this and how did he remain so bold even during all of this ridicule, criticism, and physical persecution? The Answer: the Gospel! Though Satan was trying to shut the mouth of Paul in every place he went, nothing was holding this man back from living the Gospel-centered life! But how did he do it?
We have to ask the question: “What’s so unique about the Gospel?” The thesis or the blueprints for this whole letter of Romans is found in verses 16 and 17. When we think of all that Paul went through for the sake of the Gospel, Paul said he wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel, because “it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.” That word, power, is the word we use in English today for dynamite! If you know anything about dynamite, you know we’re not talking about a tiny spark of static electricity when you put on a sweater. No, we’re talking about a huge, explosive power! As Paul learned the Gospel and saw the power that it had in his own life, he knew that this Gospel had power to change the lives of others also. The Gospel carries with it the omnipotence of God because it’s God’s message and God’s work! That’s what makes it effective. Only God’s power is able to overcome man’s sinful nature and give him new life. Paul witnessed first-hand what happened as the Gospel had transformed his own life. He knew the wicked, religious, hateful murderer that he was and watched as the gospel transformed him into the loving, self-sacrificing man into which God changed him.
My prayer as I write this is that you and I both would agree with Paul in verse 15 that we are eager to present the Gospel to those around us. Don’t let basketball or volleyball or iPads or iPhones get in the way. Yes, you may have talent, and yes, Siri may have all the right answers… but no sport and no device can release lives from the power of sin unto salvation. No, only the Gospel does that! So let’s base our lives on the Gospel!

Food for Thought: What was the thrust of Paul’s life? Where does the gospel get its power from that makes it so powerful?

 Alan Obrien
Assistant Pastor |
Alan and his wife, Amy, have been serving the church family of Landmark Baptist Church since 2008. They have a daughter, Allison.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

1Thessalonians 5:16-28

“Why are tattoos wrong?” He was fifteen, and I was twenty-three. With the sage wisdom of a college graduate, I responded with the simple easy go-to verse, “well, the bible says, ‘abstain from all appearance of evil,’ and I’m not sure that going into a tattoo parlor would be you abstaining from the appearance of evil.”
I really should have just said “I don’t know,” and admitted to the poor kid that my theology was more shallow than a dried-up bird bath. Instead, however, I found that it was easier to just peddle this out-of-context verse to highschoolers than to delve deep into the harder questions and offer life-changing, conscience-liberating truth. Do you know how hard it is for a twenty-something year-old guy to swallow a humble pill when a pimple-faced kid asks a seemingly pointless question? So I gave him the hip-shot answer. Truth be told, it wasn’t original to me. I was just borrowing the same answer that I had received when I had questioned anything that disagreed with the current corporate religious standards. Body-piercing, tattoos, haircut, clothing types, music genres, places to attend, literally everything could be answered with this go-to, one-verse theology: Abstain from all appearance of evil.
But is that what this verse is about? When God inspired Paul to write this verse, was He directing Paul to pen the apex verse for holiness in the Christian life? If we read this verse in context, we will find that perhaps its most frequent use is merely an out-of-context misuse at best. Complete thoughts come from context. Context comes from paragraphs and not just stand alone verses.
So, then, what is Paul speaking of? Paul has been admonishing the church at Thessalonica on a number of issues in their church. He has been filling in the theological gaps that were left upon his hurried departure in the face of persecution. In verses 20-23 Paul is continuing his teaching and is addressing the responsibility of the Thessalonians in regards to their receiving of the Word of God. When it comes to teaching, they are to “despise not prophesyings.” When it comes to the truth they are, like the Bereans, called to search the scriptures to “prove (or test) all things;” and only “hold fast [to] that which is good.” Ultimately though, in context, they are called to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” This is where the meaning typically is derailed. “Appearance” is a word that has come to mean “to seem, or that which looks like” in modern English. When the King James translators translated this word, the meaning for “appearance” held the meaning of “visible state, or form of.” It literally meant that Christians were to “abstain from (avoid) all appearance (the forms) of evil.”
In context, Paul was admonishing the believers in Thessalonica to avoid all the forms of evil (wrong) teaching. It had nothing to do with them avoiding worldly practices. There is plenty of other “in-context” verses that deal with avoiding evil practices in the Christian life, but this isn’t one of them. Perhaps, the challenge of today is that we would become better students of the word of God. That instead of using trite Christian quips (snippet, out-of-context verses), we can study God’s word so that we might more fully equip God’s people.

Food For Thought: How is the misuse of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 perhaps not just a misuse but even a disobedience to the teaching in this passage?

Monday, December 9, 2013

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

If “actions” speak louder than “words,” “reactions” must be a full-out scream. Another day brings another personal resolution, a “next time that happens, I will certainly react like _____.” The next time comes, and the cyclical response that we hate so much becomes the uncontrollable reaction we commit, whether it is emotional, verbal, or even physical.
As Paul closes his epistle to the Thessalonians, he advises them on their “reacting.” In verses 13 through 15, he gives several instances of how we should handle the frustrating personalities with which we regularly interact.
First, Paul addresses our reactions to those who are unruly. Instead of angrily condescending, he admonishes the believers to warn. Just because someone is apathetic, rebellious, or even contentious does not entitle other Christians to enter the seat of Judgment, that seat is reserved for God alone. Lovingly, our reaction should be one that admonishes them, or warns them of the certain devastation that lies ahead on their road of recklessness.
Second, Paul tells us how to interact with those whom he calls “feebleminded.” These are the Christians who do not want to learn anything new. What they have heard is good enough, and it does not need to be corrected even if it is corrected by Scripture. Change is terrifying. Their theology is like a blanket, and no matter how moth-holes have been eaten in it over the years, it is still their favorite blanket and while they shiver they’ll assure you that it keeps them warm. Paul says, “comfort them.” You don’t have to take their blanket, just graciously, lovingly, draw up next to them and press in the truth.
Third, Paul encourages us to react with “support” for the “weak.” This is no doubt a reference to 1 Corinthians 8, and Romans 15, where Paul speaks of those who are “weak in faith.” The distinction between liberty and sin is very difficult for them to see. They do not have enough faith yet to trust that Christ has given them liberty in many non-moral areas. Their conscience, having been misinformed at some previous point leads them to think that things that are dangerous for them are intrinsically sinful. Paul encourages believers to respond in a way that is “supporting.” It is not the job of a “strong” Christian to fix every “weak” Christian. Rather, the reaction that the strong should have should be one of a loving understanding. It is the work of the Spirit to help the weak, it is the job of the strong to react in love.
Finally, Paul admonishes us to remember that God is the ultimate keeper of justice. There is not a wrong that He will not address. There is not an evil that He will ignore. There is not a revenge that we must take. In Deuteronomy 32:35, God claims, “to me belongeth vengeance, and recompense.” It is not our duty to return an eye for an eye. As Christians it is rather our duty to “overcome evil with good.” God will take care of His own. Our reaction should be one that demonstrates our faith in His Sovereign power.

Food For Thought: Read Romans 12:17-21. According to this passage, who should Christians respond to with vitriol and animosity?

Friday, December 6, 2013

1 Thessalonians 5:3-11

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved (“reproved” has an old English meaning of “exposed or revealed”).” As Jesus addressed Nicodemus about the necessity of saving faith, He taught a spiritual truth that both the Apostle John and the Apostle Paul would utilize in their teaching to the future church.
This truth is incredibly simple, yet overwhelmingly profound. In Jesus’ analogy, there are those who are in the light and those who are in the dark. Jesus explained the difference between the two in John 8:12, when he said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Those who are true followers of Jesus are those who are in the light, but those who do not follow Jesus, are those who are kept in darkness.
This darkness is a two-fold darkness. In his analysis on 1 Thessalonians 5, John Macarthur teaches of this two-fold darkness with the following two categories,

“…one is mental darkness, the other is moral darkness. The darkness of ignorance, on the one hand, the darkness of sin on the other. The darkness of unbelief on the one hand, the darkness of rebellion on the other. One is the darkness of not knowing, the other is the darkness of not doing...not knowing what is true, not doing what is right. The heart of an unregenerate, unsaved person is dark. That which generates his conduct is dark and so his conduct reflects the darkness.
 As Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 5, he addresses them based upon their nature as children of light. No longer are they to pursue the sinful lifestyle of darkness, but rather, knowing of the return of Jesus, they should be living lives that would exemplify their new nature. They are not in the dark regarding the return of Jesus, nor are they in the dark regarding the desires of God. Through the teaching of God’s word and the work of the Holy Spirit, they have been drawn into truth and should live in such a way that would reflect that. 

Food for Thought: If you claim to be a believer, your life should indicate it. What are a few of the things that Paul mentions in vss. 4-11 that would indicate that you are no longer in darkness?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

1 Thessalonians 5:1-2

The stillness of night settled across the house, and the glow of the midnight moon shone through the bedroom curtains creating barely distinguishable silhouettes of nightstands and dressers. Through the closed window, a muffled dog “bark” could be heard, the type of bark that dogs make when they are trying to convince others that they are seeing something. The incessant barking roused the wife, who nudged her husband and spoke the gentle request, “Hey can you make the dog stop barking?” before rolling back over and putting the pillow over her head. The hushed “bark” finally ceased and the two resumed their prior postures, drifting slowly back into the lull of the dark night.
“CRASH!!!” The sudden sound of shattering glass echoed off the walls and the wooden floors, as both husband and wife jolted upright in the bed.
Ignoring his alert posture, the wife leaned over and grabbed her husband’s arm, whispering loudly, “Did you hear that?”
For the next few seconds both of them sat like statues, upright, quietly listening for any further noises. Soon the rattle of the handle on the back door could be heard, then, the familiar squeaking of its hinges as the door opened. Footsteps could be heard as heavy shoes crunched the broken fragments of glass inside the house.
The burglar had come. Unexpected. Unannounced. Uninhibited. The thief was there. Neither spouse had ordered “thief service.” This was not something that was on the calendar. This was something that was unpredictable.
When we begin 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul uses this analogy to describe the way in which Christ will return. It will not be with RSVP cards months before. It will not be announced via Super-bowl commercial or mass-emailing. His return will be sudden, unpredictable, and unforeseen. We know He is coming; we just don’t know when it will be. But we can be assured, it will be surprising.
This theology of the unpredictability of Christ’s return should help us be able to discerningly filter claims by certain religious charlatans that herald a “special word from the Lord” about when Christ will return. Generation after generation has dealt with these deceivers (often many of them even self-deceivers) who declare that they have special knowledge of when Christ is coming. It usually comes in the form of a specific date, or in a general timeframe, or even in a non-specific “I think it’s going to be soon.” While many of these are well-meaning, they are also unscriptural. God does not need to give specific revelation for something that He has already declared as unknowable. Knowing what God has said here in 1 Thessalonians 5 through the apostle Paul, we should guard our hearts and lovingly encourage those who may be deceived by the false-teaching of end-times predictions.

Food For Thought: Read Mark 13:32. Does this verse say there are things that God knows that mankind will never know? Why then do you think that people try so hard to predict the end times?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

While in Thessalonica, Paul taught the new converts of Christ’s return. It was an exciting proposition to all of those who were there. The Jesus Who had died for their sins, and now offered them victory over those sins by the power of His Spirit would one day return and take His followers to heaven. They were thrilled with this hope of His return. But days and weeks turned to months, and now Jesus still had not returned yet. Longingly, they watched the sky, constantly wondering when the clouds would open and reveal the returning Savior.
But Paul hadn’t gotten to finish teaching them. His lessons had been cut short by persecution, and now they had come into a bit of a concern. After Paul had left, there were some in the church of Thessalonica who had passed away.
This was incredibly disconcerting to the believers there, for at least two reasons.
1) They loved the ones who had died, and would miss them; 2) they feared that since these loved ones were no longer alive, they would not get to be part of the special day of Christ’s return. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul issues some comforting words. While there is some theological truth in these verses, they were primarily intended to offer comfort (v.18) and understanding to the Thessalonians about their loved ones who had passed away.
Paul brings two key points about those who had passed away.
First, they were asleep (Paul used the Greek word “koimao,” literally meaning “to slumber, to sleep”, this same Greek root word is where we get our word “cemetery” – an old English synonym for the word “dormitory” – “a place where many sleep”). This is a vitally important truth that Jesus himself taught regarding the death of Lazarus in John 11:11, “he sleepeth.” The glorious truth about sleeping is that it indicates that this current separation is not the end. Those who died were merely sleeping. This was not a cause for sorrow, but for rejoicing. The believers could be comforted with this truth, that believers who have passed away are simply asleep, not lost forever.
Second, Paul said that these loved ones who had passed on would certainly be a part of that great day of Christ’s return. The great gathering that would take place would not exclude those who had gone to sleep. They would not miss out on the glorious day. They would be there and would be able to enjoy the great gathering as well.
While this was written nearly two thousand years ago, the same truths apply to us today. The same comfort that this would have brought to the concerned and heartbroken Thessalonians should come to our hearts today. Our believing loved ones are not dead, they are sleeping. The day of reunion is coming and they will be a part of it. This hope of what God has promised in His word regarding our loved ones who have passed away should bring great comfort.

Food For Thought: What does Paul say in verse 13 and 18 regarding this truth? Do you think that he was delivering this truth in a harsh, demanding way or in a caring, gentle, loving way?

Monday, December 2, 2013

1 Thessalonians 4:7-12

“I want you to live raucous lives filled with debauchery and all types of heinous activities!” Imagine that these were the parting words of Jesus. Imagine that the Ten Commandments read in a completely different way: “Thou shalt murder! Thou shalt commit adultery! Thou shalt make thousands of idols to worship! Thou shalt bear false witness! Thou shalt steal! Thou shalt covet everything that everyone else has!” Imagine that in the Old Testament God never sent fiery serpents or disease on those who did wickedly; rather imagine with me that God sent fiery serpents on those who only did what was morally right. Imagine that Jesus came to earth and lived the filthiest life ever. Imagine that He was not the sinless Savior, but a disgusting man who did all the evil things that Hollywood so aptly portrays freely on the big screen.
This is a horrible exercise in imagination! It is borderline blasphemous. Why? Because God is in His very nature holy, perfect, just and pure; and He would never do any of these wicked things. And to accuse Jesus of debauchery is in itself one of the vilest things that any man could ever do. God’s Spirit is pure and perfect; it is exactly as His name indicates a truly “Holy" Spirit.
Sadly, something as perplexing as defaming God happens all of the time, but many Christians narrowly bat an eye. When we put our faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit of God inside of us. (Eph 1:13) Somehow, however, many people live as if this just isn’t the case. They respond to the call for holy living as something that is impossible and not worth attempting. They categorically hide behind expressions like “well, doesn’t everybody sin?” continuing on in their own vile living and wicked lifestyle.
As Paul writes his letter to the Thessalonian believers, he reminds them of the holy nature of God: “God didn’t call us to impurity, but to holiness.” It would be preposterous to say that we would live lives of unbridled, unconvicted sin and have the “holy” Spirit of God dwelling inside of us, as if God would be silent in the face of our sinfulness. I would argue rather that if there is quietness in sin, it is not because the Spirit doesn’t care, but rather because the Spirit is not there. It comes down to the simple truth that God has called us to holiness and Scripture compels us to live godly lives in obedience to His holy desires.

Food For Thought: Read 1 Peter 1:15-16, 22. What does Peter say we should do in light of God’s holiness? In verse 22, who does Peter say will help us in our obedience to God?

Monday, November 25, 2013

1 Thessalonians 4:1-6

The blued steel barrel and the rich, walnut-finish stock glistened as I picked up grandpa’s Remington 11-87, semi-automatic, 12-gauge shotgun. She was gorgeous -the perfect blend of wood and metal, a precision piece of equipment. Over the next couple of months, I learned how to clean her well, and how to store her in such a way that she wouldn’t be damaged. But the gun was not just a trinket to be stored on the shelf. She had a purpose. Guns go “boom!”
I spent the next couple of years with an experienced duck hunter, learning how to set decoys and how to perfect my call so that I could always reach my bag limit. Every time we went hunting, I would load up grandpa’s gun, and take her to do the precision bird-surgery for which she was created. When I took a horrible plunge into the river on an ice-cold morning, she plunged with me. On another occasion, when my canoe nearly cap-sized in the early-morning darkness of a rushing forest stream, there was my shotgun by my side. I kept her clean, and when it came time to harvest some ducks, she was ready to do her job.
That 12-gauge was created for a purpose. With the shout, “Cut ‘em all, Jack!” we would raise our guns to our shoulder, tracking the air-borne ducks this way or that, and with a “Blam! Blam! Blam!” that gun was accomplishing the very thing for which Remington had created her. The delicious smell of burnt powder would linger for a moment in the crisp swamp air, and the hunt would be over. After the hunt, I would sit on my front porch in my rocking chair and clean my gun once again before putting her away until the next week.
As we come to 1 Thessalonians 4, we see that just as my gun has a specific purpose, we as believers also have a specific purpose for which God extended His grace to us. Just as it would be unnatural for me to use my gun as a baseball bat or a sledge-hammer, it is unnatural for a believer to exist outside of his God-ordained design. God saved us, and now He calls us into a very specific purpose. As 1 Corinthians 6 says, “you are not your own, you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and your spirit, which are God’s.
In chapter 4 of his epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul tells the believers that they “ought to walk and to please God.” He goes on to say that “this is the will of God, even your sanctification that ye should abstain from fornication.” You were saved for a purpose. Peter teaches this same truth in 1 Peter 1:15, “As he which has called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (lifestyle).” Just as my 12-gauge is most perfectly fulfilling what she was created for when I am dropping ducks out of the air, you will most perfectly fulfill what God saved you for when you are living a life that is set apart from sin and committed to serving only His desires.

Food For Thought: Reread 1 Thessalonians 4:1-6. What are at least two specific areas that Paul speaks of in regards to a life committed to holy living?

Friday, November 22, 2013

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

“Your faith is lacking.” This phrase may sound a bit harsh or underhanded, but Paul was writing it from a heart of compassion and care. It was not an indictment. It was a loving admonition. The believers in Macedonia were under constant threat of persecution, so, Paul sent a letter to comfort them during this trying time. After offering encouragement, Paul began to offer up instruction to these young believers. In the end of chapter 3, this instruction and admonition comes in the form of Paul’s prayer.
But as Paul explains his prayer for the Thessalonians, he indicates that there is something wrong with their faith. How could he say this about these believers who patiently endured such hardships? Was their faith not strong enough through this season of adversity? They had been abused and even imprisoned for their faith. Now, Paul was saying that it wasn’t enough. What did he mean by this?
First, what he didn’t mean when he was telling them they needed to increase their faith-
Paul wasn’t telling these young Christians that they needed to “believe more.” They undoubtedly believed all they could. The testimony of their endurance amidst overwhelming difficulty was a great indicator that they believed to their furthest extent. It wasn’t that they didn’t “believe enough.” He wasn’t telling them to pull up to the faith station and stick the nozzle in the faith tank and fill ’er up. It wasn’t that they were lacking in quantity. Men like Jason were some of the most sincere believers the church has ever seen.
So then, how could they increase their faith? Pastor John Macarthur says it this way, “Faith is the ability to trust the truth.” The amount of faith that you possess is directly proportional to the amount of truth that you understand. Paul’s time of instruction at Thessalonica was cut short when the authorities tried to arrest him. Now, their learning had become stunted and incomplete. Subsequently, their faith was equally diminished. They did not fully know the truth of God. They did not fully understand the Scriptures, and this left them in a sort of spiritual childhood. Their lack of understanding had resulted in their “lack of faith.”
Paul would plumb the depths of God’s greatness and truth with them by way of pen and ink. He was not satisfied simply with the fact that they were converted. He wanted to take them into soul-liberating truth. He longed to build their faith to a level that it currently could not even approach, and that could only happen if he took them to the truth that could build their faith.
We have truth available to us in ways that far exceed the access granted to these first century believers. By way of technology and the web, ministries now share Biblical teaching that can take the average Spiritual baby and plunge them into the depths of God’s truth. It is time that God’s children get serious about God’s truth. Is your faith lacking? Perhaps it is because you are still in spiritual infancy. Dive deeper into your understanding of God and find the soul-satisfying, life-liberating, hope-giving, faith-increasing truth.

Food for Thought: Why did Paul mean when he said that the Thessalonians faith was lacking? How could they increase their faith?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:8

The accusation had been leveled by some dissenters in Thessalonica that Paul had abandoned them and would never return. The people who considered Paul an enemy tried to convince the believers that Paul was just another greedy charlatan. Their evidence as it seemed was that after he had shown up and preached his divisive message he had simply departed into the dark of night, never to be seen again.
If these scorners could not undo Paul’s message, they would seek to impugn his character. Perhaps it was because Paul didn’t meet their personal standards, or maybe because Paul did not do things exactly as they did, whatever the reason, their hatred for Paul was executed on the young believers. Hearing this news from Timothy broke Paul’s heart for his children in the faith.
In his letter to these struggling believers, Paul explained his own frustrations and his described his thwarted attempts to return to Thessalonica. In v. 18, he says “we would have come unto you…but Satan hindered us.” The word translated as “hindered” here literally has the idea of “tearing up the road.” Paul wanted to come to them, but Satan completely tore up the road and dug a ditch to prevent Paul from visiting the believers. Satan’s purposes were obvious. He wanted to undo the truth-believing Christians in Thessalonica, and one of Satan’s greatest tools in church demolition is disunity by way of misperception. While he hindered Paul from visiting, he sent his workers of iniquity into the church to explain Paul’s absence in the most horrible of terms.
He truly is a master deceiver, and it is no wonder that Paul points his evil work out here. Paul knew that when disunity arose in the church, it was not just because of sinful men. He knew that a “roaring lion” was prowling, hungrily searching for the one who was disgruntled enough to be devoured. Paul may not have been able to arrive in person, but he did the next best thing – he would write a letter of encouragement. It must have been refreshing to the Thessalonians to see Paul’s heart in his letter. All the lies were not true. Paul loved them. Paul had been seeking their best interest from the beginning. Dissenters and scorners were just the pawns of a dis-unifying Satan. True believers would encourage each other and overcome any frustrations through a long-suffering love for one another.

Food For Thought: Read Philippians 2:1-4. What admonition does Paul give there regarding unity in the body of Christ?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

The stampeding hooves of war horses could be heard outside the thin, boarded walls of the Crawford farm house. Inside, two young brothers, thirteen and sixteen, cowered behind the furniture, frighteningly peering out at the soldiers through the tiny gaps in the walls. When Colonel Davie had sounded the retreat, these boys had sprinted through the woods to their cousin’s house with the hope of being out of sight before the British Dragoons could spot them, but they had failed. Immediately, the troops had surrounded the little farm house. And now the officer in charge of the dragoons shouted at the house, “Come out of the house!!” “If you don’t come out, we’ll burn it to the ground!”
At this, Andrew and his older brother Robert appeared at the farmhouse door. When they emerged from the house, two soldiers on either side of the door grabbed the boys, subdued them, and bound them. The forty mile journey on foot as prisoners of war was grueling, but that journey was just a glimpse of the horror that these boys would find in the cholera and smallpox infested prison camp that awaited them.
Elizabeth Jackson was already grieving the death of her eldest son, when a message detailing the horrifying capture of Andy and Robert reached her. Knowing full-well that prisoners did not last long in the prison camps, she departed immediately to negotiate for the release of her two remaining sons. She loved her sons, and would risk her own life for their safety. With confidence, this fair-haired Irish lady challenged the British commander for the release of her two sons. These were her children, and she loved them. She loved them more than her own life.
When we read of Paul’s love for the Thessalonian believers, we see that he loved them as a mother loves her own children (ch.2,v.7). It broke his heart to hear of the persecution and affliction that they were enduring, and would have given his own life if it meant saving them from this injustice. This is the care and compassion that Christians should have for one another. This is the self-sacrificing love of John 15:13 that Jesus lived out for us, and this is the love that John 13:35 tells us we should live out for one another. Paul loved the believers at Thessalonica, and we should love one another.
Although Robert would eventually succumb to the devastating effects of the smallpox, Andrew Jackson made a full recovery through the nurture and care of a self-sacrificial mother. Nearly five decades later, an entire nation would more fully appreciate the enduring, self-exhausting care of a mother when Andrew Jackson was elected to be the seventh President of the United States.
It is the call of true believers to love one another in this way. Through the hard and difficult circumstances of life, may we choke up to the bit and endure. With a pure love that withstands the attacks of the enemy, may we press on, that others might be helped, and that God might be glorified.

Food For Thought: Read John 13:35 and John 15:13. What two things do we learn from Jesus in these two passages?

Friday, November 15, 2013

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Years of labor culminated in 1516, when under the direction of Pope Leo X (the same pope who railed against Martin Luther five years later), a Dutch monk named Erasmus of Rotterdam cranked out the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament. Over the next century this Greek text and its subsequent reproductions and revisions would become the anchor for the Biblical resurgence of the Protestant Reformation. 
This Reformation was unstoppable. It was an insatiable thirst for truth. It was a driving return to Biblical Christianity. This reformation was not a one-time anomaly. A fierce, raging tide of reaction always occurs when truth-malnourished people are granted access to the Truth. Truth is uncontrollably infectious, and while it may have challenged the status quo, by its very nature it brought millions out of the gloomy shadows of the Dark Ages.
Now, with Bible in hand, we celebrate the greatest Truth brought to us by centuries of a loving God’s Providential preservation. We can celebrate the grace of God as we turn to His wonderful, hope-giving, life-breathing text. That we, like the believers of 1 Thessalonians 2:13 can be transformed by the Spirit of God as we read the text, understanding fully that it is not merely “the word of men,” but rather the very “word of God.”
Peter gives the following textual confidence in his second epistle, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” What we hold in our hands is not the work of overly ambitious truth-twisters, it is the very testimony of eyewitnesses.
Furthermore, the textual evidence for these eyewitnesses is staggering, especially when compared to other ancient historical texts. For example, everything we know of the history of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Europe is found in a text known as the Gallic Wars. There are only 10 ancient manuscripts of this text that have been discovered, the oldest one dating back to the A.D. 900’s, nearly one thousand years after Julius Caesar lived (50 B.C.).
In comparison, there are over 5,000 ancient manuscripts (hand-written copies) of the New Testament. The original, inspired, eye-witness accounts were penned in the last half of the first century (A.D. 50-A.D. 100). The oldest manuscript fragments that have been discovered date back to c. A.D. 125, only 3 decades after the originals were written. We do not have a sketchy, unpreserved text. We have the most reliable text that has ever been composed through the history of the human race.
The preservation is supernatural. The preservation is Divine. God has not left His people without a Bible. Rather, He lovingly preserved His Word, and has used it to transform His church. Like the church in Thessalonica, we too should value the Scriptures. The preservation alone should indicate that this is not merely a book containing the “word of men,” but rather the very “Word of God.” Now, let’s learn to value it as such, and to listen to the voice of God as He speaks to us from His Word.   

Food For Thought: Read 2 Peter 1:15-21. What phrases does Peter use to describe the miraculous work of Divine preservation?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

The evening had set in, and the dancing flames of the candles flickered in the darkness. Jesus and His disciples reclined around the table, and Judas had already left to do his evil work. In the following few hours, Jesus would be arrested, beaten, and ultimately He would die. He knew this. But as He spoke that night, the disciples treated it like any other night. There was no extra importance on these words. If they had known He was going to die, they would have certainly leaned in and asked Him more probing questions. But that was not the case.
With hours of teaching remaining in His earthly ministry, Jesus became extremely clear in His commands: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” This would be the marking characteristic of a believer: love.
Paul understood this ethic. He knew that loving others was expected and normative in a Christian’s life. In his letter to the Galatians, he said, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” According to Paul, this love should be lived out. It should be the nature of every Christian. We should be lovingly caring for those around us, believer and unbeliever.
At times this perspective is steam-rolled by crass and unruly “proclaimers” of the gospel. Instead of following Paul’s admonition in Ephesians of “speaking the truth in love,” or Peter’s encouragement to share the gospel in “meekness and fear,” (literally gentleness and respect), these edgy and angry Christians celebrate their abrasiveness. This simply is not Christian.
Christianity looks like Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, “But we were gentle among you…being affectionately desirous of you…we were willing to have imparted unto you…our own souls.” This is what true Christianity looks like. That we, like Jesus, be known as self-sacrificial, not self-serving. That we, like Jesus, demonstrate unbridled love for those around us.
So what does your life look like? In the text today, Paul indicates that an effective gospel witness comes from a person who shares their own soul. Evangelism is not a calculated method whereby we follow a formula and reap an outcome. Rather, evangelism is such that we are sharing the gospel as we share our own lives. The exhausted life of Christ can be our example in evangelism: continually He reached out to those who did not yet believe, ultimately He gave His life that all might believe. May we become this kind of love-filled gospel proclaimer.

Food For Thought: Read Leviticus 19:18. What command do we find in this verse from the Law that Jesus later repeats in His ministry?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

1 Thessalonians 1:5-10

The life of a Christian is a changed life. As Paul wrote to these believers in the province of Macedonia, there was one thing that he was certain of: (v.4) these people were God’s people.
After his visit with believers in Thessalonica, Timothy had brought the terrific report to Paul that in spite of persecution, the church was thriving. In the midst of a pagan culture, God’s chosen people were living up to the purpose for which God had saved them. Their faith was an evident one.
Now Paul began his letter to these fellow Christians, with a few reasons that gave him confidence that these believers were truly the ‘brethren beloved.”
1) They had received the explicit gospel. A 13th century Roman Catholic friar is often credited with the statement “Preach the gospel, if necessary, use words.” Whether or not Francis of Assisi said this does not change the fact that it is rather unbiblical. When declaring the gospel, words must be used. It is not good enough to “show the gospel in your life.” Jesus did not die a generic death, and therefore, his gospel is not a generic one. It is a very articulate gospel, and Paul and Silas had painstakingly delivered it to these ones who had believed it.
2) They had experienced a true conversion. Conversion is more than accepting something. Conversion is a changing or transitioning. The believers were no longer worshipping their idols (v.9). Now, like Paul, they were followers of Jesus. They saw the life of holiness that God had called them to as something that they needed, and had begun living in a way that was pleasing to Him. Their Christianity was an obvious one. They were not what Charles Sprugeon would condemningly call “secret disciples.”
Today, there are many people who claim the title “Christian.” I once heard Keith Green say it this way, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” There will be greater indicators of faith in a Christian’s life than church attendance. Assurance comes to those who have a life that is marked by a faith in the gospel of Jesus. Furthermore, their life will reveal a conversion whereby they have come in full contact with the sanctifying Spirit of God.

Food For Thought: What does Paul say about the Thessalonians testimony in verses 7-8? What do you think that should tell us about our testimony?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

1 Thessalonians 1:1-4

“Abram, leave your country, leave your culture, leave your family, and follow me.”
The old Sumerian was called to leave everything that he knew and turn to a new God. This God was different than the gods of his father, Terah. But Abram obeyed the call of God. God had a design to rescue fallen mankind through a descendant in the family of Abram.
This was the first call of God on Abram (later to be called Abraham), and certainly would not be the last. We later find that this calling of God predicated Abraham’s faith, and ultimately culminated in his being declared righteous by God in Genesis 15:6.
Throughout Scripture, God consistently calls people to Himself. In Deuteronomy 14:2, Moses writes, “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself…” The same thought is carried out in Leviticus 11:45 where God tells His chosen people that He rescued them from their bondage in Egypt, “to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” God continually says, “I chose you that you might worship and serve me with your lives. I saved you for a purpose.”
As you continue to the New Testament God continues to extend His saving grace for very similar purposes. In Acts 15:13-18, James explains the historic calling of God on His chosen people. It is not a generic call whereby He flippantly chooses some for eternal glory and others for eternal damnation. Rather, with Sovereign purpose, He calls men and women from every nation, tribe, and tongue that they might live holy lives of separation dedicated to His worship and His glory. He does not choose them simply for their bettered situation (although their situation certainly is immeasurably improved); He chooses them for Himself.
When we arrive at a text like Ephesians 1:4, that speaks of those who are “chosen in him,” this should not be a phrase that confuses or frightens us. Rather, understanding that God has been calling men and women throughout the entire history of the human race, we should be moved in confidence to understand that God truly does call people out from the ranks of humanity to fulfill roles of service to Him.
With this confidence, we read the opening of Paul’s epistle to the believers in Thessalonica. As Paul begins his letter, he sends the greetings of Silas (he calls him Silvanus) and Timothy along to the Thessalonians. As Paul recounts the testimony of the Thessalonians, there is one thing that Paul knows for sure about these believers. He knows that based upon the evidences of God’s grace, demonstrated through their faith, love and hope, they are without a doubt, “elect of God” – a chosen people set apart to God. Their lives demonstrated this truth. They were God’s people, and they lived in such a way that everyone could know it.

Food For Thought: Read 1 Peter 1:15-16. When Peter writes about the “call of God,” what does he say that calling should motivate us to be?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Introduction to the First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians

“WHERE IS HE?!” The enraged mob, filled with brutes and thugs, kicked open Jason’s door and dragged him out of his house into the torch-lit street.
“Www-where is who?” Jason stammered.
"PAUL, THE BLASPHEMER. WHERE IS HE?!” While a few men held Jason in the street, the others rushed into his house. The “lewd fellows,” as Acts 17 calls them, ransacked Jason’s house. While he stood bound in the street on this dark night in Thessalonica, Jason watched in brokenness as his belongings were crushed and smashed. They left nothing undamaged. The pottery was shattered, the garments were shredded, the couch and the bed were dashed to pieces. This night was a costly night for this man. What had he done?
He was dragged off to prison, where the accusations were leveled against him and a few other brothers. After posting bond, they were released to return to their homes, that by now had been pilfered for any remaining goods that were not damaged. What a costly night. All had been destroyed. What had been his crime? He had believed. He had become a Christian. That was all. The Jewish leaders had brutalized him for it, and the Roman authorities had played along.
Where was Paul? It was simply Providence that had kept Paul from being at Jason’s house that night. Word spread quickly through the night and came to Paul and Silas.
He had only been teaching for a few weeks. The church there in Thessalonica was literally, only a few weeks old. Now, because of impending persecution, Paul had to flee in the darkness of night. When would he return? How would the church ever be able to continue in sound doctrine? How would they ever mature? Having their spiritual father snatched from them at such a young age, would they ever thrive?
Scripture tells us that the church did continue, and that persecution in this church also continued. Paul would not be able to return to the young church any time soon, but word did come to Paul about the church. He must have been thrilled to hear that even though he was not there with them, they were continuing to grow in their faith.
After receiving a full update on the condition of the young church from Timothy, Paul decided to write a letter of encouragement and of doctrine to the believers in Thessalonica.
God loved the believers there in Thessalonica. They were His chosen people, and in His love, He had used His servant Paul to write this great letter to His people. God loves believers today, and in His love for us, He preserved His Truth in this first epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians. May we constantly look to Him as Author and Sustainer as we journey together through First Thessalonians.

Food For Thought: Read Acts 17:10-14. When Paul fled Thessalonica he travelled for forty miles to Berea. What happened in Berea after Paul arrived there?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mark 16:14-20 (John 20:19-23)

“Mary, you have been crying too much. Go home, and rest.”
The unbelieving disciples refused to accept the testimony of a woman. If Jesus was truly resurrected, He would show Himself to them, not some hysterical handmaid.
When the two travelers returned late that Sunday evening from Emmaus, their testimony seemed a bit sketchy.
“So, you walked with Him for how many miles before you realized you were talking to Jesus?”
The skeptical disciples were certain that these two would have recognized Jesus immediately. Perhaps there was someone out there pretending to be the risen Jesus, but they had seen with their own eyes His beating and execution. People didn’t make a three day recovery from the abuse of the Romans. The Romans had driven rusty spikes through His ankles. If He was recovering, He certainly wouldn’t be strolling down to Emmaus.
The stories all seemed too strange, so the disciples refused to believe. They had been known to be His followers, and their lives were in danger. Days of certain persecution were coming, and these disciples had bigger things to worry about and plan than whether or not some wishful dreams of a few overly-emotional disciples were true.
Suddenly, Jesus appeared in the middle of the room. Staring on in disbelief, the experience was highly personal for each of the disciples. All felt a level of surprise, but the joy of the moment was clouded by guilt and shame. Peter had sworn to Jesus just days before that he would never betray Him. Now, in the deepest part of Peter’s soul was a nauseous feeling that told him, “Jesus already knows what you did.” One by one they had all forsaken Him.
The shame of the previous days events blended with the embarrassment for their disbelief on this day. He had sent Mary Magdalene, and in coldness they had scorned and dismissed her claims. The two from Emmaus had testified so clearly, and these disciples had scoffed at what seemed like a far-fetched account. Now, staring into the eyes of Jesus, all of that reality came rushing back like a raging river of shame.
“Peace be unto you.” Jesus always knew the thoughts of the disciples’ hearts. He had not come to abuse them or to shame them. He had come to give them hope. He had made it clear that He loved them. They had nothing to fear. He would melt away their disbelief and replace it with confidence. These deserters would be given a second chance. These doubters would be given faith. Jesus was a loving, forgiving Savior.
He was alive. They were sure of it. They had seen it with their own eyes. They had heard Him with their own ears. The days of disbelief and doubting were past. The days of hope and purpose had come. Now, these disciples would become His ambassadors to the whole world. They would bear out His gospel, telling the whole world how that in His death He had brought new life to all mankind.

Food For Thought: Read John 20:19-29. What is the difference between the two appearing of Jesus to His disciples?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mark 16:12-13(Luke 24:13-35)

“He is risen!” With overwhelming joy, Mary burst into the room where the disciples were hidden. These skeptics who had spent the last few days in tears, and fear, and disbelief would not be swayed by the testimony of an overly excited woman. The more seasoned disciples dismissed her claims as an emotional breakdown. Mary had wept so much that perhaps she had a mental collapse.
But she had seen Him when she was in the garden, and she had the confidence of it. However, for the time, she was alone in the excitement. The disciples continued on in their disbelief. Later that morning, Luke 24 says that two of Jesus’ followers left Jerusalem and took a journey to a neighboring town, Emmaus.
As Cleopas and his friend walked down the path, they discussed the unbelievable events of the week. Jesus had arrived on the back of a donkey at the beginning of the week, had cleansed the temple during the week, was executed, and eventually buried. Now, it looked like someone had come had taken His body. They thought He would have saved Israel.
And as they walked, another one joined them on the path. “What are you guys talking about? And why are you so sad?” was the introductory inquiry. Without giving the stranger much thought the two continued on and told of all the events of the week. In Luke 24:21, they finished their story with, “And today is the third day, and now His tomb is empty. There is this one lady, who probably took His death harder than any of us, who is telling everybody that she saw Him alive.”
Eventually the three stopped for dinner. Gathered around the table, the stranger took the bread, and began to pray, “Father, in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” In an instant both men looked up at the stranger Who had come into their home. Breathing out a sigh of desperate amazement Cleopas looked at the face of the stranger, “Je-sus?” Immediately, He was gone.It was late in the day now, but these two had to get back to the other disciples. Mary had been right! Jesus was alive! He had come to save the world, and He just needed to suffer first. All along He had been fulfilling the prophecies, how could they have overlooked the ones about His suffering.
“He is risen!” with eyes of surety, the two burst into the room where the disciples were hidden. “We just saw Him on the road to Emmaus! We talked to Him, and we didn’t know it was Him, but then we stopped for dinner, and when He prayed…I know it was Him. Jesus is alive! Guys He is risen. The reason the tomb was empty is because He is risen!”
Suddenly, the room hushed, and all looked on in amazement.

Food For Thought: Read Isaiah 53:3-12. Isaiah wrote this 700 years before Jesus was born. Write out three specific parts of this prophecy that deal directly with what Jesus suffered on the cross.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mark 16:9-11 (Luke 8:1-3; John 20:18)

“Mary.” The years of darkness melted as the Master spoke to a girl trapped in the darkness of demonic bondage. The sound of His voice had shone rays of hope into her miserable life. Seven devils. Luke 8 tells us there were seven of them, and Mary Magdalene was their captive, until Jesus came along. This was the brightest day of her life. With a twinkle of hope in her eyes, she followed Him religiously. Wherever He and His disciples would go, she would be close behind. He had given her a new life, and all she knew was that she wanted to give back that life to Him.
Months later, she had followed Him back to Jerusalem, and the events of His crucifixion had unfolded like a horrid nightmare before her very eyes. With every blow and curse, the deepest part of her soul grimaced. And as He trudged His exhausted journey to the hill of execution, her eyes poured out streams of bitter sorrow.
The darkness had not yet lifted on that early Sunday morning, according to John 20, as Mary came to anoint the body of Jesus. She loved Him so much, and had brought the purest offering of thanksgiving for the One Who had cared so much in the hour of her need. Even in His death, she would be faithful to Him. Her eyes were still swollen from days of crying as she approached the tomb where Jesus had been placed.
Looking at the tomb, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Gone. The massive stone that had been rolled in front of the tomb had been removed. The tomb was wide open. The guards that had stood in place were no longer there. The entire place was vacant.
Horrified, she left the garden tomb, and returned to Peter and John. “They have taken His body!” Her broken-hearted distress revealed even to them that the events of this dark weekend were too much for this poor woman to handle. Her desperation turned to a shattered fountain of frustration, “How will we ever give Him the love that He deserved. They killed Him and now they have robbed us of even this! How will we ever find His body?”
After delivering this news, the devastated Mary returned to the empty tomb to weep and reflect on the missing body of Jesus. The One Who had offered hope and had given her liberty, where was He? If she could just see His face one last time. If she could just hear His tender voice one last time. But, no, they had taken Him. Now she knelt on the ground in front of the tomb as the tears of sorrow flowed once again.
That’s all it took. The darkness of the morning lifted. The rays of hope for her eternity shone with a renewed brightness as she beheld the face of the One she loved so much and heard His reassuring voice. He had not gone. They had not taken Him. He was risen.
This day would now be the brightest day of her life.

Food For Thought: Read John 20:11-18. What was the first thing that Mary did after seeing the resurrected Jesus? According to Mark 16:11, what was the disciples’ reaction? Do you think that Mary cared what they thought?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mark 16:4-8

Perhaps they faked His resurrection. Jesus had told them that He was going to resurrect on the third day, but did He really do it? How could we know with any level of certainty that this actually happened? There are a few indications from the gospel account that would tell us that the disciples did not take the body of Jesus and fake the resurrection of Jesus.
1) The disciples were amazed at the resurrection of Jesus.
John 20:14-16, 19-25 tell us the account of Jesus appearing to His disciples following His resurrection. The reaction of the disciples is similar on all accounts: amazement and wonder. A conspiracy to take the body would not result in any level of amazement. However, the accounts include this little detail to layer the veracity of the resurrection account.
2) The gospel accounts point out the disciples’ lack of faith.
This idea is given the term “criterion of embarrassment.” According to this theological argument, historical first person accounts, like the gospels, tend to overplay the awesomeness of the author or main characters. Surprisingly, when you read the gospel accounts, the followers of Jesus were doubtful that His resurrection had occurred. This little detail may perhaps be one of the key evidences that there was not a conspiracy amongst them. They didn’t even expect Him to resurrect, so why fake a resurrection?
3) His tomb was guarded by soldiers.
According to Matthew 27:62-66, the Jewish leaders that had arrested Jesus and crucified Him, feared that His disciples would show up and steal His body and claim that He had resurrected. Knowing this, they had set their own guard at the tomb. This group would have matched the might of the group that arrested Jesus in the garden. In the garden during His arrest, all of the disciples had fled away in fear, what would make anyone think that these same fearful disciples would overwhelm the soldiers and steal the body of Jesus?
4) Multiple eye witness accounts confirm that He did indeed resurrect.
In law, one eyewitness account holds a fair amount of sway on the veracity of any claim. Furthermore, multiple eye witness accounts secure the claim. To say that there was some random guy who thought he might have seen Jesus after His supposed resurrection would be a bit sketchy, but when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:6 he tells us that over 500 people had witnessed the resurrected Jesus. There is very little room left for argument.
He had died. Now He was resurrected. Mark finishes his gospel account with this glorious truth. Jesus had resurrected. The sorrowful were rejoicing. The broken-hearted were healed. The doubtful had their faith restored. Jesus had brought hope back into the world. His resurrection mattered immensely, and it still matters today. The living Jesus is a vital part of our faith.

Food For Thought: Read Matthew 28:11-15. Where did the story that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body of Jesus come from?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mark 16:1-3

“The Son of Man will be taken, and killed; and after he is killed, he will resurrect on the third day.” Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, and Mark 10:33-34, the message was always the same. Jesus had constantly referred to Himself as the “Son of Man,” and as such, He had consistently told His disciples that His death was coming. But He never left them without the opportunity for hope. Rather, with every telling of His death, He would couch it with this specific promise of His resurrection. It was not, “I will resurrect some day.” Instead, Jesus consistently said, “On the third day, I will resurrect.”
Any disciple who could count should have had this hope in them on that first day of the week. Jesus was brutalized on Friday and buried that afternoon right before the Sabbath Saturday. Now, Sunday morning, the third day, had arrived. Mobs of faithful, hope-filled, believing, committed disciples should have been gathered around the tomb expectantly watching for the resurrection of their Messiah.
But that’s not the story that Mark tells. Mark finishes out His gospel account with the coming of three ladies to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They are at the tomb, but they are not there looking for a resurrection, they are there looking for a dead body. In fact, none of His disciples are there at the tomb. No one was watching in anticipation for Jesus to be resurrected. Had he not made Himself clear that He was coming back? Were His words hard to understand when He had said, “On the third day, I will resurrect.”? Why just these three women, and even these with the wrong motive? Did His people not believe the promise of His return?
A few days after this resurrection, we find ourselves in Acts 1. Jesus instructed His disciples to go and testify of Him in the entire world. Following His instruction to His disciples, Jesus was taken up into heaven. The disciples were certainly amazed to have heard the resurrected Jesus speaking to them and teaching them one last time, but now He was gone again. This time, they had the confidence that He was alive and not dead. But none the less, He was no longer with them.
The sadness of separation was quickly met with yet another promise from two angels. “This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” God was telling His people that this wasn’t the last time they were going to see Jesus. Just as He had gone away with the promise of His resurrection, now, He has gone away again, and we hold close to our hearts the promise of His return. He has already shown true to the promise of return once, and now with anticipation we look forward to His second return longingly. The day will come where Jesus returns. Wickedness will be undone, evil will be banished, brokenness will be gone, and we will rejoice with the righteous One. We know that He will fulfill the promise of His return.

Food For Thought: Read 1 John 3:2-3. What does John say a follower of Jesus will do in light of the return of Jesus?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mark 15:42-47

It was late afternoon, Friday, and Jesus had just died. According to Jewish custom, the Sabbath was not to be desecrated by the dead bodies of executed criminals. Jesus could not remain on the cross over night, especially with the Sabbath day beginning in a few short hours.
“I want His body!” With wet cheeks, and red eyes that had been weeping for hours, Joseph of Arimathaea, a ruler of the Sanhedrin boldly entered the hall of Pilate. His motives were clear. Any criminal whose body was not claimed was cast into the smoldering rubbish pile of Gehenna, a valley to the south of the city. This was Jesus, the Messiah. If Joseph had anything to do with it, Jesus would not be discarded like some unclaimed criminal. Joseph, himself a wealthy man, would use his own hand-carved sepulcher if he needed to.
“Is he dead yet?” Pilate asked. Hurriedly, the executioner was brought into Pilate’s court. This man had killed hundreds, if not thousands of men. “Yes, sir. I made certain of it. He’s dead.” No one knew how to kill a man like a Roman soldier. From the earliest days of their training, they had been trained by the ruling empire of the world. They had perfected torture and death. Now this professional killer was testifying to Pilate and to all of history that he had most certainly verified that Jesus was dead. There was no need for a medical examiner to certify death, this soldier had used his own spear to pierce the broken heart of Jesus.
With the Roman governor’s approval, Joseph rushed down to the cross where he met with Nicodemus, another religious leader and disciple of Jesus. Together they wrapped the limp, bloodied body of Jesus. The innocent had been slain. The mistrial of all the ages had ended with the execution of the guiltless. Now, tenderly, these two old saints wound the burial linens around the body of Jesus. Of their own wealth, they had funded the burial of Jesus. Now, setting aside their esteemed social status, they did the labor of the close family members. Without regard to desecrating themselves by handling a dead body on the eve of the Sabbath, they entered this ultra-holy Passover Sabbath as ceremonially “defiled.” But this did not stop them.
After putting his body in the cold dark tomb, they set a stone at the door to keep people from entering and disturbing the body of Jesus that had been laid to rest. Broken-hearted, the two headed home. The coming days would bring shame amongst their peers for what they had done today. Their fellow leaders in the Sanhedrin would be enraged at them for the care they had shown this “enemy,” Jesus. But they had done what was right. Their relationship with the Sanhedrin had ended when the Sanhedrin had desired to execute an innocent man. They were done. They were going to follow the teachings of Jesus. They would give the rest of their lives to serving Jesus and building the Kingdom of God.

Food For Thought: Read Isaiah 53:8-10. What word in verse 9 do you think Isaiah prophetically used that would describe these two wealthy Jewish leaders’ burial of Jesus?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mark 15:37-41

“It is finished!!” The exhausted cry burst forth from blood crusted lips, as Jesus bowed His head and dismissed His Spirit. The earth shook violently, and those around the cross looked on in wonder at the limp, lifeless body of Jesus as it hung nailed to the blood covered wooden beams. What was finished? Why did the earth quake with such ferocity at the departing words of Jesus? Why did the impressive tapestry in the temple split in two?
The mews of little lambs in the temple were slowly fading, and the Priests were settling the temple for the Sabbatical ceremonies. In an instant, the temple began to shake. The bowls and utensils began to rattle and the golden lamp stand began to waver. Suddenly, with a roar, the massive veil separating the holiest section of the temple from the rest of the complex tore in half. According to early Jewish tradition this veil was so massive that it required three hundred priests to carry, and was the thickness of a man’s palm. The sound that roared out of the temple compound that day would be heard throughout the streets of Jerusalem.
So the earth quaked, and temple veil split, but why?
The massive veil hung in the temple from ceiling to floor, signifying the great barrier that existed between God and the people. Once a year, the high priest would venture into the Holy of Holies to make a sacrifice for the sins of the people. With the devastation of this separating veil, came the overwhelming truth that no longer would man be separated from God. Because of Jesus, mankind could now have unhindered, uninhibited access to God.
Earthquakes in the Old Testament were a way of God indicating His presence to His people (Psalm 68:8). This was the case when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law of God. Exodus 19:18 describes how that when God showed up with Moses, “the whole mount quaked greatly.” As Jesus died, God was present. Because Jesus bore sin in His body, and thus received the wrath of God, God had not offered His comfort during this hour of need. But God nonetheless was present, and His testimony could be seen and felt as the earth quaked, and the rocks were smashed violently.
In His death, Jesus had finished the work that He had come to accomplish. He had born the wrath of God for all those who would believe in Him. He had destroyed the spiritual veil of separation that for thousands of years had kept sinful mankind from having unhindered access to God. And this was not a one-sided access that was granted. This was fully designed, and approved by the Providential God who showed Himself on that dark afternoon. In the quaking of the earth, He made certain that all the world could know that He was satisfied. Jesus had paid for the sins of the whole world. It was finished.

Food For Thought: Read Hebrews 10:19-22. What does the Spirit of God want us to understand in Hebrews about the spiritual work that Jesus accomplished in His death?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mark 15:24-41

Tears filled the sun-baked creases on old Abraham’s face as he walked toward Mount Moriah. For several decades now, as God would prompt him, he would obey. He was the epitome of a faithful servant. He trusted that God was right in every circumstance, and knew that God never commanded anything of him that was not for his own good. And as he and Isaac moved along the road to Moriah, the turmoil between his faith and his understanding must have been overwhelming. “God is always good,” he thought. “Then why did He make such a horrific demand?” Moments earlier, God had told Abraham to take Isaac and offer him for a sacrifice. God knew how much Abraham loved his son, yet he had asked him to do this horrifying deed.
The gray beard caught the tears that flowed down his leather cheeks, as he continued to march to appointed place. Along the way, Abraham must have been devastated by the piercing words of his astute boy, “Dad, I see the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb that we are going to sacrifice?” With staff in hand, and faith in his heart, Abraham, the Father of Faith, responded with words that showed his faith in God’s goodness was still holding strong through all the frustrations and confusion, “Son, God will provide himself a lamb.” And God did provide a lamb that day.
Nearly 2,000 years later, the land of Moriah had drastically changed. Starting with Solomon (900 years after Abraham), the Mount Moriah had been converted to the temple grounds, and the land of Moriah had become the bustling metropolis of Jerusalem. And while the land changed, the truth that “God would provide Himself a lamb” had not changed. Here in the same land, a Father was taking His Son to be sacrificed. Like the obedient Isaac, this Son did not need to be coerced. Rather, obedient and trusting in the goodness of the Father, He had climbed the rugged hill where He would lay down His life. On this afternoon, He would bear the shame, the curse, the blasphemy, the penalty and ultimately the punishment of all mankind.
In the darkness of the day, Jesus took on Himself the sins of all mankind. He suffered the weight of God’s wrath. But taking sin on Himself had left Him vulnerable. Whereas in times past, He could turn for comfort to the Father in His suffering, now He was separated from the Father by our sin, comfortless, compassionless, feeling the full weight of punishment from God. In agony He mustered all the breath He could and screamed, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?!” He became sin for us. He had been obedient. He had been loving. Now, He was alone in His suffering. Don’t miss this: This is what Hell is like. He bore it so we would not have to. The punishment of God and separation from God is unbearable. Furthermore, it is without comfort. This feeling of agony that Jesus felt that day is the very feeling that all those who do not fully trust in Him will feel for all eternity – separation without any hope of comfort. Jesus died, the sinless for the sinful, the guiltless for the guilty. Jesus died for you, and Jesus died for me. He bore the punishment for our sin. This is the heart of the gospel. John 3 made it quite explicit when Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Food For Thought: Read Job 13:14-15, and Proverbs 14:32. How do these verses describe Jesus in this last hour before His death?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mark 15:16-23

The spectacle was startling. A battered man, unrecognizable, staggered out of the house of abuse. Pilate’s thugs had done their work. With flesh-tearing, bone-scraping, muscle-destroying blows they had used their infamous torture implement. Their indifferent imprecision left wounds that could never be repaired. If He were to survive this beating, it wouldn’t be for long. As He shuffled out, every barefoot step left a shadow of smeared blood. Draped over His battered shoulders and flayed back was a blood soaked purple robe.
“King of the Jews” was the sneer of the day. The Romans never knew that He had never claimed this title for Himself, and their abuse showed that they believed the very opposite. This day would carry with it far more than physical abuse. The physical abuse would be more horrifying than the darkest thing that any special effects studio could create. But literally adding insult to injury, the Praetorian guards attached vitriolic mockery to each blow. Skin-piercing thorns were fashioned into a royal laurel, and beaten into His scalp with a rod. Laughing with mockery, these brutish execution machines of Caesar bowed a knee and breathed a derisive “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Stripping Him of the blood stained robe, they put His clothes back on Him. They were done with the beating and the mocking for now. It was time for Him to bleed His way to where He would die. The angry mob cursed and spat on Him, and Jesus slowly staggered down the narrow streets to Golgotha. Along the way, the dust that stirred from the crowd mingled with the blood from His head, His face, and His back. A muddy, blood covered Jesus travelled the city streets one last time. Because He was too weak to carry His own execution implement, the Romans grabbed a Cyrenian (present day Africa) and made Him carry the blood-moistened beam.
This Friday morning was gruesome, and not just because of what was happening to Jesus. It was Passover. The brutal slaughter of nearly a quarter million lambs would take place on this day in the temple. The sacrifice of lambs had been commanded by God to remind the Jews of their sinfulness, and their need of a sacrifice to atone for that sin. The special day known as Passover was supposed to serve as a reminder of when God delivered His people from their bondage in Egypt. On this Providential slaughter-filled Passover day, the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, Rev. 13:8) was taken to the top of a hill to be slain for the sins of the whole world, and to set them free from their eternal bondage.
The brutality of the beating and the mockery were just a glimpse of the agony He was about to endure. No whip or shame-filled word could compare to the spiritual reality that was coming. Jesus was about to die as a sacrifice for the sins of all those who would trust in Him, and in that death, the very wrath of God would be poured out on Him.

Food For Thought: What was the significance of Jesus being crucified on the same day as the Passover?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mark 15:1-15

It was early morning Friday, and the Jewish leaders had finished their feigned trial of Jesus. This was not an American court of “innocent until proven guilty.” This was a perverse group of corrupt justices who believed in “guilty even if proven innocent.” The court case had included so many false witnesses that it should have been completely undone and thrown out. The liars that showed up for the illegal late-night trial could not even collaborate their stories. According to Mark 14:59, “Neither so did their witness agree together.” This trial was wrong in every way. The guiltless was being charged. He was going to be punished, and eventually He would be murdered.
These “defenders of truth” were so blinded by hatred that they failed to see that they were violating the very law they sought to uphold. No one stood in defense of “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” or “Thou shalt not murder.” No, their own desires replaced the very desires of the God they said they represented. Their hatred of Jesus far outweighed their love for God’s truth.
And so they turned Him over to Pilate, the Roman governor. Their accusation to him was that Jesus claimed to be the “King of the Jews.” This was not Jesus’ claim. It had never been His purpose. It had been the constant misconception of His existence here on earth. It was the crowd’s. It was His disciples’. It was everyone except for Jesus who thought He had come to re-establish the Kingdom of David. He had tried to make it clear, but their deaf ears and hardened hearts had not received the truth that He had come to be the Savior of the World, not the King of the Jews.
Pilate, the Roman, was helpless. He was a coward. Mark 15:10 tells us that Pilate was fully aware of the Jewish leaders’ jealousy of Jesus. But he was a man-pleaser who was willing to violate his conscience and execute an innocent man. So in order to satisfy the crowd, or as verse 15 says it, “willing to content the people,” Pilate issued the order for execution.
Greed, cowardice, murder – these are the products of sinful hearts. This was the very sin for which Jesus had come to die. While those around Jesus sought to undo Him, He was not deterred from His ultimate purpose. For this reason, when He was lied about and shamefully mistreated, He did not retaliate. He pressed on, with His eyes fixed on the salvation of all those who would put their faith in Him. He loved His own more than He loved His own life.

Food For Thought: Read Matthew 27:3-10. After realizing the innocence of Jesus, what was the difference in the reactions of Pilate and Judas?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mark 14:53-72

“I won’t forsake you, Jesus!” just hours earlier, with boldness, Peter set the expectation that he held for himself. Often we overestimate ourselves. In Peter’s case, it was understandable. He was following Jesus, the very Son of God. There was no other person like Him. How could Peter ever forsake Him?
The events of this strange evening had taken a dark, unexpected twist, and Peter had been shaken but not yet overtaken. As the band of soldiers took Jesus into custody, Peter had been the first to draw his sword in defense of Jesus. His loyalty was unquestionable. But there were just too many soldiers, and all of the disciples fled. In the next moment, Peter found himself running through the groves and gardens descending the Mount of Olives. The soldiers had taken Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples had narrowly escaped. Later in the night, Peter caught back up with the band of soldiers as they marched Jesus into the Palace of the High Priest.
The night was dark, but the burning lamps and torches left no shadow safe enough for a follower of Jesus, especially one as recognizable as Peter. Until now, it had been a joy to be at the front of the crowd right next to Jesus. As the events of the night unfolded, one accuser after another recognized Peter as a follower of Jesus. Instinctively, Peter deflected their challenges, lest he be arrested with Jesus. It was not until Peter’s third denial that he realized what he had done. In a moment of bitter regret, Peter’s earlier claim of loyalty had been completely destroyed. He had forsaken Jesus. He had left Him on His own. He was no braver than the others, he was shameful and despicable. In Jesus’ hour of need, His closest friend, Peter, had forsaken Him.
In John 15, hours before this took place, Jesus had told His disciples, “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” He was a true friend. The night had gotten dark, but Jesus, the friend of sinners, was not going to forsake His friends. He would press on through the lie-filled trial, through the mockery, and beatings. He would endure the wrath of God for His friends (Peter included), and no weight of shame or danger to Himself could deter Him. He was a better friend. No matter what it cost Him, He would save the world.

Food For Thought: Read John 15:8-14. In this last supper discourse, what does Jesus continually tell His disciples to do? How did He do this very thing just hours after speaking those words?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mark 14:32-52, part 2, the Savior

On that dark night in the dew-covered garden, Jesus was doing anything but sleeping. He knew that the greatest test of His obedience was about to happen. He was going to be arrested, abused, and ultimately murdered. By this time tomorrow, He would be dead.
This was overwhelming enough, but that is not what startled Jesus. That is not what made Him weep with anguish. As He laid down His life, according 2 Corinthians 5, He was going to take all the sin of the whole world on Himself. He had never sinned, now He would bear the sin of the world in His body. The wickedness of the adulterous woman, the greed of Zacchaeus, the vices of the Gadarene, every evil thought, every idle word, every despicable deed would be placed on this One Who had never done a single thing wrong.
As the self-sacrificial friend of sinners, He then would become not just the bearer of our sin, but ultimately the bearer of our punishment for that sin. The wrath of God that is reserved for the unrighteous would be poured out on Him. He was going to be crushed and battered under the devastating weight of God’s wrath. At this proposition, it is no wonder that Jesus cried in anguish at what He knew was the obedience God had sent Him to accomplish.
“If it is possible, find a different way, Father!” was His cry. As the obedient Servant of God, He had no greater desire than to accomplish what God wanted. But the obedience that was called for on this night, would bring Him into separation from the holy God, His Father, that He loved so much. For the first time, obedience would take Him away from God. This proposition was painful, spiritually and physically.
After praying, and re-praying, God granted the strength for the task. Jesus rose confidently. His face was fixed to the task. He would not look back. The wrestle was over, the day was coming, and He would not stop it. He was ready now, by God’s grace, to become the sacrificial Lamb that He was sent to be. Calling to His disciples, “Rise up, let us go; my betrayer is here.” Jesus walked straight to those that had come to arrest Him. The last words before He was dragged off to be abused were words loaded with the Sovereignty of the God He was trusting in, “the scriptures must be fulfilled.”
This was a walk that would be lonely. Separation from God was imminent. Verse 50 says that “they all forsook Him, and fled,” just like He said they would. It was now His to endure alone until the end. This would be the darkest act ever executed in the history of the world. He was not going to fight it, like a lamb to the slaughterhouse, He would press on, quiet, with no argument or excuse, fully obedient, to save the world.

Food For Thought: Reread Mark 14:36, what expression did Jesus use to express His desire to only, always obey God?

Mark 14:32-52, part 1, the disciples

The strangest series of events had just unfolded. Jesus was obviously bothered by something. At first, He said that all of His disciples would fall away. This was unbelievable! After all that they had been through over the past couple years, there was no way they could stop following Him. He was God, come in the flesh. How could they abandon that truth?
Things got even stranger during dinner when Judas asked Jesus if he was the one who would betray Jesus, and Jesus responded, “Go do it quickly.” Judas had left with obvious frustration, but he was probably just going to take care of the money. He was a really good treasurer.
Following these strange events, the night did not get any better, but only seemed to compound into one unusual thing after another. Jesus took His remaining disciples with Him to His favorite garden spot on the Mount of Olives, adjacent to the city of Jerusalem. On the journey to the garden, Jesus was noticeably disturbed, verse 33 describes Him as “sore amazed” and “very heavy.” Speaking to His closest friends, He said “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death.” But they pressed on to the spot where He could pray to God for strength.
Jesus was nearly overwhelmed with all that the next eighteen hours held. So He commanded Peter, James, and John, “Watch, and pray!” He had taught them to pray early in His ministry, “lead us not into temptation,” and now more than ever they should be praying that. But it was late, and they were exhausted from the busy week. Their minds were undoubtedly drifting to the potential events of the next day and what type of amazing thing Jesus would do. The darkness, and the stillness, with their tiredness took a toll on them, and soon they had drifted into sleep.
They had no idea what would happen in about an hour. If they had known what Jesus knew, they would have been begging God for strength. If they had known the onslaught against their faith that was about to occur, they would have been weeping in anguish with their Lord. But it was not given to them to know the future. Only God knew this. Jesus had lovingly encouraged them to “Pray!” but they did not feel the weight of the urgency, and ignorantly allowed themselves to drift into indifference.
Years later, Peter would relive this reality as he penned the truth of the immanency of danger to Christians in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant!” There is no season of the Christian life in which we can rest. We should be constantly praying the prayer of dependence. This night would prove to be overwhelming for all of the disciples, and they couldn’t even see it coming. How important is it that we be praying for God’s help against the unseen!

Food For Thought: While our temptation to fall away from our faith in Jesus may not be as direct as what the disciples were about endure, name some areas that Satan may use in our lives to “devour us.”