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Tribulation and Glory

“Therefore, I ask that you not become discouraged in my tribulations for you, for this is your glory.”

(Ephesians 3:13)

How is it that Paul’s tribulations are for the glory of the Ephesian church? True, it has been through Paul’s sufferings that the Gospel has come to the city. Yet, there is more to this statement if we read a little deeper. The term θλῖψις (thlipsis) always refers to severe times of trial and distress — persecutions and affliction in the life of the church. Paul faced persecutions throughout his ministry and the Ephesian church, if they proved faithful, would face persecutions as well. And, it is often the model of those who have gone before us that encourages us to face those trials that we find in our paths. 

Our temptation, of course, is to presume that we are the first persons to encounter the kinds of persecutions that we face. Yet, truly, there is nothing new under the sun and the saints of the past have seen what we have seen (and in many cases, far worse). And so, by looking back at their lives, we can draw encouragement for the awful trials that lie ahead of us. Yet, when we neglect to take courage from the past, then we often sacrifice the benefits that come from their example on the altar of our own vanity.

We must make one more note here in terms of the idea of trials and tribulations. Somehow we have fallen into the trap of assuming that the Christian life is one removed from trial. Yet, Jesus said just the opposite (John 16:33). In fact, God has always strengthened his church through times of persecution. Though it does not feel like a blessing when we are enduring such times, it is one of His blessings to the church. The notion that some Christians hold, that God will remove the church in the end times to spare them from tribulation is the notion that God would withhold the blessings of His refining fire. To borrow the language of C.S. Lewis, to ask for less tribulation is to ask God for less love and not more. 

God promises the blessings — even the glory — of rule with Him as His grand bride to those who overcome. Yet, to overcome, there must be something for you to overcome. And such are the tribulations that God permits to strike us. Take courage, Christian, from those who have walked this road before you and from the one who has ultimately paved the path on which you walk. It is a path to glory, but this path can only be traversed while bearing the cross that has been placed upon you.

To the Praise of His Glory…Amen!

“who is the downpayment of our inheritance, into the redemption of his possession, to the praise of his glory.”

(Ephesians 1:14)

We have seen this language already in Ephesians , but it is worth reiterating again and again. Why does God give us the Holy Spirit as a downpayment of our inheritance while also bringing us into redemption? It is for His glory and his glory alone. It is not because we are special, loved, or otherwise worthy of this gift. It is because Jesus is special and loved and worthy of this and he did all he did for God’s glory (John 8:50). We do receive the care and love of God not as a result of anything in ourselves, but entirely because God desires to act in a way that he will be glorified and rightly so. It’s not about you and it is not about me; it never has been. It is about God and it is about His glory — we simply are given the privilege of praising Him for who he is and to be able to do that, God must change our hearts.

Humans, professing Christians and non-Christians alike, tend toward being self-centered and selfish. We wish to merit something before God and be seen as great in his kingdom. Recently I had a run in with a gentleman who proclaimed himself one of America’s most important theologians. My experience is that if you need to tell others how important you are, you probably aren’t. But it’s sad, because people often think in categories like this. People think that without such and such a person, the church could never do this ministry or that ministry. People think that without these big names within cultural America, like Ravi Zacharias  or R.C. Sproul, that the church could not function. And while I am grateful for men such as these, the church can do just fine without them. We just need to stop looking to human “superheroes” and start looking to our divine King, Jesus Christ. And we need to obey his commands as given in scripture. He will honor himself in and through us. 

Again, it cannot be said enough, we are to honor God and not ourselves. This is Paul’s point. As the old Christian poet put it, “nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.” Or, more accurately, God brings me to himself as a slave bereft of anything that might make me desirable to Him and he binds me to the cross so that I may never be lost. And slowly, ever so slowly, he changes me, conforming me into the image of His Son. It is not because I deserve it and it is not because I can somehow cling strongly to the Cross of Christ. It is because He has done it in me for His own glory and praise. And indeed, I will give it.

Existing to the Praise of His Glory

“In whom we have received an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of the one who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to the end that we should exist to the praise of his glory — those who first hoped in Christ; in whom you also, in hearing the word of Truth, the Gospel of our Salvation, in which you also believed and were sealed in the Holy Spirit who was promised.”

(Ephesians 1:11-13)

“To the end…” To what end does God work all things? Is it so that we might be saved? No, though God works salvation in us to this end. Is it so that we might love God? No; once again, we ought to love God for the work of salvation he has manifested in us and we ought to love God because he is worthy of that love in the ultimate sense. You see, often our answers to a question like this revolve around us and our human perspective. No, God orders all things according to the council of His will so that we should exist to the praise of His glory. It is not about us and it is entirely about God.

Folks, the Bible is not anthropocentric (centered on man), but it is theocentric (centered on God). How hard it is for folks to really wrap their heads and their lives around this truth. Our sin has made us selfish and self-centered and how often we build our theology in such a way as to tickle the ears of our selfishness. When one listens to the evangelists of today, do you pay attention to how they begin? Do they begin with a glorious God who is holy and who is worthy of praise or do they begin with some sort of generic appeal to how you are loved by this God? Do they say, “you must repent and believe!” or do they say, “he is waiting for you to choose him”? How you speak and think when it comes to sharing the Gospel says a lot about your theology and upon what that theology is centered.

Paul’s goal is that we understand that whether Jew (those who first hoped in Christ) or Gentile (the Ephesian church largely), our purpose is to praise God. He is the only thing in this whole creation that is truly worthy of praise and adoration and as a church, we are called to do so and to instruct the world that they are called to do so as well. Whenever we build a theology around us, around our works, or around anything or anyone other than around God himself, we do not faithfully glorify our God…and that ought to cause us to tremble in repentance. How short we often fall and how far we often are from living out — from “existing,” as Paul would say — to the praise of His glory.

To God be the Glory!

“And my God will fill your every need according to his abundance in glory in Christ Jesus. And to our God and Father be glory from the ages to the ages, amen!”

(Philippians 4:19-20)

Amen. May God get the glory for all things, may he reveal his glory in all things, and may he be glorified for all things as they honor his name, now and forevermore, amen. Loved ones, this is what it is all about; here is the meaning in life. God is to be glorified and the glory of the things of this world pale in comparison to the glory of the risen Christ. What more can you desire? What more can you need? Nothing.

Paul also assures the church that God will provide for their every need. Not necessarily for their every want, but God will provide for their every need. So, too, he does the same with us. Why do we worry and fret about the things of this life? Our heavenly Father knows our needs and will provide them out of his grace. Instead of worrying, pursue God’s calling on your life and his Kingdom, trust the details to him. The pagans have the right to worry but the Christian (though we often worry) does not have that right for we have a God who knows our needs and who is capable of filling them.

Paul is wrapping up his letter to the church and what better way could there be to end? To God be the glory, great things he has done!

He Divested Himself of Glory

“but he divested himself of glory, taking the essence of a slave, becoming in the likeness of men, and being found in the state of man he humbled himself, becoming obedient even up to death…even death on a cross.”

(Philippians 2:7-8)

While usually I try and offer a pretty literal, word-for-word translation of the text, verse 7 is another passage that has again led many astray in their understanding of Jesus. Literally, the verse begins with the words: “but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” Now we have already discussed the word morfh/ (morphe) and its relationship to the essence of something, but here we also need to deal with the term keno/w (keno’o), which literally means, “to empty,” but what is being emptied?

There have been some theological circles who have argued that Jesus emptied himself entirely of his godhead to become man. Yet, to argue in such a way means that God is divisible, separable, and changing…a contrast to the Biblical picture that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; 2 Samuel 7:22; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 44:6; Romans 3:30; Galatians 3:20; James 2:19) and that he is unchanging (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). Others have taken a more romantic view of this, for example Charles Wesley in his classic hymn, And Can It Be, writing the words that “he emptied himself of all but love…” Surely God is love and Jesus exemplifies that love, but clearly from the scriptures it can be seen that Jesus did not divest himself of Truth, Grace, Mercy, Righteousness, Wrath, Power, etc…

So, of what did Jesus empty himself? In the context of the previous verse it becomes clear that Jesus emptied himself of his glory, and chose to veil that glory in flesh to come and save fallen humans…the elect from all of the nations…every believer throughout the generations. Thus, what is being communicated by Paul is not that Jesus ceased to be God in the incarnation nor that he emptied himself of his Godlike attributes; but instead, while remaining God in essence, he took on the essence of man — and thus everything that is an essential part of God and everything that is an essential part of man (even the lowliest man) is part of his essence. He became man to save men. What of sin? Jesus had none. Furthermore, while sin is part of our common experience as men, it is not an essential part of our nature for Adam and Eve were created free from sin and from a sin nature and they were in many ways, more human than any of us still alive today. Thus, those things that were essential attributes Jesus took to himself, not sin.

And to prove his love and his obedience to the Father, he went to death — even death on a cross — an accursed way to die (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). He took the curse upon himself so that we do not need to bear it for ourselves. It is the greatest exchange that has ever been made in all of history…the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. And whether here and now by believers or in judgment, he will receive the honor he is due.

What is More Needful…Glorying in God’s Work!

“In order that your glory might abound in Christ by me, as a result of my returning again to you.”

(Philippians 1:26)

I wonder whether we genuinely rejoice in God because of the spiritual mentors that God has placed in our lives. Often we can remember the baseball coach or the Scoutmaster that helped us grow or achieve excellence in a particular area, but what of our pastors, our Sunday School teachers, and those other people that God has placed in the community around us that have pointed our minds and hearts towards heaven?

Paul is not making this statement because he is prideful or because he desires to “bask in the glory” of what he has worked in the lives of the Philippians. He says that it is more needful for them that he return so that they can celebrate what God has done in their lives through him. Why is it more needful? I believe that again the answer lies in the relationship that Paul had with those in this church. He had guided and mentored them and they were engaged in his ongoing ministry not only through financial gifts but more importantly, through prayer. As the writer of Hebrews sets forth, we are to remember those in prison as well as though we are in prison with them for we are one body (Hebrews 13:3). Thus, Paul’s release would be a kind of release for them as well and they would be able to celebrate the answered prayers that they had lifted up.

Obviously, God does not answer all of our prayers in the ways that we would like or expect them to be answered, nevertheless, God is Good. The question that then we must raise is not whether or not God answers as we would like — He is God, we are not, such then is not purview — but to ask ourselves, are we so invested in our missionaries and our mentors in prayer that we would glory in God for what God has done through those we have sent off or through those who have cared for our spiritual needs? All too often, we are selfish and when we fall into selfishness, we fail to recognize that often our greatest need is to celebrate that which God is doing in another part of the body of Christ.

So, what is the doctor’s remedy for our selfishness? There are two parts. First, find someone who has mentored you spiritually and thank them. Trust me, it will mean a great deal. Second, find a missionary or a ministry that you or your congregation has supported that is healthy and growing and celebrate it to the glory of Christ. Take pleasure in what God is doing in the life of others even if he is not doing the same kind of work in your life…right now at least.

Live for Christ and Him Alone!

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

(Philippians 1:21)

“In the event of my death, celebrate.” You know, as a pastor, I spend a lot of time with people who are sick and dying and very rarely do I come across a person who is genuinely excited about their impending death…especially when the person dying is younger, at least in a relative sense. We have become accustomed to speak about heavenly things with anticipation but when we face the reality of heavenly things, it seems that we cling to earthly things with vigor…just the opposite of our Lord who did not heaven as something to be clung to but abased himself and became man. While we affirm intellectually that heaven is a far better place for us than earth, our hearts don’t often embrace that intellectual reality.

I believe that our problem with genuinely embracing the second half of this statement stems from our problem with embracing the first half of the statement, for until you become so focused that everything you do in this life is for Christ and to His honor, then the thought of ending those labors here, where we do things imperfectly, and beginning them in glory, where we will do things perfectly, just does not resonate with us. Yet, for Paul, this mindset — that all I do is for Christ — is the only way to live…or die.

As people, particularly in the western world, we have become jaded, self-centered, prideful, narcissistic, greedy, sensualistic, and focused on personal gain. Life, we are often taught, is about what I can achieve, accumulate, and experience. Those things that do not meet our personal “needs” are cast to the side as unnecessary and irrelevant. Striving for virtue has been replaced with striving for vainglory and “Self” has become the Baal and the Ashtoreth of our generation. And, as a result, the culture is collapsing all around our ears.

The solution: Christ and Christ alone! Living for Christ in all things puts the things of this world in their eternal perspective and shows them to be the pale and fleeting things that they really are. Living for Christ and seeing His glory in all things is also the corrective to our view on death. For the believer, indeed, our death is gain, for it is being ushered into the presence of our risen Lord. Yet, we also long to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For that we must embrace a life that is lived not for self and selfish things, but for Christ and for Christ alone. Then again, for whom better can we live?

An Offering of Praise

“You have raised up my horn like a tower;

I poured out as with fragrant oil.”

(Psalm 92:11 [verse 10 in English])


This verse is a little awkward to translate and as such, there are various renderings in our various English Bibles. To understand this verse, though, you need to break it down a bit and understand some of the key terms. The first word is that of the horn, or in Hebrew, N®rRq (qeren). This can refer to a simple ram’s horn or a vessel in which oil is contained, but when used metaphorically, it typically refers to strength or that which holds the oil that spiritually strengthens the believer.

Connecting the horn to the oil is fairly obvious given the second line of the verse, but we still have the word MEa√r (re’em), which I am rendering as “tower” though many of our translate as “wild ox.” The term itself is highly debated amongst scholarship, but many see the language of the horn in the verse as the guiding interpretive feature. And, on a level, such a rendering makes sense if we see the horn as a sign of power and the strong wild ram or ox on the mountain as a symbol of strength. Yet, such a translation does not seem to take into account the language of the oil later in the verse.

The term can also be rendered as the word “Tower,” a high place that also serves as a refuge for the believer to worship. Given the language of the raising up earlier in this verse, such a translation seems to make more sense, seeing also a tower as a sign of strength against one’s foes.

The next term in dispute is that of the pouring out. Many of our English translations render this phrase as “You have poured…” or “I have had oil poured…”. The problem with both of these renderings is that the verb in question, llb; (balal — to pour out) is in the first person  singular in the Qal stem. That means that “I” must be the subject and the verb is active, not passive…thus dismissing both major translational option. Rightly translated, it is “I poured…”. Some would argue that in poetry one is given some degree of grammatical freedom, but granting free reign here just adds complexity to the meaning rather than presenting the simple meaning of what the text says.

So, what is this fragrant oil that is being poured out? Most of the translations (by rendering the verb as a passive or as a second person) presume that the psalmist is being anointed with the oil in question, yet that is not what the text states. Instead, the psalmist is pouring out his oil that has been lifted up to this tower — on this high place. Rightly understood, it seems better to understand this pouring out to be a kind of drink offering that is being made by the psalmist in honor of his God who has lifted him up and has protected him from his enemies. Again, remember the context of this psalm is worship, if we get too far from God being the subject of our affection and focus more on God’s affection toward us, we lose that spirit or tone of worship before our creator and sustainer.

Thus, may we too be quick to raise up an offering of praise to our God, both in public and in private worship. May he be glorified and honored in all that we do. Our strength comes from him, let us return that strength to him in offerings of praise.

To God be the Glory…Not to Man

“Now, when they were gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Which would you desire that I should release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was from jealousy that they delivered him.”

(Matthew 27:17-18)

“And Pilate asked them saying, ‘Do you desire that I should release the King of the Jews?’ For he knew that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had delivered him.”

(Mark 15:9-10)

Again, there is a lot of coverage over this activity and each from a little different angle, yet complimenting one another as they provide a very full picture of the people’s betrayal of Jesus. The point is clear; all involved are guilty — every one. We have discussed the irony of Jesus Barabbas having the same given name as Jesus the Christ and we have discussed the significance of the title: “King of the Jews.” Yet Matthew records Pilate using the word “Christ” of our Lord. So far, we have seen the High Priest using the term as he questioned Jesus, pressing, “Are you the Christ?” but here we find Pilate essentially connecting the term Christ with Jesus, though not as a profession of faith, but simply as a way to harras the Jewish authorities.

Christ is of course the Greek word for Messiah, a Hebrew term that means “the Anointed One.” Many in ancient Israel were called the anointed of God: priests, kings, etc… but in the Old Testament there is also a thread that points to a greater anointed who will redeem the people from oppression. Moses led the people out of slavery to the Egyptians; this messiah needed to be greater than that. Sadly, the people, being focused on the things of this world, saw Rome as that greater enemy while in reality Jesus the Messiah was here to defeat an even greater foe than that — sin and death. The unbelieving priests were so blinded by their jealousy that they could not see the truth written on the wall and sought to destroy this Christ to preserve their own power.

Yet, isn’t that the tactic of the devil through history? Destroy that which could be the Holy One? The trend goes all of the way back to Cain slaying Abel — a prophet of God (Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:51). Yet, in seeking to destroy that which God had anointed, the Devil fell right into God’s design, for to defeat death, the Messiah must die and then be raised from the grave. Thus all of the plans of the enemy would be thwarted just as the enemy felt he had realized his greatest victory. What Satan perceived would be his victory became his utter defeat. Ahh, the grand majesty of God’s sovereign design. And while Satan remains as a menace — a lion roaring in the darkness — he is a defeated foe and has no ultimate power over the elect of God. That, loved ones, is a reality that ought to drive us to worship.

But doesn’t the jealousy of these chief priests hamper us yet today? Or perhaps the kind of jealousy that these priests had? They were jealous of the attention and glory that was being given to Christ. How often the work of Christ is hampered by the egos of people who would rather the glory come to themselves. Sad, isn’t it? Beloved, don’t let this trap befall you in the work you do in Christ’s church and don’t let this trap befall your pastor. We are not building our own kingdoms personally or denominationally; we are building Christ’s kingdom — everything else is secondary.

I love thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of thine abode,

the Church of our blest Redeemer saved

with his own precious blood.

-Timothy Dwight

To God be the Glory…not to Man

“Now, when they were gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Which would you desire that I should release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was from jealousy that they delivered him.”

(Matthew 27:17-18)


“And Pilate asked them saying, ‘Do you desire that I should release the King of the Jews?’ For he knew that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had delivered him.”

(Mark 15:9-10)


Again, there is a lot of coverage over this activity and each from a little different angle, yet complimenting one another as they provide a very full picture of the people’s betrayal of Jesus. The point is clear; all involved are guilty — every one. We have discussed the irony of Jesus Barabbas having the same given name as Jesus the Christ and we have discussed the significance of the title: “King of the Jews.” Yet Matthew records Pilate using the word “Christ” of our Lord. So far, we have seen the High Priest using the term as he questioned Jesus, pressing, “Are you the Christ?” but here we find Pilate essentially connecting the term Christ with Jesus, though not as a profession of faith, but simply as a way to harras the Jewish authorities.

Christ is of course the Greek word for Messiah, a Hebrew term that means “the Anointed One.” Many in ancient Israel were called the anointed of God: priests, kings, etc… but in the Old Testament there is also a thread that points to a greater anointed who will redeem the people from oppression. Moses led the people out of slavery to the Egyptians; this messiah needed to be greater than that. Sadly, the people, being focused on the things of this world, saw Rome as that greater enemy while in reality Jesus the Messiah was here to defeat an even greater foe than that — sin and death. The unbelieving priests were so blinded by their jealousy that they could not see the truth written on the wall and sought to destroy this Christ to preserve their own power.

Yet, isn’t that the tactic of the devil through history? Destroy that which could be the Holy One? The trend goes all of the way back to Cain slaying Abel — a prophet of God (Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:51). Yet, in seeking to destroy that which God had anointed, the Devil fell right into God’s design, for to defeat death, the Messiah must die and then be raised from the grave. Thus all of the plans of the enemy would be thwarted just as the enemy felt he had realized his greatest victory. What Satan perceived would be his victory became his utter defeat. Ahh, the grand majesty of God’s sovereign design. And while Satan remains as a menace — a lion roaring in the darkness — he is a defeated foe and has no ultimate power over the elect of God. That, loved ones, is a reality that ought to drive us to worship.

But doesn’t the jealousy of these chief priests hamper us yet today? Or perhaps the kind of jealousy that these priests had? They were jealous of the attention and glory that was being given to Christ. How often the work of Christ is hampered by the egos of people who would rather the glory come to themselves. Sad, isn’t it? Beloved, don’t let this trap befall you in the work you do in Christ’s church and don’t let this trap befall your pastor. We are not building our own kingdoms personally or denominationally; we are building Christ’s kingdom — everything else is secondary.

I love thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of thine abode,

the Church of our blest Redeemer saved

with his own precious blood.

-Timothy Dwight

Garments of True Splendor

“And the chief priests and the scribes stood there and made impassioned accusations against him.  And Herod, along with his soldiers, were showing him contempt and mockingly clothed him in shining garments and sent him back to Pilate.”

(Luke 23:10-11)


And the mocking continues as Jesus refuses to perform the feats that Herod had hoped to see. What is interesting is that Herod does not just have him sent home and put to death — certainly Herod had the blood of John the Baptist on his hands, why not Jesus also? With Pilate giving up jurisdiction, Herod could easily have sentenced the man to death, pleased the priests and perhaps even won him some favor amongst the Jerusalem elite. Herod opts not do to so, and returns Jesus to Herod. Of course, this is a fulfillment of prophesy that Jesus would be hanged on a tree, but from a human perspective, it is fascinating to me to see all of these puzzle pieces laid into place. Certainly Herod, by returning Jesus to Pilate, is no less guilty of Jesus’ death, but perhaps in his own mind he can wash his hands of the man just as Pilate would later do. Perhaps Herod has as much contempt for the priestly establishment as Pilate does and Herod sees this as a way to frustrate them even more as he sees them practically begging for this man’s death. This may be the reason that Luke makes the comment about Herod and Pilate’s friendship that develops over these things in the next verse. Politics often makes strange bed-fellows.

There is another aspect of these verses, that is often overlooked, and that is the garment that is placed on Jesus’ shoulders. Many of our translations will render this word as “an elegant robe” (NIV), “splendid clothing” (ESV), “a gorgeous robe” (KJV & NASB), etc… and perhaps brings to mind the remarkable garment that Joseph was given by his father in the Old Testament. The word that Luke uses here is lampro/ß (lampros), which is the root from which we get the English word, “lamp.” In Greek, we sometimes translate lampro/ß (lampros) as splendid or opulent, but most commonly the term reflects something that is full of light or sparkles. This is the term that is used of the angel that presented himself to Cornelius (Acts 10:30) as well as the angels that John describes in heaven (Revelation 15:6) and the heavenly garment given to the Church as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:8).

It should be noted the radical difference between that which is glorious of heaven and that which is considered glorious on earth. There is simply no comparison. Once again, Jesus is made to bear the shame of fallen man — this time being arrayed in the best of human making when the best of heaven is that which he rightfully deserves. To take the analogy further, Jesus is clothed in the garments of men so that his bride may be brightly arrayed in the garments of heaven (as we see in Revelation 19:8). It is an exchange that Jesus was pleased to make, but it is an exchange that we do not deserve to receive. One more thought along those lines — the garments with which the bride is to be clothed are described as the “righteous deeds of the saints.” May we always remember that the origin of those deeds is not within us here on earth, but in heaven, for indeed, these works have been prepared for us from before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 2:10) and done not in our strength, but in the strength of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Jesus substitutes himself in our place to give us what we could never hope to give ourselves — why then do we so often pursue the splendor of this world when Christ himself offers us the splendor of heaven.

God Gets the Glory…Great Things He Has Done

“And Abram and Nachor took to themselves wives. The name of the wife of Abram was Saray and the name of the wife of Nachor was Milkah — the daughter of Haran who was the father of both Milkah and Yiskah. And it came to pass that Saray was infertile and had no child of her own.”

(Genesis 11:29-30)


I suppose that there are no great surprises in the various spellings of familiar names — again, transliteration is not a precise science and there are many agreed upon spellings of these names that do not reflect the literal transliteration from the Hebrew into English. Saray, is better known to us as Sarai, whose name means, “My princess.” Milkah is the daughter of Haran, which makes her the sister of Lot. Milkah (or Milcah) means “Queen.” It is interesting that, based on names, both Abraham and Milkah marry women whose names denote royalty. Milkah has a sister named Yiskah, or Iscah in our English Bibles, whose name probably is derived from the word for “to look” or “to look at.”

And now we have the family line laid out before us as well as another tidbit — Sarai was barren and could bear no child. Perhaps that is the reason for Abram taking in Lot, his nephew, when his brother dies. We do not know the answer to that particular question. What we do know is that God is waiting until Abram’s father dies (and thus Abram becomes the covenant head of his home) and then is going to begin doing mighty things in this man’s life. The wait is for another purpose as well — so that the only explanation for this man’s success could be attributed to God.

How we like to have our successes attributed to our persons. Yet, how much better it is when our successes are attributed to the one from whom the success originated! For any good success that I might have is only because of the grace of God and the hand of God working in my life. It is all about God and his work from beginning to end — I am not my own. How often we fall on our faces because we do not recognize that truth and how often we allow our bloated egos to become so puffed up with pride that we become a blight even to ourselves and need be laid low all over again. Oh how the “mighty” have so often fallen. Loved ones, cling to God, trust his leading, but also ensure that you understand that any good credit belongs to God alone. We are but tools in his hand — may we be always sharp and ready for use.

A Little Taste of the Promise

“Afterwards, Abraham buried Sarah, his wife, in the cave of the field of Makpelah toward Mamre (which is Hebron), in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave which is in it were given up to Abraham as a possession for a grave from the Sons of Cheth.”

(Genesis 23:19-20)


And with dignity and with a foretaste of what is to come, Abraham buries Sarah, his wife. Later, Abraham will also be brought to this site for burial. Though Abraham never saw fulfillment of the promise of the land, he did close his life owning a piece of property within the inheritance that God promised him. And in that, he was satisfied.

So much about Abraham’s life is about waiting and anticipating, it is no wonder that he is referred to as the Father of the Faithful (Romans 4:11). And much like Abraham, we too are called by God to wait on Him and upon His timing. How often we grow impatient at waiting for God to fulfill his promises. How often, because of our impatience, we miss the partial fulfillments that God places in our lives. For Abraham, the partial fulfillment took the form of a burial plot for Sarah. For us, our promised inheritance is in heaven, kept free from decay and defilement (1 Peter 1:4-5), but does not God give us little tastes of heaven in the context of Worship? Is not the gathered body of Christ meant to be a foretaste of heaven to come?

How often the worship of God’s people is little more than going through the motions. Beloved, when worship is only about what you are doing, then you will only ever get out of it what you put in…there is a zero sum gain. But when worship is only about God and what he is doing, then you taste his glory, which is a gain of everything and more. If you focus your worship on man, you will only find the walls of man’s own limitations. If your focus is upon God, then walls are broken down and we will come face to face with the transcendent God. For Abraham, his longing was for God himself; for you, what will it be?

Glory, Unity, and the Christian Testimony

“Also, the glory that you have given me, I have given them, in order that they may be one just as we are one.”

(John 17:22)

Again we find Jesus using the language unity amongst believers, this time, though, in connection with Christ’s glory. In essence, what Jesus is stating is that he has given to believers his glory so that believers may be united as one.  Another way of saying this is that as we apprehend the glory of Christ, it ought to bind us together as one body—that Christ’s glory ought to bring unity to true believers, not division. And, one might go as far as to argue that as we divide and fight with one another, what we are betraying is that we have not apprehended the glory of God.  Again, this does not mean that Christians are to have spiritual fellowship with false religion, but it does mean that denominations are sometimes guilty of so narrowing their understanding of Christianity to the point that anyone outside of their specific interpretation of non-essentials is considered highly suspect.

But what is it about the glory of Christ that ought to draw us together with other Christians?  To begin with, what is the glory of Christ?  The Greek word for glory is do/xa (doxa), which is the word we get “doxology” from.  This word refers to the magnificence of or splendor of a person.  The Hebrew word for this is dOwbD;k (kabod), and it also captures the idea of something that is weighty in its significance.  Thus, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), he is reflecting on this idea of the weightiness and significance of what we will become.  C.S. Lewis also relates this concept in his work, The Great Divorce, where the heavenly people are substantial and weighty and the people from Hell are described as ghosts or phantasms, no longer having any substance of their own.

Though humans are sometimes referred to as glorious, God’s glory is infinitely greater than the glory that men might earn or be given. In fact, the glory due to God is so much greater than what we can conceive that even our best efforts to rightly honor our God on our own strength are doomed to utter failure.  And thus, as God’s glory is much greater than man’s glory, the weightiness of that glory is so infinitely great that we ought to be both overwhelmed and smothered by it when in His presence.  When the saints of old witnessed the glory of God, their response was to be humbled and bow in worship—yet, how casually we tend to come before God and how arrogantly we present ourselves before Him.  How, when we come to him in prayer, we have lost any sense of His transcendence and his glory.  There is a certain electricity that is in the air as children anticipate seeing the first snow of the season or as they go to bed on Christmas eve, anticipating what will be under the tree the following morning; we ought to have this same “electric” anticipation as we prepare to go before our Lord in prayer or before we come into his presence for corporate worship.  It is as if we almost don’t expect to be confronted by the glory of the Almighty God of the universe.

A good novel can compel us to keep reading long after we ought to have put it down and either gone to bed or go to do another project.  Why is it that so often Christians agonize over the idea of even reading a chapter of the Bible a day?  And why is it that so many Christians are not riveted by the text, but are put to sleep by it?  It is almost as if they do not expect to find the glory of the transcendent God revealed on the Bible’s pages.  Yet, beloved, that is exactly what God does on the pages of scriptures!  He reveals to us Christ!  He shows us his mighty redemptive work as well as his remarkable grace to a rebellious people—people who again have experienced the glory of God and have chosen to ignore it to worship idols of their own creation.  To those who deserve wrath (like us), God has shown grace.  And not only that (as if that is quantifiable in human terms!), God has taught us in his word how we can best enjoy Him and how we can best enjoy life in this world.  What a wonderful book we have been given—one through which we can apprehend the invisible God and know our role in His creation as bearers of His image.  There is no human work that can pale in comparison.

Yet, how often our actions betray our hearts.  We act as if God’s glory is nothing  more than a flickering light that hardly offers any illumination in the darkness of the world in which we live. And if we do not go with an expectation that God will reveal his glory to us in his word or in his worship, why should he reveal himself?  Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing…” (John 20:29), what poor straights we are in.  And, Jesus here in this prayer is saying, “May the glory that I give to my disciples be such that brings them in unity with one another and demonstrates to the world that I am God.”  If we don’t grasp the weightiness of God’s glory in a real and tangible way—such a way that drives us to our knees in prayer, worship, and the study of God’s word—then how will we ever cease to bicker over the non-essential things that separate us?  And similarly, if our Christian testimony to the world is tied to our unity, should we be surprised that the non-believers are so hostile towards Christian witness?  Loved ones, let us evaluate first our own hearts and then our hearts amongst other believers, and ask ourselves, is the glory of God binding us in union with fellow believers and is our apprehension of God’s glory attracting others to the faith?  It ought to be.

His Majesty Covers the Heavens (Habakkuk 3:3)

“God entered from Teman and the Holy One from Mount Paran—Selah!

His majesty covers the heavens and his praise fills the earth.”

(Habakkuk 3:3)


From here on out, there is a shift of focus from God’s coming judgment on Israel to God’s judgment on the Babylonians for coming to destroy Israel.  Teman and Paran are both areas that are part of the territory ruled by the Edomites (the descendents of Esau).  The language of God “entering from” this area is not so much language meant to suggest that God is not with his people, but instead meant to depict the God of Glory who knows no national boundaries executing judgment on his enemies even as he moves to redeem his people.  It is worth noting that while the Edomites were not the invading force that overthrew Judah and their capitol city, Jerusalem, they did assist the Babylonians by helping to round up the Israelites that sought to escape from the region.  For this action, God uses the harshest language of judgment.  Thus, God judges without, but also brings strict discipline upon his people within the covenant.

Mid verse (not at the end like some of our translations render it) there is a “Selah,” a liturgical term of which no one really knows the meaning. Some have suggested that it is related to the term ll;s’ (salal), which means “to raise up,” suggesting that it is an instruction to singers to raise their voices at this section of music.  Others suggest that it is derived from the verb hl;s’ (salah), which means “to discard” or “to throw away,” suggesting this is where voices were to drop off.  Simply speaking, we just do not know, though the context of this passage at least would suggest a crescendo, not a decrescendo. 

Either way, Habakkuk moves from the focus on geography to the God who transcends Geography and enters into a wonderful description of God on high in this and the following verses.  To begin with, Habakkuk speaks of God’s majesty covering the heavens.  The word that Habakkuk uses here is dAh (hod), which speaks of the power, the splendor, or the majesty of God.  It is similar in use to the word dAbK’ (kavod), which means “weighty” and is used to speak of God’s glory.  The bottom line is that God’s majesty, his glory, his honor, his splendor, his wonder, etc…—all of these attributes—are too big and glorious for the world to contain.  Like a weighty blanket, God’s glory is spread across the earth. 

And, as a result of God’s majesty spread across the earth, the earth resounds with God’s praise.  The word employed here is hL’hiT. (tehillah), which typically speaks of songs of praise.  This is worth noting initially because the Hebrew language contains numerous words to describe the praise of God’s people as they enter into his presence.  The second reason to point this out is because in the Hebrew culture, singing was a very important part of life and worship and I wonder sometimes whether we have lost some of that in our modern culture—the idea of singing God’s praises both inside and outside of the sanctuary—singing God’s praises even as a form of our outward testimony of God’s grace.  And when I am speaking, I don’t so much have in mind the professionals, but the average person like you or me—do the events of God’s grace and splendor all around us in life move us to sing his praises as we go through life?  They do for Habakkuk as you will see at the end of this chapter.

The final reason that this language of praise needs to be pointed out is that the earth is described as being filled with God’s praises.  Indeed, in the heavenly presentation of worship, all of creation sings its praises to God (Revelation 5:13) and if mankind does not sing, nature will take his place (Luke 19:40).  Part of the Dominion Mandate (Genesis 1:28-30) is to do just what Habakkuk is talking about—fill the earth with praise.  We are to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and make disciples so that the earth will be filled with the praises of God.  The question we must always be asking ourselves is what are we doing to fulfill that mandate?  Are we going to the ends of the world ourselves?  Are we sharing the gospel with our neighbors so that our communities will be filled with the praises of God?  Are we equipping others to fulfill this mandate?  Are our churches doing the same?  Beloved, this is our call—to fill the earth with the praises of those who love our Great and Majestic King, Jesus Christ.

We’ve a story to tell to the nations,

That shall turn their hearts to the right;

A story of truth and mercy,

A story of peace and light,

A story of peace and light.

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,

And the dawning to noon-day bright;

For Christ’s great kingdom shall come to the earth,

The kingdom of love and light.

-Ernest Nichol

Found in Christ

“When Christ should be revealed—who is your life—then, also you will be revealed in glory.”  (Colossians 3:4)


Beloved, not only is our life, that is our true life, tied to Christ, but the glory that we will one day experience is tied to Christ as well.  Everything we are and everything we do is dependant on the one whom we serve.  We have no life apart from Christ, but only know death and sin.  In Christ there is life and as Christ was raised in glory, so too, will believers be raised up in glory when Christ returns in the skies.  What a wonderful promise that God has given us; not only does he justify us and redeem us from our sins, but in time he will glorify us with his Son!

Friends, dwell on that picture.  Let it sink into your soul.  This is not a lame promise of sitting on the clouds playing a harp for eternity, but this is a real and concrete promise that we will be remade according to the image of Christ—free of all of the difficulties and problems that are associated with these mortal bodies that we have now.  And, in the glorious resurrection, we will be free from sin.  St. Augustine called not being able to sin the greatest freedom.  What a wonderful promise and hope we have.

The problem is that we often do not live our lives like a people of hope.  Instead, we live our lives in the world just as the rest of the world does.  So often we fear death and seek to flee from it; so often we cling to the things of this world, when the next world beckons us.  Beloved, if you have been born again in Jesus Christ, you have a blessed hope, and that hope is the glorious resurrection alongside of the Lord Jesus Christ when he returns to judge the world and condemn his enemies.  Trust in that promise, for it is sure and true.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings,

Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the new-born King.”

-Charles Wesley

The Reflection of God’s Image (b): Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 10)

and the exact image of his essence…


So, understanding the theology of this passage in terms of the divine nature of Christ, what does that mean for us as humans apart from the theology of salvation?  We are told in scripture that as human beings we too are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Yet in the fall of Adam and Eve, while the image of God within us was not lost, it was severely twisted and warped by sin.  Living as sinful men and women, that sin nature distorts the image of God, making it difficult to see or understand and impossible to experience.  Yet, Christ is the exact image of God (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15), and Christ, in all his being and glorious work, did so without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  In other words, if we want to look at a picture of what our lives ought to look like were we not marred by sin, Christ provides that picture!

Thus, that is why, when we talk of our sanctification, we often use the language of being made more like Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1).  Or, perhaps to put it in another way, as we grow in grace, our lives should more and more reflect Christ and less and less reflect our old, sinful man.  People should be able to look at your life and at mine, as believers in Jesus Christ, and see Christ reflected in us. 

So how do we engender that in our lives?  Certainly the process of our sanctification is a process driven and empowered by the Holy Spirit, but there are also many passages in scripture that exhort us to labor alongside of the Spirit as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:10).  In other words, the way in which we order our lives either resists or compliments the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  So how do we being the process of what Peter refers to as “supporting” or “reinforcing” our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7)?  To begin with, we need to go back to the Ten Commandments, the Moral Law of God, and seek to apply that to our lives.  Why is this the place to begin?  First of all, Peter says as much in 2 Peter 1:5, for the very first attribute that is to be added to faith is that of ajreth/ (arete), or “moral excellence.”  Where else would we find God’s standard of moral excellence other than in God’s moral law?  In addition, the moral law itself is a reflection of God’s perfect and holy character, thus, if we are being remade into the image of Christ who is the perfect image of God, then ought not we strive to instill within our lives the moral excellences as taught by God and demonstrated by his very character?

Loved ones, how important it is to apply God’s law to our lives and seek to live it out.  Indeed, we cannot do so in our own strength, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit, these character traits may be worked out in our lives.  Through the process of sanctification we are being made ready for glory—we won’t ever be fully glorified here in this world, but as we grow in faith, we should be more and more reflecting Christ and less and less reflecting our old, fleshly, sinful selves.  How deep and wide is the chasm that Christ bridged between sinful men and God himself, let us walk along that bridge, not resisting the movement of the Holy Spirit, but participating with it, so that our lives reflect the reality of the Spirit’s work in us and on us in every way.  Look to your lives, beloved, and apply God’s perfect law so that you may reflect Christ to a sinful world—Christ who is the exact image of His essence.

David in the Wilderness: Psalm 63 (part 3)

“Thus, in the Holy Place, I have seen you;

seeing your might and your glory.”

(Psalm 63:3 {Psalm 63:2 in English Bibles})


Now, a question of translation arises in the first clause.  This verse begins with the words vd<QoB; !Ke (ken baqodesh), which mean “thus, in the Holy Place.”  The interpretive question that must be asked is whether or not David is referring generally to the sanctuary of God, as many translate it, which would likely speak of the Tabernacle and the grounds around it, or whether he is literally referring to the “The Holy Place” within the Tabernacle. 

The parallelism that we find in the second verse does not help us too much in answering that question given that it really highlights the second part of the first clause.  David says that he has seen God in the first part of the verse, then clarifies the statement at the end of the verse with the language of having seen God’s might and glory.  Indeed, this is something that David had witnessed early on in his life, but far more so by the later days (again, suggesting the probability of a later date).

So, how ought we to understand this first clause?  We can certainly take this as a general reference to the Tabernacle as a whole, but my suggestion is that this is a very specific reference to the Holy Place within the Tabernacle.  The structure of the tabernacle was that there were outer courts where the people could pray and worship, but when you entered the Tabernacle proper, there were two separate rooms, the Holy Place, where only priests were permitted to go and then the “Holy of Holies,” where the high priest alone was allowed to go once a year to take the blood of the sacrifice on the day of Atonement.

If only the priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place, how is it that David might have seen it?  There were three pieces of furniture within the Holy Place.  The first was the altar of incense, where incense was burned perpetually before the Lord to represent the perpetual prayers of the saints.  The second piece of furniture was the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand. This was kept lit through the night, not only providing light within the Holy Place, but also as a symbol of the light of truth to the world.  Lastly, there was the Table of Shewbread (also called the bread of the presence).  There were 12 loaves of bread that were put on the table on the first day of the week and left there until the Sabbath, when the priests would eat them and new loaves would be brought.  The twelve loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel and the loaves together in the Holy Place represented the people of God in the perpetual presence of their God.

In 1 Samuel 21:1-9, we learn that at one point in David’s life, when he was fleeing from Saul, he and his men came to Nob (where the tabernacle was at the time) and asked for food.  The only food that was available was the shewbread—something that was only allowed for the priests to eat.  Yet, these loaves were given to David and his men.  Now, we are not told that David himself went into the Holy Place to retrieve these loaves, but this is not totally un-probable. 

Regardless on where you may fall in this discussion, the point is the same:  in the midst of David’s darkest hour, in the middle of spiritual dryness, his strength comes from his reliance on the Lord.  Oh, how often we falter, dear friends, because we seek to rely on our own strength rather than on the strength of God.  How often we allow the world to overrun or at least intrude into our spiritual lives.  How easily distracted our prayer time can be.  Beloved, what David is reminding us of is just how we rely upon God for our strength and apart from God, we will wither away—much like the plants of the land do when they are without water.  It is in God and in his glory that we must rest—it is in Christ and only in Christ that we can find health and joy.  Oh, beloved, seek his face, pursue the Lord and rest in him—no matter what the state of the world around you.


A Proverb in a Song: part 13

“Do not fear that a man should gain riches,

for the glory of his house becomes great,

because he will not take any of it on his death,

his glory will not go down after him.”

(Psalm 49:17-18 {Psalm 16-17 in English Bibles})


You may feel that, after the psalmist has reached the climax of his message, he is going back over the same ground again, perhaps for emphasis.  But do not miss the implications of this statement.  Essentially, the psalmist is looking around at the world and recognizing a fact that believers have noticed for years and years—how is it that the wicked are so often the ones who get wealthy and famous in this world?  With that in mind, he is saying, fear not—for no matter how much wealth they may accumulate and no matter how much fame and glory they may achieve, it is all for naught.  It will die with them.  No matter how you translate “Sheol” in the previous passage, the results are the same once you arrive here—at the grave or in eternal torment, your glory will do you no good—your reputation will not follow you beyond this world.

Yet, do not think that the psalmist is only thinking in negative terms, because he communicates a profound truth if you read between the lines.  The faithful do not concern themselves with earthly glory, but, rather, their glory is God himself!  Thus, not only will God preserve his own through the grave, bringing them into eternal paradise and not judgment, but the glory of the faithful will remain with them—what is more, it will increase!  For in death, we are brought into the presence of God himself, no longer separated by sin from being able to recognize the glory of our God and King!  What a wonderful promise, what a wonderful gift!

The problem is that for many believers, their glory is not found in God alone, but they have become tempted by the culture we live in to seek after the perishable things of this world.  Oh, how often our eyes become turned away from the source of all true riches.  We become burdened by bills to pay, desires to have this or that, and wishes to give our families all the things that our neighbors are giving to their families.  We say, wouldn’t life be so much better if we had this or that…  Yet, one thing leads to the next and we end up on a pathway that leads to seeking after the things of this world with our energies, rather than devoting ourselves to seeking after God and His glory. 

Loved ones, do not fall into that trap.  The things of this world are perishable and will pass away.  They will slip from your hands just as easily as water through your fingers.  And in death, you will take none of it with you.  Yet, beloved, here is the hope that we may glory in—seek after God and his glory and not only will it enrich and bless your life in immeasurable ways here on earth, but you will take it with you—and not only that, if your glory is God in this world, dear friends, how much more will you enjoy that glory in the next!!!  Oh, loved ones, what a wonder of God’s grace!  Beloved, find your joy and your treasure and your glory in God and it will never perish and those things will follow you from this life into the next.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!

Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free;

Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me.

Underneath me, all around me,

Is the current of thy love;

Leading onward, leading homeward,

To thy glorious rest above.

-Samuel Trevor Francis

The Light of Creation: Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 8)

Who being the radiance of the glory…

Many people ask the question of those of us who hold strongly to the Biblical account of creation (God creating in a literal period of six 24-hour days, then resting on the seventh, literal, 24-hour day), “If the sun and stars were not created until day 4, how was there light on the earlier days?” While there are many pseudo-scientific answers that have been presented to address this question, we need not go beyond the scriptural texts, for in this passage, God gives us the answer. Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. He is the effulgent splendor of God’s glory—of his greatness—of his “weightiness! What a wonderful thought, God’s glory cannot be contained or cloaked in darkness, but it must be seen, and who is the one who reflects that glory down upon the newly created earth? Jesus the Christ! And he continues to shine God’s glory down upon us for all time. Thus, when God the Father pronounced, “Let there be light!”, it was God the Son who revealed and reflected that light down upon a watching world. In addition, we are told that in the new creation that there will be no sun and no darkness, but the glory of God will be with our light we will exist to praise him and to glory in him.
Yet, the first line of this verse should not simply be seen in terms of creation, but in terms of all redemptive history! The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), believers are redeemed to the glory of God (Philippians 2:11), and Christ is the means by which God pours out and demonstrates that glory to his created order. Beloved, that ought to cause your heart to skip! The reason that we know of the sun is because it radiates its light and heat to us. The reason that we know that a flame is hot is because of the heat that radiates out from the flame. Beloved, the reason that we know of the glory of God is because God chose to radiate that glory to us in Christ. What a wonderful hope and promise, what a wonderful privilege given to him, and ought we not honor him appropriately? Ought we not pour out our praise for God the Son, not only for what he has done for us as believers, but for who he is. As Paul writes, there will come a time that even those who are eternally perishing will give Christ his due (Philippians 2:11), ought we not begin now? Loved ones, think through your days, your weeks, and your years; what does your private worship look like? Do we genuinely praise Christ in all we do and give him thanks for all we have been given? Do we praise him for who he is? Do we exalt him before a watching world with our words and with our lives? If not, what is holding us back? Jesus Christ is the very radiance—the effulgent splendor—of the glory of God; honor him as such.

God is Glorified

“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.”

(Matthew 6:13b, KJV)


As we mentioned before, this is not the only prayer that a believer can pray, nor is it the only prayer that Scripture offers to us, but it is the model upon which all our prayers ought to be based.  And all of our prayers ought to have this as their goal—that God be glorified forever.  That God be glorified in our world.  That God be glorified in our families and in our own lives.  That God be glorified in all we think, all we do, and in all we say.  That God be glorified in every aspect of our living and that through whatever we do in life, that we convey to the unbelieving world that Jesus Christ is Lord and King over all creation.

This, dear friends, is our purpose in life and there is no other, that we glorify God with an aim to enjoying him forever.  Oh, that all the nations would come to hear and understand this one thing!  Oh, that missionaries would reach every corner of this planet to proclaim God’s glorious gospel!  Oh, to see that time when all of God’s elect will gather before the throne of the risen Christ—people from every tongue and tribe and land—singing praise to the King in one accord!  Oh, what a time that will be!  Believer, I look to join you at that time, but what about those we care about who have not joined us in faith?  Will you bid them to join us at the throne of Christ?  Will you share the gospel with them one more time and then another time again as the Lord allows?  

Heir of all things: Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 6)

“Whom he established as heir of all things…”


Loved ones, not only is Christ the means by which God has spoken, but the writer of Hebrews further asserts that Christ is the heir, the beneficiary, of all things.  Everything that is, that was, and ever will be is made and given to Christ—Creation is bowed before him and is laid at his feet for His glory and honor!  Not only is all of scripture designed to point to Christ, but all of the created order is also designed to point directly to our risen Lord!  What a wonderful statement of truth!

Yet, this raises an important point that must be addressed.  If we take this statement seriously, and we ought, then not only must our theology and reading of the Bible be Christological, but , so too must our reading of all life!  In other words, our science, must be Christological; our history must be Christological; our sociology must be Christological; our philosophy, our psychology, our mathematics, our literature, our grammar, our engineering, our biology—all these disciplines are given to Christ for his glory and honor, thus all these disciplines, to be rightly pursued, must be pursued in such a way as that they give Christ glory and honor!  Oh, what a wonderful testimony and reminder that Christ is the center and focal point of all things in creation, yet oh, how far short we often fall from this great and lofty end!  Beloved, shall we aim for the glory of Christ?  Shall we aim to see Christ honored in every academic subject and in every endeavor known to man?  Indeed, if we believe this passage to be true, we must, for all things have been handed over to Christ as the great heir, and to fail to do so, is to fail to honor him as the ruler and heir that he is.  Ask yourselves, dear friends, what it is that you are doing to deliberately point every area of your life to the glory of Christ.  

In These Last Days… : Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 4)

“in these last days…”


It seems like every time there is a natural disaster or some sort of terrible event, that religious groups begin crawling out of the woodwork proclaiming that the end times are here.  Over the years, people have also tried to read the events that are listed in the book of Revelation in such a way as to discern when Jesus will return—and have always been wrong.  We may chuckle at some of these folks, thinking of them as radicals, but there is a sense in which they are correct.  We are in the last days—yet, according to scripture, we have been in the last days since the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Notice how the writer of Hebrews writes, “in these last days.”  The great problem with the popular way of interpreting the book of Revelation as things that will take place in the future “last days” is that we are in the last days right now and we have been in those days for nearly 2000 years.  Thus, when scripture speaks of the end times, know that we are in them and what we are waiting for is not the inauguration of the end times but the consummation of the end times, which will take place at the return of Christ and in his final judgment upon the sinful world and redemption of the elect.

This helps to explain the language of anticipation that is found within the book of Revelation.  Jesus says, “indeed, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).  There is no question as to the fact that many in the early church expected to see Christ’s return within their own lifetimes, but they were counting soon-ness as man counts soon-ness, not as God counts soon-ness.  Does this mean that God is slow to act?  Certainly not!  Peter reminds us that God’s patience means redemption for all of the elect (2 Peter 3:9).  At the same time, our lives need to be characterized by a hopeful anticipation of the nearness of Christ’s return. 

So how then should we live out our lives in anticipation of Christ’s return?  First, we must live in repentance, not holding on to sins, but asking forgiveness in Christ so that we might come into God’s presence with a clear conscience.  Second, we should live modeling the Gospel for those around us.  How many people do we know that do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?  Have you shared the Gospel with them or are you still looking for “that right moment?”  The problem is, if you are living as if Christ may return any moment, every moment is the right moment to share the Gospel.  Thirdly, take risks for the Gospel with your time and with your money.  God will provide for your needs, use your resources to help spread the Gospel beyond your sphere of influence—or even better, go on the mission field yourself!   It does not need to be a 5 year commitment in the jungles of the Amazon, but it could simply be a two week trip to serve alongside a missionary that is working somewhere other than where you could normally reach.  I promise that it will be a wonderfully rewarding time.  Friends, in these last days God is calling us to be workers in the field; some fields are close to home and some are far away—but regardless of the distance, there is a harvest that needs to be brought in and the time is coming soon when the day of harvesting will be over.  The storms are coming, dear friends, and there is still a harvest that needs bringing into the barn; let us work with a renewed sense of determination to bring in the harvest, no matter how far the fields are from our homes.

God was Speaking Long Ago: Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 3)

“God was speaking long ago to the Fathers through the prophets…”


We spoke above about how God is a communicating God.  This is one of the things that separates the One True God from all of the false gods of this world—our God speaks to his people.  Buddha does not speak and has never spoken to his followers.  Allah does not speak and has never spoken to his followers.  Those who relate that they have had an authentic and supernatural experience that contradicts the scriptures, like that of Joseph Smith who founded the Mormons, they are visions of the devil only, the great counterfeiter who seeks to do nothing but usurp the power of God.

With this in mind, this clause makes a very important statement to us.  Our God did speak through the ages in many forms and ways, but he did so through prophets and he spoke to the Fathers of the faith.  God has always had a group of called out and faithful people through whom and to whom he spoke.  God did not speak to the pagans and tell them to bring purity to His people; God speaks in faithfully orthodox circles. 

Throughout the ages, false teachers have claimed to have a “new revelation” from God, and beloved, this is not how God works.  Through the Old Testament, God spoke through his prophets, and in the clause that follows this one, the writer of Hebrews will remind us that now God speaks to his people only through Jesus.  God brings us together as a community of believers not only to bless us with fellowship but also to keep us free from error.  The flock that is held tightly together by the faithful shepherd is safer from predators.  Though tradition is always to be subordinate to scriptural truth, God raises up fathers in the faith for our teaching, instruction, and guidance in the study of God’s word. 

Beloved, we are a culture that thrives on what is new and “groundbreaking,” but God is an ageless God.  Beware of those who would tell you that they have found a “new way” to understand the things of God.  For nearly two thousand years, the finest minds in history have been pouring over God’s word, seeking to understand its riches.  And though the depths are infinite, and though we can never exhaust the riches within God’s word, when we think we have found a new way of understanding something that has been understood a different way by the church fathers of old, we are likely flirting with heresy.  Beloved, let us stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, let us be guarded by their orthodoxy so that our lives might safeguard the orthodoxy of the next generation.

In Many Parts and in Many Ways: Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 2)

“In many parts and in many ways…”


While many of our Bibles read something to the extent of “in many times and ways…” the word that the Greek text uses is polumerw:V (polumeros), which refers not to chronological divisions but to material divisions.  Thus, as the author of Hebrews begins speaking of God’s revelation, he is speaking of the many divisions and kinds of literature within the Canon.  Indeed, the author of all scripture is God himself, but he wrote by inspiring the prophets (and later the apostles) so that you can see their stylistic fingerprint upon the literature. 

One of the things about God’s word that should cause is to stand in amazement is the incredible unity within and between the books.  This is in itself a testimony to God’s existence and inspiration of its writers.  There are 66 books in the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New.  This was done through 9 authors in the New Testament and at least 29 authors in the Old Testament.  Its writing was begun somewhere around 1450 BC (when the Israelites were on Mount Sinai) and completed around 95 AD (when John penned the book of Revelation)—across 1500 years, which includes a break of 400 years between the last prophet (Malachi) and the close of Chronicles and the coming of a new prophet (John the Baptist) on the scene.  Were this simply a book of compiled religious writings, not only would it not have survived in tact to this day, but it would be filled with inconsistencies and problems—the Bible is not.

In addition, the very fact that God spoke through a variety of people through history is not only a testimony that God exists, it tells us quite a bit about his character.  First, God communicates.  God is not the “unmoved mover” of the ancient Greeks who is transcendent above all else and cannot be communicated with from the mortal world.  God transcends the gap between himself and a sinful world to make his will known to man.  Secondly, God is a God that is active in the affairs of humans.  He cares about the purity of his chosen people and he cares about the right and proper worship of his name.  He cares about the affairs of men and he proved it by speaking to men for more than 1000 years, slowly revealing and explaining his redemptive plan until it met its perfection and completion in the sending of his Son to die a sacrificial death on the cross.

Thirdly, God is a God who had a plan for mankind.  Humans fell into sin with Adam and Eve and sin is deserving of death and destruction.  The simple fact that God pronounced a promise of a coming redeemer (Genesis 3:15) is a reminder that throughout the history of mankind, God had his plan of redemption in place.  That plan had its ultimate fulfillment in the cross, which stands at the very center of all human history.  All that took place before the cross was a process of preparing for the work of Jesus; all that has taken place afterward and all that will yet take place is a result of that work that Jesus completed.  The fact that God did not bring judgment to the human race at the fall and that he would reveal himself to a people throughout history, means that he has a plan for mankind, namely the redemption of the race through the eternal salvation of the elect and the judgment of those who do not cling to Christ in faith.

Fourthly, it tells us that we have a God who desires for his people to know him personally and intimately.  We know about the character and nature of God because he has revealed it to us so that we might know him.  Fifthly, the variety of types of literature contained within the Scriptures (historical narrative, law, prophetic works, poetry, wisdom literature, Gospel, apocalyptic, etc…) tells us that God is a creative God.  And just as God is creative, we who have been made in God’s image express our creativity in what we do and in how we write. 

The fact that God’s word (as well as his world) is orderly tells us that God is an orderly God.  Chaos and misadventure are not part of God’s character and they have only become a part of mankind’s character as a result of sin.  There is also a unity within God’s word that points clearly at his Son, Jesus Christ.  All of the scriptures are about Jesus and God wants us to know this.  He is the redeemer and the author of our faith.  He is the great Lord and Master of the believer and it is through Christ that all things were created (though we are getting ahead of ourselves).  The very fact that the scriptures point unanimously to Christ is a reminder to us that our lives also ought to point to Christ without any compromise.  The way we live should not contradict what we say, just as the way God acts toward his people does not contradict what the scriptures say about the nature of God.

Beloved, while we could go on and on, what I want more than anything for you to see is the incredible unity of scripture as well as its intricate complexity.  It is simple enough for a child to understand the basics when it is read, yet it is complex enough for even the most well-educated scholar to never exhaust, and it is deep enough that any, no matter how wise or how long they have walked in the faith, will find it satisfying and rich throughout a lifetime of study.  This is the nature of the word that God has given us in various parts and in various ways, and this nature reflects the God who is behind these words.  Dig deeply, dear friends, though at times you may feel overwhelmed and discouraged, press on, you will never be dismayed by the depth of what you find.