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Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Light For Revelation to the Gentiles

In Luke 2:22-38, we read of Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord, as the Law required for every firstborn male.  A man named Simeon, who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ, was moved to go to the temple, as well.  When Simeon saw the baby, “he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel’” (Luke 2:28-32).

Prior to this, the birth of Christ appeared to be a gift to the Jews alone.  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied in Luke 1:68-79, speaking of salvation “in the house of His servant David,” “to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant.”  Mary, in her song of praise in 1:46-55, sings of God helping “His servant Israel.” When Gabriel is foretelling of the Lord’s birth, he reveals “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.” 

And yet, Simeon reveals that the Child will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles, as well.  It is important to note that this was God’s plan all along.  There are some who view the offering of the gospel to the Gentiles as God’s “plan B” – the Jews rejected Christ, so God had to call for the evangelizing of the Gentiles in order to salvage His plan for salvation.  But this text in Luke 2 shows that God intended to save Gentiles long before the Jews rejected Him.

We’ve seen hints of this in our short study in Matthew the last few weeks.  The genealogy of Matt 1 includes both Jews and Gentiles, demonstrating that Christ’s family tree was not strictly Jewish.  Later in the chapter, when it is revealed to Joseph the significance of Mary’s pregnancy, the angel reveals of the baby, “He will save His people from their sins.”  This calls the readers attention back to the genealogy, hinting that this Savior will be a redeemer of all kinds of people. 

Chapter 2 supports this notion.  We saw last Sunday morning that there were three groups confronted with the Christ, all of whom responded to Him in one of two ways, rejection or worship.  Who was it that received the special revelation of the star and understood its significance?  The Gentile wise men.  Who were the only ones to worship the baby King?  The Gentile wise men.

We also find in the epistles evidence that it was always God’s intention to bring salvation to the Gentiles.  In Gal 3:8, Paul writes, And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."  In Eph 3, we read about “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (vv4-5).  What is this mystery?  “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v6).

But was this really God’s plan all along?  Yes.  V11, reads “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

How then do we explain Jesus’ statement to the Canaanite woman in Matt 15:24, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"?  This is a matter of chronology, not intention.  It was always God’s intention to save “the nations” (Gal 3:8; Acts 26:22-23), yet in the accomplishment of His plan, it pleased God to proclaim the gospel to the Jew first, then to the Gentile (Acts 1:8; Rom 1:16; 2:9-11). 

We have further evidence that this was God’s eternal plan in that Scripture teaches that God blinded the Jews, that He might bring the gospel to the Gentiles.  Romans 11:7-8: What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day."  V11 adds that “through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles.”  In His providence, God has brought about this chain of events “in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (Rom 9:23-24).

This is why it is appropriate for us to consider that the Christ was sent to us, as a matter of God’s eternal elective purpose, rather than as an afterthought.  God is not like a man whose plans don’t always pan out.  Salvation history is not the story of how God’s hopes were riding on the Jews, yet against His intention, they rejected Christ, forcing Him to seek an alternative so that the incarnation would not go to waste.  No, it was all His plan from eternity past, and it has all, is all, and will all come to pass exactly as He desires. 

It is this magnificent tapestry of salvation that moves Paul to exclaim, Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?  Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)

There is so much meaning, history, prophecy, and providence present in the manger scene.  Just a small Jewish child asleep on the hay – and yet the singular hope for the eternal reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in one body to God. 

I’m looking forward to worshiping Him with you on Christmas Eve.  Oh, come let us adore Him.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Matthew 1 Paternity Gap

It is always true that when an expository message is preached, there is much that could be said that is left unsaid due to time constraints.  Last Sunday’s message is no different.  So here are a few of the things that were not said.

Remember that the genealogy in the first half of Matthew 1 served to demonstrate Christ’s humanity.  His family tree looked much like yours and mine – a wide array of imperfect people, most of whom were characterized by their vices rather than their virtues.  In fact, that was Matthew’s point in relating the genealogy as he did.  We further noted that Matthew offered that genealogy to trace the line from Abraham through David to Jesus, showing the Jesus was the seed promised to Abraham and the rightful heir to the throne of David.

But v16 would seem to throw a wrench into the works: …And Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.  There’s a problem.  Through the whole genealogy, we see “so-and-so was the father of so-and-so.”  That’s a translation of the Greek, which says, “so-and-so beget so-and-so.”  Each time, there’s a father begetting a son.  Until we get to v16.  There’s a gap.  And Jacob beget Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom Jesus was begotten.  In other words, the pattern of father begets son stops with Joseph.  He doesn’t beget anyone.  Mary begets Jesus. 

This leads to an important question: how can Jesus be considered the son of David and the son of Abraham, and therefore have a right to the throne, if Joseph did not beget Him, if there is a break in the line?   Doesn’t this paternity gap ruin the point that Matthew is making?

This gap has much to do with why the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream.  He said to Joseph in vv20-12, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."   There are two notable things here.  First, the angel addresses Joseph as “son of David,” reminding the reader that Joseph is a direct blood descendent of David, as was just demonstrated in the genealogy.  This connection is key. 

Second, the revelation of the angel serves to do more than put Joseph’s mind at ease.  It serves to prompt him to take Mary as his wife.  The revelation that she has conceived by the Holy Spirit shows Joseph that Mary has not committed adultery, therefore he is still contractually obligated to marry her.  That Joseph understood this to be the angel’s meaning is shown in v24, When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife.  Further, the angel commanded Joseph to call the baby “Jesus.”  V25 records Joseph’s obedience to this command.  That is significant because the naming of a child was the prerogative of the father.  That means that Joseph claimed Jesus as his own.  He would raise the child as his son (Luke 3:23; John 1:45; 6:42).

So how did this remedy the paternity gap in v16?  Joseph’s adoption of Jesus provided for His legal claim to the throne of David.  An adopted son was afforded all the blessings and rights of a natural son – which is why we, as the adopted children of God, are joint heirs with Christ! (Gal 4:7; Rom 8:16-17; Eph 1:3; Titus 3:4-7)

Another good question related to v16: why was the gap necessary?  Christ’s paternity was essential to His mission.  As I pointed out Sunday, only a man who was God and only a God who was a man could save us from our sins.  He had to be a man to be a valid substitute for us (Heb 2:14-17).  And He had to be God in order to pay our infinite debt of sin (Rom 8:3-4).  Therefore, He had to be the Son of God. 

But there is another reason for that gap.  In order to pay the debt of sin, Jesus had to be sinless (Heb 4:14-15; 7:25-28).  He had to be born without the tainting of original sin and He had to actively obey the Father for His entire life.  A human father would have passed on original sin, making Christ’s substitution for us impossible – there would have been no righteousness for Him to impute to us (Rom 5:19; 1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:8-9; 1 Pe 3:18; 2 Pe 1:1; 1 Jo 2:1).

But what about Mary?  Wasn’t she a sinner?  How could Jesus be born of a woman and not receive a sin nature from her?  This is a good question and one that led the Catholic church to conclude that Mary was sinless.  The problem with this conclusion is three-fold.  First, it does not solve the problem – if Jesus had to have two sinless parents in order to be sinless, then Mary needed to have two sinless parents in order to be sinless.  If you take that to its logical conclusion, Adam and Eve had to be sinless since they were the parents of all the parents that eventually led to the birth of Mary.  Second, it fails to recognize that Scripture gives no indication that Mary was sinless.  Third, and most importantly, it fails to understand how sin is passed down from generation to generation. 

If we take a look at how sin entered the world, we see that Adam is the one who passed original sin on to mankind, not Eve.  We all know that Eve sinned first – she ate of the forbidden fruit and then gave to her husband and he ate (Gen 3:6).  Based on that chronology, we might think that Eve would be recognized as the one through whom sin entered the world.  However, the New Testament shows that this is not the case.  Romans 5:12 tells us that “sin came into the world through one man.” Likewise, in 1 Cor 15:22, we find that “in Adam all die” – that is, by virtue of the human race being born from Adam, all are dead in sin.  We see then that original sin is not passed down from the mother, but through the father.  For that reason, there had to be a paternity gap between Joseph and Jesus.

There are many magnificent aspects of Christ’s birth to meditate on in this season.  As with the atonement, the events surrounding the entry of the Messiah into the world show the manifold wisdom and love of God.  Have you taken time yet to ponder these things in your heart (Luke 2:19, 51)?

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cookies and Carols Is On!

Cookies and Carols are a go! We have a green light and the event will start as planned at 6:00pm.

The snow is falling but the roads are clear. Bundle up, bring the cookies, get ready for the carols, and let's see the Christmas spirit!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Worry and Pride

          Most of us are aware of that often quoted verse in 1 Peter 5 that exhorts us to cast all our anxieties upon Him.  When conversing about worry and anxiety in a Sunday School setting, we can all give the right answer, that it is a sin to not trust God with our concerns.  Yet, the knee-jerk reaction in times of trouble is to hold onto them.  We may try to give our anxieties to the Lord, only to find ourselves relieving Him of the burden and taking them back on our own shoulders.  Why is it that we find it so difficult to cast our anxieties upon Him and leave them there?
          The answer is that our root problem is not anxiety.  It’s pride.  Anxiety is a manifestation of pride.  The truth of that is found in the very passage from which we quote the famous exhortation to “cast all your anxieties upon Him…”  Close inspection will show that we’ve been quoting it wrong, which is why we’ve failed to understand the issue.
          1 Peter 5:6-7 reads, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties upon Him, because He cares for you.”  The imperative here is not to cast your anxieties upon Him, but to humble yourself.  Peter is exhorting the reader to assume a posture of humility before the Lord.  “Casting all your anxieties upon Him” is a participial phrase that modifies the main verb “humble.”  We humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God by casting all our anxieties upon Him.   
          Now that we understand the grammar, what is the connection between humility and trusting God with our problems?  At first glance, the two things may seem unrelated.
          These verses give us two reasons to trust God, and they work in tandem.  One without the other leaves us with no ground for comfort.  First, God is powerful.  The text tells us to humble ourselves under the might hand of God.  This speaks of God’s ability to help us.  He spoke all things into existence and upholds the existence of all things by the word of His power (Gen 1; Heb 1:3).  Surely dealing with my temporal concerns poses no strain for Almighty God.
          Second, God cares for His children.  How many times have we noted that God has marshalled all His resources to accomplish His great purpose for us, our transformation into the likeness of His Son?  All salvation history has proven His indomitable care for us.  As Paul notes in Romans 8:32, God’s grace toward us in Christ in the past proves that His loving disposition toward us is guaranteed in the future – “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
          So God is all-powerful and God cares for us.  As mentioned above, one of these without the other is of little comfort.  If God were all-powerful but did not care for us, we would have great reason for anxiety.  Because of our sin against Him we could and should expect His power to be used against us, not for us.  On the other hand, if God cared for us but was not all-powerful, we might appreciate the sentiment, but casting any anxieties upon Him would be a fruitless exercise since He would not have the ability to do anything about them.  
          But when we put those two truths together – that God is all-power and He cares for us – we find that He has both the ability and the inclination to work all things for our good, just as He has promised (Rom 8:28-30).  
          And this is why it is so incredibly prideful to take our anxieties upon ourselves and not cast them upon Him.  When we do this we are making the implicit statement that even though God is almighty and supremely loving toward us, we are better equipped to deal with the situation than He is.  Our actions simultaneously deny that He is powerful and caring, and exalt us above Him.  
          When we are struggling with anxiety or worry, we should first repent of our pride.  We should confess our implicit denial that He is powerful and loving.  We should ask forgiveness for thinking more highly of ourselves than of Him.  Then we should purpose to humble ourselves, by trusting Him with what concerns us, purposefully mindful of His mighty and caring hand.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, December 2, 2010

He Graciously Blesses

Last Sunday, I was not able to get all the way through Judges 5 in the sermon, so I’d like to cover the last point here.  (You can read the entire text of Judges 5 here, and if you have not heard the message yet, you can find it here.)

The main question confronting us in the text was, “why is God to be praised for man’s obedience of faith?”  v2 reads, “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”  The text gives credit to God for the actions of the Israelites.  This makes a profound statement about the nature of God’s grace.  God is to be praised for man’s obedience of faith because God is Himself the giver of it. 

We then looked at two of three contrasts in the text that develop this picture of God’s grace.  In the first contrast between the all-powerful Yahweh and the powerless Israelites (vv4-8), we found that God is to be praised because He is powerful to save.  Man is so incapable of helping himself that if salvation is going to happen, it must take place by the hand of God alone.

In the second contrast between those who volunteered and those who did not (vv9-23), we found that God is to be praised because He creates the willing.  Because man is dead in his trespasses and sins, unable to come to God in faith, his salvation requires a work of God, regenerating him and giving him the gift of repentance and faith.  The only difference between those tribes who followed God in obedience and those who did not is that God awakened some and allowed others to continue in their sin.

Now we move on to the third contrast, between two women – an unlikely heroine and a self-deceived mother, and we find that God is to be praised because He graciously blesses.  The poetic re-telling of Jael’s killing of Sisera begins in v24:

  24 "Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
 25 He asked water and she gave him milk; she brought him curds in a noble's bowl.
 26 She sent her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen's mallet; she struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple.
 27 Between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; between her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell--dead.

Remember that the main idea of the chapter is still that God is to be praised for man’s obedience of faith.  And yet, here, the text says, “Most blessed of women be Jael.”  This speaks not of praise for Jael, but of reward, similar to the blessings promised in Deut 28 to those who obey the Lord. 

And for what reason is Jael blessed?  Clearly it is for her actions in killing Sisera, as so much emphasis is given to describing it.  Four different verbs – struck, crushed, shattered, and pierced – are used to detail the act of driving the tent peg through his head.  Likewise, v27 repetitively describes his death – he sank, he fell, he lay still, he sank, he fell, he sank, he fell – dead. 

Now we’ve already seen that God is ultimately the one who creates the willing.  And we know from ch4 that God was orchestrating Jael’s actions before the battle between the Canaanites and Israelites ever started (ch1 also notes the providential settling of the Kenites with the Israelites in the Canaan land [1:16]).  5:2 makes it clear that God is to be praised for this victory…and yet, Jael is blessed for her obedience.

God’s grace is unfathomable.  Not only does He save, not only does enable our obedience, but He also rewards our faithfulness. 

We noted a few weeks ago, that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).  According to 1 Cor 3:10-15, our works in this life will be passed through the fire.  “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (vv14-15).  In the context of Judges 4, we focused on the potential for loss on that day.  The blessing of Jael in Judges 5 points us to the other possibility, that we stand to be rewarded for the work we’ve done in this life. 

Consider the difference God’s grace makes.  We deserve to be condemned to a place of eternal, physical torment…but by God’s grace we don’t get that.  But not only are we spared that horror, we are given the hope of eternal paradise in the presence of God, joy inexpressible for all time.  Further, we are made fellow heirs with Christ, becoming recipients of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3-14).  And on top of all that, we are rewarded for deeds that resulted from His working in us (Phil 2:13).   Astounding.  Certainly, God is to be praised.

In the closing lines, God’s justice is demonstrated against those who chose to oppose Him:

  28 "Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice: 'Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?'
 29 Her wisest princesses answer, indeed, she answers herself,
 30 'Have they not found and divided the spoil?-- A womb or two for every man; spoil of dyed materials for Sisera, spoil of dyed materials embroidered, two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?'

The finality of Sisera’s defeat is amplified by this ironic scene of his mother waiting for him to return from the battle.  The implication is that she knows he is gone, but she tries to convince herself that he is just engaging in the barbaric activities that always follow a victory – the taking of the spoils and the violating of the women.  She comforts herself by imagining that he is victimizing others.  This serves to remind us that those who receive the wrath of God will do so justly, and He is to be praised for His justice.

The poem ends with a thematic statement, "So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might." And the land had rest for forty years.

All God’s enemies will perish and all His friends will be like the sun.  All of them will deserve eternal destruction, but some will be transformed by God’s gracious choice.

I’ll repeat here the conclusion from Sunday.  If there is anything worthwhile in your life, praise the Lord.  If you have been saved from your sin and grown in the likeness of Christ, praise the Lord.  If you have been a blessing in the lives of others by deed, by word, or by example, praise the Lord.  Lift up your voice and give praise where praise is due – bless the LORD! 

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

God's Sovereignty and Man's Freedom

In light of the subject matter of the sermon on Sunday, I thought it might be helpful to repost a blog series I wrote last year regarding the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's freedom.

Part 1    Part 2     Part 3

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks for All Things

 I know most believers tomorrow will be taking time to reflect on the things for which they are thankful, and will be taking the time to express that thanksgiving to God.  Family, freedom, warm clothes, homes, food, and certainly for our salvation through Jesus Christ.  Undoubtedly, we have much for which to be thankful, including some things that might not normally be mentioned on Thanksgiving Day.

Those of you who were with us as we made our way through Ephesians may remember 5:18-20, where we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit,” which includes giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Many times when we read such things in Scripture, we want to write them off as hyperbole, but there is sufficient evidence in Scripture that when Paul wrote “everything” in Eph 5:20, he meant everything.

So the aim of this post is to prompt you to ponder some non-traditional things for which to give thanks to God tomorrow.

1. God’s self-revelation

Romans 1:18-20 tell us that God made known to men some of His attributes through the things that have been made.  There we find that the appropriate response to God’s revelation of Himself in creation (which theologians refer to as “general revelation”) is to worship Him and give thanks to Him. 
You may have thanked God for His creation before, but why did you do that?  Because of its beauty?  Surely, that is appropriate.  But let me suggest that we should also thank God for His creation for the simple fact that through it, He has revealed His eternal power and  divine nature.

Consider what the psalmist writes in Psalm 19:1-6:  The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

David’s celebration of the creation was not due to its own beauty, but because it declared the glory of God. 

David’s celebration in Psalm 19 then moves to God’s fuller revelation of Himself in His Word:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.  Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11 ESV).  

What a travesty that we ever go a day without expressing our gratitude to God for graciously giving us His Word translated into our own tongue.  May the Lord kindle in us the heart of the psalmist: Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psa 119:97).  The one who loves the Word will give thanks for it.

2. Fruit in the lives of other believers

There are so many people in my life for whom I am thankful.  I have a tendency to thank God for their presence in my life, but to thank them for their good works.  There is nothing wrong with expressing appreciation to someone, but we must keep in mind who is to receive all glory and thanks for the good works believers do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 reveals that not only is God to be glorified for our conversion, but also for our good deeds: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  The previous verse makes it clear that the scope of salvation, including justification and sanctification, is God’s doing, “so that no one may boast” (v9).

In Romans 6, after exhorting believers to live as those who are dead to sin, in v17, he goes on to credit God for their obedience: But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  

Why would Paul thank God for the obedience of the Romans?  I think we find a clue in Phil 2:12-13, where he exhorts the Philippians to obey, noting that it was God who worked in them both to will and to work for His good pleasure.  So whenever a believer obeys, God has worked in them to bring about that good work.  Therefore, He gets the glory and He is to be thanked. 

3. Various Trials

The New Testament calls us to have a high view of the meticulous sovereignty of God in all things.  As we’ve noted so many times, Ephesians 1:11 describes our God as “Him who works all things after the counsel of His will.”  It is because of God’s meticulous sovereignty that Paul is able to write in Romans 8:28-29 that “all things work together for good,” namely, that we would “be conformed to the image of His Son.” 

That means that even the most difficult trials in the life of a believer are tools in the hands of God as He chisels that believer into the likeness of Christ.  With that glorious end in mind, we are exhorted to not only endure our trials, but to rejoice in them (1 Peter 1:6-7, Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4)! 

It is a mark of spiritual maturity, in the midst of one’s troubles, to not immediately look for a quick way out, but to discern how the Lord might be using that situation to achieve our Christlikeness.  It is a mark of even greater maturity to give thanks to God for those trials and to rejoice in them.  May the Lord grow us all in that way.

I pray that you all have a wonderful thanksgiving.  My family will be giving thanks for the fruit He has produced in the lives of His children at PBF!

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Temptation Toward Isolation

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

It is a natural human tendency to avoid accountability.  We are rebellious at heart, we do not want to submit ourselves to others, and we do not want people examining our lives.  It could be said that it is the sinfully natural thing to desire spiritual autonomy. 

But this verse in Proverbs shows how unwise it is to isolate oneself from others.  It is completely self-centered – whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire – and it is foolish - …he breaks out against all sound judgment.

God gave the church to the church.  Ephesians 4:9-16 makes it clear that we are to be serving one another, building one another up in Christ, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  V15 shows that a vital component of our assisting one another toward growth in Christlikeness is “speaking the truth in love.”  It would make sense that if we are exhorted to do this for one another, we also need others to do this for us.  If we shy away from honest relationships where we can hold one another accountable and speak the truth in love, we are removing from our lives one of the tools Christ has given us to help us become more like Him.

In our Sanctification Series class last Saturday, as we were discussing the issue of forgiveness, we talked some about how important it is to have people in our lives who love us enough to confront our sin.  The more people we have around us who will love us in that way, the less likely we are to sin.  Conversely, the fewer people we have around us who will love us enough to confront our sin, the more likely we are to sin. 

This seems to be one idea behind an exhortation at the climax of the book of Hebrews in 10:24-27.  After explaining the certainty of our salvation in Christ, the writer writes: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

Why should we make it a priority to meet together? Because in the absence of stirring up one another to love and good works, there is the great danger of deliberately continuing in sin.  And therein lies a possible motive for those who shy away from any kind of accountability.  It may be that such a person wants to hide his sin so that it doesn’t have to be removed from his life.  It’s possible that such a person wants to continue in sin.

Another reason that someone may not seek accountability is that they think that accountability is only for the weak, “addicted,” or immature.  In other words, they consider accountability to be primarily for “serious” sin and “serious” sinners.  However, the New Testament would not support such a notion.  Of all the churches to which Paul wrote letters in the New Testament, the one considered the most mature was the one to which he made numerous calls for mutual accountability.  Indeed, it was to the Thessalonians that Paul wrote about such things.  Even though he acknowledged that they were already living lives pleasing to God, he exhorted them to “do so more and more” (1 Thess 4:1).  Toward that end, he wrote in 1 Thess 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.”  Three verses later, he gave the fuller exhortation, “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” 

We find another strong exhortation toward accountability written to – of all people – a pastor in 2 Timothy 2:22: So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. What a compact, yet complete picture of our responsibility in sanctification – put off sin, put on righteousness, and don’t try to do it alone. 

If such things were written to a pastor and to the godly believers in Thessalonica, should we think that we have no need to be admonished when we are idle, encouraged when we are fainthearted, and helped when we are weak?  Should we think we can effectively flee from sinful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace all by ourselves without the help and encouragement of other believers who are pursuing the same things?  Scripture is clear – we need one another.  And as Proverbs 18:1 indicates, only a fool would deny that.

My wife and I have been trying to teach our children about the “put off/put on” principle found in Ephesians 4:22-24.  When believers deal with sin, it is not enough to simply make an effort to put off sinful desires or behavior; we must also put on the opposite godly virtue or behavior.  Last week, Shelby suggested we make this a routine part of our lives by putting up a large white board in our kitchen.  We installed it the other day, and at the top, we wrote a “put off” Scripture verse, which details an ungodly attitude we all need to remove from our lives.  Under that we wrote a “put on” verse, describing the godly virtue we want to cultivate by God’s grace. 

Then we wrote the names of each person in the family on the board.  Next to each name, we noted the specific Christlike quality we each want to pursue, as well as something for which we want give thanks for the week.  This is a great tool for reminding ourselves what we need to be focusing on.  But without some form of accountability, simply reading the words on this board will be no more helpful than listening to biblical sermons without taking meaningful steps to apply the truth.

So we have incorporated accountability into how we use the white board.  Each day we go down the list and ask each person (including me and Shelby) how we are doing with the specific Christlike quality we are each pursuing.  If we have failed in any way that constitutes a sin against another person, we seek that person’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness.  If we have failed in a way that constitutes a sin against God alone, then we seek His forgiveness.  Guess what?  With even this simplest of accountability arrangements, I have found it easier to be obedient to the Lord. 

I have the blessing of having numerous people in my life who love me enough to confront my sin and hold me accountable.  It has been an invaluable part of my spiritual growth and I would encourage everyone to surround themselves with such loving believers.  If you do not have any kind of accountability relationship, please approach one of the elders.  We would be happy to connect you with someone.  If you already have someone in mind, please take the first step and ask them to consider such a relationship.  This is an essential part of our sanctification.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can do this on your own. 

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.

Posted by Greg Birdwell 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Forgiveness Fallacies

On Saturday, November 13 from 8:30a-12:00p, we will be having our second installment in our Sanctification Series.  The entire morning will be devoted to the issue of forgiveness.  In our brief history, there have been two or three occasions, on which I have broached the subject, offering a brief explanation of what I believe the Bible teaches on this subject.  However, this will be the first opportunity for us to explore this issue in sufficient detail.

Why study forgiveness?  Don’t we all have an intuitive understanding of what forgiveness is?  I want to save a full answer to those questions for the 13th, but I thought it might be helpful to offer you a number of “forgiveness fallacies,” that I believe demonstrate the breadth of our misunderstanding of this very important doctrine.  You may find that my list of fallacies contains most of what you currently believe about forgiveness.  You may completely disagree that some of these are fallacies at all.  I won’t take the time now to tell you why these things are unbiblical – you’ll have to come next Saturday to find out. 

This list is not intended to be comprehensive.  I’m sure there are others out there.  This just represents the fallacies I have heard most often over the years.  Here they are in no particular order:

1. “I need to apologize.”  Most of us live this one.  We have a fight with a spouse, we raise our voices at our kids, we hurt a friend’s feelings, and then we seek to make things right by apologizing or saying, “I’m sorry.”  Can an apology really repair a strained or broken relationship?  I would venture to say it can actually make things worse.

2. “I’m just not ready to forgive.”  This one is based on an underlying fallacy that forgiveness is related to our emotions.  We don’t feel like forgiving.  “I’m just not ready to forgive” treats forgiveness as if it is a process.  I’m sure thankful God doesn’t view it that way.

3. “I can’t forgive you for that.”  Sometimes people we love may sin against us in ways that are so hurtful, we may think they are insurmountable, they are too big to forgive, or we will never be able to get over them.  However, this completely misunderstands what forgiveness is.

4. “I don’t know how to forgive you.”  This one, like #3, is based on the erroneous idea that forgiveness means ridding oneself of the anger and bitterness associated with a wrong suffered.  If we look closely at what the Bible teaches on the issue, understanding how to forgive is quite simple.

5. “How do I know if I’ve truly forgiven that person?”  Sometimes we may purpose to forgive someone and even say, “I forgive you” to the person who wronged us, but then periodically dwell on that offense and experience the anger and pain all over again.  This leads us to wonder if we ever really forgave them in the first place.  But if we understand forgiveness biblically, we can know for sure.

6. “I’ve already forgiven you.”  It may happen that a person who has hurt us comes to ask for forgiveness, and we reply, “I’ve already forgiven you.”  In other words, we forgive before we have been asked to forgive.  This shouldn’t happen.

7. “I know I should forgive whether that person asks me to or not.”  This is a variation of #6.  If we forgive someone who has sinned against us without them asking for forgiveness or without us even confronting their sin or without them even knowing they sinned against us, we have violated Scripture on two accounts.

8. “You’re not hurting that person by holding a grudge against them.  You’re just hurting yourself.  You need to forgive so you can move on with your life.”  This one makes forgiveness all about the forgiver.  We’ve probably all either heard this one, or said it ourselves…and it’s unbiblical.

9. “Forgive and forget.”  I won’t say anything about this one until the 13th.

10.“It is unloving to not forgive that person.”   That is true in certain situations.  But sometimes the most loving thing to do is to not forgive.  How can that be? Hint: biblical forgiveness is conditional.

You may be thinking “Greg, some of that sounds contrary to Scripture.”  I promise you, I’ll explain it all…but you have to come to the Sanctification Series on November 13.  Bring any questions, skepticism, doubts, or challenges you may have, and we’ll work through them together then.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Friday, October 29, 2010

Does Galatians 3:28 do away with gender roles?

I mentioned on Sunday that those who espouse an egalitarian view of gender roles have a difficult time supporting their position biblically.  That doesn’t stop them from trying, though. (As a reminder, egalitarianism holds that there are no meaningful distinctions between the two genders in terms of role and authority in marriage and the church.

Practically speaking, egalitarians argue that women should not be expected to submit to their husbands and should be afforded the role of pastor/elder in the church.) One of the most common tactics is to cite Galatians 3:28, which reads, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. It is argued by some evangelical feminists that Paul intends for us to understand that because “there is no male or female,” there should be no gender-specific leadership roles in marriage and the church. This interpretation of Galatians 3:28 is incredible for at least two reasons.

First, using Galatians 3:28 to support an egalitarian view of gender roles divorces the verse from its context.  Context is king.  It’s been said that the three most important factors in creating a successful retail business are location, location, location.  Similarly, it could be said that the three most important factors in arriving at an accurate interpretation of any text of Scripture are context, context, context. In the case of Galatians 3:28, even a cursory observation of the verse in its context is devastating to the egalitarian interpretation.

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to combat a false gospel.  This is clear from 1:6-9:

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Chapter 2 reveals that this false gospel sought to require uncircumcised believers to become circumcised, or more generically, to keep the law of Moses (2:3-5, 11-14).  Paul immediately proclaims the truth that “a person is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (2:15-16).

In Chapter 3 Paul makes the case that even Abraham was saved by faith alone (3:1-8).  Those who rely on the works of the law to save them are under a curse, but Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” (3:10-14). 

The natural question, anticipated by Paul, is found in 3:19a: “Why then the law?”  In other words, what purpose did the law serve?  Paul gives a summary answer in 3:24: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”  The law showed us our inability to keep it and therefore our need for a Savior.  The point of the argument up to this point is that all people are saved by faith alone, not by the works of the law.

And now let’s look at v28 within its immediate context:

  25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.  26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

What follows in chapters 4-6 is the practical outworking of this truth.  Galatians does not deal with gender roles.  I assure you, I have not made any convenient omissions in my portrayal of the context, but don’t just take my word for it; please take the time to read the whole book.

If you do, you will find that this book is intended to defend the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ.  The point that 3:28 makes in its context is that ALL people – Jews, Greeks, slaves, freemen, males, females – are saved by faith and are one in Christ.  There is no distinction between these groups in terms of how they are saved.  There is no hint of the issue of gender roles at all.  To use 3:28 as a blanket statement that dissolves all gender roles in the family and the church is a blatant abuse of the verse in its context.

Second, using Galatians 3:28 to support the egalitarian view of gender roles fails to take into account those passages that do deal with that issue.  Scripture does not contradict Scripture.  So anytime we arrive at a tentative interpretation of a passage of Scripture, we should then take that interpretation and measure it against other biblical teaching on that issue.  If that interpretation is found to contradict the clear teaching of the Word, we must reject it and go back to the beginning.  If we do that kind of Scriptural comparison with Galatians 3:28, we find that the egalitarian use of this verse is completely inconsistent with other relevant passages.

Consider these New Testament texts:

Eph 5:22-24 – Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

1 Peter 3:1-7 – Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

1 Timothy 2:11-14 – Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Colossians 3:18-19 – Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

1 Corinthians 11:3-9 – But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.  For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.  For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

Unlike the egalitarian use of Galatians 3:28, if you look at the contexts of each of the passages just quoted, you will find that all of them come from sections of Scripture dealing explicitly with the issue of gender roles.  If it is our conviction that Scripture cannot contradict itself, we must come to the conclusion that either our understanding of the above texts is flawed or the egalitarian understanding of Galatians 3:28 is flawed.  Since our understanding of the passages above is supported by the contexts in which those passages are found, and since the egalitarian understanding of Galatians 3:28 disregards its context, we must conclude that Galatians 3:28 does not teach gender-neutral roles in the family and the church.

But this proper reasoning is lost on the egalitarian community.  At least on this issue, they seem to be content with contradiction.  There seems to be no desire to find an interpretation of Galatians 3:28 that is faithful to the context and harmonizes with the rest of Scripture.  Instead, the egalitarian argument seeks to simply cancel out the passages above, as if the object was to find a way to balance the theological scales, placing their understanding of Galatians 3:28 on one side and the conflicting passages on the other.  It is truly frightening to me how commonplace this form of biblical reasoning has become.  Professing believers who disagree on certain issues allow the conversation on such matters to devolve into a kind of proof-texting food fight, where each side throws their pet verses at the other to see who runs out of ammo first.

God’s Word deserves to be treated with care and precision.  It should inform and shape our hearts rather than our hearts informing and shaping it.  Faithful biblical interpretation seeks to understand a passage in its own context and in relation to the rest of the biblical material related to the subject matter of that text.  The egalitarian interpretation of Galatians 3:28 fails on both accounts.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor - Embarrassed by Ehud?

Sunday’s text presented us with one of the most colorful stories in the Old Testament.  A left-handed deliverer smuggled a homemade sword into an morbidly obese tyrant’s palace, tricked the king into giving him a private audience, and deposited the sword into the king’s girth, which brought about the emptying of his bowels.  Add to that the spectacle of the king’s attendants assuming from the smell and the locked door that he was relieving himself, which gave the assassin plenty of time to get away, until the climax of the tale when the attendants finally entered the king’s quarters to find him and his dung piled on the floor.  Whoever said the Bible was boring obviously never read Judges 3.

But not everyone is as amused by this episode as my children are.  Some have a hard time with Ehud’s actions, which they view to be unethical or immoral. They say he lied, he was barbaric, he was treacherous, he was cruel.  One such commentator wrote, “By even the most elementary standard of ethics [Ehud’s] deception and murder of Eglon stand condemned.  Passages like this, even when encountered by the untutored reader of the Scriptures, cause consternation and questioning.”(1)  Some think Ehud gives God a black eye, so to speak.  After all, God raised him up to deliver the people. 
So what do we say to this?  Should we be embarrassed by Ehud?  I don’t think so, and there are several reasons.

First, the text gives absolutely no editorial comment on Ehud’s actions.  There isn't even anything implied about it. The story is simply told in a matter-of-fact manner.  That tells us that we are not intended to make any moral or ethical judgments regarding the planning and execution of Ehud’s plan.  It is not germane to the point of the story.

Second, in the next chapter, we’ll read of a woman named Jael, who will kill one of Israel’s oppressors by luring him into her tent, putting him to sleep with a glass of warm milk, and then hammering a tent peg through his skull.  That would seem to be parallel with Ehud’s handiwork in terms of its deception and barbarity.  BUT…the text does make a moral judgment about her actions.  In 5:24-27, she is praised for her deeds and is called “most blessed of women.”  If Jael was praised for her actions, we shouldn’t be troubled by Ehud’s.

Third, the Bible is full of barbarity by our modern standards.  The Ancient Near East was no West Chester, Ohio.  There was no lethal injection or life-in-prison.  There were no elections.  There was no United Nations.  Back then foreign policy entailed raping, pillaging, and murdering all nations smaller and weaker than you.  The world was a much rougher place than it is now.  We shouldn’t read our modern sensibilities back into a text written in a completely different historical context. 

Fourth, this episode should be seen in the context of the Conquest – God’s command to Israel to exterminate every Canaanite in the Promised Land.  Remember, we’ve already reasoned our way through how to understand the Conquest.  (If you haven’t heard the sermon on Joshua 6:21, you might find it helpful.)  The same reasoning applies to this story.  The Canaanites, including Eglon, deserved the wrath of God for their sin.  They were all supposed to die by the sword.  Eglon’s death represented the justice of a holy God.

Fifth, deception in wartime is not the same thing as bearing false witness or lying.  Do you recall the ambush that Joshua and the Israelites sprung on Ai in Joshua 8?  Where they deceived the men of Ai, drew them out of the city, and annihilated them?  That plan was commanded by God.  Again, we need to let Scripture tell us what to think rather than judging God or His Word based on our own sensibilities.
We have a tendency to be embarrassed for God and to try to explain away things His Word says about Him…when He isn’t embarrassed at all.  He wrote what He wrote.  He is just and He is holy and He is good and kind and loving, etc.  He doesn’t need us to rescue Him from His Word.

Now, about Shamgar.  Judges 3:31 reads: After [Ehud] was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel. 

There is so little detail in the text about him that it is hard to know what to do with this verse.  The loose consensus among scholars is that Shamgar was probably not an Israelite.  However, the text does not tell us one way or another.  Clearly, what we do know is that he racked up an impressive pile of Philistines with an instrument used for driving livestock, and that he saved Israel. 

We don’t want to force anything on the text and take it further than that.  Knowing the themes of the book, we can conclude that Shamgar represented another act of God’s grace in saving his people through a human deliverer.

Let’s not forget in all of this, that each of these texts ultimately point us to Christ.  There was no more bloody or barbaric scene than the one in which Yahweh laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  May this week find you increasing in your love and devotion for our great Redeemer.
(1) Phillip P. Elliot, "The Book of Judges: Exposition," IB, 2:708, 711.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: The Spirit of the Lord

Last Sunday, we saw in Judges 3:10 that one of the few details given about Othniel was that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.  We’ll find references to the Spirit’s influence in the lives of several of the judges as we work our way through the book.  Judges 6:34: “But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon…”  Judges 11:29: “Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah…”  Of Sampson, there are four such references – Judges 13:25, 14:6, 14:19, and 15:14.  In each of these cases, the Spirit serves to empower the judges for overcoming some danger or enemy. 

Later in the Old Testament, the Spirit serves to mark out God’s rule through Israel’s kings.  1 Samuel 10:1-11 tells of Samuel anointing Saul king. In v10, we read that the Spirit of God rushed upon him.  However, after Saul breaks God’s law by offering an unauthorized sacrifice in 1 Samuel 13, it is recorded in 16:13-14 that the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David…[and] the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul.

So among the numerous functions of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament are these – He empowers God’s chosen leader and He marks out God’s chosen king.  It’s critical to remember that the Old Testament was not written to be a completed volume to be understood on its own.  It is merely the first part of the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

An awareness of such things can make our reading of the New Testament far richer.  In the Gospel of Matthew we see pictures of both of these functions of the Spirit of the Lord  being applied to Jesus Christ.  In 3:16-17 Matthew records the baptism of Christ: And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."  This is parallel to the anointings of Saul and David.  After Christ came out of the water, the Spirit descended upon Him.  John 1:32 adds that “He remained upon Him.”  This marked Christ out as the Messiah, the King.  (After the book of Judges, I will be preaching through Matthew.  We’ll find that one of Matthew’s chief objectives is to show that Christ is the King promised in the Old Testament.)

Following this scene, we see the Spirit fulfilling His second function in the life of Christ, that is, empowering Him for obedience.  Matthew 4:1-11 records the Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, which begins with these words, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Following this period of temptation, during which He was perfectly victorious, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee (Luke 4:14).  In Luke 4:17-21, we read of Jesus preaching in the synagogue of His home town, and claiming the Spirit’s anointing to proclaim the gospel and set the captives free:   

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Acts 10:38 tells us how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  Christ’s ministry and power to obey were attributed to the presence of the Holy Spirit in His life.  This is incredibly encouraging because the testimony of the New Testament is that Christ drew upon the same resources available to us in our pursuit of obedience.  As Acts 10:38 says above, Christ had the Holy Spirit.  So do we (Acts 1:8).  He knew the Word of God, as evidence both by His knowledge of Isaiah in the synagogue scene quoted above and by His use of Scripture in fending off the temptations of the devil in the wilderness.  Romans 15:4 tells us that the Scriptures are intended for our help and encouragement, as well.  And Christ was a man devoted to prayer (Matt 14:23; 26:36-46; Mk 1:35, 6:46; Lk 5:16, 6:12; Jn 17), to which we also are called (Phil 4:6).

The pictures of the Spirit of the Lord empowering Othniel, Gideon, and Sampson in Judges looks forward to the Spirit descending upon Christ, empowering Him for His mission.  They also remind us that we too have benefited from the presence of the Spirit – His presence is in us eternally.

Praise the Lord for the many ways in which the Old Testament Scriptures point us to Christ and the gift of salvation that He brings.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is Christ still a man?

This week in the women’s bible study there was a theological question, which was passed on to me.  I thought I’d take the time to answer it here for everybody.
Is Christ forever both fully God and fully man?  In other words, when He was resurrected or when He ascended, did He continue to be fully man or did He resume His pre-incarnation existence?
This is a great question and one that the Bible does answer for us.  It’s important to start out in the right place, understanding that prior to the incarnation, Christ was the Eternal Son, existing as spirit – that is, He had no physical body.  John 1:1-2 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”  Likewise, Phil 2:6 notes that “…He was in the form of God…”  The indication then is that in eternity past, the Son existed in the same form as the Father.
But within the contexts of both passages cited above, it is noted that the Eternal Son took on human flesh.  John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” Phil 2:8a, “And being found in human form...”  We all know that, but was that permanent?
Well, the Holy Spirit inspired a number of proofs that Christ’s resurrection was a bodily resurrection.  First, John 20:25-27 tells us that Jesus proved His resurrection to Thomas by inviting him to touch the wounds in His hands and side. 
Similarly, Luke 24 recounts that several of the disciples were doubting when they first saw the resurrected Christ: 38 And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.
It is clear then that after the resurrection, the Son was still in the form of a man.  But what about after He ascended into heaven?  Acts 1:11 gives us a definitive answer.  As the disciples stood staring into the sky after Jesus was taken up into heaven, two angels said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."  Christ ascended in bodily form and will return in bodily form, indicating that His state is unchanged. 
Additionally, in Matt 26:29 Jesus said to the disciples, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”  Revelation 19:9 also tells of the great marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven that will take place in the end.  And Colossians 2:9 tells us, For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.  All of these things indicate that Christ continues to exist in human form.
This is great to know, but it is even more important for us to recognize why it is necessary for Christ to be fully human for eternity.  First, Christ’s role as our mediator/priest requires that He remain fully God and fully man.  Because of our estrangement from God, we needed someone to represent God to us and to represent us to God.  1 Timothy 2:5 shows that Christ is the singular figure who is able to do that and that His humanity is an essential part of that role: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 
Likewise, the book of Hebrews reveals Christ as our perfect high priest.  A vital part of His functioning in that role is His ability to identify with our humanity:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:18)
The book also indicates in numerous places that Christ serves in this priestly role forever (Heb 5:6, 6:20, 7:3, 7:17, 7:24, 13:8).  This would lose all significance and meaning were Christ no longer a man.
This should inspire all the more love and adoration for our Savior and His eternal, selfless service to us. When the Son condescended and took the form of a man, He did so as a permanent, gracious act.  Out of love for us and obedience to the Father, He remains our perfect high priest forever.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: Idols as Curses

The last couple Sunday mornings, I have read small snippets from Deuteronomy 28, where God promised the Israelites the blessings He would bring if they obeyed and the curses He would bring if they disobeyed.  Again, I strongly encourage you to read that whole chapter, as it gives a helpful picture of the kind of oppression the Israelites were experiencing in each cycle of sin in the book of Judges.

The Israelites were told to expect a dizzying list of painful and demoralizing consequences for their unfaithfulness.  A sampling:

The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. (v22)

The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. (v27)

You shall father sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity. (v41)

You shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. (v48)

The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns. (vv56-57)

Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. (v66)

As I read the chapter again this morning, one clause in v36 caught my attention, and it was particularly striking in light of all the horrible things in the context:

…And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.

Peculiar.  These other gods of wood and stone were what the people wanted.  In fact, the Israelites wanted these gods so badly that they were willing to suffer the consequences that they knew would come as a result.  And yet, God gives them the idols of their lust as a judgment.  What they desired became a curse upon them.

Romans 1:18-32 show this as a pattern of God’s judgment.  What we see in this passage is three statements of man’s rejection of God, and three statement’s of God giving man over to his sin as a result. 

The first statement of man’s rejection of God is in vv22-23: Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

The Lord’s response in v24: Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.  “Gave them up” means “to hand over”.  It is the word used when Judas handed Jesus over to the Jews (Mt 26:48: Jn 18:5).  Essentially, Romans 1:24 speaks of God giving man over captive to his idolatry.

The second statement of man’s rejection of God is in v25: For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The Lord’s response in vv26-27: For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.  Again, this is a picture of God giving man over captive to his own idolatrous lust – they were “consumed” by it.  Clearly, this was an act of judgment, “the due penalty for their error.”

The third statement of man’s rejection of God is in v28a: And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God…

The Lord’s response in v28b: …God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  The following two verses show the laundry list of sin that this entailed.

This is more than the ultimate case of “be careful what you wish for.”  These verses demonstrate that the very things we worship in place of God, can easily become the temporal judgment for our idolatry.  What we worship becomes a curse, because what we worship never delivers what we hope it will deliver.  Instead it delivers misery.

Sometimes it is hard to see the practicality of such passages because we don’t equate our own wants and desires with idolatry.  But if we take the time to look at our lives in light of Scripture, we’ll find these principles as work.  Consider this scenario: you have a difficult circumstance in your life that you don’t see in the lives of the people around you.  It could be related to your job, your family, your health – fill in the blank.  So you look at some of these people who seem to have it easier than you do, and you give in to the temptation to covet.  “I wish I didn’t have to worry about money.”  “I’d give anything to have a job I enjoyed.”  “Wish my marriage was easy.”  “Why can’t my kids be healthy?”

It’s most likely a fleeting thought the first time.  But like any temptation that has found success, it will come back.  And you give in again.  And again.  And eventually you find yourself given over to that lust.  You are consumed by it.  Seems like everyone you see you automatically assign to that favored class of people who are not suffering the way you are.  Your thoughts become more and more self-centered by the day, and you develop a habitual pattern of thinking that dominates the way you see your own life and the lives of the people around you.  You are breathing covetousness and because that idolatrous lust is not delivering what you hoped it would deliver, bitterness grows inside you, bitterness toward God and bitterness toward other people. 

And all of this is taking place in your heart.  No one even knows you are thinking these things, longing for these things, overcome by these things.  That is, no one but God.  And He knows that what is taking place there is idolatry – you are desiring something else more than you are desiring to worship and please Him. 

One of the worst consequences of sin is being given over to that sin.   Rather than that sin being your slave – which is what temptation promises – it becomes your master.  It rules you.  And the only way to deal with it is to repent and turn to Christ, kill the sin and grow in worship of the Savior.  Refusing to do this will only result in sin gaining an even greater hold on you, a truly miserable existence.

Every sin involves believing a lie.  This will make me happy.  This will feel good.  But Scripture teaches us that we were created to glorify God, and that is the only endeavor in which we will find true satisfaction. 

We would do well to take Psalm 16 to heart, using it against whatever idolatrous desires we find there.  “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mohler on the Church's (non)Defense of Marriage

Here is a link to an excellent article on Dr. Albert Mohler's blog.  He makes a striking observation - in the church's crusade to take a stand on moral issues in the culture, one issue has been conspicuously absent from it's list of concerns - divorce.  This piece is worth a few minutes of your time.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: Faithful or Fearful?

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. (Jdg 2:10)

In the second chapter of Judges, this verse might as well be a flashing neon sign.  It is the bridge between the faithfulness of the Joshua generation and the apostasy of the Judges generation.  In explains how Israel’s outlook went from being one of promise and hope to being one of sin and despair.  The depth of its ramifications is played out for the rest of the book of Judges, and in a sense, for the rest of Old Testament history. 

Those of us who are parents might read such a verse and be convicted and fearful that we are not doing enough to build Christ into our children.  The assumption is made that if that new generation of Israelites did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel, the previous generation must not have told them.  They dropped the ball.  They bear great responsibility.

But as I mentioned in the message on Sunday morning, the knowledge written about in this verse does not refer to an awareness of information.  It’s not that the Israelites had never heard of the Lord or of the work that he had done for Israel.  Certainly, they had.  Remember Caleb’s reply to the angel of the Lord in Judges 6:13? “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’”

Also in ch11, Jephthah spends 14 verses giving a history lesson to the king of the Ammonites, recounting for him how God brought them from Egypt to their present inheritance. Clearly, the people knew about the LORD and His work.  They knew it very well.  So the preceding generation was faithful in some significant measure in communicating the promises and works of God. 

The problem was that this new generation did not know God in the sense that they did not love and cling to God, they did not trust His work (Jos 23:1-13).  Not even Joshua could make them do that, and we sense his frustration about that in the final verses of Joshua 24.

So, Judges 2:10 should not serve to indict us if our children do not come to faith in Christ.  However, it is a good reminder of two things – first, we do have a responsibility to bring the gospel to our children, but second, our efforts are no guarantee that they will repent and believe.

We all want our children to be saved.  Some people want it so desperately that they are preoccupied with it.  “What can I do?  What can I do to make sure they get saved?”  And many, in their great desire to be assured that their efforts will be successful, cling to Proverbs 22:6, Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

But Proverbs are not promises or laws.  A biblical proverb is a short, pithy saying that expresses a wise, general truth.  Most of us probably know someone who diligently and faithfully raised a child up according to Scripture, but the child grew up to live and die as an unbeliever.  How do we explain that?  Proverbs are general truths, not promises or laws.

Further, the popular understanding of this proverb is not quite accurate.  The text literally reads, “train a child up in the beginning of his way, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  There is no explicit or implied reference to training a child in godliness.  It is a general truth about training a child up in any direction.  It simply states that the way you train a child will affect how he lives his life.  If you train him to be lazy, he will be lazy as an adult.  If you train him to work hard, he will work hard as an adult.  There will be exceptions, but the exceptions do not refute the general rule.

So Proverbs 22:6 is far from a promise that if we will just do the right things, our children will be saved.  That can be freeing or disheartening depending on how much you trust the Lord.  It can be a freeing thought that I am not responsible for saving my child, if I trust the Lord and purpose to be faithful in what He has commanded.  It can be a fearful thought that I cannot save my child, if I am trusting in myself rather than the goodness and wisdom of God. 

But the fact that I am not responsible for saving my child does not mean that I am not responsible for how I parent that child.  And the fact that I cannot save my child does not mean there is nothing I can do for them.  God has given us instructions to which we must be faithful.

Ephesians 6:4 reads, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  Titus 2:4 reads, …and so train the young women to love their husbands and children.   These commands along with the pattern shown in Deuteronomy 6 and the principles of Proverbs should be our guide.

Deut 6:6-7 "And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

Pro 19:18 Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death.

Pro 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Pro 13:24 He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

Pro 23:13 Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you beat him with the rod, he will not die.

Pro 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

Additionally, we should pray diligently for our children.  All of these things comprise the yardstick by which we will be held accountable in the end.  As in all things, God is sovereign and we should rest in His goodness and wisdom, striving to be faithful in all that He has commanded us.  We should be speaking, living, and training them in the gospel, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded.  As a general rule, our children will follow.  But our hope is not in their conversion, but in the God who saves. 
Posted by Greg Birdwell