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Exodus 25-26, the beginning of our study of the Tabernacle. God desires to dwell with His people…amazing grace!

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Exodus 25-26, “God’s Dwelling Place, part 1”

Some churches (including CC Tyler) like to say “Come as you are,” and with good reason! Certain places have made it seem that unless you can afford to dress yourself according to a certain dress code, you’re not welcome – or, unless your life is perfect, don’t bother walking through the door. Such attitudes are elitist & legalistic, and have no place among the churches of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus walked among the rich & poor alike in Judea, offering the gospel of salvation to anyone who would repent of their sin and believe. They could come as they were; they just weren’t going to stay as they were. Their lives were radically changed by Jesus!

That being said, the idea of “come as you are” can possibly go a little too far. All we need to do is take a late-night trip to WalMart & see it in action! There’s casual, and then there’s casual! We are invited to come as we are, but at a certain point we still need to be wearing clothes! There is at least a little decorum in every circumstance.

Regarding our salvation and the worship of God, it isn’t matter of the way we dress; it’s a matter of the way we think – it’s a matter of our hearts and attitudes. Never do we go to God on our terms, demanding that our Creator bend His will to our own & compromise His own holiness to fit us. Perish the thought! No – we always go to God on His terms, being grateful that we are invited to go unto Him at all.

And we are invited! God wants us to be with Him – God wants us to dwell with Him, and He gives us a very specific way of doing so: through the Lord Jesus Christ. John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” HE is the way (the road, the path) to God – HE is the truth revealed by God – He is the life given by God & the One who gives life to us. It is Jesus alone. To attempt to dwell with God any other way is an attempt of futility. God has to be the one to come and dwell among us, inviting us to dwell with Him – and the way He does it is through Jesus.

What does any of this have to do with Exodus 25, 26, and following? Everything! Almost the entire remainder of the book of Exodus (all the way through Chapter 40) describes both the instructions for, and construction of, the tabernacle of God. A tabernacle is literally a “dwelling place,” – in this case, a portable tent that was taken with the children of Israel everywhere they wandered through the wilderness until they inherited the Promised Land. Even after Joshua conquered the Canaanites, Amorites, etc., the Israelites were supposed to worship God at the tabernacle all up till the day the temple was built by Solomon. (Not that the Hebrews were perfectly obedient in this, but that was the intent.) The tabernacle was where God came to, and dwelt among His people. Although the heavens cannot contain God, God allowed His special presence to be with the Hebrews in His earthly tent, the tabernacle.

The point? The Hebrews couldn’t go to God anywhere else or in any other way. God graciously chose to dwell among them, and if they wanted to worship Him, they had to go to Him on His terms in His way. His way was the tabernacle. This is where the holiness of God was graphically showcased to the people, and when they approached it, they knew they were approaching their Holy Covenant-Keeping God, and they were to worship and fear Him rightly. (So are we, and we do so through Jesus!)

Before we get into the details, there are a couple of things we need to know up front. First, it’s of interest to know that the structure was unique, but not unfamiliar. The idea of a war tent for a sovereign king was not unknown in the Ancient Near East. “The closest parallel to the form and function of the Tabernacle stems from pictorial evidence of a military tent camp that Rameses II used to fight the Hittites in the Battle of Qedesh. This battle was so important to Ramesses II that it is described in hieroglyphics in 10 different places throughout ancient Egypt, and scenes of the battle were depicted artistically in five locations.” (Prof Michael Homan, Torah.com) Although Rameses II likely came later than Moses (although this is a matter of debate), the concept was certainly there. Remember that the Hebrews had just come out of 400 years of Egyptian slavery, so the idea that God chose a variation of an Egyptian form as His own tent makes sense. This was something that would have been understood by the Hebrews, so God chose something relatively familiar in order to do extraordinary things among them. (Not unlike how God came to us in a familiar human form, in order to dwell among us in extraordinary ways.)

Second, the tabernacle isn’t simply a full-furnished tent of worship – it isn’t only a sanctuary. It is very clearly a picture of heavenly things, pointing us to a heavenly purpose. Writing of our better High Priest, the Lord Jesus who now lives in heaven, the author of the book of Hebrews says: Hebrews 8:4–5, “(4) For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; (5) who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”” The key point: the earthly tabernacle was a “copy and shadow” of heavenly things. The things on earth were intended to point to things in heaven – the most important of which is the Lord Jesus.

That said, we need to be careful not to take this too far. Some look at the tabernacle and its furnishings, and come up with all kinds of fanciful interpretations. Some have argued that there is a parallel between the instruction & construction of the tabernacle with the creation week in Genesis (Kline) – others have suggested tiny details such as the bells on the priestly robes speak of the Holy Spirit who “set the gospel bells of testimony ringing,” (Unger). With respect to those scholars, Christians need to be careful not to abandon basic fundamentals of Biblical interpretation. We don’t need to invent symbols just to have symbols; we simply need to let the Biblical text speak for itself.

What we find is that it does speak of Jesus. There is too much symbolism shown in the tabernacle & later picked up in the New Testament to not see Jesus in it. The tabernacle is all about the dwelling place of God, and who else is Christ than God come to dwell among us? Of course the tent will point to Christ…it cannot do otherwise!

How did it all come about? Remember that once the children of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, God personally showed His glory to them and spoke the 10 Commandments in their hearing. The people were overwhelmed by God’s majestic power & feared, but the proper fear of the Lord helped them commit even further to His covenant (which God further explained to Moses as their intermediary). They agreed to obey all that the Lord said to do, and Moses showed the covenant sealed with the blood of sacrifice. Moses and the elders of Israel fellowshipped with God in a covenant meal on the mountain, but Moses alone was called up further. When Exodus 24 left off, Moses was seen walking into the midst of the cloud of glory on Mount Sinai, with the top of the mountain consumed in God’s holy fire. 

What was it Moses heard and saw during those 40 days and 40 nights? Simply put, all that follows from Chapters 25-31. God gave to Moses all of the instructions for the tabernacle, the priestly garments, the priestly ordination, and more. He showed Moses everything the children of Israel required to build place where God could (and would) dwell among them.

How amazing it is that God desires to dwell among His people! He approaches us, in order that we can approach Him. Approach God in God’s way, that we might dwell with Him through Jesus!

Exodus 25

  • Offerings for the tabernacle (25:1-9)

1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. 3 And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze; 4 blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goats’ hair; 5 ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; 6 oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; 7 onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate.

  1. Before any instructions are given for the tabernacle itself, instructions are first given for an offering. It makes sense – after all, if these things are going to be built, the materials to build them would first be required. God listed off all kinds of things, including much riches & precious metals of “gold, silver, and bronze.” Considering the Hebrews were former slaves wandering in the wilderness, where would they get this wealth? They already had it! Remember that before they left Egypt after the night of the Passover, God had told the Hebrews to ask for these items from their Egyptian neighbors…and incredibly, they gave it! The Hebrews received 400 years’ worth of back-pay in a single night, which enabled them to have more than enough gold & other wealth to use for the tabernacle construction.
  2. With the command, we see a couple of principles regarding received offerings:
    1. Offerings are to be willing/voluntary; not forced. The Israelites were to give “willingly with [their] hearts.” The opportunity would be presented to them to give, but it was to be a gift. Their offerings were offerings of worship. This wasn’t a forced tax – it wasn’t manipulated out of guilt. In the New Testament, Paul instructed the church to give from a cheerful heart (2 Cor 9:7); the Old Testament standard was no different. God loves cheerful givers!
    2. Offerings are to be appropriate; not random. The people were invited to give, but they weren’t invited to give their leftovers. Specific needs were to be met, and the offerings were to reflect that. Thus the giving was to be done with forethought & intention; it wasn’t to be haphazard & random. Likewise, our normal giving ought to be planned; not left to random chance if we just happened to remember. Nor should we give what is of no value to us; we give to God what God wants (as opposed to what we don’t want any longer).

8 And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. 9 According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.

  1. Of all things to remember about the tabernacle, this is the key. The holy place is God’s dwelling (מִשְׁכָּן) It wasn’t the gold and the furnishings that made the tabernacle special. It wasn’t the ark (nor was there reason to “raid” it!). It was God. God’s presence is what made everything else amazing. Without God, a tent is just a tent – a temple is just a temple (as the Jews learned when God’s glory departed it as seen by Ezekiel). These things are just buildings & structures. Likewise with church buildings! A building is just a building, whether it has spires and stained glass, or if it’s a business complex with an aluminum awning outside. What makes it special is whether or not God is there. And when is God ever present in a church building? Only when the church is gathered in it! Today, we are the dwelling place of God! God the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, and presence of Jesus is real every time Christians get together. So whether it’s a campground under the open sky, or a beautifully built architectural wonder, it’s all just empty space without God. But with God, it is His dwelling place!

That was just the introduction. Lengthy descriptions of the various furnishings and structures come next. Due to the detail, we’ll take large chunks of Scripture and summarize the dimensions and specifics after reading.

  • The ark and mercy seat (25:10-22)

10 “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side. 13 And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them. 15 The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.

  1. Interestingly, the first item described about the tabernacle is not the tent itself, but the ark to be contained within it. The central importance of the ark becomes clear in 25:16 when Moses is instructed to place the future tablets of the 10 Commandments within it. As for the ark itself (using a standard of 18 inches for a cubit), it is 3¾ feet long; 2¼ feet wide; and 2¼ feet high. In essence, it is an open-topped box, which is exactly what the Hebrew word (אֲרוֹן) implies: a chest of some sort, perhaps used for money storage, or a sarcophagus, or something as sacred as the written law covenant of God. Interestingly, the word translated “ark” is different than the earlier word used for Noah’s ark and the ark of Moses as a baby (תֵּבָה). That word seems to be limited to the accounts of Genesis 7-9 and Exodus 2. As to the ark of the testimony, like many of the other furnishings of the tabernacle, it was fashioned from acacia wood, and overlaid with pure gold. Rings were located on the side of the ark, in which poles were to be inserted for the purpose of transportation. Due to its contents and importance, it was not to be touched. This hard lesson was later learned by Uzzah, when he placed his hand on the ark to steady it, during a time when it was being improperly transported. He was immediately struck dead.
  2. Summary: a golden box meant to carry; not to be carried. It was too holy to touch. What made it so holy? “The Testimony which I will give you.” IOW, the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are YHWH’s witness/testimony to Israel. This was His revelation of His perfect character to them, and the basis of their relationship with Him. The tablets themselves were written upon by the very finger of God…there could hardly be a holier piece of material other than the cross of Christ!
    1. The point? Respect the holiness of God! It is amazing that we are invited into a relationship with the God of the Universe – especially considering how gravely we sinned against Him in the past. Jesus has called us His friends & made us His co-heirs. We have a wonderfully intimate relationship with God as our Heavenly Father (or Abba). Even so, this is not something to be treated casually – to be taken for granted or treated with disrespect. No matter how close we are to Jesus (and we are invited to come wonderfully close!), God is still God; we’re not. Reverence Him! Respect Him!

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. 20 And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. 22 And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.

  1. The ark was without a top, so the mercy seat served as its lid. Thus, its dimensions matched the ark upon which it sat: 3¾ feet long; 2¼ feet wide. The commonly known term “mercy seat” was given by Tyndale, but the Hebrew word (כַּפֹּרֶת) describes atonement. The mercy seat would play a central role in the atonement of the sins of Israel, for that was where the blood of the sacrifice was to be placed, and it served as the throne seat of God. To Moses, God said that it was from the mercy seat that “I will meet with you.” More than a practical lid, the mercy seat was also highly decorated, portraying “two cherubim of gold; of hammered work.” The creatures were to face one another on the mercy seat, with their wings stretched out. Beyond this, no description of the cherubim is given within the biblical text. Their imagery would have been fashioned according to the description given by Moses, based on the vision he received from God (Exo 25:9). Scholars differ on what the cherubim looked like. Some prefer imagery based on Egyptian mythology (lion-like bodies, wings, human faces); others prefer the later description given by Ezekiel, with human faces, four wings, and various different animal parts. In the end, Moses doesn’t record it for us here, so there’s no way to definitively know.
  2. Question: Do these statuettes of cherubim violate the 2nd Commandment? Are not these graven images? First of all, the commandment cannot be broken when God gives an explicit command to make the figures. Secondly, the purpose of these images needs to be kept in mind: these cherubim are not meant to be worshipped; they picture the heavenly beings that worship God. The 2nd Commandment does not prohibit art; it prohibits idolatry. When art becomes idolatry, that’s when it becomes a problem. [Bronze serpent, Num 21:9 & 2 Kings 18:4]
  3. The whole idea of the ark/mercy seat combination is that this was representative of the throne room of God. This was where God would speak with Moses, and this was where God would receive the blood of sacrifice for sin. It was a most holy purpose, which is why it would be set in the Most Holy place.
  • The table for showbread (25:23-30)

23 “You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. 24 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around. 25 You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around. 26 And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs. 27 The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table. 28 And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them. 29 You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring. You shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always.

  1. Although this might seem strange to modern ears, even the table was holy. This was something designed by God with a specific purpose. (If God can make a table holy, just think about what He does with you & me!)
  2. As the name suggests, this was the table placed within the tabernacle structure that held the loaves of bread often referred to as “showbread.” Its dimensions were 3 feet long, 1½ feet wide, 2¼ feet high. Like the ark, it was to be fashioned from acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. It, too, was to have attached rings for poles that were used in transport, also made of acacia wood and gold. Along with the table, Moses was instructed to have the various dishes and other apparatuses for the table made out of pure gold. As to its purpose, Kaiser writes, “The table with its bread presented two sides of the same truth: a godward side and a human side. First, it stood before God, reminding Israel that they were ever open to the all-seeing eye and protection of God. Next, it was the place where the priests served and found their bread.” The word translated “showbread” (KJV, NKJV) is rendered “bread of the presence” in other translations (NASB, ESV, NIV, HCSB). The Hebrew idea expressed is bread that is before the face of God. This bread was to be always set before God, a continuing reminder of His presence among Israel.
  3. Here, we start seeing the symbolism of Jesus come alive. Who is Jesus? The Bread of Life (Jn 6:48). What is it we eat in the Lord’s Supper? The bread, symbolizing the body of Christ (Mt 26:26). How do we have fellowship with God – how do we stand in His presence? Only by partaking of the Bread of Christ! The glorious golden table? It was nothing compared to the bread that sat upon it!
  • The menorah/lampstand (25:31-40)

31 “You shall also make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work. Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and flowers shall be of one piece. 32 And six branches shall come out of its sides: three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side. 33 Three bowls shall be made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower—and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand. 34 On the lampstand itself four bowls shall be made like almond blossoms, each with its ornamental knob and flower. 35 And there shall be a knob under the first two branches of the same, a knob under the second two branches of the same, and a knob under the third two branches of the same, according to the six branches that extend from the lampstand. 36 Their knobs and their branches shall be of one piece; all of it shall be one hammered piece of pure gold. 37 You shall make seven lamps for it, and they shall arrange its lamps so that they give light in front of it. 38 And its wick-trimmers and their trays shall be of pure gold. 39 It shall be made of a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils. 40 And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.

  1. What is called the “lampstand” in English is the familiar Hebrew word “menorah,” (מְנוֹרָה), often associated with Hanukah celebrations. For this particular menorah, no precise measurements given as to its size, although the text is clear that the number of lamps totals seven (rather than the nine of Hanukah). The piece is described as beautiful, being made of pure gold, hammered into the resemblance of almond branches with every lamp on the stand. Alexander suggests, “There is no explanation why the lampstand should resemble a tree. [I.e. an almond tree, TWB.] Possibly it was to be reminiscent of the tree of life in Gn. 3:22, symbolizing the life-giving power of God.” In addition to the lamp’s beauty, was its cost. The lamp, along with all its utensils, was to be made out of one piece of pure gold weighing a full talent (75 pounds). (According to today’s gold prices, this alone would be worth well over $1.5 million!)
  2. The lamp was practical and Considering that the tabernacle itself was covered with four heavy layers of various fabrics, the inside would have been extremely dark. The light from seven candles on the menorah would have gone a long way! But beyond the practical nature was the beauty. God cares about beauty & art! Want proof? Look at a clear sunset – gaze upon a range of mountains – look into the Milky Way…these things are all beautiful, and each was created by God. The only reason we can appreciate beauty is because God instilled it within us – after all, we are made in His image.
    1. Beware of thinking of God as cold, calculating, and legalistic. He is righteous, yes, but He is anything but cold! Our God is a wondrous God & He loves to create things of wonder and beauty.
  3. Don’t miss the symbolism of Jesus in the menorah. After all, Jesus Himself said that He is the Light of the world! (Jn 9:5) He gives light to us to help us worship God – He brings us from the darkness of sin to the light of life – He puts His light within us that we might be the light to the rest of the world. Praise God that Jesus is the light!

Exodus 26

  • The coverings (26:1-14)

1 “Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine woven linen, and blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them. 2 The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits. And every one of the curtains shall have the same measurements. 3 Five curtains shall be coupled to one another, and the other five curtains shall be coupled to one another. 4 And you shall make loops of blue yarn on the edge of the curtain on the selvedge of one set, and likewise you shall do on the outer edge of the other curtain of the second set. 5 Fifty loops you shall make in the one curtain, and fifty loops you shall make on the edge of the curtain that is on the end of the second set, that the loops may be clasped to one another. 6 And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains together with the clasps, so that it may be one tabernacle.

  1. Next are the ten curtains of the tabernacle, serving as its covering and making it a proper “tent.” Four distinct layers are described, staring from the innermost covering and proceeding outward. Closest to, and covering the tabernacle itself was a layer of finely woven linen, using blue, purple, and scarlet thread. Although the purpose for these colors is left open to interpretation, not being expressly stated in the biblical text, it should be noted that “blue, purple, and scarlet were royal colors.” Likewise, the fine linen likely refers to a special type of cloth used by Egyptian royalty. Woven into the linen were more designs of cherubim as decoration and symbolism. Each curtain was 42 feet long, 4½ feet wide. The ten curtains were to be made as five paired sets, to be joined together with fifty golden clasps through pre-cut loops in the fabric. 
  2. Considering this was the innermost covering, it’s fitting that it was also the most artistic. The same colors and designs that a priest would see elsewhere in the tabernacle, he would also see on the ceiling as he looked up. It would have seemed as if he looked up into the heavens and saw the cherubim continually surrounding God’s throne.

7 “You shall also make curtains of goats’ hair, to be a tent over the tabernacle. You shall make eleven curtains. 8 The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; and the eleven curtains shall all have the same measurements. 9 And you shall couple five curtains by themselves and six curtains by themselves, and you shall double over the sixth curtain at the forefront of the tent. 10 You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain of the second set. 11 And you shall make fifty bronze clasps, put the clasps into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one. 12 The remnant that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle. 13 And a cubit on one side and a cubit on the other side, of what remains of the length of the curtains of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle, on this side and on that side, to cover it.

  1. The second layer was to be made of goats’ hair, eleven total curtains, a little longer than the one underneath: 45 feet long, 4½ feet wide. Hannah notes of the goats’ hair that it is “a black weather-resistant material still used today by bedouins in tent-making.” As with the linen covering, the goats’ hair curtains were to be joined in paired sets with fifty loops, this time joined together by bronze clasps. The extra length of the eleventh curtain would hang over the rear of the tabernacle structure.
  2. Was there symbolism? The goats’ hair would obviously speak of sacrifice – but the main purpose was likely practical. This would provide insulation for the tent, and be the first real covering as the innermost covering was more decorative than anything. 

14 “You shall also make a covering of ram skins dyed red for the tent, and a covering of badger skins above that.

  1. Two additional coverings are listed in Exodus 25:14, though no sizing dimensions are given. The first (third in the series) is a covering made of ram’s skins dyed red, and the final uppermost covering is another leather fabric. The identification of this final covering is unknown. The Hebrew is taḫaš (תַּ֫חַשׁ), and is described as only “a kind of leather or skin, and perhaps the animal yielding it.” Different English versions use different translations: NIV = “sea cows,”; NASB = “porpoise,”; HCSB = “manatee skins.” Kaiser suggests that the leather of the taḫaš “came from the East African sea cows (“porpoise” or “dolphin”), found in the Red Sea.” Whereas this is a possibility, as it could have been included in what the Israelites receive from Egypt (being that the Hebrews were not a seafaring people), the biblical text doesn’t tell us where it came from.
  2. Bottom line: the outermost coverings were extremely practical. Water resistant leather helped the ministry within the tabernacle continue despite poor weather conditions.
  • The structure (26:15-30) 

15 “And for the tabernacle you shall make the boards of acacia wood, standing upright. 16 Ten cubits shall be the length of a board, and a cubit and a half shall be the width of each board. 17 Two tenons shall be in each board for binding one to another. Thus you shall make for all the boards of the tabernacle. 18 And you shall make the boards for the tabernacle, twenty boards for the south side. 19 You shall make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards: two sockets under each of the boards for its two tenons. 20 And for the second side of the tabernacle, the north side, there shall be twenty boards 21 and their forty sockets of silver: two sockets under each of the boards. 22 For the far side of the tabernacle, westward, you shall make six boards. 23 And you shall also make two boards for the two back corners of the tabernacle. 24 They shall be coupled together at the bottom and they shall be coupled together at the top by one ring. Thus it shall be for both of them. They shall be for the two corners. 25 So there shall be eight boards with their sockets of silver—sixteen sockets—two sockets under each of the boards. 26 “And you shall make bars of acacia wood: five for the boards on one side of the tabernacle, 27 five bars for the boards on the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the side of the tabernacle, for the far side westward. 28 The middle bar shall pass through the midst of the boards from end to end. 29 You shall overlay the boards with gold, make their rings of gold as holders for the bars, and overlay the bars with gold. 30 And you shall raise up the tabernacle according to its pattern which you were shown on the mountain.

  1. As to the structure of the building itself, this is described through the assembly of forty-eight boards of acacia wood overlaid with gold, each being 15 feet long, 2¼ feet wide. The boards were bound together, not by nails (as this would prevent disassembly and reassembly), but through “tenons” (NKJV, NASB) or “projections (NIV). Literally, the Hebrew refers to “hands,” inferring that the boards were cut to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The north and south sides of the tabernacle were comprised of twenty boards each, and the westward end was made of six boards. The remaining two boards were reserved for the rear corners. The boards were not to rest directly on the ground, but were fit into “forty sockets of silver: two sockets under each of the boards.” The total structure measured 45 feet in length, 15 feet in height, and 13½ feet in width.
  2. In addition to the tenons binding the boards together, God instructed Moses to make bars of acacia wood overlaid with gold, which would provide stability to the structure. No precise measurements given for the bars, but detailed instruction is given as to their use. Five bars were required for each of the three enclosed sides of the tabernacle, two bars running through rings toward the top, and two bars running through rings toward the bottom. As for the middle bar, it was to “pass through the midst of the boards from end to end.” One must admire the practicality of such a design, particularly for a building that would be assembled and reassembled hundreds of times over the course of decades.
  3. Specific size – specific assembly. Even the framework was shown to Moses by God on the mountain. Nothing was left to chance! When it comes to how we approach God in worship, for Him dwelling among us, nothing is left to chance. Jesus did not come at a random point in history – His arrival was not unannounced nor unexpected. Scripture prophesied all of these things. What He did, what He said, what He accomplished – all of it had a purpose and was fulfillment of prophecy. There was no more important work than that of Jesus…nothing was left for random chaos. (Why should our worship of God be any less?)
  • The veil & screen (26:31-37) 

31 “You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim. 32 You shall hang it upon the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Their hooks shall be gold, upon four sockets of silver. 33 And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy. 34 You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy. 35 You shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand across from the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south; and you shall put the table on the north side.

  1. The next item described is the first of two hanging curtains (as opposed to the curtains on the roof), this one serving as a divider between what was known as “the holy place and the Most Holy,” or Holy of Holies (קֹ֥דֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִֽׁים). In the Most Holy place, the ark of the testimony with its mercy seat was to be placed, and there it would remain, alone. The other items of furniture (the lampstand, table of showbread, and altar of incense) would be in the outer holy place. Like the first layer of covering for the tabernacle, this veil was also to be made of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, with images of cherubim woven throughout. The veil was to be hung by golden hooks upon four upright pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The hooks would proceed through four sockets of silver. The veil in front would look much like the covering overhead, again symbolizing the throne room of God.
  2. Although it is not mentioned here, the veil is what separated the priests from the Most Holy place where the unveiled glory of God resided. In that place, only the high priest would go only one time per year, and only after much blood was sacrificed for his own sin. What happened in the New Testament with the temple equivalent of this veil? It was torn in two at the death of Jesus! (Mt 27:51) Jesus has given us full and free access to God through the cross!

36 “You shall make a screen for the door of the tabernacle, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver. 37 And you shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be gold, and you shall cast five sockets of bronze for them.

  1. The second of the hanging curtains served as the entrance to the tabernacle structure itself. As with the veil, the screed was also made of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, though no artistic designs of cherubim were prescribed. The screen was to be hung upon five pillars (instead of four, per the internal veil), also made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Again, the screen would be attached with golden hooks, though for this curtain the sockets for the curtain were to be made out of bronze.
  2. This is the first piece of linen made with the blue, purple, and scarlet thread that is not embroidered with images of cherubim. And it makes sense: this is the outer “door” to the tabernacle structure. They are only entering the very front area…things get more & more holier as the priest continues closer to the throne room of God.

Conclusion:

Much has been seen, but much more is still to come! In a display of sheer grace, Almighty God desired to dwell among His people. And the way He did showcases His incomprehensible holiness in wonderfully beautiful ways! Because God is holy, His people were to always remember His holiness, and fear Him in their approach.

That does not change for the church. If anything, it is magnified! How much more of the presence of God do we experience by having Jesus approach humanity & dwell among us? And beyond that (if it is possible), the actual presence of God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within each of us as born-again believers. Incredible! Of all people, we ought to be continually impressed with the holiness of God and the magnitude of grace on display in His invitation for us to approach Him.

But we do it God’s way. It’s not our way – it’s not “come however we feel like coming”; it is coming to God on His terms in His way through Jesus Christ.

Carry On

Posted: January 13, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 14:21-28, “Carry On”

Fans of classic rock will immediately recognize the lyrics: “Carry on my wayward son / There’ll be peace when you are done / Lay your weary head to read / Don’t you cry no more.” The guitarist and main songwriter for the band Kansas, Kerry Livgren, later professed to become a born-again evangelical Christian (as did Dave Hope, the original drummer & John Elefante, one of their lead vocalists – each of whom are retired from the band). Livgren has said that he wrote the song about his own spiritual journey at the time, which thankfully ended up at the foot of the cross.

The idea resonates with all of us. There are times we get tired & weary, but we need to carry on – we need to endure. Of course, this takes on a whole new meaning for those who are born-again by the grace of God through Christ Jesus. We do not carry on in our strength; we carry on in Jesus’ strength by the power of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory…but we still need to carry on. We don’t give up. We may grow weary, but we don’t quit. We “keep on keeping on,” and endure to the end. There might be various different stages of completion along the way, but the journey isn’t over until we see our Lord Jesus face-to-face, and we carry on until that day.

That’s the case with us, and that was the case with Paul and Barnabas. By the end of Acts 14, they had completed one major (and groundbreaking!) task: the first international missionary journey of the Christian church. They encouraged the churches they had planted to carry on, and the same counsel applied to themselves: carry on until the end. They weren’t going to stop until the work was done, and that’s what they did. Even with this, the work wasn’t really “over” – it was just on pause. Jesus was continuing to build His church, and what He did was wonderful!

For context, we basically need to take a broad look at the entire missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas had been called and set apart by the Holy Spirit for missionary work, and their home church in Antioch of Syria recognized this, prayed over them, and sent them forth into the field. The team first arrived on the island of Cyrus, the home region of Barnabas, who was leading the mission at the time. He and Paul (at the time known by his Hebrew name of Saul) established a pattern of preaching Jesus in the synagogues, systematically working their way across the island. The apostles soon got the chance to preach to the proconsul (governor) of the island, and they encountered their first instance of Jewish resistance. Paul rose to the forefront, confronting and miraculously judging the one opposing him, and the proconsul came to faith.

From there, Paul continued to lead the group back to the mainland, and although Barnabas’ nephew John Mark left them, they continued to the next major city of Antioch Pisidia in the region of Galatia. It was then that Luke (as the author) gave his readers a glimpse into the evangelistic methods of Paul. Paul and Barnabas had again gone to the synagogue, and Paul preached Jesus to them, showing Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises and preparations of God through the Scriptures. Although some Jews believed, others did not, and they created quite a bit of trouble for the apostles when they took the gospel to the Gentiles of the city. Soon, things became so bad that the team was forced to leave.

This cycle repeated itself in Iconium and Lystra, with the exception that Lystra was extremely pagan. The people were even ready to sacrifice oxen to the apostles (due to a miraculous healing performed by Paul) until Jews from Antioch and Iconium convinced them to stone Paul instead. By the grace and power of God, Paul survived the attack – but the window of opportunity was now gone. Remaining determined and faithful to his calling, he and Barnabas left Lystra for the next (and final) city Derbe, and the work continued.

What then? Eventually all journeys come to an end, and this was no different. The time had come to return home, and the apostolic team revisited the various churches they had planted along the way. This helped Paul and Barnabas not only see that the work of the gospel was continuing in these cities, but it also served to strengthen the Christians who were there. Soon, the work was done, and the apostles (along with all the church) were able to rejoice and rest. They had seen God build His church, and they could see how He was continuing to do it even when they weren’t around. Paul and Barnabas had been diligent – and God gave them exactly what was needed for the churches they had planted to be just as diligent.

We need to be diligent! We need to continue in the faith – to continue in the work of the gospel that God has given us & has begun in our lives. It can be easy for us to get discouraged and to give up, but God gives us the strength and equipping to continue. Walk in the equipping of Christ, and carry on!

Acts 14:21–28

  • Strengthening the churches (14:21-23). Be strengthened in Christ!

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch,

  1. Remember that the apostles were last said in verse 20 to have come to Derbe. Derbe was approximately 35 miles southeast of Lystra, where Paul had barely escaped death after being brutally stoned by the pagan mob stirred up by the Jews following the apostles from place to place. 35 miles doesn’t sound terribly far to our ears (just barely over the distance from Tyler to Henderson, or from Tyler to Athens), but we need to remember that Paul & Barnabas were travelling by foot; not by car. It could be travelled in a day, but it was a long, tough day of walking…something that would have made anyone following Paul and Barnabas think twice before making the trip. In any case, the two apostles arrived & got to work. How long they stayed, we don’t know, but it surely took several days to weeks, as seen in the progress that was made: there were “many” disciples – many who came to faith in Jesus, and given a solid footing and start in the faith.
  2. Don’t miss the fact that there were two distinct activities going on: evangelism & discipleship. Although the English translates it as two descriptive phrases, these are simply two different words in the Greek. We might say that Paul and Barnabas were “gospelizing” and “discipling.” In other words, they not only made converts, but they trained These two things go hand-in-hand, or at least should go hand-in-hand, although this isn’t always the case. Some Christians think that it’s enough to share the gospel, get someone to pray a prayer, and then just leave them hanging. Others want to get people into Bible studies and small groups, but not engage with their unbelieving neighbors, friends, and co-workers about Jesus. Both of these things are absolutely necessary, but they are not so easily separated. As the church, we ought to engage in both evangelism and discipleship. People need to both come to Christ, and then be brought up in Christ. Keep in mind, this is wasn’t new to Paul & Barnabas; this was first said by Jesus as part of the Great Commission: Matthew 28:19–20, “(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Grammatically, the key verb is “to disciple,” (“make disciples”), demonstrated by three participles: going, baptizing, and teaching. We have to go and share the gospel if there are ever to be converts to baptize – but although it starts with evangelism & baptism, it doesn’t end there. Those converts have to become more than mere converts (someone who has said “yes” to Jesus, repenting from their sins & putting their faith in Him as Savior & Lord). They only become true disciples when they are taught to observe the things that Jesus has said (as seen in His word, the Bible). Thus, this was the mission of Paul & Barnabas, and this is the mission of all the church! Making converts + training converts = making disciples. We haven’t truly engaged in the Great Commission unless we’ve done both.
    1. The good news is that this is what the church is for! Some believers are gifted evangelists, while others are far more skilled at discipleship. Both are free to work in their giftings…the key is to actually engage in those gifts! We cannot afford to put all of the focus on one & not on the other. This is why church congregations as a whole need to put effort into both.
  3. With the mission done in Derbe, what next? Paul and Barnabas decided it was time to go back home. Notably, they didn’t go the quickest & easiest route back to Antioch of Syria. They could have kept walking along the mainland and made it home relatively quickly; they didn’t. Instead, they decided to go back to the churches they had planted in “Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch [Pisidia].” Aside from all of these being cities with newly planted churches, they all had something else in common: these were cities of persecution. The easier way home was also the safer way home, but that’s not what Paul and Barnabas chose to do. They chose the harder route, the more dangerous route. Why? Because it was the more necessary route! They had new Christian friends, brothers & sisters in these other cities, and there was only one way to see them and to encourage them: by going back.
    1. God doesn’t always call us to “easy;” He calls us to faith. A faith-filled walk is rarely an easy comfortable walk…but it is a far better one! When we walk by what seems easy, we get what we expect & no more; when we walk by faith, we witness the work of God! We’ll see miracles we wouldn’t have ordinarily seen – we’ll experience the leading of the Holy Spirit in ways we wouldn’t normally have – we’ll get new opportunities to share Jesus that we wouldn’t otherwise experience. For many born-again Christians, they are saved, but life is hum-drum. Do you want a vibrant walk? Walk by faith!

22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”

  1. The purpose of Paul & Barnabas in going back wasn’t to pat themselves on the back; they had a specific goal in mind: “strengthening the souls of the disciples.” These men & women had been won to Christ, and the apostles had taught them as much about “the faith” (basic Christianity) as they could teach them in the limited time they had available to them before violence & other circumstances forced the disciples to leave. But Paul & Barnabas knew that if they had the opportunity (which they did), they could help these new churches even more. They wanted these new believers to be strengthened – to be made firmer in the foundation of their faith. Remember the parable of the soils, how two of the soils (the rocky ground & the thorny ground) saw immediate growth among potential believers, but quick withering away (due to a lack of root or worldly distraction). Paul and Barnabas wanted to do whatever they could do to help these new converts avoid those problems. They wanted to ensure that the people they saw come to faith in Christ remained in that faith – to be strongly rooted & grounded in Christ Jesus.
  2. How were the churches strengthened? First, as verse 21 showed, the apostles visited them. They gave the churches the gift of their presence. They didn’t leave these Christians alone, letting them be “out of sight, out of mind.” They didn’t ignore these new believers with the mindset of “I did my job; now it’s your problem.” Paul and Barnabas realized that because they were the ones who shared the gospel with these Christians & got them started in the faith, that they had a special responsibility to these believers to ensure they were properly grounded. Granted, they couldn’t do everything for these churches, nor could they hold every single believer by the hand and treat them like baby Christians for the rest of their lives. But while they had the opportunity, they personally cared for these Christians, and that “care” looked like “time.”
    1. One of the greatest gifts we can give one another (apart from the gospel) is our time. True investment and care for another person is seen in the time spent with him/her. Kids know this regarding their parents, spouses know it regarding each other – and we know it within the church. Time is rarely easy to give (and apart from families, we shouldn’t expect it!), but it is truly valuable when given. It’s a demonstration of love and concern, and it’s something that cannot be substituted.
    2. Discipleship is something that takes time. There’s no shortcut to Christian maturity – no one becomes a strong, grounded disciple by osmosis; it’s something that time in every believer. How valuable it is to that new believer when someone else more seasoned in the faith comes alongside them to help them & strengthen them! To them, that discipler is a gift from God. And that’s a gift all of us can be to someone else at some point in time. Maybe you’re a newer believer & you need someone to disciple you – that’s okay, we’ve all been there & we all start somewhere. But maybe you’ve been a Christian for a number of years. Who have you discipled? Who’s been someone you’ve taken under your wing? Again, this is all part of the Great Commission: to make disciples; not mere converts. This is something God has called all of us to do, and it’s something we can do, to one degree or another. It may not look like intense Bible study or a structured program (much of that can be done through the discipleship within the church). Sometimes, it’s a shared cup of coffee & counsel – it’s calling someone to see how you can pray for them – it’s offering some perspective when you see something going wrong. You don’t have to be their pastor; you just be you. Be careful not to downplay what God can do through you for another believer.
  3. Secondly, the apostles strengthened the churches by encouraging and “exhorting them.” Obviously, this was much of what Paul and Barnabas did with their time. Their visits to these cities weren’t simple social calls. They came alongside these new believers, and exhorted them “to continue in the faith.” These Christians (like all Christians) needed to stay in, remain in, persevere in the faith that had been handed down to them from the apostles. As seen in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (which was this very region of people), there were false teachers who would come to them, trying to sway them away from the cross and back to Judaism (or into Judaism for the first time, if they were Gentiles). Remember that it was in these cities that the Jews most drastically opposed Paul & Barnabas, stirring up mobs and other persecution against them. No doubt the Christians who remained behind had to continually deal with the same issues. The apostles (better than anyone) knew what kind of encouragement these Christians needed, and they gave it. Although it may have seemed like they were swimming against the tide of their culture, the Christians needed to stay in Christ, remain grounded in their faith, and persevere in the gospel. The gospel of Jesus is the truth, no matter what anyone else around them may have claimed (proven by Jesus’ historical resurrection from the dead), so they needed to stay grounded in that truth.
    1. For some, this begs the question: Can a Christian leave the faith? If a Christian needs to be exhorted to stay in the faith, does that mean that the faith (i.e. someone’s salvation) can be left behind? With all due respect…that misses the point. Paul and Barnabas were not dealing with theoretical, esoteric theological debates and theories; they were dealing with real Christians and real discipleship. Wherever someone stands on eternal security, there’s no question that we go through times when Christians don’t act Christian – when we don’t walk in the faith that we claim – when we gravitate towards the doctrine of the world rather than the doctrine of God. This was what the apostles warned against & pleaded with these new disciples not to do.
    2. Stay in the truth! Stay grounded in the gospel of Christ! There was a time in our culture when it seemed like the majority of people held a Biblical worldview and that Christian ideas were not generally challenged. That is no longer the case. We encounter situations every day where we have to make a choice between the morality of the culture & the morality of the Bible – a choice between pleasing our bosses, families, & neighbors, or pleasing the Lord God. Make the right choice! Stay in the faith, holding fast to Jesus, the cross, and His resurrection. That choice is worth it!
  4. And again, it’s not always easy. In fact, Paul and Barnabas told the Galatian Christians that it was necessarily hard. “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” The “must” is not a throwaway word in Greek; it speaks of true necessity. There is no way to avoid tribulations, suffering, and other difficulty when it comes to our Christian walk as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. Paul knew this from firsthand experience, and the Galatian Christians witnessed this with their own eyes. Especially those from Lystra – they would vividly remember standing over Paul’s bloodied body after his stoning, knowing that the reason for his suffering was his preaching for Jesus. Suffering was simply part of the Christian experience. As Paul would later write, there is a fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings (Phil 3:10), and it’s something in which all Christians participate.
    1. Obviously, we don’t all participate in the same way. Few American Evangelical Christians could claim to suffer the same way that the underground Christians in China suffer (or North Korea, or Iran, etc.). But to one extent or another, we will suffer for Christ. Someone will abandon you because of your faith – someone will hate you because of your faith – someone will challenge you because of your faith. To one extent or another, you will be rejected at some point in time…it’s normal. And it’s necessary. How else will we understand what it is our Savior endured, unless we experience a tiny taste? How else will we get a glimpse of the sacrifice Jesus made for us? How else will we appreciate the love Jesus has for us? Beloved, we don’t seek suffering, but we need not fear it; it is only a fraction of what our Lord gave for you and me.
  5. Paul and Barnabas strengthened the church through their presence, through their exhortation, and through one other way…

23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

  1. Strengthening #3: The apostles provided for the churches, helping establish them in maturity. This was done in three ways.
  2. First, they “appointed elders.” Paul and Barnabas were incredible church planters, and they had much experience in pastoral ministry back home in Antioch of Syria, but the Holy Spirit hadn’t called Paul & Barnabas to pastor the churches in Galatia; He called them to plant them. Other leaders were required to carry on the work, and although no one in these churches had been born-again believers for very long, those who were called by God to the ministry needed to be appointed to the ministry.
    1. How were the elders chosen? At this point, Luke doesn’t say. Again, all of the believers were new believers, so in a sense, all were “novices” – something which Paul would later tell Timothy to avoid in appointing elders (1 Tim 3:6). At the same time, there were likely some converted Jews who were well-versed in the Scriptures (which was the Old Testament) and capable of doctrinally sound teaching for the church. In the end, we can’t say, but we know this: Paul and Barnabas chose the best they could in the time that they had. Leaders were needed, so leaders were chosen.
    2. How are leaders (specifically pastors and elders) to be chosen today? Paul wrote to both Timothy and Titus, giving them very specific instructions on the matter. Titus 1:7–9, “(7) For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, (8) but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, (9) holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” Notice that the majority of this is character-based. Although bishops (overseers, i.e. first-among-elders) are to be skilled enough to teach, exhort, and convict through sound doctrine, the primary qualification for ministry is Christian maturity. It isn’t the talent to tell jokes, the skill to run a corporation, the amount of academic degrees held, or much of anything commonly sought for in pastoral candidates; it is a track record of how well a man has walked with the Lord Jesus. It’s not that other skills are irrelevant, but (at best) they are secondary. What churches need are godly men of character, and sadly, many times these have been left behind for someone who looks & sounds good on camera.
    3. How does this strengthen the church? Healthy leadership makes for healthy congregations. When pastors teach the word, congregations read and learn the word. When pastors are passionate about evangelism, congregations share the gospel. When pastors love their congregation, the people love each other. When pastors serve, the people serve. But when pastors promote themselves, when they guilt other people into serving them, when it becomes all about them & their own ministry/ego – that’s when congregations suffer and become susceptible to every wind of doctrine. Think about it: a “pastor” (shepherd) takes care of a “flock,” feeding & caring for the sheep in order for the sheep to be healthy & reproduce. Pastors of churches are to do no different.
  3. Second, they “prayed” and fasted. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to note because it is so easily overlooked. There is far more to setting up a church than writing a constitution/by-laws, setting up a board of elders, and filing the appropriate paperwork. That may be the legal minimum, but the church is not merely a legal entity. A local church congregation is a gathering of God’s own people – His “called out” ones, under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ, brought together by the Holy Spirit to give praise and honor to God. It is a spiritual body with a spiritual calling, thus it needs a spiritual foundation and empowerment. Churches are formed, strengthened, and sustained through prayer. The very first time that people in this congregation met in November 2004, deciding whether to proceed with a church plant, we looked at this verse: Psalm 127:1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.” If anything was to be done to form a “Calvary Chapel Tyler,” then the work had to be done by the Lord, which meant the work had to be bathed in prayer. Prayer is essential to this church, and it is essential to every healthy church. Not rote prayer – not “done out of ritual, I can’t wait to be done with this” prayer; real prayer – sincere prayer – passionate prayer. That was the point of Paul & Barnabas fasting while they prayed. This was focused, intentional, sincere prayer. And why would it be otherwise? These church planters were leaving, and at the time, they had no idea if they would ever see these Christians again. For all they knew, they would never return to Galatia, so these churches needed to be as prepared as possible. And that leads into the third point…
  4. Third, they “commended them to the Lord.” IOW, Paul & Barnabas entrusted these churches to Jesus. When they fasted & prayed, when they set up elders and leadership in the congregations, they knew they were leaving these churches behind…but they weren’t leaving them alone. They had been built upon the gospel of Jesus, and they could be left in the hands of Jesus. The Lord would not abandon His work. Paul & Barnabas were the tools used by God to start the churches in Galatia, but these men were not who built the churches in Galatia. Jesus did that. This was His work – these were His people. And that was the point of publicly commending the churches to the Lord. It wasn’t so that Jesus would be informed that Paul & Barnabas were done (as if Jesus needs to be “informed” of anything!); it was so that the people would know that they were in the hands of the Lord. They needed to trust Jesus to sustain them, even (and especially) after Paul & Barnabas had gone. The apostles were truly important and beloved by them, but their continued existence and growth did not depend on the apostles; it depended upon Christ.
    1. Never forget who builds the church…never forget who builds Christians. It is Christ, the Lord! We are grateful for the apostles of the past – we love our pastors & leaders, but these people come and go. In the case of the apostles & other church planters, their ministries are necessarily temporary. In the case of pastors & elders, they can be around for years & decades. But at some point, everyone leaves (even if through retirement or death). Those people, as valuable as they are, are not who builds us & sustains us. That is Jesus alone. We need to trust Him, and entrust ourselves to Him for that work.
    2. Again, this applies to more than church congregations, but also to individual Christians. There may be people for whom you’ve prayed for years. By all means keep praying – but be careful not to burden yourself with responsibility that does not belong to you. We are to be faithful with the opportunities given us by Jesus, but we will never be (and never want to be!) a replacement for Jesus in the lives of others. That means we need to entrust them to the Lord. You will never be able to make/force someone else to follow Christ, so stop trying. Pray for them, exhort them, plead with them – but give them to God. Ultimately their walk with the Lord (if indeed there is one) is between them and Jesus. At some point, we have to trust the Lord and move on.

So Paul and Barnabas have preached the gospel in Galatia, they’ve made disciples in Galatia, and they’ve strengthened the churches in Galatia. They’ve encouraged and equipped the Christians in these cities to carry on, so what did the apostles do next? They carried on, themselves – travelling home to bring everything to a close.

  • Finishing the work (14:24-28). Be diligent in Christ!

24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

  1. Although Paul and Barnabas had already retraced their steps back through the cities where they planted churches, at this point they began the trip home in earnest. They went along the main road, came to the same cities, and boarded a ship at the port of Attalia to sail back to Syria. Interestingly, they did not return to the island of Cyprus, and there is no mention as to why. Perhaps there were already established churches in Cyprus (considering that Barnabas and others who had come to Antioch were from Cyprus) – perhaps there was some other pressing matter of time & seasons for sailing. Whatever the reason, the apostles went home.
  2. That said, notice that they were always preaching. If there was ever a town in which they had to spend time, that time was spent sharing the good news of Jesus. The formal missionary journey may have come to an end, but the Great Commission hadn’t. The apostles were always apostles everywhere they went – and more than that, they were born-again Christians everywhere they went. They were always witnesses of Jesus, because that was simply who they were.
    1. We don’t need a formal ministry calling to be witnesses of Jesus, primarily because we’ve all already received one: it’s called the Great Commission! No born-again believer needs a title to share Christ. You don’t need to be “Pastor so & so” or “Evangelist so & so”; you just need to be born-again! If you have repented of your sins & received Jesus as your Lord & Savior, you have all the title & commission that is required to share Jesus. That’s what we do, because that is who we are. As Christians we are witnesses of Christ. We testify of who He is, and that He is Lord. It doesn’t have to be the street preaching of Paul – it can be as easy as handing someone a gospel tract in casual conversation, or asking someone how you can pray for them & then praying right then & there while sharing the gospel. To testify of Jesus is to simply let Jesus be known to others, and the ways to do that are countless!

26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.

  1. Finally, the work was done! It had been 18 months of travel, comprised of 700 miles by land, 500 by sea. As far as we know, nothing like this had ever been attempted in the short history of the church. Granted, Christians took the gospel with them wherever they went after leaving Jerusalem (and they went far & wide), but this was the first formal attempt to send a missionary party out from a local congregation, with the specific purpose of evangelism & church planting, ultimately to return back home. This was the ministry to which the Holy Spirit called Paul & Barnabas, and this was what they had been “commended” to by the church at Antioch as they trusted the grace of God. Things had come full-circle, all was completed, and it was time to rejoice!
    1. It is good to acknowledge the work of God. We don’t want to spend all our time looking in reverse at the so-called “good old days,” but neither do we want to miss the moment. It’s good to look back, and see what has been done. Think about your own life for moment. What is it God has done? Who were you in the past, and who has God made you to be? What has He saved you from & what has He saved you for? How has He used you as His tool for His glory? Those are things worth remembering & things worth celebrating! Put it in a journal – take time in prayer – share it with your spouse or a friend. Acknowledge the work of God & give Him thanks!
    2. BTW – God’s work in you isn’t done yet! There are missions and seasons that come to completion, but the only time that Jesus’ work within us is done is when we finally see Him face-to-face.

27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

  1. With the work done, it was time to gather the Christians, give a report, and give God the praise! This was a mission to be celebrated, as God had done wonderful things. Don’t miss that: it was “all that God had done with them.” It wasn’t that what Paul & Barnabas did wasn’t important, but they knew that they weren’t the primary actors. God was the one who did the work, so God was the one to receive the glory. God had called them into ministry, gave them the open doors, provided the finances, gave them the words, performed the miracles, and even guarded them from death. Paul and Barnabas were simply tools in the hands of God, and that was exactly what they wanted to be.
    1. How wonderful it is to be a tool in the hand of the Master Builder – to be a suit of clothes for Jesus, for Him to use in His purposes. Ministry isn’t about us; it’s about Him, so He is the one who should receive the glory. Too often, God uses Christians for something wonderful, and then we spend the next 24 hours patting ourselves on the back for how faithful we were. TV ministries do this all the time, showing themselves as being oh-so-important, which was the reason God chose them (rather than some other ministry to which you might donate your money). News flash: we’re not that important! Never forget that God opened the mouth of a donkey when He wanted to speak a word to a prophet who thought too much of himself. (Balaam, Numbers 22) If God can use a donkey, He has no problem using you or me!
    2. Instead of stealing the credit for ourselves, let us give it to the one to whom it belongs: God. The Lord Jesus chooses to use us in marvelous ways – it is simply an honor to be used! The vase doesn’t take credit for the beauty of the roses placed within it, nor the hammer for the house that is constructed. God is the Master Artist, the Builder, the Lord over His church, and He is the one who should receive all of the glory.

28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

  1. After a long time of ministry, Paul & Barnabas received a well-deserved rest. Not that things came to a grinding halt for the apostles. Remember that God had used them in local ministry in Antioch for at least a year before calling them to the mission field (Acts 11:26) – no doubt this ministry continued. They would have taught & discipled local Christians – they would have shared the gospel with the people of Antioch of Syria – they would have done all the things the other Christians right alongside them were doing. Rest from the mission field didn’t mean a vacation from life! No doubt they took a few days in recovering from travel, but there was much to do right where they were (including Paul’s writing of the book of Galatians, which likely took place at this time). Rest? Yes. Retired? No. As long as they lived, the apostles could be used by Jesus. Christ has used them on the mission field, and now He used them with the local church.
    1. Jesus can use us right where we are! So many people think, “I can’t wait for ____; that’s when I’ll be able to serve the Lord!” Why wait? Why wait for a foreign mission field, when a mission field exists right outside our doors? Why wait for a later circumstance in life when God has surrounded you with people right here & now? It doesn’t meant that God won’t do something else later – perhaps He’ll send you to a mission field, or give you some other opportunity. But you might not ever see the later things unless you are faithful with the present things. Every single one of you are here, in this city, at this time, surrounded by the people in your day-to-day lives. God wants to use you with them. Don’t wait – get busy! Stay diligent to what God has given you to do.
    2. For others, you don’t look towards the future; you’re always looking at the past. You’re the one with the “good old days”…the problem is that everything is in the good old days. Is there a time for rest? Sure…but it doesn’t last forever. We retire from our careers; not from our Christianity. While God has you here, He has you here for a reason: to bring glory to Him & be a light for Jesus. Don’t stop with the things of the past – look to the present, and see what God will do!

Conclusion:

Missions end; the Great Commission does not. Paul and Barnabas had a wonderful end to a tumultuous journey. For all the hardships they experienced along the way, they were able to retrace their steps, strengthen the churches, & celebrate the work of God. They encouraged the Christians they had seen to carry on in their faith, and to carry on with what God had in store for them.

If Paul & Barnabas were among us today, they would tell us the same thing: carry on! Continue in the faith & continue in the work! Be strengthened in Jesus, and be diligent for Jesus. He was the one who began the work in you, and He will be faithful to complete it (Phil 1:6). He does that for you; you do that for Him. Be faithful & carry on!

Maybe today you’re feeling weak, weary, and discouraged. In the past you’ve been faithful to Christ, but you’ve encountered so much trial, tribulation, and temptation, that you find it difficult to take another step. Remember that God does not call you to walk in your strength; He offers you His strength. When Paul & Barnabas strengthened the churches, they didn’t tell the Galatian Christians to pull themselves up by their bootstraps (sandal-straps?); they prayed over them & entrusted them to the Lord. Do the same! Pray, and entrust yourself to Christ. Ask Him to fill you anew with the Holy Spirit & give you the strength you need to carry on. That is a prayer guaranteed to be answered! Like Paul, you will find that His grace is sufficient!

Most households have an unsolved Rubiks Cube but you can esily solve it learning a few algorithms.

Dealing with Danger

Posted: January 6, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 14:1-20, “Dealing with Danger”

Movie fans or parents of young children will recognize this immediately: “Danger? Hah! I walk on the wild side. I laugh in the face of danger. Ha ha ha ha!” (Simba, The Lion King.) There’s something about danger that is intriguing to many. They say “Danger is my middle name,” as they jump out of airplanes, hurtle down a ski slope at 50mph, or climb a sheer rock cliff with nothing but a parachute for protection.

It’s one thing to choose danger; it’s another to have it thrust upon you. Police officers and firefighters are well equipped to walk into dangerous situations, but it isn’t something they seek out. Likewise with military soldiers stationed on a war-front. The whole reason they are there is to deal with danger, but it doesn’t mean that any of them look forward to bullets and RPG’s firing. That said, they might not want the danger, but the danger is still there. They still have to deal with it.

One might think that the danger would be less for people involved in gospel ministry – that it’s comprised of comfy offices, quiet studies, and peaceful devotions. That may be the case for pastors in America, but that isn’t the norm for pastors and missionaries around the world. For those Christians (men, women, and their children), gospel work is dangerous work. To preach the gospel in an area that is closed to it is to invite not only rejection, but persecution and even physical threats. Bible translators have had their homes raided & burned – pastors have been routinely jailed – missionaries have been kidnapped and held for ransom (if not shot & killed). That sort of danger is not the exception; it’s the norm all over the world. It is we here in the United States that have lived in the bubble of exception.

Even so, Christians in America are not totally immune. Although we rarely have physical threats made against us for our faith, legal threats are on the rise. Christians who are bakers, photographers, and others have been persecuted in the legal system, forced to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars in fines, many times designed at devastating their businesses and personal income. They aren’t alone. All Bible-believing & Bible-affirming Christians are in the same boat, and (if it hasn’t happened already) there will come a time when others will try to silence your testimony through threats and intimidation. 

What should we do when that happens? How should we respond? We respond as did Paul and Barnabas when facing their own threats and dangers: with boldness and determination. They were committed to the Lord Jesus, so they were bold for the Lord Jesus. He had given everything for them (and us); they were prepared to give everything for Him.

First things first: not every example of resistance we face is actually resistance to the gospel. Sometimes Christians face opposition because we’ve been unreasonable or unlikeable. It isn’t persecution if someone responds back to us for being jerks! On the contrary, it is only persecution when we suffer for doing good. We might speak the truth, yet speak it so obnoxiously that people aren’t rejecting Jesus; they’re rejecting us. That’s not persecution; that’s retribution (for right or wrong). Persecution is when people clearly see & hear Jesus in us, and clearly reject the Jesus we proclaim as they exclude, threaten, intimidate, or assault us. Persecution is what was faced by Paul and Barnabas almost on a daily basis, and specifically during their missionary journeys.

Our text picks up with Paul’s first missionary journey. The team of apostles had already travelled far from their hometown of Antioch of Syria, setting out first for the island of Cyprus & then back to the mainland of Asia minor. They soon arrived in Antioch Pisidia where Paul preached in the local synagogue, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah/Deliverer promised to Israel by God, and the One for whom God had so long prepared the nation. In response to the message, some believed; others did not. At that point, Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles, but the Jewish opposition caused so much trouble for them in the city that they were forced to leave. Even so, the local Christians were not deterred – they continued with Jesus and were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

That left Paul and Barnabas in the next city: Iconium. There, they would encounter much the same things they experienced earlier: preaching, some belief, Jewish opposition, and persecution. Danger accompanied the apostles everywhere they went, but they knew how to deal with it when it arose. They were determined to preach Jesus, no matter what. It didn’t matter where they preached the gospel; they were determined to preach it wherever God allowed.

How do we deal with dangers that arise for the sake of the gospel? By being determined to follow and preach Jesus, no matter what.

Acts 14:1–20

  • Danger from the religious (1-7)

1 Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.

  1. This was the same pattern that Paul and Barnabas had begun earlier, and it continued in Iconium. Because the Messiah was given first for Israel (though not only for Israel), and because Paul and Barnabas were themselves both Jews, they first presented the gospel to the local Jewish community. The easiest way to do that was to attend the local synagogue meeting on a Sabbath (Saturday), and be invited as a visiting rabbi to address the congregation. Luke gave a great example of this in Antioch Pisidia, but just summarizes the visit to the Lystra synagogue with a single sentence.
  2. And as before, it was successful. Notice that Jews and Greeks believed. It wasn’t that all Jews everywhere rejected the news of Jesus as Messiah – some Jews believed. In fact, in Iconium, it was “a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.” In every synagogue there were at least some Gentiles (Greeks) present, as some would have been fully converted to Judaism while others would have worshipped and feared the true God while stopping short of conversion. But it wasn’t only the Greeks who believed. Many Jews heard the words of Paul and Barnabas and came to faith. And why not? After all, Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, given in fulfillment to promises that God made to the Jews contained in the Jewish Scriptures. It only makes sense that Jews would come to faith! Paul and Barnabas (and all the original church) were Jewish – their countrymen were simply following in the same footsteps.
    1. Question: If that’s the case, why don’t all (or at least more) Jews believe today? First of all, some Jews do This is the reason there are Christian missionaries in Israel and other missionary organizations dedicated to Jewish evangelism all over the world. But admittedly, the number is small. Why is that? Part of it is the fulfillment of Scripture. As a whole, the nation of Israel is blinded to Jesus as the Messiah (Rom 11:7-10, Isa 6:9, Ps 69:22-23). They had their opportunity to receive Jesus once, and they rejected Him, sending Him to the cross. Thus, God has temporarily blinded them, taking the gospel to the other nations of the world until the day that God once again as mercy upon Israel, removes their blinders, and brings them to salvation (Rom 11:26). That’s one part.
    2. The other part is simply (and sadly) that some Jews are never told! By and large, Christians assume that Jews already have a religion that worships the true God, and they don’t need to be converted. Not so! Yes, they have the Scriptures, and yes, they worship the God of Abraham…but they worship Him wrongly. God came to them, revealing Himself to them in the Person of Jesus Christ, and they rejected Him. Right now, every unconverted Jew is in a state of rebellion against God, and they need to be converted in order to be saved. (Just like everyone else.) How many individual Jews would come to faith in Christ, if someone simply shared the gospel with them? We’ll never know if we never say anything.
  3. That’s not to say that all Some of the Jews caused problems…

2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.

  1. The Jews that rejected the gospel “stirred up” opposition. They incited the other Gentiles of the city who did not believe, rousing them up against the apostles. How so? Luke writes that they “poisoned” (embittered) the minds of the people against the Christians. If you’ve ever had someone spread spiteful rumors about you, you’ve experienced much the same thing. Your enemies poisoned the minds of other people against you, before you ever had the chance to defend yourself. That’s what the unbelieving Jews did against the Christians.
    1. In early apologetic writing, men like Tertullian wrote defenses of the church against terrible rumors and slander that persisted in the Roman empire against Christians. Believers were often accused of being cannibals (eating the flesh & blood of Christ in communion), but there were other wildly imaginative false rumors of murder, incest, and adultery. For the enemies of the church, lies did not need to have any basis in the truth – if they could get others to believe the false charges, that was enough.
    2. That much hasn’t changed. Enemies of the cross slander the church all the time, taking Scripture out of context and attributing false motives. They say Christians hate homosexuals (rather than the sin of sexual perversion), or that Christians are intolerant of other beliefs (whereas usually Christians are the ones who are excluded from protection). Don’t be surprised by the slander; be prepared for it. It doesn’t change our gospel mandate – it’s just the way things are, and the way things have always been.
  2. Don’t miss where this poisoning originated: “the unbelieving Jews.” The most religious people in town – the ones that would have agreed with Paul and Barnabas on all kinds of issues (the truth of the Scriptures, Biblical morality, etc.). The ones most like the apostles were those most opposed to the apostles. They were the ones to stir up problems and force them out.
    1. Sadly, some of the most fierce oppositions Evangelical Christians face today are from liberal churches. The most “religious” people around uphold the rumors and poisonous slander spread by others.
  3. What did Paul and Barnabas do in response to this opposition? Verse 3…

3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

  1. They stayed!” The apostles weren’t chased off; “they stayed there a long time.” They were determined and bold. It wasn’t the first time they had faced opposition, and it certainly was not going to be the last time. Paul and Barnabas accepted this sort of rejection as normal, and proceeded to keep preaching the gospel, apparently becoming even more bold as they did so.
    1. Our problem is that we don’t see opposition as normal. We see it as though something has gone wrong, when most likely the opposition has come because something went right. Think about it: why would those who hate Christ have a problem with people who never preach Christ? Of course there won’t be any opposition in that case, because there’s nothing to oppose. It is only when Jesus is clearly proclaimed that the followers of Jesus are rejected and persecuted. That’s when the enemies of the gospel take notice…and that is not the time to back down! If anything, that’s when our efforts should double as we speak even more boldly and freely about Jesus.
    2. Part of our problem is that we give up too soon! We might share Jesus with some, but the moment we get some pushback, we shut down. Don’t shut down; stand your ground! That’s the time to keep on sharing the Lord, embracing the fact that opposition is normal.
      1. Something that is often said in endurance sports is that successful competitors learn to embrace the pain. No one runs 26.2 miles (or 100+ miles!) without experiencing pain along the way – the question is how bad someone wants to finish. The determination to embrace what is normal is what makes one runner go faster or further than the person right next to him/her.
      2. We’re not talking masochism, but we are talking reality. The message of Jesus will be opposed. It always has been; it always will be. Embrace that reality as normal, and determine to keep preaching the message no matter what.
  • BTW – although the gospel is opposed by some, it’s not opposed by all. Remember that in the midst of all of this, Paul & Barnabas still saw people saved. How much opposition did they need to endure for one more citizen of Iconium to come to faith in Christ? For that person, it was worth it!
  1. Notice that Paul and Barnabas didn’t do all of this alone; Jesus was with them. The Lord Jesus Himself testified of the gospel message, “bearing witness to the word of His grace” through miraculous signs and wonders. Although it’s easy to get caught up in the miracles (and indeed, there is a miracle discussed in the next city), the best part of this isn’t the supernatural performance, but the supernatural presence of Christ. In His Great Commission, Jesus promised to be with His disciples always, to the end of the age (Mt 28:20), and that’s exactly what He does. He did not abandon Paul and Barnabas to the whims of Jewish opposition; while the apostles were doing their part of the Great Commission, Jesus was doing His.
    1. When we preach the gospel, we never do so alone! Know that Jesus is with you, the Holy Spirit is empowering you, and God the Father is strengthening you.

4 But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles.

  1. There was a schism in the city. On the one hand, some believed – on the other hand, some did not. The opposition brought on by the Jews had not stopped people from coming to faith in Jesus, and in time it soon became clear that the whole city was divided into two camps. This wasn’t something that the nonbelievers were content to let alone, as Luke soon describes.
  2. BTW: Note the plural “apostles.” We have no problem thinking of Paul as an apostle (for he frequently refers to himself in that way in his letters), but we sometimes don’t put Barnabas in that same category. Yet he was. Technically, an “apostle” simply is “one who is sent,” and could refer to any messenger or missionary, but the term is frequently used in a more specific manner for those who carry authority invested in them by Jesus to lead His church. There were the 12 who have a specific role, but the New Testament lists other apostles beyond the 12: Paul, Barnabas, James the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19), Apollos (1 Cor 4:6-9), and others. They were not apostles in the same sense as the 12, but they were apostles, nonetheless. 

5 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. 7 And they were preaching the gospel there.

  1. Not content to let the apostles preach the gospel to those who were ready to believe, those opposed to it (now comprised of “both Gentiles and Jews”) revolted. The schism/division had led to violent threats. True danger had erupted!
  2. Earlier, with the non-violent opposition, Paul & Barnabas stayed. This time, they left. Had they lost their bold determination? Not at all. This wasn’t cowardice; it was wisdom. Remember, Jesus told His disciples that if a town did not receive them or their message, they were to shake the dust off their feet & go somewhere else (Mt 10:14). That’s what had happened in Antioch Pisidia, and it happened again in Iconium. As long as the opportunity existed for Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel, they were determined to do so – but when the opportunity was gone, there was wisdom to leave.
    1. Unless God specifically commands us to do so, there’s no reason to stay in one place to share the gospel under physical threat. Why? Because there are always more places where we can share Jesus! It is not as if there is a lack of people who need to be saved – if one person doesn’t want to hear, just turn to the next person.
  3. Where were Lystra & Derbe? Lystra was 18 miles south of Iconium, whereas Derbe was another 35 miles southeast of Lystra. Obviously the apostles went to Lystra first, and Luke simply provides an overview of the rest of their trip. These other cities provided refuge, but not rest. Later, there would be opportunity for Paul & Barnabas to get some R&R; this was the time for work. They continued doing in Lystra what they had done in Iconium: preach the gospel. (Work while you have the chance!)
  4. Danger would follow soon enough…
  • Danger from the pagans (8-20)

8 And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.

  1. Undeniable miracle! If the Lord Jesus had testified of the truth of the gospel earlier through signs & wonders, this was a powerful testimony in the city of Lystra. A lifetime of paralysis was instantly overcome by the power of Christ as Paul commanded the man to stand to his feet and be healed.
    1. If the scenario sounds familiar, it should. There are a number of parallels between this healing and Peter’s healing of the paralyzed man sitting in the temple gate in Acts 3. Both men were lame from their “mother’s womb” (Acts 3:2) – both Peter and Paul fixed their attention on the man (Acts 3:4) – both paralyzed men experienced immediate overwhelming healing, not only receiving strength but leaping to their feet and walking (Acts 3:8). Luke seems to take pains to intentionally draw the comparison between Peter and Paul, demonstrating both in their apostolic authority & underscoring the approval of God in their ministries.
  2. We know nothing about the man except his lifetime of paralysis, other than one thing: “he had faith to be healed.” Paul had not invited the man up front offering a healing that was not asked for, nor did the man have to be convinced of Jesus’ deity by the miracle. First he believed; then he was healed. Faith came first. This doesn’t always happen (the man at the temple gate wasn’t looking for a miracle when he received one), but it often does. First we believe, then we receive the results. Of course it doesn’t have to be a miracle – we are to have faith for everything for which we pray. Faith as small as a mustard seed in the will of God is enough to see mountains moved (Mt 17:20), but that faith needs to be used. Without faith, we’ll never ask, and we don’t receive what we never ask for (Jas 4:2). Faith comes first, and faith needs to be used. 
  3. That said, it isn’t faith for faith’s sake. We need to have faith in the right object. In this case, the paralyzed man had faith in Jesus. He heard the gospel through the preaching of Paul & Barnabas and believed – and apparently he believed so solidly that the Lord Jesus who had risen from the dead had the authority to do anything, that he also believed the Lord Jesus could heal even a life-long crippled man such as himself. The faith was already there; Paul simply had him exercise it. — Question: How can we be so certain that the man had already believed upon Jesus, and it was that faith that Paul saw? Because Luke makes it clear that the man had faith beyond a physical healing. Literally, the phrase could be translated: “he had faith to be saved.” The Greek word can be translated differently depending on the context, but it is a word most often used in the sense of salvation or rescue (sometimes physical, sometimes spiritual). This man had faith that Jesus could deliver him from his situation – he had faith to be saved. Paul gave him the opportunity to act on it.
    1. Faith needs to be exercised – it needs to be acted upon. Specifically, saving faith! How tragic it would be to acknowledge the truth of the gospel message about Jesus, and never act upon it by asking Jesus to forgive your sins and make you a child of God! Faith requires a response or action, so act! Exercise your faith and intentionally ask Jesus to save you. 
  4. It was a glorious miracle & got the attention of the crowd! Too bad it got the wrong kind of attention…

11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

  1. Terrible misunderstanding! The people saw the miracle, immediately understood that it was divine, but tragically fell back on their previous pagan understanding. Instead of attributing the healing to the One True God, they believed that Paul and Barnabas were themselves gods. Apparently, there was a local legend of the region being visited by Zeus and Hermes in the past, but the residents had not recognized them. With the miracle accomplished, the people leapt to the wrong conclusion and decided they were not going to miss “another” opportunity to recognize their pagan gods.
  2. The language barrier proved to be an obstacle here. Although the people surely spoke Greek (as it is doubtful that Paul or Barnabas spoke Lycaonian), they fell back into their local language when they got excited about the miracle. All of a sudden, they started speculating that Paul and Barnabas might be Hermes and Zeus (interesting reversal of leadership role!), and neither of the apostles seemed to grasp what was going on until the local pagan priest started bringing oxen for sacrifice. 
  3. Once the apostles saw the oxen, they knew exactly what was happening, and it grieved them…

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out

  1. The most important thing is what Barnabas and Paul said (notice the change in order, reflecting the Zeus and Hermes comparison), but notice also what they did: “the tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude.” This was a visible show of grief. Some words might get lost in translation, but certain actions are known worldwide. At that time in that part of the world, ripping ones clothes was universally known as a sign of despair & grief. Certainly among the Hebrews it was a common response to blasphemy, but the people of Lystra did not need to be Hebrews to see with their own eyes that the two men were greatly upset & distraught.
    1. Sometimes what we do carries as much (or more) weight as what we say. Actions speak volumes.

15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,

  1. The apostles were men, just like them. They weren’t gods – they were flesh & blood. We might say today, “I put on my pants the same as you: one leg at a time.” The apostles were used by God, but they were not gods. (Big difference!)
  2. The apostles weren’t to be worshipped. No idol was to be worshipped – those things were “useless.” They were empty, fruitless, worthless. Idols are idle. They are vain imaginations imposed upon rock & wood that are formed into statues. They cannot speak, cannot act, cannot do anything because they do not exist. This was exactly why Paul and Barnabas had come to them: to call them out of idolatry to the truth. The apostles called them to worship “the living God.” Unlike dead motionless statues, the real God is alive. The real God speaks and acts. The real God created the universe.
  3. Question: Why start with creation? Why not talk about Jesus? First of all, the apostles had been talking about Jesus. That was the only way the paralyzed man heard the gospel and had faith to be healed. Secondly, creation was a common starting point. The people had seen the miracle, understood it was a miracle brought on by divine power, but did not understand where the divine power originated. Paul & Barnabas had to back up to address these foundational things. If the people didn’t understand who God is, they would never be able to understand Jesus as the Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. IOW, without this basic understanding, they would never be able to be saved. Paul and Barnabas needed to start from scratch to get the people to see God as who He is if they were ever to have faith in who He is.
    1. Do we start with creation? When appropriate, yes. Obviously, we live in a different culture, and many of the people we speak to are monotheist in their fundamental beliefs, even when they believe wrongly about God. But other people don’t believe even that. Some don’t believe in any God, some believe in an impersonal god-force brought on by nature, and still others believe in multiple gods. With them, the fact of creation is a logical starting point. After all, anyone can turn 360 degrees and see things that exist; those things had to be made. Things that are made require a maker; our Maker is God. It’s that simple. We don’t need to feel as if unless we’re ready to debate the finer point of Darwinism, we aren’t prepared to share Jesus with our unbelieving neighbor. We simply need to point them to the Creator God, and identify God as who He is.
  4. That is who God is. What has He done? The apostles go on to say…

16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

  1. God is God, even when people don’t recognize Him as God. He demonstrates His mercy in all kinds of ways:
  2. God is merciful in judgment. Although He could immediately judge every single person in the world with their first sin against Him, He does not. He mercifully withholds His judgment, giving people innumerable opportunities to admit their sin, repent, and seek God’s grace and forgiveness. He mercifully “allowed all nations to walk in their own ways,” even though the one nation of Israel had the precise commands of God for how to live. God’s restraint from judgment of the other nations was not evidence that God wasn’t there; it was evidence that He was – it was evidence of His mercy.
  3. God is merciful in provision. God sends rain to the just & the unjust (Mt 5:45) and provides life, food, clothing, and breath to every man, woman, and child on the planet. There is not a person in this world of whom God is not aware, nor a person who is not utterly dependent upon God’s provision (whether or not they know it). Without God sending the rain, we would have no food – without God spinning our planet in the right position in our solar system, life could not exist. Without God granting life to a sperm and egg joined together, no human would ever be born. God has graciously given all kinds of provision to every person!
    1. This takes away the “What has God ever done for me?” objection. God has done everything! We would not have woken up this morning, if God had not granted it. God gives our hearts permission to beat, and our brains permission to function. We owe God everything.
  4. God’s mercy testifies of His goodness. “He did not leave Himself without witness.” If people want to know that God exists, all it takes is one thing: look around! God abundantly witnesses of Himself every day. Not only does creation testify to its Creator, but the sustaining of life testifies to its Sustainer. IOW, we not only exist because of God, but we continue to exist because of God. The witness of God in this world abounds!
  5. The bottom line: God’s mercy leaves us without excuse! This was the point Paul later wrote to the Romans, when mentioning many of the same things. Romans 1:20-21, “(20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (21) because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” It isn’t that God hasn’t left Himself without witness; it’s that people don’t want to acknowledge His witness. But the fact remains that He has witnessed of Himself, and men & women have no excuse not to seek His mercies.
    1. Thankfully, although we do not seek Him, He seeks us! This is the good news of Jesus!

18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.

  1. Sadly, the men of Lystra hardly listened to the words of Paul & Barnabas. They were just as determined (set) in their idolatry as were the apostles in the gospel. This was all they knew, and they refused to listen to anything else.
  2. It got worse…

19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.

  1. Remember how far away Lystra was 18 miles away from Iconium, and over 100 miles away from Antioch Pisidia. For Jews to come all the way from Antioch and Iconium speaks volumes about their hatred of Paul and the gospel. Although we cannot say for certain that they followed Paul and Barnabas to Lystra specifically to oppose them, there seems to be little reason to think otherwise.
  2. The arrival of the Jews turned a terrible misunderstanding into tragic violence. The crowds were fickle & easily persuaded. One minute they believed Barnabas & Paul to be gods; the next, they tried to stone the apostles to death. The multitude turned into a mob, being disappointed that the men weren’t the false gods the crowd thought they were, and the crowd viciously turned on them.
    1. Interestingly, it was Paul alone that was stoned & not Barnabas. We can’t say why – perhaps Barnabas was able to get out of the way, or perhaps the mob went after Paul as the main speaker. Regardless, there is no small irony in it. In Lystra, Paul endured the same torment that he had earlier endorsed for Stephen in Jerusalem. The two men were made brothers not only by their faith in Jesus, but also their sufferings for Jesus.
  3. What now? Paul was brutally beaten with stones & left for dead. Was everything over? Not quite…

20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

  1. Miraculous healing! Because Luke never specifically wrote that Paul died, we cannot definitely call this a resurrection, but there is no doubt there was a supernatural healing that took place. The people in Lystra who had come to faith in Christ gathered around Paul & surely prayed for him, and while they were there, Paul opened his eyes & was able to rise and walk.
    1. BTW: Although no names of the Lystra Christians are listed, it’s possible that Timothy was there. Lystra was home to Timothy & his family, and apparently, his grandmother Lois was the first to come to faith, then his mother Eunice, then him (2 Tim 1:5). There weren’t many Jews in Lystra (which seems to be why the apostles did not preach at a synagogue), but there was at least some Jewish presence – Timothy’s family being evidence.
  2. Miraculous resolve! Notice what happened when Paul got up: he went back – “he rose up and went into the city.” Granted, it’s not as if there were many other options (no local hospitals in surrounding towns), but one might think that if there was one place that Paul would not want to return to, it was the city where a mob just tried to kill him. The moment someone recognized him, he’d be in danger. Even so, Paul went back. Why? Because he trusted the Lord. God had surrounded him with other Christians & Barnabas was back in town – Paul knew he would be safe for the night. Even so, it was clear that it was time to move on, so the two apostles went to the next (and final) city on their journey.

Conclusion:

It was a dangerous time for the two apostles! Whether it was from the religious Jews of Iconium, or the pagans of Lystra, the lives of both Paul and Barnabas were put on the line. How did they deal with their dangers? Through determination. They had been sent there by Jesus, and they were determined to speak for Jesus, serving Jesus. Rejection and opposition simply came with the territory. As Paul later wrote, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Tim 3:12). They accepted this sort of persecution as normal (being a spiritual attack from a spiritual enemy) and were determined to follow Jesus, no matter what.

How do we deal with dangers for Jesus? Determination in Jesus. People will try to silence your testimony, and intimidate you away from evangelism. That isn’t an “if”; that is a certainty – in fact, it’s already happened. Don’t raise your hands, but how many of you have ever shied away from sharing your faith because you were sure how you would be received? How many of you had a clear opportunity to speak of Jesus, and didn’t do it? We’ve already been intimidated into silence! We might not experience the same physical threats as Paul & Barnabas (or of countless Christians around the world), but what we have faced has been effective. By & large, Christians (myself included) are often too timid to tell others the good news of Jesus. We don’t want to “offend” – we think it’s not the “right” time – we want to try to build more of a “bridge”…or pick another of countless excuses we use. We have been silent for Christ, pushed into it through the pressure of our culture.

The time for silence is over! Be bold – be determined for Jesus! We deal with dangers through determination. But it’s the right type of determination. It’s not the “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” attitude thinking that you’ve got enough in you to push through the difficulty. Rather, it’s the “I’m fully dependent upon Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit” attitude acknowledging our strength in Christ. It’s being dedicated to Jesus knowing that He gave everything for us, so we willingly surrender everything to Him. When it came to our salvation, Jesus held nothing back, enduring every danger – every beating, insult, strike of the whip, crown of thorns, and nail…He took the pure unfiltered wrath of God due to all sin throughout the history of all humanity upon Himself. Truly, Jesus gave all. Surely, we can do no less for Him. Relying upon His strength, we set our minds & determine to live as witnesses for Him everywhere we go, regardless of the cost.

Is this your determination? If not, why?

Who Receives Eternal Life?

Posted: December 30, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 13:42-52, “Who Receives Eternal Life?”

Who is it that receives eternal life? Who is the person that goes to heaven? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? That’s what everyone wants to know, to have assurance of, before death. At least, that’s what people ought to want to have assured before they die! Some people don’t give it a second thought, believing there’s no such thing as life after death. Yet they’re fooling themselves, trying to silence the witness of their own conscience, which testifies to them of an eternity beyond what we currently see. Others certainly believe in life beyond the grave, but they think everyone goes to heaven. After all, God is loving, and because He doesn’t want people to suffer eternal punishment, He allows everyone into heaven (as long as they aren’t mass murderers, Nazis, or anything like that). Again, they’re fooling themselves. The Bible allows no room for error on this point: some go to heaven; others go to hell. God certainly wants everyone to be saved, and through Jesus, God has made every provision for people to be saved…but not everyone is saved. Whenever Jesus spoke about hell (which was quite often!), He always spoke of it as populated. The invitation to eternal life in heaven is wide-open, but the way is narrow & few enter.

So who does enter? Who goes to heaven, receiving eternal life? That’s what people want, and we need to know how to get there. How terrible it would be to live one’s entire life with the hope of heaven, only to find out that you’ve been wrong! In fact, Jesus specifically said that will be the case for many! People put their hopes in their good deeds, their religious piety, their giving, and (for some) even in miracles they believe they’ve performed or received. Yet eternal assurance is found in none of these things. Quoting Jesus: Matthew 7:21–23, “(21) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Can you imagine the shock of those hearing those words? The terror & dismay? To think that all in which you trusted (your miracles, your deeds, etc.) were all for nothing…how awful! What we need is assurance, real assurance that we have truly received eternal life and our fears can finally be laid to rest.

How can we know? That is exactly what is shown in the book of Acts as Paul and Barnabas wrap up their time in Antioch Pisidia. The gospel had been clearly preached, and the response to it was equally clear: some rejected & some rejoiced. Those who rejected it demonstrated themselves unworthy of eternal life, while those who rejoiced in it showed that they had been appointed to eternal life. What’s your response to the message of Jesus: jealousy or joy? Do you abandon Jesus or abide in Him? That response gives all of the confirmation you need.

Remember what led to this point… Paul and Barnabas were in the middle of their first missionary journey. Having been called and set apart by the Holy Spirit for the ministry, their home church in Antioch of Syria prayed over them & sent them out. They began by sailing to the island of Cyprus, where eventually Paul took leadership of the team and preached the gospel to the governor and his court. From the very beginning, Paul and Barnabas encountered Jewish opposition, at this point from a Jewish “sorcerer” who was a chief advisor to the governor. Paul pronounced supernatural judgment upon the man (who was temporarily blinded), the governor came to faith, and the missionary team moved back to the mainland. They soon arrived in Antioch Pisidia where they went to the local synagogue & Paul (as a visiting rabbi) was invited to speak.

Paul took the opportunity to preach the gospel, showing how through the centuries God had prepared Israel for a deliverer & Messiah, and that this Messiah was seen to be Jesus. This was the fulfillment of prophecy, and the expectation of the ages. Jesus offered true forgiveness from sin, and the opportunity to be made righteous in God’s sight – something that every Jew knew was impossible to do through the law of Moses. Paul closed with a warning: they had heard of the work of God; they weren’t to reject it through unbelief.

What now? Like any worship service in church, the synagogue meeting came to a close. Paul was known to preach for lengthy periods of time, but not even Paul would preach forever! The gospel was preached, an invitation was given, and people went home. What they would do with the message afterward…that was the question. What some heard and were receptive to in the moment, they may not be so receptive to later on. It is one thing to hear the gospel; it is another to continue in it. Not everyone would continue, and Paul and Barnabas would take the message to those who would.

It isn’t enough to hear the gospel of Jesus; we must remain in it, continually abiding in joy. What is your response to the message of Jesus? Are you joyful to continue in what He has begun, or are you jealous of His goodness ready to forsake all? Don’t reject the good news; receive it & remain in it with joy!

Acts 13:42–52

  • Who is unworthy of eternal life? (13:42-46)
  • Initial response: openness (42-43)

42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.

  1. Not a bad way to begin: the initial response was good! Paul preached, the service closed, and the people were already hungry to hear more. Nearly any preacher would want to see the same sort of immediate response! The NKJV & KJV read a bit different than other versions at this point, distinguishing the Jews from the Gentiles, whereas the NASB, ESV & others simply say “the people.” Per the available manuscripts, the textual evidence leans towards the generic language of the NASB & ESV. Very soon, there would be a sharp distinction between the response of the Jews and the Gentiles, but at this point, all the people who attended synagogue that day (Jew & Gentile God-fearer alike) seemed to be excited about the message preached by Paul. They “begged” to hear the message again, or rather, more along the same lines of what Paul had already preached. They had gotten a taste of the gospel, and they wanted more.

43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.

  1. Some Jews believed! Although it wasn’t universal among the entire synagogue congregation, some of those who heard (whether from Jewish background or Gentiles who were either God-fearers or who actually converted to Judaism) “followed Paul and Barnabas,” presumably in faith wanting to hear more about Jesus. Paul may have been scheduled to speak again at the next Saturday Sabbath synagogue service, but they didn’t want to wait that long. They followed the two apostles out the door, excited of what they might next hear.
    1. And why not? The gospel of Jesus is exciting! After all, it’s “good news,” with the emphasis on “good.” Paul had just told them how God had sent the Messiah, the One Man for whom all Israel waited & the One to whom all the Scriptures pointed from Genesis onward. For centuries, the people of Israel had waited for the One who would right everything that went wrong in the Garden of Eden, Who would be a blessing to all the nations, Who would restore the Kingdom to its glory (and more!) ruling from Jerusalem over all the world. More than that, Paul told them that this Messiah could provide for them forgiveness from every sin, and justify them in the sight of God. Every Jew knew that he/she was insufficient to keep the law – that he/she was constantly guilty, never able to fully live up to God’s standard of perfection. But now that standard had been kept by the Messiah – proven in the fact that He rose from the dead. No wonder that some of the Jews & proselytes were excited! This was good news, indeed!
    2. It’s good news to everyone! Think about it: we all inherently know that we’re sinners. After all, how many of us have said, “No one’s perfect.” We know we’ve failed – we don’t have to rack our memories for examples of how we’ve royally messed things up. One of the first lessons our parents teach us is how to apologize, and it’s something none of us have ever gotten used to or done enough. We can’t ever truly make something right again. But then we hear of Jesus! Jesus makes us right – Jesus truly forgives us our sin – Jesus does for us what we could never do for ourselves: make us innocent in the sight of God. This is good news! Why wouldn’t we get excited about that? Who wouldn’t want to hear more?
      1. Of course some don’t, and it’s usually those who don’t want to believe that they are accountable to Almighty God. But we are, and for those who admit the obvious, the news of Jesus is wonderfully good!
    3. Notice what Paul and Barnabas said to them: they “persuaded them [the Jews and proselytes] to continue in the grace of God.” These people who were so excited about Jesus needed to remain in the gospel – to be firmly planted and grounded in faith in Christ. They had started out well – now they needed to continue in the same direction. At this point it seemed as if they believed (and some of them probably had), but after such a short period of time it was impossible for Paul and Barnabas to know for sure. This wasn’t the time to start talking “once saved, always saved,” because there wasn’t any evidence yet that any of them were There was a group of people excited after a single sermon from Paul. Some of them might have been saved, but neither Paul nor Barnabas could know that for certain. The Holy Spirit gives assurance; people don’t, and prayers don’t. We praise God when someone prays a prayer of salvation, but we cannot put any assurance into that prayer; salvation comes from Jesus alone when a person places his/her faith in Him. That isn’t always known from a single prayer, but it’s definitely known over time.
      1. It isn’t the initial response to the gospel that shows if someone is saved; it is how/if the person continues. Jesus made this point with the Parable of the Soils (often called the Parable of the Sower). A farmer sowed his seed, with it falling on four types of ground/conditions (birds, rocks, thorns, good ground). Jesus explained it this way: Matthew 13:18–23, “(18) Therefore hear the parable of the sower: (19) When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. (20) But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; (21) yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. … (22) Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. (23) But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Notice the most obvious part of the parable: 3 out of 4 soils did nothing. The first group didn’t have a chance to sprout into faith at all because of the work of the devil. The second and third actually seem to do something at first, but it doesn’t last. Only the last group grows into maturity and bears fruit. Only the last group is saved. Only one group heard the gospel (the seed) and continued with it; all the others did not.
      2. The test for someone’s salvation is not whether they prayed the sinner’s prayer as a child; it’s whether they’ve continued with Jesus into the rest of life. This is hard news for many to hear, because we so badly want our loved ones to be saved (and maybe even ourselves!). But we only have real assurance of salvation when we have a solid foundation for assurance. That isn’t based in an initial response in the past; it’s based in current trust in Jesus.
  • Later response: jealousy/opposition (44-45)

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.

  1. On one hand, there was good news. Apparently, what had happened in the synagogue was made known, and spread quickly to virtually whole city. Everyone heard, and they wanted to hear more. Quite a crowd gathered, mostly comprised of Gentiles, and soon the multitudes were so large there was no way they could fit inside the doors.
  2. But that brought out the bad news. The Jews of the synagogue (probably the local leaders) saw the crowds of Gentiles and were none too happy. “They were filled with envy,” being jealous at the attention given to Paul & Barnabas, and seemingly envious that common Gentiles might hear the message of their own Jewish Messiah. This was their hope from their Scriptures, and they didn’t want it going out to people who weren’t like them. They especially didn’t want these people listening to the foreign preachers from Antioch of Syria. If the Gentiles were to listen to anyone, it ought to be the local rabbis.
    1. Jealousy is a terrible thing, being solidly based in pride. We can be zealous in a good way, wanting the truth of Jesus to be clear, wanting the best for people and the glory of God – but human jealousy is ego-driven, wanting to please ourselves. In this case, the envy/jealousy of the Jews caused them to do terrible things.
  3. They opposed Paul & Barnabas, “contradicting and blaspheming” the apostles and their message. Even though they might have been glad to hear it the week before, now they wanted nothing to do with it. Granted, these may have been different Jews than the ones who followed Paul & Barnabas out of the synagogue, but there’s no way to know without further information from Luke. At the very least, it is clear that Paul and Barnabas were initially invited back to the synagogue to speak again; now that invitation has been totally revoked. The leaders who were so gracious to Paul at first now vehemently opposed him & everything he said. Considering the things he said were about Jesus, their opposition carried eternal danger! To contradict the gospel is to stand in the way of the gates of life! Although the word is literally “blaspheming,” contextually this could probably be translated “slandered.” Even so, if they spoke against Paul’s message about Jesus, then they engaged in blasphemy, by definition.
  • Judgment (46)

46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.

  1. They showed boldness in the face of hatred. Opposition from the Jewish leadership did not cause them to back off or water down the word of God. For some, it might have caused them to do so – people don’t want to offend or make waves, so when there is opposition, then people want to take back anything they might have said to cause the offense. After all, we just want to get along, right? Not always. Yes, we need to seek for peace among one another, and as much as it depends on us, we should live in peace with all men (Rom 12:18). And yes, if we should cause undue offense with someone else, we ought to drop everything and be reconciled with our brother/sister before bringing our offerings & worship to God (Mt 5:23-24). But that applies to everything except the gospel and word of God. The gospel of Jesus is itself an offense to others, a “stone of stumbling and rock of offense,” (1 Pt 2:8). Although we need not be offensive in presenting it, people will be offended when it’s presented. There simply isn’t any getting around it. It doesn’t give us a license to be a jerk about it, but we cannot back down from the truth. Like Paul & Barnabas, we must be bold, even when people are offended and oppose our message. The two apostles spoke freely & fearlessly about Jesus and the judgment promised to those who reject Him. That message was (and is!) too important to water down in timidity.
  2. What the Jews didn’t realize was what they were rejecting. It was a privilege to hear the good news of the Messiah! This was the promise of God that He had given to the Hebrews, which was what “it was necessary” that the gospel be spoken first to the Jews in the city. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the prophets. Why wouldn’t the gospel first go to the Jews? God had been faithful to His word, and His people should be the first to know it. Although Jesus ministered to everyone He met (Jew, Samaritan, Gentile), His first ministry was to Israel, and He specifically said so. He was sent to the “lost sheep of Israel,” (Mt 15:24) because He is the Messiah of Israel, the King of Israel. Thus, it was a glorious privilege for the Jews in Antioch Pisidia to hear the gospel of Christ. Paul and Barnabas had been perfectly obedient to bring it to them before taking it to anyone else.
  3. The problem was that the Jews of Antioch Pisidia (by and large) didn’t want it. They rejected it, repelling it as if it was some unclean toxic thing to be cast away. Imagine! The best news ever presented to mankind, graciously given to the men of this synagogue, and they despised it. Instead of drinking in the Living Water, they spat it out as if it were mud. Consider the privilege of receiving a special gift, like a family in a third-world nation giving you all the food that they have & then casting it on the ground as garbage right in front of them. How could we treat such a gift with such disdain? Yet that’s exactly what people do when they reject the gift of the gospel. If the queen of England presented a special medal to you, you would at least treat it with great respect, even if you didn’t understand why the queen of England would want anything to do with you. People who reject the gospel know what God offers, and they still treat it like garbage. It is a terrible insult. It’s no wonder that Paul declared that the Jews of Antioch Pisidia judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.
    1. To answer the original question, this is exactly who cannot receive eternal life. The person who knowingly rejects Jesus has already judged him/herself unworthy of salvation. No one is ever worthy of salvation – that is something reserved solely for Christ Jesus. Apart from Him & His grace, we deserve nothing but His wrath because of our repeated sins against God. But to hear of His grace and still reject Him…how much worse! That person is truly hopeless.
  4. If not the Jews of Antioch Pisidia, then who? The Gentiles…
  • Who is appointed to eternal life? (13:47-52)
  • Gospel to the Gentiles (47-48)

47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

  1. Paul quotes Isaiah: Isaiah 49:6, “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ “ From the beginning, God’s plan for the Messiah as His Servant was to redeem Israel, regather them together as a glorious kingdom, and to do marvelous things for God. But as great as that was, it was still rather small – thus, God’s plan for the Messiah was always for Him to go to the Gentiles. The Messiah would be their light as well, giving the nations of the world the chance to receive of God’s gracious salvation. – Paul’s point? If the Jews of Antioch Pisidia rejected the message of God’s Messiah, there were other people there who could hear of Him. Paul had been faithful to take the gospel first to the Jews, but the gospel was never meant only for the Jews. The gospel is for the entire world.
    1. FYI: This would be Paul’s pattern in every city he preached. For him to say that he was turning to the Gentiles was not a blanket statement for entire ministry; he was only turning to the Gentiles in that city at that time. In other cities, he’d go first to the Jews until they rejected him, and only afterwards take the gospel to the Gentiles. (The only exception was when he was in a city with little to no Jewish presence.) This would be his pattern through his entire life.
  2. Bottom line: Jesus is God’s plan of salvation for everyone – “to the ends of the earth!” Every nation, every race…everyone. Not a single person is off-limits from the message of Jesus. Jews need to hear, so take the gospel to the Jews. Muslims need to hear, so take the gospel to the Muslims. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists – all of them need to hear, and none are off-limits. Atheists & agnostics in the United States – even pew-sitting “Christians” in the Bible Belt…if they don’t truly know Jesus, then they need to hear His good news of grace!
    1. Practically, do you know what that does? It takes away the guessing game of whether you need to share with the person next to you at work or stuck in line. You never need to question, “I wonder if they need to hear?” The answer is yes! If he/she is breathing, then he/she needs Jesus! Skin color doesn’t matter, financial status doesn’t matter, religious background doesn’t matter…operate under the assumption that the person needs the gospel, because he/she does!

48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

  1. The Gentiles were glad & ready to believe! Of course they would be glad! After all, the message of God’s salvation was not restricted to a certain nation or race. The Jews were God’s chosen people as a nation to preserve His promises, but they were not the only people God chose to be saved. Anyone who has received Jesus as Lord & Savior has been chosen by God – anyone who believes upon Jesus has been truly saved. That’s glad news – that’s news of which we can glorify God! Have you ever thought yourself cut off from an opportunity, only to have the door swung open for you? That’s this, to the infinite degree! The rest of the world thought ourselves cut off from the love & grace of God, but through Jesus, the door is swung wide open! We, who were once enemies of God, who didn’t even have any access to God, now have access to His goodness & grace. We can be saved! Praise the Lord!
    1. You can be saved! It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve come from. It doesn’t matter if you have loads of cash or barely 2 pennies. It doesn’t matter if you’re a drug-addict or a goodie-two-shoes. You can be saved! You have access to the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Be glad! Glorify God, and believe!
  2. As for these particular Gentiles, they were saved! “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” The word for “appointed” could be translated “arranged, put in place, etc.” One dictionary notes: “Its first meaning is military: to draw up troops in a battle array and so to post or station them.” (NIDNTT) The idea is like God as the Commander, and He has His strategy already planned. He takes His people and places them where He wants them – in this case, to eternal salvation and life. Paul and Barnabas preached the message, and the people believed the words as they were preached, but it was God who saved them. He had a plan for them to be saved, and He saw it through. God appointed these people to eternal life, because God always takes the initiative in our salvation. He sees us, knows us, loves us, and calls us to be saved. He knew us from before the foundation of the world. This is the plain teaching of the Bible. We see it in Romans 8:29, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be firstborn among many brethren.” We see it in Ephesians 1:4-5, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” And of course, we see it here in Acts 13:48 in the writing of Luke. God knew these people, appointed them to eternal life, and they believed.
    1. Does this prove Calvinism true? No – because that isn’t the question the Scripture is answering. The debate over Calvinism (and their version of predestination) didn’t arise for another 1500 years, and even Augustine’s ideas of predestination didn’t exist for nearly 400 years after Luke’s writing. We need to be careful not to put words in the mouths of the Biblical authors, not imposing our theological ideas upon them.
    2. So what can we say about this verse & the idea as a whole? As much as the Bible does: “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” People were appointed to life, and those appointed believed. It doesn’t tell us how or why they were appointed, or what was involved in God’s mind when appointing these people to life. It doesn’t say how or why; it only says the “what”: they were appointed, and they believed. God appointed them, and people exercised their belief. What more needs to be said? Any attempt to go back into the recesses of eternity is an attempt to see things we cannot dare to comprehend. When we try to systematize and categorize the infinite mind of the infinite God, we’re inevitably going to end up in error. (We will cut Him short in some way!) The solution? Simply believe what the Bible simply teaches: God appoints & saves from His will, and we believe the gospel exercising the will of our own. The Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the freewill of Man, so this is what we must believe.
  3. With all that said, don’t miss the main point: people believed & were saved! That’s not something to get our knickers in a twist over how it happened; that’s something in which we can rejoice that it did happen! And it wasn’t just people in that city…
  • Jewish opposition (49-50)

49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

  1. The gospel spread, but so did Jewish opposition. Like Mary and her little lamb, everywhere Paul & Barnabas went, the Jewish leaders were sure to go. Even where there weren’t large influential synagogues, the Jews went to the influential leaders of the cities (men & women, the women listed first, interestingly enough…they seemingly held the most power) and poisoned their minds against the apostles. Soon, Paul and Barnabas weren’t welcome in Pisidia at all, much less the city of Antioch. It hadn’t stopped the apostles from sharing the gospel, but soon there was no opportunity for them to share at all.
  • Christian determination (51-52)

51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

  1. What Paul and Barnabas experienced was precisely the thing about which Jesus warned His disciples. He used the same words when sending His disciples on a short-term mission trip into Judea. Matthew 10:14–15, “(14) And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. (15) Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” Some people would be glad to hear the gospel of the kingdom & receive the disciples into their homes; others would not. Others wouldn’t want to hear at all, and would even oppose the message. What did Jesus tell the 12 to do? Shake off the dust, and keep moving. Those who preached had already done their duty – they had warned the people of the wrath to come and invited them to receive of the grace of God in Jesus. Those who rejected bore their own judgment, having invited it upon themselves. Likewise in the situation with Paul, Barnabas, and the Jews of Antioch Pisidia. They had proclaimed Jesus faithfully, until they no longer had the opportunity to do so. At that point, they left. Knock off the dust, symbolically remove even the traces of the city, and move on.
    1. As Christians, we need to be ready to preach, be ready for opposition, and be ready to move on. I find it funny that I sometimes still get surprised when people actively oppose the gospel. It shouldn’t be surprising at all…Jesus told us to expect it! “If the word hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you,” (Jn 15:18). It’s tough to get clearer than that! Some people will listen, others won’t…that’s the reality. Our responsibility is to share – to preach, speak, and tell others of Jesus. We cannot convince. If they don’t want to hear, move on to others who do.
    2. Christians sometimes spend far too much time debating those who don’t want to hear. Better to spend our time sharing Jesus with someone ready to listen.
  2. If the apostles moved on to the next city (Iconium, 90 miles away), what did the new Christians back in Antioch Pisidia do? They rejoiced! Even with all the opposition all around them, they rejoiced in their newfound faith and stood firm by the power of the Holy Spirit. Opposition from others didn’t slow them down – the new reality of persecution did not make them fall away from Jesus. They did not fear in their faith; they rejoiced! They were filled to the brim with joy & the Holy Spirit. How so? The two things go hand-in-hand. When a Christian is standing firm in faith, being constantly filled with God the Holy Spirit, that Christian is going to have joy. How could he not? God gives us the peace that is beyond understanding – God gives us the strength we need when we are weak – God gives us comfort, because Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would give it. When we have all of that by the grace of God, then of course we will rejoice! It doesn’t matter how much opposition we might face or persecution we experience – it doesn’t matter how many people make fun of us or reject our message. It doesn’t mean those things feel great at the time (a loss of a friend is still a loss), but at the end of the day we still have joy! We have joy because we have Jesus, and Jesus is enough.
  3. To look at it from another perspective, notice that the Jews and Gentiles who truly believed the gospel did exactly what Paul and Barnabas originally told the Jews & Gentile God-fearers & proselytes of the synagogue to do: they continued in the grace of God. (13:43) The seed that had been sown within their hearts had fallen on good ground, and the evidence was in their abiding faith and joy given by the Holy Spirit.
    1. This again, takes us back to the original question: Who can receive eternal life? How do we know if we have been appointed to eternal life? Answer: It is those who abide in Jesus. It is not only those who start with Jesus, but those who stay with Jesus. Can it begin with a single prayer? Yes, and it often does! But it doesn’t remain only a single prayer – it continues throughout a person’s life. This takes us out of the whole debate between Calvinism & Arminianism, and puts us squarely back into the text of Scripture. Jesus calls us to abide in the Himself as the Vine (Jn 15:4) – John writes that we are to remain/abide in Christ (1 Jn 2:6), continually remaining in the gospel (1 Jn 2:24) – Peter writes of making our call & election sure through the outworking of our faith (2 Pt 2:5-10). All of this speaks of current, ongoing faith – abiding faith – faith that starts in Jesus & stays in Jesus. The person who has that kind of faith is the person who has sound assurance of eternal life.

Conclusion:

Out of the people who heard Paul & Barnabas in Antioch Pisidia, which ones were saved? The ones appointed to eternal life – the ones who responded with joy to the gospel, believing it – the ones who continued in the grace of God. It wasn’t their religious background that determined their eternity (most of them had none!), and it wasn’t their good deeds (they barely had time to demonstrate any); it was simply their faith – their continuing, ongoing, joyful faith. They had begun with Jesus, and they remained with Jesus no matter what.

Others heard and were glad for a time, but quickly fell away. Their leaders became jealous, believing they had all they already needed and didn’t want anyone else to hear of God’s grace, especially not from the apostles. They stood in the way of others hearing of the grace of God, despising the gift that had been granted to them as the people of Israel. In the end, they proved themselves unworthy of eternal life.

No one is worthy of being in heaven with Jesus, but we can be assured of it. It all hinges on the grace of God, and our response to it. What’s yours?

So many people question their eternity, wondering if they are truly saved. And that question isn’t necessarily a bad thing! No one wants to get to Judgment Day and discover that they were wrong! Paul wrote to the Corinthians to examine themselves & see if they were truly in the faith (2 Cor 13:5) & again, Peter wrote to his readers to make their call & election sure (2 Pt 2:10). Of all the things we assume in life, this is not one of them. We want to be sure.

The good news is that we can be. When we receive Jesus with joy, and stay in Him, the Bible promises us wonderful assurance! 1 John 5:11–13, “(11) And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. (12) He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (13) These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

Christian, have you questioned? Do you live in a place of uncertain doubt? You can know that you have been appointed by Almighty God to everlasting life simply by looking at your current faith. If your hope is in Jesus, and nothing but Jesus, praise God! That’s exactly what you want it to be.

If not…then you don’t have that assurance. If you’ve been trusting in other things to guarantee your salvation, you’re not saved. If you’ve been trusting in a single prayer you recited in the past, but not walking with Jesus in the present, you’ve got no guarantee. If you’ve let the things of this world choke out your initial start with Jesus, then you’re just like many of those who heard the gospel from Paul & Barnabas. Don’t start & sputter out; start with Jesus & stay with Jesus.

The Best Gift

Posted: December 23, 2018 in John, Uncategorized
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Christmas Sunday 2018

John 4:1-10, “The Best Gift”

Gifts! For many, Christmas is all about the gifts. Although the Christmas shopping season officially begins with the close of Thanksgiving, some people plan their Christmas giving all year long. They carefully plan out who is going to receive what, and they hide their purchases away like squirrels hiding their nuts, all until the gifts can be given in December. For children, it isn’t so much what they give, but what they are given. They can’t wait to run to the tree on Christmas morning and rip off the wrapping paper to see what they’ll find. [I typically got things started around 2am!] When talking about marathon racers, many participants say “It’s all about the bling” (the medals) – for Christmas, it’s all about the gifts.

Although there’s much we could say about the overabundance of materialism & the cultural problem of selfishness – to a large extent, the saying is right: it is all about the gift…as long as we’re talking about the right Gift. Christmas is not about Santa, decorated trees, eggnog (non-alcoholic!), parties, or any other fun family traditions (though some of that can be good, in its own regard); Christmas is all about Jesus, and Jesus is the gift of God.

That was the news to the Samaritan woman at the well. Although this isn’t the typical Christmas story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, it deals with the Christmas theme: God’s gift of a Savior. Remember what it was the angel proclaimed to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem: Luke 2:10–11, “(10) Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. (11) For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  A Savior had been born – a Savior had been given to all the world. The promises of God had come true: God had given the Jews a new son of David, the ultimate King of Israel, and this Man was bringing salvation and tidings of great joy to all nations all over the world. Mankind needed saving, so God gave a Savior. Truly, Jesus is a marvelous gift!

Out of the four gospels, only Matthew and Luke deal with Jesus’ birth at all. Mark launches into Jesus’ adulthood, whereas John starts with his famous prologue declaring Jesus as the eternal Word (logos) of God. But that’s not to say that John doesn’t write about Jesus as God’s wonderful gift. As early as John 1:12, Jesus is the one who responds to those who believe upon Him by giving us the right to become the children of God. Only a few verses later, the gift of Jesus is said to reveal the glory of God (John 1:14), and the one who gives us the grace of God (John 1:16-17). The apostle John fills in the gaps left out by the other gospels, showing the specific ways Jesus called His disciples to Himself, and how His ministry of miracles began. There is even a conversation included between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus, where Jesus is famously described as the gift of God: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Again, it may not be the traditional Christmas story, but it is the Christmas message!

That all brings us to this conversation between Jesus and a woman of Samaria. The apostle John will set the background for us in his writing, but suffice to say that this was a conversation that wasn’t supposed to take place. To nearly everyone in the surrounding culture, Jesus and this woman ought to have had nothing to do with one another, barely exchanging greetings (if even that!). Yet Jesus takes the initiative to speak with this woman, and open up a conversation for her which turns out to be life-changing. Today, we’re only looking at the first 10 verses, but John dedicates 42 verses to what happened that day in Samaria, the testimony & experience of this woman being a key reason why so many of her neighbors came to faith in Christ. Her life was changed because of the gift of Jesus. Her soul thirsted for God’s forgiveness & life (though she didn’t initially realize she needed it), and Jesus offered her living water. The gift of God gave to this woman, life.

We, too, are thirsty for eternal life, yet many people don’t realize it. They go through their days doing everything they’ve always done, and find little to show for it at the end. Like many kids around a Christmas tree, they rip open their presents taking in all they can, and 60 seconds later they’re done, exhausted, and bored. People go through life trying to take in as much as possible, but at the end they find they have nothing. Why? Because in ourselves, we are doomed for death. Like the woman at the well, we’ve lived lives of sin, and all that remains for us is death. This is where the gift of God comes in. God gave us Jesus, and Jesus gives life. He gives us the life we never knew we needed, and His gift lasts forever.

Jesus is the best gift. Believe! Receive the gift of God!

John 4:1–10

  • Background; Jesus given according to the promise (1-6)

1 Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, 2 (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), 3 He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.

  1. Remember that the ministry of John the Baptist preceded that of Jesus, and the two overlapped just a bit. John’s primary purpose was to prepare the way for the Messiah (Jesus), having been sent by God as a “voice crying in the wilderness,” (Jn 1:23) in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3. As John prepared the people to see their Messiah, he called them to repentance. They were to turn away from their sins & humble themselves before God, and the way John symbolized this was through the act of baptism. Just like a Jewish priest would go through ritual immersion prior to offering sacrifice, and just like new converts to Judaism would get baptized as a sign of their new beginning, so did John baptize the people who came to him in response to his message of repentance. What better way to signify their humility towards God, than by going through the symbolic act of cleaning & newness?
  2. With that in mind, when Jesus first began His ministry (having been recognized and baptized by John as the Passover Lamb of God), Jesus initially did the same things as John. He preached the same message (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Mt 4:17), and He (or rather His disciples) also baptized those who came to Him, responding in humility and repentance. Soon enough, more people responded to the ministry of Jesus than that of John – something which made perfect sense to John. He had come to prepare the way for Jesus, and he knew that Jesus must increase while he himself must decrease (Jn 3:30). John the Baptist was more than willing to step out of the way so that his people could see Jesus as their Messiah. — John may have been happy with it, but the Pharisees were not. The Pharisees now had this new preacher and prophet to check out, Someone who taught the people with an authority they had never before heard. At this point in His ministry, Jesus didn’t want the extra scrutiny, so He left the region in Judea where He & His disciples were baptizing, and headed north to His home region of Galilee.
  3. That’s a lot of background. What does it tell us about Jesus and the original Christmas gift of Himself? Jesus was given to the Jews. Jesus was ministering in the areas He was supposed to minister, being among the people He was called to seek out and save. Although Christmas is a Christian holiday, it is a holiday celebrating the birth of the Jewish King. Again, remember what the angel said to the shepherds: Christ the Lord was born in the City of David. “Christ” is not a name; it’s a title: Anointed One (“Messiah”). Basically, the angel was saying that in David’s hometown, the Person who had been prophesied to come from David’s ancestry had been born: the Anointed/Chosen One, designated by God to be Lord/Master/King of Israel. The same thing had been said to Mary, nine months earlier when she was first miraculously made pregnant: Luke 1:32–33, “(32) He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. (33) And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Mary’s child was born with the specific purpose of being the King of Israel, sent to the Jews to reign over the Jews forever.
    1. Question: If that’s the case, then why isn’t Jesus reigning? If He was born King of Israel, why did He live in poverty for 33 years, and why was He rejected & killed by His nation? Shouldn’t He have sat on a throne at some point? No…at least, not then. The prophecies of the glorious reign of Christ are not the only prophecies regarding the Messiah. There were also many prophecies of His rejection & death, being sent as a sacrifice for Israel & for all the world. In Jesus’ first coming, He fulfilled the prophecies of His suffering; when Jesus returns, He will fulfill the prophecies of His glorious kingdom.
    2. To the point, Jesus was preaching & ministering to the Jews. Those were His people, and that was His primary ministry. It just wasn’t His only ministry…

4 But He needed to go through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.

  1. Interestingly, John writes (literally) that “it was necessary He go through Samaria.” Although the road through Samaria was the quickest road to Galilee, it was by no means the only road. Due to prejudices between the Jews and the Samaritans, most Jews chose to go around Samaria when heading north. Yet Jesus “needed” to do it. Why? How else would Jesus minister to Samaritans unless He went to Samaria? Jesus needed to do it because there were people there who were ready to be saved, and Jesus had come to save them. [] Although the Samaritans were hated by the Jews (and vice-versa), they had a common history. After all, the region known as “Samaria” was formerly known as “Israel.” Back in the days of kings Saul, David, and Solomon, all 12 tribes of Israel were united into one kingdom, but in the days following Solomon the kingdom split in two. The southern kingdom was known by the name of its largest tribe, Judah (i.e. “Jews”), while the northern kingdom (and the other 10 tribes) were known as Israel. Over time, its capital was moved to the city of Samaria, and the northern kingdom was eventually known by its name. Their identity changed even more when Israel/Samaria was conquered by the Assyrian empire, and the Assyrians engaged in a process of interbreeding the people, in an attempt to dilute the national character of the people they conquered. The northern kingdom had always struggled with idolatry, but by the time the Assyrians got done with them, the Samaritan religion was a strange mix of the Hebrew faith and the pagan beliefs of the cultures surrounding them. Hence the animosity between the Jews & the Samaritans. The Jews viewed the Samaritans as defiled, whereas the Samaritans saw the Jews as religious bigots.
  2. As to the city where Jesus arrived, “Sychar” had a significant background among the people of Israel. Long before the kings of Israel existed, the patriarchs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelt in the land, and Jacob (for a time) settled near the town of Shechem. Although the names of the towns changed over time, the town of Sychar was close to the historical Shechem, and it may have been the very place where Jacob lived (Gen 33:18-19). Before Jacob died, he promised the land to his 2nd youngest son Joseph (to whom he had given the firstborn blessing), and after centuries of Hebrew slavery the bones of Joseph were brought to the land by Joshua & eventually buried there (Josh 24:32).
  3. Again, that’s a lot of background regarding some tiny seemingly insignificant town in Samaria. Does it tell us anything about Jesus as the gift of God? Jesus was given through the patriarchs. It wasn’t by accident that the apostle John mentioned Jacob & Joseph by name, nor was it by accident that Jesus went to the place where they had lived. It was necessary that He go to Samaria, among the Samaritans, for they were also descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – they had also received the promise of the Messiah, although by & large the people had abandoned those promises. The Samaritans may have forgotten, but God did not. God had promised the patriarchs that in their seed, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” (Gen 12:3), and that blessing came in the gift of Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of the of the promises made to the patriarchs, and Jesus was intentional to act upon them.
    1. What a comfort it is to know that God does not forget His promises! When God says He will do something, He does it. It may not come in the timing or the manner we might expect, but when God fulfills it, He fulfills it perfectly – He fulfills it faithfully. There is not a single promise of His that falls to the ground. He promised Abraham a Messiah; He sent one. He promised David a Son to be an everlasting King; He gave him. Better yet – the promises of God are not given only to people of the past; God makes promises to us, too! Through Jesus’ death on the cross & His resurrection from the grave, God promises to forgive us our sins and make us His children…He does it. Because Jesus conquered death and rose to new life, God promises that we too will rise from the grave and live with Him forever in heaven…He will do it. Because Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower His disciples, He promises that all His disciples can be empowered by God the Holy Spirit, including us…He does that, too. God keeps His promises! God gives His gifts. He does not tease us with false ideas & deceptions; what He says He will do, He does. Have you ever had someone tease you with a gift, only to take it back? Perhaps a promotion or a raise, or a trip, but not actually give it? God isn’t like that. What God promises, God delivers. What God says, He fulfills. And there is no greater proof of that than the gift of His Son!
  4. We see a bit more about this gift when Jesus arrives in Sychar…

6 Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

  1. Natural sort of response and picture. “Sixth hour” = either noon or 6pm, depending if John was using either the Jewish accounting of time or the Roman one. Either way, the sun was hot, the journey long, and Jesus was tired. Sychar was approximately 30 miles from Jerusalem, a trip that could be completed in a day of walking, though it meant a long day. It’s no wonder that Jesus would be “wearied from His journey,” and ready for a rest and a drink of water.
  2. It might seem like a minor detail, but it shows us one more thing about the Gift: Jesus was given as a Man. Jesus, though being God of true God, the eternal Word/Logos & God the Son, is also a normal human being. Consider the enormity of this! The most incredible miracle that took place at Christmas wasn’t the star overhead or the angel’s message to the shepherds; it was the incarnation of Infinite Almighty God as a human baby boy. When Jesus came to earth, He didn’t come as a superman or a demigod along the lines of the fictional Hercules – He didn’t come in such a way that His physical body would be unaffected by the things of life. He was fully God (no question!) with all of God’s supernatural abilities and attributes, but He was also fully human with all our weaknesses and frailties. Think of Christmas in Bethlehem, for example: the God who knew Mary before the foundations of the earth – the God who designed her in her own mother’s womb, allowed Himself to be placed within hers. For 9 months, the prenatal Jesus grew within Mary just as every human baby grows, being fully dependent on her health for His own. Then in Bethlehem, He was born. The God who provides for our every need had to have His own needs provided. He needed to be swaddled, fed, comforted, and cared for. Baby Jesus was dependent on Mary’s milk, and on her attention to His cleaning & constant need to be changed. That alone ought to astound the mind: God the Son, the Almighty Logos/Word of God needed to go to the bathroom. What humility – what condescension to mankind! Paul put it this way to the Philippians, exhorting them to follow Jesus’ example of true humility & selflessness: Philippians 2:6–8, “(6) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, (7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” This is what Jesus did for us. He put His own glory aside to be a human just like every other human, to endure the indignities of human weaknesses, even to the point of suffering and death.
    1. To what end? Unto our salvation! If Jesus had not come as a Man, He would not have been able to serve as a substitute for mankind. If Jesus had come only as God, He would not have been able to stand in our place to receive the punishment for our sin. If He had come only as Man, His death would not have been sufficient to cover the sins for us all. So He did the only thing He could do: He came as God and Man, providing Divine perfection to fully atone for all our human weaknesses. God gave the gift of Jesus as the gift of a human.
    2. What this mean for us, individually? First, it means we have access to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. (Which alone, would be enough!) But it also means that we have a Jesus to whom we can relate. God does not demand that we know Him from His being locked away from us in an ivory tower – He does not reveal Himself in some bizarre multi-armed form, or some half-animal half-human like the imaginings of other religions. Instead, God comes to us as one of us. During creation, God made mankind in His own image; in the incarnation, God comes to mankind in that same image. He is relatable, and we can know Him.
      1. The amazing thing is that God wants us to know Him, and invites us to know Him!

Jesus’ travel to Samaria demonstrates how He was given according to the promises of God, from God’s promises to the Jews, to the patriarchs, to the way in which the Messiah would come as a man. That is how the gift of God would come. To whom would He come? That is seen next.

  • Encounter; Jesus given to the least (7-9)

7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

  1. With Jesus sitting by the well, it would seem like a totally natural thing for Him to ask the next available person from town for a drink. Yet, there’s more to it than that. First, Jesus was a Jew in Samaria – something which would have been obvious from His clothing. Not only that, Jesus probably would have some sort of clothing distinction as a rabbi. Jewish rabbis did not normally speak to women, much less Samaritan women. Plus, a Jew (especially a rabbi) would never share a drinking vessel with a Samaritan. It would defile them, in their eyes. On top of this, the particular person of whom Jesus asked a drink of water really stood out from the crowd (literally!). There was a reason this woman went to the well by herself: due to her lifestyle of promiscuity (vss. 17-18), no one else wanted to be around her. She was an outcast among a nation of outcasts, and all of a sudden a Jewish rabbi is speaking to her, asking her a favor. Shocking! Scandalous! (At least, in her eyes.) What was He doing out here, all by Himself? Normally Jesus was surrounded by people, or at the very least, accompanied by some of His disciples. Now they had left (looking to bring back some lunch), and Jesus is left alone when the Samaritan woman arrives. This had “scandal” written all over it! – And it provided the perfect opportunity to showcase the grace of God!
    1. Sometimes the situations that are most unexpected and most uncomfortable are the ones that can be most used for the gospel. We need to be willing to move past our comfort zones and look for how Jesus might be made known!
  2. So much of this shows us about the gift of Jesus! First, Jesus was given for everyday people. We see this in the disciples. What were they doing? Grocery shopping. The disciples were just like anyone else, needing to go buy food. Although Jesus is the Son of God, He didn’t come in lavish riches. He was born King of the Jews, but He did not live in a palace. Jesus did not wear the most expensive clothing, travel in luxurious chariots, nor have staff servants at His beck & call (unlike many of the so-called “prosperity” preachers today!). Jesus lived the life of a regular person because He came for regular people. He was neither super-rich, nor super-poor, and He could relate to everyone. And everyone came! Normal men & women (rich and poor, sick and healthy, religious or not) came to Jesus and was ministered to by Jesus. He came for all people, regular people.
  3. Second, Jesus was given for women as well as men. Culturally, this was huge! In the Jerusalem temple, Jewish women could enter the courtyard as they came to worship, but they eventually reached a place they could go no further. Men were simply granted more access than women. Men had more privileges in the community, more opportunities in the synagogue, and more standing in the family. Women were often pushed to the side, treated little better than servants. Not with Jesus! Jesus came for men and women, and in some cases (like this) women received far more privileges than any men around. Think about it: how many men (other than the 12) had the opportunity to have such an extended conversation with Jesus? How many men were there who Jesus talked with so plainly, explicitly telling them that He was the Messiah sent by God (vs. 26)? Beyond this encounter with this woman, consider the privilege given to the women who believed in Jesus at His crucifixion and death: they were the first to see Him risen from the grave! Jesus smashed through all kinds of cultural barriers in the grace that He extended to women! – Again, Jesus came for all
  4. Third, Jesus was given for Samaritans as well as Jews. We’ve already discussed the animosity between Jews & Samaritans; Jesus crashed through this as well. The gift of God goes beyond racial and national prejudices. For the person who met Jesus, it wasn’t their background that mattered; it was their humility and faith. Granted, at this point in the encounter between Jesus & the Samaritan woman, she had neither humility nor faith…but that would soon change. But her racial background was not a barrier to Jesus’ willingness to go to her. The gospel of salvation was sent first for the Jews, but it was always intended by God to go to all the world. Speaking of the prophesied Messiah to come, God says through Isaiah: Isaiah 49:6, “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ “ It would have been easy for God to limit the gift of His Son to Jews alone, but that’s not what He did. God sent Jesus for the Jews, but He sent Jesus for more than just the Jews; God sent Jesus for Samaria and for all the world. (God sent Jesus for you!)
  5. Lastly, Jesus was given for sinners. Later in the conversation it is revealed that this Samaritan woman had five husbands in the past and was currently living with a man to whom she was not married (vs. 18). Although we are not told the reason for her multiple husbands (whether she was widowed or divorced), there is no doubt she was promiscuous. The fact she was living with a man outside of marriage described the sin of fornication (both then & today!) meant she was currently living a lifestyle of sin, which was probably the main reason she came to the well when no one else was around. Guess what? Jesus knew all of this, and still came for her. There was a reason He showed up at this well in this town at that time of day. Jesus had come to find her, to seek her & to save her, because she was someone who needed saving. Jesus has come to save sinners, and we are all
    1. Maybe your sin is fornication, maybe not – it could be pride, addiction, lying, disrespect, violence, selfishness, gluttony (lack of self-control), or anything else. Name the sin, and Jesus died for it. Jesus died for sinners, which means that Jesus died for each and every one of your sins. There is a not a thing in your past you’ve done that Jesus cannot forgive. Jesus was given for sinners, thus Jesus was given for you.

Sum up so far: we’ve seen how the gift was given (through the promises of God) – we’ve seen to whom the gift was given (those considered the least of all the world) – now Jesus gets to the detail of the gift itself. What is the gift of God? What does He give? 

  • Gospel; Jesus given to give life (10)

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

  1. Here it is – the statement of Jesus that sparked the rest of the conversation. What Jesus said here was so unusual to the ears of the Samaritan woman, she couldn’t help but ask for more. This is what caught her attention to where first she questions, then she scoffs, soon she is convicted, and finally she is convinced and converted. This one statement from Jesus ended up changing her life.
  2. What made it so unusual? Culturally speaking, “living water,” simply referred to running water. Well water was not running water; where would Jesus find it? How would He draw it? This is how the woman went on to object. Would this strange Man somehow find better water in the area than the Patriarch Jacob? Was this Man claiming to be better than Jacob? Yes & yes! As the conversation continued, Jesus spoke of water far better than could be found in any well or natural spring – the water He gave causes people never to thirst again & eternally springs up in their souls. And yes, Jesus is greater than Jacob, for Jesus is the Messiah that was promised to Jacob – Jesus is the One who wrestled with Jacob (Gen 32:24-29) – Jesus is the One who taught Jacob, just as Jesus was now teaching this woman. And she believed! What did He say? That’s the best part… 
  3. Jesus is a gift! He is “the gift of God.” Jesus gives gifts, but He doesn’t only give other gifts; He is the gift. We wouldn’t have any gifts relating to salvation if Jesus wasn’t first given. He had to be given for everything else to come. Remember that this wasn’t the first time Jesus referred to Himself as the gift. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Jesus is the gift that makes all other gifts possible. How important is this to keep in mind? It’s crucial! Salvation doesn’t come without there first being a Savior. Christmas doesn’t matter if Christ doesn’t come. As much as we might enjoy certain Christmas songs, many of the old standards don’t have anything to do with Christmas. They don’t celebrate Christ, so much as they celebrate winter. “Winter Wonderland,” “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” – not even “White Christmas” has anything to do with Christ. What good are the holidays if they have nothing to do with what is holy about the day? If Christmas is only about presents, trees, feasts, and Santa Claus, it might make for fun family traditions, but there’s nothing about it that’s life-changing. Actually, that’s one reason Christmas is so disappointing for so many people every year. There is all kinds of build-up to the day, with people shopping from November-on & radio stations playing Christmas songs 24/7, but in a flash, it’s over. All that’s left are dishes to clean, trash to clean out, and naps to take. Where is the meaning? Where is the significance? That’s the problem: those things aren’t significant, not in any lasting way. What makes Christmas so grand is the gift of Jesus! That we celebrate His birth in winter is purely an accident of history, as the Bible never says when Jesus was born. It isn’t winter that makes His birth special; it’s because Jesus was born at all that the day is special! Jesus is the grand gift given by God to all the world – a Savior sent to save us from our sin. This was the news spoken by an angel to Joseph when he learned (with a shock) that his wife-to-be was already pregnant: Matthew 1:20–21, “(20) But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (21) And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”” The salvation of God has come! In fact, that is the very meaning of His name, Jesus (Yeshua): “Yah (YHWH) saves.” If we celebrate Christmas without celebrating the gift of Jesus, we’ve missed the point!
  4. Jesus invites us to receive the gift. Notice what He did with the woman at the well: He proposed the possibility that she could have been the one asking Him for a drink, and Jesus would be willing to give it. Jesus made Himself completely approachable. He didn’t talk about a grand gift only to say it was out of reach. (“A new car! But not for you…”) He spoke about a gift she could receive. All she needed to do was ask.
    1. Question: Is it really that simple? Yes! What does someone need to do to receive the gift of Jesus? Ask! The apostle John wrote in the prologue to his gospel, that “as many as received Him, He gave them the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name,” (Jn 1:12). Paul wrote to the Romans, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Rom 9:10). When Peter was asked by the Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost what they needed to do to be saved, he told them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:38). Notice what all of that has in common: simple faith-filled request. Just ask! Believe in sincere faith, turn away from your sins, and ask Jesus to forgive you – ask Jesus to be your Lord – ask Jesus for His grace, and He will give it! You don’t have to sign a card, you don’t need to go to seminary, you don’t need to buy a ticket or bribe a priest; all you need to do is surrender yourself to Jesus in humble faith asking Him to save you. He will do it!
  5. What does Jesus do when He answers? Jesus gives life. The Gift is also the giver. Jesus told the woman that He would give her water that would forever quench her thirst, water that would give everlasting life. That was exactly what she needed! She was a woman of Samaria, with some traditions that potentially pointed to the Messiah but having no real access to the truth of the Scripture. She was a woman drowning in sin, seeking to get from various men what they could never satisfy. All that she had done in her life left her with nothing but the judgment of God and death. What she needed was forgiveness & eternal life, and that was exactly what Jesus promised to give.
    1. We need what Jesus gives! We may not have the same sins as the woman (or maybe we do!), but we all have sin of our own. We are all lost without access to God, surrounded by a culture that teaches lie after spiritual lie. We thirst for truth & thirst for life, being parched without it. Jesus gives the truth, and He gives life. He gives the forgiveness of God we could never earn, and promises the eternal life for which we could never dream to hope. The greatest Gift of God, Jesus, gives amazing gifts of His own. Receive what He gives!

Conclusion:

What gifts are you expecting to receive on Christmas morning? This Christmas, receive the best gift: the gift of God, the Lord Jesus! He was given according to the promises of God – He was given for all people, including the least of us – He was given for you. Rejoice in the gift of God, Jesus, and receive Him to yourself as Savior and Lord.

What do we do after we have received the Gift? Pass it on! The Samaritan woman received the living water of Christ, and immediately told everyone in town about the Man who knew all the things she ever did. The wonderful thing about receiving the gift of Jesus is that He is a gift we can never lose as much as we give Him away. So give the gift of the gospel – give the news of Jesus to your family, your friends, and to everyone you know.

In the often-remade Charles Dickens’ tale, “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up Christmas morning to find he is still alive, and that he still has time to redeem himself as a kind person. He’s incredibly excited and rushes out to help those he had offended. Sadly, Dickens’ story doesn’t focus on the real meaning of Christmas (Jesus), nor does it teach the right message (because no one can redeem him/herself; we must be redeemed by Christ). But think about Scrooge’s excitement. He was overjoyed for the chance to be kind, unable to restrain himself from telling others his joy. We have far better news than Scrooge! Our joy is real because what we have to share truly does change lives! In Jesus, we’ve found the true meaning of the word “Ebenezer” (God is my help), because He is the one who has been given to save us & to forgive us, and all people everywhere can experience that same salvation and forgiveness. How much more excited should we be to tell others?

So let us tell them! Share with others what is so holy about the holiday – share with people the very best gift, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Ten Commandments

Posted: December 20, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 20, “The Ten Commandments”

Of all of the law codes in the world, there is not a code more important or influential than the Ten Commandments. The Code of Hammurabi dates back to 1754BC, having the first known instance of “an eye for an eye,” (lex talionis) – the Islamic Sharia law (more recently developed in the 6th century AD) is harshly enforced in many countries around the world today – though perhaps not a law code in the formal sense, the US Constitution is the foundation of all of the laws that affect every American citizen today. All of these are incredibly influential, but the Ten Commandments is beyond them all. Though written after Hammurabi, it is even older than Hammurabi, as they are founded in the character and nature of the Creator God. The Ten Commandments encapsulate God’s moral expectations for His people, and it is impossible to understate their importance or their impact upon the world as we know it.

Today, the Ten Commandments are known for controversy – or at least, the display of them has been controversial. Atheists see the Ten Commandments as a display recognizing the existence and supremacy of the God of the Bible…and in that aspect, they’re right. Rather than debating the display of granite monuments, people (Christians and non-Christians alike) would be better served reading & abiding by the words written on those monuments. After all, it isn’t a monument that changes lives; it is God’s word that does.

How did it all come about? Remember that God had freed the Hebrews from Egypt to be His own people. This had been the culmination of promises He made to Abraham centuries in the past, now in full fruition. Though the Israelites whined and complained about their supposed inconveniences along the way, God personally led, protected, and provided for the people throughout their wilderness journey. When they lacked drinkable water, God gave it (once, from a rock) – when they lacked bread, God let it rain from heaven as manna every day. Even when Moses lacked wisdom, God gave it, providing what was needed to lead a nation of 2 million+ people. Soon, Israel arrived at the base of Mt Sinai, where God prepared them to receive His presence in a whole new way. Although they had seen the pillar of cloud & fire (in addition to all the outpourings of miracles in Egypt, the Red Sea, and beyond), they hadn’t seen anything like what they were about to see on the mountain. God’s presence was manifested in such a glorious way among them that it caused thunderings, lightnings, earthquakes, fire, smoke, and the sounding of an ever-louder trumpet…and the people feared. No wonder! The glory of God was made known among them, and His holiness was emphasized in a way they never before imagined.

What now? Now they were to receive the law of God. When arriving at the mountain, they committed themselves to obeying God, serving Him in a covenant relationship with Him as their God & King. They were going to be treasured by God as His own – they were being made into a kingdom of priests & a holy nation (Exo 19:5-6). What would it look like? It would look like the Ten Commandments. Other specific regulations would be given in the future, but the basis of what it looks like to serve the Holy God in holiness is found in the Ten Commandments (or “Ten Words,” as the Hebrews call it).

Of course, there’s a problem in this: we can’t do it! No one can – not the general Hebrews, not the prophets, not Moses, not anyone. The Ten Commandments lay out the perfect holiness of God, but only God is perfectly holy. If the only way to be the people of God is to abide by His law, we would have to be perfect – exactly as Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect,” (Mt 5:48). What then, does the law of God show us? It shows us our imperfections, and thus our need for a Forgiving Savior. The perfect law of God shows us our need for the perfect Jesus.

This is why we cherish the Ten Commandments today! It not only gives us a glimpse into God’s holiness, instructing us how to worship Him in holiness, but it underscores and highlights our utter dependence upon Christ. Yes, we worship God in holiness, but it’s only possible as we worship Him through Jesus. Let the law drive you to Christ! That is exactly its purpose.

Exodus 20

  • Decalogue / The Ten Words (20:1-17)
  • Preface (1-2)

1 And God spoke all these words, saying: 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

  1. Scholars have often noted that much of the 10 Commandments appears to be put into a literary genre that would have been familiar to the Israelites: a covenant treaty, which establishes the relationship between a sovereign king and his people. In the treaties, the king was introduced, his actions on behalf of the people were stated, the commands upon the people were detailed, and blessings and/or curses were listed at the end for enforcement. The entire book of Deuteronomy is written in this format, and some argue that the 10 Commandments contains a miniaturized form. At the very least, God is still identified and His work made known.
  2. God is identified. Although it might seem obvious to us, this was an important first step for a people who had lived under centuries of slavery in a polytheistic land. It wasn’t Ra, Isis, or even Pharaoh that was the God of the Israelites; it was YHWH, the I AM everlasting God. It was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. That God was their God: YHWH alone.
  3. YHWH’s actions remembered. This was what He did for Israel to make them His people. He “brought” them out of Egypt – He bought them with the blood of the Passover sacrifice. YHWH God was the One who gave them life & freedom. Everything they now had, they owed to His gracious provision.
  4. We neither worship a generic “god,” nor a god who has done nothing for us. Our God has a name (YHWH), revealing Himself specifically in the Person of Christ Jesus. And our God has acted wonderfully on our behalf, not only giving us life & sustenance, but by sending Jesus to the cross for us in order that we would be brought out of bondage & slavery to sin & death.
  5. One other thing: notice that all of this is said before the commands are given. Obedience to the law was never intended as the way to make Israel the people of God; it was what they were to do as the people of God. God already purchased them through the Passover – He already brought them into life through the Red Sea. Regarding national salvation, the work was already done. The point of the law for Israel was how they were to act now, being freed from slavery. Their freedom was a gift of God’s grace – it always is!
    1. Remember that it is only possible to serve God and worship Him as His people once we are saved by Christ Jesus. We don’t keep the law to earn God’s favor – Jesus has already done that on our behalf. We live lives of obedience now, in thankfulness to God & out of a desire to honor Him. (And even that, through the power & grace of God the Holy Spirit!)
  • 1st Table: Holiness toward God (3-11)

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

  1. Exclusive worship. God alone had saved Israel, and God alone was to be worshipped by Israel. Question: Does God acknowledge the actual existence of other gods/deities? No; He acknowledges the reality that people worship other gods, but not that those gods exist. There’s no question that people all over the world worship various other gods (Allah, Vishnu, the Great Architect of the Universe, etc.), but these so-called “gods” do not actually exist. Sometimes, people interact with demons pretending to be these things, but there is only one true God: the Creator God, YHWH I AM, the Creator of heaven & earth (revealed in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
  2. If God alone exists, why is it necessary to command Israel to worship only Him? Because they would be tempted to do otherwise. When God says “you shall have no other gods before Me,” literally the term “before Me” could be translated “beside/over/in-front-of My face.” It is the idea of personal presence. In Israel’s worship, they were not to put other gods in front of the True God. Their eyes were to be fixed on the face of the I AM; not to shove other false gods in front of Him. God is to have 1st place, with zero competition for attention.
    1. How might Christians fall victim to this sin? We might not have the gods of Egypt claiming our attention, but we have the “gods” of other passions and desires. For some, their career is their god – for some, their family is their god as they are willing to sacrifice anything and everything for it. Sometimes it comes in a more casual way, when we’re willing to shove Jesus to the back so we can gaze at something else with the desire that should belong only to Him. Is that not what we do when we dive into temptations, enjoying the seasons of lusts (of whatever sort)? We worship the item right in front of us, rather than the God who bought us. Worship God exclusively!

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

  1. Proper worship. The commandment is against idolatry, but that’s the negative prohibition. What would be the positive command? Worship God properly – worship God as He has revealed Himself to be. God is not opposed to artwork (as some might suppose from the 2nd commandment). The book of Exodus does not close before God commands the construction of the Tabernacle & all its furnishings, including: sculptures of cherubim on the mercy seat of the ark, hammered gold work on the menorah to look like almond buds, embroidered cherubim on the veil, and more. Artful images are not the problem; substitutions of God are. It’s when images are used to misrepresent God or replace God – that is the issue with idolatry, and that was the prohibition.
    1. 21st century American Evangelicals tend to think that idolatry is either limited to past times or foreign cultures. After all, it doesn’t take much travel through India to see that idolatry is alive and well around the world. At the same time, it is alive here, too. Anytime we invent an image of God in our own mind, other than how God portrays Himself, it is idolatry. Anytime we say “My God wouldn’t do ____,” if it doesn’t match with the Bible, it’s idolatry.
    2. Keep in mind that we don’t have to imagine or guess what God would/wouldn’t do, or how He should/shouldn’t appear. We have a revelation of God: the Lord Jesus! Jesus said that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father (Jn 14:9) – Paul wrote that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus!
  2. God is righteously jealous. Typically, we think of jealousy as a bad thing (and when applied to us, it can be), but in this case God calls Himselfa jealous God.” Is God admitting some sort of fault? When the word applies to God, it can be thought of as “a desire for exclusivity,” (DBL). He doesn’t want His people distracted and pulled away from Him by lesser things. God is jealous for our benefit; not our bondage. As a father, I am jealous for the righteous treatment of my daughter. I don’t want her mistreated by some boy that doesn’t have what is best for her in mind, nor do I want her seeking fatherly affection from anyone besides me. That is a righteous jealousy, and that’s the same kind of jealousy God has for us as His children (though to an infinite extent!).
  3. God is perfectly just. When God says that He visits “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me,” it is confusing for some, causing them to wonder if God imparts a kind of “generational curse” upon those who hate Him. That isn’t what this is talking about at all. The idea here is one of patterns. Those who hate God typically raise their children to hate God. Those who engage in habitual sin often teach their children to engage in the same habitual sin. This is why alcoholic fathers and mothers often have alcoholic children, why abusers raise abusers, etc. These sins frequently get passed from generation to generation. It isn’t God doing it to them; it is their refusal to surrender to God that perpetuates it.
    1. How can someone break the cycle of sin? By being born again by the grace of God through Jesus! We are not doomed to repeated terrible family histories…these things can change when we are made new creations in Christ. Praise God for His transformation!
  4. God is overwhelmingly merciful. If there is any doubt how God transforms lives, just look at the contrast to the 3-4 generations of those who hate God: the thousands of generations to those whom God shows covenantal love and mercy, when they love Him! Once we are in a relationship with God through Christ (once we have experienced the chesed “mercy” spoken of to the Hebrews), everything changes to the uttermost. We don’t have to leave a legacy of sin; we can leave a legacy pointing to the gospel of grace!
  5. It all begins with the first two commandments. When we worship God alone, and when we worship Him as He has revealed Himself, our lives change. That’s the point we are in the relationship with God that He has always desired for us.

7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

  1. Sincere worship. Another possible translation of the command is “Do not lift up (carry) the name of YHWH your God in emptiness.” To take God’s name in vain is to treat His name as empty, being nothing, having no value, as being inconsequential. Can anything be less true of the God of the universe? God values His name, because it represents His person. His name represents His character, His authority, and His work. To treat His name as nothing is to treat God as if He is nothing – to treat God as if He is inconsequential. It’s no wonder God sees it as a vile sin, with the person doing it bearing guilt (though thankfully, guilt that can be forgiven in Christ).
  2. Sadly, this is a command that Christians break far too often. We do so not only through casual blasphemy (“OMG,” or using Jesus’ name as curse word), but anytime we treat the worship of our God with indifference or disrespect. When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” do we mean in the name of Jesus the Son of God? Do we even think about the One to whom we pray when we pray, or do we just go through the motions uttering mere words? We dare not treat our Almighty God, the One who loves us and saves us, the One who destines us for Himself in eternal heaven – we dare not treat Him with such casual disrespect. Our worship ought to be sincere & heartfelt; not “nothing.”

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

  1. Faith-filled worship. When we think about it, what is the bottom line of the Sabbath? It is resting in God, trusting in God’s provision. Here, God commanded that no one among the Hebrews should work on the 7th day (Saturday), regardless if they were a circumcised Hebrew or not. If they lived in the nation of Israel, then they were to rest on the Sabbath day following the example of the Lord God Himself who did the same thing on the original 7th day of creation week. God was sufficient to create everything in 6 days (6 literal days, according to this text!), and nothing more needed to be done on the 7th so He rested. If God was sufficient for that, then He is sufficient to provide for the needs of the Hebrews on the 7th They could (and must) rest in Him, trusting God alone.
  2. The 4th Commandment is very controversial among Christians today, with people wondering how we should keep the Sabbath if we strive to live by the 10 Commandments. There are several things we need to remember.
    1. The Sabbath is a specific part of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Exodus 31:13,16, “(13) “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. … (16) Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.” Like the sign of circumcision, the Sabbath was a sign of the national covenant of Israel with God, making it different from all the other commandments in the 10 Commandments.
    2. The Sabbath is the seventh day, never changing from Saturday to Sunday. Although Reformed churches commonly teach that Sunday worship is the proper observance of Sabbath worship, this is nowhere taught in the New Testament. The New Testament consistently refers to the Sabbath as Saturday, sometimes referring to Sunday as “the Lord’s Day,” (Rev 1:10). The book of Acts does show that the church started gathering for worship on Sunday (Acts 20:7), likely in celebration of the fact that Jesus rose from the grave on Sunday (Mt 28:1). But the 1st day worship is never shown as a replacement for 7th day worship. Gentile Christians had no reason to gather on Saturday, because they weren’t Jewish. Jewish Christians likely gathered both days.
    3. The Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ. If the Sabbath is all about resting from work and trusting the provision of God, then what more could we rest from than our striving to earn our salvation? The writer of Hebrews makes this exact point, acknowledging that neither the seventh day nor the land of promise granted the Hebrews the true rest of God that God promised them. Hebrews 4:8–10, “(8) For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. (9) There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. (10) For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” If neither the 7th day nor the land of Israel gave the true rest of God, where is His rest found? In Christ! Jesus did all the work for us when He died on the cross for our sins. “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30) Nothing can be added to Jesus’ work, and no more rest can be given than what He gives.
  3. The bottom line: How do we obey the 4th Commandment today? By placing our faith & trust in Christ! We cannot earn the grace of God; we must rest in Jesus & He gives it to us.
  • 2nd Table: Holiness toward others (12-17)

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

  1. Value family (value authority). The 5th Commandment serves as a transition between the 1st and 2nd tables, in that the family unit represented a miniature version of the relationship between God and Israel. Children were to honor their parents the way Israel honored God. (Same root word used for “honor” as “glory.”) By valuing one’s parents, the Israelite showed that he/she valued the authority structure set up by God, ultimately leading back to God Himself.
  2. The general idea is to give the right weight to your parents – give them honor, not because they deserve it through their actions, but because God ordained them to be your parents. Honor them because God deserves it. This is much harder for some, than others. Some people came from abusive homes – some came from abandoned & broken homes. How do they honor their parents? As an act of worship unto God. It doesn’t mean that we pretend the past doesn’t exist, but it does mean we treat them with the love, mercy, and respect that we would want for ourselves. Again, not because they deserve it, but because God does.
  3. Interestingly, this is (as Paul writes) the first command with a promise (Eph 6:2). If the children of Israel honored the parents of Israel, they would be physically blessed with long life. In other words, if they blessed their parents, they would themselves be blessed. For the covenant people of Israel living in their covenant land, this ought to have been a good motivation! Instead, some turned it into a loophole. Jesus chastised the Pharisees for what they did with their traditions, superseding the word of God, in one particular case using the command to honor one’s parents to let them go hungry while claiming the son’s money was devoted to God (Mk 7:10-12).
    1. For us, do we have the promise of long life? Not necessarily – but we do have the promise of blessing as we live lives honoring to God.

13 “You shall not murder.

  1. Value life. Although the KJV translates this as “Thou shalt not kill,” the idea really is that of “murder.” The Bible does not forbid warfare nor does it reject capital punishment (though the merits of either could be argued on different grounds). But regarding personal vengeance or outright murder, God absolutely forbids it. He is the author of life, so we have no right to take life.
    1. It also means that we do not hate. Jesus said that if we are angry with our brother without a cause, we are danger of judgment (Mt 5:22). John wrote that whoever hates his brother is a murderer (1 Jn 3:15). We ought to be very careful of what is our hearts, that it not cross over to hatred!
  2. On the contrary, we ought to promote life whenever possible. For example, we not only stand against abortion, but we stand for adoption. Valuing life means that we cherish it in all its forms, be it in the womb, with lack of chromosomes, when it is elderly and disabled, and when it is weak and unable to provide for itself. We have compassion upon others because they are men and women made in the image of God.
    1. This is also part of our motivation for sharing the gospel. How better to express our value of life than to tell others of eternal life?

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

  1. Value marriage. Marriage was instituted by God before the Fall in the Garden of Eden, and it is cherished by Him. In marriage, God takes two physical people (male and female), and make them spiritually one. Husband and wife have entered into a covenant relationship with one another (supervised by the Lord God) that ought not be broken. Just as it is abhorrent to think that God might break His covenant of salvation with us, so we ought to look at the covenant of marriage the same way. It is to be cherished, protected, and upheld.
  2. Adultery is a direct assault on that covenant. It destroys trust, and breaks what God declared should not be separated. And it happens far more often than what appears in divorce courts! According to Jesus, anytime someone looks at another person with lust, he/she has committed adultery in his/her heart (Mt 5:28). As with Job, we need to make covenants with our eyes never to look upon a person other than our spouses (Job 31:1), and truly cherish & value our marriages.

15 “You shall not steal.

  1. Value ownership. It’s not that property has so much value in the eyes of the Lord (stuff is just stuff), but ownership does. After all, God owns us. He bought us with the blood of Christ, just like He bought Israel with the blood of the Passover sacrifice. When we steal from others, we do not respect the ownership our neighbor has – we don’t respect his/her individual rights – ultimately, we don’t respect his/her person. After all, if one guy steals from another, it means the first guy didn’t think the other person mattered enough not to do it.
  2. We do not steal because God does not steal; God gives. God gives us life, breath, food, clothing, grace, personal value – He gives us everything we need and everything we are. We dare not take that away from someone else. Instead, we show grace by giving – we show respect by valuing the other person and the things God has given him/her.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  1. Value truth. Although the wording is most appropriate to a courtroom testimony, the overall principle is that of truth. God’s people do not represent God by lying or through deceit or through misdirection. God speaks the truth, God’s word is truth, and Jesus is the truth. There is nothing about God that is false, and as His people, we ought to be the same way.
  2. Beyond outright lying, we can also engage in false witness through gossip (spreading rumors which we may not know are true). We can do it through false reporting (passing on news stories that are unverified). We can do it through attributing false motives to people (when we cannot know what is truly in their hearts). Be careful! As men and women dedicated to the truth of God, we need to be sure that we also speak the truth about others.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

  1. Value contentment. Out of all of the commands in the 2nd table, this is the first that directly deals with an issue of the heart. Granted, there’s no way someone murders someone or commits adultery, etc., that doesn’t have sin in his/her heart already, but those other things still imply some sort of action. Covetousness does not. When someone covets (gets greedy), all of the warfare takes place in the heart & mind. This is where ungodly jealousy breeds and where pride originates. When we want what we don’t have (or can’t have), it starts down the road to all other kinds of sin. In fact, we might argue that murder, adultery, and theft all start with the sin of coveting (if not the entire list of the 10 Commandments). Thus God forbids it in all its forms, giving a long list (though not comprehensive) and including a catch-all at the end. There ought be no confusion or loopholes here: don’t covet anything.
  2. What should we do? Be content. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6). When we trust God to provide for us, then we don’t have to be jealous of what someone else has. We know that God gives us what we need, and He hasn’t given it to us (or hasn’t given us the ability to go out and earn it), then we don’t need it. Why do we need so much stuff, anyway? Food, clothing, and relationships are enough! Be content, and be at peace!
  3. FYI: There is a difference between Catholic & Protestant listing of the 10 Commandments at this point. Catholics combine the 1st and 2nd commandments together & split the 10th into two commands: not coveting your neighbor’s house & not coveting anything else. The wording of all the Scripture is the same; only the organization and numbering taught is different.
    1. FYI again. Traditional Jewish listing has one other difference in numbering: They combine our 1st and 2nd Commandments together, while taking the preface as their 1st If it is argued that the commandments begin as soon as God begins speaking, then it is better to include the preface with the 1st Commandment (“I am the LORD your God…you shall have no other gods before Me”) than to combine the 1st two commandments together as they speak of different, though overlapping, ideas.
    2. The importance isn’t so much how the commandments are numbered (God did not personally number them, after all); it’s that they are read and obeyed.
  • The nation’s response (20:18-21)

18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

  1. Understandable response! Can you imagine how you might feel if you witnessed the same thing? Earthquakes, fire, smoke, lightning storms, an ever-blowing shofar trumpet…and if that wasn’t enough, the booming voice of Almighty God. We would tremble, too! We would run & stand “afar off,” pleading with God not to be killed. That’s a totally natural reaction.
  2. What would be the only remedy? To get a Mediator. As for Israel, that’s what they quickly realized. Moses had served as their mediator in the past, and they wanted him to do it again. They had often heard the word of God, but always through the words of Moses. Once they heard and saw God for themselves, they realized they weren’t able to handle it. Without Moses as a mediator, they would perish.
    1. What do we need? A Mediator. What do we have in Christ? A Mediator! He is the only mediator between God & Man – He is the only one sufficient to stand in our place, and bring us into the presence of Almighty God. Without Jesus, we would be left in a place of terror, but with/in Christ we are brought into a place of grace!

20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”

  1. Sounds contradictory: “Don’t fear, but fear!” Moses isn’t being inconsistent; he’s being instructive. The children of Israel didn’t need to run in terror, but they did need to fear God. They needed to fear Him in the right way. The righteous reverent fear of God doesn’t cause us to flee from God; it causes us to run to Him for mercy and grace. In the book of Revelation, those who refuse to repent from their sin recognize the day of the Lord’s wrath & they want to run & hide (Rev 6:15-17). They fear, but not rightly. In the book of Isaiah, the prophet had his vision of heaven & feared, but understood he needed grace (Isa 6:5-7). That was the right
  2. The right fear of God could be used by God. That sort of fear was for the people’s proving/refining. A righteous perspective of God keeps us wary of sin. After all, what sin do you habitually commit that you would fear to do so if you were to look into the all-consuming fire of God’s holiness? Not a one! Things that we treat so casually today would be cast aside as if it were poisonous. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, partly because the fear of the Lord keeps us from sin.

21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

  1. Why the difference between Moses & the people? Only Moses had the invitation to draw near. (19:24)
  • Initial instructions for worship (20:22-26)

22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 23 You shall not make anything to be with Me—gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.

  1. Although this might seem somewhat random in light of the 10 Commandments, it goes hand-in-hand with the nation’s fearful response to God. They didn’t know how to worship God in light of all of His glory & in light of all of what He just revealed to them in His law. So God tells them. They needed some kind of immediate response in worship, and God graciously grants it to them.
  2. The new experience with the Lord at Mount Sinai ought to have changed everything for Israel. By this point, they should know that gold or silver could not represent the Almighty God. They knew better (though they would soon forget when they forged the golden calf!). At the same time, all of this presented a problem for the people. For the past 400 years, the only official way they witnessed people worshipping their false gods was through all the idolatry of Egypt. God had commanded them to worship Him, but how should they do it? Verse 24…

24 An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. 25 And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. 26 Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.’

  1. A natural altar for the supernatural God. The Creator God was to be worshipped by using tools of His unaltered creation.
  2. Also, He was also to be worshipped in reverence. Nothing casual or profane was to be allowed. Thus priests were to wear pants under their cloaks/tunics (something which was later reflected in the priestly uniform).
  3. Interestingly, the commands of vss. 24-25 were only temporary. This soon changed with the instructions surrounding the tabernacle. At that point, there would be an altar made out of bronze, specifically & artistically forged by human hands. But that was then; not now. In the present, until God told them the rest, this was what they were to do. Bottom line? Worship God according to God’s instructions.

Conclusion:

We have a holy God, and He is to be worshipped in holiness! For Israel, they were confronted with the reality of this holy God in a new, awesomely dramatic way, and they feared. The problem was that they didn’t fear in the right way, and they did not fear God nearly enough. Not only did they initially want to run & hide, they were not consistently faithful in their obedience. They couldn’t even keep the first commandment…and it was upon it that all the others rested.

We strive for holiness, but we cannot earn it. We seek to obey the commandments of God, but we realize it can never be done. There is none righteous, no not one (Rom 3:10) – and that is exactly why we need Jesus! Remember that we don’t obey God to gain grace; we obey God because we have been given grace. We are utterly dependent upon Jesus, having no hope without Him – and it is because we are, that now we strive to live in God-honoring obedience.

Worship God in holiness! Worship Him according to His instruction & revelation. Love what He loves, and value what He values. When we do, our very lives will be witnesses to all the world about the glories of our God!