good news

Jesus Was Born

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

Today, we embark on a study of the Gospel of Matthew. This book is part of what is often referred to as the synoptic gospels, which also includes the accounts of Jesus' life and ministry compiled by Mark and Luke. The term “synoptic” is derived from two Greek words, syn and opsesthai, which, when combined, provide the meaning, “to see together.” These three Gospels share a great many similarities but also provide us with distinctively different perspectives on the life of Jesus, as seen from the vantage points of the three authors. Two of them, Matthew and Mark, were disciples of Jesus; while Luke was a friend of the apostle Paul, who compiled his Gospel account for the benefit of an individual named Theophilus. In the opening paragraphs of his Gospel, Luke provides the purpose behind his compilation.

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” – Luke 1:3 ESV

Each of these men brought their own distinct personality and insights to bear when writing their account of the life of Jesus. But each was also inspired by the Holy Spirit, who utilized their individual identities and skill sets to compile three contrasting, yet complimentary portraits of the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew, as its name suggests, was written by the man who held the distinction of being one of the disciples of Jesus as well as one of the original 12 apostles. Some of the earliest Greek manuscripts of this book begin with the words, “kate Matthaion” which means “according to Matthew.”

The list of early church fathers who believed  Matthew to be the author of this book includes Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. Because of Matthew’s close relationship with Jesus, this book carried significant weight among the members of the early church. Matthew’s former occupation as a tax collector would have ensured that he was able to read and write. And the book of Matthew contains more references to money and finances than any of the other Gospel accounts.

Matthew’s account of his own calling by Jesus is short and sweet, providing little in the way of details. Written in the third-person, Matthew described his initial meeting with Jesus in a rather pedestrian manner.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Matthew 9:9 ESV

After making the decision to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him, Matthew decided to return the favor by extending an invitation to Jesus and His other disciples to have dinner in his home.  And Matthew reveals some interesting insights into his life own life when he records the details surrounding this rather eclectic dinner party.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” - Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

As a tax collector, Matthew would have been considered persona non grata by his fellow Jews. As evidenced by the response of the Pharisees in Matthew’s story, a tax collector was considered the lowest of the low, comparable to the most disreputable sinner. To the Jews, a tax collector was little more than a stooge for the Roman government, collecting exorbitant taxes from his own people and lining his own by adding fees that amounted to little more than extortion. Matthew was likely a well-to-do individual who, though viewed as a pariah by his own people, was well-liked by the less religious and socially unacceptable. Which makes Jesus’ selection of Matthew that much more significant. 

And when Jesus heard the judging comment from the lips of the Pharisees, He had responded by saying: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). This somewhat cryptic-sounding statement from Jesus was not as veiled as it may first appear. He was accusing the self-righteous Pharisees of misunderstanding the true state of their own hearts. They viewed themselves as spiritually superior to such people as the sinners who had gathered to dine at the home of a common tax collector. And, the believed, Jesus and His disciples had defiled themselves by choosing to associate with such scum. But as Jesus pointed out, He had come to save the spiritually sick, not those who viewed themselves as perfect specimens of righteousness.

It’s interesting to note that Matthew opens up his Gospel account with the genealogy of Jesus, in which he describes Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. These are distinctively Jewish titles that link Jesus to the nation of Israel. Matthew is claiming Jesus to be a descendant of David and, therefore, a legal heir to the throne of Israel. But he also describes Jesus as the Son of Abraham, who was the patriarch of the Hebrew people. 

In a sense, Matthew is presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of two promises made by God that are directly tied to the Jewish people. The first was made to Abraham. God had promised Abraham that He would bless him and that he would make him a blessing.

“…and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

Somehow God would bless all the nations through the offspring or seed of this one man, Abraham. And the apostle Paul provides us with Spirit-inspired insight into what this promise meant.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus was the fulfillment of this Old Testament promise to Abraham. And, when Matthew declared Jesus to be the Son of David, he was letting his readers know that Jesus fulfilled the promise God had made to David.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” – 2 Samuel 7:12 ESV

While this promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon, the son of David, it had a future aspect to it that would not be completed until the coming of Jesus. God went on to tell David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). But the day came when there were no more kings in Israel. The nation would go without a king for hundreds of years. And yet, God had told Solomon, “I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 9:5 ESV).

A major part behind Matthew’s purpose for writing his Gospel was to reveal Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel and the God-ordained fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth. Both Gentiles and Jews would benefit by the arrival of Jesus on the scene.

Unlike Luke, Matthew begins his genealogy of Jesus with Abraham rather than Adam. He was interested in establishing Jesus’ Jewish heritage. The entire book of Matthew has a distinctively Jewish flavor to it. IT is not so much that Matthew was writing with a Jewish audience in mind, as much as he was trying to establish Jesus’ credentials to serve as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people and as the Savior of the world.

It is interesting to note that Matthew closes out his genealogy by referring to Jesus as “the Christ,” the Greek word used to translate the Jewish word for Messiah, which means “anointed one.” This Greek appellation carries the full weight of the original Hebrew title of Messiah.

The Messiah is the same person as "the seed of the woman" ( Genesis 3:15 ), "the seed of Abraham" ( Genesis 22:18 ), the "Prophet like unto Moses" ( Deuteronomy 18:15 ), "the priest after the order of Melchizedek" ( Psalms 110:4 ), "the rod out of the stem of Jesse" ( Isaiah 11:1 Isaiah 11:10 ), the "Immanuel," the virgin's son ( Isaiah 7:14 ), "the branch of Jehovah" ( Isaiah 4:2 ), and "the messenger of the covenant" ( Malachi 3:1 ). This is he "of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write." – M. G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson. 1897. Public Domain. copy freely

As we will see in tomorrow’s post, this genealogy was intended to illustrate and accentuate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah of the Jewish people and their rightful king. But, even more importantly, He was the God-appointed Savior of the world. In sending His Son in human flesh, God was revealing His divine plan to redeem and restore that which was damaged by the fall. So, Matthew reminds his readers: “Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Devoted to Good Works

12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all. – Titus 3:12-15 ESV

The early community of Christ was a close-knit one. Despite the fact that Paul was traveling from one end of the known world to the other, and planting churches in ethnically and geologically diverse regions, they shared a certain bond of unity. Wherever they were located, these fledgling communities of faith were in the minority and found themselves facing extreme opposition. To many Gentiles, Christians were nothing more than a sect of the Jewish religion. After all, the converts to Christianity followed the teachings of an itinerant Jewish rabbi. But to the Jews, Christians were a dangerous heresy that taught against the Mosaic Law and the rite of circumcision. So, wherever Paul and his companions took the gospel and saw its message of faith in Christ take root, they also witnessed intense antagonism.

These new congregations of believers were often ostracized and isolated from their former communities, and lacking in mature spiritual leadership, so Paul felt a strong sense of responsibility to provide them with instruction and encouragement. He wanted them to know that they were part of a much larger community of faith that was spreading around the world. Paul’s letters formed a kind of literary highway system linking these distant and disparate congregations together. His growing network of spiritual disciples included man like Timothy, Titus, Artemas, Tychicus, Zenas, and Apollos, who each played a vital role in ministering the far-flung Christian community. These men provided much-needed spiritual training to the faithful, but also served as the eyes and ears of Paul, giving him insight into what was happening within the body of Christ around the world. 

Paul was constantly traveling from one place to another, fulfilling his commission to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the nations. But he tended to lave a part of his heart in every city, town, and village where the gospel found converts. In many cases, his first visit to a city was his last. His travels didn’t always allow him to circle back and check in on the churches he had helped to found. And, in time, his lengthy imprisonment in Rome would completely curtail his efforts to minister those whom he loved like his own children. But Paul never left them without adequate spiritual nourishment or oversight. And he wanted them to know that they were all in this together. They were all part of a much-larger family of faith that God was planting all around the world. And, for Paul, it was essential that each of these churches understand their role within the bigger picture. Rather than focus all their attention on their particular circumstances, they were to see themselves as members of the growing body of Christ.

Paul firmly believed that when an individual came to faith in Christ, they were to align themselves with a local faith community. They were not to act as a free agent, operating Lone-Ranger-style, independent and isolated from other Christians in their community. This corporate mentality was essential to the spiritual well-being of the individual and the community. And for Paul, it went well beyond geographic confines. He often used the metaphor of the human body as a way of illustrating the interconnected, interdependent nature of the body of Christ.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

The concept of a global church made up of people from all walks of life, every conceivable economic background, and diverse ethnic makeups was revolutionary. And this new admixture of individuals into a mutually beneficial community of faith was making a radical impact on the world. The church was growing and people were noticing. And Paul was obsessed with getting his expanding family of faith to understand their need for one another. He encouraged an attitude of generosity and selflessness, and praised the churches in Macedonia for their gracious giving toward the needs of the church in Jerusalem.

For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. – 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NLT

Paul went on to encourage the believers in Corinth to follow the example of the Macedonian churches.

Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. – 2 Corinthians 8:11 NLT

And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to have the same attitude, telling Titus , “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14 ESV).

The church is a living organism, not an organization. It is an interactive, interdependent blend of individuals into a worldwide community that is to reflect the unity of the Godhead. And the letter that Paul wrote to Titus is as applicable today as it was in the 1st-Century in which he wrote it. His call to Christ-likeness, humility, submission, service, and an unwavering commitment to the truth is vital today as it ever was. The words Paul used to open his letter still apply.

I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. – Titus 1:1 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Son of the King.

22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”  –  Matthew 17:22-27 ESV

You may have noticed something missing in this passage: A verse 21. In several of the ancient manuscripts containing the Gospel of Matthew, verse 21 was not included. It appears that copyists had chosen to include a line that Mark had included in his account of this same event.

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” - Mark 9:29 ESV

It had not been a part of Matthew’s account but had been added later by copyists in an attempt to better harmonize the two gospel accounts. But the older, more reliable manuscripts do not include that verse in Matthew’s account. Thus, the missing verse 21.

But following His transfiguration and verbal castigation of the disciples’ lack of faith, Jesus chose to bring up again the touchy subject of His coming death in Jerusalem. When He had brought it up before, it had produced a shocked response in His disciples and had elicited a stern rebuke from Peter. 

“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV

The news regarding His coming death was unacceptable to the disciples. It made no sense to them and most certainly did not fit into their preconceived notions regarding the coming Messiah. Nowhere in their understanding of the Messiah was there a place for His death at the hands of the people. And Jesus infers that He will be “delivered into the hands of men.” The Greek word is paradidōmi and it carries the idea of delivering someone up through treachery. Not only would He die, it would be the result of His betrayal.

And Matthew records that the disciples were “greatly distressed.” While we recognize that the death of Jesus is an essential part of the Gospel or Good News, it was anything but good news to the disciples. While Jesus had clearly stated that He would be raised up on the third day, that important aspect of the news escaped the disciples. All they heard was betrayal and death. The concept of His resurrection escaped them. And Jesus chose not to elaborate on what He had said, leaving them in a state of distress. It seems that He was slowly revealing to them the truth about His mission, and it was in direct conflict with their perceptions. They had not been looking for a suffering Savior. Ever since they began following Jesus, these men had been expecting big things. They were growing in their belief that He was the long-awaited Messiah and they had high hopes that He was going to establish His kingdom on earth. And because they had been the first to follow Him, they were convinced that they would play significant roles in that kingdom. Their expectations did not include His death. 

But Jesus was preparing them for the inevitable and unavoidable. He had to die. It was why He had come. But the disciples did not yet understand this. In fact, they would continue to wrestle with the idea of Jesus’ death, almost refusing to accept it as a possibility. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records the request made to Jesus by the mother of James and John.

“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” – Matthew 20:21 ESV

She was convinced that Jesus had come to establish His earthly kingdom, and she wanted her sons to play important roles in that kingdom. But Jesus told her she had no idea what she was asking. His immediate future held suffering and death, not honor and glory. And His disciples were going to share in His suffering. Then Jesus gave all the disciples a valuable lesson on leadership, using His own life as an example.

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 ESV

His death, while opposed by the disciples, would have great value. It would become the means by which sinful mankind could be restored to a right relationship with God. A restored Jewish state with a reconstituted monarchy was not going to solve the problem of sin and mankind’s separation from God. The Jews had had many kings over the years, but even the most righteous of them had failed to restore the people to a right relationship with God. And it had resulted in God punishing the people of Israel with exile at the hands of their enemies. Their problem spiritual, not political. Their Sovereign was to have been God, not a man. But they had rejected God and had demanded that they be given a king, just like all the other nations. And God had given them what they asked for.

But now, God was preparing to give them what they really needed: A Savior. Someone who would restore the broken relationship between God and man. Jesus had come to pay the penalty for mankind’s rebellion against God. His death would act as a sacrifice, covering the sins of man and satisfying the just demands of a Holy God. The disciples did not yet comprehend this aspect of Jesus’ mission. Their understanding of His role was incomplete and inaccurate. But over time, Jesus would continue to reveal the truth about His identity and His God-ordained responsibility to act as the atonement for man’s sin.

From this difficult exchange, Matthew shifts gears and describes an encounter between Jesus and a few temple-tax collectors. These men were out collecting the two-drachma tax from all the adult Jewish males between the ages of 20 and 50. This was a mandatory tax used to care for the upkeep of the temple in Jerusalem. These men approached Peter and asked Him whether Jesus paid this tax? Peter responded, “Yes.” 

Jesus had evidently overheard this exchange because when He and the disciples were alone, He brought it up with Peter. While this was a Jewish tax and not a civil tax required by the Romans, Jesus compared the two. He asked Peter if the son of a king was required to pay taxes instituted by his own father. And Peter stated that the king collected taxes from others, not his own son. His son would have been exempt from such taxes. Jesus confirmed this by stating, “Then the sons are free.” The whole point of this exchange was to emphasize Jesus’ role as the Son of God. He was the son of the King. And as such, He was exempt from having to pay taxes to His Father. But in order to keep from offending the religious leaders, Jesus agreed to pay the tax. But He did so in an unusual way. He sent Peter, a fisherman, to catch a single fish. And in that fish’s mouth Peter would find the money for the tax, enough to pay for him and Jesus. 

This story almost seems out of place. But it reveals the tension that existed in Jesus’ life as He continued to walk this earth in human form. He was a man, but He was also the Son of God, fulfilling the will of His heavenly Father. While on earth, He must live in keeping with the laws of men, adhering to the religious requirements established by the Mosaic law. But the whole time, His focus was on His God-ordained mission. Yet, it would be the sinlessness of Christ that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. – 1 John 3:5 NLT

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

Jesus was modeling for His disciples a life of obedience. He was letting them know that His role as Messiah did not exempt Him from living in harmony with the laws of the land. He may have been the Son of the King, but He was willing to keep the laws of the King. Not only that, He was willing to live in obedience to the laws of the Romans. And His disciples would learn that their lives would be models for all those around them. Peter would later articulate the lesson he learned from the lips of Jesus.

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

15 It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. 16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. 17 Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. – 1 Peter 2:13-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sons of the Kingdom.

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables;
    I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” – Matthew 13:24-43 ESV

Continuing to speaking in parables, Jesus let the crowd know that He was expounding on the kingdom of heaven – God’s divinely ordained kingdom. But because He was using parables, they were unable to discern the meaning behind His words. To them, these stories came across more like riddles, leaving them wondering what it was Jesus was trying to say. Even His own disciples said to Him, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field” (Matthew 13:36 ESV).

In this section of Matthew’s narrative, he records a collection of Jesus’ parables that all have to do with the kingdom of heaven. And much of what He had to say is, as He put it, was a mystery or secret, previously undisclosed and unknown. Much of what Jesus was having to deal with was the existing perceptions and expectations among the people of Israel regarding the coming kingdom. Their longings for the coming Messiah were accompanied by dreams of liberation from Roman rule and restoration of their status as a world power. The kingdom they were hoping and longing for was an earthly one. The Messiah they were waiting for was to be a warrior-king just like David had been. 

But with these parables, Jesus provides an as-yet-undisclosed aspect of the kingdom that was in direct conflict with their expectations. Remember, the parable of the sower or the soils was about the receptivity of the people to the message of the kingdom. Many would hear the good news of the Messiah, but refuse to believe it. Others would get excited at the prospect of the Messiah’s arrival, but then discover that His kingdom was associated with persecution, trials and difficulties. Their expectations of the kingdom having been unmet, they would fall away. Jesus has made it clear that there will be many who hear the message of the kingdom, but who refuse to accept it. And yet, in these parables, He discloses that the message will take root among “the sons of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38 ESV). And while the initial number of those who hear the message and believe will be small, it will grow exponentially.

Like a tiny mustard seed that eventually grows into a massive tree, the kingdom of heaven will start small, but greatly expand over time. Its influence will be like that of leaven or yeast on dough which, in time, eventually permeates its way through the entire batch. In these parables, Jesus is revealing an aspect of His kingdom that is far-distant in its focus. He is speaking of the millennial kingdom which will come at the end of the period of the Great Tribulation. It will be at His second coming that Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth and its influence on the earth will be all-pervasive. He will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem and it will be a period marked by perfect righteousness and justice. 

But until that day arrives, the Son of Man will continue to sow the good seed within the world. And, as Jesus made clear, the good seed are the sons of the kingdom, those whom He has redeemed as His own. The period in which we live is the church age, when Christ-followers find themselves co-mingled with unbelievers. The sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil are forced to co-exist until the harvest, which Jesus said will take place at the end of the age. Jesus will continue to sow His seeds – His sons – in the world, and their influence will spread. But they will find themselves surrounded by the sons of Satan, those who have rejected the message of the Gospel. But rather than despair, the sons of the kingdom are to recognize that God’s redemptive plan is not yet done. He is going to send His Son a second time, when He will bring a permanent end to the forces of wickedness and the one who stands behind it all – Satan.

But in the meantime, we must realize that this phase of God’s plan will allow the kingdom to remain relatively hidden, but far from inactive. Like yeast, it will continue to spread. Like the tiny mustard seed, it will continue to grow. And while the weeds will continue to sprout up all around the sons of the kingdom, the day will come when God will call for a harvesting, which will include the separating of the wheat and the weeds. And while the weeds will undergo judgment, the sons of the kingdom will “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43 ESV).

At present, the righteous and the unrighteous live side by side on this planet. And, at times, it appears as if the kingdom of heaven is being overrun by the weeds of the enemy. Sometimes its difficult to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this was to be expected during this phase of His kingdom plan. This is the period for sowing. And, in spite of the presence of the enemy, hte kingdom will continue to grow and spread. 

Then, the day will come when God will send His Son back to gather all those He has sown in the world and set up His kingdom on earth. None of this was what the Jews expected. Even Jesus’ disciples would have found this news to be surprising and somewhat disappointing. Like every other Jew, they were expecting the Messiah to rule and reign from the start. They still had expectations that Jesus was going to set up His kingdom in their lifetime. That’s why James and John would later make the bold request of Jesus: “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Mark 10:37 NLT).

But Jesus had come to establish the kingdom of heaven, not earth. He had come to sow sons of the kingdom throughout a world permeated by the presence of the enemy. And that kingdom, made up of men and women who would be citizens of heaven living as aliens and strangers of this earth, would continue to grow and spread. In the meantime, we are to place our hope and faith in the return of Christ. As the apostle Paul reminds us:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. – Philippians 3:20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not for the Feint of Heart.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” – Matthew 10:34-42 ESV

The message of Jesus Christ is divisive in nature. It demands a reaction. It polarizes and stirs controversy because it is not of this world. It has already become clear that Jesus’ very presence on the earth had stirred up trouble. Satan had tried to tempt Him in the wilderness, attempting to keep Him from His appointed duties as Messiah. The Pharisees have labeled Him as a troublemaker and potential source of conflict and controversy. So, as Jesus prepared to send His disciples on their first independent foray into the world with the message of the Kingdom, He warned them about the dangers they would encounter. What they had to say would not always be well-received. But He didn’t want that to surprise or defeat them. While they must have believed that the news of the Messiah’s arrival would be met with excitement and enthusiasm, especially among the Jews, Jesus wanted them to know that His presence on earth was actually going to cause a great deal of conflict. It would divide families, pitting children against their parents, and disrupting entire households.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that the message of Gospel was going to end up causing a lot of strife. And at this point in their relationship with Jesus, the disciples had no way of knowing about His eventual death. They were still under the impression that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who was going to set up His Kingdom on earth – in Jerusalem. He would reign with power, just as David had. He would return the people of Israel to power and prominence. But little did they know that their Messiah was going to have to suffer and die. And after His death, resurrection and ascension, their message of the good news was going to become even more controversial. 

Paul would later write of the incredible news regarding Jesus, that would become the essence of the good news he and the other apostles would bring to the world.

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 ESV

That message would leave many incredulous and others furious. Paul would find himself under constant attack for sharing the good news regarding Jesus. He would be arrested multiple times, thrown into jail, beaten, and even stoned and left for dead. And Paul would learn the invaluable lesson that faith in Christ would require commitment and a refusal to compromise. Those who accepted the message of Jesus Christ would have to make the difficult choice between following Him and maintaining their relationships with family and friends. Because as Jesus said in His sermon on the mount, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14 ESV).

Each and every individual who hears the Gospel will be forced to choose between this life and the life to come. They will be required to place their faith in the message of salvation from sin and death made possible through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God. Or they will have the option of putting all their hope in this life. Jesus describes this difficult choice of accepting the Gospel message as taking up your cross. It will prove uncomfortable at times. It will result in conflict and difficulty.

But there is a reward associated with the message of Jesus Christ. The disciples would discover that their faithful obedience to their assignment from Jesus would come with some incredible benefits. And after His eventual ascension back into heaven and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they would find themselves filled and equipped with a power like nothing they had ever experienced before. Their work would be dangerous and difficult, but they would be provided with a source of strength and wisdom beyond their wildest dreams. And the same thing would be true for all who received their message.

In their role as the messengers of Jesus, the disciples would be acting as prophets, speaking on His behalf and carrying the message of God. Those who listened to them would receive the reward of the prophet. This seems to be a reference to the good news that the prophet of God offered. Prophets tended to have two messages – one was a message of pending judgment for those who refuse to listen, and the other was a message of forgiveness and restoration to those who hear and obey the words of the prophet. In the same way, all those who would hear and obey the good news regarding Jesus would receive the reward of eternal life. And for those who receive the message of Jesus’ righteousness as the Son of God and Savior of the world, will be rewarded with His righteousness as their own.

To wrap up His message, Jesus turned His attention to those who would hear what His disciples had to say. For all those who treated His messengers with respect by offering them even a cup of cold water, would find themselves rewarded for their effort. Their kindness would be an indication of their receptivity of the messenger and their message.

The disciples of Jesus were about to enter an exciting new era in their relationship with Jesus. They would be the ones dessiminating the message and working the miracles. No longer would they be spectators. They were about to enter the game. But Jesus wanted them to know that their mission would be accompanied by difficulty. And the day was coming when He would leave them behind, returning to His Father in heaven, and assigning them with the formidable task of taking the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Good News and Bad News.

6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” – Revelation 14:6-13 ESV

John is shown yet another vision or scene. He starts out this section with the familiar “then I saw”, which in Greek is kai eidon. It signals a change in content marked by a change in what John is seeing. He sees “another” angel, which means another of the same kind. This is another and different angel other than the seven introduced in verse 2, and it will be the first of six angels introduced in the rest of this chapter. This angel is described by John as flying in mid-heaven and proclaiming “an eternal gospel.” When we hear the term “gospel”, we most often associate with good news and the proclamation of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. But in this context, it has to do with God’s coming salvation, but His judgment as well. It is eternal in that the impact of its message is ageless and not restricted by time. It was good news to the believers living in John’s day and remains good news to all of us hearing its message today. The angel is proclaiming the good news “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Revelation 14:6 ESV). He is flying through mid-heaven, so evidently, as he circumnavigates the globe, all on earth will hear what he has to say. And the content of his message is very specific, leaving no doubt as to what God demands.

“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” – Revelation 14:7 ESV

He calls on the people of earth to fear God. They are to reverence Him for who He is. He is God Almighty, the God of the universe and the creator of all things. In his book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote of the kind of fear this angel was demanding.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV

Notice that the fear of God is accompanied by obedience to His commands. This angel is letting the inhabitants of the world know God demands obeisance and obedience, reverence and submission to His will. And that will require that they give Him glory, repenting of their wrong perceptions regarding Him. They must turn from worshiping the Antichrist and acknowledge God as the one true God, who alone is worthy of glory and honor. They must worship Him alone as their God. And the motivation for their worship is His coming judgment. And as we will see in the remaining chapters of John’s book, there will be those who hear and heed this message, bowing down before God in worship.

Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed. – Revelation 15:4 ESV

But there will also be those who refuse to listen to the angel’s message, rejecting his call to worship the one true God.

…and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. – Revelation 16:9 ESV

People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. – Revelation 16:11 ESV

…and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. – Revelation 16:21 ESV

As has been the case throughout the centuries, the good news regarding God and His offer of salvation from the wrath to come will be rejected by many. They will curse Him rather than repent and turn to Him. Instead of worshiping and glorifying Him, they will utter blasphemous curses against Him.

This angel is followed by a second one who is proclaiming yet another message.

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” – Revelation 14:8 ESV

This is a message of premonition, revealing what is about to happen. As of the moment John heard this angel’s message, Babylon had not yet fallen. But it would. It was inevitable and unavoidable. God was going to judge Babylon. And that begs the question: What exactly does the angel mean by “Babylon”? Is it the literal city of Babylon or a more figurative reference to something else? The answer is probably, “Yes.” It appears that during the period of the tribulation, the ancient city of Babylon will be restored and reassert itself as a global player during the end times. It will also become synonymous with the political and religious powers of the day. Throughout the Scriptures, the name, “Babylon” has become closely associated with ungodliness and rebellion against God, ever since the fall of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). 

God announces the coming destruction of Babylon. Not only will the city itself be destroyed, but all that it represents, including the religious and political systems that arise out of the city. The angel describes Babylon as an immoral woman, who has seduced the people of the world, enticing them to commit spiritual adultery against God. Chapter 17 will deal with the guilt and well-deserved destruction of Babylon in greater detail.

“Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” – Revelation 17:1-2 ESV

Then John sees yet another angel, whose message is directed at all those who chose to take the mark of the beast or Antichrist and worship him. And it is difficult to see the content of this message as good news, because the angel clearly states to all who bear the mark of the beast, “he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10 ESV). As bad as this sounds, it is not a reference to hell or the Lake of Fire. This is going to be some form of temporal punishment meted out by God on all those who rejected His offer of salvation and turned to the Antichrist as their false messiah. These people will suffer unparalleled pain and suffering and it will be in the very presence of Christ and the holy angels. Their suffering will take place while they are forced to look on the one who offered His life as a sacrifice for their sins. But they rejected Him.

John is told that their torment will be eternal, “forever and ever.” They will have no rest from their punishment. And this stands in direct contrast to the statement made by Jesus. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV). Jesus came to earth, offering weary sinners with eternal rest and comfort. And the first angel offered them a form of rest, complete with “springs of water”, but they refused. Now, they will “have no rest, day or night.”

But this angel has a call to all of those who have placed their faith in Christ during the great tribulation. This includes the 144,000. They are to remain faithful to the end. All of this is to be good news to them, because it reveals that their God is going to deal justly and righteously with all the injustice in the world. Their suffering will soon end. Their persecution as a result of their faith will be eliminated once and for all. The tables will turn. So, they are called to endure. To remain strong and not lose faith. God is going to act on their behalf.

Finally, John hears a voice from heaven, proclaiming a message to all those who will suffer and die during the great tribulation. He is told to put this message in writing, so that it will last.

“Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” – Revelation 14:13 ESV

This is both a warning and a blessing. John is being told, in no uncertain terms, that there will be many believers who die in the remaining days of the great tribulation. They will die as a result of their faith in Jesus. Their faithfulness to Him will merit the wrath of the Antichrist. Their refusal to accept the mark of the beast and to worship the Antichrist will bring about not only their persecution but, ultimately, their deaths. But they are told that they will be blessed. They will receive rest from their labors. This is not saying these believers will receive blessing or salvation because of their labors. It is not promoting a kind of works-salvation. It is simply saying that their efforts to remain faithful on this earth during the dark days of the tribulation will be followed by the blessing of eternal rest. Their good deeds will follow them in the sense that they are the proof of their salvation. Jesus refers to this in His Olivet Discourse.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 25:24-40 ESV

These believers, living during the final days of the tribulation, will exhibit their faith through acts of kindness to others. They will reveal their transformed hearts through clear signs of transformed living. Even at the risk of great persecution, they will show love to others. It is not their acts of kindness that will save them, but those acts will be the proof that they have been saved. And their visible expressions of love for others will be tangible proof of their love for Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Do Not Be Slient.

1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:1-11 ESV

Eventually, Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Athens. But when it was determined that it was time for them to move on again. Paul traveled on to Corinth while Timothy returned to Thessalonica and Silas seems to have gone somewhere else in the region of Macedonia (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). According to verse five, they would later join Paul in Corinth.

Like Philippi, Corinth was a Roman colony and, at the time of Paul’s visit, the largest city in Greece. It was approximately 50 miles southwest of Athens and some 20 times larger in size. It was a busy, cosmopolitan city with a diverse population mix. Paul would discover a vibrant community of Jews there, some who had arrived in town due to a recent decree by the Emperor Claudius, commanding the expulsion of all Jews from the city of Rome. Luke tells us that Paul met one such couple, named Aquila and Priscilla, who had been forced part of the Jewish contingent forced to flee from Rome. Paul would strike up a relationship with these two, even staying in their home and working alongside them in their tent-making business. It’s interesting to note that Luke does not describe this couple as having been Christ-followers when Paul met them. He simply says that Paul “found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla” (Acts 18:2 ESV). Luke’s description seems to infer that Aquila was a Jew, but that Priscilla was not. Based on her name, she could have been a Roman, and when her husband was forced to leave Rome, she had chosen to leave with him. And nowhere in this account does Luke provide an account of their conversion story. While we know nothing of how or when they came to faith in Christ, we know they eventually did, because Paul would later describe them as believers.

3 Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. 4 In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. – Romans 16:3-4 NLT

Corinth had a long-standing reputation for its immorality and decadence. As far back as the fifth century BC, the Greek word, korinthiazesthai, had come into common usage, which literally meant “to Corinthianize” and was used to refer to someone being sexually immoral. Prostitutes, of which there were many, were commonly referred to as “Corinthians girls.” When referring to someone as having committed sexual immorality, the euphemism, “to act like a Corinthian” was often used. At the heart of the city stood the temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. This temple was renowned for its 1,000 temple prostitutes and for the sexual practices offered as part of its religious observances. So, it is easy to see why Paul, when later writing to the believers in Corinth, confessed the sense of fear and trepidation he felt when he first arrived in their city.

1 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2 For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5 I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NLT

But, despite any sense of fear he might have felt, Paul had come to Corinth for one reason and one reason only. He followed his normal protocol and “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4 ESV). No doubt, Aquila and Priscilla had provided Paul with introductions into the local Jewish community, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel with his fellow Jews. To get some idea just how passionate Paul was about seeing his Jewish brothers and sisters come to faith in Christ, all we have to do is read from his letter to the believers in Rome.

1 With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. 2 My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief 3 for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them. – Romans 9:1-3 NLT

Paul would have been willing to give up his own salvation if it meant that other Jews would experience the joy of knowing Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. Paul was determined and driven to see that all people heard the good news regarding Jesus. Yes, his official assignment from Jesus had been to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and he was obedient to that call. But it did not stop him from caring deeply for his own people and striving diligently to see that they too heard the message of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Paul and Silas eventually joined Paul in Corinth, they found him hard at work, “occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5 ESV). But his well-intentioned efforts were met with resistance and ridicule. Luke states that the Jews “opposed and reviled him” (Acts 18:6 ESV). They demeaned the messenger as well as his message. And Luke reveals that Paul eventually saw any further efforts to persuade them as futile and a waste of his time, so, “he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (Acts 18:6 ESV). Paul seemed to be following the advice given by Jesus to His 12 disciples when He had sent them out on their first assignment without Him.

“If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” – Matthew 10:14 NLT

Paul’s actions were also in line with the counsel God had given to His prophet, Ezekiel, hundreds of years earlier, concerning the people of God.

2 “Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. 3 When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. 4 Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. 5 They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. – Ezekiel 33:2-5 NLT

And when Paul left the synagogue that day, he didn’t have to go far. Luke says that he literally went next door, to the home of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Evidently, Titius Justus was a Roman and a God-fearer. It could have been that he had been a Jewish proselyte who had been in the synagogue the day Paul decided to walk out, and invited him into his own home. They were joined by another man, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue. And Luke records that Crispus placed his faith in Jesus and became a believer that day, along with those in his household. While Paul had been forced to turn his back on the Jews, God was far from done in the city of Corinth. Luke makes it quite clear that “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8 ESV). Paul kept up his ministry of sharing the good news and the Holy Spirit did His work of regenerating the hearts of those who heard, so that they might receive the gift of God’s grace made available through His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. 

And Luke provides us with some insight into Paul’s state of mind during this period of his ministry in Corinth. It seems obvious that Paul faced opposition, and that he felt more than a little fearful for his safety and well-being. God gave Paul a vision, in which He reassured His servant that everything was going to be all right.

9 “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! 10 For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” – Acts 18:9-10 NLT

This does not appear to be an indication that there were already other believers in the city of which Paul was unaware. God seems to be assuring Paul that He had already chosen others to come to faith in Christ who had not yet had the opportunity. So, Paul was to keep speaking and sharing, that those whom God had chosen could hear and accept. Paul would refer to this choosing by God in his letter to the believers in Rome.

29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

God wanted Paul to know that He had others set aside in Corinth for salvation. All Paul needed to do was be faithful to fulfill his commission. And Paul did just that, remaining in Corinth for another year and a half, proclaiming the gospel and allowing the Holy Spirit to being to God all those whom the Father had called.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Listen to Him.

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV

Peter begins to make a transition in the content of his letter. He has been encouraging his readers to see to it that they supplement their initial faith in Christ with the characteristics of Christ. Peter had evidently played a part in preaching of the gospel that had led to the salvation of the believers to whom he is writing. And, as a faithful shepherd, he is concerned that their faith increase as they submit their lives to the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit and pursuit the will of God for their lives: Holiness. Now, Peter begins to establish his qualifications as an apostle of Jesus, defending the nature of the gospel he had preached, and establishing his intimate relationship with Jesus Himself. There is a reason Peter is having to do this. As we will see in the very next chapter, Peter is having to deal with a problem that has impacted the churches receiving his letter. In his absence, false teachers have appeared within these churches, causing confusion and attacking the integrity of Peter’s message.

So, Peter wants to remind his readers that the gospel he had preached and which they had believed was not some man-made, cleverly concocted story that had no basis in reality. Peter had not made this stuff up. What he had told them regarding Jesus, including His life, ministry, miracles, messages, death, burial and resurrection, were true. Peter had been there. He had been an eyewitness of each and every thing regarding Jesus’ life, all the way to the bitter end. Peter makes special reference to the special occasion on which he had seen Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop and heard the voice of God. Mark records this event in his gospel.

2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 4 Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus. – Mark 9:2-4 NLT

Mark provides us with further insight into the reaction of the three disciples as they viewed this extraordinary event. As usual, Peter was the first to speak up.

5 Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified. – Mark 9:5-6 NLT

Peter tells his readers, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 NLT). They had seen His transfiguration. They had watched as Jesus spoke with Elijah and Moses, two long-dead patriarchs of the faith. These two men were especially chosen by God for this occasion, because they represented the prophets and the law respectively. Jesus had come to fulfill both. All that the prophets wrote about in their books was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. And the Old Testament Mosaic Law was also fulfilled in Jesus because He was the only man who had ever kept the law in its entirety. He had not disobeyed a single part of God’s commands, which is what made Him the perfect sacrifice, the sinless lamb who could give His life as a substitute and as an atonement for the sins of mankind.

Mark’s gospel tells us what happened after Peter made his hasty, fear-driven offer to build three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them. – Mark 9:7-8 NLT

God spoke, and all He expressed to the disciples was His love for His Son and His desire that they listen to Him. And as they walked away from this one-of-a-kind encounter, Jesus had further instructions for Peter and two companions.

9 As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.” – Mark 9:9-10 NLT

As Peter penned the words of his letter, it was long after the events described in Mark’s gospel. Jesus had gone to Jerusalem. He had made His triumphal entry. The disciples had celebrated what would be their last Passover meal with Jesus. They had stood by and watched Him be arrested and dragged off to be tried. Peter had denied Him three times. They had each been forced to watch Jesus crucified, buried and left for dead. But they had also been eye-witnesses to His resurrection, the very thing Jesus had mentioned to Peter, James and John that day as they descended the mountain. These men, along with the other disciples, had see Jesus in His glorified, resurrected state. He had visited with them, ate a meal with them, and commissioned them to take the news of His death, burial and resurrection to the world. And they had.

For Peter, what he had seen on the mountaintop that day and what his post-resurrection encounters with Jesus were more than enough to convince him of the validity of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. He was completely convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited Savior of whom the prophets had written. Which is what prompts him to write:

“Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.” – 2 Peter 1:19 NLT

Peter knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the message he preached was true because it was in fulfillment of all that the prophets had written regarding Jesus. The words of the prophets, written hundreds of years earlier, were “like a lamp shining in a dark place” and they will keep on shining until the day the Lord returns. These men not only predicted the first coming of Jesus, but His second coming. Their words still carry weight and significance. And Peter reaffirms that the writings of the prophets were not their own words, but had been given to them by God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

20 Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. – 2 Peter 1:20-21 NLT

The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles combined to create a God-ordained message of revelation and salvation based on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He was God incarnate, the Son of God in human flesh. He was the God-Man, who lived a sinless life and performed never-before-seen miracles and spoke God-ordained words of truth. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, cast out demons, controlled the wind and the waves, turned water into wine, and raised the dead. He confounded the religious leaders with His wisdom. He comforted the sinful with His words. Peter and the apostles walked with Him, learned from Him, were astonished by Him, and convinced by the words He spoke to them. Their lives had been radically transformed as a result of their encounter with Him. And Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell on them, as the icing on the cake, a final proof that He was who He claimed to be. That fateful day had brought a new energy and enthusiasm to the disciples as they were filled with the power of the Spirit and began to preach the gospel given to them by Christ. They stood back and watched in awe and thousands of lives were changed at the hearing of the good news regarding Jesus, the Savior. And Peter, writing to believers who found themselves tempted to turn from the gospel by the misleading words of false teachers, pleads with them to keep their eyes focused on the reality of who Jesus was and what He came to do. In essence, Peter is repeating the words of God spoken to he, James and John. He is calling his readers to recall who Jesus is and to hear God say, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Controlled By the Love of God.

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. – 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 ESV

Paul has just told the Corinthians that there is a day coming when all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). It is with that thought in mind that Paul refers to the “fear of the Lord.” It is an awareness of the future judgment of our present actions that should create in us a sober-minded evaluation of all that we do in this life. As believers, we should carefully consider all our thoughts and actions based on the knowledge that we will one day answer to God for all that we have done in this life since coming to faith in Christ. Paul told the Romans, “Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God … each of us will give a personal account to God” (Romans 14:10, 12 NLT).

Paul was not saying that he feared the judgment of God in the sense that he might lose his salvation or his place in heaven. It was just that he had a strong motivation not do anything that might bring the displeasure of his God on the day of judgment. He lived to please God. He wanted to do the will of God. And so he was unwilling to let what men thought about him in this life overshadow or influence the importance of what God would think about his actions when he stood before the judgment seat of Christ in the next life. That is what led him to persuade others. That is what prompted him to risk all in order to save some. His reputation took a back seat to the message of redemption. What concerned Paul the most was what God thought of him. “But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience” (2 Corinthians 5:11b ESV).

It seems that Paul had to spend a great deal of time defending his apostleship. Unlike the original disciples of Jesus, Paul had not been there at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was not one of the twelve. He had not been personally taught by Jesus and, therefore, his opponents argued that he had no authority. On top of that, it also seems that Paul had a less-than-impressive aura about him. He was evidently small in stature, unimpressive in appearance, and had gained a reputation for being a second-rate communicator. He even admitted as much in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4 NLT). The only reason Paul attempted to defend his apostleship or say anything about himself that might be construed as bragging was to that the Corinthians might be able to silence his critics who kept trying to diminish his influence among them. Paul didn’t mind if people thought he was crazy, as long as he knew that he was being faithful to God. And even if he did come across as somewhat crazy, it was only because he was obsessed with sharing the gospel with as many people as he possibly could. When it came to the good news, he was “out of his mind.”

Paul’s perspective was that, crazy or sane, “Christ’s love controls us.” He was motivated by love for the lost and a Christ-like compassion for believers. And his love for others was the direct result of God’s love for him. The apostle John wrote, “We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:19-20 NLT). And how did God show His love for us? “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). It was that very love that motivated Paul. And because of what Jesus Christ had done for him, Paul was willing to risk all in order to tell all about the good news made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. – 2 Corinthians 5:15 NLT

God’s love for us required that Jesus die in place of us. His death on our behalf made possible our new life. And that new life has freed us to live for Him, not ourselves. And our new-found capacity to live unselfishly shows up in our desire to share His love selflessly with all those we meet. “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV).

 

For the Sake of the Gospel.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV

Paul knew his rights all too well. But he didn’t let his rights get in the way or become a hindrance to his God-given assignment to share the gospel. In fact, Paul says that he made himself a servant to all. The Greek word he uses is δουλόω (douloō), which means “to make a slave of” (“G1402 – douloō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 16 Aug, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org). Metaphorically, which is how Paul uses it here, it meant to “give myself wholly to one’s needs and service, make myself a bondman to him). As far as Paul was concerned, he would rather consider himself a slave to everyone, than to demand his rights or selfishly flaunt his freedoms in Christ. In fact, while he understood himself to be “free from all”, free from their judgment, criticism, demands, legalistic requirements, false accusations, and unrealistic expectations, he willingly chose to serve them. He even describes what he means by that. When he was with the Jews, he lives like a Jew, even though he was free from having to do so. When in their company, he would keep the law, out of a desire to win them to Christ. When he was with Gentiles, he would set aside the law of Moses, because they were not obligated to keep it (and neither was he). Instead, he would live under the law of Christ – the law of love. Paul told the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). This is the exact opposite of how the Pharisees lived. Jesus said of them, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4 ESV).

Paul’s philosophy of ministry and life was simple: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV). His ultimate goal was their salvation. His freedoms took a back seat in order that he might see them find freedom from sin and death through faith in Christ. Everything he did was for the sake of the gospel. To him, it was unacceptable to think of putting his needs above those of others, either the saved or the lost. He spent his life selflessly sacrificing himself and putting his needs and rights in second place. He describes the impact this attitude had on his life in his second letter to the Corinthians:

I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Why was Paul willing to go through all of this? So that he might share the gospel with those who had not yet heard it. As he so clearly states, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23 ESV). He had experienced the blessings of the gospel first hand and was not willing for anyone to miss out on hearing the same message that had radically transformed his life. It is interesting to note that many of us, while highly appreciative of what the gospel has done for us, are unwilling to share it with others. We allow our rights and freedoms to get in the way and hinder us from telling others of the good news of Jesus Christ. We feel we have a right not to associate with those who don’t believe as we do. But Paul would ask us, “how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14 NLT). We are not free to do as we please. We have an obligation, an assignment from God, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. We have been given a job to do. “God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT).

We exist for the sake of the gospel. We sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. We die to self for the sake of the gospel. We give up our rights for the sake of the gospel. We forego our freedoms for the sake of the gospel. We do all things for the sake of the gospel.

For the Sake of the Gospel.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV

Paul knew his rights all too well. But he didn’t let his rights get in the way or become a hindrance to his God-given assignment to share the gospel. In fact, Paul says that he made himself a servant to all. The Greek word he uses is δουλόω (douloō), which means “to make a slave of” (“G1402 - douloō - Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 16 Aug, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org). Metaphorically, which is how Paul uses it here, it meant to “give myself wholly to one’s needs and service, make myself a bondman to him). As far as Paul was concerned, he would rather consider himself a slave to everyone, than to demand his rights or selfishly flaunt his freedoms in Christ. In fact, while he understood himself to be “free from all”, free from their judgment, criticism, demands, legalistic requirements, false accusations, and unrealistic expectations, he willingly chose to serve them. He even describes what he means by that. When he was with the Jews, he lives like a Jew, even though he was free from having to do so. When in their company, he would keep the law, out of a desire to win them to Christ. When he was with Gentiles, he would set aside the law of Moses, because they were not obligated to keep it (and neither was he). Instead, he would live under the law of Christ – the law of love. Paul told the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). This is the exact opposite of how the Pharisees lived. Jesus said of them, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4 ESV).

Paul’s philosophy of ministry and life was simple: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV). His ultimate goal was their salvation. His freedoms took a back seat in order that he might see them find freedom from sin and death through faith in Christ. Everything he did was for the sake of the gospel. To him, it was unacceptable to think of putting his needs above those of others, either the saved or the lost. He spent his life selflessly sacrificing himself and putting his needs and rights in second place. He describes the impact this attitude had on his life in his second letter to the Corinthians:

I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Why was Paul willing to go through all of this? So that he might share the gospel with those who had not yet heard it. As he so clearly states, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23 ESV). He had experienced the blessings of the gospel first hand and was not willing for anyone to miss out on hearing the same message that had radically transformed his life. It is interesting to note that many of us, while highly appreciative of what the gospel has done for us, are unwilling to share it with others. We allow our rights and freedoms to get in the way and hinder us from telling others of the good news of Jesus Christ. We feel we have a right not to associate with those who don’t believe as we do. But Paul would ask us, “how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14 NLT). We are not free to do as we please. We have an obligation, an assignment from God, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. We have been given a job to do. “God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT).

We exist for the sake of the gospel. We sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. We die to self for the sake of the gospel. We give up our rights for the sake of the gospel. We forego our freedoms for the sake of the gospel. We do all things for the sake of the gospel.

 

An Unobstructed Gospel.

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. – 1 Corinthians 9:8-18 ESV

At first glance, it might appear that Paul is making a bigger deal out of all this than might be necessary. It seems that he is belaboring the point that he has the right to compensation for his work as an apostle. After all, he was the one who helped plant the church in Corinth by sharing the gospel with them in the first place. But Paul has a much greater issue in mind here: The gospel. This really isn’t about peoples’ rights to eat meat sacrificed to idols or Paul’s right to remuneration for his ministry activities. It is about the responsibility of every believer to ensure that the gospel is presented clearly and represented accurately to a lost and dying world. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16b ESV). He was obligated by Christ to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. It was his God-given commission. And he was not going to let anything stand in the way of him accomplishing his responsibility, including demanding his rights to have all his financial and material needs taken care of by those under his care. 

Paul made it clear that he had every right to expect compensation. He used the Mosaic law to defend his rights. Even an ox treading grain was left unmuzzled and allowed to eat as it worked. The man who plows the field and the one who threshes the harvested wheat both do so in hopes of getting their fair share of the crop. And there were others who ministered to the Corinthians who were being compensated for their efforts. So why not Paul and Barnabas? Were they not just as deserving? But Paul said, “we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12 ESV). Paul didn’t want anyone being able to say he did what he did for money. He refused to give anyone the satisfaction of accusing him of doing ministry for self-serving reasons. The gospel was too important to him. He was willing to give up his rights for the sake of the gospel.

Paul’s whole approach to the gospel was different than that of others. He saw himself as compelled by God to do what he did. He couldn’t help but preach the gospel. It was not something he had decided to do on his own initiative. It had not been his idea. He had been called by God and given a non-negotiable command to take the gospel to the Gentiles. If Paul was doing this on his own, he would have every right to demand payment for his services, just like every other teacher or rabbi. But Paul saw his reward as coming from God, not man. He had a radically different perspective: “What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News” (1 Corinthians 9:18 NLT). For Paul, it was rewarding to be able to share the gospel free of charge. So he paid his own way. He covered his own expenses or was aided by the generous contributions of others who supported his ministry. In fact, in his second letter to the Corinthians, he explains how he was able to minister to them without demanding anything in return.

Was I wrong when I humbled myself and honored you by preaching God’s Good News to you without expecting anything in return? I “robbed” other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you at no cost. And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed. I have never been a burden to you, and I never will be.  – 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 NLT

The bottom line was that Paul was more interested in spreading the gospel than getting what he rightfully deserved. He labored long and hard. He sacrificed greatly in order to travel around the known world at that time, taking the good news of Jesus Christ to lands in which the name of Jesus had not yet been heard. He suffered physically. He did without financially and materially. But he was able to tell the Philippians, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT). He did what he did for the sake of Christ and in the power of Christ.

Remember what Paul has already said to the Corinthians earlier in this letter.

Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment. – 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 NLT

Why was Paul willing to suffer such things? He gives us his answer: “We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.” (1 Corinthians 9:12b NLT). When my rights get in the way of getting the good news out, I become an obstacle to the will of God. I have allowed my rights to take precedence over the primacy of the gospel. When facing the prospect of losing His own life, Jesus was able to say, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). He gave up His rights as the Son of God to be honored and treated with the highest esteem. Instead, He allowed those He had created to humiliate Him and take His life. All for the sake of the gospel. Are we not willing to give up our rights and die to our own wills so that others might hear the good news?

Convicting Power.

And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. – John 16:8-11 ESV

Jesus had just told His disciples that it would be to their advantage if He went away, because when He left He would send them the Holy Spirit to indwell them. So in place of Jesus’ physical presence, they would have the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. Then Jesus told them one of the aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry: He would convict the world. What is important to remember is that Jesus had already told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would live within them, not just among them. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). I think it is essential to keep these two thoughts together as we examine this passage. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came He would indwell His followers. But He also said that same Holy Spirit would convict the world (the lost) concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.

It would seem that Jesus is saying that the power of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within the lives of believers would have a convicting influence on the lives of the lost. The Spirit within us provides us with the power to live free from slavery to sin and capable of living righteously and rightly before God. The very presence of Christ’s followers living in the power of the Holy Spirit gives proof of the gospel and brings conviction on the lost. Paul echoed this thought when he wrote, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 ESV).

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul told them, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). But how were they to expose them? Paul provides the answer. “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, Awake, O sleeper,and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:13-16 ESV). Our lives should have a convicting influence on the lost living around us. Our God-given capacity to live righteously, provided by the Holy Spirit within us, will expose the sin and unrighteousness of those who do not yet know Christ. We will live out the truth of the gospel, giving proof of its efficacy.

But our lives, as a result of the Spirit’s presence within us, will also convict the lost world of righteousness. The Greek word Jesus used in this passage was elegchō and it means “to bring to the light, to expose.” It can also mean “to refute” and “to show one his fault.” It would seem that Jesus is saying that the righteousness of His disciples, made possible by His coming sacrificial death and the Spirit’s indwelling presence, would expose the false righteousness of the world. Self-righteousness can never measure up to Christ's righteousness. And it is only Christ’s righteousness that makes us right with God. It is not what we do as Christians that makes us right with God, but what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our positional righteousness before God, made possible by Christ, and our practical, everyday righteousness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, will convict the lost of their false righteousness. Which then leads to the Spirit’s final point of conviction: Judgment.

Without the righteousness Christ provides, the lost have no hope. They are condemned and destined to an eternity separated from the love of God. But our presence among them provides proof that forgiveness is possible and the gift of grace made available through Christ's death on the cross is free to all who will accept it. But those who refuse will suffer judgment. One of the primary ways in which the lost will be convicted of sin, righteousness and judgment is through the sharing of the gospel. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been commissioned to spread the good news regarding His death, burial and resurrection and the free gift of salvation He has made possible. What makes the gospel “good news” is the fact that it stands in direct opposition to the “bad news.” Man is sinful, unrighteousness and stands condemned and convicted of rebellion against a holy and just God. He has no way of fixing his problem, apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. As we share the good news regarding God’s love as revealed in His sacrifice of His own Son, it will bring conviction on those who hear. And as we live out the life-transforming reality of that message in our daily lives, we will be light, exposing the darkness and convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

Prayer With A Purpose.

But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. – 2 Corinthians 13:7-9 ESV The apostle Paul was always having to defend his apostleship. There was no shortage of individuals who would question his authority and criticize his claim to be speaking on behalf of Christ. But while Paul was not shy in defending himself, his greater concern was for the spiritual well-being of those who had come to faith in Christ through his preaching and teaching. Since his own salvation experience on the road to Damascus, Paul had dedicated his life to spreading the good news about Jesus Christ to both Jews and Gentiles. He traveled near and far to make known the gospel message and to see lives transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ. And if he had to suffer in the meantime, he was more than ready. But he was not willing for anyone to question his authority or discount his message, because he had received his commission from Jesus Christ Himself.

In this, his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul finds himself defending his apostleship once again. He writes, “you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me” (2 Corinthians 13:3 ESV). But the greatest proof of Paul's claim to being a spokesman for Jesus Christ was the very power evident in their midst that had made possible their transformation. “He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you” (2 Corinthians 13:3 ESV). Lives were being changed. Hearts had been transformed. The message of new life in Christ had taken root and born fruit. But while Paul was away and absent from their midst, he prayed. He prayed with a purpose. He was asking God to produce fruit in the lives of the believers in Corinth. In other words, he was asking to see the byproduct of practical sanctification in their lives – as a form of proof of their salvation. Their faith in Christ should have been producing fruit. And it was for this that he prayed. “But we pray to God that you may not do wrong…” The presence and power of Christ within them, in the form of the Holy Spirit, should have been producing in them a growing desire to do what was right and to turn away from doing what was wrong. Living in the power of the Holy Spirit should have been producing holiness, obedience, and acts of righteousness. Paul told them that “your restoration is what we pray for.” The Greek word Paul used was katartisis and it means “a strengthening, perfecting of the soul.” It comes from root word that has to do with restoration or repair. It means to “make one what he ought to be.” Paul was praying that the believers in Corinth would be experiencing the transforming, restorative power of Jesus Christ in their lives. That power would be ample proof of Paul's status as a messenger of Jesus.

Paul wanted to see lives changed. He wanted to see the power of God released in the lives of those who had come to faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. He desired to see those who had accepted Jesus as their Savior radically restored to a right relationship with God with lives that reflected their newly restored natures. Salvation is a wonderful thing, but it is just the beginning. Sanctification is an essential byproduct of a new relationship with Christ. Growth in Christ-likeness should accompany the presence of His Spirit within us. Paul prayed for proof of that presence. He wanted to see lives transformed. He wanted to see evidence of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Jesus had died, not just to make it possible for us to one day spend eternity with Him in heaven, but to radically reform our lives here on earth. And it was to that end that Paul prayed.

But do we pray for transformed lives? Do we long to see believers living radically different lives right here, right now? Or do we pray more for physical healing than holiness? Do we pray for freedom from trials more than we pray for a display of Christ's righteousness in the midst of them? Are we so busy asking God to make our lives easier that we fail to recognize that Christ died to make our lives more righteous? Paul prayed for life change, not circumstantial change. He prayed for holiness and righteousness. He wanted to see the power of the presence of God lived out in the everyday lives of the people of God. In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, he had reminded them of just how far they had come since accepting Christ. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV). God had  transformed them from what they once were to something new and radically different. But His work was not done yet. He was still in the process of changing them from the inside out. And it was to that end that Paul prayed. So should we.

Something Worth Proclaiming.

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. – 1 John 1:3 ESV

John had enjoyed an intimate, eye-witness relationship with Jesus. He had listened to Him teach and preach. He had watched Him heal and even raise Lazarus from the dead. He had stood with Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the foot of the cross on which Jesus was being crucified, and heard Him say, “Behold, your mother.” From that day on, John would take Mary into his home and care for her. John was close to Jesus. He loved the Lord and was loved by Him. But what John was proclaiming in the opening verses of First John was far more than a knowledge about Jesus the man. He was proclaiming the truth regarding Jesus, the God-Man. The entire letter of First John is based on the foundational principle and reality regarding the incarnation of Jesus. John was not just giving an historical, eye-witness account of Jesus' birth, life and death. He was proclaiming His deity and His role as the spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. There were those in John's day who denied the deity of Christ. They rejected the idea that He was God come in the flesh. As we will see later on in John's letter, these people claimed to be Christians and bragged of having a relationship with God, but they denied the Christ. Many viewed themselves as sinless and therefore, in no need of a Savior. But John will make it clear that fellowship with God is impossible without acceptance of His Son as Savior. John had heard Jesus Himself boldly claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Jesus was NOT just a good man attempting to live a morally exemplary life. He wasn't just another martyr who had sacrificed His life for a good cause. What John was proclaiming about Jesus was radical and risky. Jesus was the Son of God and through Him and Him alone, man could enjoy a restored relationship with God.

Jesus had told His disciples, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:10-11 ESV). What John is proclaiming in these opening verses is unbelievable. It sounds more like fantasy than reality. But John believed it whole-heartedly. He proclaimed it boldly and without apology. Because of who Jesus was and what He did, men can be restored to a right relationship with God. They can enjoy fellowship with the God of the universe. The apostle Paul reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). But there's more. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11 ESV). We have been reconciled, made right with God. Which is what allows us to enjoy fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Which should produce in us a joy that is full and complete, lacking in nothing. Jesus Christ, the word of life who gave life to creation, is also the eternal life, God Himself. The Son of God took on human flesh and then took on the sins of man. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). John was proclaiming what God had long ago prophesied. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). It was Jesus' deity that made possible His sinlessness. It was His humanity that made Him an appropriate sacrifice. It was His death that paid for our sins. It was His resurrection that proved He was who He claimed to be: the sole source of eternal life. Now that is something worth proclaiming.

Our Precious Cornerstone.

Isaiah 27-28, 1 John 5

…therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’”  Isaiah 28:16 ESV

God's dealings with His people in the Old Testament can sometimes be seen as somewhat strange and difficult to understand. Even Isaiah acknowledged that God's activities could be viewed as a bit odd. “For the Lord will rise up … to do his deed – strange is his deed! and to work his work – alien is his work! (Isaiah 28:21 ESV). There were times when God poured out His blessings on His people. There were other times when God was forced to bring judgment and extreme punishment. But God always had a reason for whatever He did. There was a method to His seeming madness. God's discipline was purposeful. When He brought destruction, it was always so that He might eventually bring restoration. The people of Israel and Judah were guilty of turning their backs on God. Rather than depend on Him for their hope and help, they had made treaties and alliances with foreign nations. When God raised up the Assyrians to come against the northern kingdom of Israel, rather than turning to God in repentance and dependence, they turned to Egypt. They made a “covenant with death” (Isaiah 28:15) marked by lies and deception. But God would annul their covenant with death by bringing the Assyrians against them. Egypt would prove useless as an ally and powerless as a help against the Assyrians. The people of Israel had convinced themselves that they could avoid the coming calamity by working out a deal with Egypt. “…when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter” (Isaiah 28:15 ESV). But they would learn the hard way that there was only one secure source for salvation. God was going to show them that their faith was best placed in Him and in no one or nothing else.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In the middle of chapter 28, God gives Isaiah a glimpse of God's future blessing. “…therefore thus says the Lord God, ’Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: “Whoever believes will not be in haste”‘” (Isaiah 28:16 ESV). Years later, Jesus would speak similar words in reference to Himself. “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42 ESV). Jesus would go on to tell the people of Israel in His day that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:42 ESV). Because the Jews would eventually reject Jesus as their Messiah and have Him crucified for claiming to be the Son of God, the Gospel would be made available to the Gentiles. God would fulfill His promise to Abraham and use one of his descendants (Jesus) to bless all the nations of the earth. In the book of Acts, we have recorded the words of Peter as he spoke to the Jews immediately after the miraculous events of Pentecost. “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12 ESV). Paul would also write concerning the Jews, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 9:32-33 ESV). Peter would later revisit this topic, telling His Gentile readers, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (1 Peter 2:4-6 ESV). As strange as it may seem, God used the rejection of His Son by His own people as the means by which the Good News would be made available to the nations of the world.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have a difficult time understanding God's ways. And when God's ways don't make sense to us, we tend to come up with our plan. We develop our own strategy for survival. The people of Israel turned to Egypt. Abraham and Sarah turned to Hagar. King Saul turned to the witch of Endor. Jacob turned to trickery and deception. Over and over again in Scripture, we see the people of God turning to someone or something else other than God – all because they could not understand what God was doing or because they didn't like the way His plan was turning out. But God's ways are not our ways. His plans do not make sense to us. The Jews of Jesus' day could not understand how their long-awaited Messiah could show up in the form of a common peasant who had no army, no weapons, and no hope of ever defeating the Romans or any other enemy of Israel. Jesus didn't fit the bill. He didn't look like a Messiah. He didn't talk like a Messiah. He didn't act like a Messiah. So they rejected Him. But God had a plan in mind. He had a purpose for their stubborn rejection of the very one who would prove to be the precious cornerstone, a sure foundation, and their future hope of salvation and security. .

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In his gospel, John wrote of Jesus, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12 ESV). Because the Jews rejected Jesus, I was given the opportunity to hear the Good News and become a child of God. What a strange, alien plan. But what a wonderful, fantastic and amazing plan. It is because of what accomplished through Christ that we can have a right relationship with God the Father. John wrote in his first letter, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). And the amazing thing is that God is not done with the people of Israel yet. He is not finished fulfilling all His plans for them. There is a day coming when God will restore His people to favor. He will rescue a remnant of His people and restore them back in the land and place His Son as their King. “In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people, and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate” (Isaiah 28:5-6 ESV). Jesus Christ, the very one whom they rejected, will become their Savior and Lord. He will rule as their King sitting on the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. As strange as it may seem, God will use the rejected One to be their redeemer and righteous ruler. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcome the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God!” (1 John 5:5 ESV).

Father, I am so grateful that Your ways are not our ways. I am so glad that Your plan doesn't have to make sense to me in order for it to be right and true. I don't have to understand it to benefit from it. I just need to trust You. Your Son is the solution to all of mankind's problems. He is one to whom all men must turn to receive hope, help and healing. Amen

To the Ends of the Earth.

Romans 15:23-33

Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:30 NLT

Over in the book of Acts, Luke records for us the words of Jesus, spoken to the disciples after His resurrection and just prior to His ascension back into heaven. He was giving them His marching orders. He told them, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NLT). This statement had to have amazed the disciples on a number of levels. First of all, He was leaving. They were going to be on their own for the very first time since they had begun following Jesus. That thought had to be intimidating to them. Secondly, He was telling them that they were going to spread the Good News all over the world. These were men who were unlearned and who had not traveled beyond the region of Palestine. Now they were being told to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But they did. And one of the men who played a significant role in accomplishing Christ's commission was the apostle Paul. While he was not present when Jesus spoke the words quoted above, Paul clearly knew about them and took the seriously. He spent his entire adult life, post-conversion, doing just what Jesus had commanded. As a result, people all throughout the areas of the world we now know as Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Italy heard the Good News about Jesus Christ. Paul traveled thousands of mile, under less-than-ideal conditions, in order to make Christ known to the Gentiles. He faced difficulties, setbacks, and opposition of all kinds. He even went through the life-threatening experience of a shipwreck. Paul was relentlessly obedient to the command of Christ.

And he longed to visit the believers in faraway Rome. But not before he made a trip to Spain. Think about the significance of what Paul was planning. Travel in his day was not easy or comfortable. It wasn't inexpensive either. And Paul's travel plans were not driven by wanderlust, but a deep desire to see people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He wanted people of all nations to hear the Good News and experience the same life-changing transformation he had gone through on the road to Damascus all those years ago. Paul was driven by a love for the lost. He wanted more and more people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. He knew that the only hope for the world was Jesus. And he knew that the only way they were going to hear about Him was if someone was willing to tell them. Paul expressed this very sentiment earlier in his letter to the Romans. "But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?" (Romans 10:14 NLT). So Paul went and Paul told. And he asked the believers in Rome to pray for him. He knew that not everyone was free or able to do what he did. Not everyone could spend their lives traveling around the world spreading the Gospel. But they could join in his efforts through prayer. They could give financially to help fund his travels. Paul viewed what he did as a family affair. They were in it together. He had his part to play and they had theirs. And the same it true today. There are those who have been called to full-time ministry, spreading the Gospel to the nations. But all of us have been commissioned by Christ to take the Good News to the ends of the earth, and it begins in our own neighborhood. We are all missionaries, messengers of Good News to the nations. Some of us can go. Many of us can give. All of us can pray. And we need to do so until Jesus returns. Like Paul, we need to learn that it is not enough to be content to hear the Good News and to benefit from it. We must spread the Good News so that others might come to experience the same joy, forgiveness, freedom, and hope that we have. "How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15 NLT).

Father, we have a job to do. We have a message to share. We have a commission to keep. Give us a focus like Paul had. Don't let us ever think that the spread of the Gospel is someone else's job. Never let us buy into the lie that we are somehow exempt from keeping the Great Commission. Constantly remind us of the importance of going, telling, giving and praying. May we learn to sacrifice our own agenda for Yours. May we give up our conveniences and comforts for the sake of those who are lost and dying. There are still so many who have not heard the Good News regarding Your Son. Give us the desire and determination of Paul in this generation. Amen.

News Worth Appreciating and Sharing.

Romans 10:1-15

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? – Romans 10:14 NLT

For nine chapters, Paul has made a big deal out of the Good News. He has been the undeserving recipient of it. He lives day by day in the power made available through it. He has spent his life telling others about it. He even longs for his own nation, the people of Israel, to discover the joy and freedom of salvation through Christ, rather than through their continued efforts at trying to keep the law of Moses. But in spite of his efforts to share the Good News with the Jewish people, they didn't respond favorably. He wrote, "they don't understand God's way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God's way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law" (Romans 10:3 NLT). But their refusal to accept the Good News never stopped Paul from sharing it. Why? Because he knew from first-hand experience the freedom, joy, peace, contentment, and hope it could bring. So he preached the message of faith relentlessly, tirelessly, and obsessively. He wanted anyone and everyone to know that "it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved" (Romans 10:10 NLT). He told anyone who would listen, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13 NLT). He didn't worry about whether they were going to respond positively or negatively. He saw his job as that of sharing and proclaiming. It was God's job to save.

Paul saw his role as a messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as vital and non-negotiable. He had been shown grace and mercy from God. He had been given a second chance. And he wanted to extend that same offer of redemption and reconciliation with God to every person with whom he came into contact – whether that person was a Jew or a Gentile, rich or poor, slave or free, influential or inconsequential. Paul believed what Isaiah 52:7 said: "How beautiful are the feet of the messengers who bring good news!" He realized that he had a responsibility to tell others what had happened to him and for him. The Good News has to be proclaimed. The message of salvation needs to be shared. Paul's logic is impeccable and impenetrable. "But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent" (Romans 10:14-15 NLT). Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had been sent. Not long after his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, he had received a God-appointed visit from Ananias, who told him, "The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard" (Acts 22:14-15 NLT). Not long after that, Jesus Himself told Paul, "Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21 NLT). And Paul took his commission seriously. He went to the Gentiles. He told everyone what he had seen and heard. He gave his testimony of life change. He shared how men could be made right with God. He witnessed to the life-transformative power of God made available through the death of Jesus Christ. And many believed. Many called on the name of the Lord and were saved. Many confessed with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and believed in their hearts that God had raised him from the dead, and they were saved.

But Paul wasn't the first and last messenger. He wasn't the only one to receive a commission. Jesus had told the disciples, just prior to His ascension, "And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NLT). Matthew records these well-known words from Jesus that have stood as the commission and calling for every Christ-follower since the earliest days of the church until now. "Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20. We have news to share. We have a commission to accomplish. We have Good News to announce to the nations. But could the reason many of us fail to share be because we fail to truly appreciate what we have received? Does the Good News mean as much to us as it did to Paul? Are we blown away by the grace and mercy of God and can't help but tell others what He has done for us – in spite of us? Paul was a transformed man. He was truly free. He had lived much of his life trying to make himself right with God, but had been released from the dead-end pursuit by the unmerited, unearned favor of God. He couldn't help but tell others what God had done for him. "I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn't preach the Good News!" (1Corinthians 9:16b NLT). What about you? Are you compelled by God to share the Good News? Would you ever consider it "terrible" should you NOT be able to share? Paul was driven by a passion to see people escape condemnation and death, not just go to heaven. He was motivated by a strong desire to see people released from captivity to sin and self-righteousness. His own salvation became the his greatest motivation for telling others about Jesus. His gratitude to God flowed out in his attitude of compassion for others.

Father, may my awareness of the magnitude of Your gracious gift motivate me to share what I have received with others. Give me a growing passion for proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone I meet. My job is not to save anyone, but to share with everyone. Thank You that someone told me. Now may I be a willing witness to others. Amen.

Law Versus Grace.

Romans 5:12-21

God's law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful grace became more abundant. – Romans 5:20 NLT

Over and over again in his letter, Paul has made it painfully clear that the Law of Moses can't save anybody. "So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law" (Romans 3:28 NLT). But that fact does not diminish the importance of the law or in any way provide us with an excuse to ignore it. "Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law" (Romans 3:31 NLT). But all of this raises the question, "What is the purpose of the law?" It makes us reconsider God's reasoning for giving the law in the first place. After all, if God knew that man could never live up to the standards of the law, why did He give it to us in the first place? Paul answers this important question in verse 20: "God's law was given to that all people could see how sinful they were."

Michael Horton, in his book, The Law & The Gospel, puts it this way: "The Law leads us to Christ in the Gospel by condemning us and causing us to despair of our own 'righteousness.'" The law can't save us, it can only convict us. The law gives us the requirements, but without any assistance to meet them. The law gives us the expectations of God, but without any ability to fulfill them. But that was never its purpose. "The law comes, not to reform the sinner nor to show him or her the "narrow way" to life, but to crush the sinner's hopes of escaping God's wrath through personal effort or even cooperation. All of our righteousness must come from someone else – someone who has fulfilled the law's demands. Only after we have been stripped of our 'filthy rags' of righteousness (Isa. 64:6) – our fig leaves through which we try in vain to hide our guilt and shame – can we be clothed with Christ's righteousness. First comes the law to proclaim judgment and death, then the gospel to proclaim justification and life. (Modern Reformation, Good News: The Gospel for Christians, May/June 2003).

When Adam (and Eve) sinned, sin entered the world. It took up residence in the lives of Adam and Eve's descendants, resulting in generations of men and women who inherited not only their propensity for sin, but the guilt and condemnation that accompanies it. The law was given to reveal just how sinful we really are. Later on in this letter, Paul gives a personal testimony regarding the law and its role in his own life: "…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet” (Romans 7:7 NLT). Like a speed limit sign on the side of the road, the law simply revealed man's transgression of God's righteous standard. Paul goes on to say, "But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died." (Romans 7:8-10 NLT). The law simply shows us our sin. It reveals to us our unrighteousness. It is God's holy standard made clear – in black and white. No excuses allowed. I love the way Martin Luther said it. "The Law is a mirror to show a person what he is like, a sinner who is guilty of death, and worthy of everlasting punishment. What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead the way to grace.…The fatuous idea that a person can be holy by himself denies God the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore first take the sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness and its brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with its message of a Savior…." (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians).

Rather than living under the exacting standards and condemnation of the law, we live within the wonderful grace of God. We have received the righteousness of Christ and the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That does not mean the law has become null and void though. Jesus did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. And Paul gives us ample exhortations that we are to live lives that are in keeping with God's standard of righteousness. "And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward to the hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed" (Titus 2:11-13 NLT). "For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time – to show us his grace through Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 1:9 NLT). Those who walk in the Spirit don't break the law, but fulfill it. They have a power and capacity to do what they could never have done before. We can live holy lives, not out of our own self-effort, but according to the power of the Spirit who lives within us. Paul paints the vivid difference between trying to live according to the law in the flesh, and fulfilling the law in the power of the Spirit. "But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" (Galatians 5:18-23).

Father, I am so grateful that I do not have to keep the law to maintain a right standing with You. But I am also grateful that Your law is a constant reminder of just how holy You are and just how unholy I can be without You. May Your divine, holy, righteous law constantly remind me of my need for Christ. May it make me ever more dependent upon the Holy Spirit's power and not my own. Thank You for providing me with the righteousness of Christ and the life-transforming power of the Spirit in my life. I have the capacity to live a life worthy of the Gospel and as a citizen of heaven. Amen.

God Substitutes.

Romans 1:18-32

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. – Romans 1:25 NLT

While Paul relished the the Good News that man could be made right with God through a relationship with Jesus Christ, he was also painfully aware of the bad news surrounding the state of mankind. The next section of his letter paints a very bleak picture of just how bad things had become in the world. God was angry with men, and justifiably so. They had long ago abandoned any idea of acknowledging His presence or obeying His commands. Ever since Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, rejecting God's authority over their lives, man's moral descent had been a rapid one. While the very nature and attributes of God could be seen all around them, most explicitly through His creation, they refused to acknowledge Him as God. Instead, relying on their limited intellects and sin-infected reasoning capacities, they began to develop their own concept of God. Rather than worship the One who created all that they could see, they began to worship those things He had created. They missed the point. They lost their focus. They became distracted by the temporal, rather than see the eternal. Over time, their minds became darkened and confused. Their sinful pride and arrogance led them to believe they were wise, while in reality, they were nothing but misguided fools.

"So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired" (Romans 1:24 NLT). He handed them over. He took His hand off the wheel, so to speak, and allowed them to do what they wanted to do. This is one of the saddest statements in Scripture. It is also one of the scariest. Man, left to his own, evil devices, is a disaster waiting to happen. Without God's restraining hand in place, man will self-destruct, which is exactly what happened. Devoid of God's moral boundaries in place, mankind quickly steered off course. Their behavior degraded quickly, as they exchanged the truth about God for a lie. They worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. They saw more value in themselves than in the One who had made them. With no moral compass to guide them, their sins became increasingly more bold and base, while their behavior became increasingly more man-centered rather than God-centered. "Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done" (Romans 1:28 NLT).

Things had gotten bad. "Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip" (Romans 1:29 NLT). The state of affairs could not have been any worse. But this bleak and foreboding picture is exactly what Paul wants his readers to wrestle with. He wants them to understand just how bad things had become and just how dire the circumstances were when God determined to step back in and fix the problem. When God had turned mankind over to seek their own selfish, sinful desires, He had not done so permanently. He had not abandoned them forever. He had a plan in place and was only waiting for just the right moment to introduce His solution to man's problem. While God had every right to mete out punishment on mankind for their sin and open rebellion against Him, He chose to show mercy and grace. Mankind stood as guilty and without excuse for their rejection of God, and He would have been just and right to punish them for their actions. The world had become God-less and unrighteous. Yet God would solve their unrighteousness by introducing a righteousness of His own. He would reinsert Himself into the scenario once again – this time in the form of the Son of God in human flesh. Righteousness would invade unrighteousness. The true God would reveal Himself in the midst of rampant godlessness. That is the Good News that Paul will talk about throughout the rest of this letter. "This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, 'It is through faith that a righteous person has life'" (Romans 1:17 NLT). In the midst of man's hopelessness, helplessness, sinfulness, and godlessness, God intervened and provided a gracious, merciful solution that should leave everyone of us blown away and eternally grateful.

Father, even as bad as things had become, You never truly abandoned us. You allowed us to follow our own sinful inclination and proved to us just how desperately we need You. Without You, we are doomed to destruction. We will self-destruct. We will destroy ourselves and all that You have made. And yet, You had a solution and You introduced that solution at the peak of our sinfulness – in spite of our sinfulness. While we were yet sinners, You sent Your Son to die for us. That is amazing. It is mind-boggling. And it is truly Good News! Amen.