Thursday, May 26, 2016

Jesus Delivers from Wrath – 1 Thessalonians 1:10

And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (NIV®)

Waiting for Jesus

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel … He said … “He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:25, 32 NLT)

Why does anyone wait for Jesus? The Jews were waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. Before Jacob died, he said he was waiting for his salvation (Gen 49:18). This longing for salvation started when God promised Eve that the Savior would crush Satan’s head. As generations passed, this promise continued to be passed along. It wasn’t just for the Jewish nation, but for all mankind. This was recognized by Job, who was not Jewish. Job longed to see his Redeemer and had confidence that even though he would die, he would someday see Him face to face (Job 19:25-27), though he did not know it would be Jesus. 

The prevailing thought when Jesus was born was that the Messiah would come and reign as king over Israel. The apocryphal writings, which originated between the last book of the Old Testament and the Gospels, were inspired by Daniel’s visions and interpretations. The Son of Man was presented with an eternal kingdom in Daniel 7:13-14. The Messiah was predicted to arrive in Jerusalem sixty-two “weeks” after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem after its destruction by Babylon (Dan 9:25). Calculating the date based on the Jewish calendar and one “week” being seven years, the exact date is when Jesus arrived on Palm Sunday. That is why the stones would have cried out had the people not welcomed Jesus (Luke 19:40). 

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isa 53:5 NIV®)

However, they all missed Daniel 9:26 which says, “And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one [Messiah[1]] shall be cut off [killed]” (RSV). They couldn’t reconcile Daniel’s earlier vision of an eternal kingdom with the Messiah being killed. Now we know that Jesus was crucified for our sins and His first coming was to redeem all of mankind from our sins as Isaiah 53 makes sense in the light of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. He is now ascended into heaven and we are again waiting for His return.
Are we waiting for Jesus with the wrong expectations? We know He is coming back again, but why are we looking forward to that? We don’t want to misunderstand what His second coming will be. The only reason we should eagerly look forward to His return is if we have already welcomed Him personally into our lives as Lord and Savior.

Who’s Son?

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:20 NASB)

Paul says we are waiting for God’s Son (1 Thess 1:10) and some people think that God’s Son could be many things but deny that Jesus is God. Sometimes when we concentrate too much on Jesus being our Savior, we forget that God is our Savior both in the New Testament (Titus 1:3) and the Old (Isa 45:15). He says of Himself in Isaiah 45:21, “And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior” (ESV). Surely, when Paul says that Jesus is Savior and God’s Son, there can be no doubt that he is talking about the Second Person of the Trinity. If there is any doubt about Paul’s believe in the triune nature of God, he also gives Jesus the title of Lord and Christ. (We must not forget that Christ is a title and not Jesus’ familial name.) 

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21 NIV®)

Yet, we cannot forget that Jesus was also born of a human parent. He didn’t just drop out of the sky fully-grown and ready to lead His disciples for three years then go to the cross. There are several reasons for this and the simplest is that prophecy had to be fulfilled. If Satan could point to any prophecy in Scripture that is not fulfilled when the end of all things come, he could prove that God has a flaw and has no right to judge anyone. So, when the Bible says that the Messiah must be of the line of David (1 Chron 17:11-14), as was well know by Jesus’ enemies (Matt 22:42-45), Jesus the Messiah could not have come other than as a baby from the line of David. 

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. (Rom 5:15 NASU)

The more complex reason that Jesus had to be born as a baby has to do with the fact that He had to be fully human and at the same time be fully God. If He dropped out of the sky, He would not have been fully human. He would not have the DNA of His mother. He would have looked like a man but everyone would know that He wasn’t really a human. Being God, Jesus was without sin (Heb 4:15) so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for sin. Yet, He also had to be a man; otherwise, the sacrifice would not apply for all mankind. Adam got the human race into the sin-mess in the first place, “through one man sin entered the world” (Rom 5:12 NKJV). So the only way to get out of the sin-mess was to have another man, Jesus, pay the penalty for sin, “through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom 5:18 NKJV). As a valid representative of the human race, Jesus’ sacrifice applies to all of us. If He had not come as a baby, He would not be a valid representative for all of us. 

Raised from the Dead

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor 15:17 RSV)

The Christian faith lives or dies on the resurrection of Jesus. If He was not raised from the dead, then we have absolutely no reason to adhere to the faith. The Christian faith would be a sham (1 Cor 15:14) and worse than other religions because it would be giving false hope to people. Satan knows this full well and tried from the first day of Jesus’ resurrection to keep people from believing it. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and so he worked through the officials to bribe the guards of the tomb to lie and say that the disciples stole the body while they slept (Matt 28:12-15). Satan didn’t way us to know that His resurrection is our proof that our sins have been forgiven.

For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31 NLT)

His resurrection is also proof that He is coming back again and this time, it will be to judge the world. We don’t usually think about His resurrection in this light, but there on Mar’s hill, the Areopagus, Paul announced to the pagans that Jesus’ resurrection was proof that Jesus would judge the world. It should have struck fear into the hearts of everyone listening, but it didn’t. That’s when some scoffed because resurrection of the dead was not scientific (that’s what they say today). Others wanted to hear more and some believed. Unfortunately, for our generation, most scoff at the idea that anyone could be raised from the dead, walk on water, or turn water into wine. What they don’t realize is that the resurrection is more than just a sign for us to believe in Jesus, it gives Him the right to judge those who scoff or put off belief until it is too late.

Wrath to Come

Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom 2:4-5 RSV)

What a contrast there is between God’s kindness and patience and His wrath. His kindness has continued for thousands of years. Sure, there have been times in the past where His judgment has been unleashed upon the earth (the flood), on nations (Israel, Judah, Babylon), or cities (Jericho, Nineveh, Sodom, Gomorrah), and individuals (Adam, Eve, Nebuchadnezzar, disobedient prophets, Ananias, Sapphira, Herod). As I thought through the various judgments God has brought, it was evident that these judgments don’t spare anyone. Whether it is the world or individuals, we all have the potential to store up wrath against ourselves and everything that has happened in the past is nothing like the wrath that will be revealed “on the day of wrath” (Rom 2:5). 

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:9 NASB)

The good news is that Christians will not suffer God’s wrath on the Day of Judgment because our destination is salvation. We escape first because Jesus’ blood was shed for us obtaining our salvation (1 Thess 5:9), but also because we have not had the impenitent hearts mentioned in Romans 2:5. But our salvation does not mean that the rest of the world will escape His wrath. Much of the book of Revelation describes God’s wrath being poured out on individuals, cities, nations, and finally on the whole earth. God will finish pouring out His wrath on the earth with seven plagues (Rev 15:1). 

The difference between God’s patience is that He has waited for millennia while His wrath comes suddenly and for a very short period of time. His patience and kindness provide all of us the opportunity we need to turn to Jesus for salvation but His wrath is when justice demands that His kindness must result in judgment. 

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. (Rev 19:11 ESV)

Paul says Jesus will deliver us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10), but it is this same Jesus who will bring the wrath of God as, “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Rev 19:15 ESV). We are living in a time when this aspect of Jesus’ return is hardly ever mentioned. We are so intent in explaining that Jesus is loving and forgiving that we fail to warn people of the consequences of rejecting His means of salvation. While we are unquestionably instructed to live godly lives and to show God’s goodness to others, we shouldn’t shy away from letting people know that God’s wrath is coming also. We aren’t the judges but He is the Judge. 

Just as many people misunderstood Jesus’ purpose in coming the first time, they misunderstand His second coming. They misunderstand who He is, God’s Son, God in the flesh, Savior, and also Judge. We can’t think that Jesus will save those who want a Savior, but reject Him as part of the Trinity and therefore Lord as well. We won’t have salvation based on easy-believism that redefines sin instead of repenting from sin as God describes it in the Bible. These and other things reveal that we don’t really know Jesus who will say, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23 ESV). 

If you are able to read this and have not acknowledged Jesus as God, Savior, and Lord, if you have not repented of your sins and demonstrated that faith and repentance in obedience to Jesus, then you can do that now and know that you will be saved from the wrath to come. It isn’t too late.


[1] The Hebrew word for anointed one, mashiyach, is transliterated as Messiah.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Turn from Idols to God – 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9



The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia — your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. (NIV)

The Lord’s Message

The Lord has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God. (Isa 52:10 NASU)

I missed the first three words of Paul’s statement about the Thessalonians’ faith until I looked at Isaiah 52:10. The Lord is the focus of both of these passages. Our message is worth nothing and will be ineffective unless it is the Lord’s message. We must focus on the fact that it is His message and not our own. After all, His message is in the Bible. We can’t add to it or subtract from it without getting in trouble with Him (Prov 30:6).
If the Lord’s strong arm is not behind the message, it will be ineffective. The message rang out from Thessalonica because it was God’s doing. He enabled them first of all to believe. Jesus saved them through His blood, shed on the cross. His resurrection furnished proof that their sins would be forgiven when they turned to Jesus in faith. God did all of this when they turned to Jesus for their salvation and their lives were transformed in such a dramatic way that the Lord’s message rang out to their neighboring districts and everywhere else also. Here we are almost two thousand years later, about half way around the globe and their faith in Jesus, “the salvation of our God” (Isa 52:10) is still resounding to the ends of the earth.

No Need to Speak

And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15 NKJV)

Since Jesus commanded us to preach the Gospel to the whole world, why would anyone think that he doesn’t need to tell others about his faith? Paul certainly preached to everyone about his faith. However, I can see him going to another city and part of his testimony is to give examples of other who have received salvation through Jesus. He starts to mention the Thessalonians and someone stops him saying they already know about them because travelers have already told us about them. Wouldn’t that be something if it happened to us? I can’t say that has happened to me. I’ve shared the Gospel with many people and some have put away their past lives just as the Thessalonians did. But I have yet to meet anyone who has said they heard about the transformed life of one of these people. It doesn’t mean that they are not telling others but it does make me stop and realize that follow up and discipleship is part of the process of evangelism.  

You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. (2 Tim 2:2 NLT)

If we do not make disciples who are going to teach others, then Christianity will disappear within one generation. While I’m sure that the Lord would never let that happen (Matt 16:18), because His Word will never disappear (Matt 5:18), it is still something to think about. He has entrusted His Word to us so we can spread it to the world. We need to speak and act in such a way that others will know why we have turned from idols to serve the living and true God. When there are no more Christians left on earth or we are so persecuted that we are unable to spread the Word, God will use other means such as the angel in Revelation 14:6, “Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (RSV). But that time has not yet come. We still have open doors all over the world, whether in person, radio, television, or internet. So let us speak out.

Turned from Idols

We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. (1 Cor 8:4 NASB)

We often read the Gospels and relate to the way Jesus came to Israel confronting the Pharisees and other religious people who thought they knew God but were lost. Yet this is only part of the story. The Thessalonians may have never heard about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, or any others of the Hebrew legacy. They may have known about Jews living in their city, people who worshiped only one God. Just like today, they probably knew very little about Judaism because they were wrapped up in their own gods. They probably thought the Jews were very strange because they worshiped a God who could not be seen. They didn’t have an image or idol representing Yahweh. Everyone else had and idol and they bowed down before them offering sacrifices of various kinds. 

For many years, when we witnessed to neighbors, they were people who had a religious background. Our culture in the U.S. was saturated with Christianity. You can still see it some places. “In God we trust” is on our currency. LAUS DEO is inscribed on the top of the Washington Memorial. Moses, with two tablets in his arms, is the largest and center figure on the eastern pediment of the Supreme Court building. Hermon A. McNeil, the sculptor of the eastern pediment did not put Moses there because of his religious influence but because he was a lawgiver. None the less, when we see a statue of a robed, bearded man holding two stone tablets, we used to recognize him as Moses and know the bigger story with the moral implications that has influenced this country. The doors of the Supreme Court courtroom have I – V and VI – X engraved on them, an obvious reference to the Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately, we now have a generation in this country that doesn’t recognize the symbols. Many have never heard of Jesus or Moses; and I’m not talking about immigrants from other cultures. I’m talking about a generation that can trace their ancestors within the U.S. for a hundred or more years. They are people who have been raised in schools where they cannot mention God. They are like the Thessalonians before Paul arrived. They are pagans. The very definition of pagan is changing. According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:
1:  heathen 1; especially :  a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
2:  one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods :  an irreligious or hedonistic person
3:  neo-pagan [a person who practices a contemporary form of paganism (as Wicca)]

Compare that definition with the Encarta Dictionary: English (North America) that pops up when looking up words in Microsoft Word:
1. an offensive term that deliberately insults somebody who does not acknowledge the God of the Bible, Torah, or Koran. [There is no other points in the definition.]

According to the description of Encarta on Amazon.com, it supposedly defines words in the way they are currently being used. If this is so, the definition of pagan is a subtle shift toward viewing monotheism as intolerant. We are increasingly living in a pagan culture where reminders of Christianity are under attack.

And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away. (Isa 2:17-18 ESV)

Fortunately, we know that this shift towards paganism will not last forever. While paganism is linked to idols, Isaiah 2:17 reveals that man’s pride is the reason they worship idols. Sure, Satan is also behind idol worship (1 Cor 10:20), but he uses man’s pride and arrogance against the living God otherwise he would fail. 

Living God

His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. (Dan 4:3 NIV)

The only cure for idol worship, whether it is the neo-pagans of today, pagans of ancient Rome, or the irreligious who seek pleasure is to turn to the living God. Isaiah says that the Lord will be the only one worshiped in a future day (Isa 2:17). God is the only one who endures. He isn’t a dead god but He is the same today as when he created the universe and even before time began (Heb 13:8). Why would anyone ever want to serve other gods, whether they are the creation of man, Satan, or our own desires? Doesn’t it make sense to turn from all these things to serve the one that has always been alive and will be in the future? There is nothing that will ever happen to change that. The best part is that serving the Living God is not a burden, but a joy with peace (Matt 11:28-30).

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:17 NASU)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Imitate Jesus – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7



And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedo'nia and in Acha'ia. (RSV)

Imitators

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1 NASB)

It is very natural for people to imitate others. I’ve found myself picking up habits from other people, whether it is a mannerism or the way I talk. Sometimes, I’m very surprised when I notice it, especially when the person I picked it up from is not necessarily a person I admire. If I do this, then I’m fairly confident other do the same. While these mannerisms are usually amoral, I have to be careful that I don’t pick up a sinful habit from someone and even worse, not notice it. 

We have all been warned about putting religious leaders on a pedestal because they are likely to fall and bring us down along with them. When Paul says that the Thessalonians became imitators of him and his companions, he wasn’t suggesting that they had put them on a pedestal. Look at what he told the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:1). What they were imitating in Paul was what he imitated in Christ. We can safely imitate Christ. When people’s lives look Christ-like, we can safely imitate them. 

If you don’t know what a Christ-like life looks like, then you should read the Gospels. A good idea would be to focus on the Sermon on the Mount and see how Jesus lived it. A key in imitating Jesus would be “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). Rather than being servants, some like to justify their anger by pointing to Jesus’ confrontations with people. Before we excuse our un-Christ-like behavior based on some of Christ’s confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes (Matt 23:13-38) or when He cleansed the temple (John 2:15-17), we need to understand who Jesus is and the sin he confronted. James clarified it for us regarding anger, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (James 1:20 ESV). 

Much Affliction

I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. (Ps 119:75-76 NIV®)

In my previous blog, I talked about the affliction that comes because the Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers and they react against us because we are the messengers. We live in a sinful world and when we try to live godly lives, we certainly face affliction (2 Tim 3:12). However, affliction doesn’t always come for this reason. Sometimes, when the Word of God comes to us we have to make decisions about our lifestyle, work, hobbies, friends, or attitudes. It isn’t easy to change some of these things. Change often brings afflictions such as loss of income. In some cultures, it may result in threat of death resulting in banishment. Sometimes it results in spousal abandonment. These and many more, sometimes subtle, and sometimes blatant, are not uncommon. 

Some of these afflictions are allowed or caused by God for purification to draw us closer to Himself. Look at the way David responded to affliction in his life (Ps 119:75-76). He saw it as God’s faithfulness. How many times have we had a problem and saw it as God being faithful to us? I’m not talking about an accident that destroyed your car but you walked away from it without injury. While we can be thankful for that, I’m talking about still recognizing that God is faithful even when lying in the hospital bed because the accident brought severe injuries and maybe even death of a loved one. Is it possible for us to say with David that it is a result of God’s faithfulness? Some can and some can’t. David didn’t necessarily feel good about his affliction, but he asked for God’s unfailing love to comfort him during the affliction. 

Think about the man born blind in John 9. Did he consider his affliction of many years as a show of God’s faithfulness? His affliction had a purpose, “so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 NASU). Like this man, we may not see the purpose behind the affliction until years or even a lifetime later. If we learn to trust the Lord then we can be an imitator of David knowing that our affliction is a demonstration of God’s faithfulness.

With Joy

For you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. (Heb 10:34 NKJV)

As often as we talk about wanting to see Jesus when we get to heaven, and I’m sure that should be our primary motivation, Jesus often talked about looking forward to other rewards in heaven as well (Matt 6:19-21). Whoever the author of Hebrews was, it is evident from 10:34 that those who assisted him did so at great risk to their own property and possibly their lives. Yet they did it with joy. When we start talking about imitating people, do we include those who have given up treasures on earth to further the Gospel or help others in need? If we are not confident of our rewards in eternity far outweighing our light and momentary troubles (2 Cor 4:16-18), we won’t have joy when we lose what we have on earth. Not only that, because we have held on to the things of this world so strongly, our joy in heaven will not be nearly what it could have been had we been less concerned with our material possessions (1 Cor 3:15). 

Examples

Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. (1 Tim 4:12 NLT)

When imitating other in good ways, we will become examples for others. That is exactly what happened with the Thessalonians. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he was writing to a young man. It was certain that in his culture, younger people had less of a say and impact on other than did the older citizens. But he emphasize that the way he lived would set an example for others. That example had five point of influence that others will notice. 

Our first impression of others is in what they say and how they say it. What comes out of our mouths is what is stored up in our hearts (Matt 15:18). If we speak encouraging word, words with grace, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6), then our example will be godly because our hearts are in the right place. If we speak with bitterness or vulgarities, the first impression will turn away people. It will be easy for them to recognize that our hearts have a problem. 

The second example is how we live. Many people live lives that appear to be very godly on the outside. They make all the outward right choices. They are strict disciplinarians and hold their outward behavior in conformance to the standards they espouse.  This is the essence of the Pharisees’ lives described in Matthew 23. Their problem was that the third and fourth example of love and faith were missing. However, we should still make sure that our lives are not filled with “immorality or any impurity or greed … filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting,” things that should not be named among Christians (Eph 5:3-4 NASB). 

While we may live exemplary moral lives, we can do it without really loving others. Jesus pointed this out in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus pointed to a priest and a Levite who both refused to help the beaten man, most likely because it would have caused problems with their ritual purity. The story was told to a scribe who knew the two greatest laws, to love God and neighbor (Matt 22:36-40). Even though this scribe knew what was right, his heart was not in the right place because, “desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29 RSV). Our example of moral living must also be accompanied by love for others.

The fourth example we need to provide is a life of faith. What good does it do us or others who are watching us, if we speak well, keep our noses clean, show love and compassion for other, but we don’t have true faith in God? I said the Pharisees were lacking in faith. They rejected Jesus as the Son of God. People who have religion but do not place their faith in Jesus are simply lost. Jesus made it clear, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23 ESV). Our faith must be firmly rooted in the deity of Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection. It must be personal as well (Matt 7:23). We can’t just know about Jesus, we must know Him. Otherwise, we will simply be good people who are going to hell. We can’t be good examples if people don’t know about our faith in Jesus.
Paul singled out purity as an example. The Greek word for purity is hagneia and relates not just to cleanliness but “(specially) chastity.”[1] I thought purity was sufficiently covered under the way we live. Then I realized that people can claim to have all the previous quality and still live impure lives. Today’s culture demonstrates this all too well. Whether it is the massive use of pornography among Christians, couple living together, or whole churches that teach the virtues of homosexuality, sexual purity is an example that is much needed.

The Thessalonians were such good examples to the people around them that believers in neighboring districts to the north and to the south took note of them. I pray that our churches would imitate Jesus and be examples in the same way.


[1] Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, s.v. “NT: 47”, (Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc. 2006).