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            We in the Church would not encourage Christians to take on a yoke as the Jewish leaders did, would we? Is it possible that we have offered a yoke based on law and tradition that is wearying and burdensome, one that would encourage us to think that, by adherence to some listed principles, we will be able to “have this Christian thing down”? We must be careful. We can, with one simple step, move from our ultimate goal of knowing Him to imposing requirements to know Him, activities which make good sense to our human understanding. Some of what we expect as necessities to grow in our knowledge of God are founded in good and essential biblical truth. However, can you determine which is which from these typical admonitions? Since I am familiar only with evangelicalism, here is a short list: Read your Bible daily. Pray daily. Journal daily. Go to church on weekends. Go to a small group meeting during the week. Be under an organization’s authority. Be personally accountable to someone. Tithe. Give above your tithe. Get involved at church in at least one service. This may be an outdated list. I understand that galaxy of requirements now includes learning how to breathe and how to listen. (How to breathe is nowhere taught in Scripture. In addition, for those who think they must learn how to listen, let me encourage you both from Scripture and personal experience. When God speaks, you will hear Him, regardless of your ability to “position yourself” to hear.) Whether one is able to discover that these admonitions are specifically addressed in Scripture or not, any or all of them can be used to impose a wearying burden. Our elders are not to do this. They are to encourage and admonish us to keep under Jesus’ yoke, not impose a yoke of any other kind.

            The way to know our humble-in-heart God is not found in the power of our human wisdom and intelligence. The final result of that endeavor is pride and religious legalism. We begin to wonder about other believers, “How am I able to know the Lord and what He requires, and you aren’t?” This puts us into the category of the “wise and intelligent”—those who think they have this knowing and serving God thing down. This puts us in the group of people to whom the Father chooses not to reveal Himself. This is the antithesis of being like a relatively uneducated child to whom the Lord chooses to reveal Himself. It results in, surprisingly to our intellect, an inadequacy of the true knowledge of God. We become like the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. No promising future lies ahead for that community.

 

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

 

 

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After His counter-intuitive, hostile-to-human-intelligence teaching, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV). Although Jesus exhorts His followers to take His yoke upon them, the Jews of Jesus’ time were taught to take upon themselves the yoke of the Torah and the Talmud, the written and oral law as well as the traditions. Jesus is confronting God’s people with a contrast of choices. If I may cautiously paraphrase and expand, He is saying, “Do not think that by taking upon yourselves the yoke of the law and traditions, you will know Me (John 5:37-40). That knowledge may make you seem wise and intelligent, but it does not mean that you will know Me. No, take My yoke and learn from Me. I am true Wisdom. I am true Intelligence. Take My yoke because I am gentle and lowly in heart. Although I am the possessor of all knowledge, I understand, in grace and compassion, your lack of knowledge. However, if you know Me, you will know Truth. I will share this Truth with you—I am the Truth—not to arrogantly show you how intelligent I am but to help you. My goal is not to enable you to rise in the ranks of your religious community by virtue of your knowledge of law and tradition, but to know Me. You will find rest with My yoke, which you will never find through your wise and intelligent understanding.”

                Knowledge of God’s Word Alone Is Not Enough

            The Pharisees knew the written and oral law thoroughly. They memorized it. However, they missed Jesus. He did not meet their expectations of what the Messiah should be. What kind of Deliverer did they anticipate? That would be a fascinating study in itself, but they hoped for a man who would cause Israel to be a great nation on the earth (Zechariah 8:22–23; Isaiah 11:9–10). This means that they also anticipated a Prophet who would be righteous, a legalistically perfect man: “And he will be clean from sin, to rule over a great people, to reprove rulers, and to remove sinners by the strength of his word. And he will not be weak in his days upon his God, because God made him strong by the Holy Spirit and wise by the counsel of understanding, with strength and righteousness” (Psalms of Solomon: 17:41–42).1 However, according to their understanding, Jesus was a “glutton and a drunkard” and therefore did not fulfill their messianic expectations. They conveniently ignored not only His miraculous works, but many scriptural truths like Isaiah 53, which includes these precious verses about how low the Messiah would be:

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 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 53:3–6 ESV).

Those who think themselves wise and perspicacious, Jesus said, fail to see God because they think He can be accessed via their selective understanding of Scripture and tradition alone. This understanding depends upon one’s wisdom and intellect and therefore the interpretation of who they understand God is, what He requires, and what He will do. No, you will learn who the Father is from Me, Jesus says: “Take My yoke and learn of Me.” The laboring, weary, and burdened people Jesus refers to in these verses are those who have tried by virtue of their intellect and the thinking of man—like the inhabitants of those three cities who thought they were wise and clever—to find an understanding of God according to law and tradition. Jesus wanted them—and wants us—to be relieved of this burden. It is a futile effort. We will never find Him in this way.

I am not sure we understand how burdensome to the Jews this fruitless, seemingly well-thought-out, disciplined endeavor had become. Consider this passage from the Sayings of the Jewish Fathers (Pirqe Aboth): 3:11-12: “R. Jacob said, He who is walking by the way and studying, and breaks off his study (Mishnah) and says, ‘How fine is this tree! how fine is that tree! and how fine is this fallow? They account it to him as if he were ‘guilty of death.’ R. Dosithai, son of R. Jannai, said in the name of R. Meir, ‘When a scholar of the wise sits and studies, and has forgotten a word of his Mishnah, they account it unto him as if he were ‘guilty of death,’ for it is said, ‘Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the words which thine eyes have seen’ (Deuteronomy 4:9). Perhaps his Mishnah has but grown hard to him? What need then to say, ‘And lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life’? Lo! he is not guilty, till he has sat down and suffered them to depart from his mind.’”2

What an oppressive burden! To forget a word of Mishnah is to be guilty of death?

No. The answer to finding life in God is to know Him, His grace, and be discipled by Jesus like humble children who are willing to admit that they know little or nothing. The answer is to take His yoke, to come under the authority of the One who is low and humble in heart. He is the way to the knowledge of God. He is Knowledge—perfect Knowledge. If we don’t know how to proceed in our lives under His rulership, the answer is found both by seeking Him and the truths about Him in His Word—not by placing a yoke that requires legalistic adherence to Scripture and tradition, based upon tragically inadequate human knowledge

            1Brannan, R., Penner, K. M., Loken, I., Aubrey, M., & Hoogendyk, I. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Septuagint (Ps Sol 17:42). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

            2Sayings of the Jewish Fathers 3:11-12 (Pirqe Aboth), translated by Charles Taylor.

            Let’s back up a bit to understand the context in which Jesus makes the astonishing claim that He is low and humble in heart. Jesus had just rebuked the people who live in the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum:

            “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:20-24 ESV).

            Although Jesus had done mighty works in those cities, they had not repented and turned to God. He tells the inhabitants that if such miracles had been done in Sodom, they would not have been destroyed. These three cities were worse than Sodom, on which God hurled sulfur and fire. Jesus’ last devastating hammer stroke to the citizenry in those areas is that it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom than for them. That is a jaw-dropping condemnation. To be compared to the wicked city of Sodom is quite a rebuke, but Jesus delivered it because He knew how important it was for His people to acknowledge Him as the Messiah. It is clear that He expected them to believe in Him because of the works He had done. He said the same thing in John 5:36:

            “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”

            Jesus expected the people of Israel to understand that He was the one spoken of in Isaiah: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:18–19 ESV).     

            However, the prophecies from Isaiah and the miracles were not enough, apparently. These leaders were so unconvinced that they claimed He was casting out demons by the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24 ESV).

            So, why had these cities rejected Him, in spite of these works? He was so unlike the Messiah they anticipated that they could not comprehend, by their human intelligence and learning, how Jesus could be the Expected One. They were anticipating one kind of Messiah, and He was quite another. Earlier in this passage—Matthew 11:16–20—Jesus compares the Jews to unhappy children who were not getting what they wanted: “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

            After His rebuke to the three cities, Jesus rejoices before His Father and says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Matthew 11:25–26). When Jesus said that the Father has chosen to reveal Himself to little children, He meant those who are not wise and understanding. (The Greek word “synetos”—“understanding”—can also be translated “intelligent.”)1 Apparently, the unhappy children of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, who thought they were wise and rational, were actually foolish and dim-witted. This revealing of the Father to little children is, Jesus says, “well-pleasing in your sight.” Let me reiterate. Jesus said that it is the Father’s will to reveal Himself, not to the wise and intelligent, but to those who are like children. Generally speaking, children are not regarded as paragons of wisdom and intelligence.

           1Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans

 

 

The adjectives used in the Word of God to describe the Lord are rich with words of magnificence. He is loving, mighty, merciful, glorious, wise, holy, strong, creative, and wonderful in all His ways, to name just a few. The passage that follows is an overwhelming example of how glorious the Lord is and how John attempted to describe the heavenly scene he was witnessing:

“At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God…” (Revelation 4:2-5).

The sovereign Lord appeared to be made of chiseled, precious stone. Astonishing. Lightning flashed and thunder reverberated from His throne. This is a joyously powerful, fear-inducing, sovereignly turbulent place. Amazing stuff, and I’m sure we all agree that human words will always be insufficient to describe our remarkable God. We shouldn’t be surprised, should we? In spite of our incompetence at describing the Creator of all things, I would like to reflect on two of His characteristics that we don’t often consider, words which seem quite incompatible with the depiction we just read, although they were used by Jesus to describe Himself in Matthew 11:29: He is gentle and lowly in heart. Gentle and lowly in heart would indicate that that attribute is at the core of His being. However, it is not only Jesus who is gentle and lowly in heart—the Father is, as well, since Jesus told us that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father (John 14:9).

Is this the God we know? One who is gentle and lowly in heart?

            A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) gives this definition of “gentle”:

“pertains to not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate, meek.”1

BDAG offers these three definitions of “lowly”:

  1. “pertains to being of low social status or to relative inability to cope, lowly, undistinguished, of no account”
  2. “pertains to being servile in manner, pliant, subservient, abject, a negative quality that would make one lose face in the Greek-Roman world, opposite of a free person’s demeanor”
  3. “pertains to being unpretentious, humble”2

Surprisingly, Jesus is telling the Jews that He is not overly impressed with his self-importance. Instead, He considers Himself undistinguished and of low social status. He, the Creator of all that exists, the King of the universe who upholds all things by the word of His power, is unpretentious. This is not how kings and rulers throughout history have viewed themselves. Kings are distinguished personages. Overlords. They are not subservient; they rule, often ruthlessly. They are not lowly, they are high. We do not expect a humble and servile God, and He certainly was not the Messiah that the Jews anticipated. They could not believe that Jesus was the One about whom the prophets spoke.

            1Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

            2Ibid.

If someone were to broach the idea of starting a church with us, I would ask them to do the following research in the Bible and supply scriptural answers before we had a serious discussion about how to proceed:

Do a study in the Gospels about what Jesus taught about leadership. How did He tell us to lead? How did He tell us not to lead? How does what Jesus taught about leadership compare with what we teach?

What do these scriptures tell us about how church was done in the New Testament: Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:11, and 1 Corinthians 14:26.

Compare the gift and ministry inventories in I Corinthians 12:7-11, Ephesians 4.11-14, Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 and compare them to the gifts and ministries you have seen functioning in services of the churches you’ve attended.

Do a study in the New Testament letters and find where Paul, Peter, John, Jude, or James wrote to Christians about how many people had been led to Christ, baptized, healed, delivered through their ministries; how many churches they had planted, and how many people attended their meetings.

What structural organization did Jesus leave behind before He ascended?

What attracted people to Jesus in His ministry? What attracted people to Jesus in the ministries of His apostles and disciples?

What mandates did Jesus leave for those who would follow Him?

Jesus said we cannot be His disciples unless we fulfilled what criteria?

What was Jesus’ attitude toward children who were present when He taught in a group of people?

Jesus said we would never enter the kingdom of God unless we did what?

If you were to disciple someone, what would be the first things you would teach them? Supply scriptures.

 

 

This sentence in the Lord’s Prayer is the one that I understand the least: “Lead us not into temptation.” Why is this difficult to understand? James 1:13 tells us that God tempts no one. We should be happy about that. God tempting us would give us the idea that He is tempting us with something evil. Since He is not evil, He can’t do that. One of the meanings of the Greek word that is translated here “temptation”, “peirasmos,” is also translated test or trial. Therefore, it would read, “Lead us not into trial or testing.” Since the Lord doesn’t tempt anyone, I’m going to lean toward this meaning—but I’m not a Greek scholar by any stretch of the imagination. All I do is use the resources that I have.

The Lord does test us. Look at this passage from the Old Testament where the Lord told Israel, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:1–3). Once, when I read this, I thought, “Hmm. The Lord allowed false prophets to perform signs and wonders to test Israel. He wouldn’t do that today, would He?” I have to admit, even though I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are still operative, this makes me wonder about some of the weird, not-in-the-Bible things we hear about these days. Is the Lord testing us to determine if we love Him more than signs and wonders? There is a weird tendency to go after these things. However, I don’t want to get off point. The point is that the Lord will allow things to happen that will test us.

The Bible says that the reason the Lord tests us is for our good. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). However, this still doesn’t answer the question, “Why should we pray that the Lord wouldn’t lead us to such a testing? Well, perhaps it has to do with not going to a place where we would fail when so led and so tempted. This makes sense because it is followed by, “but deliver us from evil.” The two requests are connected. Jesus seems to be teaching us to pray that when we are tempted, or even led to a place of trial or temptation by His Spirit, that the devil won’t achieve a victory as a result of that trial.

The last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer is omitted from the newest Bible translations, but I’m going to include it because I don’t find it to be anti-biblical in any way: “For Yours is the kingdom and the glory and the power forever.” “Yours is the kingdom.” It is His kingdom, not ours. He reigns, we don’t. On its face, this seems simple enough, and I don’t think any Christian would disagree with this truth. However, as is often the case with us in-process believers, what we say and how we live and think are two different things. Let’s be transparent here. This is something we all struggle with. On a simple, day-to-day basis, we resist giving the Lord control of our lives—allowing Him to reign. It is difficult to give up everything to Him.

“Yours is the glory.” The glory is His: the glory for all that exists, the glory for all that He has created, the glory for all that He has done. Right now, He is the only one receiving glory from the inhabitants of heaven. No one abiding in that eternal place is impressed with anything that has been done on earth by people. Perhaps we should begin to add our voices to theirs and express the truth that all the glory for everything done here belongs to Him alone. I’m glad that Jesus didn’t add, “And thank You, Father, for making it possible for people to glorify themselves a little, too.”

The last part is simply three words: “forever and ever.” The Father’s kingdom will be forever and ever. There will be no change of administration or rulership. No coups will overthrow Him. His reign is eternal. The kingdoms of men are temporary. God’s kingdom will last forever. Christians will be part of God’s kingdom a trillion years from now. Not just part of it—sons, daughters and co-heirs with Christ in it. Now, honestly, I have little idea what that means, but surely it is good and glorious, because He is the good and gracious King.

God’s power will last forever. God’s power is so immense that we cannot comprehend it. It is also everlasting. The book of Revelation tells us that in heaven, there will be no need for lamps or the sun anymore because the Lord will be our light: “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5 ESV). I have no doubt in my mind that He will be able to pull this off with no blackouts, brownouts, or interruptions of service. His power will never end.

Finally, His glory is forever. Jack Hayford once said that the reason the inhabitants in heaven are continually giving praise to God is because He is always doing wondrous things. Right now, as I type this, I have little doubt that, all over the world, people are being healed, delivered, saved, and called. Not only that, at this very moment, He is upholding all things in the universe by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). You and I can do none of these things. He will receive glory eternally, not us.

Father, thank You for your eternal kingdom, power, and glory. Our words are inadequate in expressing how amazing You are.

 

 

 

 

            I would like to take a little break in the study of the Lord’s Prayer and address an issue that has been swirling around in my head of late. Let me say upfront that this post concerns speculation about the last days, so if that is not your cup of tea, please come back next week. The issue I want to address has to do with this passage from Second Thessalonians:

            “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:6–10 ESV).

            The eschatological teaching I received as a young Christian advocated a pre-Tribulation rapture. I no longer hold to this view. Apparently, some believers have turned the heat up on those who still believe the pre-Trib scenario, because they think it will cause believers to become lax in their faith and unprepared for dark days ahead. However, the concern runs deeper than that. It is wiser to counsel believers to love Jesus more than their very own lives in order to be true disciples (Luke 14:26-34), regardless of what the future holds. It is that lack of love which sinks so many of us, as it did the believers in Ephesus and Laodicea, who received Jesus’ rebuke in the Book of Revelation. We must know Him. Abide in Him. As John wrote, “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28). I do not want to be ashamed when Jesus returns.

            Regardless of one’s position on the rapture or if it will even transpire, we can all agree that Jesus will return someday, because He promised He would. That promise was reinforced by His disciples, including Paul, as we see in the verses above. When will that be? No one knows. It is foolish to speculate. We know that the apostles expected it to happen in their lifetimes. Therefore, for over two thousand years, the Church waits and prays with the apostle John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

            But back to the passage from Thessalonians. Who is this “lawless one” who will be revealed before Jesus returns? Since Paul wrote that he will come with “all power and false signs and wonders,” it seems clear that this is the beast written about in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation. “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived” (Revelation 13:11–14 ESV).

            Since Christians are waiting for Jesus’ return, when we see the lawless one revealed, we will know that His return is imminent. However, in order for the lawless one to be revealed, “what is restraining him,” or “he (or the one) who now restrains” must be “out of the way.” What or who is this one who restrains the mystery of lawlessness? No one knows with any certainty. I grew up hearing that the Holy Spirit was the restraining force who would be taken “out of the way” at the rapture of the Church. However, that position cannot be proven from this passage. Therefore, we are left with speculation, and what follows is my speculation, to make sure again, we are clear. One of my speculations is that the removal of the restraining force will not be a one-time event, like the departure of the Church and the Holy Spirit, but a slow (from our point of view) process of removal and increasing lawlessness.

            Concerning this “restrainer,” I found this interesting nugget from a commentary on Second Thessalonians:

            “Of all the theories advanced so far the one which seems to have most in its favor is that according to which the restrainer is ‘the power of well-ordered human rule,’ ‘the principle of legality as opposed to that of lawlessness’ (see Ellicott’s Commentary on this passage). According to this view Paul intends to say that as long as law and order still obtain, the man of lawlessness is unable to appear upon the scene of history with his program of unprecedented unrighteousness, blasphemy, and persecution.”1

          So, is the world becoming more lawless? I think it is. However, I cannot say with any historic proof that the time in which we are now living is more lawless than any other. It is clear that the family of nations now includes several countries that are models of bedlam and disorder: Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and Syria, are notable examples. Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen may not be far behind. All of this lawlessness is particularly interesting in light of the fact that these failed or failing states have a maledictory view of the nation of Israel, which did not exist until relatively recently.

            Political conservatives in the United States maintain that the fault for this lawless disorder lies with President Obama. His foreign policy is a disaster, they say. His weakness has emboldened rebellious factions to rise up. Perhaps. However, let’s step back for a broader look. Is this perceived American weakness part of the Lord’s plan for “that which restrains” to no longer restrain? We can blame Obama, but let’s be honest: The situation in the Middle East cannot be fixed by any nation or consortium of nations. The United States can’t fix it, and we have tried several times. We thought each attempt was a great idea. Reagan helped arm the Iranians. When Russia was fighting Afghanistan, we helped the Afghani rebels fight them. We fought two wars in Iraq and insured the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. What is the condition of Iraq now, after the loss of all that blood and treasure? We encouraged the overthrow of the democratically elected leader of Egypt. How does that make sense? I thought one of our goals was to encourage the spread of democracy around the world. We helped overthrow Gadhafi. What replaced him? Currently, we don’t like Assad in Syria. Who will take his place if he is ousted? We may not be happy with the current state of affairs, but what is the clear way forward? There isn’t one. The situation in that part of the world is simply unsolvable, no matter what we do. My prediction is that we will see increasing chaos and lawlessness.

            For those of us who live in the United States, let’s look at our country. Do you notice an increase in lawlessness? Every time we fly on jetliners, we do so with an abiding awareness that there may be a person on board who is wants to blow up the plane. Flash mobs can enter a store and, by force of numbers, take any and all the merchandise they please. Without reason, armed men kill adults and children in schools, universities, neighborhoods, and theaters, just because they can. Each time one of these mass shootings occurs, the media ask, “What caused him to do it? Was he abused as a child? Did he play violent video games? Was he mentally stable?” Here is the biblical answer. This is a fallen, sinful, rebellious world. The only One who can save it is Jesus. Lacking that, there is little hope for our nation or any other nation, and the days will grow increasingly evil. In addition, because the days are evil, Jesus taught, the love of many will grow cold. Have you noticed that has been happening? Our culture is so strange today that men must be careful not to linger in a public place where children are present or even to look at them. Who is to blame? A protective mother? No, of course not. An innocent man sitting on a park bench? No. This is just the way things are. Whatever restrained men in decades past from sexually abusing or abducting children is being taken away. Male and female teachers are having sex with their students. Whatever restrained teachers from doing this in days past is being removed. These things are just bizarre to me. However, they cease being bizarre when I look at them with a last days perspective. Cultures must and will become more and more lawless, because that which restrains is being taken out of the way.

            Should I say I hope I’m mistaken? No, I don’t think so. If we really look forward to the return of Jesus, we must accept that lawlessness will increase because that which restrains will no longer restrain. This doesn’t mean that we stop praying, telling people about Jesus, or give up hope. It does mean that life will continue to become more difficult in ways we hadn’t expected.

 

           1Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of I-II Thessalonians (Vol. 3, p. 181). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

           Our study of the Lord’s Prayer takes us to this request: “Give us today our daily bread.”

            What does that mean? On the face of it, it is simple. “Lord, please supply the food we need today.” That prayer doesn’t have much meaning for most of us today, since we usually have enough food for several days in our cupboards and refrigerators. It would obviously become a desperate prayer if we were living in the conditions that some of our brothers and sisters around the world are. When I pray this, I know there is a bowl of cereal, milk, and a piece of bread somewhere in the near future. Nevertheless, I pray that the Lord will continue to provide our daily bread along and also for our family, friends, and His Church. It is at this time that I tell Him that I agree with His heart to provide for His widows, orphans, and persecuted ones. I pray that He will provide for those who have lost their breadwinners through persecution or martyrdom. I ask the Lord to comfort them in their loss. I take the opportunity here to ask that those brothers and sisters who are in prison be released. “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). I also pray at this time for relatives or friends of mine who need financial support. Right now, this includes a brother in India who is attempting to start up a YWAM base in a new city and a lady in Mexico who is raising funds to build an orphanage. I also thank the Lord for the food that I’ll be eating as well as for the funds that He has provided for Laurie and me to live on.

            Uncomfortable confession: Only recently have I come to understand that the New Testament doesn’t compare receiving spiritual sustenance by reading God’s word to eating bread. The only place I can find that eating bread has spiritual significance is in eating the body of Jesus, which we call communion. When He said, “I am the bread of life” in John 6, He was referring to the eating of His flesh, not His words.

            The next request is, “…and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”

            This is the time when I confess my general sins to the Father. First among these is my inability to keep the first commandment, basically, all the time: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself. I am just frankly unable to do that. Truth be told, I don’t even know how to do that in its fullness. So, I ask for forgiveness for my sinful inability to love Him and others as I should.

            I will mention at this time some specific sin(s) I’ve committed, because they may come to mind, but I’ve already asked for forgiveness for any especially egregious ones. I just can’t delay asking for His forgiveness soon after I’ve blatantly sinned. This usually involves smacking the palm of my hand against my forehead! However, the next morning when I come before Him, I often feel that I must talk to Him some more about what happened, mostly to tell Him how sorry I am, and how thankful I am for His grace and forgiveness. I’m sure this activity is for my benefit, to help me work out the truth of my condition in His presence. Perhaps like you, each time I confess my sins to God, I think that He is totally within His rights to deny His forgiveness. Often, I must believe in faith, not relying on feelings, that everything I’ve learned about Him, the cross, Jesus’ blood, His mercies, and His steadfast love is true, because sometimes I feel very unworthy and unlovable. I feel like an idiot and that I have disappointed Him. There have been times when I feel like my sin has separated me from Him for a while, but I cannot tell if that is due to my own feelings of guilt and disappointment or not. Regardless, it isn’t long before fellowship is restored. I look forward to the Day when I will never sin against Him again. I hate it. However, I also must obviously love whatever sin I’d committed, or I wouldn’t have done it.

            It is also here that I ask for help forgiving those people in my life that I am struggling or have struggled to forgive. A couple of these have been lingering for years. I ask the Lord to give me love for them and to remove all ill feelings. Separation in time and space has dulled the active life of that unforgiveness, but I know in my heart that there is an unfinished work and healing that only He can do. I need His help so this root of bitterness will continue to die completely.

            In this, the fourth installment of our study of the Lord’s Prayer, we’re going to look at the statement, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

            Before we have arrived at this place of prayer, we have already addressed God as our Father, confessed that He is sovereign and reigns over everyone and everything, and that He is perfectly holy. We have told Him that we want His kingdom to come spiritually in our lives, which means that we want Him to be the King and that we will be His servants. We have also prayed that His kingdom will come in reality, that He will truly reign over all, for all time, regardless of the cost. Therefore, it’s not a divergent thought to express our desire that His will be done in our lives, not ours. Although we may long for His will, we continually find that, all too often, we don’t want His will at all. Therefore, as we express our desire that His will be done, we also pray that He will help “make Your will my desire,” as they song, Purify Me, says.

            Submitting to His will is a lifelong process. Laurie and I were laughing the other day at how clueless we are about His will. We think we know what He’s doing, but we truly understand very little. We agreed that we hadn’t grasped the full impact of His declaration in Isaiah:

            “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9 ESV).

            First of all, He says that we don’t think the way He does. That is His nice way of saying, “Understand this. Although you think you have figured out the right way to think about Me and how I think about you, others and what is happening on the earth, you just simply don’t know these things very well at all.”

            Second, His ways are not our ways. He has an entirely different perspective on—everything. His way of performing His will is profoundly dissimilar to ours. As an example, much of what we value has little or no value to Him at all. What we think is great, He often considers insignificant. What we consider worthless, He considers great. Therefore, He will “get things done” in ways that are radically different from ours. Often upside-down. Our ways are tragically flawed and limited by our feeble, limited lights.

            Finally, to put some nicely flavored icing on this I’m-burning-your-house-down cake, the Lord tells us just how different His thoughts and ways are in comparison to ours. Our thoughts are stuck at ground level, where one can’t see very far at all. We have a blinding case of perceptual myopia. His thoughts, however, are as high as the heavens and proceed all the way into eternity. We will never be able to have that perspective while we’re here. Never.

            So, is He saying that we’re stupid? Well…is spectacularly ignorant a better description? We just simply don’t know what He is truly doing, what is truly going on, and how it affects the years future on earth or eternity. For example, we may start a ministry to a person or group of people. We know what we’re doing mostly—what should be taught from Scripture. Without doubt, we should be teaching many biblical truths to them. However, what is God’s big picture in regard to these events? We tend to think that what we’re doing is the correct way to “do ministry.” His plan may be dramatically different. He may have called you to teach one hundred people but only significantly impact three, in a way that makes an eternal difference. He may have caused your ministry to grow in order to teach you about humility or expose a flaw in what you may think is a very good Christian character. He may have called you to this place or situation to cause you to suffer.

            Do you doubt it?

            In Acts 16:9, Paul has a vision of a man who is urging him to come to Macedonia and help them. Paul heads out in obedience to the vision and ends up in Philippi, where he stays many days (Acts 16:10-12). On the Sabbath, he and those with him lead Lydia and her household to the Lord (Acts 16:13-15). His next ministry experience is casting the demons out of a slave girl, which results in Silas and him being beaten with rods and thrown into jail (Acts 16:16-24). After this, an earthquake breaks open the doors of the prison. The result is that the jailer and his household are saved (Acts 16:25-34). Great story, huh? However, is this the way you would have arranged an evangelistic event? I think I’m safe to say—no, never.

            Therefore, in agreement with this prayer, I pray, “Father, I give my life to You. Help me give my life to You. I want Your will to be done in my life, not mine.”

            After this, I often add people who are in situations that are concerns to me and ask for salvation, healing, provision or whatever seems to be necessary. I pray for the things about me that I am concerned about. However, I add, “Your will be done. You know all things.”

            Please keep in mind that I’m not attempting to do anything here other than tell you how I pray the Lord’s Prayer. These are not guidelines or instructions on how you should or must.

             To Him be the glory.

 

The second sentence in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Your kingdom come.” In the last post, we looked at what it meant to ask that His kingdom come spiritually in our lives. This is an important investigation. After all, Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God, and it’s clear that that coming was initiated when He was on the earth (Mark 1:14–15). The kingdom of God exists in the tension of the “now and not yet.” It’s already here. Jesus brought it when He came. But it’s also not here in its fullness.

When we pray for God’s kingdom to come spiritually, we are praying that He will be King and we will be His servants. That implies a deep humility, a poverty of spirit. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus taught in the Beatitudes. He also said, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” We need Him desperately. Like little children, we are powerless without Him.

However, we know that there is a literal kingdom to come (the kingdom that is not yet), as well, and that we are told in the Lord’s Prayer to pray that it will come. This is the believers’ hope: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Can you imagine that? A house that was built without hands, like the rest of His marvelous creation. I want to look forward to the coming of His kingdom in reality. Like the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, I want to seek a better country: “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). I want to live in that city. I want to look forward to the time when He will reign. However, because I am so much in this world, I tend to lose sight of things eternal. I must ask the Lord to change my heart when it wanders. Don’t the details—few though they may be—concerning this coming future kingdom sound wonderful? “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

I look forward to that. I pray that it will come, that Jesus will return.

However, there are some clear indications about what will happen before Jesus returns.

Concerning Israel and the Jews, Jesus said, “They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:24–28).

So one thing that must happen is that the time of the Gentiles must be fulfilled.

Here’s another: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:1–4).

So we see that another event that must transpire before the Lord comes is that the man of lawlessness will be revealed.

However, something must happen before that man of lawlessness is revealed, and Paul wrote about it in the verses which follow those we just read. “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:6–8).

It’s not entirely clear what or who is restraining this man of lawlessness; however, in order for him to be revealed, it will continue until he is “out of the way.”

This man of lawlessness will be characterized by, “…the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Therefore, it shouldn’t be a stretch to adduce that this man of lawlessness is the one written about in the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Revelation 13:11–17).

So, let me sum this up. There are lots of theories about what will happen at the end of days. I’m not an expert in eschatology, but it seems clear that at least the events listed above must happen before Jesus returns and the kingdom of God is established in reality. This is why I ended the last post that praying “your kingdom come” is frightening. The worker of false signs and wonders will make everyone take a mark without which people will not be able to buy or sell. People will not be able to purchase food, clothing, shelter, power, water, or sanitation. In the verses that follow the passage above,, the Lord is addressing Christians: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). Therefore, there will still be believers on the earth. Christian brothers and sisters who do not take the mark may very well die of starvation—men, women, and children. Whether you think you will be here for this terrible time or not, it’s clear that there will be Christians on earth when this happens. They may not be “you,” but they will be your Christian brothers and sisters. Therefore, when we pray for God’s kingdom to come in reality, we’re praying—agreeing with God—that all these horrible things will happen to fellow believers. Nevertheless, this is what God wants and what the Church should desire. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come’” (Revelation 22:17). In addition, at the end of the book, after all was said and done, after Jesus said, “Surely I am coming soon,” after all the appalling things John had seen, he wrote, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

So, in agreement with God’s will and purpose, I pray these things when I pray for God’s kingdom to come:

Lord, please cause the time of the Gentiles to be fulfilled.

Please cause the man of lawlessness to be revealed.

Please cause the one who restrains to restrain no longer.

And then I pray, “Lord, please be merciful.”

May the Lord bless you and give you grace and peace.

 

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