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Another characteristic of Jesus’ lowliness is His servile heart. I am not convinced we fully fathom how low He stooped to come to the earth. Not only did He leave a home that is more glorious than we can ever comprehend in this life, He came as a nobody—not only a nobody, a servant. How low did our Creator condescend in His ministry here? He washed His disciples’ feet. He fed them breakfast. However, the supreme example of His servanthood is found in Philippians 2:8: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Here is the improbable truth: The mighty God of the universe and Creator of all that exists is a servant who was willing to die like a criminal for those who treat Him like dirt.

Jesus is low and humble, and the yoke He offers is kind and good. Therefore, when Christian believers take His yoke, it is quite different from the yoke that carries with it the burden of being able to figure it all out and nail it down. The Lord is gracious and compassionate. He understands what we, unbelievably, seem to find so hard to admit: We just do not—will not—cannot— know Him by relying on our wisdom and intelligence, even by believing we know Him by understanding what we think His Word tells us. We can memorize His Word, parse it, outline it, systematize it—and still not know Him. Oh, yes, the truth is undeniably there, just as it was for the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. It was available to the Pharisees. However, they all—all—missed Him. The disciples missed Him, too. However, those twelve, among others, were willing or able or, perhaps better said, enabled by faith, to follow Him like children, even though they had very little understanding about His true nature or His work.

Nevertheless, He would teach them, He of the kind and good yoke.

What is the way to know God fully? What is the way of obedience? He is. Not only does He know the truth and can make truth known to us, He is the truth. When we struggle with keeping His commands, the answer is Him. He is the life—life is found in Him, not in the intellect-driven, self-glorifying attempt to follow a set of rules, or so-called principles, and traditions, even if we can wind our way back to find them in an isolated Bible verse—and all too often, we cannot even do that correctly. The answer to questions in the Christian walk is often clear-cut, and often it is not. It is clear because He is the Answer, ultimately, to every question. It is not always clear because, in order to know and learn what is good and obedient in our spiritual lives, it requires knowing Him, His love as well as His Word, and that is primarily relational, not solely educational, traditional, legal, or intellectual.

Therefore, we take His yoke. We endeavor to learn from Him. We endeavor to obey Him. He graciously forgives us when we fail and then repent. We will not “get it” completely as long as we walk on this earth. However, He is kind. He is good. He is not arrogant in His immense intelligence. James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). The word “reproach” means “to find fault in a way that demeans the other, reproach, revile, mock, heap insults upon as a way of shaming.”1 In other words, He will not say, “I can’t believe how stupid you are! Why haven’t you figured this out yet? You are an idiot! A moron!” Thankfully, we will never hear that from Him. We will learn from our loving God as we seek Him and draw near (Jeremiah 29:13; James 4:8), the One who is lowly and humble in His heart.

It is as simple and massively difficult as that. Simple as well as difficult because He is the God we do not know.

            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.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

 

 

 

 

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             I order to understand Matthew 11:16-30 more fully, to help us comprehend how to know Jesus by taking His yoke, a question must be asked. Why does Jesus need to be lowly and humble in heart in order to teach us? (“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”) He gives us the answer in the very next phrase: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The Greek word “chrestos” is translated “easy” here in verse 30. However, this is the only place in the New Testament where it is interpreted this way. It is rendered “good” in these four verses:

            Luke 5:39: “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

            1 Peter 2:3: “…if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

            Luke 6:35: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”

            1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”

            Chrestos is translated “kind” or “kindness” in these two verses:

            Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

            Romans 2:4: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

            Therefore, it is proper to say that Jesus’ yoke is “kind and good.” The word “easy” gives us the false idea that somehow following Jesus is easy. Indisputably, it is not.

            Again, let us ask, why does Jesus need to be lowly and humble in heart in order to teach us? As we struggle to learn of Him, we, in our rebellious sinfulness, will end up trampling all over Him. We will sin against Him. We will arrogantly take the glory for the wonderful acts He has done through us, the astonishing truths He has taught us, and the natural and spiritual gifts He given us. If He was not low and humble in heart, if His yoke was not kind, He would not allow Himself to be treated in this way. He would rise up and punish us. However, He knows how eminently unable we are to grasp who He is and His ways. He understands. In addition, if His yoke was not good, He would impose a burden that would engender a fear of unknown and uncertain outcomes because of our sinful failures. His yoke is good because He ultimately has our good in mind. We know this because He, the spotless Sacrifice, God Himself, died for us to eliminate any and all possibilities that there is some sin, some fault, some retrogression that will keep us from Him. This is the greatest act our great God could do—die. If He did that, if He gave the ultimate sacrifice, why would He not give us whatever else we might need? Regardless of what happens in one’s life, this is the overarching truth: that is Christian victory. Paul wrote this his marvelous paean to God’s love in Romans 8: 31-39. In verse 32, Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” What greater thing could the Father have done in love toward us than give up His Son to death? Having sacrificed what is most valuable, will He then not give us whatever else is necessary? The rest of this passage is simply too splendid to omit:

            “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35–39).

            The definition of Christian victory resides in the love and goodness of God.

           The yoke of Jesus is kind. The yoke of Jesus is good.

 

            Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

 

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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.

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