Agents of Change

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-16 ESV

Here, having completed His discussion of the beatitudes, Jesus begins to use the personal pronoun “you” for the very first time. But to whom was He addressing it? Was He talking to His disciples? Or was He speaking to the more serious-minded followers within His crowd? Did He have in mind the Jews in His audience because they were chosen people of God?

It would seem that Jesus was speaking to the “blessed,” or all those who would be approved by God and experience His kingdom life. Jesus has just finished explaining what the life of the blessed will look like, now He will explains what the goal of that life will be: To influence and impact the world. But in a radical and revolutionary way that is focused on the kingdom of heaven, not earthly kings and physical realms.

In a world in which selfishness and self-centeredness reign, Jesus brings a message that promotes a selfless lifestyle, where emphasis on “me” gives way to a passion for “Him”.

In a world in which selfishness and self-centeredness reign, Jesus brings a message that promotes a selfless lifestyle, where emphasis on “me” gives way to a passion for “Him”. The goal becomes God’s kingdom and the message of His Son. The mindset of those who are approved by God moves from a me-centered, inward focus to an outward, other-oriented one where the mercy received from God is shared with all those around them. In other words, the kingdom life of which Jesus is speaking becomes about giving and influencing the world around you, rather than trying to see what you can get out of it. The kingdom life, the life of the blessed, is not individualistic and isolated, but designed to witness to the world around it. It is intended to make an impact.

To make His point, Jesus uses two metaphors: Salt and light.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” – Matthew 5:13 ESV

Is Jesus insinuating that everyone in His audience is already salt? Is this His expectation of the Jews in His audience? To further complicate the issue, Jesus switches metaphors, using light as a illustration of the kind of impact Kingdom-dwellers should have.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 ESV

Is He really inferring that everyone in His hearing is, at that moment, the light of the world? Do they already have the light of Christ within them? It would appear that Jesus is speaking prophetically, referring to those whom God would give Him as His followers. The apostle John would later recall the words Jesus prayed in the garden on the night He was be betrayed.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.” – John 17:6-11 NLT

There would be some who followed Jesus who trulybelieved in who He claimed to be, but their number would be small. The vast majority of those who were in the crowd the day Jesus gave His message on the hillside would later leave Him. They would refuse to accept Him as their Messiah. They would deny their need for Him as their Savior. But there would be those who truly believed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Those would be the ones who had the unique pleasure and thrill of seeing Him appear in their midst in His resurrected form. They would be the ones He told to return to the upper room and wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. This small group of men and women would be transformed into salt and light, agents of change, who would powerfully and radically influence the world around them. The kingdom life, the life of spiritual poverty, meekness, mourning, mercy, purity and peacemaking, will set them apart from the world around them.

Two kingdoms:

The salt (the Church)                  The earth (the world)
Preserves                                           Prone to decay
Seasons                                                Spiritually bland
Disinfects                                            Diseased
Influential                                           Infectious

The light (the Church)                The world (sinful man)
Exposes sin                                        Loves darkness
Reflects the light of Christ       Marked by darkness
Lights the way to Christ            Blinded by darkness

Jesus is describing the church age, the era that will follow His death, burial, and resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is the period in which we find ourselves living. When the Holy Spirit came, the church was born. The disciples were empowered from on high, just as Jesus had told them. They were transformed into salt and light, agents of change in a world filled with decay and darkness. They spoke with power. They began to preach the message of salvation made possible through faith in Christ alone. And later on, the apostle Paul would take that same message to the Gentiles, revealing the truth that Jesus came to redeem men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

Salt was a staple in that day. It was essential for life. It preserved meat. It prevented decay. If added flavor to what would have otherwise been bland and tasteless. Jesus is saying that the blessed will have influence in the world. But He warns against losing your saltiness. But can salt really become un-salty? No. But it can become diluted and contaminated. It can lose its effectiveness. And the apostle John tells us how.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. – 1 John 2:15 NLT

Our distinctiveness as followers of Christ can be diluted and diminished by this world. We can allow our love for the things of this world to overwhelm our effectiveness. We can lose our influence and find ourselves trampled down or overcome by the ways of this world.

What about light? It is intended to illuminate the darkness that surrounds it. Light exposes what is invisible to the eye in the dark. That is why Paul later wrote:

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible.Ephesians 5:11-14 NLT

The lives of those approved by God will impact others. And the result will be conviction. That conviction will lead some to salvation, while others will respond in anger and resentment, resulting in persecution, reviling and slander, just as Jesus warned.

We are not to hide our light, in an effort to escape suffering. We are not to prefer darkness to the light, by hiding our light under a basket. We are to set it out for all to see.

We are not to hide our light, in an effort to escape suffering. We are not to prefer darkness to the light, by hiding our light under a basket. We are to set it out for all to see. The apostle Paul tells us:

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  – 2 Cotinthians 4:6-7 NLT

The unique thing about light is that it cannot be overcome by darkness. Darkness is nothing more than an absence of light. Jesus came to bring light into a dark world, and we are to be His agents, His representatives, allowing His light to flow from us into the darkness that surrounds us. Once again, the apostle Paul gives us some powerful words of exhortation:

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. – Philippians 2:15-16 NLT

We are to be salt and light. We are to be agents of change, forces for good in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Our beliefs should change our behavior. The presence of the Spirit of God within us should make a lasting impact on the world around us. But has our saltiness become diluted? Have we allowed our light to become hidden and ineffective? The Kingdom life is meant to be a radically different life. It is meant to make an impact and leave a mark on the world around it. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. If you have been approved by God because you have placed your faith in His Son, you are a citizen of His kingdom, and a child in His family. You are to live like a child of that kingdom while you find yourself temporarily having to exist in this one.

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

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

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

1 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.

Who are these that fly like a cloud,
and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall hope for me,
the ships of Tarshish first,
to bring your children from afar,
their silver and gold with them,
for the name of the Lord your God,
and for the Holy One of Israel,
because he has made you beautiful.

10 Foreigners shall build up your walls,
and their kings shall minister to you;
for in my wrath I struck you,
but in my favor I have had mercy on you.
11 Your gates shall be open continually;
day and night they shall not be shut,
that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,
with their kings led in procession.
12 For the nation and kingdom
that will not serve you shall perish;
those nations shall be utterly laid waste.
13 The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
the cypress, the plane, and the pine,
to beautify the place of my sanctuary,
and I will make the place of my feet glorious.
14 The sons of those who afflicted you
shall come bending low to you,
and all who despised you
shall bow down at your feet;
they shall call you the City of the Lord,
the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

15 Whereas you have been forsaken and hated,
with no one passing through,
I will make you majestic forever,
a joy from age to age.
16 You shall suck the milk of nations;
you shall nurse at the breast of kings;
and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Isaiah 60:1-16 ESV

Ever since the fall and the entrance of sin into the world, mankind has been living in spiritual darkness. And yet, the apostle John tells us, “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:9 NLT). So, each generation has made a willful choice to live in darkness. And their decision to reject God was in spite of the fact that God had made Himself known. The apostle Paul reveals that their choice of darkness over the light had been driven by obstinence, not ignorance.

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:20-23 NLT

Mankind’s rejection of God was driven by personal preference, not a lack of awareness. As John put it, “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). They preferred to live in darkness because it allowed their sins to remain hidden. But nothing is hidden from God. He knows all and sees all.

And in the midst of this darkness-drenched humanity, God raised up a people, the people of Israel, to act as His lights to the world. They were to have been His personal emissaries, revealing to the rest of the world what it looks like to live in a restored relationship with the Creator-God. The nation of Israel had been God’s personal creation, the result of His covenant promise to Abraham. From one man God had raised up descendants “as numerous as the stars of the sky” (Genesis 26:4 NLT). He had set them apart as His own possession, pouring out His love in the form of tangible blessings. Through them, God had chosen to reveal to the world what it looked like to worship the one true God. He had provided them with His law as a clear indication of His expectations concerning their conduct. He had established the sacrificial system as a means of obtaining forgiveness and cleansing for the sins they would commit by violating His law. They had everything they needed to live in harmony with God and to act as lights the lost world around them. But the apostle Paul reveals that they were missing something.

You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth. – Romans 2:17-20 NLT

They were hypocrites. They said one thing and did another. They claimed to be following the laws of God and took pride in their status as the people of God. But Paul went on to accuse them of living a lie.

Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.” – Romans 2:21-23 NLT

What had been true in Paul’s day had been true at the time Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name. Israel was living in spiritual darkness, just like the pagan nations that surrounded it. They had long ago given up their role as God’s emissaries and agents of change. Rather than influencing the darkness around them, they had been asborbed and consumed by it. So, Isaiah reveals a significant promise from God that tells of what is going to happen in the future. God was going to do something amazing and new. He would eliminate the darkness by raising Israel back to their original status as His lights to the world. This section of Isaiah speaks of the Millennial Kingdom, a future period of time when Jesus Christ will return to earth and set up His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will reign for a thousand years.

And God let’s His people know that there will be a change in their circumstances because He is going to restore them to a right relationship with Himself. And He calls them to prepare for that future day as if it had already arrived.

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
    For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
    but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
    mighty kings will come to see your radiance.” – Isaiah 60:1-3 NLT

At that time, the pervasiveness darkness of sin that engulfs the world will be eliminated by the light of God’s glory as revealed through the restored lives of His people. A remnant of the Jews will be redeemed by God and enter with Him into His Millennial Kingdom, where they will rule and reign alongside Him. And the nations will be attracted to the light of righteousness and justice that eminates from His glorious Kingdom.

Isaiah describes people coming from all over the world. Jerusalem will be the capital of the earth and the place where Jesus Christ reigns in righteousness. Jews from around the world will flock back to the promised land and the nations of the earth will be attracted to the light of the glory of God. And Isaiah tells His Jewish audience that “They will honor the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has filled you with splendor” (Isaiah 60:9 NLT). What a remarkable difference. At the time Isaiah wrote this message, the people of Judah were surrounded by their enemies and the splendor of Jerusalem was about to be destroyed by the Babylonians. But God had long-term plans for His people and for the city of Jerusalem.

While He was going to bring His judgment upon His people, the day would come when He would reverse their fortunes in an incredible way. The tables would turn and the people of Israel would be the recipients of tributes from the nations. They would be honored and revered, not threatened and destroyed. And it would all be God’s doing. And He tells them, “Though you were once despised and hated, with no one traveling through you, I will make you beautiful forever, a joy to all generations” (Isaiah 60:15 NLT).

And God reveals the why behind all of this.

“You will know at last that I, the Lord,
    am your Savior and your Redeemer,
    the Mighty One of Israel.” – Isaiah 60:16 NLT

For the first time in their long relationship with Yahweh, they will know and understand the significance of who He is and all that He has done for them. He will be their Savior and Redeemer, the very one they had chosen to reject and resist all those years. In spite of their unfaithfulness to Him, He will maintain His covenant promises and do all that He has said He will do.

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

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

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

No More Gloom.

1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:1-7 ESV

The last chapter ended on a rather somber note.

And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. – Isaiah 8:22 ESV

The people of Judah would find themselves living in darkness, having rejected the word of God. Rather than seek Him, they would turn to mediums and the necromancers, in a vain attempt to gain insight into the dire circumstances surrounding them. But they will be left in the dark, mentally and spiritually. Isaiah even describes them as having no dawn – no hope for the future. Then God provides the good news. And He delivers it in the past tense, as if it has already taken place.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2 ESV

The apostle John gives us further clarification about this light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. – John 3:19 ESV

Jesus, born to Mary, was the Son of God and the light of the world. In His incarnation, His entrance into our world in human form, Jesus became a light shining in the spiritual darkness that had pervaded the land of Israel for more than four centuries. During that 400-year period of time, God had been silent. The prophets had stopped writing and speaking. There was a spiritual void in the land. And the spiritual darkness was palpable. Then the dawn came. The Light broke through the darkness.

And Matthew, quoting from this very passage, wrote of Jesus beginning His ministry in the region of Galilee.

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:12-16 ESV

Once humiliated under the judgment of God, this region would be blessed with the presence of the Son of God. Naphtali and Zebulun were located in the north around the Sea of Galilee. These would have been the first regions within the northern kingdom of Israel to fall to the Assyrians. And yet, God was promising that this region would be one of the first places in which His Son would minister.

But it’s important that we notice the aspects of this prophecy that appear as yet unfulfilled. Jesus did come. And He began His ministry within the regions of Naphtali and Zebulun. And He delivered a very specific message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

But John makes it clear that His message was heard, but unheeded.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

The Jews refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah. His own rejected Him. And yet, God seems to promise tremendous blessings to the people of Israel as a result of this light.

You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
    and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest
    and like warriors dividing the plunder.
For you will break the yoke of their slavery
    and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
    just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
The boots of the warrior
    and the uniforms bloodstained by war
will all be burned.
    They will be fuel for the fire. – Isaiah 9:3-5 NLT

None of these things happened. Jesus didn’t break their yoke of slavery to Rome. He didn’t remove the oppressor’s rod. The nation of Israel was not enlarged. Because Jesus came to offer spiritual emancipation – a release from their slavery to sin. He came to deliver them from the oppression of spiritual death or eternal separation from God.

The arrival of Jesus on this planet, in the physical form of a man, was intended to provide atonement for the sins of manknd, and to make their right standing before God a reality. He did not come to set up an earthly kingdom or to establish Himself as the King of Israel. At least, not yet. And what the Jews viewed as His failure to come as their conquering king and deliverer from Roman oppression, was what caused them to reject Him as their Messiah.

And yet, God seemed to promise a coming king.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

The prophecy speaks of His government, His rule, His throne and His mighty army. And that aspect of the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. The apostle John, through the vision given to Him by God, describes a future day in which Jesus will reign on this earth from the throne of His ancestor David.

Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

And, as the angel revealed to Mary regarding the birth of her son:

“…behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:20-33 ESV

God’s promiise, made to the people of Judah through the lips of Isaiah, would one day come true. He did break through the darkness. But the people loved the darkness more than they loved the light. So, God took the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. But the day is coming when God will fulfill His promise to the people of Judah.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 NLT

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

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

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

Unworthy of Eternal Life.

42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
    that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:42-52 ESV

Paul and Barnabas enjoyed a surprisingly positive response from the little speech Paul had given in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. Unlike previous occasions, like the one when Stephen preached a similar sermon, but was met with anger and stoning; Paul and Barnabas were begged to come back the following Sabbath. The people were intrigued by all that Paul had to say and wanted to hear more. When the meeting broke up, Paul and Barnabas found themselves surrounded by a crowd of Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism, who had, most likely, been moved by Paul’s closing words:

38 “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. 39 Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight—something the law of Moses could never do. – Acts 13:38-39 NLT

They were intrigued. They had never heard anything like this before. And before parting ways with these highly inquisitive people, Paul and Barnabas urged them “to continue in the grace of God.” The Greek word translated as “continue” actually carries the meaning of abiding or remaining in something. Paul and Barnabas clearly recognized that the grace.of God had been extended to these people and encouraged them to remain in that grace – willingly open to what God may have to show them in the days ahead. One of the worst things these people could do was to harden their hearts and resist the good news that Paul and Barnabas were sharing. They had heard the message of salvation made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection, but they had not yet accepted it. But Paul and Barnabas knew that God was not done yet. They wanted their audience to remain open to what God was planning to do in their midst.

A week later, Paul and Barnabas made their way to the synagogue again. But this time they were met by a larger-than-capacity crowd, because virtually everyone in the city had shown up to hear what these two men had to say. Word had gotten out and the curiosity level was high. And, evidently, there were non-Jews or Gentiles in the crowd. They would not have been allowed into the synagogue, but they showed up anyway, hoping to catch a glimpse of these two strangers who were teaching about freedom from sin. But the Jews, angered by and jealous because of the amount of notoriety and popularity Paul and Barnabas enjoyed, began to push back and refute their teaching. Luke records that they slandered Paul, most likely hurling all kinds of false accusations against him, in an attempt to undermine his credibility among the rest of the Jews and the Gentiles.

But Paul and Barnabas refused to back down, instead speaking out boldly in their own defense by declaring that they were only doing what they had been told to do: Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, with the Jewish people. That is why they had originally showed up at the synagogue in the first place. But Paul let these incensed Jews know that, in rejecting the gospel message, they were turning their backs on eternal life. Not only that, they were freeing Paul and Barnabas to take the very same message of salvation to the Gentiles. And Paul used an Old Testament Messianic prophecy from the Book of Isaiah to make his point.

“I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
    to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 NLT

This was God speaking of His own Son, proclaiming that He had entered the world in order to bring the light of the gospel to the whole world, to the farthest corners of the earth. This meant that Jesus had come in order to die for all mankind, not just the Jewish people. In fact, in that same passage in Isaiah, the voice of the Messiah Himself is heard:

5 the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
    who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The Lord has honored me,
    and my God has given me strength.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT

From the very beginning, Jesus had come to do far more than simply establish Israel as a great nation once again. He was not a Messiah who was going to come and set up an earthly kingdom and restore to Israel the glory and grandeur they had enjoy during the days of David and Solomon. That day would come, but in the far-distant future. First, Jesus came to die as a payment for the sins of mankind. He came to offer Himself as a sinless sacrifice, an unblemished lamb, capable of satisfying the just demands of a holy and righteous God.

The apostle John opens up his gospel with these sobering words:

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:9-13 NLT

Jesus came to the Jewish people. He was born a Jew, a descendant of King David himself. He was raised by Jewish parents and circumcised as an infant, just like every other Jewish boy. He grew up going to synagogue with His parents. He made the annual trips to the city of Jerusalem for the celebrations of Passover and Pentecost. And all during His life, He had kept the law of God perfectly, having never sinned or violated a single command of His heavenly Father.

But John tells us Jesus was rejected by His own. He was the very Light of God, the reflection of God’s own glory and character, but the Jewish people, for the most part, refused to see Him for who He was. They rejected the Light, preferring to live in darkness. John expands on this very thought later on in his gospel.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21 NLT

And we see this lived out on the pages of Luke’s account. The Jews who were verbally assaulting Paul and Barnabas, were rejecting the Light as expressed in the gospel message these two men had preached. Rather than rejoice in the news that they could have forgiveness for and freedom from their sins, they balked, fearing the very idea of  having their sins exposed. They were self-righteous hypocrites, who would rather have men think well of them, than confess their sin so that God would forgive them.

Yet, when the Gentiles, who had gathered to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say, heard them say that the gospel was now available to them, they were ecstatic. Luke writes that “they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers” (Acts 13:48 NLT). Rather than reject the Light, they gladly received it, having the darkness in which they had lived for so long, illuminated by the glory of the grace of God. They came to the light and they were saved. Unlike many of the Jews in the crowd that day, the Gentiles willingly and gladly exposed their sinfulness to the bright light of Christ and found that they received forgiveness, cleansing, acceptance and salvation. Not condemnation. Not rejection. 

But those living in darkness did what they naturally do: They tried to hide their sin by getting rid of the light. They stirred up others in the city, influential others, to come to their cause and oppose the teaching of Paul and Barnabas. And they were successful, inciting a mob to chase Paul and Barnabas out of town. But these two men simply did as Jesus had instructed the disciples when He had sent them out. “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave” (Matthew 10:14 NLT). But when they walked out of the city of Pisidian Antioch, they left behind a vibrant group of energized Gentile believers, who Luke describes as “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52 NLT). These men and women became lights in the midst of the darkness of Pisidian Antioch, and their presence would continue to have a cleansing, purging and transformative impact on that city for years to come.

 

 

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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

Health, Hope and Healing.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the guard: “Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah that were torn down to make a defense against the siege mounds and against the sword: They are coming in to fight against the Chaldeans and to fill them with the dead bodies of men whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath, for I have hidden my face from this city because of all their evil. Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.

“Thus says the Lord: In this place of which you say, ‘It is a waste without man or beast,’ in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man or inhabitant or beast, there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord:

“‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,
    for the Lord is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!’

For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: In this place that is waste, without man or beast, and in all of its cities, there shall again be habitations of shepherds resting their flocks. In the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb, in the land of Benjamin, the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, flocks shall again pass under the hands of the one who counts them, says the Lord.”  Jeremiah 33:1-13 ESV

While Jeremiah was still locked up by Zedekiah, God visited Him a second time. And this time, He commands Jeremiah to pray to Him and promises to answer when he does.

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. – Jeremiah 33:3 ESV

The term, “hidden things” in the Hebrew is a single word that is most often used to refer to the defensive capabilities of a city. It can actually be translate as “fortified” or “inaccessible”. It is somewhat ironic that God uses this word, because it can mean the walls of a city that are impenetrable. Here was Jerusalem, surrounded by Babylonian troops, with siege walls and ramparts set up all around its perimeter, and it’s fall eminent. But God said He was going to tell Jeremiah things that, unlike the walls of Jerusalem, were impenetrable or unknowable. Man could lay siege to God, demanding to know His will and His ways, but unless God determined to reveal His mysteries, man would remain ignorant and in the dark. The prophet, Isaiah, also recorded the words of God declaring His plan to reveal new and hidden things.

“From this time forth I announce to you new things,
hidden things that you have not known.
They are created now, not long ago;
before today you have never heard of them,
lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’
You have never heard, you have never known,
from of old your ear has not been opened.” – Isaiah 48:6-8 ESV

Unless God makes Himself known to man, He remains unknowable.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable.
 – Job 36:26 ESV

He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

God is unknowable, unless He chooses to make Himself known. While He has revealed His divine nature through His creation and men are without excuse who refuse to acknowledge His presence, they can only know Him in a limited sense. God had chosen to reveal Himself more intimately and deeply to the Israelites. He had chosen them as His own and revealed Himself to them in incredible ways. But they had chosen to reject Him and treat their relationship with him with disdain. So, now God was going to give Jeremiah a glimpse into the unknown, the hidden things of God. He was going to reveal to His prophet the incredible future of Israel and Judah. While He was going to bring punishment on them for their sins and allow the Babylonians to defeat them, He said:

“Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion.” – Jeremiah 33:6-8 NLT

God was going to do something remarkable and unbelievable. Just when things appeared to be catastrophic and the fate of Judah was sealed, God promised that their future would be bright. They would experience hope and healing.

“…in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah’s other towns, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the Lord.” – Jeremiah 33:10-11 NLT

The future. We can’t see it. We can only hope for it. Oh, we can worry about it and attempt to do things that we think will improve or impact it, but when all is said and done, we have very little influence over how the future will turn out. There are far too many things that can derail our plans and destroy our best intentions. But God knows the future. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are all the same to Him. He is not bound by time. And His plans for the future are not speculative, but predetermined. They will happen just as He has planned them. No wishful thinking. No hoping for a good outcome. What God says will happen, will happen, with the same degree of certainty as if it had already taken place. And we know from history, that the people of Judah did return to the land, seventy years later, just as God had said they would. So, we can also know that His plans for His as-yet-fulfilled promises regarding their future will also take place. He has proven Himself trustworthy and faithful. And one of the things God had in store for the nation of Judah was the future coming of the Messiah, the descendant of David. It would be hundreds of years before Jesus appeared on the scene. And when He came, He brought with Him the revelation of God’s plan for mankind: Salvation from sin and restoration to a right relationship with Him. Sadly, the people of Judah did not receive Him when He came.

The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children—children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God. – John 1:9-13 NLT

But as John reveals just a few verses later, Jesus came to make God known and to reveal yet another impenetrable mystery regarding God’s plans for mankind.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

And John would later declare the true nature of Jesus’ arrival on earth.

Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:29 NLT

God’s ways are beyond finding out. There was no way Jeremiah could know that God had a rich and fruitful future in store for the people of Judah. God had to tell Him. And there was certainly no way that Jeremiah could have known that one day God would send His Son, as a man, born to a woman from the tribe of Judah, who would die for the sins of men. It was a mystery. But in time, God revealed His plan by sending His Son. And His Son revealed the Father, proving the incredible love of God for sinful men. Hope and healing were going to come, but in a form that no man could have envisioned, including Jeremiah. For Jeremiah, sitting in jail as the Babylonians laid siege to his beloved city of Jerusalem, the future looked grim. But God was revealing something mysterious and unknowable to mere mortals: His unstoppable, unwavering plan for the world He had created. It’s important to note that God opened up His address to Jeremiah by describing Himself as “the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it” (Jeremiah 33:2 ESV). The God who created was going to recreate. The God who spoke light into darkness was going to send the true light into the darkness of man’s sin. Hope and healing are always in God’s hands. He is the only source for what mankind really needs. And as bleak as things may appear, we can rest in the knowledge that God has plans for us – “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV).

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

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

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

A Lack of Light.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people. – Hosea 6:7-11 ESV

At the heart of Israel’s sin was their failure to keep their covenant with God. When He had delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, God had given them His law and made a bilateral covenant with them at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. That remarkable event was accompanied by thunder, lightning, smoke and fire. After seeing this dramatic display of God’s power and hearing the holy requirements of God, the people were petrified. “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:18-20 ESV).

God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. They were to be His representatives on earth, living according to His holy law and revealing to the world the blessings that come with obedience to His will. But God had warned them that there were going to be consequences to their disobedience. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV). Over the years, the nation of Israel proved remarkably unfaithful, even before the kingdom was split in two. And after God had divided the kingdom, the ten northern tribes, known as Israel, took their unfaithfulness to a whole new level. And as a result, God was forced to keep His word. He was going to bring about their destruction.

Forsaking God always has dire ramifications. You cannot ignore God and hope that all will go well for you. Failure to honor and worship Him as God always leads to devastating consequences. In the case of Israel, their sinfulness spread like a plague among the people. Murder and robbery became common place, even in those cities that had once been known as sacred sites. The priests and religious leaders, rather than being icons of spiritual virtue, were fully complicit in the immoral and unethical acts of the nation. They were guilty of leading the nation astray, not only by advocating the worship of idols, but in committing acts in direct defiance of God’s commandments. God had made His will crystal clear. His commands were non-negotiable and free from interpretation.

You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods … You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy … Honor your father and motherYou must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. – Exodus 20:3-17 NLT

And Israel had violated them all. Just as Adam, the first man, had broken God’s covenant in the garden, disobeying His command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Israelites had willingly and persistently broken God’s covenant with them. They had failed to take God seriously. They had doubted His word and ignored His warning about curses and promise of blessings. It is interesting to note that their failure to love God as expressed in their disobedience of His law, manifested itself in a lack of love for one another. Murder and robbery are relational crimes committed by one individual against another. Just as murder followed the initial sin of Adam and Eve, the Israelites’ forsaking of God was followed by a hatred for one another. The great Shema, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, was a required daily prayer for all Israelites, learned at an early age. It reads:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

The law of God and a love for God were to be inseparable. God’s commands contained both vertical (God-focused) and horizontal (man-focused) elements. If someone obeyed God’s law out of love for Him, they would automatically express love for those around them. Obedience to God would manifest itself in mutual respect and love for others. But notice that the Shema contains the admonition to teach God’s commands to the next generation. They were to be a constant part of everyday life, dictating and determining behavior and influencing every aspect of life. But failure to keep God’s laws always follows failure to keep God as the center of your life. Disobedience is a byproduct of disbelief and distrust. Adam and Eve sinned because they listened to Satan and doubted God’s word. The people of Israel had sinned because they had forsaken God. Just as darkness is an absence of light, so sin is an absence of God. Walking away from God is like walking away from a light. You will eventually find yourself stumbling around in the dark, incapable of knowing where you are going and what you are doing.

The apostle John wrote, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). Israel had walked out of the light and into darkness. Their behavior was a result of their failure to honor and esteem God. And we can experience the same tragic outcome if we fail to keep God as the central focus in our lives, honoring Him for who He is and lovingly obeying His will because we know He loves us.

Numbers 19-20, John 1

Belief and Obedience.

Numbers 19-20, John 1

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12 ESV

In this section of the book of Numbers, the events have been fast-forwarded, bringing us to the close of the 40 years that God had said the people would spend wandering in the wilderness as a result of their failure to enter into the land of promise. Their disbelief had caused them to disobey, and brought God’s divine discipline. Now they found themselves headed back to the border of the land of Canaan In the four decades that had passed, the older generation had slowly died off. But they had successfully passed on their sinful characteristics to their children. “Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!  Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink’” (Numbers 20:2-5 ESV). For Moses, this had to have had an eerily similar feel to the events that had taken place years before when the people had arrived in the wilderness of Sin. There the people had also complained about the lack of water and God had graciously given them water from a rock. Now decades later, the people are complaining again. Same people. Same God. Same problem. But their problem was NOT a lack of water. It was a lack of faith in God. They believed in God. They knew He existed. They couldn’t deny the reality of His existence. But they could disbelieve the validity of His will for their lives. Notice how many times they question, “Why?”

Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness?

Why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?

They didn’t like their circumstances. In fact, they wished they had died when God had stricken their ancestors with the plague 40 years earlier. They thought they would be better off dead than living in the will of God. It wasn’t that they failed to believe in God. It was that they failed to believe that He knew what was best for them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In the book of John, there is powerful imagery used to convey Christ’s coming into the world. He is portrayed as light and He entered into the darkness of this world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV). “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9 ESV). Light speaks of His purity, truth, and righteousness. Jesus was the Son of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). He was God incarnate – God in human flesh. He was Immanuel – God with us. God revealed Himself to man in human form. The Light of God penetrated the darkness of human sin and hopelessness. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV). And yet, John tells us, the world did not know him. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They couldn’t deny His existence, but they refused to believe that He was God’s will regarding their salvation. Just as in the days of Moses, God revealed Himself to man. He made His presence known, but mankind refused to believe that God knew what was best. Only a handful of people in Jesus’ day seemed to recognize Jesus for who He claimed to be. Andrew told his brother Simon, “We have found ‘the Messiah’ (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV). Philip told Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). Nathanael said to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). God had revealed Himself to men through His Son, and only a handful of individuals seemed to believe that Jesus represented the will of God for mankind.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Belief requires obedience. It didn’t matter how much the people of God said they believed in the Law of God, as long as they failed to obey it. It didn’t matter how much Moses believed in the reality of God if he was unwilling to obey His word. Later on in the gospel story, we know that there came a time when Nathanael, Andrew, Philip and the rest of the disciples were forced to put their belief into action by answering Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. They were going to have to take a risk and obey. If they truly believed He was who He claimed to be, they would need to prove it by leaving everything else behind and following Him – in spite of their doubts and fears. In the book of Numbers, we see Moses having to deal with the disbelief of the people once again. They find themselves lacking water and so they lash out at Moses and question the will of God for their lives. And as He had done before, God miraculously provided water from a rock. He commanded Moses to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV). But instead, “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice” (Numbers 20:11 ESV). Not only that, Moses prefaced his actions with a small speech: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10 ESV). Moses was angry. He was put out with the people. He was tired of their whining and complaining. We get an insight into what was going on in Moses’ heart from Psalm 106. “They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips” (Psalm 106:32-33 ESV). Moses was angry, and in his anger, he failed to listen to what God had told him to do. Rather than “tell the rock,” he struck it. He simply did what he had done decades earlier. But that was not what God had commanded Him to do. He disobeyed God’s command. Yes, Moses believed in God, but he failed to obey the word of God. “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them’” (Numbers 20:12 ESV). Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But God was making a point with Moses and Aaron. Moses’ actions in front of the people, motivated by anger and characterized by a failure to listen to the word of God, treated God with contempt. Moses failed to do God’s will, God’s way.

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

John writes, “He came to his own,  and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13 ESV). Most of the people failed to receive Jesus as the Son of God and their Messiah. They could see Him, but they would not believe in Him. But those who did receive Him and believed in His name, they became children of God. They received the gift of eternal life through the Son of God. They believed and obeyed. They heard the Word and received it. They recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who  takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). Their belief in Jesus as the Son of God took the form of obedience to the will of God. They accepted God’s plan for their lives and willfully submitted to it. It really doesn’t matter how often or how vigorously I claim to believe in God, if I fail to accept His will for my life. It doesn’t matter how vocal I am about my faith in Christ, if I fail to listen to and obey His commands regarding how to live my life. Belief and obedience are to go hand in hand. They are inseparable. Disobedience and disbelief are also inseparable. To disobey is to reveal our disbelief. We doubt God’s will. We disbelieve that He knows what is best. We think we know better. Moses did it his way and suffered the consequences. The people of Israel complained about their lot in life, and in doing so, revealed their lack of faith in God. They failed to trust the One in whom they said they believed. And that tendency is a constant threat for every follower of God today.

Father, I want my faith in You to show up as trust in You. I want my belief in You to reveal itself by obedience to You. Never let me separate those two. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Timothy 3:14-4:5

The Foundation of the Truth.

1 Timothy 3:14-4:5

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14-15 NLT

The world in which Paul lived was mired in falsehood, much like it is today. This world is the domain of Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44). Everything in this world is deceptive and deceitful. As Satan has always done, he has taken what God has made and attempted to distort and twist it in such a way that it leads mankind away from God. As Paul stated in Romans, “And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:21-23 NLT). As a result, “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself” (Romans 1:25 NLT). John reminds us that Jesus “came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:10-11 NLT). Men preferred the darkness over the Light. They rejected the Truth over the lie in which they were living.

So Paul tells Timothy that the church, the body of Christ, is now the instrument of God to spread and support the truth of God in this world. His whole purpose in writing Timothy is to help him understand how people are to live within the household of God, the church. And I think Paul is specifically thinking about the local church context. The local church is the testing ground of our faith. It is where the truth must be applied with love and grace. Even God’s life-transforming power made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross doesn’t work the local body of believers, we are hopeless. But Paul believed it could and should. First and foremost, the church is a household, a family. It is not an institution or organization. It is a collection of different individuals who have all shared in God’s undeserved, unmerited favor by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. They have been adopted into God’s family and been declared His heirs, all due to the sacrificial, sin-cancelling death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul describes this as the great mystery of our faith. “Christwas revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 NLT).

This is the truth of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. It is this truth that the church is to support and uphold. There is no other version of the truth. It is this truth that leads to godliness. It is this truth that makes the church a living organism, not an organization. It is this truth that provides power through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. It is this truth that gives us hope for the present as well as the future. The church, the body of Christ, is where the message of new life in Christ gets lived out, and where the Light of the world illuminates the darkness of this world. And Paul knew the necessity of the these things because he had seen firsthand the impact of falsehood and heresy within the local church. The enemy was alive and well in his day, attacking the fledgling churches with half-truths, convincing lies, and distorted views of reality. Where there is truth, there will always be falsehood. The Good News regarding Jesus Christ would always be accompanied by counterfeits and knockoffs. One of the things Paul was constantly fighting was the tendency for people to buy into the formula of Jesus + something. Anything that added to Christ’s all-sufficient work on the cross was to be rejected as false – a lie from the enemy.

The real and constant danger to the church is compromise. If the enemy can get us to compromise our convictions by ever-so-slight revisions to the truth of God, he can destroy our effectiveness. It is exactly what he did with Adam and Eve in the garden. He got them to question the word of God by cleverly twisting it – leading them to doubt it’s veracity and reliability. But the church must be the pillar that supports the truth in the midst of all the falsehood and lies. And the lies Paul warns Timothy about are subtle and deceptive. Whether it was asceticism, the belief that abstinence from certain physical things leads to spiritual maturity, or legalism, the belief that adherence to certain rules and rituals were essential to salvation – these things were to be rejected as lies. They had no place in the household of God. They were dangerous and highly destructive. The key to the church’s survival in the hostile environment in which it is called to exist is the truth. We are called to be a “faithful people who know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3 NLT). It is the truth of God, found in the Word of God, that gives the people of God the capacity to see the lies of the enemy and reject them. Knowledge of the truth brings health and vitality to the body of Christ. Living according to the truth makes the people of God a powerful force for change in the world, causing us to shine brightly in the darkness that surrounds us. Compromise is like a blanket thrown over the church, diminishing its capacity to shine.

Father, we are Your ambassadors and emissaries. Show us how to live in such a way that we truly are the pillar and support of the truth. May the local bodies of Christ around the world become agents of change and beacons of light in the darkness. But for that to happen, we must stand on and stand up for the truth. Your Word must become our only source of truth. Give us the capacity to spot falsehood and reject it for what it is – the lies of the enemy. The world is full of deception. May we become the standard for truth in the midst of all the deceit and distortion. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Ephesians 5:1-14

Bright Lights In the Darkness.

Ephesians 5:1-14

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:8-9 NLT

The believers in Ephesus were surrounded by darkness. These people had come to faith in Christ and been placed into the family of God, but still found themselves living in a pagan culture where all kinds of ungodly activity and influences surrounded them. While they were now part of the body of Christ, that did not mean that they were free from external pressures or the temptations to go back to their old ways of life. Paul had helped found this church and had spent over three years with the believers there, so he knew their situation well and had a deep concern for their ongoing spiritual well-being. He had seen first-hand the transformation that had taken place in their lives. Once they had been “full of darkness.” They had lived like the other Gentiles around them, whose “minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT). Those among whom the Ephesian believers lived, “have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:19 NLT).

So Paul reminds the members of the church in Ephesus that they have a responsibility to live differently and influentially in the midst of the culture in which they find themselves. They are to live as people of light. Paul loved the imagery of light. So did Jesus. He described Himself by saying, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12 NLT). Paul had written to the believers in Corinth, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT). Paul was reminding his readers that they had been radically transformed and enlightened by the very presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. And that light within them was to shine from them, impacting and influencing everything and everyone around them. Light shines in the darkness. Light and dark cannot coexist. Darkness is simply the absence of light. So the more brightly the light within them shone out of them, the less darkness would be present in their midst. That’s why Paul wrote, “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and course jokes – these are not for you” (Ephesians 5:3-4 NLT).

Light dispels darkness. It doesn’t attempt to cozy up to it and tolerate it. As soon as a light is turned on, the darkness goes away. The same should be true in the life of the believer. The brighter the light of Christ shines in our lives, the more the darkness will recede. The more the light of Christ shines out of our lives, the less influence the darkness around us will have on us. The believers in Ephesus were just as prone as we are to tolerate sin, to excuse it and justify it. There will always be those who try to excuse sin and find a way to make it acceptable. But Paul warns, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him” (Ephesians 5:6 NLT). Tolerance and compromise have no place in the life of the believer. We are not to take part in the things that are done in darkness. “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!” (Ephesians 5:8 NLT). Light refuses to tolerate darkness. Instead, it exposes and expels it. Paul starts out this chapter by saying, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children” (Ephesians 5:1 NLT). That’s quite a challenge. But it is simply a reminder that we are no longer of this world. We have a new family and a new Father. We have been adopted and placed into a new home with a new set of standards. We should live in such a way that our actions please our heavenly Father. Rather than take part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness, we should expose them. We shouldn’t even talk about them. Paul writes, “It is shameful to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:12-13 NLT). That light resides in believers, so our very presence in the world should expose the darkness around us. Our existence on this planet should make everything visible, providing a stark contrast between what is pleasing to God and what is acceptable in this world. We are lights, but we need to shine. “No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house” (Luke 11:33 NLT).

Father, may the light of Christ shine out of us, not just inside us. May we learn to live as lights in the darkness, exposing sin and expressing the love of Christ for those whose lives have been dominated by darkness for far too long. Our lives are to be different and distinct. We have the Light of the world inside us, now help us to let it shine through us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 78 – John 9

Spiritual Blindness.

John 9

“If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied, “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.” – John 9:41 NLT

This entire chapter deals with the interaction between Jesus and a common peasant man who had been blind since birth. It all took place on the Sabbath, which usually meant that Jesus was going to do something that would put Him at odds with the religious leaders, who were always looking for more excuses to attack and discredit Him. Jesus didn’t disappoint. His disciples were the first to point out the man in question, using him as a visual aid to assist them in asking Jesus a theological question: “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins? (John 9:2 NLT). They were expressing a common viewpoint among the Jews that all physical suffering, illness or trouble of any kind was due to sin. From their perspective, this man was blind because of either something he or his parents had done. But Jesus shocks them by saying the man’s blindness was for a totally different reason – “so the power of God could be seen in him” (John 9:3 NLT). The man’s blindness was an opportunity for God to reveal His power, but no necessarily just through healing. Paul expressed it so well when he wrote, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong: (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). Weakness of any kind, whether physical, emotional, financial, or psychological, can be a place where we can discover the power of God in our lives. And Jesus was going to display His Father’s power in this man’s life as an illustration to His disciples.

Interestingly enough, Jesus chooses to heal this man in a manner He had not done before. He could have simply spoken a word and the man’s eyes would have been opened. But instead, Jesus spit on the ground, makes mud and spread it over the man’s eyes. He then instructed the man to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash the mud away. The thing to remember is that this was the Sabbath, and what Jesus did (according to the legalistic religious leaders) would have been construed as “work” – a direct violation of the Sabbath laws concerning rest or cessation from work. And Jesus knew exactly what He was doing and for whose benefit. When the man comes back from the pool completely healed and able to see for the first time in his life, it didn’t take long for the word to spread. This brought the religious leaders, who began to question the man regarding what had happened. They are incredulous, disbelieving and choose to deny that the man had been blind at all. They question his parents in an attempt to discredit the man’s story, but fail. When the realize that they are not going to be able to debunk the reality of the man’s miraculous healing, they demand that he give the glory to God and not Jesus, “because we know this man Jesus is a sinner” (John 9:24 NLT). The man, while just a common peasant and a former beggar with no theological training, is astute enough to respond, “I don’t know whether he is a sinner, but I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” (John 9:25 NLT). What a great line!

The religious leaders reveal that they don’t believe in Jesus because they don’t know where He comes from. In other words, He had no authority. He had no credibility. He had no right to say what He said or do what He did. He was not one of their own. But once again, the man who had been healed by Jesus simply says, “Why that’s very strange! He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it” (John 9:30-33 NLT). From this man’s limited perspective, it was clear that Jesus was from God. And the debate over whether He was a sinner or not was cleared up by the very fact that God seemed to be on His side. This formerly blind man could see the truth clearly. His spiritual eyes were opened and he was able to perceive the truth of who Jesus was and who He came from. But the religious leaders were blind. In a rage, they threw him out of the synagogue. Jesus heard what had happened and found the man and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 NLT). The man replies, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him” (John 9:36 NLT). This man was still learning to see spiritually. He was not yet clear on exactly who Jesus was, but he wanted to know. So Jesus tells him, “You have seen him, and he is speaking to you” (John 9:38 NLT). The man responds with a resounding statement of belief and heartfelt worship. Then Jesus makes a statement to him that sums up this entire chapter. “I entered into this world to render judgment – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind” (John 9:39 NLT). In the spiritual economy of that day, this man had been viewed since the day he was born, as a sinner who was being punished by God with physical blindness. The religious leaders were viewed as righteous, holy and the personal favorites of God because of their position and their strict adherence to the law. God was “blessing” them for their righteousness and punishing this man for his unrighteousness. But Jesus destroys this paradigm, revealing that it was the religious leaders who were truly blind. If they would simply admit their need and confess their own weakness, they could receive healing from God through Jesus. But they remained blind and guilty because they claimed they could see. They thought they knew better. Their own self-righteousness blinded them to the truth and prevented them from seeing the Son of God standing in their midst. Their refusal to admit their spiritual blindness condemned them and left them stumbling around in darkness. Jesus had already said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12 NLT). This man had been blind, but now he saw. He had also been spiritually blind, living in spiritual darkness. But He had had His eyes opened and was now living in the light of the Son of God.

Father, You sent Your Son into the world to shed His light in the midst of the prevailing darkness. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. There are countless millions who continue to choose darkness over His light. They prefer sin over salvation. They refuse to admit their own spiritual blindness, all the while arrogantly claiming that they can see. Thank You for opening my eyes. Thank You for exposing my blindness and shining the light of Your Son into the darkness of my world. Help me be a light in the dark to all those around me. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org