Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Battle Has Always Been the Lord’s | Psalm 9:3–6

          When my enemies turn back,
            they stumble and perish before your presence.
          For you have maintained my just cause;
            you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
          You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
            you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
          The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
            their cities you rooted out;
            the very memory of them has perished.

David begins this psalm exalting the Lord, and he now turns to the reasons for praise.  His “I will” statements of vv. 1–2 turn into “you have” statements in these verses.  These verses, then, give us a picture of the thanksgiving that should accompany our petitions to God.

First, the Lord has always done what’s right.  In dealing with the enemies of David, God upholds the righteous position of David as king.  He recognizes that David has a “just cause,” that he has a righteous standing.  Since God had anointed David as king, and the king is following the Lord, God judges David’s enemies as they are—rebels against the Most High God.  That’s why the godless “stumble and perish before [God’s] presence,” not before David’s.

Second, the Lord has always dealt with problems completely.  David continues to acknowledge what “you have” done.  The Lord speaks to the nations in wrath and fury (2:5), and the result is utter destruction.  Just as an ancient writing tablet could be scraped clean and re-written, blotting out the information that was there, God will wipe them from existence.  

As an example, scoffers used to reference the Hittites as evidence against Scripture because we could find no archaeological evidence that they had ever existed.  However, we found that evidence in the twentieth century, and an entire field of study called “Hittitology” arose as a result.  An entire nation disappearing from the annuals of history outside of Scripture is a small example of what God can accomplish.   

When God fights the battle, He completely wins.  The enemies of Israel may say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!” (Ps 83:4).  However, they won’t be remembered, but “the Lord sits enthroned forever (v. 7).  Our confidence must be in what God does for us, and we must never neglect what He has already done.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Choosing of the Twelve, Part 4—Ordering the Twelve | Mark 3:17–18

James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot,

Jesus promised that, upon the rock of Peter’s confession, “I will build my church” (Mt 16:16–18), and we noted last time that the apostle’s teaching ministry comprises the church’s foundation (Eph 2:20).  Jesus gives divine offices to His church forming its structure, building it upon that foundation (Eph 4:11–12).  He’s the cornerstone of the apostolic foundation, and all God’s people are living stones in His spiritual house (1 Pt 2:4–8).  The twelve men in vv. 16–19 are those Christ chose as His foundation.

He organized the structure.  While it’s popular to disparage “organized religion” (and sometimes right), our Lord did not create an unorganized faith.  As Paul said, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace,” and “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:33, 40).  Our Lord appoints apostles, and Matthew 10:1–4 tells us that the disciples were coupled, sent out by twos. 

Moreover, there appear to be circles within the twelve.  All lists of the apostles name Peter first, with Andrew, James, and John coming after him in differing orders—an inner circle (three of these four witnessed the Transfiguration, Mk 9:2).  Philip always heads the next group, followed alternately by Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthew.  James, the Son of Alpheus, seems to lead the third, an interesting circle with two Judases (one named Thaddeus here and Lebbaeus in Matthew 10:3, perhaps to avoid confusion with Judas Iscariot) and Simon the Zealot. 

It’s a personal structure.  He had walked and ate with these men and knew them from eternity past (Eph 1:4), and we glimpse the personal side of His appointment in two ways.  First, in His renaming Simon back in v. 16.  Second, in the nickname that He gives to John and James—Boanerges, an Aramaic term which means “Sons of Thunder.”  This obvious term of endearment highlighted their bold and even rash ways (cf. 9:38; Lk 9:54).  Our Lord doesn’t just fill positions with warm bodies; He knows His disciples, loves them, and places them where they can best serve Him.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Choosing of the Twelve, Part 3—Simon Peter | Mark 3:16

He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter);

Our Lord appointed twelve to assist Him in the work of His earthly ministry.  Let’s focus today on the first of those—Simon Peter.  This is the first time the name “Peter” appears in Mark, even though he’s mentioned in the previous chapters.  From this point forward, Mark refers to Simon as Peter.  As Peter himself is likely speaking through Mark’s writing, it appears that Peter saw this moment as a turning point for Him—the point at which the Lord began to change him.

The Lord gives new names.  God frequently changes the names of His saints.  Abram (a former idolator who had no children but whose name meant “exalted father”) became Abraham (“father of many nations”).  Jacob (“deceiver”) became Israel (“God’s fighter”).  Jesus says in Revelation 2:17 that the overcomer in Him receives “a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”  If we are in Christ, we can be new creations (2 Cor 5:17).

The Lord does so knowing our inconsistenciesPetros or “Peter” means rock.  Certainly, Peter boasted of being a rock, even emphatically promising in 14:31, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  Yet, that is precisely what he did, making his name seem ironic.  However, the Lord knew of this betrayal and the repentance that would follow (Lk 22:31–34).  He chooses us knowing that we are sinners and inconsistent, and He guards our faith (from ourselves!) in heaven until the end (1 Pt 1:5).  Praise God our righteousness is in heaven!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Choosing of the Twelve, Part 2—Why They are Chosen | Mark 3:14–15

And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons.

Many disciples follow the Lord at this point.  Even so, He calls only twelve to send out with His message.  He does so for two main reasons, and their appointment will become the bedrock of the entire church. 

Our Lord wants those He chooses to be with Him.  They’ll be trained by spending time with Jesus, eating and walking with Him for the remainder of His earthly ministry.  All involving themselves with the Lord’s ministry must spend time learning from Him. 

All must also know the security that comes with being with the Lord.  He tells the disciples in Mt 19:28, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  As our Lord says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hb 13:5).  What a comfort—He choose them “so that they might be with him”!

Our Lord gives authority to preach and to minister.  He had to teach them, and He had to grant them the supernatural ability to carry out their ministry.  Paul talks about the signs of a “true apostle,” which includes such “signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Cor 12:12)—God bearing witness through them (Hb 2:3–4).

The point, though, wasn’t that they could also perform exorcisms—it was the proclamation of the gospel.  Jesus preached repentance and the gospel (1:14–15), and He authorizes His disciples to be fishers of men (1:17).  As such, their message about Christ is the bedrock of the church (Gal 2:20). 

Christians don’t have the kind of delegated authority the apostles had.  However, we have their inspired writings and meet Jesus through them.  We learn that the Holy Spirit continues calling and delegating gifts as He chooses (1 Cor 12:11), and that evangelists and pastors must continue teaching “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jd 3).  As such, the Word of the Lord continues going forth today!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Choosing of the Twelve, Part 1 | Mark 3:13

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.

Mark highlights a very unpopular topic—the sovereignty of our Lord to choose who He will.  Autonomous free will—the ability for man to do what he wants when he wants without divine interference—is an idol.  Movies and television burst with stories of those beating fate and paving their own paths in life.  Even some Christians bristle at the idea of God making choices for our lives.  Sinful human beings find more comfort in God’s lack of control because it grants them freedom to pursue their passions.

Unfortunately, Scripture presents a God creating the world and immediately saying, “Thou shalt not.”  It tells of God judging sin time after time, condemning mankind under sin.  To say this another way, it’s honest with us, and we need to come to terms with it.

Even so, the message of Scripture is doom and gloom, but hope in the gospel. 

Jesus is sovereign.  This essential message reminds us that, while we are weak and undeserving, our Master chooses us and determines the direction that we should take.  Jesus reminds them in the Upper Room, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16).  This isn’t simply a call to service (though it is that), for so lost are we that He needed to love us first (1 Jn 4:19).  His choice says that He’ll love us despite our sin.

Jesus is a better Moses.  In calling them up and then sending them out, Jesus reflects Moses and the elders of Israel (Ex 24:1–11).  Yet, that He’d send out disciples says that His message is superior and brings hope.  Moses brought the Law of God, but that holy Law meets our sin and produces only death (Rm 7:5).  Jesus is more worthy of glory (Hb 3:3), and because He’s the Son of God, we can be confident that He’ll be faithful over the spiritual house He’s building with us (v. 6).   Law-keeping can’t bring us closer to God, but Christ’s calling us does.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Favorite Reads of 2016

This list might be a bit late, but here are a few books I enjoyed last year and recommend.

Why Four Gospels?
by David Alan Black
My Review

Men of Science Men of God
by Henry M. Morris
My Review
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey Into Christian Faith
by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
My Review

Christian Living
Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology
by Andrew David Naselli
My Review

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism
by Michael John Beasley
My Review

Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths
by Michael J. Vlach
My Review

Premillennialism: Why There Musts Be a Future Earthly Kingdom of Jesus
by Michael Vlach
My Review

The Family Worship Book: A Resource Book for Family Devotions
by Terry L. Johnson
My Review

The Holy Spirit
God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments
by James M. Hamilton Jr.
My Review

Prison Ministry: Understanding Prison Culture Inside and Out
by Lennie Spitale
My Review

The Roots of Obama's Rage
by Dinesh D'Souza
My Review

True Spiritual Warfare | Mark 3:11–12

11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

Popular cinema and other forms of media have portrayed spiritual warfare as a mystical extension of human conflict.  Humans fight with swords and fists in the mud, while angels might do so in aerial displays of grace and power.  Christians are taught to involve themselves by speaking words binding evil spirits until supernatural authorities can cart away the tempters.  When compared to such rhetoric, true spiritual warfare may not seem as spectacular, but it is far more effective.

It’s the presence of Jesus that brings demons to their knees.  True spiritual warfare is fought by Christ and His Word.  That is why we are commanded to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph 6:10).  We can stand only in the armor He provides us (vv. 11–13).  Our only weapon is the sword of His Word (v. 17), and we must always be in prayer to Him (v. 18). 

Demons know Who Jesus is.  However, here we see that Jesus isn’t going to allow the demon to reveal too much about Him too soon.  Jesus knows many Jews have the wrong idea about what it is to be the Son of God and the Messiah.  If He does not control the flow of information, He might be prematurely crucified, or He could inadvertently spark rebellion against Rome.  As such, this is Christ exercising divine control over the spiritual realm.  He has a great deal of teaching remaining, and He ensures everything proceeds according to the definite plan of God (Acts 2:23; 4:28).

It isn’t our ability that wins spiritual battles—our standing and fighting, our testimony, our declaring or binding.  As the Sons of Sceva learned, it isn’t even saying the name “Jesus” that’s enough to drive out demons (Acts 19:11–17).  Instead, the Lord with and residing in His children causes demons to fall (cf. 1 Jn 4:4).  Those indwelt with the Holy Spirit have the Spirit of Christ (cf. 1 Pt 1:11)—and Christians must prayerfully rest in His strength and Word to win the spiritual victories of the day.