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Monday, April 21, 2014

Rejoice Always!

Acts 5:40-42

“They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

            Peter and the apostles continued to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ after the Pentecost. They healed people, preached, and taught, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (vs. 30-31). They said that they were witnesses of this and so was the Holy Spirit by whom everyone knew they received spiritual power as seen on Pentecost day. The Chief Priest and the Sanhedrin put the men in jail. During the night an angel of the Lord released them and told them, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life." The Sanhedrin did not know they were no longer in jail but found out when they sent the captain of the guard to bring the apostles to them. The captain and the Sanhedrin were dumbfounded as to how they were out of the jail and that the apostles still preached in the temple after they forbade them. When the Sanhedrin confronted the apostles, Peter replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (vs. 29). Once again, the Sanhedrin forbade them to speak in the name of Jesus and ordered them flogged.
            Maybe you remember this true story from previous readings. Possibly you have never heard it. What the apostles said after being flogged amazed me. Read verses 41 and 42 again. It says, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple, and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” What struck me was that they rejoiced because of their flogging and imprisonment. How many of us can say we are joyful and happy when we go through difficult times? I know in the past that has not been my first reaction. Rejoicing is something we must develop. It could be another mindset. This made me think and wonder where else in the New Testament people rejoiced and for what reason.
            Before looking at the instances of rejoicing, we need to understand the Greek word that translated to mean rejoice. The Greek word for rejoicing used in this passage in the New Testament is chairo. It means to be glad; to rejoice exceedingly; to be well and to thrive.[i] Rejoicing comes from acknowledged joy within oneself over what has occurred to you or someone else. Rejoicing is aimed toward and comes from a source. For Christians, that source is God. When you consider the astounding fact of God’s love and that He went so far as to have His Son die for our sins, rejoicing is the automatic reaction. Joy is the emotion when someone realizes he or she does not have to pay the penalty for his or her wrongdoing. Someone else chose to take his or her place instead. That someone is Jesus, the Son of God. Joy is not the same emotion as happy. Joy is “a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope.”[ii] Happiness is feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. Notice though that hope is not part of the definition of happy. Hope comes from Christ and thus, true joy can only come from a person who experiences a relationship with Jesus. Jesus provides the hope to happy and it becomes joy, which He gives through the Holy Spirit. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Joy brings rejoicing.
            With this understanding in place, we must move forward to see in what cases rejoicing occurs in the New Testament. This will allow us to understand why/how the apostles could rejoice after being flogged and forbidden to speak of their faith. The New Testament writers used chairo 68 times. That is phenomenal! Upon studying the 68 instances of rejoicing in the New Testament, I discovered that in 19 situations people rejoiced in the midst of negative occurrences. So, when the apostles rejoiced in Acts 5:41-42, it was not a strange occurrence. Four of those 19 times of rejoicing occurred when Paul, Peter, and their helpers suffered for telling others about Jesus. (See Acts 5:41-41, Philippians 2:17-18, 1 Peter 4:13, and Colossians 1:24.) Religious leaders considered them Christian enough to create a problem for the status quo. The apostles and disciples rejoiced that they had grown so much in Christlikeness that they were worthy to suffer persecution just as Jesus did. The apostles taught, as Jesus taught them, to rejoice in these sufferings because you have the hope of eternal life with Him in heaven after life on earth. Jesus told His disciples they would weep and lament, but the world would rejoice at their sufferings. He said they would receive grieve, but their grief would turn to joy (John 16:20). Peter and Paul both taught this in Romans 12:12 and 1 Peter 4:13. Paul spoke of times when people he taught and prayed for went through times of trouble. He said afterward about the Corinthians that he rejoiced because their difficult times brought them to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9 and 16). Difficult and trying times do not always bring unremitting grief; God can use anything for His good for those who seek Him and follow Him. Paul said this in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” As much as Satan wants you to give up on God or feel rejected by God, God never lets go of His children or those who call upon Him. He desires each person to call upon His name. Joy can come through trials. David said this in Psalm 30:5, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
God can use anything for His good. Consider the three times where people rejoiced because they captured Jesus or mocked Him. The chief priests, Judas, and the soldiers who tortured and crucified Jesus each rejoiced when they encountered Jesus in His final days (Mark 14:11, Luke 22:5). Judas’ “Greeting” to Jesus was false (Matthew 26:49). It was a way to set Him up for the Chief priests and their soldiers. The soldiers mockingly “hailed” Him King of the Jews (Matthew 27:29. Mark 15:18, and John 19:3). These incidents by Jesus’ antagonists show an important fact. When people rejoice, they aim their rejoicing at someone. For the chief priests, Judas, and the soldiers, they aimed their rejoicing at themselves for their cunning/deception. Cunning and deception are a part of Satan’s arsenal. What Satan meant for harm, God used for the good of humankind. Satan sought to thwart salvation for people. By putting Jesus to death, Satan thought it was finished. For God, “it is finished” had another meaning. “It is finished” meant there would no longer be a battle raging in people concerning their guilt. Jesus’ death provided redemption for the sins of humankind. What Satan meant for harm, God used for His purposes and His good. Other than the six passages above where people aimed their rejoicing at themselves, rejoicing in difficult times focused on God, the One who gives hope for the future and gets the person through the hard times. John tells us what Jesus taught the disciples. Jesus said we have joy or hope of joy because we will see Jesus (John 16:22).
            Most times rejoicing occurs in the New Testament come through positive situations in which we see God’s hand working in that time. Of the 68 incidents of rejoicing in the New Testament, 46 occur at positive times. Eleven of these occurrences arise because of the hope a person has in God and His promises. In Matthew 2:1, the Shepherds “rejoiced exceedingly” when the angels told them of the birth of the Messiah. When the angels “greeted” Mary and told her God favored her, the word used in the Greek is chairo. They rejoiced when they told Mary she was favored of God (Luke 1:28). Zachariah rejoiced when he was told his son would be the “voice crying out in the wilderness” for the Messiah (Luke 1:14). Matthew 28:29, Luke 10:20, Luke 13:17, Luke 19:37, John 14:28, John 20:20, 2 Corinthians 13:11, and Philippians 3:1 show people rejoicing for the hope they received from God or have in Him. The apostles rejoiced when they saw Jesus Christ alive after they heard of His resurrection. The disciples rejoiced over having power over demons. Jesus told them to rejoice at having their names written in heaven. The crowds in the synagogue rejoiced over the miracles Jesus performed. The people rejoiced when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Jesus even told the disciples, “If you loved me, you would rejoice because I go to the Father for the Father is greater than I am” (John 14:28).
            These are not the only cases of rejoicing because of positive occurrences. The New Testament records eight passages where people rejoice because others have come to salvation in the Lord. Luke recorded them in Luke 15:32, Luke 19:6, Acts 8:39, Acts 11:23, and Acts 13:48. John recorded then in John 3:29, John 4:36, and John 8:56. The parables of the prodigal son, the sower and reaper, and the friends of the bridegroom relate strong images of joy when people believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and accepting Him as Lord of their lives. Jesus said that even Abraham rejoiced to see Him.
            Rejoicing comes when people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus. It also occurs when brothers and sisters in Christ are faithful. Paul spoke of this joy 6 times. He rejoiced over the Romans obedience in their faith to Christ (Romans 16:19), over the faithfulness of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:3, 7:7, 7:13, and 13:9), and over the Colossians good discipline and stability of their faith (Colossians 2:5). John spoke of faithful Christians and rejoiced over their faith (2 John and 3 John).
            Other instances in the New Testament of rejoicing (chairo) to God include rejoicing and being thankful for being ministered to, being glad (rejoicing) that Lazarus died before Jesus arrived, greetings (chairo) from the apostles, and love rejoicing in truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). What is most important to recognize is that whether a person was in trying times or pleasant times, they rejoiced because they, as believers, had hope in God and His promise of eternal life with Him.
This leads us to the most important passages on joy and rejoicing in my opinion. Jesus taught it in the Beatitudes and Paul wrote on it five times. Jesus taught to rejoice no matter what a person’s circumstances. Matthew and Luke recorded the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-23. In this section of His sermon, Jesus said rejoice when you are poor in spirit, mourning, persecuted, and when you are insulted for your reward in heaven is great. Jesus continued by saying rejoice you gentle people who seek righteousness, give mercy, are pure in heart, and are peacemakers for you have a great reward in heaven. Jesus taught no matter what your circumstances, seek after God’s way and you can rejoice knowing He is in control and has a plan. Paul affirmed this with his teachings, too. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “We live as sorrowful yet always rejoice.” Rejoicing can turn a negative time into a positive time. Paul told the Thessalonians to rejoice before God for the joy He gives them (1 Thessalonians 3:9) and rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16). Paul repeated this to the Philippians in a most emphatic way, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”
Life can be difficult and it can be messy. Remember, Satan is still loose on earth, but the sun rose on the third day after Jesus’ death and the people of the world claimed hope. We can have joy because we believe in Jesus (John 16:22). We can rejoice if we are Christians knowing that no matter what the circumstances are, good or bad, that Jesus is Lord. We have a promised hope of life forever with Him in His kingdom. There will be no Satan and no tears. There will be joy and rejoicing. We can have this joy and rejoice now. The greatest Bible passage on rejoicing is found in Revelation 19:7 at the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and His bride (the people who follow Jesus). This occurs when God’s kingdom comes and He calls His children to live with Him forever. In that day, Revelation says, we will rejoice, be glad, and give the glory to Him.
We can consider the times on earth when we rejoiced to be practice for the day of Christ’s return. We can practice rejoicing in the easy times, which is not so difficult, and in the trying times, which takes great effort. The hope Jesus gives His children who follow Him enables them to do this, the hope of His return to take us to live with Him forever. This is why Peter and the apostles rejoiced when the Sanhedrin had them flogged. They rejoiced because the leaders of the time recognized they were Jesus’ followers by their words and actions. They considered it an honor to be so associated with Jesus that they could bear wounds for following Him.
I wonder, how often do we think about rejoicing when we are in the midst of difficult times? How often, when we are being insulted or persecuted, do we consider giving up or not continuing walking in the way of the Lord? The apostles rejoiced that they could suffer as Christians. They continued teaching and preaching in homes and the synagogue also. For weak humans, giving up is easy, but it takes fortitude to continue. It takes strength from within to keep walking in Jesus’ path. Jesus did not leave us to walk on our own. He gave each of His followers the power of His Holy Spirit, His own power. The Holy Spirit is that strength within that Christians have. Jesus did not give up and He gives us that power. When we consider this, we realize we have more than one reason to have joy: 1) The Holy Spirit gives joy to us; 2) We will live with Jesus in heaven; and 3) We have the power to overcome or endure whatever obstacles come our way. Rejoicing is the expressing of the joy within us to God as thanksgiving to Him. Rejoicing is our offering of praise and thanks to God. Joy is not just a gift the Holy Spirit gives us. It is a gift we give back to God as praise and thanksgiving - rejoicing.
The questions that arise are these: Do you have the ability to rejoice in the midst of trying times? If not, have you asked Jesus to be your Lord and Savior? Alternatively, have you acknowledged joy as a gift from the Holy Spirit and relied upon God to get you through your circumstances? When you accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord and allow Him to become your strength, you can get through anything because of His power. You can rejoice knowing He gave you eternal life with Him. He is in control. He is stronger than every thing that will come against you. He knows and loves you.
Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” He spoke from experience with trying times and glorious times. His experience with Jesus allowed him to rejoice always.

Do you have a relationship with the risen Lord?

He is waiting for you. 

James said in chapter 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And, let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Paul said in Romans 5:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

[i] Thayer and Smith. "Greek Lexicon entry for Chairo". "The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon". . 1999.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Jesus' Final Commands and Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Acts 1:1-8

1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.

3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

4 Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me;

5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?"

7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;

8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

            We each may remember reading these words or hearing them from someone, especially verse 8. Many a son or daughter from a Christian family recited them in front of the church or in their missions group. This week, though, God drew my attention to verse 5. Jesus told the disciples, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Many people equate baptism by the Holy Spirit as a separate occurrence from salvation. When they do this, they create another level that Christ did not teach. My curiosity piqued, I delved into what this baptism by the Holy Spirit meant in this passage and in the New Testament as a whole. By doing this, I hope we can understand and not be misled. Many believe that your actions must speak of your baptism by the Spirit in ways such as speaking in tongues or miraculous healings. Let us dive deep into the Word to understand what Christ and the New Testament writers meant when they spoke about baptism with the Holy Spirit.

            First, we must understand what the word “baptized” means in this context. Baptized comes from the Greek word baptizo. Baptizo means being permanently changed. This permanent change is such that a union and identification with Christ occurs. A person becomes so Christlike that people cannot see the original person so much as they can see Christ living in and through the person. Intellectual assent to Christ is not enough, but a permanent change to the person occurs so that the person can say as Paul did, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20, [NASB]). If we read Galatians to 3:27, we find that Paul spoke of his baptism in Christ. He meant that he was clothed in Christ. His being sank into Christ so that it was as if he put on new clothes, a new life. Jesus is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said this in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, and John 1:33, though he did not say what this meant. Our verse today tells us that Jesus spoke of baptism by the Holy Spirit, but did not say what it meant. In the sixth of seven references in the New Testament regarding baptism with the Holy Spirit, Acts 11:15-16 refers us to an incident in Acts 10. In this incident, Peter preached the Gospel to the household of Cornelius. Three things occurred there: 1) they received salvation, 2) they spoke in tongues, and 3) they received water baptism. Peter understood that the promise of baptism with the Spirit occurred. Yet, no statement occurred as to what was the baptism of the Spirit..

The final occurrence in the New Testament of baptism with the Holy Spirit is in 1 Corinthians 12:13. This passage says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Scripture affirms that this baptism is the same as the other six. First, Ephesians 4:5 declares only one baptism, so each of the seven references must speak of the same baptism. It does not refer to water baptism (an ordinance of Christ symbolizing outwardly what Christ has done within a person), but to baptism with the Holy Spirit. Christ unites the believer with Himself through the Holy Spirit in this baptism. Believer’s baptism into the body of Christ is one baptism. Second, the preposition before Holy Spirit in each of these passages in the Greek can mean “by”, "with”, or "in”. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 and the other six passages referred to above, this Greek preposition translates as “by one Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is not the one who baptizes; Jesus is the baptizer. Jesus baptizes the believer into His spiritual body by, with, or in the Holy Spirit. Third, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, the special ending on “Spirit” in the Greek language shows how the Holy Spirit is not the one doing the action of baptizing. Jesus is the baptizer. Concluding this part of the study, Jesus Christ is the one who is the baptizer and He baptizes every believer into His spiritual body with the Holy Spirit. This baptism occurs because the person experiences a life change when he or she acknowledges with their heart, mind, and soul that Jesus is the Lord and Savior of his or her life. The person becomes so identified in union with Christ that his or her old self is no longer identifiable, but Christ in him or her was.

What does the Holy Spirit do in us? Why do we need to receive the Father’s promise of Christ’s Holy Spirit? What Jesus said in John 16:14 sums it well, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” What is it the Holy Spirit helps the Christian with since Jesus Christ, in John 14:16 and 26, calls Him the Helper? The Holy Spirit lives in the Christian and ministers to every spiritual need that the Christian’s heart is willing to receive. These ministries of the Holy Spirit encompass two distinct areas – ministries to the person and ministries through the Christian. The first part covers the person’s conversion experience:

 Convicting (John 16:8),

Participating in new birth (John 3:5),

 Imparting new life (Romans 8:11),

Uniting the Christian with Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13),

Sealing the Christian as God’s own (Ephesians 1:13), and

Guaranteeing the Christian’s inheritance (Ephesians 1:14)

and the person’s daily life:

 Indwelling the Christian (John 14:23),

Enabling victorious living (1 John 4:4),

Being the Helper and Teacher (John 14:26,

Calling the Christian for special service for Christ (Acts 13:2),

Interceding in prayer for the Christian (Romans 8:26-27),

Assuring the Christian of his or her salvation (1 John 4:13), and

Working in the Christian’s life to make him or her more fruitful and like Jesus (Galatians 5:22-23).

The second part of the Holy Spirit’s work is through the Christian. He works in these ways:

            Empowering the Christian for witnessing (Acts 1:8) and

Giving spiritual gifts to each Christian for edifying the church (1 Corinthians 12:4-31 and 1 Peter 4:10).

These show that God continues to take part in the Christian’s life through the Holy Spirit from the point at which the person seeks for and accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit works in the life of the Christian so that Jesus Christ is glorified.

This topic often leads to the question where people wonder: why do others say a person must speak in tongues or heal people through miracles to be considered a Christian? They speak of two baptisms: the baptism with water and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. First, the baptism with water does not give salvation. This baptism is a physical outward symbol of what occurred within a person when they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. This baptism is a testimony by the person to the work Jesus Christ did in him or her. The water baptism is enacted in obedience to Jesus' ordinance that believers be baptized with water. Second, as explained in earlier paragraphs, no mention of the Holy Spirit baptizing people is found in the New Testament. If you look at the seven texts in the New Testament speaking on baptizing with, by, or in the Holy Spirit, none of them say the Holy Spirit is the one performing the baptism. They say Jesus Christ is the one who performs baptism. There is just one baptism, the baptism of a believer by Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit into the spiritual body of Christ. This baptism with the Holy Spirit means a believer has within him or herself the residing presence of Christ. The Father gave this promise of a Helper to His people and Christ reminds them of it in Acts 1:4. In John 14:16 and 26, Jesus said this promise is a “Helper” that will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said.” Jesus further identified this Helper as the Spirit of truth whom He sent to believers from the Father. He said the Spirit will testify concerning Him. In Acts 2:33, Peter testified to this promise coming from the Father just as Jesus said. This last verse tells us that because the Holy Spirit filled the apostles, they spoke in tongues and testified of Jesus, which resulted in three thousand people believing in Jesus and being saved.

This outpouring of the Spirit resulting in the speaking in tongues makes it appear as if the mark of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. People then interpret this as being required for every Christian. At least, that is how people read it. In this case, the in-filling of the Holy Spirit  produced speaking in tongues (glossolalia). Yet, the result was that three thousand people received salvation. At the time of the preaching in tongues at Pentecost, there were many people from other countries in Jerusalem for the Passover. When the apostles spoke in tongues, they were speaking in the languages and dialects of the people present in Jerusalem. (See Acts 2:4-12). Paul, later in 1 Corinthians 14”1-18, instructed about the gifts of the Spirit, from which he pointed to speaking in tongues. He taught that speaking in tongues is speaking to God. When there is no interpreter, it does not edify others in the church. They cannot understand and say Amen to what the person prayed to God in tongues. Paul said it would be better to speak in tongues and interpret so that everyone in church can take part in the prayer with God and give their Amen. He said that speaking in tongues without a translator is like speaking into the air. On the day of Pentecost, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, by speaking in tongues, had an audience who understood since the apostles spoke in the dialects of the people in Jerusalem that day. The proclamation of the Gospel by the apostles reaped fruit for the kingdom; three thousand believed and brought into the kingdom of God. From this then, we find that the Holy Spirit within a person can cause them to speak in tongues. Speaking in tongues, though, is not something for which we strive, but occurs as we commune with God as do any other of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The meaning of what was spoken on tongues should be interpreted for the edification of others to the glory of God. Also, no baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs in the Bible, as said in earlier paragraphs. Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. There is just one baptism and that is into the body of Christ. This baptism is a permanent uniting of Christ’s Spirit with ours so one cannot be differentiated from the other.

What we need to differentiate between, then, regards being baptized with the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit. In reading the above, you should understand that being baptized with the Spirit means being brought into the body of Christ - His Church and Kingdom - through the person’s acceptance of Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior. Being filled with the Spirit results in witnessing or other ministry through which Jesus is glorified. The work of the Holy Spirit is always to glorify Jesus. There are many examples of people being filled by the Holy Spirit for a task in the New Testament. A few examples of being filled with the Holy Spirit include:

  1.  Luke’s account of how John the Baptist would serve the Lord (Luke 1:15),
  2.  Luke’s telling of how Elizabeth recognized the presence of Jesus though He was still in the womb of Mary (Luke 1:41),
  3. Luke’s record of the apostles speaking in tongues to the people on Pentecost (Acts 2:4),
  4. Luke’s record of Peter speaking boldly of Jesus (Acts 4:8),
  5. Luke’s record of Stephen being comforted and witnessing of Jesus while he people stoned him (Acts 7:55),
  6. Luke’s account of Paul being filled with the Spirit to rebuke Elymas, the magician, and impose temporary blindness on him led Sergius Paulus to accept Christ as his Savior (Acts 13:9), and
  7. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he commands Christians to be filled with the Spirit so they can edify one another (Ephesians 5:18).

The filling of the Holy Spirit empowers us to minister, glorify Jesus Christ, and have power over Satan. There was no one way the Holy Spirit manifested His power in individuals in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit determined the power needed by the circumstances at that time. The New Testament recorded speaking in tongues a couple of times to the glory of Jesus. One we studied was when the apostles spoke in tongues in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Another time was when the household of Cornelius spoke in tongues after Peter told them the Gospel and they believed and accepted Christ as Savior. The glory given to Jesus in that instance was to show Peter and his coworkers that the power of the Holy Spirit does not rest solely upon them, Jewish Christians and apostles. The Holy Spirit gives power as needed to both Jewish and Gentile Christians for ministry anywhere  so that Jesus receives the glory. The filling of the Holy Spirit equips Christians with power for service and victorious living. The Holy Spirit fills a person who ministers for Christ, the reason you hear of ministers and other witnesses asking for a filling of the Holy Spirit. They want to give one hundred percent of themselves over to Jesus for His purposes and allow Him to use them for His power and glory. Believers are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Each day a Christian must go before God, put aside him or herself, and allow Jesus to be the master of his or her day. Each day Christians must choose to follow Jesus instead of his or her own way. By confessing of one’s sins, renewing one’s vows with God, and asking Him to fill one’s self with His Holy Spirit, a person gives his or her life completely to God that day. Each day, Christians must intentionally give themselves to Christ for His purposes because humans are fallible, sinful, and willful.

            One other question might arise from this study. Why were the apostles only baptized with the Holy Spirit after Christ ascended to heaven? Did they not believe that Jesus was the Son of God before that time? Jesus somewhat answered that question when He spoke to John’s disciples and the Pharisees regarding fasting in Matthew 9:14-17. Jesus answered that His disciples did not need to fast because He was still with them. Using this reasoning to answer our question, Jesus’ disciples were walking daily with Jesus. They did not have the need for the Helper in their lives because Christ walked in person with them. Christ gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit after He ascended into heaven while they were in the upper room. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is given to teach all things and to bring to remembrance of all He said (John 14:26). The answer is that the apostles had Jesus walking with them until His ascension, so they did not need the Holy Spirit until Jesus left them. When Jesus left, He sent His Holy Spirit to them. The Spirit, then, filled them with His power to speak the Gospel in multiple dialects to the people who were in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.

            Now, since we understand the gift, the purpose, and the power of the Holy Spirit, we must return to Acts 1:1-8. Jesus gave two commands in this passage of the Bible. He told them to “wait for what the Father had promised, which you heard from Me” (vs. 4) and “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth” (vs. 8). What does this mean for us, especially at this Easter time? Since we are Christians, followers of Jesus, we do have the Holy Spirit living in us because we are part of the spiritual body of Christ. To fulfill Jesus’ command, we must ask to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit so we can witness to our city, country, neighboring country, and the world.

            Jesus told His disciples what was the most important thing for them to remember right before His departure from earth after His resurrection. He told them to be filled with the Holy Spirit’s power - call upon and walk in His power. Next, He told them to be witnesses of Him - His love, salvation, resurrection, and power. The latter should not be done without the former. Yes, Christians do have the Holy Spirit in them, but, they must daily choose to walk in God’s path with His power, which comes through the Holy Spirit. Without the centering of ourself in Christ each day, we become self-focused and take any glory for ourselves. Satan’s lies lead us the wrong way because we are not focused on God and do not have His power to combat Satan. We can only fight him with our own strength then. Satan will try to sidetrack Christians from witnessing of Jesus Christ. One of the biggest ruses Satan uses is pointing out that Jesus has not returned in 2000 years so He will not be coming soon. Satan wants us to believe this so we do not rush to witness. He says we have plenty of time, so play, relax, and enjoy life. Jesus addressed this, too in Acts 1:6-7. He said you do not know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority. You do not know, it could be today, tomorrow, or next year. Consider though, as Paul told the Corinthians, it will happen “in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Jesus told the apostles and He tells every one of His disciples that we do not know when He is returning to earth to reclaim His children. He commands us each to be filled with His Holy Spirit and go out everywhere. We are to witness about Him, His love, and His salvation freely given and offered for everyone.

            Each of us has a choice to make regarding Jesus. Will we believe He is the Son of God who took away the sins of the earth and accept His forgiveness and salvation? If so, at that point of your belief Jesus Christ baptizes you into the spiritual body of Christ with the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples to go and make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19). In verse 18, Jesus gave His power to His disciples to work for Him in ministry. This power is available to us through His Holy Spirit living in us. We must choose each day to walk in Jesus’ path, for His purposes, and ask to be filled by the Spirit for His work that day. When we do this, we follow what Christ told His disciples in Acts 1:1-8. Instead of saying, “Christ has not returned in these last 2000 years, thus we have time to play” or worrying over the signs that He may be returning soon, we should be busy with the task He left us. We should be witnessing of His Gospel of love and salvation with our words and actions through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. We must be busy with God’s work while we are on earth using the fruits of the Spirit with which He gifted us. If we do not, then we should consider if we are definitely disciples of Christ. If you are not united and identified with Christ in such a way that you are displaying fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – then you need to decide if you are truly a disciple of Jesus. You need to decide if you are saved by His love and grace from eternal punishment in hell.

            Do you have a decision to make today? Have you decided to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior? Have you determined that you are a Christian but have not been following Jesus’ last commands? Now is the time to make those decisions. Now is the time to decide to accept God’s love, grace, and forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ. Now is the time to decide if you will follow His commands to witness to all people about the Gospel of Jesus by the filling of His Holy Spirit, His gift to Christians. Come before God now and make those decisions today for you do not know the time when Jesus will return. When He returns, it will be too late.

What is your decision today?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lamb of God: The Bridegroom, Master, and Shepherd

Matthew 24-26 

As I was reading my Bible, God drew my attention to Matthew 25. In particular, He drew me to look at the parable of the 10 virgins. I learned from this passage many times in my life, so I thought I understood it. In Bible training, my teachers taught me to look at the passage being studied in context with the rest of the chapter, not in isolation, so I read the rest of the chapter. Matthew 25 tells us three parables: the 10 virgins, the servants and the talents, and the sheep and the goats. My mind queried that there must be something Jesus taught the people before using these parables, because parables are used to help get a message across in a story fashion. So, I looked back at Matthew 24. In Matthew 24, Jesus taught the disciples concerning the end times. The parables of chapter 25 are stories to help learn a lesson regarding the end times. I then recalled that after these parables, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover meal before His betrayal (Matthew 26:17-29, Mark 14:12-21, and Luke 22:7-23). My questions then are: 1) what do the three parables in Matthew 25 have to do with the time of Jesus’ telling, 2) with the future of Jesus’ second coming, and 3) with us today.

Let us look at this closer. The parable of the ten virgins tells us of10 young women who went to wait for the bridegroom at the place of the wedding. They were to be part of the party celebrating the bridegroom’s arrival. The groom did not arrive as soon as they expected and so they had to wait. The virgins waited so long that they slept part of the time. They awoke with a start when they heard the groom had arrived and the celebrations were to begin. Five of the virgins had prepared well and brought extra oil for their lamps. Five of the virgins did not prepare for the potential long wait for the groom. This parable tells us that we should not be caught unaware, but always be prepared for Jesus return to earth because we do not know when He is coming. The lesson of this parable is about being prepared. Many people claim to be followers of Jesus, yet they do not prepare themselves for His return. They easily followed Jesus when first introduced to Him, but then grew lax and perhaps did not grow further in their relationship with Him. These unprepared five virgins stand for those who at first claimed to follow Jesus because of the emotion and momentum of the moment, but were not really in a relationship with Him. They did not have a true faith in Him as the Son of God who provides salvation. They did not pursue Him, grow in faith, and have a relationship with Him. These five virgins’ lax belief led them to not prepare themselves to grow deeper in relationship with Jesus. They were unprepared for Bridegroom’s return (Jesus’ second coming). The bridegroom disowned them because he did not recognize them. The gist of this parable is about being prepared for Jesus’ return at any time. If you are not a true follower of Jesus, you will be caught off-guard when He returns to take His followers to heaven. You cannot prepare for His return if you are not His follower.

This parable supplements Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 verses 12-13, 39, 42, and 44. Jesus told the disciples that because of increased lawlessness, people’s love of Him will grow cold and they will fall away. He reminded them that in the time of Noah many people chose not believe until the flood came then they drowned. Jesus told them it would be the same with the return of the “Son of Man.” Jesus spoke in terms for their time. He also spoke concerning preparation for the Passover in the upper room (Matthew 26). He sent disciples to prepare a room for the Passover. They did not fathom that Jesus would transform the Passover’s meaning. The disciples did not know this Passover was His last meal with them before His arrest and crucifixion. Jesus prepared the way for them to hear of the new Passover, Jesus as the sheep who would die to remove all their sins forever. In the actions of sending the disciples to Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover, Jesus began preparations for telling the disciples of the new meaning of what they called Passover. Preparation is the key to this parable and is a key to being a follower of Jesus. No one knows the time of His return, but He will return. We cannot say that we will make a decision later regarding following Christ, because we do not apperceive when He will return, just as the 10 virgins did not apprehend when the bridegroom (analogy for Christ) would arrive. Each of us must be prepared and preparation requires deciding to follow Jesus, allowing our faith to show in actions, and growing in our relationship with Him.

The second parable in Matthew 25 concerns the three servants to whom the master gave talents (money) to manage while the he was away. The first two servants kept the master’s money safe and grew it so that when the master returned they could return the original money with added coins (growth). They worked for the master to his benefit in his absence. The master rewarded them with more talents and power in his kingdom. The master gave the third servant one talent. He was a beginner in the master’s trust and training program. Because the servant was afraid of losing the money, he hid it in the ground. The servant did not invest the talent and let it grow. The talent did not grow as the talents of the other two servants did. This servant did nothing to make growth occur. He did not believe in himself. He did not pursue growth by learning how to make the talent grow and doing it. The servant was more afraid than concerned of gaining the master’s approval. His fear kept him from doing learning and growing. The servant allowed his fear, which comes from Satan, to make him stale and become like the barren fig tree, which Jesus cursed. Did the servant follow the ways his mater taught him? Did he commit to grow to be more like his master? Did the servant take care of the master’s household, which included the master’s people, all other assets? His life did not show confidence in his relationship with his master, confidence in himself, and actions of faith by investing the talent. The master rejected this servant as a faithful servant and threw him out of his kingdom. The key word for this parable is doing, not that you can earn your salvation. You must choose to believe and trust in the master and choose to grow in your relationship with him.

Matthew 24 speaks to this parable. It says in verses 45-46, “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.” The slave in Matthew 24 is busy doing for the master to others. This slave made sure he fed everyone and grew more like the master. He ensured the master’s household ran well. The third servant in the parable did not do that. That servant had not grown to be trustworthy or mature. His fear, which he held to and came from Satan, stunted his faith and growth. We see this on the day of Passover with Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 26. Judas chose to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16, 21-25). Judas feared not having money and being tortured, as Christ said His disciples would be (Matthew 24:9-10). Judas did not choose to follow Jesus with his whole life, but chose what was easiest for himself. We can choose to follow Jesus. We also choose whether to grow to be more like Him and to act out our faith to others by showing Jesus’ care and love for people. Jesus told the disciples when they give food, drink, clothes, shelter or visit the sick and those imprisoned, they are doing it also for Him (Matthew25:43-46). We each choose to follow Jesus and to enact our faith in Him with love for others.

The final parable Jesus taught to His disciples in Matthew 25 concerns the separating of the sheep and goats in the flock. This parable concerns following Jesus with your whole being, not just lip service. Both sheep and goats say “baa” but not all of them are sheep (analogy for Christ followers). Upon looking at their deeds, growth, and hearts, Jesus determined the true followers (sheep) and the goats (analogy for non-followers of Christ). He condemned the goats to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). What makes a person a sheep in God’s flock and not a goat? Jesus told them if they fed, offered drink, clothed, and housed unfortunate people and visited the sick and imprisoned, they were His true followers. By doing these things, they did them to Him. In this parable, Jesus spoke of true followers and what made a person a true follower. True followers enact Jesus’ love toward other people. To do this, they must be in a close relationship with Jesus so that the love He gave them flows out in actions of love to other people. It shows itself in the follower’s growth to be more Christlike, too. This parable deals with following Christ.

In Matthew 24, Jesus’ teaching in verses 48-51 tells us that if the servant beats others, takes all things for himself, and becomes drunk with power and the master’s provisions, he is not a follower of Jesus. He will receive punishment and be put with the other hypocrites, separated from God forever. Jesus taught the disciples in chapter 24 that no one knows the day or time of his second coming. Each disciple must follow Christ devoutly whether He returns soon or later. If, when Jesus returns, He finds his “servant” not acting with love toward others and instead finds him drunk with power and greed, he is not a true follower of Jesus. We find this same thing in chapter 26 before Jesus arrives at the upper room for Passover. The chief priests and elders (hypocrites) plotted to arrest Jesus (Matthew 26:3-5). They did not want the acclaim they earned as the most devout followers of Yahweh to go to Jesus. His claiming to be the Messiah turned people away from looking at them to Him. They wanted their favor restored to them and the way they thought to do this was to arrest and rid them of Jesus forever. They never claimed to be followers of Jesus, but they claimed to be followers of Yahweh. Judas claimed to be a disciple of Jesus, but joined hands with the chief priests and elders. He was a hypocrite and not a true follower. The key lesson in this parable concerns whether a person is truly a follower of Jesus Christ.

Being a follower of Jesus encompasses each of these elements – preparing, doing, and following. None can occur without the other, but Jesus taught on each element separately so the disciples could understand better each one. To become a follower Jesus means you must seek for Him. Matthew said in chapter 7 verse 7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” Jesus makes Himself available to us whenever we ask for Him. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord so others would recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Old Testament prophets prepared the way of the Lord, too. We must prepare ourselves and seek for Jesus and He will make Himself to be visible for you. You also must prepare yourself daily to continue to follow Him and to grow more like Him. You cannot say one day you are a follower and later show no change in your life. This kind of person is similar to the five foolish virgins who said they were followers, but did not prepare themselves for His arrival.

Preparing ourselves also means doing. We prepare ourselves to be a follower of Jesus by recognizing our sinfulness, confessing our sins, and repenting. To repent means to turn 180 degrees away from sin and turning to God. So we do confess and we do repent everyday so that we stay in a close relationship with Jesus because God cannot be in the presence of sin. Unconfessed sin builds a wall between God and us. Each sin becomes a new brick in the wall between Him and us. As followers of Jesus, we do for others as we want Jesus do for us (Matthew 7:12). Remember that from the Lord’s Prayer? Jesus taught it, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40). Following God is preparing yourself for being with Him each day and doing, acting out His love to others. Just as Jesus came to release the captives, give sight to the blind, set free the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord” (Luke 7:18), His followers are to love others as He loved them by feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and telling the world of His love and salvation given. Being a follower of Jesus means doing and preparing.

Lest anyone say he or she is a follower, Jesus clarified who a follower is. A follower is one who watches for the Lord’s coming. A follower is one who continues to act out the Lord’s love in them toward others while they wait for the second coming of the Lord. Being ready for the Lord means seeking and watching for His second coming and continuing to do what He taught and commanded His disciples while He walked on earth before His ascension to heaven. A faithful, thoughtful, and wise servant (follower) of Jesus is one whom gives food and supplies to others at the proper time. The servant is blessed when Jesus returns and finds him doing these things out of love for Jesus and through the love Jesus put into him or herself toward other people (Matthew 25:44-46). Doing is being ready within yourself for Christ’s return and doing for others until He returns. This following then requires preparing oneself to be with the Lord every day – praying, confessing, becoming more Christlike – and doing – feeding, clothing, telling and teaching of Jesus to others.

The five foolish virgins were not true followers of Christ. The one foolish servant was not a true follower of Christ. They lacked preparation and diligence to know, grow, and show Jesus within their lives.

We each must decide if we are similar to the foolish virgins, foolish servant, and goats. We must decide if we will seek after God to know Him through His Son, Jesus. We must decide if we will prepare ourselves daily to meet with God and grow more Christlike. Each of us must decide whether we will live to serve others from the love Jesus put in our hearts or be power-hungry and greedy. The latter is like the foolish servant and the goats.

Will you seek for God? Will you allow Jesus to speak to your heart, mind and soul? Will you accept His forgiveness and gift of eternal life, which comes through His death and resurrection? The Jewish Passover celebrated God’s Spirit passing over their houses (because they spread lamb’s blood on the lintels of their doors as a sign of their belief in Yahweh) when He was exacting His promise of condemnation against the Egyptians. It is a celebration of God’s saving power. Jesus gave Passover a new meaning. Jesus is the Lamb whose blood is spread over the doors of our lives (our hearts, minds, and souls) so that God’s condemnation of death does not touch us because we are true followers of the Messiah.

What do you choose to be – a true follower or a foolish, unprepared, hypocritical servant? We each have a choice to make every day whether we are a follower of Christ or not. The decision is ours to make - follow Christ and grow more like Him or walk in our own ways with our own foolish wisdom. What do you choose?