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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Book of Galatians

Paul wrote Galatians to the churches in Galatia that he and Barnabas had founded during their first missionary journey.

The main issue addressed in Galatians is the same one that would be debated and resolved at the counsel in Jerusalem. It involved a two-part question: 1. is faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord the only requirement for a person to receive salvation and a personal relationship with God? 2. Or is obedience to certain Old Testament Jewish practices and laws required in order to be spiritually saved an have a right relationship with God? It appears that Paul wrote Galatians before the controversy was formally debated at Jerusalem and the church's official position was confirmed.

Paul had learned that certain Jewish teachers were confusing and unsettling his new Christian converts in Galatia. One of the main laws they were attempting to force upon the new believers was the practice of circumcision. Paul wrote to firmly deny that legal requirements have anything to do with the gift of God's grace and to reaffirm clearly that we receive the Holy Spirit and renewed spiritual life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and not by relying on the Old Testament law.

Four unique features characterize Galatians. It is the most powerful New Testament defense of the basic nature of the gospel - the message that forgiveness, freedom and spiritual salvation are possible only because of God's gracious gift through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is a gift we can only receive by putting our faith in Christ and actively yielding our lives to Him. The tone of Galatians is sharp, serious, and urgent, as Paul deals boldly and firmly with his opponents and rebukes the Galatians for allowing themselves to be so open and accepting of such false teaching. It is second only to 2 Corinthians in the amount of autobiographical references. This is Paul's only book clearly addressed to several churches. It contains a list of the fruit of the Spirit and the most complete New Testament list of the acts of the sinful human nature.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Book of 2 Corinthians

After some initial contacts and correspondence between Paul and the Corinthian church, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. Next, Paul made a trip across the Aegean Sea to Corinth to address further problems in the church. This visit between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians was a painful one for Paul and the congregation because of the serious issues involved. After this difficult visit, reports reached Paul at Ephesus that opponents in Corinth were still attacking him and questioning his spiritual authority in the church. These troublemakers were attempting to persuade a portion of the church to reject Paul. In response, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. Shortly after that, Paul traveled to Corinth again, where he remained about three months.

Paul wrote this letter to address three categories of people involved in the church at Corinth. First, he wanted to encourage the majority who had been faithful to him. He wanted to challenge and expose the false leaders and messengers who continued to speak against him personally, trying to undermine his leadership and authority. He wanted to warn and firmly address the minority in the church who were being influenced by Paul's opponents and resisting his authority and correction. Paul defended the integrity of his ministry and reaffirmed his authority as a pioneer leader of the Corinth church. He also clarified his motives of love and concern for the Corinthians and warned them against further rebellion.

2 Corinthians has three main divisions. Paul begins by thanking God for giving him peace and comfort as he suffered for the sake of Christ and His message. Paul then commends the Corinthians for how they disciplined a spiritual offender. Paul then shares the most extensive insight in the New Testament on the true character of Christian ministry. He stresses the importance of separation from worldly beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles. He then expresses joy in learning from Titus that many in the church who had previously rebelled against Paul had experienced a genuine change of heart.

The tone of his letter changes in chapter 10 -13. Paul defends his apostleship. By presenting this defense, Paul hopes the Corinthians will be able to compare and, thus, identify the false messengers among them. Paul concludes 2 Corinthians in the only benediction in the New Testament addressing all three persons of the Trinity: Go the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Four major features characterize this letter. It is the most autobiographical of all Paul's letters. His many personal references are made with open and transparent humility, sincere apology and even embarrassment at the need to defend himself. But this tone was understandable and necessary because of the situation at Corinth. It goes beyond all of Paul's other New Testament letters in revealing the deep love and concern he felt for his spiritual children. It contains the New Testament's most developed teaching about Christian suffering and about Christian giving. Key terms, such as "weakness", "grief", "tears", "danger", "distress", "suffering", "comfort", "boasting", "truth", "ministry and glory" highlight the unique character of this letter.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Book of 1 Corinthians

Along with Priscilla and Aquila and his own ministry team, Paul started the Corinthian church during his eighteen month ministry in Corinth on his second missionary journey. The church included Jews, but mostly Gentiles who had come out of a pagan background. After Paul left Corinth, a variety of problems arose in the church requiring his God-given teaching and authority, both in writing and in person.

Paul had two reasons in mind when he wrote this letter: He wanted to correct the serious problems that had been reported to him. Paul saw them as serious violations of God's standards. He also wanted to provide godly counsel and instruction on a variety of issues. These issues included behaviors and moral purity involving specific individuals and the whole congregation. This letter addresses problems that churches have when members remain worldly in their thinking. There were problems of conflicts and divisions based on personality and social class, tolerance of unnatural sexual behavior, sexual misconduct in general, public lawsuits, personal ideas that distorted God's truth and conflicts about questionable behavior.

Among the most important contributions of 1 Corinthians is Paul's teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church and worship setting. More than anywhere else in the New Testament, these chapters provide insight into how worship took place in the early church. Paul teaches that God's purpose for the church includes a wide variety of the Holy Spirit's works through faithful Christians who are gifted and appointed by God for certain ministries. In providing guidelines for the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church, Paul makes a distinction between how individuals benefit and how the whole church benefits from the gifts. He insists that all public expressions of spiritual gifts must flow out of love and consideration for others and that they must be used in a way that builds up the congregation.

Five major features characterize 1 Corinthians. 1. It is the most problem centered letter in the New Testament that deal also with modern-day churches. 2. There is an overall emphasis on the unity of the local church as the body of Christ with a unified purpose to honor Christ and spread His message to the community and to the world. 3. This letter contains the most extensive New Testament teaching on such important subjects as celibacy, marriage and remarrying, the Lord's Supper, speaking in tongues, prophecy and spiritual gifts, true godly love and the resurrection of the body. it provides wisdom for pastors and church leaders about methods of church discipline. It emphasizes the real possibility of people turning away from once-genuine faith if they continue in ungodly behavior and do not follow Christ wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Book of Romans

Romans is the first New Testament book attributed to the apostle Paul - a pioneer missionary and messenger of Christ who stated many New Testament letters or books. The book of Romans is Paul's longest and perhaps his most influential letter. Among all of his New Testament writings, Paul's letter to the Romans contains the most in depth theology. Probably for these reasons it is placed first among his 13 New Testament books - the letters he wrote to various churches and church leaders with whom he had ministered or had great influence. Paul wrote Romans in connection with his God-given mission to take the message of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world.

Paul wrote this letter to prepare the way for his anticipated ministry at Rome and his planned mission to Spain. He had two primary purposes for writing. The Romans had apparently received distorted, or confusing, rumors about Paul's  message and teaching about God. For this reason, Paul felt it necessary to put into writing the message he had been preaching for twenty-five years. He intended to correct certain problems in the church that stemmed from wrong attitudes of Jews toward Gentiles and Gentiles toward Jews.

The theme of Romans is introduced in 1:16-17. Basically, Paul expresses the power of Christ's message to save people spiritually and to bring them into a right relationship with God. The main idea is this: God sets things right between Himself and people who have faith in Jesus Christ. First, he points out that the problem of sin and humanity's need to be rescued from sin and restored to a right relationship with God affects every person who ever lives. Apart from God's grace, no person can become right with God on their own standards. We must rely on Him, yield our lives to Him and accept His gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul describes how people whose lives have truly been transformed by Christ will reflect His righteousness, love and other character traits in all areas of life. This includes their personal attitudes and behaviors, as well as their conduct, interaction an relationships with people inside and outside the church. Following some final words of challenge and encouragement and an explanation of his personal plans, he draws his letter to a close with a final warning against deception and division in the church. He concludes by honoring God for what He accomplished through Jesus Christ.

Seven major features characterize Romans. Romans is Paul's most in-depth and organized letter, expressing a broad yet specific, overview of New Testament theology. Paul writes in a question and answer, or debating style. Paul uses the Old Testament extensively as a basis of authority for his presentation of the true nature of the message about Christ. Paul presents the spiritual concept of a righteousness from God as the core revelation of the gospel. Paul focuses on the two elements of the nature of sin, along with God's way of dealing with each element through the life and sacrifice of Christ. Romans 8 is the most developed chapter in the Bible on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ's followers. Romans contains the Bible's most powerful discussion about the Jews rejection of Christ and how God's plan ultimately comes back to Israel (chapters 9-11).

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Book of Acts

The book of Acts is a sequel, with continuation, of the Gospel of Luke and is addressed to the same man named Theophilus. Although the author is not identified by name in either book, the opinion of the majority of early Christians and the supporting evidence from within the two books point to Luke, "our dear friend... the doctor" (Col. 4:14), as the author of both books.

The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write to Theophilus to fill a need in the church - particularly among the first Gentile Christians throughout the middle eastern and Mediterranean regions of the Roman Empire. Luke's books provide a full and accurate account of the beginnings of Christianity. His former book (Luke) is his Gospel about Jesus' life. His book of Acts is his account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Jerusalem. Acts also gives account of the growth and development of the early church that followed. It is obvious that Luke was a skilled writer, a careful historian and an inspired theologian.

Acts covers selected portions of the first thirty years of the history of the church. As a church historian, Luke traces the spread of the message about Christ from Jerusalem to Rome. In the process, he mentions 32 countries, 54 cities, 9 Mediterranean islands, 95 different persons by name and a variety of government officials by their specific titles. Modern archaeology continues to confirm the amazing accuracy of the details recorded by Luke. In addition to historical details, Luke insightfully describes the meaning and importance of various experiences and events in the church's early years.

Luke has at least two purposes for recording the church's beginnings. He shows how the gospel spread effectively beyond the Jewish believers to the Gentiles. In spite of opposition and persecution, the book of Acts reveals how Christ's message eventually reached most of the Roman Empire. Luke reveals the Holy Spirit's central role in the church's life and mission, emphasizing the baptism in the Holy Spirit as God's way of empowering the church to spread the message of Jesus and to continue His ministry. Luke clearly records three times that the baptism in the Spirit was characterized by speaking in tongues. The context of these passages indicates that this was a normal experience in early Christianity and in God's enduring pattern for the church to this day.

While Luke's Gospel records "all that Jesus began to do and to teach", Acts describes what Jesus continued to do and teach - through His followers - after He returned to heaven. Jesus' work continued through the power of the Holy Spirit working through His followers individually and as a church body in cities, nations and throughout the world. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, His last instruction to His disciples was to wait in Jerusalem until they were "baptized with the Holy Spirit". The key verse of Acts (1:8) summarizes the spiritual and geographical focus of the book: Jesus promises His followers that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them.

Nine major themes characterize Acts: The church; the Holy Spirit; early church messages; prayer; signs; persecution; Jew/Gentile sequence; women, triumph of the message.

God gave us the book of Acts as more than just a history of the early church. The content reveals that God wanted to be a guide for Christian living and for a Spirit-filled church. Christians today ought to desire and expect their lives and churches to be characterized by the same types of ministry and experiences that were evident in the New Testament church, except that we are not still writing New Testament Scripture. This Biblical standard is accomplished when the church is operating in the full power of the Spirit. Nothing in Acts or the rest of the New Testament teaches that the miracles, spiritual gifts and standards for the church revealed throughout this book were relevant only for a period of time. These powerful works of the Holy Spirit wee not meant to end with the ministry of Christ's first followers. Christians today have the same purpose and need the same power to fulfill Christ's mission in their generation. Acts clearly reveals what the church must be and do in any generation as it continues Jesus' ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Gospel of John

John's Gospel is unique among the four Gospels. It records much about Jesus' ministry in Judea and Jerusalem that the other three gospels leave out, and it gives a deeper insight into the "mystery" of Jesus' personhood as both God and man. The author is identified as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." It is clear from the Gospel that he described events from an eyewitness perspective, that he knew Jewish life well and that he was a leader of great influence in the early church. The writings of historians such as Trenaeus and Tertullian, the testimony of ancient Christianity and the internal evidence of the Gospel itself point to John, the son of Zebedee, as the author.

According to several ancient sources, the elderly John was living in Ephesus when church leaders in Asia asked him to write this spiritual Gospel in order to refute, or argue against a dangerous heresy that had started among the believers about the nature and person of Jesus Christ. People who followed this faulty teaching, led by a persuasive Jew named Cerinthus, were denying Jesus' deity. John's Gospel continues to serve the church as a very important and authoritative statement about the truth as it was lived out and made known to them in the life of Jesus Christ.

John states3in 20:31 that his purpose for writing is "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name". Ancient Greek manuscripts of John's Gospel have one of two tenses for the word translated "believe": the aorist subjunctive (that you may being believing") and the  present subjunctive ("that you may continue to believe"). If John had in mind the first tense, he wrote to convince unbelievers to accept the Lord Jesus Christ and be spiritually saved. If he had in mind the second tense, John wrote to encourage those already following Christ so they might strengthen their faith, resist false teaching and deepen their relationship with God and His Son, Jesus. While the book of John supports both of these purposes, his message as a whole favors the strengthening of Christians as the overriding purpose.

John presents carefully selected evidence that Jesus was Israel's Messiah and God's Son from the beginning - the Creator in the flesh. The supporting evidence includes seven main signs and seven main discourses by which Jesus revealed clearly His true identity; seven "I AM" statements by which Jesus symbolically revealed His relationship with people and His purpose for restoring their relationship with God; and the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead as the ultimate sign and the decisive proof that He is "the Christ, the Son of God" (20.31).

John has two major divisions. Chapters 1-12 describe the incarnation, introduction and public ministry of Jesus Christ. In spite of Jesus' seven convincing signs, seven profound teachings and seven astounding  "I AM" claims; the Jews generally rejected Him as their Messiah. having been widely rejected by the old-covenant Israel, Jesus then focused on His disciples as the nucleus of His new covenant people. These chapters (13-21) include Jesus' last supper, His latest dialogues and teachings and His final prayer for His disciples and for all of His future followers. The book ends  by showing how God's new covenant was started, established and confirmed by Christ's death.

Eight major topics characterize John's Gospel. It focuses on the deity of Jesus as the Son of Son. From the introduction, to the conclusion with Thomas' confession, "my Lord and my God," Jesus is clearly presented as God the Son - "the Word" - come in the flesh. The word "believe" occurs 98 times. It means receiving or accepting by faith, Christ as God's Son. But true Biblical faith is not simply a matter of mental belief; it is a heartfelt response of active trust by which a person surrenders control of his or her life to Christ and continues to follow God's purposes. This is an ongoing commitment of one's whole life. "Eternal life" is a key topic in John. It refers not simply to endless existence - but also to a present-day transformed life and ongoing relationship with God that comes through an active faith in Christ. Personal encounters with Jesus are presented throughout the Gospel (no less than 27 times). The work of the Holy Spirit enables Jesus' followers to experience Jesus' life and power in an ongoing way after Christ's death and resurrection. The number seven is the key number found in this Gospel: 7 primary signs, seven primary discourses, and seven "I AM" claims, which all testify to who Jesus is. (The number seven is key also in John's book of Revelation). Other key words and concepts in John are: "light," "word," "flesh," "love," "witness," "know," "darkness," and "world."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Book of Luke

Luke's Gospel is the first of two books (the other one is the book of Acts) addressed to a man named Theophilus. The use of the title "most excellent" could mean that Theophilus was a Roman official or at least a person of high status or wealth. He may have been Luke's sponsor, financial supporter or the one responsible for seeing that the writings were copied and distributed. However, the book was also meant to instruct Theophilus personally. Although the author is not identified by name in either book (Luke or Acts), the united testimony of early Christianity and the fact that the writing style and structure are basically the same point to common authorship by Luke.

Luke was probably a Gentile who had become a follower of Christ. He is the only non-Jew author of a Bible book. The Holy Spirit inspired him to write to Theophilus (whose name means "one who loves God) in order to fill a need in the Gentile church for a full and accurate account of the beginnings of Christianity. To accomplish this purpose, Luke's writings included two parts: 1. The Gospel of Luke gives an account of Jesus' birth, life, and ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. 2. The book of Acts gives an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Jerusalem and the events that followed involving the apostles. These two books contain more than one-fourth of the writings of the New Testament.

From Paul's letters to churches, we learn that Luke was a 'dear friend ... the doctor" and a loyal co-worker with Paul; also notice the use of the pronoun "we" throughout Acts, meaning that the author was with Paul when the events took place. From Luke's own writings we know he was a well-educated man, a skilled writer, a careful historian and an inspired theologian. When he wrote his Gospel, it would appear that the church outside the Jewish community had no complete, published or widely circulated message about Jesus. Matthew wrote his Gospel initially for the Jews, an Mark wrote his much shorter, but full version of the Gospel for the church in Rome. The Greek-speaking Gentile world did have oral accounts about Jesus from eyewitnesses, as well as short written digests, but no complete and orderly Gospel. For that reason, Luke set out to investigate everything carefully "from the beginning". He probably did research in Palestine while Paul was in prison at Caesarea and likely completed his Gospel toward the end of that time or soon after arriving in Rome with Paul.

Luke wrote this Gospel to the Gentiles to provide a full and accurate record about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke wanted Theophilus and other Gentiles who had accepted Christ - or were curious about His message - to know the exac truth about the testimonies and instruction they had heard. The fact that Luke wrote for Gentiles is apparent throughout the Gospel. For example, he traces Jesus' human genealogy all the way back to Adam, the first man, and not just to Abraham
as Matthew did. In Luke, Jesus is clearly seen as the divine-human (both God and man) Savior Who provided a way of spiritual salvation for all of Adam's descendants - the entire human race.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Book of Mark

Among the four Gospels - the narrative accounts of the "good news" of Jesus Christ - Mark is the shortest (but complete) account of the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Although the author is not identified by name in the book itself, the testimony most agreed upon by the church throughout its history has been that John Mark was responsible for its writing. This man grew up in Jerusalem. His mother's house had served as a meeting place for early believers, and he was among the first-generation Christians. He had the unique opportunity of ministering with three New Testament apostles: Paul, Barnabas and Peter. According to Papias and other second-century church leaders and historians, Mark got most of the information for his Gospel from his association with Peter. Mark wrote the narrative in Rome and focused particularly on communicating with Roman Christians.

In the first century, the general public in Rome treated the Christians cruelly, an many were tortured and killed by the Roman Emperor Nero. According to tradition, the early church leaders, Peter and Paul, were among the Christian martyrs in Rome during this decade. As one of the church leaders in Rome, John Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit t write about Jesus' life in anticipation of, or as a response to, this time of persecution. By recounting Jesus' example of power and suffering, death and resurrection, no doubt Mark strengthened and encouraged faith in Jesus' followers in Rome and inspired courage in those who were suffering for their faith.

In a fast-moving description of events, Mark presents Jesus as the Son of God who filled the roles of both a suffering servant and the spiritual Savior of the world. That is to say, Mark's message strongly focused on Jesus' humanity and his divinity. The climax of the book is an episode in Caesara Philippi, followed the transfiguration. At this point, Jesus fully confirms to the disciples His identity as the Christ and fully reveals His mission to give His life for us. The first half of Mark focuses primarily on Jesus' powerful miracles and on His authority over sickness and demons as signs that God's kingdom was near. This means that His power, purposes and way of life on earth were fully in progress and proceeding according to God's perfect plan. At Caesarea Philippi, however, Jesus tells His disciples openly that He "must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again." There are many references throughout Mark to suffering as the cost of following Christ. In Go's kingdom, however, suffering for Christ will, in the end, lead to freedom and victory, as shown in Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Four major features characterize Mark's Gospel: 1. It is a Gospel of action, putting more emphasis on what Jesus did than on what He said. Mark records eighteen miracles but only four of His parables, not including parable-type statements. 2. It is a Gospel especially written for the Romans - explaining Jewish customs, omitting all Jewish genealogies and birth stories, translating Aramaic words and using Latin terms. 3. It is a gospel that begins abruptly and moves rapidly from one episode to another, often, making transitions using the Greek term for "immediately" (42 times). 4. It is a Gospel of clear and lively images and descriptions that report the events of Jesus' life with the direct, brief, complete and artistic style of a skilled writer.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Book of Matthew

The book of Matthew is one of the Bible's four Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew is quite fitting as an introduction to the New Testament and to "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16). Although the author is not identified by name, the testimony of all early church leaders is that Matthew, one of Jesus' original twelve disciples, wrote the Gospel.

While Mark's Gospel was written for the Romans and Luke's Gospel for Theophilus and other Gentiles, Matthew's Gospel was written specifically for Jewish believers. The Jewish background of this Gospel is clearly present in many ways. 1. It uses Old Testament revelation, promises and prophecy to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. 2. It traces Jesus' family line starting from Abraham, the "father" of the Jews. 3. It reportedly declares that Jesus is the "Son of David". 4. It uses phrases and terms commonly used by the Jews. 5. It refers to Jewish customs without any explanation.

Though this gospel is written with the Jewish audience in mind, it is not for Jews alone. Like the message of Jesus Himself, Matthew's Gospel was written for the whole church. In this way, it faithfully reveals th cross-cultural and worldwide scope of the good news about Jesus.

Matthew wrote this Gospel to provide his readers with an eye witness account of Jesus' life; to assure his readers that Jesus was God's Son and the long-awaited Messiah foretold by the Old Testament prophets and to show that God's kingdom was revealed and lived out through Jesus in a way never before known to humankind.

Matthew wants his audience to understand two important issues: 1. Israel, for the most part, rejected Jesus and His kingdom. They refused to believe that He was their promised Messiah because He came as a spiritual leader rather than as a political leaders, as they expected. 2. Only at the end of this age - in the last days following God's end-time judgment on earth - will Jesus come in glory as the King of kings to judge and rule the nations.

Matthew presents Jesus as the One who fulfilled all of the God-inspired Old Testament prophecies about Israel's hope. He fulfills Old Testament prophecy in a variety of ways, including: His birth, His birthplace, His return from Egypt and His residence in Nazareth; His prophetic predecessor - John the Baptist, His primary location for public ministry, His healing ministry, His role as God's servant, His teaching in parables, His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His arrest.

Chapters 5 - 25 record five of Jesus' major discourses. They also contain five major narratives describing His mighty acts as the Messiah. Many of these are miracles revealing His limitless power, authority and compassion. Jesus' five major discourses are:  His Sermon the Mount, His instructions and encouragement for His followers before He sends them out to preach, His parables that teach lessons about the kingdom of heaven, His teachings on the character of true disciples, and the teaching from the Mount of Olives about end-time events.

Seven major features characterize this Gospel. 1. It is the most Jewish-oriented of the New Testament Gospels. 2. It contains the most systematic and orderly arrangement an account of Jesus' teaching and ministry of healing and spiritual deliverance. 3. The five major discourses contain the most complete blocks of material in all of the Gospels on Jesus' teaching during His ministry in Galilee and on the subject of eschatology.

Far more than any other New Testament book, this Gospel carefully identifies events in Jesus' life that fulfill Old Testament prophecies and promises. It mentions the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God twice as often as any other Gospel. Matthew focuses on the righteous standards of the kingdom over sin, demons, sickness and even death; and the future triumph of the kingdom in a final victory over evil in the end-times. It is the only Gospel to mention or predict the church as a powerful future entity belonging to Jesus.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christ in the Scriptures

According to the New Testament, Adam is "a type of Him who was to come." (Romans 14). In other words, Adam's life in some ways points vividly to Jesus. Consider that both individuals entered the world through a special act of God, as sinless men. But while Adam is the head of the old creation, Christ is the head of a new creation.

Melchizedek (whose name literally means "king of righteousness") is a strange and shadowy figure who suddenly appears in Genesis 14. He is the king of Salem (which means "peace"); the Bible calls him "the priest of God Most High." Some scholars believe that this one who was, in the words of Hebrews 7:3, "made like the Son of God," was in fact Christ Himself. Christ, after all, is known as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Joseph's character and experiences (chapters 39-50) foreshadow the coming of the Messiah in that both Joseph and Christ are objects of special love by their fathers, hated by their brothers, rejected as rulers over their brothers, conspired against and sold for silver, condemned though innocent, and raised from humiliation to glory by the power of God.

In numerous ways, Moses is a type of Christ (Deut. 18:15). Both Moses and Christ functioned as prophets, priest and King (although Moses was never officially made king, he functioned as the ruler of Israel). Both were endangered in infancy and hidden by their parents in order to escape death. Both acted as redeemers, saving the people whom they loved. Both voluntarily renounced power and wealth in order to associate with those they sought to save. Both were deliverers, law-givers, and mediators. Further, Christ is clearly seen in the celebration of the Jewish Passover that historic event (described in Exodus chapters 12 and 13) that required the blood of a pure, sacrificial lamb to be painted over the doorposts of the Hebrews homes to spare them from God's judgment and then usher them to freedom from slavery in Egypt. John 1:29, 36 and 1 Corinthians 5:7 make it clear that Christ is our Passover Lamb. It is His death - His blood applied, as it were, over the doorposts of our lives - that rescues us from divine judgment.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Lord's Return

Throughout Scriptures we find three admonitions given to us about the Lord's return:
1. Watch faithfully.
2. Work diligently.
3. Wait peacefully.

1. We are to watch. The Lord said repeatedly that we are to watch for His coming because we do not know the day or hour of His return (Matt. 24:42; 25:13). In Luke 21:36 Jesus gave this specific instruction: "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."

We are to do more than pray as we watch. We are to stand fast in the faith with courage and strength (1 Cor. 16:13). We are to watch soberly, arming ourselves with faith and love and salvation (1 Thess. 5:8). As we watch, we are to remain especially aware of false prophets; we are to discern the spirits and to reject soundly all who do not confess that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh.

Jesus spoke to John in a vision and gave this great promise to those who remain whatchful: "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches ..." (Rev. 16:15).

2. We are to work. Why does Jesus leave us here on earth after He saves us? Why aren't we born again, and then immediately taken into the Lord's presence? Because we still have work to do.

First, God calls us to win souls. We are to be the Lord's witnesses - telling of the love of God and the atoning death of Jesus Christ for our sins. We are to testify about what He has done in our own lives, both with our words and by our example. So long as there remains a soul on earth who hasn't heard the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have work to do.

Second, we are to grow spiritually, developing an ever-increasing intimacy with the Lord. None of us fully lives up to our spiritual potential. We all have room to grow. In Christ, we must work with the Holy Spirit to be conformed to His likeness. Our minds must be renewed. Our inner hurts and emotions must be healed. We must grow in spiritual discernment and in the wisdom of God. Our faith must be strengthened and used so that our prayers and our actions more effectively build up the Lord's kingdom.

3. We are to wait. Waiting isn't easy. Impatience often leads to frustration. Waiting can also cause a buildup of fear; the longer something anticipated doesn't happen, the greater our concern with what will happen, which can degenerate into worry over what might happen - and fear is only a step away.

The angels spoke peace to the earth at  Jesus' first coming (Luke 2:14). More than four hundred times in the Scriptures, the Lord says that we are not to fear, but to enjoy peace. The prophet Isaiah referred to Jesus as the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). Throughout His ministry, the Lord Jesus spoke peace: to the woman with an issue of blood He said, "Peace be still"; and to His disciples He said, "My peace I give you." The Lord calls us to peace as we await His return.

Apart from Jesus, there is no peace - not within a human heart, and not among human beings or nations. With Jesus, we can experience peace that passes our rationl minds and settles deep within (Phil. 4:7). We are to seek an find this peace as we await the Lord's return.

When the Lord comes, will He find you among those who love Him and call Him Savior and Lord?

When the Lord comes, will He find you doing what He has commanded you to do?

When the Lord comes, will He find you eager to see Him?

When the Lord comes, will He find yo ready for His appearing?

When the Lord calls with a shout from heaven, will you instantly rise to be with Him?

When the Lord appears in the clouds, will your heart rejoice with exceedingly great joy?

You have it within your grasp to positively answer these questions. How will you choose to respond to the Lord's challenges upon your life?

The fact is: He is coming again!

Monday, December 12, 2011

God's Hatred of Pride

Proverbs 16:18

The Bible makes it very clear that God hates human pride. James 4:6 states very clearly, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." The same message gets stated in the Scriptures no less than three times (see also Proverbs 3:34 and 1 Peter 5:5).

Elsewhere, the Bible lists pride among four things that the Lord hates: pride gets lumped together with arrogance, the evil way, and the perverse mouth (Proverbs 8:13). In yet another passage, pride finds a place among seven things that are an abomination to God: "a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethern (Proverbs 6:17-19). God puts pride in the same category with murder!

Why does God hate human pride so much? Because it is the one sin that keeps us from allowing God to use us for His purposes. When we commit ourselves to doing things our way, we are in no position to do things God's way. Pride renders us useless in the kingdom of God. We fall prey to pride when we forget that God dos not exist for us, but we  exist for Him.  The Lord refuses to share His glory with anyone. When we seek to take His glory for ourselves - saying, in effect, "Look at what I have accomplished! Look at me! Look at who I am!" - we deny that everything we accomplish comes about because God enables and empowers us to accomplish it. Any good in us is by His design and redemption. Anything noteworthy that we become, we become because He wills it. We have no goodness apart from God's goodness imparted to us.

Most people know some version of Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." While not all destructions are caused by pride, pride always "ends in destruction - and usually, we lose the very thing thing we feel most proud about having achieved, earned, owned or accomplished.

~Charles Stanley~

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Happens When We Praise God?

Psalm 150:1-6

Perhaps no book exemplifies the spirit of praise and worship more than the book of Psalms. It records more verses of praise than any other book of the Bible. Obviously, God wants the praise of His people.

God tells us to give Him thanks for everything (1 Thess. 5:18), even when things press against our souls. We may not understand what is happening; we may never understand. But God's will in each circumstance is that we praise and thank Him.

But why? It's because praise is the clearest and most direct means by which you declare your dependence on God. it repeats your trust in Him in the midst of darkness. It confesses your allegiance and devotion to the One who was crucified for you and to whom you are eternally joined.

Consider a few specific benefits we derive from praising the Lord:

Praise magnifies God:  praise puts our focus on God, not on our problems. God's power, presence, and ability transforming our thinking.

Praise humbles us:  when we worship God, we gain a right view of ourselves. Praise deflates excess pride and ego. We gain a healthy self-image, based on God's view of us. By removing pride, praise strengthens us against temptation.

Praise reveals our devotion to God: if I love Christ, I will praise Him. If He has first place in my life, I will honor Him with worship and thanksgiving.

Praise motivates us to holy living: praise opens our hearts to want to live the way God desires - holy and separated unto Him, to do His will above our own, to want to be like Him more than anyone else. The more we worship Him, the more like Him we will become.

Praise increases our joy: joy is the constant companion of praise. If we feel depression or discouragement, praising God will soon bring us joy.

Praise establishes our faith: the greater we see our God, the smaller we see our problems.

Praise elevates our emotions. Worry, fear, and doubt cannot survive for long in an atmosphere of praise.

If you want to see a difference in your relationship with Christ and in your walk with Him, start to praise Him today. Continue even when you feel prone to give up. Commit yourself to a life of praise and fellowship with Jesus - and experience the fullness of what God means by "joy".

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Our Intimacy with God - His Highest Priority for Our Lives

One of our greatest needs is to know that we are loved. Each one of us has to feel certain, deep down in our hearts, that someone loves us, cares for us and has our best interests at heart.

That is how God designed us. He wants us to know that He loves every one of us with a passionate intensity too deep for words.

God created human beings with fellowship in mind - first with Himself, and then with others. But we cannot fully love one another until we have ourselves experienced the love of God. We experience His love when we willingly surrender to His call to be our Savior, Lord, and friend.

There are at  least three reasons God seeks our surrender: 1. He loves us and desires our fellowship and worship. So long as we hold something back from God, we cannot know Him completely or fully experience His love. When we surrender to Him, we get all of Him. 2. He wants our service for Him to be effective and fruitful. The more we get to know and love Jesus, the more effective our service will be. The closer we draw to God, the more impact our lives will have. The more energetically we nurture our relationship with the Lord, the greater the positive mark we will leave behind. 3. He waits for the freedom to bless us. God is  omnipotent but will not violate His own principles. He draws us to Himself so we can experience His love and forgiveness. He asks for our willing surrender so that He can give us the best blessings He has to offer.

So why do we resist? With all this in mind, why does anyone resist surrendering to God?

Pride is the key reason most people resist surrender. They thing they know better than God and that they can handle their life better than He can, so they keep Him at arm's distance.

Others do not surrender because they fear what God will do (or not do) for them. They think that if they give Him control, He'll make them do exactly what will make them most miserable.

Still others refuse to surrender to Christ because they believe satan's lie, which tells them that God is judgmental and will punish them for their mistakes.

All of this is completely false!! God always has our best in mind. He will refuse us no good things when we gladly submit to His will (Rom. 8:32). He tells us, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jere. 29:11).

It only makes sense to surrender to God, because when we do, we grow close to Him - His highest priority for us - and we begin to have an impact on our world.

Anne Graham Lotz once told an interviewer about the many trials she had faced over the previous years, including her parents' serious illnesses and her son's battle with cancer. She finally came to the point where all she wanted was Jesus. "Just give me Jesus," she declared.

Anne realized that if she had a personal, intimate relationship with the Savior of this universe, then whatever problems she faced, He would fact them with her and He would bring a sweet resolve and a peace to her heart.

Is this the cry of your heart? Do you want to know the Savior and live in the fullness of His blessing each day? You can. David wrote, "those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing" (Ps. 34:10).

If you have drifted in your devotion to the Savior and feel as though you grow more distant each day in your relationship to Him, then pray that He would draw you near once more. He knows your weaknesses, and if you will tell Him that you want Him to take control of your life, He will come to you in a mighty way and bring hope and light to your situation, no matter how dark and hopeless it may feel (Isaiah 55:6, 7).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Three Distortions of Christianity

JUDAIZED CHRISTIANITY - their definition of a Christian:
Christians were Jews who have recognized Jesus as the promised Savior. Therefore any Gentile desiring to become a Christian must first become a Jew.
Their genuine concern:
Having a high regard for the Scriptures and God's choice of Jews as His people, they did not want to see God's commands overlooked or broken.
The Danger:
Tends to add human traditions and standards to God' law. Also subtracts from the Scriptures God's clear concern for all nations.
Do you appreciate God's choice of a unique people through whom He offered forgiveness and eternal life to ALL peoples?

LEGALIZED CHRISTIANITY - their definition of a Christian:
Christians are those who live by a long list of "don'ts". God's favor is earned by good behavior.
Their genuine concern:
Recognized that real change brought about by God should lead to changes in behavior.
The Danger:
Tends to make God's love something to earn rather than to accept freely. Would reduce Christianity to a set of impossible rules and transforms the Good News into bad.
As important as change in action is, can you see that God may be desiring different changes in you than in others?

LAWLESS CHRISTIANITY - their definition of a Christian:
Christians live above the law. They need no guidelines. God's Word is not as important as our personal sense of God's guidance.
Their genuine concern:
Recognized that forgiveness from God cannot be based on our ability to live up to His perfect standards. It must be received by faith as a gift made possible by Christ's death on the Cross.
The Danger:
Forgets that Christians are still human an fail consistently when trying to live only by what the "feel" God wants.
Do you recognize the ongoing need for God's expressed commands as you live out your gratitude for His great salvation?

TRUE CHRISTIANITY - their definition of a Christian:
Christians are those who believe inwardly and outwardly that Jesus' death has allowed God to offer them forgiveness and eternal life as a gift. They have accepted that gift through faith and are seeking to live a life of obedient gratitude for what God has done for them.
Their genuine concern:
Christianity is both private and public, with heart-belief and mouth-confession. Our relationship to God and the power He provides results in obedience. Having received the gift of forgiveness and eternal life, we are now daily challenged to live that life with His help.
The Danger:
Avoids all the above dangers and distortions.
How would those closest to you describe your Christianity? Do they think you live so that God will accept you or do they know that you live because God has accepted you in Christ?