A Man Named Nicodemus -John 3:1

John 3:1 – There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

It seems that this man, Nicodemus was not just any ordinary Jew. He was a man of zealous religious devotion, committed to the Law of Moses and to upholding the truth of God in Israel (or so he thought). He was not your average run-of-the-mill Jew, but he was a man that no doubt far exceeded the common Jew in his religious achievements, capabilities and public recognition among the people.

We’re told here that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Now, when we read the Bible 2,000 after this time, it’s easy for us to just brush off the Pharisees as a legalistic, semi-heretical sect of Judaism that rejected Christ and trusted in a works-based salvation. It’s especially easy to think of them with scorn in our minds because we know how harshly the Lord Jesus denounced them as a whole and rebuked them sharply on many occasions. However, we have to understand that historically speaking, in Israel at the time of Christ, the Pharisees were the peoples’ choice for religious and political leaders.

The people looked up to the Pharisees for their religious insight and counsel, because they believed the Pharisees were so devout and zealous for the Law of God. After all, who else but the Pharisees would dare to fast for two days every week and give tithes of all they owned (Luke 18:12)? Who else sat in the seat of Moses with such authority and taught the Word of the Lord (Mat. 23:2-3)? Who else was so devout as to travel land and sea just to make a single convert (Mat. 23:15)? Who else would give alms to the poor on a regular basis (Mat. 6:2)? Who else would be so devoted to prayer that they would drop whatever they were doing to pray right on the spot whenever the hour of prayer struck, even if they happened to be in the middle of the marketplace (Mat. 6:5)? Apparently they were, in fact, those who the common people would go to whenever they had spiritual struggles or needed insight from God, looking up to the Pharisees as their teachers and counselors (Mat. 23:7). We can safely assume that Nicodemus was at least equaling, if not exceeding, his fellow Pharisees in such intense devotion.

And we have to acknowledge that not all of the Pharisees were blind hypocrites that purposely chose to be deceived and to deceive others. Some of them, no doubt, were very sincere. They sincerely wanted the truth, they sincerely were devoted to the God of Israel, they sincerely saw themselves as the spiritual guardians and teachers of Israel, and they sincerely desired to be holy. Some of them certainly desired to do what was right. And it is here that we find Nicodemus.

Obviously, Nicodemus wasn’t an intentional rejecter of God’s truth like so many other Pharisees. We see his sincerity here in the fact that he came to Christ in the midst of potential threats to be excommunicated and banned from the religious establishment (John 9:22). Certainly he came by night in the cloak of secrecy, but can we blame him? After all, his whole career, reputation, and everything he had worked for was on the line. Any man risking so much to hear the truth of God would want to make sure that what he was considering was really the truth of God before being willing to suffer for it. He came to Jesus knowing that He was a teacher who come from God, but it’s probable that at this early stage he didn’t yet know Who Jesus really was (i.e. the Messiah).

But the point is that Nicodemus was a devout follower of Judaism. If anybody could be saved by their acknowledgement of the one true God and their religious devotion and good works, it was him. Yet, as we will find out just a few verses later, Nicodemus at this time had no spiritual life in him. He was still “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and was in desperate need of the new, divine, supernatural life which came from above. He needed to be spiritually reborn, to become a new creature, or else he would never enter the Kingdom of God that he was so eagerly looking and waiting for. And as we will see, his religious devotion didn’t impress Christ one bit. Jesus will cut straight to the heart of the matter and address Nicodemus’ great, pressing, desperate spiritual need for salvation through regeneration.

We are also told here that he was a “ruler of the Jews”. In fact, the very name “Nicodemus” means, “conqueror of the people” in Greek. What his name shows us, if in fact it holds some meaning here in the inspired Word, is that in religious piety, devotion, and achievement, he was a man on the top, far above his peers in success as a Pharisee. He was a leader of the people, and had achieved greater status and recognition in Israel than his equals. Furthermore, by calling him “a ruler of the Jews”, the Scripture is informing us that Nicodemus had a seat on the respected governing counsel of Israel, known as the Sanhedrin. This ruling counsel consisted of 70 select elders from among Israel and was overseen by the High Priest. Religiously speaking, no one was viewed as in higher authority over Israel except the High Priest himself. In such a high position of honor, Nicodemus was viewed as an authority for religious counsel, an example for religious practice, and a model for religious learning. Yet, despite his great religious success in the eyes of men, he was a total failure when it came to the eyes of God, in need of the real salvation which could only come as a gift of sovereign grace from above. Jesus will yet tell him, “You must be born again”, or else he will never see the Kingdom of God.

So in the light of understanding that he was still dead in his sins and not saved at this time, we learn several lessons from the background of Nicodemus:

1. He was a man of intense religious devotion. To be not only a Pharisee, but a leader of the Pharisees, means that his commitment to his religious convictions had to be above that of the average Pharisee. Yet all the fasting, praying, proselytizing, studying, teaching, alms giving, tithing, and attending synagogue couldn’t save him. Let us understand that no amount religious works can save us, no matter how good they seem to be and no matter how great they are in quantity.

2. He was a man of committed sincerity to what he understood of the things of God. He was not purposely deceived and certainly did not intend to be a religious leader without truly knowing the God he claimed to represent. We learn from this that sincerity doesn’t always constitute salvation. “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2-3). One can be zealous, religious, and intensely sincere, and yet still miss the righteousness which comes from God, and so be spiritually lost and dead.

3. He was a man who sought for the truth. This is proven by the fact that he came to Jesus at a time when the Pharisees as a whole were rejecting Him. They had rejected John the Baptist as the prophet of Christ (Mat. 21:25) and now they were rejecting Christ Himself. But in the midst of it, Nicodemus sneaks away to secretly inquire of Christ, desiring in his heart to know the truth of God and to hear divine instruction from the mouth of Him who he knew to be a “teacher come from God” (John 3:2). This shows us that one can be a seeker of truth, earnestly desiring to know the truth, and yet still be deceived. A real child of God is not seeking truth, they have found the truth, and it has set them free (John 8:32).

4. He was a man of significant religious attainment. He was not just any Pharisee, but was a leader among them. This man was in essence a pastor of pastors, a recognized theologian in Israel that even the rabbis would look up to. He was viewed as “a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law” (Romans 2:19-20). Yet even so, as a leader and a guide among God’s people, his religious achievement, respected status, and lofty position didn’t save him. This shows us that one can be a leader, a pastor, a theologian, and still not be born again. Just because a man holds a high position in the church doesn’t mean that he holds a high position in the sight of God. One can attain a great level of respect and attain a high level of honor among men in the church, and still be in desperate need of regeneration.

And so we learn that religious devotion and works can’t save us, no matter how intense and numerous; commitment and sincerity can’t save us, no matter how sincere; seeking the truth alone can’t save us, no matter how much we sacrifice to find it; and having success in the church and attaining to high levels of religious or denominational achievement can’t save us, no matter how lofty of a position we attain to. Just like Nicodemus, we need to learn to forsake our own understanding, our own works, our own achievements, and to trust in Christ alone. Salvation is not in outward actions; it is in spiritual life from above being implanted to us inwardly. We need to be transformed on the inside by the mighty power of the grace of God in regeneration.

The New Birth -John 3:1-8

John 3:1-8 – There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: (2) The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (3) Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (4) Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? (5) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (8) The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

This whole discourse follows a logical flow of thought. Let’s give a brief summary of what’s happening:

Verse 1: Nicodemus comes on the scene, who was a Pharisee and Ruler of the Jews. Note, Nicodemus was not just your ordinary religious person, he was an extremely devout Jew, earning for himself a seat on the famed Sanhedrin of Israel, a choice privilege that only 70 men enjoyed such a position under the High Priest of Israel. Therefore if anybody could be saved by their religious devotion, no doubt, Nicodemus would be the first in line.

Verse 2: Nicodemus however was afraid to confess Jesus openly at this time, coming in the cloak of night to inquire of Him. However, that is much better than most of the Pharisees, who refused to come to Jesus at all! Nicodemus then acknowledges that Jesus is a Teacher sent from God. He recongizes the divine power and authority of the Most High upon Jesus’ life and ministry and understands that He is not just any normal man.

Verse 3: Despite the religious devoutness and traditional devotion of Nicodemus, his good works, and his acknowledgement of Christ as having divine authority, he was still spiritually dead. He needed to be born again and given new spiritual life from above or else he would perish eternally.

Verse 4: Nicodemus reveals his spiritual blindness and thus confirms that Christ was speaking the truth about his spiritual condition. He does not understand that Jesus is speaking in symbolic language about the necessity of regeneration and of becoming a new creature by the power of supernatural grace. A dead man cannot see, and Nicodemus here revealed that he was in fact dead, because he still couldn’t “see the Kingdom of God”.

Verse 5: Jesus now somewhat repeats what He said in verse 3 about the New Birth and our need for it. However, whereas in verse 3 Jesus emphasized the necessity of the New Birth, here in verse 5 He explains the instruments of the New Birth. It is not by religious deeds, but by water and the Spirit.

Verse 6: Jesus emphasizes that religious works cannot save. They are only flesh. They can be done in the strength and ability of the flesh. The natural man can produce them. When trying to do them to gain righteousness as the Pharisees did, they only produce more flesh and more bondage. Only the Spirit can produce in us spiritual life which makes us alive unto God.

Verse 7: Jesus repeats Himself, emphasizing the desperate need of Nicodemus and all sinners that have not been made new creatures by the Spirit of God.

Verse 8: Jesus explains the cause of the New Birth. It is not by any effort, force, power, ability, or desire on man’s part. It is like the wind, which has a mind of it’s own and goes wherever the sovereign will of God directs it. No man can stop it and no man can cause it. It blows where it wills, and God regenerates who He wills. Furthermore, just as the wind is a mystery, so the New Birth is a mystery. We cannot always explain it, but we can certainly feel its effects when it blows upon us.

Next time, Lord willing, we will begin to look at this discourse more in depth.

Moved with Compassion

Matthew 9:36 – But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

Matthew 14:14 – And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.

Mark 1:41 – And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.

Luke 19:41 – And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it.

John 11:35 – Jesus wept.

The heart of Jesus must have deeply impressed those who were His eye-witnesses, so much so that all four Gospels record instances of Him being “moved” with compassion and even weeping. He, being God in the flesh, was truly a Man of sorrows, a humble servant of all, a compassionate friend of mankind, and while we read of such numerous instances when He was thus moved with Godly sorrow, we read of no reported instances where He laughed. As He Himself said, “Blessed are those who mourn”. He bore the pain, infirmities, sicknesses, and sins of mankind and carried our burdens upon His own back. What a blessed Savior!

Many times we should be lamenting instead of laughing, fasting instead of feasting, mourning our own sins rather than scorning the faults of others, suffering to carry the Gospel to the lost rather than having a merry time in selfish, fleshly entertainment. Have we no sense of this compassion that was in our Lord which drove Him to go to the cross to bleed? Have we no sense of the gravity of man’s sin and sorrow? Have we no sense of Godly sorrow, no sense of brokenness, no sense of poverty of spirit, no sense of grieving over the sins around us? Where is the heart of Jesus among us today?

We read that Jesus was “moved with compassion”. Those three words, “moved with compassion” come from just one single Greek word: splagchnizomai. Thayer’s defines it: “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion”. In other words, this was not just an intellectual acknowledgement of the sorrow and sad state of mankind, and it was not just a mental idea of someone’s pain that leads to the common phrase, “I know what you must be going through”. This was a deep, inward stirring of emotion that actually moved the Lord to action. It was a deep emotional feeling of understanding, identification, and pity that sprung from His heart of love for mankind and led Him to do something about it. His being “moved with compassion” was not just a result of His omniscience in knowing what people were going through, but it was a result of His heart of love in desiring to bring salvation, healing, restoration, freedom, and blessing to people’s lives.

This is the compassion that caused Him in His humanity to weep over Jerusalem when foreseeing its’ coming doom at the judgment of God, longing to show mercy even to the worst of sinners. This reveals to us the heart of Christ. He is meek and lowly in heart and invites sinners to come to Him and learn from Him. He comes down to the level of sinners with longsuffering, teaching with patience and grace, relating to them on their level. He heals the sicknesses and infirmities of sinners and liberates them from Satanic bondage. He blesses the poor and lowly and offers salvation to those who feel they least deserve it. He forgives the sins of repentant prostitutes and murderers and restores those who have a broken heart. He dwells with those of a contrite spirit, making His house with the most humble and lowly. This is the heart of Christ, and we better never forget it!

Is the same mind that was in Jesus in us today? Do we have the heart of God? Do we demonstrate to the lost world the mercy, compassion and love of God? Do we find ourselves moved with compassion, not just with a drop of moisture in our eye but with a deep stirring of our hearts that causes us to take action and stand up to be the instruments of God’s healing, restoration,  and salvation to those around us? It is a tragedy if we attempt to finish the work that Jesus came to do by carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth if we lack the same compassion He had which moved Him to do it. Let us not be moved by money, by pride, by recognition from men, but let us be moved by the love of God in our hearts.

The Holy Hatred of God -Psalm 5:4-5

Psalms 5:4-5 – For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

Now here is a verse of Holy Scripture that I have rarely heard preached, and when I have, I’ve scarcely heard it preached rightly. Usually, it’s preached by over-zealous young people who hold to Reformed theology but run with it to the extreme, and when they preach it, they preach it on the streets to various people walking by and tell them that God hates them because they are workers of iniquity. As people respond in anger, a debate is started and the sole object of the believer with the Bible in his hand is to bash the unbeliever with a revelation that God hates them as he explains that God only loves the elect but hates everyone else. Then, perhaps the worst part of it all, is that they think this is evangelism!

I do not accept such as evangelism. I may actually even lean more toward their theological understanding than I do toward the “free-will God loves everybody” camp, but I am ashamed to see such conduct. I believe the Gospel is “Good News”. If you never preach glad tidings of peace then you’re not preaching the Gospel and you’re not evangelizing.

Of course, we do have to share the “bad news” with people as well; the fact of God’s holy hatred against all sin, the fact that His Law is holy and just and good and that He has pronounced forth the sentence of wrath and eternal condemnation on all who violate His Law, the fact of His unbending justice and His obligation to punish all sin because of His holy nature, the fact that God is infinitely holy and man is utterly sinful, and that not even an eternity in the flames of eternal torment can even purge sin from the heart of man, hence the necessity of Hell’s eternal duration.

But we can’t stop there! The reason we share the bad news is so we can most MAGNIFY and EXALT and GLORIFY the Good News! The only begotten Son of God came down to die for sinners because of His great love, and rose again to give them new life, and ascended on high to give them of His glorious Spirit, and now intercedes for them at God’s right hand! He crushed death and hell and the serpent under His feet, and He cast the sins of all who believe into the depths of the ocean never to be seen or felt again! The sinless One became sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God in Him! It was on the cross that He bore the stroke of God’s fierce anger and wrath against sin as He was crushed for our iniquities as our Substitute! He satisfied eternal justice on behalf of all who would believe, so that God may be just, and the justifier of Him who believes on Jesus! And He bestows His infinite riches and eternal grace and free mercy upon those who least deserve it! His love cannot even be described with words, for it is much better experienced than described! Hallelujah!

So what I’m saying is that there’s a precious balance here. We have to preach the whole counsel of God. We can’t just go around condemning everybody by telling them that God hates them because they are workers of iniquity. But at the same time, we can’t fail to tell them that God hates iniquity, and that there is a sense in which He utterly hates them if they are practicing it. We have to preach God’s holy hatred of sin and sinners who practice sin. We can’t only preach about the love of God and mercy of God and the pleasant things of God. We need to have the same balance that the Bible itself has. So don’t get me wrong, I am neither saying that we shouldn’t tell people of Psalm 5:5, nor am I saying that all we should preach is the things which are pleasant to the ears of the sons of men.

In fact, one of my favorite preachers to read and study is the late Jonathan Edwards. He is famous for his sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, and is very well known for his severe sermons against the ungodly and terrifying expositions on the doctrines of God’s wrath and Hell. But while almost everyone knows him for that, did you know, dear brethren, that Mr. Edwards also has some of the most beautiful sermons about the blessings and comforts of the saints and of the love of God toward His people, about the sweet refreshing presence of God and the joy and peace of the Holy Ghost?

So what I’m pleading for here is a return to the whole counsel of God. Brethren, don’t be ashamed of His words in Psalm 5:5. You don’t need to be ashamed for God, and you don’t need to apologize for Him. Everything in the Bible, and I mean EVERY THING that it lays an emphasis on in instructing us, is good for preaching.  “ALL Scripture is… profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16). And I will even go so far to say that the holy hatred of God, explained rightly, needs to be preached today more than ever in our day of cotton candy ‘gospels’ of watered-down half-truths and sugarcoated soul stimulates. Multitudes have been inoculated against the true Gospel because they’ve been given a little shot of truth -now they are immune to the real counsel of God and it’s very unlikely that they ever catch the full blown “Gospel disease” of being infatuated with pure love for Jesus Christ. The only thing that’s going to reverse the effects of all the damage that’s been done is to once again exalt the majesty and holiness of God in His justice and wrath against sin in the hope that the Holy Spirit will show to such ones their truly undone and wretched condition so that they will once against hunger and thirst for righteousness and cry out for the real salvation of the Lord.

Psalm 5:5 here presents to us an attribute of God, the true God, that we rarely hear about. He has no pleasure in wickedness, and He cannot wink upon willful sin. No evil will dwell with Him, for He is holy. He is entirely separate from sin and sinners. The foolish who scorn the weight of His commands and reject the fear of the Lord shall not stand in His sight, they shall be cut down with the sword of His vengeance and hacked in pieces like Agag was by the sword of Samuel (1 Sam. 15:33). And the God of Israel, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, hates those who practice iniquity with an intense, holy hatred against them. Notice it doesn’t say that He just hates their sin, but that He hates them because of their sin. He won’t just cast their sin into Hell, but He will throw the persons into Hell because of their sin. This is what the text says, and I cannot change it, nor would I dare to try!

God loves the world, certainly. He loves the world so much, with such a great, grand love, that He gave His only begotten Son to save those who will believe (John 3:16). In the sense of our salvation, brethren, we know that His love triumphed over His hatred and that this was possible because mercy and justice kissed at the cross. God’s justice can be fulfilled, and He can show mercy to sinners for Christ’s sake. And yet we must hold true to the whole counsel of God. In the case of the saints, they are saved to the praise of the glory of His grace. Yet in the case of the wicked, they are damned to the praise of the glory of His justice and wrath.

There is no contradiction here. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. This God is beyond our comprehension. His thoughts are high above ours. We may not understand Him completely, no more than Job did throughout the book which bears his name, but we are not told to fit the infinite God into our finite minds. Rather we are told to forsake the reasoning of our own thoughts and to renew our minds with the thoughts which God has revealed about Himself in His Word. Though we cannot understand Him completely, we have to accept what is revealed of Him, and we dare not push the knowledge of God in any of His attributes from our puny minds just because we’re not able to scale and conquer the Himalayas of His infinite truth. There may be something of a divine paradox displayed before our eyes between Psalm 5:5 and John 3:16, but there is certainly no contradiction in the mind of the Lord. It all flows together as a beautifully woven garment in the tapestry of God’s counsel and revelation.  

Let us fear this God of love, because He loves holiness, truth, and His own glory. But thanks be to Him, He also loves sinners who He chose to become the objects of His grace to bestow His great riches and mercy upon for all of eternity. We are all at His mercy. 

 

Lord, Teach us to Pray!

“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” -Luke 11:1

What an amazing statement this is if you think about it.

Just think. This is the Lord Jesus Himself, being God incarnate. His prayer life was tremendous. He didn’t rely on His own power or ability, but that which came directly from the Father. He truly emptied Himself and became a man to dwell among us, and took upon Himself willingly the limitations that men are subject to. As such, He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit and the direction of the Father every step of the way on His mission in this earth, and prayed earnestly without ceasing for the blessing and power of the Father upon Him.

Yet what greatly impresses me is the fact that His disciples noticed something different in His prayer life. He had power in prayer. They recognized that this was the secret of His power. Think of it! They had seen Him cast out demons with a word, raise the dead, heal the sick, cleanse incurable lepers, and many other such amazing miracles. Yet they came to Him and they didn’t ask Him, “Lord, teach us to heal the sick like you do”; or “Lord, teach us to raise the dead like we’ve seen you do”; not even did they ask, “Lord, teach us to walk on water”. Instead, they asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Wow. As amazing as all such miracles were, it appears that the greatest impression was  made upon them by His prayer life!

Today, in modern Christendom, we have hyper-charismatic circles that run workshops and schools that teach people how to do miracles. Just go to their school, and they will teach you how to heal a tumor or how to prophesy to someone you don’t know. Or they have schools nowadays that teach people how to cast out demons, complete with learning how to break generational curses, historical blood-ties, etc. etc. And the whole of these things are far from being biblical. Instead of having workshops to teach us how to operate in signs and wonders, why don’t we have workshops that teach us how to truly seek the face of God in prayer?!

Now I’m not against the operation of modern day miracles. I know God still moves in the miraculous. I have seen it personally. But we shouldn’t rejoice over such things. We shouldn’t rejoice that demons are subject to us, but we should rejoice that are names are written in Heaven. And with the proper perspective, we should focus on seeking the pleasure of God by seeking His face in prayer. We should be seeking His will, as our Lord did. We should be abiding in the Spirit by faith, and maintaining our walk in the Spirit with a life of intimacy with God in secret prayer.

We have to confess it here right now, dear brethren, that often times our prayer lives are pitiful. We don’t spend the amount of time in prayer as we ought. We have a built-in tendency in our flesh to attempt to do great things for God before attempting to wait upon God to enable and send us. And even when we do pray, so many times our actual prayers themselves are pitiful. They are not prayed with the desperation and intensity they ought to be prayed with. They are not prayed with the confidence and faith they should be prayed with. They are often prayed from selfish motives and in sluggishness, even in the best of His saints. I dare not claim to be excluded from guilt here. The flesh is constantly at war against our prayer life, and part of taking up our cross to follow Christ has to do with learning how to deny the desires of the flesh for instant gratification and tangible results and to simply trust God in the invisible. We desperately need to learn to pray, and not just as a one-time deal, but we continually need to be taught by the Lord to pray, because as we progress, the flesh is constantly trying to undo our progress in growing into effective prayer. We are full of infirmities on all sides in bodies of flesh and blood, and need God’s pardon even on our best days. Oh, we need the blood of atonement to cleanse even the most holiest of our actions before God, and to pardon the faults of even our best attempts to seek His approval! Even our prayers would be unacceptable if not sanctified by the blood of Christ! But thank God for His grace, that where we’re weak, He is strong, and He is a compassionate Father who desires to hear and answer our prayers.

Faith-filled, fervent, fiery secret prayer was the secret of the Lord Jesus’ public power. Unlike us so many times, He prayed not with a nodding head of sleepiness, but with strong cries and tears! (Heb. 5:7) I truly believe that His miracles and mighty deeds were an outflow of His times in prayer. And I truly believe that we often have not because we ask not. We would do well to learn how to pray, and to learn to imitate Christ’s example. The disciples knew that the Lord had something special when they seen the amount of time and the intensity with which the Lord spent in prayer, and they seen the effects of it publicly in His ministry. If we want to see souls saved, if we want to see God move in power, if we want to see the saints edified and built up in the church, it’s going to have to start with us learning how to pray. Let’s all go to the Lord anew and ask Him what the early Apostles did: LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY!!!

The Rapture, it’s Timing, and Matthew 24

I believe in the blessed hope of the rapture of the Lord’s church where the saints of God will be beamed up off of this earth and glorified in the flash of moment to meet the Lord in the air. I’ve heard some come against the term, “rapture”, stating that it’s not in the Bible. Well, they’re wrong and they would do best just to keep silence in such ignorance. While I admit that the exact word, “rapture” is not in any respected english Bible, it is actually the word that is used in the Latin Bible in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:

(16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up (“raptured” in Latin) together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Christians were reading Jerome’s Latin Vulgate long before they were reading the respected King James Version which didn’t make its debut in history until 1611. And it is from this Latin Bible that the word “rapture” comes from, and has carried over into our English. The word “rapture” is actually a translation of the Greek word for “caught up” in 1 Thes. 4:17, the word “harpazō”. It literally means, “to be caught up or seized or snatched away by force” (Strong’s and Thayer’s definitions). So, “harpazō” (Greek) translated into Latin, “rapturo”, finds it’s way into English as “rapture”. But the translators of the Bible chose rather to use the terms, “caught up” rather than rapture, apparently for more clarity, because it is easier understood. But “rapture” is certainly a biblical word and a biblical concept, and a blessed promise from the Lord to snatch His church off the earth and claim us as His own to share in His glory. Anyone who denies that there will be a rapture denies many faithful promises of the Lord Himself and sets himself up against the testimony of the written Word of God.

However, while I heartily agree with the fact of the rapture, and earnestly long for the day when my Lord Jesus will return for me (or if I’m dead by that time, to raise up my body from the grave and fashion it like unto His glorious body), I tend to differ with the majority of evangelicals of modern times as to the exact timing of the rapture. Now, dear reader, before you burn me at the stake with the charge of heresy, let me state that prior to the 1800’s, nobody in church history believed in a Pre-Tribulation rapture (that the church would be raptured prior to Daniel’s 70th week and the final 7 years of this age). The idea is absent from church history! So I’m certainly not a lone ranger on this one inventing some new wave of doctrine.

What I actually believe about the end times is not the popular modern day “dispensationalism”. But what I believe is called, “historic Premillennialism” (called “historic” because it is not some new idea). That is, that the Lord Jesus Christ will return prior to the literal 1,000 year Millennial reign and rapture His church at that time, when He returns. In other words, I believe the rapture of the church and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the Great Tribulation will occur at the same time. And there is tons of Scriptural support for this view.

But rather than exhaustively labor to supply proof-texts for this hotly debated eschatological issue, let me just give you a little food for thought. Let me give you a very simple statement from Scripture. I will quote this Scripture and I want you to tell me if that is not talking about the church, the people of God, being raptured and caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Lay aside your theoligical bias and just read it as it’s written. Here’s the Scripture:

“And he (the Son of Man) shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Now dear reader, answer this question: Is this, or is this not, talking about the church being caught up from the earth to meet the Lord Jesus in the air? You have to be honest. This is clearly the rapture. And notice the similarities between this and 1 Thes. 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, Scriptures which are always used to support the Pre-Trib idea. There are angels involved in both Mat. 24 and 1 Thes. 4 and in all three of these Scriptures, the trumpet is involved, spoken of as the “last trumpet”.

Now let’s quote that entire Scripture in context and give the reference, and notice that as we do, the Lord Jesus Himself tells us exactly when this glorious rapture will occur:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: (30) And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (31) And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:29-31)

Does He not clearly say that this event with the gathering together of the church in the air at the blasting of the trumpet of God will be after the tribulation?

Thus we have this (less than) 200 year old debate finally solved with the words of the Lord Jesus Himself! Oh, how much better it is just to find the Lord’s answers on these difficult subjects! Blessed be His name. There is tons of other Scriptural support I could give to further re-enforce this minority view of mine, but I just wanted to give my readers something to chew on for a while. Go to Matthew 24, the Lord’s great discourse about the last days and the great tribulation, and read the whole thing. Look for the rapture in it! It is there, and I have quoted it. But the Lord says it will be at the last trumpet, at the last day.

And as a last note, I respect my brethren who differ from me in this view. Though I believe they are wrong, they are often very sincere in their wrong view, and still love the Lord. And any who have my Lord as their Lord are my friends and brothers, I do not make this an issue of division over fellowship or of a means of contention. There are great minds who differ from my not-so-great mind, and great Bible teachers who believe the opposite as me. I love them, appreciate their ministries, and fellowship with them in the basis of salvation truth. Please don’t write me trying to argue with me on this, while I appreciate peaceful discussions of Scripture in love, I will not engage in any contentious debates. Blessings in Christ.

Just the ponderings of a foolish thing of this world.

Mercy has delivered us from the Lowest Hell

For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. -Psalms 86:13
Oh, it would do us well to ponder on the great mercy of God toward us, His saints. For remember, dear brethren, that we weren’t always saints. We weren’t always the excellent ones of the earth in whom in His delight (Psa. 16:3). There was a time for us all, when we were yet blind to the things of God, when we were in love with our sin, when we cherished the enemies of God in our hearts in betrayal to the One to whom all our adoration, worship and service was due. There was a time when we were alienated from the life of God due to the ignorance that was in us, and were in fact, enemies of God in our mind through wicked works. There was a time when we did such things as make us now blush to even think of, and we would dare not even mention them all! And yet, the mercy of God was so great toward us! What a thought!

But yet, the mercy of God doesn’t stop there, just at the point of our conversion. It doesn’t cover only our past life. Think now, brethren, of how great the mercy of God is towards us even now! Since He converted us by His wondrous grace, and since we’ve been born again and made new creatures in His sight, though our hearts and conduct was radically changed for the better, we have to admit, and that quite ashemedly, that we have still failed God many times, even the best of us. How many times do we go to prayer and approach the throne of grace in a sluggish, flippant state of doubt in His precious promises? How many times do we fail to do in His service the very best we can do as He deserves? How many times does our tongue slip and speak that which God would not have us to speak? How many times have we contracted dirt on our feet as we walk through the wilderness of this world?  Yet He is ever-merciful, always there to serve us, even us the most pitiful and lowly of creatures, in order to wash our feet again and again in His sanctifying grace! His mercy is so great toward us, for if it weren’t, our infirmities, struggles, foolishnesses, and sins since being converted would be enough in themselves to condemn us for ten thousand eternities on end. But thank God for the precious blood of Christ, which cleanses us from all sin! His mercy is great, which has promised in the words of the infallible testimony: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

And such mercy as this is too wonderful for me. It overwhelmes me. I cannot grasp the depths of it with my fallible, finite mind. This mercy is so deep that it has reached down even into the lowest Hell and with the grasp of omnipotence has plucked us from the fire. Even the lowest Hell itself, where I once dwelt miserably, was not out of the reach of the infinite mercy of God. Even the chief of sinners hadn’t sinned so much that the mercy of God in Jesus Christ couldn’t forgive and cleanse and empower to turn such a one into the chiefest of Apostles (1 Tim. 1:15).

This mercy can do no other except to leave us in awe, with a heartfelt gratitude for what Christ has done for us. This mercy being so great towards us in causing us to be forgiven much has caused us to love much, and this is why we’re passionate about our Savior. That’s why we live the way we do, denying ourselves to serve His Majesty. There are those who claim to understand this mercy and who claim to have received it, but their lives show no gratitude for it as they continue in the same path they’ve always walked and continue to cherish sin in their hearts and in their practice. Such as these who can run headlong into sin without feeling heartfelt grief have not tasted of the fountain of grace, nor drank deeply of the wells of mercy which shall never run dry. But to us, who have received of this mercy, and grace for grace, knowing that our sins are covered by the blood and we are eternally secure in the love of God, kept from falling by His keeping grace, this mercy to us is no license to sin. We dare not willfully practice sin against the one who showed us so much mercy in love. Rather, having received of His bountiful hand every rich blessing pertaining to life and godliness causes us to earnestly desire holiness, to long after perfect righteousness, to walk in obedience of heart and life, and to live for His glory. The mercy of God is far from being an encouragement to sin, it is an encouragement to sanctification and to pressing on to grow in Christlikeness!

Just how great is this mercy toward us? -I will spend an eternity finding out…

 

Just the ponderings of a foolish thing of this world.
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