Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"To Will One Will"

In James 4:8, James, the brother of Jesus says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded.”

In the mid-19th century, Danish existential philosopher and Christian, Sören Kierkegaard, picked up on these words and noted that to will one thing is to exhibit purity of heart. And that stands to reason, given what James says about the need to be cleansed from double-mindedness. But Kierkegaard goes further. He states that, if it is possible for a man to will one thing, then what he wills must be good. Now, I don’t want to get way down in the weeds here, but I think that what Kierkegaard is pointing to is exactly where we are headed this Sunday in a message entitled, “To Will One Will.” The texts to which we turn are both from the Gospels – Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 6:5-13.

If you are a regular reader of the e-newsletter I don’t have to remind you where we’ve been since beginning our new series, Jesus Wins, three weeks ago. In the first week we noted the “full stop” or “hard break” in the Genesis record between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. When God created in verse 1, everything He created was perfect, for as we noted, a perfect God can only produce what is perfect. But by the time you take a breath for verse 2 you find that a gigantic shift has occurred. The perfectly created order has become marred. The Bible says, “The earth was without form and void…” The Hebrew says, “The earth became a wreck and a ruin.”

Someone mentioned to me recently that they didn’t believe any of that. They said that they believe that verse 2 and following is an elaboration of verse 1. In other words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and verse 2 and following is how He did it. Now if that’s true, how do you explain the wreck and ruin? How is the formless, shapeless void explained? If God created ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” how is shapeless matter and energy explained? This is particularly puzzling given that beginning in verse 2 we see the entire godhead determining, hovering, and speaking things into being.

While I respect his opinion, I beg to differ. Indeed, I believe that the puzzle pieces of Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 go a long way to explaining what happens to the perfect creation of verse 1. As we outlined in our last two messages, the one whom God had anointed as prophet, priest, and king over His perfect creation succumbed to the sin of pride, saying in his heart, “I will make myself like the Most High,” causing the Most High, in all His righteousness, to judge Lucifer. He cast him down from the presence of God (the Mountain of God). He dislodged him from his three-fold office. And yet, as we noted last week, while he is sentenced his eternal punishment is not yet exacted – prompting the question, why? Why would God allow this fallen angel to promulgate evil after God’s work beginning in verse 2?

This week and in coming weeks we will seek to answer such questions by beginning where Kierkegaard began – the will. One of the recurring themes on which nearly everyone opines at some point in their life is the matter of free will. The clear evidence of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that no one since Adam had a free will with respect to divine righteousness. As Paul points out in Ephesians 2, our will is bound in sin prior to any choice anyone makes to surrender to God. (If you doubt that read Romans; Galatians; John 6, 14, 17; Ephesians, and Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther.) But for our purposes this Sunday, I want you to consider one simple fact – before Lucifer’s sin there was only one will in all of existence. And that will was God’s will. God’s will had no rival or challenge. To will one will was easy, because there was only one. But when in the heart of Lucifer his own will took control, two wills emerge. From that point on there was no longer one will in the universe, but two, and everything changed.

This week we are going to dig into all of that. Not only is it important for our knowledge of God and His Word, it’s critical for what God has freed us in Christ to do and to be.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. What is meant by the words, “The first matter of importance of any godly sermon is that it must be “therapeutic”?
2. What are some common answers to the question, “Why does God permit evil?”
3. Why did Marx call religion “the opiate of the people”?
4. What do you make of Luke 4 and the close proximity between Jesus’ baptism and His temptations in the wilderness?
5. What is Satan saying to Jesus in verses 5-6(a)?
6. How do the words of Satan in verses 5-6(a) relate to Jesus’ words to His disciples in Matthew 6:5-13? (Note the footnote after verse 13.)
7. How does II Corinthians 4:4 relate to the presence of two wills?
8. What does Jesus’ response in Luke 4:8 say about willing one will?
9. Why would God allow the presence of a rival will in the universe?
10. What does this tell us about God and His character?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The First Fall

This Sunday marks the third week of our series, Jesus Wins. As we move deeper into our series to establish a sound context for spiritual warfare and our victory in Jesus, we come to questions surrounding the origins of evil and God’s response to Lucifer’s pride. Where did sin originate? Who is responsible for it? What possible relevance does sin’s origin have to you and me?

These are profound and necessary questions for every Christian to consider. Indeed, our culture asks these questions reportedly in the face of pain and misery.

See the following YouTube video of Dr. Ravi Zacharias answering a student’s question at a university forum. Just Google YouTube Ravi Zaharias “Who is responsible for evil?” to see this seven minute clip. It is a great set-up for Sunday’s message.

A quick review… Sermon #1 – “In the Beginning” – We saw that there is what the Hebrew call a “hard break” or a “full stop” at the end of Genesis 1:1. As we noted, this means that God’s perfect creation set forth in verse 1 is somehow radically altered before we get to verse 2. Somehow between verse 1 and verse 2 what was created perfect, as a function of the perfect One who created it, has become a shapeless void, or as the Hebrew describe it, “a wreck and a ruin.” So what happened? Sermon #2 – “The Son of the Morning” – Lucifer, the most glorious being God ever made (“the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty”), says in his heart, “I will make myself like the Most High.”(Isaiah 14:12-14) Both Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 explain the giant chasm that exists between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1. And so we examined in some detail, four elements of Lucifer’s proud rebellion against the Most High God.

But all of this begs a few questions: How did this happen? How did such wickedness find a home in Lucifer’s heart? Was it environmental? Was it the negative influence of the angelic court? Was it God Himself who placed in Lucifer this evil desire? Or, is there another answer? It’s to such questions that we turn our attention this week in a message entitled, “The First Fall”.

After last week’s message someone asked, “What Scriptural evidence is there to suggest that Lucifer was given other responsibilities besides ruler or king over God’s creation? You mentioned “prophet” and “priest”, but what biblical evidence is there to support such conjecture?” To which I replied, “Come next week.” As we will see in Ezekiel 28:11-19 this week, the sin of Lucifer was an abrogation of all three offices or roles – prophet, priest, and king. The sin of his heart causes him to violate each of these divinely ordained offices.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. What was Diogenes’ relationship with Plato?
2. Consider the full meaning of verse 14 in other translations. (The Hebrew says, “You were anointed the cherub that covers…”)
3. What was the kaphor or the cover used in the tabernacle?
4. Whose office was responsible for the sprinkling of the blood on the cover?
5. What is the problem with traveling back to Genesis 3 for the answer to the question, “Where did evil come from?”
6. What does God mean in verse 16 when He says, “Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence and you sinned?
7. What was Lucifer’s “trade”?
8. How does I Timothy 3:1-6 relate to verse 18?
9. What is the correlation between I Timothy 3:6 and Lucifer’s sin?
10. What is the role of the prophet? How does Lucifer lose that function? (see verse 16)
11. What does it mean to say that God’s sentence on Lucifer has been passed, but not executed?

See you Sunday!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Son of the Morning

There are a few New Testament texts that are completely relevant to our study of Jesus’ victory over the coming months. In I Corinthians 2, Paul follows up on the theme that God chooses the foolish things to confound the wise; the weak to shame the strong; and the low and despised in the world to bring to nothing things that are highly acclaimed.

He says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” What an admission! It echoes the truth Jesus speaks to Nicodemus in John 3 when He says, “That which is born of flesh is flesh. That which is born of Spirit is Spirit.”

Then over in Matthew 12, Jesus is pronouncing woes on a couple of Palestinian cities. Suddenly He shifts His focus to His Heavenly Father saying, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Now think of what that means. His Father’s will is to reveal Himself and His truth to His children. Because of His grace the Father will be known by His children. But how do his children put themselves in a place where they receive His revelation? By humbling themselves and seeking His face.

Last week’s message ended with several questions. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (PERIOD) And the earth became a wreck and a ruin, and darkness covered the face of the deep.” What happened? What caused God to destroy what He had created? What was the catalyst for God’s perfect creation becoming a wreck and a ruin? The same thing Paul is warning the Corinthians against – PRIDE.

This week we turn to two biblical prophets, Ezekiel and Isaiah, to fill in the space between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Here in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 God pulls back the curtain and lets us see back in time, to a time before time began, when the greatest, most glorious being God ever created, in his pride rebelled against the sovereignty and majesty of God. According to the prophets it was an event that was seen by all the heavenly host. Indeed, Jesus refers to the event in Luke 10, when He says to His disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven…do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

This week our focus is on the one called by many names in Scripture – Beelzebub, Satan, the devil, the great dragon, etc. But, before Genesis 1:2, before his fall, he was known by only one name – Lucifer – which comes from the Hebrew root heyler meaning “to shine”, “to bear.” When the Hebrew text was translated into Latin the word used for him was Lucifer, meaning “the morning star.” Who is he? What can we know of him? What is the position he once occupied? What is the nature of his fall? All of these questions will be addressed this Sunday in a message entitled, “The Son of the Morning.”

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. What do you make of these words? “God loves your fault mixed with repentance more than your virtue seasoned with pride.”
2. What are the seven deadly sins?
3. How is pride the foundation for all sin?
4. What is the context of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28?
5. Who is the King of Tyre? Does history record a “King of Tyre”?
6. What other examples are found in Scripture where God speaks of an event, past or present, by linking it to an historic figure?
7. How is the one described here in Ezekiel 28 unlike any human being?
8. What offices did Lucifer appear to hold prior to his fall?
9. Did Satan truly have the authority to make good on his temptation in Luke 4:6?
10. What is the cause of Lucifer’s rebellion? (v. 17)
11. What is at the root of unbelief and rejection of Christ?

Looking forward to Sunday!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

In the Beginning

Many years ago, in the early days of radio, in a certain central Pennsylvania town, there was a radio station that carried “The Bible Study Hour” with Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse. The problem was that the station was so remote from the transmitting station in Philadelphia that often on a Sunday evening another signal, from New York City, would often bleed into the Philadelphia broadcast. Instead of Barnhouse, the New York City station would be broadcasting the morning sermon of a New York City preacher.

Over time a woman listener wrote to Dr. Barnhouse telling him of the problem, and her sure-fire remedy. She said, “If I hear a voice talking about the dignity of the human personality, I know that I’ve got the New York station. But if I hear the voice saying that a man must be born again, I know that I have Dr. Barnhouse from Philadelphia.”

Within that exaggeration is a profound truth; a truth that is at the heart of our ministry at Hebron. I am convinced that a ministry that seeks to exalt mankind can, in the end, do no good for mankind. On the contrary, the ministry that sets forth the truth of man’s complete ruin in sin and God’s perfect remedy in Christ, can best reach the true need of any man and woman, and bring the only remedy that can heal the heart that God has declared humanly incurable (Jeremiah 17:9).

In the middle of June, Tim and I finished a year-long series on our brokenness and our transformation through Christ alone. And throughout the series we heard from many that it was the best series because all of us know what it’s like to be broken in our relationship with God, others, the world, and ourselves. From Scripture as well as contemporary life we saw how Jesus alone can address our two basic needs – to love and be loved and have a sense of worth.

This week we begin a deeper dissection of both the problem and the solution by going back to the beginning of the Scriptures. Have you ever wondered what’s behind the trials, the sufferings, and the difficulties of life? Have you ever wondered why a good God allows such misery? Why did He come to this world as a suffering Servant? And why, if God created all things good are things so screwed up?

Years ago several people suggested that we preach a sermon series on spiritual warfare. The reason they gave for their request was that they saw a lot of people being spiritually bloodied and battered and not appropriating the full armor of God (Ephesians 6). And while I sympathized with them, I felt less than equipped to frame the topic in its proper context. What’s more, I remained unconvinced that the proper groundwork had been established in our preaching to provide for widespread reception of the message.

In the last few months, however, there has been a confluence of two events that has convinced me that the time is right: (1) the completion of our last series; and (2) the digestion of the book The Invisible War by Donald Grey Barnhouse.

I quote from H.H. Ehrenstein’s preface (Ehrenstein is the former Editor of Eternity Magazine and the Director of Biblical Studies Evangelical Foundation, Inc.):

“Two features of the ministry of the late Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse made his witness unique: his tremendous insight into Scripture, and his remarkable ability to bring the truths he gleaned from his study to the Christian layman in such a way as to make the Bible come alive. Those who have heard Dr. Barnhouse teach, and those who have read his writings, can testify that this is true. In The Invisible War, Dr. Barnhouse explored a theme rarely touched upon by students of the Bible: the great conflict which exists in the spirit realm. Although almost entirely unrecognized by mankind, this warfare affects, in one way or another, the life of every person on earth and especially the life of the child of God.”

As we neared the end of our last series, I happened to be reading this book and instantly I thought what a perfect follow-up to drive us deeper in our understanding of both the ruin and the remedy.

We begin this week at the beginning – Genesis 1:1-2. In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1. What do you think is meant by orthodox biblical scholars when they say, “Context is king”?
2. How has your understanding of the meaning of a biblical text and its application been expanded by greater insight into the context of the text?
3. Can you think of any recent examples of this from the preaching at Hebron, your reading of expositional works, etc.?
4. When you read Genesis 1:1-2, how do you read the “period” at the end of verse 1? Is it the end of a truth or more like a comma or the continuation of a thought?
5. Have you ever heard that Genesis 1 & 2 contain two creation accounts? Do you believe that? If so, where do you see a break between account #1 and #2?
6. If God is perfect, how do you explain Him creating anything like what we see in Genesis 1:2a?
7. What does it mean when theologians say God created ex nihilo?
8. How does Isaiah 45:18 bear on the events of Genesis 1:1-2?
9. How is Bible study like fitting a puzzle together?
10. The word “create” is found in Genesis 1:1 and not again until Genesis 1:27. Why do you suppose that is?

Can’t wait for Sunday! See you then!