Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Promise of Righteousness

Advent season is here!  For Hebron that means beautiful decorations of the season as well as sacred Christmas music when we gather to worship.  It also means a new chapter in our sermon series Jesus Wins.  Previous sermons have laid the foundation to the issue of spiritual warfare noting the unrighteous choices of Lucifer (Satan) and Adam and Eve as they turned from God's will in favor of their own.  What a joy to now focus on Jesus the Righteous One.  He always does the Father's will, always makes the right choices and even exchanges our sinfulness for His righteousness!  He is the Christian's Champion and Captain in spiritual warfare; by His righteousness we have the victory!

Looking at this Sunday's text and theme, four questions come to mind...

1)      What does the Bible term "righteous" mean? 

The word is defined by terms like “just” and “clean” with an emphasis on that which is beneficial.  Vines' New Testament Dictionary defines it as "just, without prejudice or partiality".  In other words, it is doing right just because it's right (no hidden motives).  Just as we know we sin because we are sinners, so Christ Jesus does righteously because He is righteous! 

2)      Why did Christ come as a baby unlike Adam who was created as a full grown man? 

First, there is prophecy to be fulfilled like "the seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15) and “unto us a child is born". Second, there is the matter of identity as Jesus experienced full humanity except for sin (Hebrews 4:15).  

3)      What does "the government shall be upon His shoulders" mean? 

Just as we refer to responsibility "resting on our shoulders” so Christ is ultimately given authority to carry out God's will and rule on earth. 

4)      Why is Christ called the Everlasting Father when He is actually God the Son? 

Charles Spurgeon preached a great sermon on this question which will be referred to in Sunday's message, but for the present consider two thoughts.  We have our spiritual life and righteousness from Christ AND He takes great care of us in fatherly fashion. 

This text has been a great blessing to study and hopefully will stir us all as we worship together.

See you Sunday!

  1. In I Corinthians 1:30, Christ is said to become for us...righteousness.  What do you think that means?
  2. Isaiah had more than one prophecy about the birth of the Righteous One.  See Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22
  3. Some translations separate Wonderful from Counselor and some have them as one name together as in Isaiah 9:6.  Either way, how do you see these two terms describing Jesus?
  4. Prince of Peace is also a name of Jesus.  Colossians has key verses on the connection between true peace and our Lord.  Colossians 1:20; 3:15 
  5. Isaiah 9:7 connects government, peace and righteousness.  What do you think that kind of "government" would look like?  Some believe that Christ's government is not as much a political system as it is His rule in our hearts!
  6. As our text connects peace and righteousness with Christ's rule, a correlation has been noted between Christ and Melchizedek.  Study Hebrews 7:1-3.
  7. What does it mean that Jesus will reign on David's throne?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Cain Calculation

In all the history of the world no group has been more despised than the Jews.  From the time of Abraham and Sarah, Satan has targeted the Jews for extinction.  Why?  Because Satan remembers the promise God made in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15).  He knows the divine promise that one day the seed of woman will crush his head.  So he continually asks throughout Old Testament history, “Who is this seed?”

Last Christmas Eve I preached on Sunday’s companion text – Revelation 12:1-4.  In his book What’s So Amazing about Grace? Philip Yancey writes, “I have yet to see that version of the story of Christ’s birth on a Christmas card.”  As Jesus pulls aside the curtain to reveal the reality of spiritual warfare past, present, and future to His beloved John, He gives him a clear view of that night in that cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem.  As Jesus clearly indicates, it’s not really “Silent Night” – it’s D-Day.  It’s the moment when the full might of satanic forces aligned to destroy the seed of woman before He’s born.  Only in Gethsemane and on the cross do we see more vitriol.

Remember the testimony of Scripture regarding Satan’s assault on the seed.  When Sarah’s too old to conceive, Satan thinks he’s won; but God miraculously opens her womb and Isaac is born.  When Isaac’s wife Rebecca is barren for twenty years, Satan thinks he’s won; but God opens her womb and gives her twins.  When the twins grow up and the older hates the younger, Satan thinks he’s won; but then God pours out His grace on both of those boys.  At almost every point in Israel’s history, Satan’s hopes are raised and dashed.  You see it in the life of Joseph.  You see it in David’s life.  You see it throughout the history of God’s people.  But you know where it all begins?  It begins immediately east of Eden.  As we will note on Sunday, the story of Satan’s attack on the seed of woman begins only a chapter break away from God’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden. 

Now I had planned to offer a panoramic view of Satan’s attack on the seed of woman throughout the Old Testament this Sunday.  But as is often the case, when I dug into Genesis 4, I found far too much to hurry past.

This Sunday is the week directly before Advent – a time in which we will examine God’s response to Satan’s attack by sending to us THE SEED of woman.  He is as Martin Luther so aptly describes Him – an alien righteousness.  And it’s righteousness that is exactly what we need.  Moreover, it is this righteousness that will nail Satan’s coffin shut one day.  We will focus on righteousness in five messages: The Promise of Righteousness, The Son of Righteousness, The Belt of Righteousness, The Cost of Righteousness, and The Point of Righteousness. So, this Sunday is a perfect precursor to God’s ultimate response to Satan’s repeated employment of The Cain Calculation ((his seed destruction plan) throughout Old Testament history.  We get our first glimpse of this calculation in our primary text this week:  Genesis 4:1-9.

In preparing for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following:

1.      According to R.C. Sproul, the “shelf principle” is among the most important hermeneutic (interpretive) tool we have available to us as Bible students.  What is the “shelf principle”?

2.      What linkages can you find between the events of Genesis 3 and the Cain/Abel story?

3.      What does the name Cain mean?  What does it tell us about Eve’s perspective on Genesis 3:15?

4.      What does the name Abel mean?  Is he well-named?

5.      Why do you think Abel’s offering was acceptable to God and Cain’s isn’t?  Does Hebrews 11:4 help?

6.      How does Cain exhibit the three fruits of sin we discussed last week?

7.      How does God’s question to Cain (verse 9) mirror His question to Adam in Genesis 3?

8.      What is God telling Cain about himself and about God in verse 7?

9.      How is John correct about Cain when he references him in I John 3:12?

10.  How does the story of Cain provide the key to the way God will win the victory over every will but His own?

See you Sunday as we listen to the Word and feed on Him!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Articles of War

In 1862 Henry Dunant published a book entitled, Memoir of the Solferino, on the horrors of war.  His own experience in war inspired him to take up the cause of those adversely affected by conflict.  He called for the creation of a permanent humanitarian relief organization.  His call was heeded and the International Red Cross was created in Geneva, Switzerland.  Additionally, Dunant called for the promulgation and ratification of a treaty that would recognize the neutrality of the agency and allow it to operate within a war zone.  This latter appeal resulted in the development of a set of wide-ranging rules and regulations governing combat that is known as the Geneva Convention.  While the Geneva Convention does not establish the means and methods of war, it does govern the treatment of prisoners, the protection of civilians, and the requirements of surrender.  In a broad way the requirements of the Geneva Convention have governed much of global warfare for the last 150 years.

Now just imagine if the parameters of warfare could be established by someone who had the power to impose them on all combatants.  Just imagine if, instead of signing on to a manmade treaty, these articles of war would be imposed regardless of the wills of man or Satan.  Just imagine if God could govern all conflict by an imposed set of rules. 

When you study the Scriptures and human experience since Eden, you begin to see that such thoughts are not the product of imagination, but a certain reality.  Think of it.  Unlike articles of war that govern collateral damage and the treatment of prisoners, the articles of war God establishes govern the conflict itself.  Look at Job, chapter one, where God addresses Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”  When Satan replies, “The only reason Job fears you and walks uprightly is the hedge you’ve put around him.  Take down the hedge and stretch out your hand against him and he will curse you to your face.”  And the Lord says to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.  Only against him do not stretch out your hand.”  (i.e. You’re not allowed to kill him.)  Think of it.  In the ultimate and most consequential war of human history, God establishes the rules.  In fact, not only are the acts of war governed by Him, but the consequences as well.  (Note Isaiah 54:17; II Corinthians 10:4; James 4:17)

This week we leave the Garden of Eden (though we could find good reason to stay for many more weeks) and begin to look at the trajectory of spiritual warfare and the clear rules God has established for the conflict.  Satan has now been joined in the conflict by other wills that seek to exert themselves against God’s will and His sovereignty.  It’s fascinating to consider that while all over creation rival wills are in constant quest of control, there is one will that stands above the fray.  His will proceeds uninhibited, for His will has established all rules of engagement and all consequences.  And we will look at three of them this week – fear, restlessness, and hatred.

Before giving you some things to consider in preparation of Sunday, I’d like to share a page from my favorite devotional.  Actually, it’s from today – November 15, 2012.  Spurgeon is commenting on Deuteronomy 32:9, “The Lord’s portion is his people.” 

“How are they His?  By His own sovereign choice.  He chose them, and set His love upon them.  This He did altogether apart from any goodness in them at the time, or any goodness which He foresaw in them.  He had mercy on whom He would have mercy, and ordained a chosen company to eternal life; thus, therefore, they are His by His unconstrained election.

“They are not only His by choice, but by purchase.  He has bought and paid for them to do the utmost penny, hence about His title there can be no dispute.  Not with corruptible things, as with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord’s portion has been fully redeemed.  There can be no mortgage on His estate; no suits can be raised by opposing claimants, the price was paid in open court, and the church is the Lord’s freehold forever.  See the blood mark upon all the chosen, invisible to the human eye, but known to Christ, for “the Lord knows them that are His.”  He forgets none of those whom He has redeemed from among humanity; He counts the sheep for whom He laid down His life, and remembers well the church for which He gave Himself.

“They are His by conquest.  What a battle He had in us before we would be won!  How long He laid siege to our hearts!  How often He sent us terms of capitulation!  But we barred our gates, and fenced our walls against Him.  Don’t we remember that glorious hour when He carried our hearts by storm?  When He placed His cross against the wall, and scaled our ramparts, planting on our strongholds the blood-red flag of His omnipotent mercy?  Yes, we are, indeed, the conquered captives of His omnipotent love.  Thus, chosen, purchased, and subdued, the rights of our divine possessor are inalienable: we rejoice that we never can be our own; and we desire, day by day, to do His will, and show forth His glory.”

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “The Articles of War” from John 15:1-11 and Isaiah 45:5-7, you may wish to consider the following:
1.      What do you think is the most essential tool in the study of theology (the study of God)?

2.      What does it mean to say, “I may not know all the answers, but I do know most of the problems?”

3.      What is God’s purpose in allowing other wills to exert themselves?

4.      What are some of the consequences of exerting your will against God?

5.      What is the difference between godly fear and human fear?

6.      How can human fear be a means of grace?

7.      What is that famous quote of St. Augustine regarding restlessness?

8.      How can God use human restlessness for His glory?

9.      What evidence do we have in Scripture of restlessness in man and Satan?

10.  What does Isaiah 45:7 mean?  What does the Hebrew word ra mean?

11.  True or false:  God creates evil?  If false, why?  If true, how?

 See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lessons of the Garden

We are back in the Garden of Eden this week to get a fuller view of a key lesson for every Christian.  For centuries men and women have come to this garden and debated over the fruit.  Was it an apple or a banana?  Was the fruit just a figure of speech or a sweet reality?  What’s more, why would God place this one tree at the center of the garden, with fruit that’s “beautiful to the eye”, and promptly restrict its consumption?

For years I’ve heard about a test of love.  “If man was created in the image of God with free will,” the argument goes, “then the exercise of obedience to the divine command would show man’s love and respect for God.”  In other words, it was a test of the depth of man’s love.  Perhaps, but there’s much more here than that!

By this time in our series we have traveled quite a distance down the path of divine revelation.  While some may debate timelines or creation theories, what we have endeavored to do is examine the broad strokes of divine revelation – seeing how, in fact, the “war” between Satan and God commenced.  Indeed, by the time we come to Genesis 3, Lucifer has been cast from the presence of God to the territory of his dominion that had become a wreck and a ruin through divine fiat.  It was all darkness and formlessness until the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – remade what was lost.  In those six days of creation God brings light out of darkness and His image bearers out of the dust.

One of the results of His work is the incitement of Satan’s jealousy and disdain.  When Satan sees what God has done he determines to attack.  His hatred is toward his enemy, the Most High God, and his target is this new rival creature – man.  Think of it.  When God places man, male and female, in the garden He extends to them the same responsibility Lucifer once enjoyed.  He gives them dominion and, as we see in our text, Satan cannot abide by it.

Now, rather than analyze the kind of fruit tree God restricted in Eden, or the depth of Adam’s love for his Creator, we will instead turn to some more important lessons found in the garden; lessons that have a direct impact on you and your walk of faith.  Remember, we are seeking to establish a biblical context for the spiritual warfare in which each of us is now engaged.

Spurgeon once said, “Unbelief is a weed, the seeds of which we can never entirely extract from the soil, but we must aim at its root with zeal and perseverance.  Among hateful things it is the most to be abhorred.”  Indeed, it is so egregious that when it is in full fruit, Jesus speaks of it as the unpardonable sin.  You know its origin?  Genesis 3.

Here in the Garden of Eden Satan attacks his rival by sowing seeds of doubt and unbelief in the mind of man.  He does it through a question and a declaration, both of which are intended to elicit doubt.  It’s a two-headed doubt that remains alive and well today.  The first head is to doubt the character of God, i.e. “How could a good God restrict such fruit?”  Satan still sows it!  The second head is to doubt the “badness” of man.  Is there any question that doubt is alive and well today?  Think of it.  God’s not good and man’s not bad.  That’s Satan’s agenda and it’s the prevailing view today, sometimes even in the church.  We look at the foundations of this satanic perspective this Sunday in a message entitled, “Lessons of the Garden.”  Our primary text is Genesis 3:14-24, but we will also read Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 and note its relevance.  In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What was the Synod of Dort?

2.      How did the declaration of the church of Holland relate to the truth of Genesis 3?

3.      When man fell into sin how far do you think he fell?  Is there any evidence from Scripture?

4.      What does it mean when someone says, “If you get the fall of man wrong, you get the Gospel wrong?”

5.      Why does God place the restricted tree in the garden?

6.      What is man’s immediate response to their disobedience?  Is it still true?

7.      How is Satan’s question in Genesis 1(b) a frontal attack on Christ?

8.      How does his question cast doubt on the goodness of God?

9.      How does his declaration cast doubt on the evil of disobedience?

10.  How do God’s judgment of man and His gift of garments shed light on our salvation?

 See you Sunday!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

In the Garden

This Sunday we come to the heart of the middle scene of divine revelation.  When you study the Scriptures you find that all of existence can be divided into three scenes:  the first creation (Genesis 1:1, 2) and its judgment; the second act of divine “creation” as God brings order out of chaos (Genesis 1:2f through the second coming of Christ); and the final act of “creation” when God creates the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21).  The reason I place quotation marks around the word creation in Acts Two and Three is to distinguish God’s first act of creation as ex nihilo – out of nothing.  When God created the heaven and the earth in Genesis 1:1, He did it out of nothing.  Prior to this act of creation there was no matter out of which God could shape the heavens and the earth for no matter existed prior to Genesis 1:1.  However, in His second and third acts He re-forms or remakes what He had previously created.  This is why the word “brood” is used to describe God’s work in Genesis 1:2.  When the Spirit of God broods and the Father speaks His word order is brought out of the chaos when God judged Lucifer in the wake of his rebellion.

If you were with us last week for Tim’s message, “Piercing the Darkness,” you know that each member of the Trinity played a critical role in the work of re-creation.  What God had wrecked and ruined He reshaped and refashioned by the word of His mouth and the brooding of the Holy Spirit.  What the fallen angel Lucifer was entirely unable to do, God does by the word of His mouth.  How ironic it is to know that the one named “bearer of light” is completely impotent in bringing light out of the darkness of God’s judgment.

This week we are at a crucial point in Act Two – Genesis 3.  Here we find Satan’s response to the creation of a rival.  Think about that “rival” for a minute.  In Genesis 5:1-2 we read, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.  When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.  Male and female He created them, and He blessed them and named them man when they were created.”  (So much for exclusive language in the Bible!  From the very beginning “man” equals male and female.)  This description incorporates several features of man’s creation that are greater than the features in His creation of Satan.  First, the verses tell us that God made man in His image and likeness.  Though Lucifer was said to be “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” there’s no imago dei in him.  Second, the man is said to have received a divine blessing.  This too is a distinguishing trait of man.

So, when God brings light out of darkness, when He forms the earth and the sky, the waters and all living creatures, He doesn’t rest until He has made man the crown of His creation.  This infuriates Satan.  Satan had always looked on the earth as his personal property.  When he was created, as we’ve noted from Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14, he was given three roles – prophet, priest, and king.  Even in his fallen state, this last role is retained in that he goes from the king of creation to the prince of this world (John 14:30) or the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2).  In commenting on a divided kingdom He references Satan (Luke 11:17, 18).  If God should “try” to endow an intruder (one He creates in His image) with dominion in Satan’s domain, Satan would do everything he can to make him his creature.  (Indeed, everyone who seeks to entrench himself/herself in his/her position and place of power is operating in the spirit of Satan.)  So the battle is joined.

Satan has two primary objectives in the garden:

1.      To interrupt the relationship between God and his image bearers;

2.      To gain the allegiance of these image bearers so that they might will Satan’s will rather than God’s will.

It is said that the seed of every great biblical doctrine is found in Genesis 3.  Indeed, when you examine the balance of Scripture you find each one of these embryonic doctrines coming to full bloom.  The sad fact is that nearly every biblical heresy and contemporary error has its genesis in a misunderstanding or misapprehension of the truths of Genesis 3.

In preparation for Sunday’s message “In the Garden”, Genesis 3:1-15 and John 20:19-23, and our three points:  The TARGET (Genesis 1:26, 27); The TESTIMONY (Genesis 3:9); and The TRIUMPH (Genesis 3:15), you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What biblical doctrines can you identify in Genesis 3:1-24?

2.      How is the “T” of TULIP so commonly misapprehended?   How far did Adam fall?

3.      How is the creation of man a threat to Satan?

4.      How is the creation of man a further judgment of God on Satan?

5.      What does the imago dei mean?  How are we made in the image and likeness of God?

6.      What is the meaning of God’s act and question in Genesis 3:8, 9?

7.      What is God’s purpose in setting the command in Genesis 2:16, 17?

8.      In what way did God honor His promise of death in Genesis 2:17?  (See I Cor. 2:14.)

9.      How different are God’s judgment of fallen Lucifer and His judgment of fallen man?

10.  What is the blessing in 15(a)?

11.  What is the blessing in 15(b)?

See you Sunday as we welcome some wonderful new members into the family of faith at Hebron!