Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Saturday Surprise

Imagine with me adoptive parents who seek to prove to their adopted son that he belongs to them.  Do the parents start by describing to the child how they started dating?  Do they begin by describing their decision to be married?  Do they begin with the story of their own upbringing, their education, or their plans for the future?  No, chances are they start in the child’s room.  They sit with him on the floor and begin to point to all of the furniture and all of the toys that are now his.  Perhaps they point to the embroidered family tree where his name is prominently displayed.  They open the closet and show him all the clothes in his size and the labels they’ve sewn into the collar giving his full name.  There are a myriad of methods parents could employ to assure the child of his standing in the family by never leaving the room.

But let’s say they are successful.  Let’s say the child becomes absolutely convinced of his place in the family.  He has no more doubt, but he never wants to leave his room.  The sum total of his exposure to the family and to his parents is in that room.

Now that seems like a fanciful story and yet it approximates how many of us view the cross.  We see the cross as the place where our standing in the family of God is established.  Through the work of the cross we are redeemed and adopted into the family of God.  More than that, we are assured of eternal life together with Christ and His body.  But as we’ve been seeing throughout our series on spiritual warfare, the scope of God’s victory in Christ is greater than our adoption, or even what happens to us.

This week I received word from a dear sister in Christ who has been fully engaged in our last two messages, “Satan’s Waterloo.”  And while she freely admits to having her understanding of the cross greatly expanded by considering its implications in the invisible war that Satan has declared upon God before the beginning of time, she has had trouble with the notion that the atonement was an “after thought” or a “side effect” of the cross.  Here’s what I wrote to her:

If I said that our salvation through the cross was an afterthought I was wrong; it was an egregious misstatement. The Bible makes it clear that before the foundation of the world the godhead determined that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, would come to save His people from their sins. And the testimony of the Gospel is that everything the Father appoints, the Son accomplishes.

 But, the point I've been stressing these past few weeks is that in the invisible war, the war Satan declared against God well before Adam and Eve arrived on the scene, the cross plays an even more critical role than the salvation of sinners. The primary purpose of the cross is to defeat Satan and strip him of his power.

The problem with Christians is that we, so often see things through the filter of our own self-importance. Psalm 8 speaks to this when it asks, "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" Think of it. Well before God created man and woman there was Lucifer. Well before mankind existed there was a cosmic rebellion against God's character and will by Lucifer, the Son of the Morning.  And well before there ever was a man or a woman, or even time itself, God determined to glorify Himself by defeating Satan and his minions by the work of His hands. And part of that determination was to create creatures of dust, in His own image, whom He would save, sanctify, and glorify to the praise of His glory.

It is amazing, therefore, to contemplate that what happens on the cross is even greater than the salvation of men and women. This is indeed what Paul is doing in that Roman imprisonment (Colossians 2:13-15).  He sees that the cross is first and foremost a vivid display of God's glory (which is totally consistent with Jesus' prayer in John 17). Through the descent of God Himself, the schemes of Satan are exposed, the power of Satan is destroyed, and victory over Satan is assured. And part of the proof of that victory is the saving of us, the marrying of us, and the giving to us of His righteousness, His offices, and His mission. And He does all of that to the glory of His name. And He does it all out of dust!

If there is anywhere that we should resist the temptation to make it all about us it's at the cross. The work of the cross is great; and it's seen as so much greater when you contemplate it's implication beyond the parenthesis of time.

I would encourage all of you to review the messages of the last two weeks and see how the work of the cross has cosmic implications beyond human salvation.  Indeed, that is what makes redemption so spectacular – we are the instruments through which God puts His greatest foe to shame.

We are going to dig a little more deeply into Paul’s words in Colossians 2:15 this week – Easter.  For when you take this text together with Luke 16:19-31; Ephesians 4:1-10; Psalm 68:18; Psalm 16; and I Peter 3:18-22, you find that Christ’s work on the cross goes even further in putting Satan to shame and triumphing over him.

Remember last week we spoke of three descents of the Son of God – to the womb, to the colt, and to the cross.  We juxtaposition these descents (Philippians 2:6-8 highlights seven ways in which Jesus lays Himself down) to Lucifer’s five boasts in Isaiah 14.  But, at the end of the message we mentioned one final descent Jesus makes that can best be described as His boldest display of Satan’s shame and His triumph.  It’s a descent we find referenced in each of the texts just mentioned.

 What’s clear to me is that in Jesus’ post-resurrection Bible studies with His disciples, and His individualized tutorial of Paul in Arabia, Jesus must have not only pieced together the events of His death with Old Testament prophecy, but also with other extant writings and Hebrew cosmology.  For what He does on the cross, and immediately thereafter, is a cosmic triumph that has no parallel.

In preparation for the Easter message you may wish to consider the following:

1.      What does Jesus mean when He says to the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise?”  Luke:23:43

2.      Where did the orthodox Jews believe “paradise” to be?

3.      How does Jesus’ story (not a parable) in Luke 16:19-31 inform us of this place?

4.      Are Sheol, Hades, and Hell synonyms?

5.      How is God’s grace greater than “unmerited favor?”

6.      What does Peter mean in I Peter 3:18(b) when he says that Christ was put to death in body, but made alive by the Spirit?

7.      Where does Peter say he goes to preach?

8.      What is the nature of this preaching?

9.      How is it accurate to say that Christ ascended to heaven in Spirit before He ascends in body, soul and Spirit on the Day of Ascension?

10.  What difference does all of this make in the invisible war and our own future?

 See ya on Easter morn!


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Satan's Waterloo, Part 2

Back in 1952 Arthur J. Goldberg presided over the end of a costly labor strike in the U.S. steel industry.  John F. Kennedy was so impressed by Goldberg’s prowess that he appointed him Secretary of Labor years later.  As Secretary of Labor the President once asked him, “Arthur, how did you do it?”  Goldberg smiled, “The trick is to be there when it’s settled.”

Now you’d think that after 2000 years the message of the cross would be settled in the minds of every believer.  And yet, as is the case with the things of God, it seems like the more you dig, the more you find.  That’s what we began doing again last Sunday as we turned to Colossians 2 and read Paul’s take on the cross.

I’ve been preaching at Hebron now for over 20 years.  That’s more than 20 holy weeks.  I preached through the Gospel of John, the seven last sayings of Christ from the cross, the books of Galatians, Ephesians, etc.  The cross has been the topic for scores of messages; and yet, as I mentioned last week, nearly all of the time it was the secondary consequence of the cross that captured our attention.

Perhaps it is shocking to you to consider that your salvation (and mine) is a side benefit of the cross of Jesus Christ, but it is.  The primary purpose of the cross is seen in Jesus’ final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – the glory of God.  He says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” (John 17:1)  And the reason that the glory of God is His focus is because it is the glory of God that has been preeminent from before the creation.  It’s the glory of God that Lucifer, the Son of the Morning, assails so vehemently from the moment he wills his own will.  It is the glory of God that stands behind all that God has done and will ever do.  As the Westminster divines put it – “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

So here, writing from Roman imprisonment, Paul says, “And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

We began digging into these words last week, but because of the tyranny of time, we were unable to unpack it fully.  That’s why this Sunday - Palm Sunday and next Sunday - Easter we will be at it again.  There is so much here that is unfamiliar to many believers because they’ve always had a self focus when it comes to the cross.  The vindication of God’s own glory is a bigger story.  It is this story that will occupy us long after we have slipped the surly bonds of earth and gazed upon our Lord.

In preparation for Sunday you may do well to review the points from last week by checking out the podcast at  Remember we looked at Paul’s CLAIM in verses 13-14(a), his CONVICTION in II Corinthians 5:21, his CONTENTION in Galatians 3:13, and his CONCLUSION in Isaiah 53:10a.  You may also consider the following questions.

1.      Spurgeon once said, “It is pride that makes the boaster a beast and an angel a devil.”  What does he mean?

2.      How are Satan’s methods an attack on God’s character?

3.      What does Paul mean in verse 14(b) when he says, “This he set aside, nailing it to the cross?”  What is “this”?

4.      What causes God to set aside the demands of His law?

5.      How is humility at the core of all Jesus is and does throughout His life and ministry?

6.      Looking at Philippians 2:5-11, our companion text for Sunday, how many ways can you find that Jesus humbled Himself?

7.      Compare and contrast Isaiah 14:13-14 with Philippians 2:7-8.

8.      What does Paul mean when he says in verse 15(a) that at the cross God disarmed the rulers and authorities?

9.      How does God strip them?

10.  What does 15(b) mean?  We will cover this in detail on Easter Sunday.

See you on Palm Sunday!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Satan's Waterloo, Part I

Months ago when we began our study of spiritual warfare entitled Jesus Wins, I used an illustration found in the first few pages of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse’s work, The Invisible War.  While many of you have either purchased a hard copy of this excellent work, or downloaded it free of charge, I begin the Enewsletter this week with a lengthy quote:
“Some years ago I entered the playroom of our home one evening and found my two boys at work on a large puzzle which had been given to one of the members of the family at Christmas.  It was a finely made puzzle, on three-ply wood, beautifully cut, and among its hundreds of pieces a score or more were designed in the shape of common things.  The little sister, three-years-old, too young to match the intricately cut edges of the pieces, had been allowed to pick out those pieces which resembled articles she knew and arrange them in rows at the edge of the table.  She was eager to show me what she had done.  Here was a piece in the shape of a clover leaf; here was an apple, a wheelbarrow, the letter S, etc.  To her mind, those and the other shaped pieces were the most important things in the puzzle.  To see them, and to identify something that was in her world, made it all very interesting.  To her older brothers, however, the shape of individual pieces was merely incidental.  They knew that the violin would become part of the cloud, that the umbrella would be lost in the pattern of a lady’s dress, and that the other figures would melt into the flower garden and trees. 

“This illustration is almost perfect for the student of the Word of God.  The unfortunate person who takes some text by itself and attempts to build a doctrine of it will be in utter confusion before he has gone very far.  Only with this wrong type of Bible reading can anyone ever come to the absurd conclusion so often expressed, ‘You can prove anything by the Bible.’ 

“When, however, the shape of the individual verse is fitted into the whole divine plan of the revelation of God, the full-rounded, external purpose begins to be seen; and the whole of the Word of God becomes something so stupendous, so eternal, so mightily divine, that every rising doubt is checked immediately.  There comes, then, knowledge of the finality of God’s revelation which becomes as much a part of the believer as his breathing, or his sense of being alive… 

“The proper method of Bible study, then, is analogous to the putting together of the puzzle.  For any given doctrinal subject, read the entire volume, selecting every verse that bears on the truth under study.  Put all of these passages together, and the synthesis of the result is the true Bible doctrine on the question with which you are concerned.  A verse from Moses, and one from Ezekiel, and one from Paul, put side by side, each illuminating the others, fit into the perfect pattern of the whole design and give the whole light which God has been pleased to reveal on that particular theme…This is why the Lord says that one of the first principles of Bible Study is that no Scripture is of ‘private interpretation’ (II Peter 1:20).  The exegesis of the Greek shows that this verse should not be interpreted to restrict the right of the private individual to read and understand the Bible for himself.”   

Rather, in seeking to understand the truth, one verse taken alone should to be avoided.  As Barnhouse says later, the task of the interpreter is to come to a text and place the full weight of the remaining word of God like a pyramid on it. 

That’s what we will seek to do this Sunday morning in a message entitled, “Satan’s Waterloo.”  (It’s the first of a two-part message.)  Here in Colossians 2:6-15 Paul declares the full import of the Cross of Christ for the Christian.  We will be focusing our attention on verses 13-14(a) where Paul says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.” As we will see this is the ground on which Paul declares the truth of verse 15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”  In other words, through the Cross of Christ, God has defeated Satan once and for all.  The Cross is Satan’s Waterloo! 

Typically when I preach, I like to exposit more than a verse and a half, but not this Sunday.  What Paul declares here is so profoundly important to our understanding of the invisible war and Satan’s defeat that we will dig deeply into what Paul is saying here by looking at several other Old and New Testament texts.  Each of these three texts, taken together, positions us well to appreciate the full impact of verse 15. 

Last week I heard from a couple of people that they are wearied by the questions typically offered for preparation purposes each Sunday.  Let me know if you find the questions useful or not.  This week instead of questions, I would suggest that you read the following texts in addition to Colossians 2:6-15: 

II Corinthians 5:15-21; Galatians 2:1-14; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; and Isaiah 53. 

Also check out the Battle of Waterloo on the internet and the “Saving Private Ryan” storyline.   

And come ready to DIG IN!  See you Sunday!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"God's Power"

In II Peter chapter one, Peter the great Apostle declares that there is one moment in his three-year tenure as an eyewitness to Jesus that gave him all the proof he needed to know that Jesus is Lord.  And instantly you think it’s the resurrection, but actually it’s well before the resurrection.  It’s even before Palm Sunday.  He describes the moment this way:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”   II Peter 1:16-18

 This Sunday we will continue our series on the evidence of Jesus’ victory over Satan by examining a familiar text – Luke 9:28-43.  This text is commonly known as the Transfiguration of Jesus, and we’ve been here before.  On several occasions I have preached on the Transfiguration using each of the synoptic gospels.  Typically the focus is on such things as: the exclusivity of Jesus, the nature of the glory revealed in Him, the purpose of the presence of Moses and Elijah.  But this Sunday I want to go in a different direction and focus on several themes that I honestly have never seen before, such as – the evidence of Jesus’ victory over Satan.  It’s a theme that doesn’t immediately jump out at you.  To see it you have to dig deeply into the location of this incident and its placement in Luke’s narrative.

I look forward to examining Luke 9:28-43 with you this Sunday, because it’s a perfect set-up for all that Jesus does in His march of victory all the way to Easter.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, “The Power”, you may wish to consider the following:

1.      If you were asked, “What is God like?”, what would you say?

2.      Who is the greatest recipient of God’s fairness?

3.      What is the “trigger” for Jesus to take Peter, John, and James up on the mountain to pray?

4.      Where is this mountain and why is it significant?

5.      Is there any significance to the timing of this event?

6.      How does Exodus 33 inform us of what happens here?

7.      What does shekinah mean?

8.      Why don’t the three disciples die on the spot?

9.      How is Jesus’ Transfiguration a repudiation of Lucifer?

10.  Why does Peter wish to build three shelters or tents?

11.  What purpose is there in the presence of Moses and Elijah?

12.  What prompts the people’s amazement in verse 43?

 See you on the mountain this Sunday!