It’s Between The Brothers (Acts 15:22-35)

The classic Western scene is a town in turmoil, under the thumb of some self-appointed gunslinger. It’s easy to tell who the bad guys are- they’re practically in uniform. They move through town, making demands and knocking people down. But then, the white hats ride into view and after a flurry of action, when the smoke settles, the good guys are left standing. The town has been liberated, thanks to the kindness and sacrifice of those who were willing to do what’s right.

Spiritually speaking, a similar scene was brewing in Antioch. A hostile band of marauders had come into town, demanding all the Gentiles bow their knees to the legalism of the Mosaic Law. In Jerusalem the issue had been resolved and now a posse was being sent to free the beleaguered faithful in Gentile territory. There would be no shots fired, no violent showdown at the corral. Instead, there would be the public reading of a letter. But that was enough to break the blockade.

As students, the Jerusalem Council is a big deal doctrinally and legally. As Gentiles, it clarifies for us the necessary content of our faith and our legal relationship to Jesus Christ. It gives the answer to the question: “Who may climb the mountain of the Lord?” in a New Testament sense.

But, in the moment, this was much more than an issue of doctrine or a legal decision. This was a family concern. There was more at stake than simply who needed to be circumcised. The challenge to grace threatened to disown and disinherit many brothers and sisters from the family of God. The apostles and the Holy Spirit were focused on repairing this breach and drawing together all members of the family in bonds of love. Tonight, with the delivery of the good news of grace to the Gentiles in Syria, we’ll see our text again and again mention brothers and sisters. 8 times, in fact. And the result is a stronger church, a joy-filled church. A church that doesn’t divide, but that rallies in love, moving forward together in the leading of the Spirit.

We begin in verse 22.

Acts 15:22 – 22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, decided to select men who were among them and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas, both leading men among the brothers.

In the first half of the chapter we saw a dramatic meeting or series of meetings where it was decided that Gentiles did not have to follow the Mosaic Law in order to be Christians. This was being taught in Antioch by some Christians who had come up from Jerusalem, and it was the opinion of a group of Christians in the church known as “the party of the Pharisees.”

But God had done a great thing: He changed hearts. Verse 22 says it wasn’t just the 11 making some unilateral decision. It wasn’t just the apostles and some elders. Not 50% + 1. This was the heart of the whole church, including, it seems, those in the party of the Pharisees. Now, as we’ve noted, this Judaizing issue would plague the church for a long time, especially the ministry of Paul, but here we see God’s people unifying around grace.

Can your mind be changed? There are a lot of issues being discussed today, there are a lot of assertions being made, philosophies being submitted. Opinions being broadcast. Some of those ideas aren’t worth our time at all, but we should be humble enough to acknowledge that none of us has perfect understanding. We know that’s true when it comes to theoretical physics or higher math, but, since we’re not God, it’s also going to be true about matters like politics. Ethics. Human relationships. These are realms we live in and need wisdom in. We find that wisdom in the Scriptures and by having the mind of Christ operating in us. To think that we’ve got all this stuff figured out is foolish. Sometimes God needs to change our minds. Not based on culture or on popularity or convenience, but by His undying truth. What an admirable thing that the party of the Pharisees stood in agreement. Not in anger or resentment, but with grace. In other words, what we see here was not a partisan solution to the partisan problem. It was the spiritual solution, guided by God.

The church in Jerusalem recognized the seriousness of the issue, they didn’t treat it casually. They sent leaders to go and speak to these Gentile brothers in Antioch and wider Syria. Why wouldn’t the letter be enough? Well, for one thing, they didn’t want there to be a situation where legalists in Antioch accused Paul and Barnabas of making it all up. But I’d say because this wasn’t just a legal issue, it was a family issue. So they sent some father figures to go and help these hurting children.

Acts 15:23 – 23 They wrote: “From the apostles and the elders, your brothers, To the brothers and sisters among the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.

The letter opens not, “from the Jews to the Gentiles,” but, “from your brothers to you, our brothers.” What a beautiful thing.

We call it the “United States of America,” but, with a few exceptions, there’s not a lot of unity among the people of our nation. Sure, at times of great distress, like war times, or we think of the unity after 9/11, there is a joining together in national identity. But our default is one of division. Just take a car with California plates up to Oregon or Idaho. Or think of the TV trope of the Southern, country bumpkin in the big city, not fitting in. Today we live in a dangerously divided nation. The Associated Press has a specially designed webpage dedicated to a series of pieces discussing how “Americans are more divided than ever.” On the front page it says:

“It’s no longer just Republican vs. Democrat, or liberal vs. conservative. It’s the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent, rural vs. urban, white men against the world. Climate doubters clash with believers. Bathrooms have become battlefields, borders are battle lines. Sex and race, faith and ethnicity … the melting pot seems to be boiling over.”

People are wondering what to do, how to move forward. We’ve got the antidote to division. It’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The power of grace. This is the solution that can bridge the impossible divide between Jew and Gentile. Between tax collector and zealot. Between Pharisee and Centurion. And it’s demonstrated right here in verse 23. Notice they didn’t say, “We’re writing to you brother and sister Gentiles up in Antioch.” They said, “We’re writing to you, our brothers who are among the Gentiles.” Their passports still said “Syrians,” but in the minds of the believers they were all citizens of Heaven, adopted siblings in the household of God. That adoption is meant to break down all barriers between us. Of course we’ll come together from different backgrounds with different heritage and all sorts of variety, but each and all are made new by the blood of Jesus who bought us and made us His own and now knits us together as living stones, fitting together just so.

Scholars point out that where they say, “greetings” it literally means, “We wish you joy.” If we want to move forward together, we’ve got to lay down our desire to win or be right and first wish joy and rejoicing for the family of God.

Acts 15:24 – 24 Since we have heard that some without our authorization went out from us and troubled you with their words and unsettled your hearts,

In the Church, heart health matters. These apostles weren’t just worried about how to get more people in attendance. They wanted a heart healthy church. And they wanted them to know that they had not been part of sending these legalists up to Antioch, no matter what they had claimed.

It’s very easy in our culture and in our age for people to self authorize. Anyone with a laptop or a phone can set themselves up as an authority from God. Be careful. Because, like these folks mentioned in verse 24, a lot of people out there are not on a mission to build you up, but to turn you upside down. That’s the term used there for “unsettled your hearts.” It’s a term that means to plunder someone. Watch out for self-sent teachers or ‘influencers.’ Watch out for those who seek to do ministry with no accountability.

Acts 15:25 – 25 we have unanimously decided to select men and send them to you along with our dearly loved Barnabas and Paul,

Again we see remarkable spiritual unity. And we see tenderness. “Our dearly loved Barnabas and Paul.” But we should also note that loving unity is not the same as “live and let live.” The whole purpose of this letter and mission was to conclusively establish that grace plus nothing was the rule of the day. There was no wiggle room. No retreat from the truth.

Acts 15:26 – 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew Poole points out that Paul and Barnabas had been vilified by the Judaizers in their home church at Antioch. Here, the brothers from Jerusalem were standing up for them.

One of the Puritans once wrote about the work of grace replenishing every void made by sin. As Christians we have the privilege of standing in support of those who are wrongly reviled. Multiple times the Bible talks about how we can strengthen those with weak knees.

Paul and Barnabas had many vile things said about them but this much was certain: They had counted their lives as forfeit in their service to the Lord. Legalists can’t claim that. They can only try to delegitimize people around them, knocking them down to make themselves feel higher.

This description of Paul reminds us that he never wanted to be known as the most important guy or the smartest guy in the room. In fact, even though God saw fit to show him incredible mysteries and deliver so much of the teaching of the New Testament through him, Paul said:

1 Corinthians 2:1-4 – When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2 For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.

He and Barnabas lived for Christ’s purposes, not their own. We want to follow in those footsteps.

Acts 15:27 – 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will personally report the same things by word of mouth.

A big decision was coming down. Jerusalem was providing verification. It’s ok to do a background check on someone who claims to be speaking for God. In fact, it’s essential.

Now, wouldn’t the letter and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in their hearts be enough? Sure, it could be. But here we see another example of how God wants to include us in His work. He didn’t need Judas and Silas in order to get this job done. But He delights in utilizing us for all sorts of different missions. We often think of a “mission” or a “missions trip” as an evangelistic activity. But we should note in Acts there are a lot of different kinds of missions trips that God sends His people out on. He sent these guys to endorse and encourage. He sent Stephen to engage the members of a Synagogue. He sent Philip to evangelize in Samaria. Another time he sent Philip to explain a passage of Scripture to the Ethiopian Eunuch. From the get go God told Paul that He would be sending him on an ongoing mission to endure suffering for Christ.

There are a lot of different missions God might set each of us apart for on any given day. We want to be ready to report and execute our orders.

Acts 15:28 – 28 For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—not to place further burdens on you beyond these requirements:

The Holy Spirit has an opinion. In the decisions you’re facing, the tensions, the circumstances, the questions. God the Holy Spirit has an opinion. The key to successful ministry and successful Christian living is discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit. Because sometimes He says yes to things and sometimes He says no. Isn’t the Word, on its own, enough? Doesn’t it contain all we need for life and Godliness? Yes, it does. But, if there was no need for the daily filling, leading and intervention of the Holy Spirit, He wouldn’t have been left here to help us after the Ascension.

So how do we hear from the Holy Spirit? Chiefly He speaks through the inspired word of God.

Hebrews 3:7-8a – 7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – 16 All Scripture is inspired by God,ba and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The word of God is a direct line to the leading of God the Holy Spirit. But we’re also told in First Corinthians chapter 12 that the Spirit is active in gifting us in certain ways to build up the Church. We’re told He distributes certain gifts and attributes and we’re to search those out so that we can be walking in step with the Lord. We’re also told in First Corinthians 2 that we’ve been given the Spirit individually so that we can have the mind of Christ in us and be instructed by it. “So that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God.” And so, obviously, there must be personal communion and connection in our minds with the Holy Spirit through prayer and waiting on Him.

Paul also writes about how God works in our own hearts to develop Godly desires to do what pleases Him. These are some of the ways that we hear from and are led by God the Holy Spirit.

Now, the leaders in Jerusalem said that the list that followed were requirements. But aren’t we saved by grace, through faith, not of works? Yes, we dealt with this last time. Suffice it to say, aside from the clear-cut issue of sexual immorality, there were some other dietary issues that needed to be addressed in order to promote the communion and community of Gentile and Jewish believers together. While the New Testament would go on to reveal that we have theological liberty when it comes to what we eat, we also have a duty as Christians to not stumble those around us. And that high goal of love and unity should lead to us living sacrificial lives toward others. Summarizing these requirements, Charles Ellicott writes: “An inspired commandment does not necessarily involve a permanent obligation.”

Acts 15:29 – 29 that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.”

The heathens of the Roman world drank blood mixed with wine during their sacrifices to deities. So much of Christianity would’ve been totally new and foreign to these pagans out in the Gentile world. We’d note that they didn’t say, “And we’ll be checking up on you to make sure you’re complying with what we said.” No, the Christian life is your personal responsibility. You’ll stand before God alone and must answer whether you obeyed Him or not. We don’t have to wait for someone else to tell us what righteous thing to do, go and search it out yourself in the Living Word and go God’s way.

Acts 15:30 – 30 So they were sent off and went down to Antioch, and after gathering the assembly, they delivered the letter.

The way it’s written gives us the impression there were not detours, no long way ‘round. The Gentile church was, no doubt, waiting with great anticipation to hear how this was all going to shake out. Remember: They were willing to obey, but the personal cost could, potentially, be difficult and great.

We commend Judas and Silas here. Earlier we were told that they were revered, leading men in Jerusalem. But what do we see? They were willing to be letter carriers. They weren’t promised any position of importance in Antioch. They weren’t going to some award ceremony. They were delivering the mail that these strangers might be kept free in grace. They show wonderful humility.

Acts 15:31 – 31 When they read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.

This was an authoritative epistle they were reading, but it filled them with joy. As Christians, sent to proclaim truth, let’s never forget that we are going out with Good News. It has been given to instruct and encourage us, telling us of our freedoms in Christ, our responsibilities to Him and to our brothers and sisters and to this world. But this is all very good news. The good news of grace and transformation. The news that God has stepped down into the world to deal with sin and death and that He can make all things new. God who can bring beauty from ashes and revolutionize not just one life or two, but whole generations by His power. Preach Good News.

Acts 15:32 – 32 Both Judas and Silas, who were also prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers and sisters and strengthened them with a long message.

Of course, their prophecy agreed with the written word. The same litmus should be used today when people speak a word of prophecy. We can avoid many missteps and burdens using this simple test.

Acts 15:33 – 33 After spending some time there, they were sent back in peace by the brothers and sisters to those who had sent them.

We see a likeness and a cooperation and a similarity. These two churches, Antioch and Jerusalem were very, very different. And yet we see them filled and guided by the Holy Spirit and that brings unity. They were brothers. They were a family. And just as the 11 had sent out Judas and Silas to the brothers, so those in Antioch were sending them back. We don’t know how long they stayed, some think it could’ve been a whole year. But, however long it was, it was long enough for Silas to make a great impression on the Apostle Paul. He would become a faithful traveling companion on his next missionary journey.

If you’re reading in the NLT, the ESV, the NIV or the CSB (like I am), verse 34 is omitted. In the NASB it’s bracketed. In the King James and New King James you’ll probably have a note saying that verse 34 is not found in some of the manuscripts.

Some Biblical scholars think that it was, at some point, added as a marginal note. Altogether, the argument is inconclusive. Luckily, what verse 34 contains is not consequential when it comes to anything like doctrine. Here’s how it reads in the New King James:

Acts 15:34 – 34 However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there.

And then we have verse 35:

Acts 15:35 – 35 But Paul and Barnabas, along with many others, remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming the word of the Lord.

There was a great teaching ministry in Antioch. We’re told that there were “many others” there doing God’s work. That work is, first and foremost, the planting of seed. The sowers go out to sow. And we’re told that the seed is the word of God that we are sent to scatter all over the earth that receptive hearts might take it, believe and be saved. That is our most essential business. There are others things we can and should be doing, but if you’re a farmer, the most important thing you do is plant.

Psalm 68:11 – 11 The Lord gives the word, and a great army brings the good news.

That’s us. A band of brothers. Sent out to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus by grace through faith. Bringing liberation to a world trapped and desperate. Let’s ride in and save who we can.

I’ve Just Had an Antiphony (Psalm 118)

If you have a Roman Catholic heritage, you’ll know how to respond. Ready?

“The Lord be with you.”

Who said, “And also with you?”
Who said, “And with your spirit?”

They made the change from, “And also with you,” to “And with your spirit,” around 2008. I’m guessing that there was, and still is, a lot of confusion in the pews:

Lapsed Catholics who find themselves at a Mass for a funeral or a wedding are going to be confused for sure.
So probably were some Chreasters. They’re the folks who only attended twice a year, on Christmas and Easter. (They are also called CEO’s – Christmas Easter Only).

This kind of participation by the congregation is technically called either responsorial, or antiphonal:

It’s responsorial when each statement is followed by a response from the congregation.
It’s antiphonal when it is spoken or sang alternately.

I get confused on the precise use of each word. Let’s just say that there is a participatory response from the congregation.

In Psalm 118 we find participatory responses for the congregation of Israel on their annual festival day, Passover.

One of the response passages is in verses two, three, and four. Someone invited a response, asking them to “now say,” then three different groups in the assembly answered:

“Let Israel now say, “His mercy endures forever.
“Let the house of Aaron now say, “His mercy endures forever.
“Let those who fear the LORD now say, “His mercy endures forever.”

“His mercy endures forever” opens the psalm… “His mercy endures forever” ends the psalm (v29). We’ll focus on mercy as we enjoy this psalm.
I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 “Mercy Forever” Is God’s Promise To You, and #2 “Mercy Forever” Is God’s Plan For You.

#1 – “Mercy Forever” Is God’s Promise To You (v1-13)

There are several passages in Psalm 118 that are lifted directly from the Book of Exodus. The Israelites would recognize this immediately as a Passover song.

One scholar notes, “Verse 14 quotes Exodus 15:2, and the repeated “right hand” in verses 15-16 matches the three occurrences in Exodus 15:6 & 12. Not surprisingly in this regard, Psalm 118 concludes the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), which is used at Passover, a celebration that recalls and recounts the deliverance from Egypt.”

We don’t annually celebrate Passover. The apostle Paul told us that, in the Church Age, Jesus Himself is our Passover.

The Passover symbolism is fulfilled in Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

Psa 118:1  Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

This is responsive, each sentence spoken or sang by different people. The entire psalm is responsive – drawing the congregation into the celebration.

You could spend a long time thinking about how the Lord was merciful to Israel throughout their history. The Exodus could have as a sub-title, God’s Marvelous Manifold Mercies in the Wilderness. Though the Israelites rebelled over-and-over, God preserved them in His mercy.

See how far they’d come – here they were worshipping in the Temple, keeping the Passover as prescribed, and doing it joyfully.

BTW – God’s mercy towards the nation of Israel in the past guarantees He will be merciful to them in the future. He has not, and cannot, abandon the descendants of Abraham. In the end, they will be saved.

Psa 118:2  Let Israel now say, “His mercy endures forever.”
Psa 118:3  Let the house of Aaron now say, “His mercy endures forever.”
Psa 118:4  Let those who fear the LORD now say, “His mercy endures forever.”

Three groups were present: (1)Israelites by birth, (2)priests, and (3)non-Jews who feared the Lord, i.e., who were believers.

Salvation was exclusively through Israel. But anyone could be saved who came to God in His prescribed way. In His mercy, God has always made a way for anyone, anywhere, to be saved.

The leader, let’s call him the soloist, would sing verses five through nine:

Psa 118:5  I called on the LORD in distress; The LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
Psa 118:6  The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psa 118:7  The LORD is for me among those who help me; Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.

Time and again, after Israel rebelled, the Lord would hear their cries, and in His mercy, He would restore them. When they returned to Him, and trusted in the Lord, there was a godly confidence that victory was certain.

Israel could only be defeated by Israel. By drifting away from God, they earned His discipline.

We, too, can be our own worst enemy, if we grow apathetic, and set ourselves adrift.

With COVID-19 still affecting churches, it is an especially dangerous time.

Psa 118:8  It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in man.
Psa 118:9  It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in princes.

Do we ever “put confidence in man?” This would be a confidence in things other than the Lord and in His wisdom where He has clearly spoken.

Sure we do. We remain in unredeemed bodies, with their propensity to sin. Our minds are not totally renewed, and we don’t always set our affections on things above.

As far as putting our confidence in man, Christians and churches often adopt worldly methods, e.g., in their fund raising.

Do we ever “put confidence in princes,” i.e., in government? Sure we do. The US Supreme Court recently astonished us. Those ‘princes’ ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. The ruling was 6-3, with Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first appointee to the court, writing the majority opinion. The opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices. In an article titled, Gorsuch vs Gorsuch, the Wall Street Journal noted, “An alien legal being seems to have captured… Justice [Gorsuch].”

I’m pretty sure the writer meant that last comment, about the alien, as sarcasm. But I wouldn’t be so sure.

Verses ten through thirteen – also responsive:

Psa 118:10  All nations surrounded me, But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
Psa 118:11  They surrounded me, Yes, they surrounded me; But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
Psa 118:12  They surrounded me like bees; They were quenched like a fire of thorns; For in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.

Three times the congregation exclaimed, “In the Name of the Lord I will destroy them.” His “Name” isn’t a magic word that defeats our foes. We don’t repeat it over-and-over to get a result. We don’t say “AbracaJesus.”

“In the Name of the Lord” means that we have His authority. We act on His behalf.

Acting on His behalf can get us imprisoned, or martyred. But that isn’t a defeat. It is a “W” in the cosmic struggle against God’s enemies.

Can you think of a time in Israel’s history that these words might describe? When “all nations” surrounded Israel.

The only one I can suggest for our consideration is in Israel’s future history. If you approach this passage with the Great Tribulation in mind, it makes a lot of sense.

Specifically, this could depict the Second Coming, when Jesus will be “surrounded” at Armageddon, but will easily defeat the nations of the world gathered there.

The Tribulation itself is mercy, albeit a severe mercy. By it, God offers those on earth salvation in Jesus, not willing that any should perish, but rather that they would receive eternal life.

Psa 118:13  You pushed me violently, that I might fall, But the LORD helped me.

The picture here is of someone being pushed off the edge of a cliff. No matter how violent the pushing, throughout history, Israel stands.

Do you use the expression, “push back?” It’s used when you’ve had it with some policy or practice; you push back instead of accepting it.

The Great Tribulation is God’s push back against sinners. But, always remember, it is a measured push back, because God also extends mercy to save.

#2 – “Mercy Forever” Is God’s Plan For You (v14-29)

Incidentally, Psalm 118 was Martin Luther’s favorite – “My own beloved psalm,” as he put it. Luther considered verse seventeen to be “a masterpiece,” and he asserted that “all the saints have sung this verse and will continue to sing it to the end.”

If the songs we sing are any indication, the Church likes Psalm 118. Hymns, choruses, and performance songs based on it abound. You’ll for sure recognize three of them: verse fourteen, verse nineteen, and verse twenty-four.

Psa 118:14  The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.

People are looking for some kind of “strength.” Trouble is, they’re mostly looking within themselves by listening to so-called, self-appointed experts. Self-help is an $11B industry – mostly without regulation. Anyone can present themself as a life-coach. Each guru attracts you with his or her particular siren-song.

All the while, God is ready to declare you righteous and give you the Holy Spirit. I won’t cheapen the Gospel by calling Jesus your ultimate “life-coach,” but you get the idea.

Psa 118:15  The voice of rejoicing and salvation Is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
Psa 118:16  The right hand of the LORD is exalted; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.

“Valiantly” could also be translated, “is victorious” (ISV). We know from the complete revelation of the Word of God that Jesus sits at God’s right hand. He was victorious over Satan sin, and death. That is real “strength.” The “song” is the wooing of the Holy Spirit.

Psa 118:17  I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD.
Psa 118:18  The LORD has chastened me severely, But He has not given me over to death.

Israel, as a nation, endured much disciplining by God for her many willful failures. Yet God did not destroy His chosen nation. They endured; they endure.

Psa 118:19  Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD.
Psa 118:20  This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter.
Psa 118:21  I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation.

There is a wrong way of reading this. It is not saying that you must be self-righteous to enter God’s presence. You don’t deserve for the gate to be opened for you. No, you enter because righteousness is given to you by believing in Jesus. He becomes your salvation when you receive Him as your Substitute on the Cross.

Charles Spurgeon put it in plain language when he said, “You stand before God as if you were Jesus, because Jesus stood before God as if He were you.”

Psa 118:22  The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.
Psa 118:23  This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.

Jesus is the foundation upon which God’s household of faith must be built. When He came the first time, the leaders of Israel – the “builders” – rejected Him. Today He is the foundation of the Church, built upon by the apostles and prophets of the first century. He will yet “become the chief cornerstone,” as Israel is saved through the Great Tribulation.

Psa 118:24  This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Psa 118:25  Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
Psa 118:26  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.

We recognize this from the description of Palm Sunday given in the Gospels. The “day” had come… But the Jews refused to recognize their Messiah, plunging them into another time of discipline.

Psa 118:27  God is the LORD, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

Remember, it was Passover. The procession had arrived at the altar of sacrifice. It was time to kill the sacrificial lamb. Lamb after lamb after lamb was slain.

There are incredible estimates of how many lambs were slain annually in the Second Temple period. One site said 1million. If they worked for ten hours, that’s 100,000 per hour. I don’t think so. But, still, multitudes of little lambies died annually, and throughout the Old Testament era. It was bloody.

Psa 118:28  You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.

Once the sacrifice was complete, there was an acknowledgement of intimacy. The lamb took our place so that we could approach God as “my God.”

Mankind lost this intimacy in the Garden of Eden. God promised He would restore it. He established the temporary sacrifice of lambs until He could come and die Himself, for us. It is His plan of redemption, kept moving by God’s providence.

Psa 118:29  Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

It ends where it began – with mercy. In a previous study, I challenged you to look up verses regarding mercy, and especially different types of mercy that are described in the Bible. God’s mercy is something that is better seen, or experienced, than simply defined; one way to do that is to see it active on the pages of the Bible.

God alone is “good.” Because of Jesus, He can justify the believing sinner, and remain righteous. It is an amazing plan, inspiring gratitude.

The word endures, in italics, isn’t part of the text scholars translated from. It should read, “Mercy forever.”

If you’re a fan of the MCU, you remember T’Challa (the Black Panther) sending his forces into battle with the cry, “Wakanda Forever.”

Jesus has sent us into the fray. Hear Him say, “Mercy Forever.”

Prophecy Update #619 – ID 2020

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to suggest news, or trends, that seem to be predicted by a literal, futurist reading of the Bible. We anticipate that the remaining 500 or so end times prophecies will become history just as every previous prophecy.

We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news. There is a lot of sensationalism surrounding unfulfilled Bible prophecy, and we don’t want to add to it.

We’re not saying the things we report are the definite fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect by holding a Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.

Bible futurists have long understood that, in the Last Days and going into the Great Tribulation, there would be a global system, or systems, of personal identification by which everyone will conduct all their business. This system will be controlled by the world leader the Book of the Revelation calls “the Beast.” Three-and-one-half years in to the Tribulations, the Beast will demand everyone swear allegiance to him. Those who won’t worship him will be blocked from buying or selling anything.

Global ID is a thing. You may have heard of ID2020. According to the article on Wikipedia, “ID2020 is a nongovernmental organization which advocates for digital ID for the billion undocumented people worldwide and under-served groups like refugees…”

The United Nations website reported, “On Friday, 20 May 2016, ID2020 – a strategic, global initiative launched in response to… provide legal identity to all, including birth registration, by 2030, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships, hosted the “ID2020 Summit – Harnessing Digital Identity for the Global Community” at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.”

A September 2019 article on BiometricUpdate.com was titled, ID2020 and partners launch program to provide digital ID with vaccines.

Excerpts:

ID2020 Alliance has launched a new digital identity program at its annual summit in New York, in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh, vaccine alliance Gavi, and new partners in government, academia, and humanitarian relief.

The program to leverage immunization as an opportunity to establish digital identity was unveiled by ID2020 in partnership with the Bangladesh Government’s Access to Information (a2i) Program, the Directorate General of Health Services, and Gavi, according to the announcement.

The City of Austin, ID2020, and several other partners are working together with homeless people and the service providers who engage with them to develop a digital identity platform called MyPass to empower homeless people with their own identity data.

https://www.biometricupdate.com/201909/id2020-and-partners-launch-program-to-provide-digital-id-with-vaccines

At the end of the article was this: This post was updated at 4:58pm on March 26, 2020 to clarify that the program is intended to allow people to receive vaccination and prove they have received it, not to track individuals, as claimed by some conspiracy theorists.

Global, digital ID for everyone is possible. IF it were to be rolled out in conjunction with a health crisis like COVID-19, I think people would go for it.

For example: Let’s say we could never “flatten the curve.” That we keep going back to shelter at home and such. If the CDC said there was a vaccine that allowed you to go back to normal – no social distancing, no mask – the majority of people worldwide would do it. But they would also need a digital ID to track them. It could happen; just look at how crazy everything is.

I really don’t see how anyone reading the Bible wouldn’t see we are rushing towards the Great Tribulation. COVID-19 gives us a huge push in that direction.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will come, in the clouds, and raise the dead believers of the Church Age. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies. We will join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

Crush To Judgment (Psalm 110)

They are the two most iconic images from the Second World War caught on film:

Fifty years after the picture was taken, the Associated Press wrote that “the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima was the world’s most reproduced.”
“VJ Day in Times Square” is a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt that portrays a jubilant sailor embracing and kissing a stranger on Victory over Japan Day (“V-J Day”) in New York City’s Times Square – August 14, 1945. The photographer wrote, “I was walking through the crowds on VJ Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all – young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her, and just as I’d hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her.”

The two photographs capture a different type of victory in the war:

It was victory on Iwo Jima, but the war would go on another six months.
In Times Square, the victory was final.

Psalm 110 is about warfare and victory:

It is set in a time of ongoing conflict. “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
It promises final victory. “The Lord is at your right hand; He will crush kings on the day of his wrath.”

The conflict is cosmic. It spans all the time from the creation of the earth, and especially mankind, until the Revelation of Jesus Christ at His Second Coming. It is ongoing; and that means we on earth are currently immersed in the conflict.

Here is what I want to get to. The psalm captures an iconic image. It’s in verse seven: “He will drink from a brook along the way, and so he will lift his head high.”

What is it we say about a picture – that it’s worth a thousand words? Well, this is the picture of cosmic victory that’s worthy of ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, of words.

The iconic image of the kneeling, brook-drinking, King of kings holding His head high should elicit hope and produce strength.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 The King Drinking From The Brook Is Your Hope For Tomorrow, and #2 The King Drinking From The Brook Is Your Strength For Today.

#1 – The King Drinking From The Brook Is Your Hope For Tomorrow (v1-6)

You should always read Scripture in several translations. Today I’m going with the NIV for the teaching. It is better in capturing the poetry (IMHO).

Psalms 110:1  Of David. A psalm. The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

David is credited as the author, but the psalm is not about him, or his immediate kingdom on the earth. We are at once transported to the heavenlies where David’s “Lord” has been welcomed by God to occupy the place of sovereign authority over the universe.

The Lord is, of course, Jesus. The writer of Hebrews makes that clear, applying Psalm 110 to Jesus, saying, “After [Jesus] had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven… To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?” (1:3 &13).

The “enemies” of God are defeated. It happened at the Cross upon which Jesus died. Because Jesus died in our place, as our Substitute, God can remain just while He justifies believing sinners.

You may be familiar with this quote, credited to Charles Spurgeon: “You stand before God as if you were Jesus, because Jesus stood before God as if He were you.”

There’s a word of pause in verse one: “Until.” It tells us that the defeated enemies of God are still at large, still resisting, still fomenting rebellion. These supernatural foes blind humans from God’s truth. In one place we are told that Satan holds them captive, to do his will. The Last Days in which we live are full of the doctrines of demons.

If you’re wondering why the conflict is ongoing, wondering why God doesn’t end it, it’s because He is longsuffering, not willing that anyone perish eternally, but rather that they would believe on Jesus and be justified.

There is another important doctrinal message here. William MacDonald reminds us,

One day when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees in Jerusalem, He asked them what they believed concerning the identity of the Messiah. From whom would the Promised One be descended? They answered correctly that He would be the Son of David. But Jesus showed them that according to Psalm 110 (which they acknowledged to be messianic) the Messiah would also be David’s Lord. How could He be David’s Son and David’s Lord at the same time? And how could David, the king, have someone who was his Lord on earth? The answer of course was that the Messiah would be both God and Man. As God, He would be David’s Lord. As Man, He would be David’s Son. And Jesus Himself, combining in His Person both deity and humanity, was David’s Master and David’s Son.

Between verses 1 and 2 we have what H. A. Ironside called “the great parenthesis.” It is the Church Age, a mystery revealed, which extends from the Ascension of Jesus to the Second Coming described in verse two.

Psalms 110:2  The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”

We have the full revealing of these future events. We know, from the last book in the Bible, that verse two is looking ahead to Jesus ruling the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem. The entire reign lasts one thousand years; thus it is commonly called “the Millennium.”

In that glorious Kingdom of God on the earth, there will be children born who will not believe Jesus – even though they see Him. Even though they see us – ruling with Jesus, in glorified, sinless, human bodies. The nonbelievers will eventually be led in rebellion by Satan, who will be released from his prison on his own recognizance. Their rebellion is easily overcome.

Psalms 110:3  Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy splendor, your young men will come to you like dew from the morning’s womb.

This probably depicts the Second Coming, when the saints of the Church Age return with Jesus. Or I suppose it could describe the final rebellion at the end of the Millennium being crushed. Either way, we are described as “arrayed in holy splendor.” That is how the Revelation describes our uniform of the day as well: “And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses“ (19:14).

One commentator paraphrased the last words of verse two, “… as dew is born of its mother the morning, so Thy army shall come to Thee numerous, fresh, bright and powerful.”

We will be an unusual army in that future time in that we never fight; we never engage any supernatural being. Our weapon is our holiness, our righteousness – granted by grace. Human beings on the earth will see us, and we will reveal to them the glory of God and His plan to redeem and restore mankind.

Our weaponry today is the same. It is our holiness, our righteousness. It is walking with the Lord, in humility, surrendered to Him as living sacrifices, led and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

At the Second Coming, we follow a victorious Jesus, and He conquers.

Today, we follow a victorious Jesus, and He conquers. But today we follow His example in His first coming. Victory is in our weakness being made strong by Him to confound the wisdom of our enemies. Today we are martyrs, not monarchs.

That photo of raising the flag on Iwo Jima… Three of the six soldiers who participated were killed during the last six months of the war. We are martyrs, not monarchs.

Psalms 110:4  The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Mysterious Melchizedek appears in Genesis out of nowhere to Abraham. We learn of him that he was appointed by God to be the Priest and King over Salem, which was ancient Jerusalem.

The phrase “in the order of Melchizedek” is interpreted for us in Hebrews chapters five through seven. There the priesthood of Melchizedek is compared and contrasted with the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood established in the Law of Moses.

Under the Law, you must be of the tribe of Levi, descended through Moses’ brother, Aaron, in order to be a priest. And there were no priest-kings.

Jesus descended from David, of the tribe of Judah. His priesthood isn’t less than the one in the Law; it is superior, by far. His kingly priesthood was established by the sovereign eternal decree of God, and since He lives in the power of an endless life, His kingly priesthood will never end.

There will be no separation between secular and spiritual. Worship will be the very atmosphere of the Millennium.

Psalms 110:5  The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.

The last book of the Bible is The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The word “revelation” is apocalypse. Because the book tells of the myriad of judgments coming upon the earth, apocalypse has come to mean the end of the world; or some global event that nearly wipes-out mankind.

The word means, to reveal, to unveil. The book reveals, it unveils, Jesus Christ as He is today, and as He will be for eternity.

Further, the world doesn’t end. It is redeemed, restored, made new. We’re not headed for the end of the world, but for the world’s new beginning.

The seven-year Great Tribulation described in chapters six through eighteen of the Revelation is a time in which God is pouring out His wrath against sin upon the whole earth. We refer to it as the Grace of Wrath, because each judgment is designed to draw mankind to salvation in Jesus.

I hesitate to call it “Tough Love,” because the judgments are awful. But they pale in comparison to a single soul being committed to an eternity of conscious punishment in the Lake of Fire.

Psalms 110:6  He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.

“Crush,” “crushing the rulers,” sounds a great deal like the Battle of Armageddon. Rather than describe it, I can read it to you:

Revelation 19:11  Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.
Revelation 19:12  His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.
Revelation 19:13  He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
Revelation 19:14  And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.
Revelation 19:15  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Revelation 19:16  And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Revelation 19:17  Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God,
Revelation 19:18  that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.”
Revelation 19:19  And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.
Revelation 19:20  Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.
Revelation 19:21  And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.

It might be the final, end-of-the-Millennium battle:

Revelation 20:7  When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison
Revelation 20:8  and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth… and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.
Revelation 20:9  They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
Revelation 20:10  And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. But not until the Second Coming. “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ” (Second Thessalonians 3:5).

#2 – The King Drinking From The Brook Is Your Strength For Today (v7)

As iconic images of the apocalypse go, the king drinking from a brook wouldn’t come to mind. It doesn’t seem as exciting as Jesus breaking through the clouds on His great steed at His Second Coming. It almost seems out of place in Psalm 110.

Of course, it isn’t out of place. It is one of the powerful iconic images the Holy Spirit wants us to see.

Psalms 110:7  He will drink from a brook along the way, and so he will lift his head high.

How are we to take this? Commentators are split into at least four interpretations:

Some commentators see the sufferings of Jesus, compared to a brook, a flow of waters, because of the abundance of them. For support, they cite Scripture in which His partaking of sufferings is expressed by drinking.

Other commentators see it as Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin, and death – mostly on account of the context of the first six verses.

Other commentators think the allusion is to the eagerness of a captain pursuing a routed army, and pushing on his conquest; who coming across a brook by the way, takes a drink of it, and hastens his pursuit of the enemy. This is the eagerness of Jesus to finish the great work of man’s salvation, they say, and the conquest of all His and their enemies.

Others see the joy, and comfort which Jesus has in the presence of God at his right hand, having finished the work of our salvation. The drinking is symbolic of His being satisfied.

I want to suggest to you that there may not be one ‘correct’ interpretation. There doesn’t need to be. The verse isn’t teaching doctrine or duty. There is nothing to agree with, or to disagree with. The very variety of possible interpretations tells us we have some liberty.

The first six verses – those have obvious connections to specific biblical persons and events. They are not symbols; they are not allegories. They anticipate the persons and the events of the Revelation.

We have an image of Jesus pausing somewhere along His journey to refresh Himself. The Holy Spirit is holding it up for us to see Jesus in a unique snapshot. It is for each of us to draw strength for the conflict that is all around us – “until” we are with the Lord.

Here is something the Lord ministered to me. Jesus stops to drink from a brook of running water. Running water is also called living water. Like my Lord, I need living water – the refreshment of the indwelling Holy Spirit to fill me, to lead me. I can’t simply keep going, on my own, is I am to share in His victory. Having begun in the Spirit, I cannot make progress in my flesh.

It’s the pause that refreshes.

In the image, Jesus lifted His head high. There are more than a few verses in which Jesus lifted His head toward Heaven or in which He looked intently:

Jesus “lifted up His eyes” before some of the miracles He performed, e.g., before feeding the multitudes, and before raising Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus “lifted up His eyes to Heaven” when He prayed for His disciples before His crucifixion.
He “looked up” and saw Zacchaeus high in a tree before inviting Himself to a meal that would change that tax collectors life.

Jesus still “looks up,” and “lifts His eyes,” so to speak, for you & for me. I’m reminded that He is praying for me; that He could do a miracle if it was in my best interest; and that He can save me when I’m far out on a limb.

Think about this iconic image, won’t you? It can bring you strength for the battles in the parenthesis of the Church Age when sharing in the sufferings of Jesus is our mandate.

Prophecy Update #618 – Cashing Out

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to suggest news, or trends, that seem to be predicted by a literal, futurist reading of the Bible. We anticipate that the remaining 500 or so end times prophecies will become history just as every previous prophecy.

We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news. There is a lot of sensationalism surrounding unfulfilled Bible prophecy, and we don’t want to add to it.

We’re not saying the things we report are the definite fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect by holding a Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.

Bible futurists have long seen that, in the Last Days and going into the Great Tribulation, there would be a cashless, global currency. Considered ridiculous just a short time ago, we are on the verge of it today.

I read an article titled, Avoid cash payments as coronavirus outbreak spreads, the World Heath Organization (WHO) says.

Excerpts:

The World Health Organization told The Telegraph people should use “contactless” ways to pay whenever possible.

WHO told the UK paper that the coronavirus (Covid-19) may stay on the surface of paper bills for multiple days, potentially increasing the chance of contracting the virus.

… the Bank of England acknowledged that cash “can carry bacteria or viruses.” Last month, China began deep cleaning and destroying potentially infected cash.

https://www.wtxl.com/news/national-news/avoid-cash-payments-as-coronavirus-outbreak-spreads-who-says

Las Vegas casinos want to do away with cash. Quote:

Walk into a newly reopened Las Vegas casino and you’ll see dealers wearing masks behind plexiglass shields, with sanitizer at the ready for both chips and hands. What you won’t see is gamblers paying for their wagers with their cell phones. That’s because Nevada doesn’t allow digital payments on casino floors. No state does. But that could change – and quickly – because of the coronavirus pandemic.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend “tap-and-pay to limit handling of cash” as part of good hygiene measures to prevent Covid-19. Given this, state legislatures and gaming regulators may be more motivated to permit mobile payments or digital wallets to help curb the spread of viral infections.

Nevada gaming regulators will hold a hearing on cashless payments on June 25. 

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/16/coronavirus-may-sway-regulators-to-allow-casinos-to-say-good-bye-to-cash.html

Not everyone agrees that cash carries COVID-19. But like so many other things, the facts don’t seem as important as the perception. Many businesses are refusing cash.

I really don’t see how anyone reading the Bible wouldn’t see we are rushing towards the Great Tribulation. COVID-19 gives us a huge push in that direction.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will come, in the clouds, and raise the dead believers of the Church Age. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies. We will join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

The Law Don’t Go ‘Round Here (Acts 15:1-21)

Who is allowed access? That’s an important question, but not one we think about very much. We all know the old list: “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” But, sometimes it takes a little more than that. Did you know that, according to an ordinance in Atlanta, Georgia, “smelly people” are not allowed to ride public streetcars? The stinky among us aren’t only in danger of missing the bus. In 2014 the city of Burien, Washington passed an ordinance with said people could be excluded from parks or even city hall for a “variety of behaviors, including hostile language, not enough clothes covering the body and [smell]. The law allows Burien Police to bar the offender from the public space for up to a year.”

Many of us here probably aren’t deep students of the historic church councils. There were lots of them over the centuries. Some of them were more significant than others. The decisions at the Third Council of Constantinople don’t really have a meaningful impact on our Biblical faith today. But there’s one council that makes a huge difference for us, the very first one in Jerusalem.

In fact, our ability to do church the way we do is a result of what was decided in Acts 15. It was clear that Gentiles were allowed to join the Church, but the question was: How were Gentiles to come in? What do we have to “wear” or how do we have to “smell?” As Gentiles, do we have to first convert to Judaism and then receive salvation in Jesus Christ? Is obedience to the Levitical Law the ship that takes us to the new world? These are important questions. We are able to take them for granted now that it’s been decided, but in the first decades of the Church’s history, this was a fierce debate.

As we see the Jerusalem council in our text we can notice a couple of important spiritual themes. One is that of God’s providence, working itself out, despite obstacles and opposition and all the odds stacked against grace. Another is that, even though God will have His way, we as individuals still have a duty and a responsibility to go submit and go along with Him. To be a part of providence, instead of resisting God’s work. This was the choice presented to Esther. God would accomplish His purposes. But, would Esther cooperate and allow herself to be a part of it, or would she refuse to cooperate and be set aside? We’ll see examples of believers who choose one way and believers who choose another and we’ll see the potential outcomes of either choice.

As we begin, we find ourselves in Antioch of Syria. Paul and Barnabas have been spending time in the healthy, growing church there. And then we read verse 1:

Acts 15:1 – Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

It’s hard to be sure of the timeline, but it seems that what we’re reading here lines up with what Paul talks about in Galatians 2. Piecing it together, it seems that Peter had come to Antioch at some point, had enjoyed his time there among the mostly-Gentile disciples. Then these guys come from Jerusalem and start teaching that Gentiles must become practicing Jews. Peter, we’re told in Galatians 2:12, was afraid of their criticism, so he pulled back from these Gentile Christians and acted in implied agreement with the Judaizers. And Barnabas was led astray for a time.

Who were these guys? Luke doesn’t name them, but from the context and comparison it seems they were associates of James, the Lord’s half-brother, who had become a primary leader in the church at Jerusalem. They must have claimed to be official representatives, because later, in verse 24, the elders of the church feel it’s necessary to say, “We did not send or authorize these guys.” If these were just random guys, there wouldn’t have been such a big fuss over their pocket teaching.

Let’s take a look at what they said. They weren’t saying, “This would be a best practice,” but, “You can’t be saved if you don’t do these things.” They were adding pre-requisites and requirements to the Gospel. Now, this passage and many other in the New Testament make it clear, that’s always a no-no, but it still happens today. Not just from cults or other religions, but from within the church itself. There are traditions which say you cannot be saved if you are not water baptized. There are those who say to be a Christian you must speak in tongues. There are those who say you must keep the Sabbath. These debates continue despite the clear teaching of Scripture. This is why we’re warned so often about false teachers. Jesus warned us, Paul warned us, Peter warned us, John warned us, Jude warned us, Hebrews warns us. There are false teachings that try to work their way into the Church at large and we need to be able to spot them and throw them overboard.

How do we spot them? First, by being well-versed in the teachings of the Bible, once for all delivered. We can spot them when we see people playing fast and loose with details of theology. For example: These guys boil down their argument saying “circumcision was prescribed by Moses.” Actually, circumcision predated Moses by hundreds of years. It was given to Abraham.

Second, we’re given a description of false teachers in 2nd Timothy, where Paul says:

2 Timothy 3:5a – [False teachers will] hold to the form of godliness but denying its power.

That’s exactly what these Judaizers were doing. They denied the testimony of what God had been doing in Antioch, in Cyprus, in Galatia. They cancelled all of that and said, “Nope, you have to follow this form of ours.”

Acts 15:2 – 2 After Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, Paul and Barnabas and some others were appointed to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this issue.

Paul must have brought Barnabas back over to the grace side after his slip into legalism. And they stand together, willing to die on this hill. This would be a battle Paul would have to fight again and again, but it was worth it.

I do commend the church at Antioch for this: They were willing to submit if necessary. These Judaizers had street cred. They probably made some strong arguments. And the Gentiles in Antioch were humble enough to say, “Well, let’s get this decided, and if we need to become Jews, we’ll become Jews.”

What arguments could these guys have made that would’ve had any convincing effect? Dr. H.A. Ironside points out that a variety of passages like Isaiah 60 and Zechariah 8 indicated that the Gentile nations would come to God through Israel. Wouldn’t that mean circumcision and all the rest?

Acts 15:3 – 3 When they had been sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they brought great joy to all the brothers and sisters.

A tell-tale difference between legalism and grace is seen right here. Legalism brings burdens, grace brings joy. In a few verses Peter’s going to say to these legalists, “You’re weighing people down!” Look what happens when Paul goes somewhere with the Good News of God’s grace: They’re brought great joy. As a simple point of application, as you travel the roads of your life, whether they be the 198 or on the information superhighway, bring joy. Not anger. Not bitterness. Bring joy.

It seems likely all these guys travelled together. If so, that would’ve been an interesting road trip.

Acts 15:4 – 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.

As a church, we want to be welcomers. Even if there is friction that needs to be resolved, we can still extend care and compassion to those we disagree with. We should be the warmest, most welcoming place in town. Not always easy, but always part of God’s call in our lives.

Acts 15:5 – 5 But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

It wasn’t just a few guys in verse 1 who felt this way about things. There was a whole party of Christians in the church at Jerusalem who felt the same. They had been biding their time and now were ready to launch their attack on salvation by grace through faith. What a sad thing that, having heard all that God had done, they saw no reason to celebrate, no reason to thank the Lord, no reason to be excited or want to be a part of it themselves. No, their party politics demanded that they exclude all of that and all those people until they conformed their lives to this Pharisaical model.

We’ve got to be careful we don’t become like this. Not in regard to following the law of Moses, I doubt there’s much danger of that. But, think about it this way: If we heard from a reliable source that our Governor converted to Christianity, was born again like the Governor of Cyprus had been, I hope we would celebrate and honor God. I hope our first response wouldn’t be to demand that he start doing what we wanted him to do. See how these guys were demanding that the apostles command the Gentiles not just to be circumcised, but to keep ALL the law. Enforce it!

This is what legalism does. It excludes. It demands. So far in Acts the church really hasn’t been in the “command” business. They’ve been in the conversion business, the communion business, the community business, but they haven’t been issuing laws and regulations. Let’s put this isn’t plain, practical speech: If your church demands that you sign some agreement in order to be a member in good standing, that is Pharisee behavior, not grace.

Now here we can see some of the fantastic providence of God. At the moment this all breaks out, threatening the future of the Church, who is there but the Pharisee of Pharisees, Saul of Tarsus. And the apostle Peter who God had specifically used to break down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile.

Acts 15:6 – 6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter.

Take note: These were all Jews. In the modern way of doing things, there wasn’t fair representation. But, once again, we find that if people are obedient to the Lord and are full of the Spirit then God breaks down obstacles, overcomes our deficiencies and is able to do the impossible.

Acts 15:7 – 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe.

Much debate. They really struggled with this. It seems crazy to us, but it wasn’t so easy then.

Peter stands, with great courage, and reminds them of what God had done in regard to Cornelius and all the Gentiles he represented. Again we see providence in action. Had it only been Paul standing for grace he could’ve been delegitimized. The guys in Jerusalem weren’t all that excited about him anyway. But Peter himself was there and was willing to do his duty toward grace.

Peter points out that its as God’s express purpose from the early days that Gentiles be saved. It was an act of adoption, not immigration, if that makes sense.

Acts 15:8-9 – 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he also did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.

Salvation is a heart issue. It is not about merit or behavior or effort. It is accomplished in the heart. Now, it’s obvious that once a person has surrendered their life to Jesus Christ they are then responsible to obey the many things He has commanded. But what we’re talking about here is salvation: How can a person be saved from the penalty of their sins. And that is done at the heart level, by grace, through faith plus nothing.

If circumcision or anything else was necessary, God had no problem directing His people in the time of the Acts. Think about the many, detailed ways He revealed His truth and His desires and His directions and how they were able to grab hold of those things and run with them.

Faith is the way. Faith plus nothing.

Acts 15:10-11 – 10 Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”

Notice that Peter calls them “disciples,” not “Gentiles.” I think that’s great. And notice how he puts them first in verse 11 in a wonderfully unexpected reversal: “We’re saved the same way they are.” That’s a heart of grace.

Peter also gives these Judaizers a humbling talking to. He is a better student of their history then they are themselves. He says, “Your ancestors couldn’t do this. We couldn’t do it either.” And that’s the crux of the matter. Not only has God revealed that salvation is by grace, through faith, not of works, but it’s also been proven again and again that no one can live up to the Law. Not the Law of Moses, not the Beatitudes, because these are perfect standards. Any legalism that people try to put on you is impossible. That’s why we’re told in Proverbs 30 and in Titus 3 that self-righteousness is of no benefit. We cannot wash ourselves. Only ONE Person could fulfill the law and that was Jesus Christ. After all the millennia of human history, finally there was Someone who could satisfy the requirements of the Law. And Paul would later explain in Romans 8:4 that He did it FOR us, because we cannot do it for ourselves. And Peter points out this is not just a difference of style or opinion, no, legalism puts an impossible, cruel burden on people that should not be there.

Acts 15:12 – 12 The whole assembly became silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Another way to spot a legalist: A legalist goes to other Christians and complains that they’re not doing it right. A true servant of God goes into the world and is used to rescue. You look at Paul and Barnabas and you see God actually did something with them. What did the legalists do? They went to a healthy church and started hacking away at it.

Acts 15:13-18 – 13 After they stopped speaking, James responded, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for his name. 15 And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written: 16 After these things I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again, 17 so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles who are called by my name— declares the Lord who makes these things 18 known from long ago.

James shows great submission to Jesus here. Because James was deeply Jewish. He was a strict law follower. And yet, he bowed to his Lord and said, “Lord, it doesn’t make sense to me to cast the nets on the other side of the boat, nevertheless at Your word I will.” And James acknowledges that this principle of grace wasn’t Paul’s idea or a Gentile idea, it was God’s idea and it was altogether Biblical. He references Amos chapter 9 here, which not only harmonizes with the work in the first century, but has a further fulfillment even future to us. A whole sub-theme we don’t have time for tonight is God’s plan for the end times brought out in this chapter. But here, we see God’s providence rolling along. He cannot be stopped or confounded. Our part is to join in and not stand on the wrong side of His will, even if it might cost us personally or challenge our traditions.

I think we can try to think the best of some of these Jewish believers. Perhaps they really thought they were being Biblical. But what we’re seeing here is that they were being selective in their approach to the Scriptures. They were cancelling out whole sections of prophecy, like Amos 9. Having read that and other passages, it should have come as no surprise to them that the door of salvation was flung wide to non-Jews.

We, too, need to be paying attention to Bible prophecy. I think we try hard to do that here. But a more modern example is how no one should’ve been surprised by the re-establishment of the nation of Israel. Before 1948 there were some who said “hey, this is going to happen.” But it was a big surprise to many in the Church, including theologians. It shouldn’t have been. So, we see that this wasn’t just a first century Pharisee problem, it’s one we want to be careful about too.

Acts 15:19 – 19 Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God,

If a tradition or a teaching makes it difficult for a person to step through the door of salvation then it isn’t Jesus. If a teaching demands a person dress a certain way, act a certain way, pay some price to be saved, it isn’t the Gospel. Plain and simple.

It’s been reported that in the Scientologist religion, if you want to be saved it’s going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s not Good News. That’s not Christianity.

But if you also say you must keep the Sabbath to be saved, it’s the exact same thing. Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost anything to follow Jesus. Christians are definitely commanded to lay down our lives, take up a cross and count all as lost for our Lord. But the thief on the cross had no price to pay, it was being paid for him. All that was necessary for him to be saved from hell for heaven was to believe, and because of God’s grace he was rescued from the guilt of his sin.

Acts 15:20 – 20 but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood.

If you were a pagan Gentile in that era, you were soaked in idolatry and sexual immorality. You didn’t know those things were bad. It’s like when you hear the testimony of cannibalistic tribes that are exposed to the Gospel. They didn’t know they weren’t supposed to eat each other! Gentiles needed to be told that sexual immorality was wrong.

But wait, didn’t we just establish that there was no ritual law to follow? And won’t Paul write a whole bunch of stuff about why a person has liberty when it comes to meat sacrificed to idols? Yes, he will. So what’s going on here? Well, let’s let James finish.

Acts 15:21 – 21 For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.”

You see, all these Gentile Christians would be rubbing elbows with Jews and Jewish believers. It would be impossible for them to have communion together if they continued with some of these eating habits. The sexual immorality thing, that’s not Levitical, that’s God’s forever standard. What James is doing is providing a practical guideline to help Gentiles not offend Jews in such a way that they couldn’t have anything to do with one another. We live in a time and culture where there aren’t divides quite like this. But, for these folks in Acts 15, this was a deal-breaker. And the Jerusalem council was not only answering a theological question, they also needed to solve a very real relational divide within the church. As Warren Wiersbe points out: Proper doctrine leads to duty. Duty to God, duty to one another.

We are wonderfully benefited by what happened at the Jerusalem council. Now, God was set on accomplishing His work of grace and He, through providence, was sure to get it done. But in these scenes we see there was a Paul and there were Pharisees. There was Peter who spoke up and the rest of the 12 who perhaps didn’t. We want to orient our lives toward the truth, not only so that we’re “right” but so that we can be used to further the providential work of grace in the Church and in our world. Because, as we see here, it makes a big difference. And His work is a work of grace and truth. One that does not exclude, but welcomes in all who will believe then transforming their lives, washing the paganism from their hearts and replacing it with purpose, humility and joy.

My God’s Better Than Your gods; My God’s Better Than Yours (Psalm 82)

The Walking Dead is not about zombies.

On the surface, the hit AMC television series tells how people stay alive after the zombie apocalypse. And, yes, there are lots and lots of slow-walking zombies in various states of decay.

It’s amazing, by the way, how many ways you can kill a zombie – considering it must always involve beheading, or a wound through the skull into the brain.

Killing zombies is merely a backdrop for the real story. After the collapse of human society, groups form, and the show explores how they struggle with establishing a “new normal” in their post-apocalyptic world.

The way societies regroup after what is commonly, but mistakenly, called “the apocalypse” is a time-tested SyFy plot point. They usually regroup badly. A recent film example would be Snowpiercer:

After an attempt to stop global warming via climate engineering catastrophically backfires, creating a new ice age in 2014, the remnants of humanity have taken to a circumnavigational train, the Snowpiercer, run by recluse transportation magnate Wilford. By 2031, the passengers on the train have become segregated, with the elite in the extravagant front cars and the poor in squalid tail compartments controlled by armed guards.

Today we are talking incessantly about the “new normal.” Folks want to redo society. In the secular and in the spiritual, wholesale changes are being suggested, or made.

Maybe we should take a deep breath and look to the One Who established human society on bedrock foundations.

Psalm 82 is important in that regard:

First of all, we will see a direct statement about how human society is to behave. In the middle of the psalm, it says, “Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked.”

Second of all, we will meet supernatural beings who oppose God by influencing humans to ruin the foundations of society. This supernatural interference is almost never factored in.

We must be careful not to read anything into this psalm. It wasn’t written for 21st century America.

It is applicable to us, however, because God never changes. It does indeed speak to our current national and international turmoil.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 There Are ‘gods’ Who Encourage Society’s Ruin, and #2 There Is God Who Establishes Society’s Righteousness.

#1 – There Are ‘gods’ Who Encourage Society’s Ruin (v1-2 & 5-8)

“gods?” Where did I come up with that? Bear with me. This psalm needs a longer introduction than most.

I’m going to read verses 1&2, and verses 5-8, in the English Standard Version (ESV).

Psa 82:1  A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
Psa 82:2  “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

First thing that is clear to anyone: There is a “divine council” of beings called “gods” (with a little “g”). They have some oversight, or at least involvement, with mankind because they are to “judge.” In their judging, they prefer the “wicked.”

Psa 82:5  They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

Second thing to note that is clear to anyone: Whoever these “gods” are, their wisdom is limited, and their walking in “darkness” affects the social “foundations of the earth” negatively.

Psa 82:6  I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
Psa 82:7  nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”

Third thing to note which is clear to anyone: Whoever they are, they are not human beings. The divine punishment that they will “die” “like men” can only mean they are not men.

Turn to chapter ten in the Gospel of John. In verse twenty-four, the Jews ask Jesus if He is the Messiah. Answering them, He says in verse thirty, “I and My Father are One.”

Joh 10:31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him.
Joh 10:32. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?”
Joh 10:33. The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”
Joh 10:34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I SAID, “YOU ARE GODS” ‘?
Joh 10:35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken),
Joh 10:36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

The Jews wanted to stone Jesus for claiming to be God. In His defense, He quoted from Psalm 82.

Jesus’s quotation of Psalm 82 is not an argument for His deity if He and the Jews thought that the “gods” in Psalm 82 were merely human judges. Think about it. How could Jesus claim to be God by comparing Himself to human beings?

We’ve talked about the Hebrew word, elohim. Turns out, it is not a name for Almighty God. Other beings
are called elohim in the Bible. It describes any being who is what we call supernatural:

Archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim, and the ‘good’ angels are elohim.

Satan, the fallen angels, demons, “principalities… powers… the rulers of the darkness of this age… spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12) are elohim.

Because Almighty God is supernatural, and dwells in that normally unseen realm, He, too, is an elohim. But note: While the Almighty God is an elohim, no elohim is the Almighty God. They are part of His creation.

One very important point that people are failing to take into account in today’s turmoil is that there are supernatural beings involved in human affairs. Many of them are wicked influencers. Any discussion that does not recognize the supernatural is senseless. One pastor compared it to rearranging the furniture in a burning house.

Psa 82:1  A Psalm of Asaph. God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

Asaph had a long run as one of the lead worship guys. He worshipped in the Tabernacle, but also in Solomon’s Temple.

(Sort of like us, at the “Y” and then here!).

This “divine council” is directly mentioned, or it is alluded to, in other passages: Psalm 89:5-7, and Daniel 7:9-10 (for example).

I’m not sure if it was a “divine council” meeting, but you get a hint at what our Almighty God’s “place” is among these elohim when you read the first two chapters of the Book of Job.

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (1:6-8).

Satan was identified as one of the “sons of God,” in that God created him. It is a common designation for angels. God, the Almighty God, God in Three Persons, is Sovereign and infinitely superior.

In Psalm 82, as in Job, God sits in judgment over the elohim. One thing He judges them for are their dealings with human beings.

Psa 82:2  “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

I should tell you that the mainstream, evangelical interpretation of this psalm is that the “gods” are really human judges, or government officials, whom God holds accountable. Jesus let us know, by His use of the Scriptures, that they were supernatural.

OK, but in what sense do these wicked elohim “judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked?”

Book of Daniel… Chapter Ten. Daniel had been praying, and had received a heavenly vision he did not understand. God dispatched His angel, probably Gabriel, to speak with Daniel. He was delayed:

Daniel 10:13  But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.

Gabriel, then the mighty archangel, Michael, were “withstood” by what could only be another elohim, called the Prince of Persia.

Wicked elohim have some limited rulership over human governments; or at least they interfere with human beings:

Ancient Persia had a wicked elohim prince.
In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, we read that Satan once had a throne in the city of Pergamum.

The Almighty God grants them free will, but oversees them, and moves His plan forward through history by His providence.

Jump to… Psa 82:5  They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

The wicked elohim haven’t the purity or the power of God. Their “knowledge” and “understanding is not only insufficient, it comes from a place of moral “darkness.” The result: The very “foundations of the earth are shaken.”

Want an example? Early on, in Genesis, God established the foundation of all human societies: Marriage – which He instituted as monogamous, heterosexual, and binding for life. Those “foundations” are certainly being “shaken” today.

I came across an article in the Washington Times where the writer said, “If I wanted to destroy a society,I would destroy the family, the fabric of society. I would tear apart the nuclear family, that produced stable children.”

Human societies will continue to be influenced by wickedness. Satan is, after all, called “the god of this world.” This world was described by the apostle John as being in darkness, with Jesus its only light.

We’re not saying judges and government officials are possessed. But those who do not know Jesus are prone to wickedness by nature. Add to that the influence of elohim and you can understand why unrighteousness is rampant on the earth.

Psa 82:6  I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
Psa 82:7  nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”

The elohim held a majestic place in God’s creation. We read of Satan, “You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked” (Ezekiel 28:14).

Some exercised their free will to disobey God. They therefore will be judged alongside human beings. They, too, will be thrown alive to spend eternity in conscious torment. In fact, we’re told that the Lake of Fire was prepared especially for them.

Psa 82:8  Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

Reading the Revelation, you understand that in the Great Tribulation God “judge(s) the earth.”

Next, in the Millennial Kingdom God “judges the earth.”

Next, at the Great White Throne God “judges the earth.”

You also read, “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (11:15).

We win! That is huge. And we win with our giving no special attention to the wicked elohim. We don’t need to identify territorial spirits; or engage in any direct warfare against them.

We simply live-out a simple, normal Christian life. A Daniel-like life of obedience and living sacrifice.

#2 – There Is God Who Establishes A Society’s Righteousness (v3-4)

What happens when we leave God out of our redo’s of society? In the Book of Romans, we read, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (1:28-32).

Chip away at the biblical foundations for human society and you end up in a Romans One death spiral. I think there is abundant evidence to support that our great nation has been in this downward spiral for quite some time.

As believers, we are empowered by Jesus to address any social crises by two things, at least: Worldview, and Mission:

Our Worldview is John 3:16-18, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Our Mission is to take that message into the world of lost men and women: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

I’m not sure who first said, “The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart,” but it is profoundly true. Hearts must change.
Only God has the power to change them. And that power, we are promised, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Whether it’s your marriage or a monarchy, a relationship with Jesus is the answer.

Early Christian rocker, Larry Norman, had a song, Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus, He’s Got the Answer. As Stan Lee would say, “Nuff said.”

Psalm 82 expresses one of God’s foundational principles for human society: Compassion.

Psa 82:3  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Psa 82:4  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

In the context of the psalm, these are the areas in which the wicked elohim – guys like the Prince of Persia – were influencing mankind.

Their influence was to withhold justice from the weak and the fatherless, to eliminate the right of the afflicted and destitute, to abandon the weak and the needy, and to deliver them to the hand of the wicked.

We are to have compassion upon all, and especially the weakest, the most destitute, the most needy.

Too simplistic, you say, for the complex problems of modern societies? The Jewish legal system was quite complex. Not to Jesus. He was asked if He could summarize the law into one commandment.

Mat 22:37 Jesus said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’
Mat 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
Mat 22:39 And the second is like it: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
Mat 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

It sounds so profound, so powerful in church; yet out in the world, it is dismissed as overly simplistic, wishful thinking.

Remember your worldview… Commit to your Mission… Do it all with Compassion.

Prophecy Update #617 – The COVID-19 Aftermath

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to suggest news, or trends, that seem to be predicted by a literal, futurist reading of the Bible. We anticipate that the remaining 500 or so end times prophecies will become history just as every previous prophecy.

We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news. There is a lot of sensationalism surrounding unfulfilled Bible prophecy, and we don’t want to add to it.

We’re not saying the things we report are the definite fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect by holding a Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.

The future Great Tribulation that will come upon the whole earth is described in chapters six through nineteen o the Revelation of Jesus Christ. A major feature of life in that seven-year period is that everyone will be identified by, and conduct business, using their hand or forehead. It sounds like biometrics. We therefore expect advances in the technology that could make this possible.

But how will the masses of humanity get on-board with invasive technology that all but eliminates privacy?

Enter COVID-19. One article I read this week is titled, How COVID-19 Is Shaping the Biometrics Industry.

Excerpts:

A few weeks on, COVID-19 has significantly altered how we live our daily lives and has greatly influenced the course of biometrics.

Governments all over the world have ramped up their measures to swiftly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help distribute aid and benefits to it citizens, Jamaica wants to fast-track the creation and implementation of a national identification system. In Poland, people returning to the country from abroad are required to download a biometric smartphone app, capable of recording their geolocation, and submitting selfies for biometric checks to show they have the device with them.

https://www.innovatrics.com/how-covid-19-is-shaping-the-biometrics-industry/

Another article was more dystopian, titled, COVID-19 Is Changing Our World – And Our Attitude To Technology And Privacy.

Excerpts:

Before the outbreak, Chinese citizens were subject to far more stringent levels of state surveillance, and technology-driven tracking measures than most of us in the West are used to. In the changing world we find ourselves living in now, that intrusion into day-to-day life has greatly intensified. 

Officials have deployed helmet-mounted cameras able to identify residents with raised body temperatures amongst crowds of people, and smartphone apps use machine learning to rate citizens using a color-coded scheme that awards them a “risk level” of red, yellow or green.

Drones armed with heat-sensing cameras, loudspeakers, and even “chemical spray jets” have been deployed to enforce the strict quarantine laws that can see citizens jailed for up to seven years for non-compliance. And residents have reported being unable to access their homes in locked-down apartment blocks when automated security measures determine that data suggests they pose too high a risk. 

Advocacy of measures that would often be termed “draconian” – particularly if they are happening in China or other nations with openly authoritarian rulership – is becoming more frequent.

In the UK, the government is using (so far, anonymized) individuals’ location data to measure how people are complying with mandates for isolation, self-quarantine, and social isolation. Aggregated data from phone providers is now being used to monitor public movement around London, and this could be used to understand peoples’ reactions to newly-imposed restrictions on public transport – as no-one really knows what the effects of this will be.

There is a danger that these changes and actions will lead to the establishment of a “new normal.” Once this outbreak is contained, and our lives have adapted to the measures needed to keep it so, there’s always going to be the danger of another outbreak on the horizon.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2020/03/23/covid-19-is-changing-our-world–as-well-as-our-attitude-to-technology-and-privacy-why-could-that-be-a-problem/#26fe9d26dc13

I really don’t see how anyone reading the Bible wouldn’t see we are rushing towards the Great Tribulation.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will come, in the clouds, and raise the dead believers of the Church Age. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies. We will join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

Returning To The Scene (Acts 14:21-28)

You’ve probably heard about the tendency of certain criminals to return to the scene of their crimes. Arsonists, in particular, have been found to hang around to watch their work. One study showed that 28% never left the scene. Of those who did leave, 59% came back. Some immediately, some about a half hour later, some the next day. Which just goes to show you – if you’re hanging around a building that’s on fire, you might be considered a suspect.

Now, we know that Paul was no arsonist, but he had started a fire. He was no criminal, but he had certainly been treated like one. After a long trip through across the sea and through the Galatian territory, being led by the Holy Spirit, he realizes the mission is coming to a close. But then something remarkable happens: He and Barnabas turn around and head back through the very places where they had barely escaped with their lives. To Antioch of Pisida, where they had been run out of town. To Iconium, where there had been a plot to murder them. To Lystra, where Paul actually was murdered. There was no long interval of years in-between these visits. Maybe a few weeks or months. But here we see how the power of God and the leading of God can equip a Christian to walk in great courage. It’s a power that drives out fear.

Something else is worth noting. Bible Commentator Ivor Powell prods us to look at that map that most of us have in the back of our Bibles, which show the route of Paul’s 3 missionary journeys. In this case, looking at his first trip, notice the road not taken. When our text opens, Paul is in Derbe. Look a little to the east and what do you see? You’ll see Tarsus, Paul’s town. Probably full of family and friends. Look a little east of that and you’ll see Antioch of Syria. Paul’s new home, full of his family in the faith. But now, look at Paul’s trip “home.” He goes back (mostly) the way he came so that he could fan the flame of faith that he helped kindle in all those places.

Or, we might say he was going back to tend to the little saplings that had been planted. We talk about “church planting.” Your Bible may even have that as a heading over our verses tonight. Some tender, vulnerable young churches had been started through Paul’s ministry and he felt compelled to go and cultivate them, strengthen them, help them in their infancy.

Those of you who garden know how much care and attention and effort it takes to properly develop plants. It takes time. Time was not something Paul had a lot of on this particular trip. Good gardening also requires light and soil and some other supplies. Paul was also disadvantaged here. Not only were most of these believers living among hostile opponents of the Gospel, they also had no written New Testament. Some of them probably didn’t even have the written Old Testament. These were churches filled with baby Christians, now tasked with becoming the Body of Christ and taking up the Great Commission themselves.

What do you do in a situation like that? And, secondly, when you’ve been called to a specific ministry and you’ve dedicated your life to it and then it comes to an end…what then? These are questions that churches and Christians still face today. Some answers are on display for us in our text. We begin in verse 21.

Acts 14:21 – 21 After they had preached the gospel in that town [Derbe] and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch,

Luke doesn’t give us much detail in reporting on this part of the trip, but we know it was an effective time. We’re told that they made many disciples in Derbe. We also know that a man named Gaius was converted there, who later became a traveling companion of Paul’s. He would suffer persecution in Ephesus. But he would also be with Paul when he wrote Romans, acting as a host to the apostle and the whole church.

We note that the verse says they preached and made many disciples. The object of each is the same, and preaching is required first so that people might begin the life of discipleship. But it’s good for us to remember that our responsibility is to go and make disciples. That can’t be done without preaching, and so, the preaching of the Gospel must be primary and persistent. But if there was nothing for us to do beyond the proclamation of the Gospel, then most Christians could retire until the rapture. Because now we have radio and television and cheap printing and the internet. The Gospel is being proclaimed, in a general sense, 24 hours a day, all around the world. But the assignment given to us is to go and make disciples. That means we’re to go and teach people how to walk with God. It means we have to keep proclaiming God’s word and showing one another how to apply it. It means we join together and go out fishing for men and women who are still lost in sin.

The way Paul made disciples was by establishing local churches. This was, obviously, the leading of the Holy Spirit, but we see him doing it on this trip. He’d go to a place and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. People would be born again and then Paul would have them form a local church. A group of people, deeply connected by the love of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. And, together they would grow and develop and continue the transforming work of Christ in their city.

As we’ve seen, usually not long after Paul organized a church in a town, he’d get kicked out by unbelievers. But now, he decides to go back. Human reasoning would call this irresponsible. Paul saw it as necessary. What that shows us is that, sometimes, when we’re doing God’s work, we’re going to have to ignore danger as a factor. If Paul would have factored “danger” into his equation, he’d head east to Tarsus, not west, back to Lystra. But this wasn’t a man who was led by human reasoning. He was led by the Spirit and compelled by the love he had in his heart for people in need.

I’d encourage us, as individuals and a local church, to pray to God to give us an expanding love, not only for people in general, but a burden for some specific people that He would use us to minister to.

Acts 14:22 – [He went] 22 strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Interesting way to encourage people. We’re used to a…more syrupy form of encouragement.

In The Lego Movie, when the dad realizes that the villain is patterned after him, he’s hurt and demoralized, so he asks the son what the good guy would say to encourage and help the bad guy not be bad anymore, the speech goes like this: “You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things, because YOU are the special!” Hey that makes you feel good.

Not Paul. Here’s what he says to these fledgling believers: “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Wow. He didn’t say that because he was jaded or because he had been dealt a particularly rough set of ministry cards. He said it because it’s true. It was true for them, it’s true for us. But why is it that we must go through many hardships or pass through many troubles on our way to our glorious future in heaven?

There are a quite a few reasons given in the New Testament. But, fundamentally we remember that we live out this life in a fallen world, ruled by the enemy of God, who wants to extinguish God’s light.

Well then, why doesn’t God just exempt His people from suffering the way He did with some of the plagues in Egypt? The land of Goshen wasn’t subject to all those terrible things. Sometimes they had a supernatural shield blocking any ill effects.

God’s Word explains that suffering, though not caused by God, is useful in our development and sanctification. It can act as a refining work, purifying and strengthening us. Making us more able to do greater spiritual work. It can be used to prepare us to help others. It can be used to show God’s might and His glory.

We understand that strain and pressure and hardship can lead to an accomplishment that couldn’t have been achieved otherwise. You’re not going to beat Mario Brothers without jumping all the hurdles, smashing all the koopa troopas, and dodging fireballs. Or, here’s a more serious example: If you want to make a Marine, you can’t do so just by saying to a random person on the street: You’re a Marine! But take that same person off the street, put them through the rigor of training, the challenges of the crucible, and they come out as something they weren’t before.

Paul explained to these believes that, to operate as Christians behind enemy lines, they would need strengthening and equipment. He gave them supports to be able to continue living the Christian life. How? By continuing in the faith. It’s said quickly here, fleshed out more in passages like Colossians 1:23, where we learn that continuing in the faith means to believe the truth and stand firmly in it. To not drift away from the teach of Scripture. To not grow weary in doing good. And to rely on the grace of God, day by day. As each morning dawns, we rise to exercise our faith as active disciples.

Acts 14:23 – 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

For individual Christians to grow and be discipled they needed a local church. It was true then, it’s still true today. Paul believed in the local church. Not just a general idea that I, individually, am part of Christ’s Body universal. We are, individually members of Christ’s Body. But Paul, with what little time he had, wanted these young Christians to know that they needed a vibrant, organized, local congregation, with leaders and responsibilities and a unified devotion to the Lord. He and Barnabas took this organization process seriously. They prayed and fasted. Sometimes, in other places, Paul would leave one of his companions (like Titus or Timothy) to pastor in a place where, apparently, there wasn’t someone else ready to take it on.

Having established an organized fellowship, he “committed them to the Lord.” There’s a sweetness embedded here. Another way to say it is that he “turned them over to the care of the Lord.” And what a tender care it is. Albert Barnes writes: “They were feeble, inexperienced, and exposed to dangers; but in [the Lord’s] hands they were safe.”
From Paul’s perspective there’s also a loving affection in the words. The term is one that can “implies the confiding trust of one who commits what is very precious to him to the keeping of another.”

The verse closes by saying that it was in Christ whom they had believed. Not a man. Not a method. Not a brand or a slogan. The Lord Jesus was their object and focus, their Friend and Shepherd.

This scene also demonstrates that when Paul set up a church, it was meant to function in an independent, self-sufficient, self-governing way. Of course, there was a brotherhood among the churches. We’ve already seen that when those in Antioch sent aid to those in Judea. And, next up, we’ll see the Jerusalem Council, which had implications for all believers, but as a congregation, they were localized.

And that makes perfect sense. Because if we compare Derbe to Lystra or Antioch to Jerusalem, there are completely different peoples and circumstances in each place. All are under the same Lord, all have the same ultimate goals and values. But the function, the operation, the emphasis and the forms are going to vary place to place, just like your hand compared to your stomach.

Acts 14:24-25 – 24 They passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 After they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

Very little is reported here, although I’m sure a lot happened. We know that there had been some folks from Pamphylia at Pentecost back in Acts 2. Whether they had returned or not, we can’t say.

Acts 14:26 – 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.

On the trip back Paul and Barnabas bypassed Cyprus. We don’t know why. It’s altogether possible that on this sea voyage from Attalia to Antioch they experienced one of the shipwrecks we know about in Paul’s life. One is at the end of Acts, but there were at least 3 others.

But now, after around 2 years, they’re finally back at home with their friends and brothers in Antioch, who had sent them out on this trip. We’re reminded here they had been commended to the grace of God. Paul and Barnabas had been commended to go, the believers in the Galatians churches were commended to stay. God has a lot of different kinds of work for his people. And that is a wonderful thing. Either way, they were commended to the loving grace of God.

But, wait a minute! Think back on what we’ve been reading. Apparently God’s “grace” for Paul included beatings and running for his life and being killed! That’s true. That was the job. That was the work he had been set apart for.

Years ago, the television show Dirty Jobs was a big hit. I remember watching it sometimes and, while being horrified at some of the incredible things people do, I was at the same time glad that someone was willing to do the work. Paul was willing, and for that we are thankful.

But now, we’re told, the work was “completed.” That’s an interesting thing to say. Weren’t there more people in Galatia? Weren’t there more towns without churches. Yes there were. But, as far as God was concerned, the specific assignment that He had set apart Paul and Barnabas for back in Acts 13:2 was over. That particular ministry was done. Paul could’ve stayed or pressed on to other cities, but it wouldn’t have been the Lord’s leading.

Sometimes particular ministries come to an end. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean we have failed or God has failed. Later, Paul will get a sequel to the trip. The Lord will lead him to head back to some of these places. And then, some places Paul really wanted to go to, God would say, “No. You may not.” But the example here, again, shows how much we need to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Not just the leading to start something, but also the leading of when to stop something.

Of course, even though this mission was over, Paul wasn’t done. He didn’t hang up his spurs. He simply started another chapter of ministry, once again in the calm and relief of Antioch.

Acts 14:27 – 27 After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

Open door is a term you’ve probably heard in Christian circles. It was a phrase Paul would use a number of times, he seemed to like it. Jesus seemed to like it too, He used it in one of His letters in The Revelation. There are different ways the image is used. Here it’s that the door of faith was open to the Gentiles. The door to God’s house was open. Simultaneously, we know that God Himself had left heaven to knock on the door of the hearts of each man and woman, in hopes that they would open up their own doors and invite Him in.

What doors are open for us as Christians in Hanford? Using Antioch as an example, I think we can learn that by talking to one another about the things God has done for us, we might discover what doors have opened before us as a local fellowship of believers in this time and place.

There’s a sweet wording there in verse 27: They reported everything God had done with them. Not what they had done for God, but what they did together, as God walked with them as a Friend and Guide and Sustainer. We can also think of it as how they had been used by the Lord for glorious purposes. He, taking imperfect human vessels, and doing eternal work with them. That’s what the Lord wants to do with us, too. He wants to do it with us, together, in intimate communion, as we trust Him and operate in grace.

Acts 14:28 – 28 And they spent a considerable time with the disciples.

It’s good to see that Paul wasn’t discontent. He wasn’t guided by wanderlust. “Let’s just do something new and exciting.” He was content to be on the field or back at home base. And he made himself a faithful servant in each setting. He was as ministry minded in Antioch of Syria or Antioch of Pisidia. That is an admirable maturity. Because there’s always something else we could be focused on, some potential, some “one-day,” but, at the same time, there are opportunities and lives right in front of us that we can spend ourselves in.

There’s always plenty of gardening to do in God’s vineyard. It can be done when circumstances are stacked against us or if they’re favorable. It can be done whether we’re among friends or strangers. It can be done when we find ourselves in danger or in safety. Cozy at home or far away. Wherever God has led us, we can cultivate His work in our own lives and in those around us. We can fan the flame and be used for something special as we continue in the faith, with one another in the local church, finding open doors and passing through them.

I’m Pitted By Fools (Psalm 69)

1.82 seconds.

It is the current pit stop record time in Grand Prix Racing. The feat was accomplished by the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Crew, in Brazil, in November 2019. It was the third time they had set a new record.

(In case you were wondering, the average pit stop takes 2.4 seconds).

Pit stops are essential. Just ask Lightning McQueen. His refusal to pit cost him the Piston Cup and forced another race.

There is a “pit” stop in Psalm 69. Listen as I read a selection from the verses: “I sink in deep mire, Where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, Where the floods overflow me. Deliver me out of the mire, And let me not sink; Let me be delivered… out of the deep waters. Let not the floodwater overflow me, Nor let the deep swallow me up; And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.”

It sounds like he was thrown into a hollowed-out rock reservoir called a cistern. Run-off and rain water would collect in it, creating mud, muck, and mire on the bottom. The sides were too slimy to climb. If the water was deep enough, a person thrown in would drown.

I’m guessing none among us has been thrown into a cistern. Nevertheless, we often use these images to describe our troubles:

We say, “I’m drowning in debt.”
We say, “I’m stuck in the mire.”
We say, “I feel like I’m sinking.”
We say, “I’m in deep waters.”
We say, “I’m being swallowed up.”
We say, “I’m up to my neck.”

When you find yourself “in the pits,” Psalm 69 will be a sustaining read. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 You Can’t Avoid Your Pit Stops, but #2 You Will Arise From Your Pit Starts.

#1 – You Can’t Avoid Your Pit Stops (v1-12)

There is a thread of research among scholars that this psalm was not written by David about an incident in his life. They say it was written much later, about an incident involving the prophet Jeremiah.

In the 6th century BC, Jeremiah delivered God’s Word to rebellious Judah – “Surrender to Babylon.”

It wasn’t received. Among his many persecutions, Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern. One of those scholars I alluded to points out,

This whole psalm could certainly be prayed in Jeremiah’s voice. It seems to be a summary of Jeremiah’s suffering. He was thrown into a cistern and sank in its muck. His own family plotted against him. He suffered shame and disgrace for God’s sake. He plead for God’s vengeance against his enemies.

The collected psalms span centuries. They were not compiled as we know them until after the Babylonian captivity, in the 3rd century BC. We can’t say for certain, but I lean towards Psalm 69 being about Jeremiah. If not, his experience in the pit is exemplary of anyone’s.

Psa 69:1  To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Lilies.” A Psalm of David. Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.

The designation, “A psalm of David,” is traditional, and important; but it is not inspired. Someone else could have written this song to the popular tune of “The Lilies.”

He was “neck deep,” no exaggerating. He thought he was going to drown.

Whether it was Jeremiah, or David, or some other saint, our first lesson is that in the world we will have tribulation. Expect it. It isn’t some strange thing.

Psa 69:2  I sink in deep mire, Where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, Where the floods overflow me.

The “mire” was so deep that his feet could not touch anything solid.

One translation uses the term “swamp water” instead of “floods.” He was treading thick, murky water.

Psa 69:3  I am weary with my crying; My throat is dry; My eyes fail while I wait for my God.

His crying was that whole-body sobbing you do in deep sorrow. Throat dry from loudly crying out. “My eyes fail” in that they’d be full of muck.

There was no escape from a cistern. Only God could “save” him; so he must “wait.”

Psa 69:4  Those who hate me without a cause Are more than the hairs of my head; They are mighty who would destroy me, Being my enemies wrongfully; Though I have stolen nothing, I still must restore it.

A lot of powerful people opposed him. He was in the right, but was treated as a criminal.
It was as if he were being accused of robbery but, being innocent, he had nothing to restore.

Psa 69:5  O God, You know my foolishness; And my sins are not hidden from You.
Psa 69:6  Let not those who wait for You, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed because of me; Let not those who seek You be confounded because of me, O God of Israel.
Psa 69:7  Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; Shame has covered my face.

God was using him despite his own shortcomings. Your shortcomings – they are no excuse for tapping out of the spiritual battle.

In his pit, he was genuinely concerned that believers not be stumbled, but that they would understand it was for the Lord that he was afflicted. Testimony is important.

Psa 69:8  I have become a stranger to my brothers, And an alien to my mother’s children;
Many of you, upon being born-again of the Spirit, were rejected by those you are related to by your first, physical birth. It’s a deep-pit experience.

Psa 69:9  Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

Jeremiah often preached just outside the Temple. It was his spot, so to speak.

When Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple courts at the beginning of His ministry, His disciples remembered this very passage (John 2:17).

Jesus had Jeremiah-like sorrows. His family rejected Him, at one point thinking Him insane.

Psa 69:10  When I wept and chastened my soul with fasting, That became my reproach.
Psa 69:11  I also made sackcloth my garment…

“Fasting” was prompted not by discipline but by distress. He didn’t feel like eating.

“Sackcloth” was a goats-hair outer garment signifying mourning.

Psa 69:11 … I became a byword to them.
Psa 69:12  Those who sit in the gate speak against me, And I am the song of the drunkards.

Think of “byword” as an ancient meme. The Jews would apply this man’s name or his words to things to have a good laugh. Men sat “in the gate” for a time each day to hear quarrels or to conduct business. The singer of this song was derided there. At night, the “drunkards” sung crude lyrics about him.

Three pit-points emerge:

Only God can “save” you.
You’re asked to “wait” for God to “save” you.
You “bear [His] reproach” by maintaining your testimony while you “wait” for God to “save” you.

#2 – You Can Arise From Your Pit Starts (v13-36)

Lightning McQueen had an odd pit crew in the Piston Cup showdown. The other crews made fun of them. After a bump by Chick Hicks caused two flats, McQueen had to pit under a yellow flag. He limped in.

Guido was up for the task, completing the 4-tire change in what announcer Bob Cutlass called “the fastest pit stop I’ve ever seen.”

McQueen then made the most of his pit start… And so will we if we rely upon the Lord.

Psa 69:13  But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD, in the acceptable time; O God, in the multitude of Your mercy, Hear me in the truth of Your salvation.

There is a time for prayer to be answered by God. However long, or short, it should be “acceptable” to the saint praying.
Because we are saved, God will answer out of the “multitude of [His] mercy.”

Have you discovered that God has different mercies? Or we could say, mercy is revealed to us in many different ways:

Jeremiah wrote, in Lamentations, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (3:22-23). We’ll call these “new-every-morning mercies.”

There are tender mercies: Psalm 25:6, “Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, For they are from of old.” Tender mercies occurs twenty-four times in the Bible.

Nehemiah 9:19 says, “Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go.”

There are great mercies – Isaiah 54:7, “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you.”

Isaiah 55:3 mentions “sure mercies.”

God’s various mercies cannot be understood apart from experiencing them. How many have you experienced?

Some mercies may not be listed in the Bible. C.S. Lewis spoke of “severe mercies.” He coined the term in reference to the Lord allowing a believing wife to die in order that her nonbelieving husband might see beyond earthly love to God’s agape.

Psa 69:14  Deliver me out of the mire, And let me not sink; Let me be delivered from those who hate me, And out of the deep waters.
Psa 69:15  Let not the floodwater overflow me, Nor let the deep swallow me up; And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.

Good pit prayer. One thing that struck me: The lyricist had become intimately acquainted with life in a cistern. He could describe it to the proverbial “T.” Get to know your troubles. Experience them fully. As some would say, own them. Lewis also said, “Where we find difficulty we may always expect that a discovery awaits us.”

I was going to title this message, Pit Boss. Learn to live in your pits like a boss.

Psa 69:16  Hear me, O LORD, for Your lovingkindness is good; Turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
Psa 69:17  And do not hide Your face from Your servant, For I am in trouble; Hear me speedily.
Psa 69:18  Draw near to my soul, and redeem it; Deliver me because of my enemies.

God’s “lovingkindness” is not simply “good.” It is better than life, we are told elsewhere.
Again with His “tender mercies.”

Psa 69:19  You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor; My adversaries are all before You.
Psa 69:20  Reproach has broken my heart, And I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; And for comforters, but I found none.

Can you stand alone in your troubles? Can I? Avengers: Endgame builds to that terrific epic scene when a battered Captain America snaps on his shattered shield to stand alone against the forces of evil.

Can you stand alone? With only the Lord as your shield? You can’t know until your after-pit restart.

Psa 69:21  They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

As a prisoner prior to the pit, this saint was treated poorly.

This is another line in Psalm 69 that is referred to in the New Testament. On the cross they gave Jesus vinegar to drink. This is described in Matthew 27:34; John 19:28-29 is even more clear with John adding that this was done that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Psa 69:22  Let their table become a snare before them, And their well-being a trap.
Psa 69:23  Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually.
Psa 69:24  Pour out Your indignation upon them, And let Your wrathful anger take hold of them.
Psa 69:25  Let their dwelling place be desolate; Let no one live in their tents.
Psa 69:26  For they persecute the ones You have struck, And talk of the grief of those You have wounded.
Psa 69:27  Add iniquity to their iniquity, And let them not come into Your righteousness.

Once again we find ourselves dealing with an imprecatory – the calling down of curses on enemies. Our approach is to see these statements as confirming the final destiny of nonbelievers. They won’t “come into [God’s] righteousness” in the after life. In this life, they are like Pharaoh in the Exodus – hardening their hearts despite God’s mercies.

Psa 69:28  Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, And not be written with the righteous.

In Revelation chapter twenty we’re told that, at the resurrection of the wicked dead, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (v11&12&15).

There are various ways to understand “The Book of the Living,” or “The Book of Life.” It seems to be the census of every human life. All names of all people are in it. If you die in unrighteousness, having not believed God, your name is removed. You are then judged according to your works. Your works cannot save you; you must be cast into Hell.

Psa 69:29  But I am poor and sorrowful; Let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high.

In contrast to the nonbeliever, the believer knows their wretchedness before God. They trust in His “salvation,” in God declaring us righteous thanks to Jesus. We are “set up on high” – now and forever.

Psa 69:30  I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.
Psa 69:31  This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bull, Which has horns and hooves.

You emerge from pits a better living sacrifice.

Your relationship with the Lord is more intimate after the pit. You realize that what God wants is not your works, but to walk with you.

Psa 69:32  The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
Psa 69:33  For the LORD hears the poor, And does not despise His prisoners.

The apostle Paul, when in prison, called himself the prisoner of the Lord. If God was willing to let him stay incarcerated, so be it.

If God is willing to leave you in the pit, you are the pitted of the Lord.

Psa 69:34  Let heaven and earth praise Him, The seas and everything that moves in them.

One day this will be our reality. The real “new normal.”

The plan God announced in Genesis to save mankind and to restore creation comes to completion in the Revelation. By His providence, God keeps the plan progressing.

Psa 69:35  For God will save Zion And build the cities of Judah, That they may dwell there and possess it.
Psa 69:36  Also, the descendants of His servants shall inherit it, And those who love His name shall dwell in it.

Verse thirty-five: Sounds like the Millennial Kingdom. Jesus ruling the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem.

Verse thirty-six: Sounds like Eternity. “Descendants” of believers, both Jew and Gentile, dwelling forever in the restored earth, with New Jerusalem as the brilliant gem of a city.

Maybe you’re having a hard time relating your troubles to a cistern. You’ve got lots of other such figurative spots:

Noah had the Ark.
Moses floated in a basket with crocs.
Daniel had the lions den.
Daniel’s three companions had the fiery furnace.
Belly of a great fish more to your liking?
In the Book of Hebrews we read of believers hiding in dens and in caves

No pit; no pit start:

There would be no intimate experience of God’s lovingkindness and of His mercies.
There would be no opportunity for the unrighteous to see themselves as God does.
You would never be sure that God is your sufficiency.
There would be no song to sing.