Psalm 129 – The Back Beat Boys

Pam & I saw Jaws when it was released in June of 1975. That was an era in which you watched movies in theaters, one time.

Fifteen years later, Jaws was the first movie on DVD we ever bought.

Perfect – we thought – for Family Movie Night with our kids, who were around 12 & 9.

Obviously our memories about its content were a little fuzzy. I remember one of us telling them, “You’ll love it. It’s not that violent. Only one or two people die.”

One of them is Ben Gardner. When Hooper finds Ben Gardener’s abandoned boat, and looks in the gash in its hull, he finds Ben. He finds his head, that is, floating by, in an unexpected jump scene.

For the record: It’s five people who die brutal, bloody deaths. It averages one horrific death every 26 minutes. Not to mention the suspense.

(Fans argue over whether or not Pipit the dog was eaten. If so, his death is mercifully off-screen).

Our kids insist that the horrific images of shark kills are forever etched in their minds. It’s become a standing joke in our family.

If you’ve ever heard one of us say something like, “Only one or two people die,” it’s sarcasm, and that’s what we are referring to.

You know where else you find horrific images? In the Bible:

Judges 19:29 When he entered his house he took a knife, laid hold of his concubine, and divided her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.

Second Kings 6:28-29 Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.”

One of the most horrific of all the biblical images summarizes the historic affliction of the nation of Israel by the devil:

Rev 12:1  Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.
Rev 12:2  Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
Rev 12:3  And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.
Rev 12:4  His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.
Rev 12:5  She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.
Rev 12:6  Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

These “signs” are identified for us in the Bible:

The woman is the nation of Israel.
The dragon is Satan.
The Child is Jesus.

It graphically depicts centuries of Satanic opposition against Israel to prevent the birth of their Savior. Despite which, Jesus was born, and is in Heaven, victorious over Satan and his “third of the stars of Heaven” army of fallen angels.

Psalm 129 invited the Jews on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to look back upon their storied history of affliction. To recall the many horrors the nation had endured.

It was a look of victory, as they joined voices and sang, “Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth; Yet they have not prevailed against me.”

The worst is yet to come upon Israel in the future Great Tribulation. Once again they will sing, “Yet they have not prevailed against me.”

Afflictions are something the Lord’s church has, and will, experience until He removes us from the earth. That’s our point of contact with this psalm; that’s how it will apply to us. We want to sing, everyday, “Yet they have not prevailed against us.”

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 In Your Afflictions You Can Praise, and #2 Against Your Afflicters You You Will Prevail.

#1 – In Your Afflictions You Can Praise (v1-4)

An article posted by Business Insider was titled, The coronavirus pandemic is fueling anti-Semitism around the world, and the US is no exception.

“The global crisis has breathed new life into centuries-old rhetoric that blames Jews for the spread of disease and economic downturns.

“An example of that bubbled up in the United States as recently as Saturday. In an echo of Nazi propaganda, protesters at an Ohio rally held signs depicting a rat donning a Star of David and yarmulke that read “the real plague.”

CNN posted this not-fake-news article, Coronavirus lockdowns are fueling an ‘explosion’ of anti-Semitism online.

It’s Satanic. Zola Levitt wrote, “For thousands of years Satan has demonstrated an intense and insatiable drive to completely eliminate the Jewish people.” He offers this explanation:

For 4000 years the Jewish people have faced relentless persecution, opposition, and attempts to annihilate and destroy them; and in the future, the struggle against Israel continues. If it concerned any other people, this campaign would seem totally irrational and insane. However, with Israel, a rational but very Satanic strategy sustains this animosity.

For Satan, the destruction of Israel is a matter of self-preservation. Ultimately, the survival of Israel results in the eternal perdition of Satan. When Israel repents and nationally invites the Lord Jesus Christ to be its own Redeemer – Messiah, that generation of Israel will be saved, and Satan’s plan to destroy the Jews will be finally defeated. Jesus Christ will return to the Earth, destroy the satanic antiChrist and his armies at Armageddon, establish His Kingdom over Israel and the world for 1000 years, and then cast the still rebellious Satan into the Lake of Fire forever and ever.

Notwithstanding all her afflictions, Psalm 129 was a call to praise, knowing they will prevail.

Psa 129:1  A Song of Ascents. “Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth,” Let Israel now say,
Psa 129:2  “Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth; Yet they have not prevailed against me.

The worship leader began the song, inviting all those gathered to respond. As one instrument; as one voice; they directed their praise to the LORD.

They weren’t simply putting a positive spin on their afflictions. They understood that in a fallen world, behind which rages a cosmic spiritual war, the people of God were going to be the high-value targets.

We must understand that, too. The world hated Jesus; it will hate His followers. In the world we will have tribulation, Jesus acknowledged. Not just the normal troubles everyone encounters in a fallen world. We will be targeted because we follow the Lord.

Behind this 10th of the 15 “Songs of Ascent” is God’s providence. No matter the afflicters or the afflictions, God provided for Israel’s continuation. From Genesis to the Revelation, He is behind the scenes, working.

In remarkable episodes, He injects Himself into Israel’s history without violating anyone’s free will.

When was Israel “young?” In Egypt, where God would deliver millions of them from slavery and establish them as His nation. Their backs were indeed viciously whipped.

Egypt… Assyria… Babylon… Persia… Greece… Rome… The Nazi’s. All of these afflicted the Jews. They remain. Thus they could and can sing, “Yet they have not prevailed against me.”

God will prevail against your enemies. If it doesn’t seem that way now, it will in your future. We are a future-oriented people. Our look is heavenward. We are looking toward the finish line.

Every year there’s a report or two about a jogger getting attacked by a cougar along their route. The animal comes out of nowhere, going for the throat.

1 Peter 5:8  Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

Psa 129:3  The plowers plowed on my back; They made their furrows long.”

Psalm 129 will draw its comparisons from farming to get its point across. Here the psalmist compares their being whipped by cruel taskmasters to plowing a field. It was as if their backs were the field being plowed, deeply, painfully, horribly. It’s meant to be a horrific image. It’s rated R for gore.

People tend to look upon this kind of affliction as a reason to abandon their belief in God. To heap blame upon Him for what seems to be inaction.

The psalmist had a much different analysis:

Psa 129:4  The LORD is righteous; He has cut in pieces the cords of the wicked.

“The LORD is righteous” is a shout-out that, whatever you think about afflictions, yours or others, God is not to blame. He is righteous. He “cut[s] in pieces the cords of the wicked.”

I know that I refer to them often, but Daniel’s three friends – Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego – embody this worldview. When threatened with death-by-furnace, they answered, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

That is what is means to “prevail” thanks to God’s righteousness. It is seeing the world realistically as it is described by the Bible. We are going to be afflicted for our relationship with Jesus. Our afflicter, ultimately, is a twisted fallen angel who is depicted as a beast wanting to eat a newborn baby.

Our other enemies are sin and death. Jesus conquered them all on the Cross. No matter what, we can sing, “Yet they have not prevailed against me.”

If you are in Christ, you prevail against afflictions. Might as well do so with praise.

#2 – Against Your Afflicters, You Will Prevail (v5-8)

Epic fails caught on video can be awfully entertaining. It’s hard to believe people can be that stupid.

We can’t help but think that to “prevail” means we will be kept safe in the fiery furnace, hanging out with Jesus, released from it without even having the smell of smoke on our clothes. Or that the lions won’t tear us apart. Or that we will be sprung from prison.

If a believer is burned-up, or torn apart, or left to rot in prison… Well those seem like epic fails, not prevails.

We tend to ignore the passage in Hebrews chapter eleven that says, “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented… They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (v36-38).

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Of Himself the LORD said, “For I am the LORD, I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6).

At the same time, there are different dispensations when the LORD is dealing differently with His people. We like to quickly illustrate it by asking, “Why didn’t you bring a lamb to sacrifice?” It’s because we are not under the Law, but under grace. We are not Israel; we are the church, and we are in what can be called the Church Age.

(I want to add that, in every dispensation or age, salvation is the same: not by any works, but by faith).

When Jesus was on the earth, for the three-and-one-half years of His ministry, we are told that His miracles, healings, and exorcisms, “which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

While it is true that miracles, healings, and exorcisms most certainly occur in the Church Age, you must admit they are infrequent. It isn’t because the church is failing. It is because the Church Age is characterized by displays of God’s power in our weakness.

If you don’t want to fully embrace that truth, you must at least acknowledge that the folks in Hebrews chapter eleven we referenced as being afflicted are every bit as spiritual as those earlier in the chapter who enjoyed miraculous escapades and escapes.

Now and later, we prevail over our afflicters – the devil and his angels, and the nonbelievers who do his will whether they know it or not.

Back to our pilgrims in Jerusalem…

Psa 129:5  Let all those who hate Zion Be put to shame and turned back.

Two things jump out at us:

Israel expected to be hated.
Israel expected to be assaulted by those who would need to be turned back.

Psa 129:6  Let them be as the grass on the housetops, Which withers before it grows up,

If you have an older shake roof, it’s not unusual for grasses and weeds to grow on it. In Israel the roofs were flat and they would get this same kind of growth. Those seeds can’t root deeply, so they wither in the hot sun.

I listed earlier some of the nations that afflicted Israel. Historically, they sprung up quickly, but have not survived as world powers.

Psa 129:7  With which the reaper does not fill his hand, Nor he who binds sheaves, his arms.

Continuing with the comparison, this is a statement of confidence that Israel will take root and be brought in as a harvest to the LORD.

In Zechariah 12:10 we read, “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

The apostle Paul said of Israel’s future, “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “THE DELIVERER WILL COME OUT OF ZION, AND HE WILL TURN AWAY UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB; FOR THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS” (Romans 11:26-27).

Modern Israel is nothing less than a miracle. It is the fulfillment of many prophecies. Israel must be in the Promised Land in order for Jesus to return and for them to recognize and receive Him as Messiah.

Psa 129:8  Neither let those who pass by them say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you; We bless you in the name of the LORD!”

Harvesting in their fields, the Jews would work alongside the fields of their neighbors.

They would exchange greetings like, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you.” That greeting might be answered by, “We bless you in the Name of the LORD.”

We need to have a stronger greeting-game. I’m just as guilty at asking. “How are you?” as I rush by you, not really wanting to spend that kind of time. “How are you?” is more like the first line in a counseling session.

Remembering that we are reading a song of praise, perhaps the big finish here is that one-half of the worshippers sing, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you.” Then the other half sings, “We bless you in the Name of the LORD.”

Maybe they went back-and-forth several times, getting louder each time. I’m dwelling on this for a moment to remind us that the psalm started with a recollection of their awful afflictions. The Jews could recall sufferings as the context for extolling God’s righteousness.

In this Church Age, if you are in Christ, you have two options:

Option #1 – You will die, leaving your corruptible physical body behind to await its resurrection. You – your spirit – will be conscious and alive in the presence of Jesus, in Heaven. We are assured that to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord.

Option #2 – You will be alive when Jesus returns to resurrect the dead from the Church Age. You will not experience death, but instead be immediately transformed and in your incorruptible, immortal, eternal body.

I’d say that is “prevailing” over your afflicters.

Your future is the context within which you prevail today no matter your afflicters and the afflictions they heap upon you.

Their future is why you must have compassion upon them, making a difference:

Rev 20:11  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.
Rev 20:12  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.
Rev 20:13  The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
Rev 20:14  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Rev 20:15  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

Prophecy Update #629 – It’s Ultron With No Avengers

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 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 fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect in light of the Bible’s unfulfilled prophecies.

There is an intriguing passage in the Revelation about an idol, a guy we call the false prophet, and the Beast – another name of the antichrist.

Apparently an image of the Beast is going to come to “life”:

Rev 13:14  And [the false prophet] deceives those who dwell on the earth – by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.
Rev 13:15  He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.

It sounds a lot like what we would call Artificial Intelligence; AI for short.

Elon Musk is at the forefront of AI. We’ve reported on his brain-interface company, NeuralLink, in previous updates. A recent article was titled, Elon Musk trots out pigs in demo of NeuraLink brain implants.

Excerpts:

Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface company NeuraLink showcased a pig outfitted with the company’s device, at an event livestreamed on YouTube.

The design of the Neuralink device has changed since it was unveiled last year, rendering the device itself hard to see on Gertrude. It is now coin-shaped, and meant to sit flush with the skull, rather than having a small module resting near the ear.

It’s “like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” Musk said. The device can pair with a smartphone app over Bluetooth Low Energy, he said.

… the most important thing the device might be able to do, Musk said, would be to let people achieve what he calls “AI symbiosis,” which allows the human brain to merge with an artificial intelligence.

“Such that the future of the world is controlled by the combined will of the people of Earth – I think that that’s obviously gonna be the future that we want,” he said.

https://www.theverge.com/2020/8/28/21406143/elon-musk-neuralink-ai-pigs-demo-brain-computer-interface

It’s interesting that the passage in the Bible says, “those who dwell on the earth… make an image to the beast,” and Musk says, “the controlled will of the people” is best served by AI.

Musk is on record, calling AI humanity’s “biggest existential threat” and comparing it to “summoning the demon.” He and others – like the late Stephen Hawking – are concerned AI will quickly surpass humans and take over, like they do in every SyFy show.

While we are on the subject of AI, let’s recall an end times prophecy by Daniel. He was told, “shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (12:4). In terms of knowledge increasing, listen to this:

A sudden and unexpected AI “intelligence explosion” might take an unprepared human race by surprise. To illustrate, if the first generation of a computer program able to broadly match the effectiveness of an AI researcher is able to rewrite its algorithms and double its speed or capabilities in six months, then the second-generation program is expected to take three calendar months to perform a similar chunk of work. In this scenario the time for each generation continues to shrink, and the system undergoes an unprecedentedly large number of generations of improvement in a short time interval, jumping from subhuman performance in many areas to superhuman.

Superhuman AI. It’s Ultron but there are no Avengers.

We’re not saying the image of the Beast will involve AI. We’re saying that developments like AI are what you’d expect from reading your Bible.

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

A Star Is Born (Acts 18:18-28)

Researchers, like those at the University of Calgary, estimate that each year 150 billion new stars are born in our universe. Closer to home, NASA calculates that the Milky Way Galaxy is producing about a half dozen new stars each year. Dr. Roland Diehl, a physicist that studies these sorts of things, says: “Our galaxy isn’t the biggest producer of stars…in the universe, but there’s still plenty of activity.”

In our text tonight, we might say a star is born. He’s not a major character in the New Testament, but he’s one we remember – Apollos, the silver-tongued preacher who would ultimately do a great amount of work and find his name listed among church leaders like Paul and Peter. He shined brightly for the Lord in Asia Minor and Greece and I’m sure many other places.

But, what we find in our verses is that he was just one individual being used by God – one star in a growing constellation of Christians who were shining the light of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. So much of Acts is dedicated to the movements of Paul and what God accomplished through him. Tonight, he’s on the move again. In fact, this is one of those sections where Luke covers a huge amount of ground in a very small number of words. Paul’s second missionary journey ends in verse 22 but Luke moves on to his third journey already in verse 23.

But it’s not just about Paul. Throughout the story we see others in each place. As we read, there’s a theme of brotherhood and connection. We see the Christian family cooperating and expanding, but also people growing in their faith and their understanding and usefulness. The second half of Acts is largely about Paul but it’s not only about Paul. Because the Church isn’t a basketball team, where you have a few superstars and then a few other guys and then support staff and then that’s the end of the list. The Church is a family and every one of us who is a Christian, whether we’ve just been born into the faith a few days ago or have been in it for 80 years, each of us is a part of what God is doing, a light shining in the darkness of our world.

So, let’s get into it, starting at verse 18. When we left off, Paul had spent at least a year and a half in the Greek city of Corinth.

Acts 18:18 – 18 After staying for some time, Paul said farewell to the brothers and sisters and sailed away to Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He shaved his head at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.

It was unusual for Paul to be able to spend so much time in one place. Sometimes he was only in a city for a few days before having to run for his life. But his long stay with the Corinthians had come to and end. Why? We don’t know for sure, other than that God’s call on Paul’s life was not to stay planted in one place, but to go here and there as a mobile preacher of grace. The timing was up the Holy Spirit. And we’ll see in these verses that Paul was sensitive to the will of God when it came to when he stayed somewhere and when he moved on. We’re reminded of that comforting but significant phrase in Psalm 31:15, “My times are in [His] hands.” Other translations say it this way: “The course of my life is in your power,” (CSB) or “My future is in Your hands.” (NLT)

We notice, right from the start, that family feel. Paul said farewell to them as “brothers and sisters.” And though these Christians in Corinth would later be a cause of heart hurt for him, he always thought of them as family.

We see that Paul’s friends Priscilla and Aquila came with him. We talked about this couple a bit last time, but let’s focus in on this: Going with Paul, they had to close up shop again and step out into the unknown. They had already been driven out of Rome. They had to start all over there in Corinth. And now, they found themselves on a ship sailing again. I doubt that they were able to take all their tools and inventory to make for a soft landing in Syria. But they did it for the Lord and the Gospel. It’s a very good thing they did, but it certainly wouldn’t have made financial sense at the time.

Jesus once said:

Matthew 10:29-30 – “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.”

Now what about this vow? My, oh my do commentators get into a tizzy. First there’s the argument over whether Luke is speaking about Paul or Aquila shaving his head. Then there’s the argument over what kind of vow it was. Some say it was a Nazarite vow, others say it wasn’t. Some say it was an act of profound thankfulness to God, others say it was a failure in Paul’s life. One commentator we really love calls it a “deliberate sin” and believes this to be “the beginning of the end for Paul.”

We simply don’t know what this vow was about. It seems pretty clear that Luke had Paul as the subject. But we’re given no consequential or editorial data about this act. Paul wasn’t a perfect man. He called himself the chief of sinners, after all. But we also know that he was, at times, the lone defender of the Gospel of grace. He was the champion of Christian liberty from the Law of Moses.

Rather than argue the merits, since we simply don’t have all the information, for me it was a good reminder that Paul had a deep and active personal relationship with the Lord. It wasn’t all public. He had more than a theological relationship with God or professional exercise of his Christianity. He was speaking to His Lord one on one. Being moved to acts of devotion that we’ll never know about. Things that didn’t have to do with his official job in the church. He was growing all the time and we want to be Christians like that.

Acts 18:19 – 19 When they reached Ephesus he left them there, but he himself entered the synagogue and debated with the Jews.

We learn in Romans that there was already an established church in Cenchreae and so the trio hop over to the city of Ephesus. Paul is in a hurry, but he sets aside a morning to go and preach to some of his countrymen. Hopefully we’re never too busy to do ministry when the opportunity arises. Paul isn’t going to stay, but he had time to do the work of an evangelist that Saturday.

We’re told he “left” Priscilla and Aquila there. We don’t have all the conversations, but it reads as though Paul directed them to stay. We remember that Paul had apostolic authority and this faithful, Christian couple were willing to submit to his leadership, even though he may have started out as their employee and even though some scholars think that Priscilla was a member of nobility. They were humble and flexible and, because of that, they’re going to be very useful in a little bit.

Acts 18:20-21 – 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he declined, 21 but he said farewell and added, “I’ll come back to you again, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.

It must have been a strange sensation for Paul to be asked to stay. That’s not how it usually happened. But in his decision we see a good snapshot of his ministry mindset. First of all, if Paul was numbers oriented, he would’ve stayed. Ephesus is a big city, an important city. Conventional wisdom would say ‘strike while the iron’s hot.’ But Paul said no. He wasn’t motivated by numbers of followers or those sorts of metrics that are so prevalent in Church culture today. We also see that he believed God should set the course of ministry. His goal was not to hit a certain number of cities per year or plant a certain number of churches, but simply to be in God’s will. Because, third, he trusted God to do what was right and best in each of these places. God had a heart for Ephesus. So did Paul, but not as much as God. So he was content to allow the Master to send him out into the harvest into whatever corners and avenues of the vineyard that the Master saw fit.

Acts 18:22 – 22 On landing at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, then went down to Antioch.

Luke covers a lot of ground here. Surely, each of these stops would’ve included great stories of God’s power. But that’s not the Holy Spirit’s focus in these verses. Instead we’re seeing place after place that either a work is getting started or there are established Christians living out their faith.

We started in Corinth where there were many believers whose lives had been dramatically transformed. Then to Cenchreae where a church had been started. On to Ephesus where something new was just beginning and Christian operatives were left to get things up and running. To Caesarea where people like Philip the Evangelist lived and Cornelius with his household. Preachers and saints ministering to the soldiers of Rome and the people on the coast. To Jerusalem where there were apostles and many others who walked with Jesus. Then to Antioch, Paul’s home church, full of faith and prayer and mission. A blend of Jews and Gentiles all together in the family of God.

In the darkness of the world, everywhere we turn we see constellations of believers lighting up. New stars being born, others shining as brightly as ever. Not because there was 1 man doing something, but countless people all functioning as the Body of Christ wherever they found themselves.

Paul had been out in the wider world, but his friends at Antioch had kept the light on for him. The same was happening in each place that he went to and would go back to starting in verse 23.

Acts 18:23 – 23 After spending some time there, he set out, traveling through one place after another in the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

No record of Paul getting to some place where there had been a church planted and it being a ghost town. They all kept the light on. And were ready to be built up and strengthened by Paul when he came. And this was a welcome and necessary work. As Matthew Poole wrote: “though the seed be duly sown, yet it must be seasonably watered.”

That’s not only true for Galatians and Phrygians, but for Hanfordite and Lemoorons as well. Once transformed by the power of Gospel we can then go on being strengthened and built up, able to bear more, endure more, accomplish more in the power of God. Paul was a great evangelist, but he also made it his business to reinforce the faith of Christians. That’s a necessary part of the Christian life. And we see that playing out in our remaining verses.

Acts 18:24-25 – 24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was competent in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus, although he knew only John’s baptism.

So here we have a remarkable, Egyptian man. He was Jewish by nationality but had become a believer in Jesus, though he had, apparently, not heard of Jesus’ death and resurrection, not to mention Pentecost. He’s described as eloquent, competent, fervent and accurate. That’s a pretty good stat sheet. One resource said it like this: He had a lot to say and he said it well. But, despite his many gifts, he was incomplete. But that’s ok, because God had positioned others right where they needed to be in order to build him up and complete what was lacking in his knowledge.

Acts 18:26 – 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately.

So, we’re told in verse 25 that he had been speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus, and now in verse 26 it was explained to him more accurately. And I love that, because it shows that we don’t have to wait to preach until we have a PhD in theology, or until we have an entire Gospel memorized or anything like that. If you are a Christian, you know enough about God to become a Christian. And you don’t need to wait to tell people about Jesus. But, at the same time, all of us have room to grow in our accuracy and understanding and knowledge of the Scriptures. In that synagogue, Apollos was probably the smartest guy in the room. But it was two refugee laborers who would fill him in on what he was missing. So, while we have a green light to go and preach the Gospel, we’ve got to be sure we stay meek and humble and recognize that we do not know everything. We need to continue to be instructed in the Word of God and by His Holy Spirit. We want to become more accurate all the time. Like one of those flashlights that you can focus the zoom. If you’re in a dark room, I’m glad to have a flashlight of any kind. But even better to have one that is bright, accurate, able to be focused into a highly directional beam.

Now, before we move on, I’d like to commend the bravery we’re seeing here. There’s a lot of Christian courage in this verse. You’ve got Apollos, standing up in boldness to preach all that he knew. He obviously didn’t have every answer about Jesus, but he wasn’t going to shy away. We also see great bravery from Priscilla and Aquila. They were in the synagogue too, and they would’ve known what sort of things could happen to Christians in situations like this.

Their example reminds us that the Christian life is one of grace and kindness and tact, but also bravery. You’re commanded by God to get into the fight. To respond to the spiritual crisis this world is in. We can’t just stay home all the time and hope there’s a Paul out there somewhere. Because there’s a whole group of people right in front of us who are in desperate need of the Gospel.

Acts 18:27-28 – 27 When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers and sisters wrote to the disciples to welcome him. After he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.

There’s no hint of jealousy or turf war or anything like that in any of this. They’re all family together. Brothers and sisters. All working together. Building each other up. Cooperating and communicating. And we see that Apollos did a couple of things: First, he didn’t just breeze in and out on his own whims. He’s connected himself with the church and he’s working with them in his desire to go over to Achaia. He’s not just a lone gunman doing whatever he wants.

We also see that he used the gifts he had. Now, on the human level, he had a lot of gifts. Eloquence and intelligence and charisma. Sometimes we slip into a mistaken mindset that since God loves to use the foolish things of this world that must mean He NEVER uses smart people or well-spoken people. That’s not true. He’ll use anyone who is submitted to Him. And Apollos put his skills and gifts into the hands of God and allowed them to be used for ministry. When Jesus was looking for ingredients, one boy came and said “I’ve got five loaves and two fish.” Another time someone had seven loaves. Apollos used his oratory, Lydia used her home. Priscilla and Aquila used their business. Dorcas used her sewing kit. David used his harp and his sling. What gifts and abilities do you have? God can use them. And He does use them. It’s not just hypothetical. Ivor Powell writes, “If Priscilla and Aquila had not been present the church may have lost one of its greatest evangelists.”

But there they were. Living a life of grace and courage. A life that cared about the proper understanding of the Scriptures. One that didn’t divide from people but which welcomed them and reached out to them. And as we see Paul moving north and west we see Apollos and others moving out in other directions. Apollos became a great help to Christians in Achaia who needed to be built up and strengthened just as he had needed to be built up and strengthened. And more and more lights were born in place after place. Connected in the family of God by the love of Christ.

When we look up certain stars seem larger or shine brighter. Some are much larger than others, some are just closer to us. The truth is, no matter the size, all of them declare God’s glory. And though many pass off the scene, year after year others are born and take their place in the night sky. The Church is like that. What started 2,000 years ago continues today. From the human vantage point, our lives may end up seeming like a luminous supergiant or maybe more like a yellow dwarf. But even the smallest of lives can be an amazing part of God’s work. Whatever the size of our ministry, whatever our orbit, we can keep the light on, continue growing in brightness and heat and constancy, and be a part of the spiritual birth of others who are currently trapped in darkness.

I’m A Man, Yes I Am, And I Can’t Help But Fear You So (Psalm 128)

Here you are in church when you could be LARPing.

It’s an acronym for Live Action Role Play.

Mark your calendars and get your costumes. The next Renaissance of Kings Faire is October 2nd & 3rd, 2021.

I haven’t been to Hanford’s Annual Christmas parade for some time. Does the StarTrek COSPLAY group still march with their shuttlecraft?

I found an archived Hanford Sentinel article from February 2019 about Comic-Con COSPLAYers gathering at the Kings Fairgrounds. They pictured a pretty convincing Boba Fett.

COMIC-CON International San Diego annually draws over 100,000 fans. They were forced to COVID-Cancel this year.

We’re going to talk a little about roles today – our roles in the household of God, and in our own houses.

Psalm 128 celebrates the biblical family – man, woman, children.
It wasn’t written to correct any failing on Israel’s part, but to celebrate family as an earthly blessing from the LORD.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 You Want To Lead As A Fearful Father, and #2 You Want To Follow As A Fearful Family.

#1 – You Want To Lead As A Fearful Father (v1-2)

This psalm was addressed to men. Yes, it opens saying, “Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD.” But it goes on to address men about “your wife,” and about “your children.” The psalmist doesn’t address women and children directly.

Men, women, and children have different roles to fulfill, both in the household of God and in their own houses.

Psalm 128 celebrates God’s design for the family. To the extent that it does, we can apply it to ourselves. It wasn’t written to us; but since it assumes the larger context of the biblical family, we can learn from it.

Psa 128:1  A Song of Ascents. Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways.

This is the ninth of the fifteen “Song(s) of Ascent” sung by pilgrims on their trips to the annual feasts in Jerusalem. Men of a certain age were required to attend. From the information given to us, it would seem that whole families traveled. The notable episode where 12yr old Jesus got left behind in Jerusalem describes His family pilgrimaging with other families.

Though required in God’s Law, these annual pilgrimages were not intended to be a burden. They were to be a blessing. God wanted to draw His people together to bless them.

Our gathering together ought to be a blessing to you – not a place to heap burdens upon you. Jesus wants to show you your blessings, what He has done for you.

The “fear of the LORD” can be described in many different ways. One way, and the way I am going to emphasize, is that you believe God always has simultaneously in His mind your good and His glory. You thus “fear the LORD” by willingly obeying Him. No matter your will, you prefer and choose God’s will. You implicitly trust God’s will over your own; you submit your ways to His way – even if it requires sacrifice. It is the only way to insure your good and His glory.

Before we go on with an example, let me say this. As we reference marriage and family today, think about where you are now, not everything that has happened in your past. For example, if you have been divorced, but are now remarried, we are talking about your current marriage.
If you are not married, we are talking about what is going on in your life today.

If you insist on looking back, look back to the Cross, where your sins are forgiven.

Back to our text. Maybe, right now, you are contemplating divorce. Do you at least have any biblical grounds?

• Have you been abandoned by your spouse?
• Has your spouse committed adultery?
(I’ve learned over the years to add this important footnote. Physical abuse is sin, and you don’t ever submit to it. Tell someone; call the police).

Without biblical grounds for divorce, and sometimes even with biblical grounds, God says you are to stay married. He would only say that if it were for your good, and for His glory. Blessed is the man (or woman) who fears the Lord and does what He says.

You’re to “walk in His ways.” You discover “His ways” by reading your Bible.

Everything you need to live a godly life is covered in the Bible. Add to that, you are given God the Holy Spirit to indwell you, making it more than possible for you to “walk in His ways.”

Psa 128:2  When you eat the labor of your hands, You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.

Israel was an agricultural nation. It was the land flowing with milk and honey. Other occupations depended upon ag. They quite literally “[ate] the labor of [their] hands.”

The phrase speaks to providing for one’s family.

We are light years away from saying that this means women can’t ever work outside the home. In fact, I’m not going to suggest any particulars of your home life. We are painting a picturesque biblical home in broad strokes. We are talking about roles, not the rules.

The psalmist was putting a joyous responsibility upon the man to see to it that his family prospers. It speaks to hard, honest labor. To a diligent work ethic.

Happiness and contentment are byproducts of assuming your roles. Ultimately, walking in God’s ways results in a peaceful existence that is to be envied.

More than ever people are walking in their own ways when it comes to marriage and family. In June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark civil rights case of Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities, is guaranteed by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Our reaction, first and foremost, ought to be this:

“Judgment must begin at the house of God” (First Peter 4:17). How are we doing at walking in God’s ways with regard to marriage?

Biblical marriage is one biological male, and one biological female, in a monogamous heterosexual union that is to last as long as they both shall live.

At the same time we rightfully decry same sex marriage, divorce is too prevalent among believers. Is it really less sinful?

At the same time we rightfully decry homosexuality, fornication and adultery are too prevalent among believers. Is it really less sinful?

You can’t “fear God” and pursue unbiblical divorce. You can’t “fear God” and commit sexual sin

Guys: Psalm 128 mentions you first, and is written to you. You’re to lead. Get into God’s Word and understand His ways. Know that you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in His ways. Fear Him by following Him.

#2 – You Want To Follow As A Fearful Family (v3-6)

The Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. There is only one God. Three coexistent, co-eternal, co-equal Persons who are one God.

With regard to the plan to redeem sinful men, there is a division of roles in the Trinity:

God the Father is said to have sent Jesus. Jesus willingly submitted Himself to God the Father in His role as the Savior of the world.
Jesus is said to be the giver of God the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit subordinates Himself to Jesus, pointing men to Him for salvation.

It should come as no shock, therefore, that there is a division of roles in God’s household, and in your house.
In fact, as we each fulfill our roles, it reveals the sweet co-operation of the Trinity in salvation. It mirrors the nature of God.

Psa 128:3  Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine In the very heart of your house, Your children like olive plants All around your table.

There is an obvious hierarchy in this home. Every one in the blessed family has their God-assigned role to play.

Roles, and especially the role(s) of women, is super controversial. There is a lot of disagreement among Christians. Theologians have come up with big words to describe at least two of the differing positions on the biblical roles of men and women in the church. Those words are Complementarian and Egalitarian.

Complementarianism is the viewpoint that God restricts women from serving in church leadership roles and instead calls women to serve in equally important, but complementary, roles.

Egalitarianism is the viewpoint that there are no biblical gender-based restrictions on ministry in the church.

The team over at gotquestions.org summarize it, saying,

On the one side are the egalitarians who believe there are no gender distinctions and that since we are all one in Christ, women and men are interchangeable when it comes to functional roles in leadership and in the household.

The complementarian view believes in the essential equality of men and women as persons as human beings created in God’s image, but complementarians hold to gender distinctions when it comes to functional roles in society, the church, and the home.

We are complementarians. It seems straightforward:

The original married couple was complementarian. Adam was created first. Eve was tasked with the role of “help-meet” for Adam.

After our first parents sinned, the LORD was clear that Eve was to subordinate her desire to rule and instead assume a submissive role.

The apostle Paul applied the hierarchy of the first family to the church, to the household of God, when he said to Pastor Timothy, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man… For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (First Timothy 2:12-13).

A division in roles does not equate to a difference in quality, importance, or value. Men and women are equally valued in God’s sight and plan. Women are not inferior to men. Rather, God assigns different roles to men and women in the church and in the home because that is how He designed houses and His household on earth to function.

Egalitarians have their arguments, for sure. We find them unbiblical and, worse, dictated by cultural pressure to conform, or to seem progressive.

Israel was certainly complementarian. Psalm 128 assumes there are genders and gender roles in the Biblical home. The change from an agricultural society to our modern society doesn’t overrule God’s original design for marriage and family.

Psa 128:3  Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine In the very heart of your house, Your children like olive plants All around your table.

Don’t read this as “barefoot and pregnant.” To an Old Testament wife, these words were tremendously encouraging.

It says that the wife is “the very heart of your house.” Allow me to attempt an analogy. If you are smart, you are heart-healthy in your diet and exercise. You take good care of your heart. Apply that kind of smart to taking care of your wife.

I want to again emphasize that I am not going to tell you how to run your house. It isn’t in the mechanics. It’s in co-operation with Jesus. The key to success is simply to be like Jesus in His incarnation. Though He was Lord of all, He became the servant of all.

Everything you need in order to fulfill your role as a man, or a woman, or a child, is illustrated by Jesus washing His disciples feet the Passover prior to His willing death on the Cross.

We don’t practice foot washing as an ordinance in the church, as some groups do. We should practice spiritual foot washing. It should be our individual practice to be the servant.

Is the man the leader? Yes – but that needs to be qualified. The greatest of all, in God’s economy, is the servant of all. Our “lead servant,” Jesus, didn’t come to be served, but to serve.

The man of the house is more a discipler than a delegator.

Wives and kids: The Bible verses and passages that speak about your roles are not hard to find. Neither are they hard to understand – especially if you come to them fearing the Lord in the way we are describing today.

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

You can walk in His ways by yielding yourself to the Holy Spirit. He subordinated Himself to Jesus, and you should subordinate yourself to Him. He empowers you; He enables you.

Psa 128:4  Behold, thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the LORD.

“Fear the LORD.” Believe – because it’s true – “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Submit to God’s will, believing He is working.

Psa 128:5  The LORD bless you out of Zion, And may you see the good of Jerusalem All the days of your life.

Their blessings came “out of Zion” in the sense that they were the result of God’s presence in the Temple. For a long time, it was His dwelling place – His house – upon the earth.

It was therefore important that Jerusalem know peace and prosperity. All the Jews had to do was love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Sadly, Israel often committed spiritual adultery by worshipping the gods of the pagans around them. Then, for their own good and for His glory, God would allow His people to be defeated, and Jerusalem to be overrun.

Psa 128:6  Yes, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

Grand kids are pretty cool. It’s all chocolate and silly string fights. Discipline? Not on my watch.

This ending probably looks farther forward than grand kids. God promised His people an earthly kingdom ruled over by the Son of David. We call it the Millennium on account of its description as lasting one thousand years in Revelation chapter twenty.

There are descriptions of it throughout the Old Testament. Isaiah, for one, said,

Isa 2:2  Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it.
Isa 2:3  Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Isa 2:4  He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.

It’s great that historic peace treaties are being signed in the Middle East. Peace is a good thing.

We also know that modern Israel’s peace will not last. At some point, a treaty will be broken, and the Jews in Jerusalem will be forced to flee for their very survival.

When LARPing, or COSPLAYing, you wear costumes. So do you as a believer in Jesus Christ:

When by His prevenient grace God frees your will to receive Jesus as your Savior, He takes off your filthy garments and dresses you in His robe of righteousness.
You are described as wearing the whole armor of God in your spiritual battles.

The outfit I want to highlight today is the one the apostle Paul described to the Ephesians:

Eph 4:24  and that you put on [like a garment] the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Eph 4:25  Therefore, putting away lying, “LET EACH ONE OF YOU SPEAK TRUTH WITH HIS NEIGHBOR,” for we are members of one another.
Eph 4:26  “BE ANGRY, AND DO NOT SIN”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath,
Eph 4:27  nor give place to the devil.
Eph 4:28  Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
Eph 4:29  Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
Eph 4:30  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Eph 4:31  Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
Eph 4:32  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Prophecy Update #628 – This Is The Sick That Never Ends

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 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 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.

COVID19 is not one of the end times pestilences. Those occur during the seven year Great Tribulation. We are not in the Great Tribulation, nor will the church ever be in it. God has promised to keep us from that day.

What COVID19 is doing is catapulting us forward to a “new normal,” global society that will depend upon biometric technologies to identify, and in many ways control citizens.

Here are a few quotes I came across that indicate we are accelerating towards the “new normal”:

Quote: “The pace of digital transformation has been dramatically accelerated – it’s not a conversation starter now, it’s a basic business requirement.”

Louise Pentland, chief business affairs and legal officer at PayPal, said, “Everybody is going to have to embrace a digital economy.”

CNN reported that, “COVID19 will leave a lasting imprint on the world economy, causing permanent changes.”

Quote: “Virus screening is likely to become part of our life, just like security measures became ubiquitous after 9/11.”

Politico speculated, “The comfort of being in the presence of others might be replaced by a greater comfort with absence, especially with those we don’t know intimately. Instead of asking, “Is there a reason to do this online?” we’ll be asking, “Is there any good reason to do this in person?”

Security Magazine said, “Expect the COVID19 coronavirus pandemic to bring lasting changes to our lives, from the way we authenticate identity to how we open doors – and even use public restrooms. If there’s a theme among these changes, it’s that they will favor contactless solutions.”

Quote: “Though the science behind the effectiveness of masks is far from exact, living through the pandemic will undeniably alter Western attitudes about them, as well as government policy. And as the memory of COVID19 becomes permanently enmeshed with the national psyche, masks are likely to become a fixture of our post-pandemic world.”

A September 16 article was titled, Doors Won’t Open at Some Fresno Businesses Until Device Screens You for COVID.

Excerpts

Coming to a wall near you – a new digital device ensuring you answer all COVID19 health survey questions before you’re allowed in. Several local businesses and a school have already jumped on board.
Northwest Fresno company OnDisplay went live Wednesday with their new digital health survey. It is a large QR code placed on a wall near an entryway. Scan the code with your phone and you’re directed to a series of health related questions screening for COVID19.

From there, you may also have to get your face scanned by a digital scanner. The machine will tell if you have a fever, or if you need to put on a mask. If you need a mask, a digital voice will even tell you, “Please wear a mask.”

Harris Ranch, U.S. Cold Storage, No Surrender Laser Tag, and Edison Bethune Charter Academy in southwest Fresno are all using the system.

The new QR code health-survey works in conjunction with the company’s facial scan technology they started rolling out a few months ago. The face scanner is mounted right next to the QR code on the wall so a person is able to walk up to it, get their temperature checked, at the same time the machine makes sure they’re wearing a mask.

https://gvwire.com/2020/09/16/doors-wont-open-at-some-fresno-businesses-until-device-screens-you-for-covid/

One commentator noted, ominously, that “The longer the global effort to stymie the pandemic through lockdown continues, the less likely we’ll reemerge into a world we recognize.“

How long will it last? Respected medical historian Howard Markel estimates until 2024.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading health expert and one of the world’s most trusted voices on all things COVID-19 related, is more optimistic.
He said, “If you get a vaccine into 2021, throughout the year, I believe by the end of the year 2021, we will be as good as back to normal as we possibly can.”

He further qualified his prediction. Besides the vaccine, Fauci said, there must be, “Uniform and universal wearing of masks. Physical, social distancing. Avoiding crowds. Outdoor things always better than indoor things. Washing hands as often as you possibly can. Staying away from bars.”

https://bgr.com/2020/08/16/coronavirus-return-to-normal-fauci/

Here in the Golden State, our governor noted that his new re-opening guidelines have no return to normal.

“We don’t put a green (tier) because we don’t believe that there’s a green light that says go back to the way things were or back to a pre-pandemic mindset,” Newsom said.

The “new normal” is a global society and economy, with much less autonomy, much less freedom, much less privacy, in which everyone is identified using biometrics.

The apostle John wrote about it 2000+ years ago. Futurists like ourselves have been predicting it.

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

Living The Dream (Acts 18:1-17)

Thanks to Seinfeld the words “yada yada” have become a well-used phrase since 1997. Seinfeld wasn’t the first to use it, but it will forever be associated with the misadventures of Jerry and his 3 friends. Characters in the episode used ‘yada yada’ to skip over various details when telling a story, usually because those details revealed things they didn’t want the people around them to know. As the scenes unfold, characters are left to speculate over what those various yada yadas passed over.

In Acts 18 Luke, the writer, is relaying a new chapter in the story of Paul’s work in Greece. We find him in a new city, Corinth and as the story is told Luke passes over a lot of details. As a result, there’s a lot of speculation that goes on when studying the passage. Now, obviously this is written exactly the way that God wanted it written. We don’t need to fret as if we’re missing something essential. At the same time, if you read commentaries or sermons that deal with these verses, you’re going to find all sorts of speculation. Here are a few items that aren’t agreed upon:

Why Paul left Athens and after how long.
Whether Priscilla and Aquila were Christians before they met Paul or not.
Whether Paul was being bold in the first 4 verses or cowering in fear.
Whether Gallio was a just judge or whether he was yet another unscrupulous official.
Whether it was Gentiles who beat Sosthenes or if it was his own Jewish countrymen.

The gaps in detail are not bad, but they leave a lot of room for interpretation. And it’s surprising this story is the setup for such a significant part of Paul’s ministry life and such a significant portion of the New Testament. A lot of Biblical real estate is devoted to the Corinthian church and Paul’s relationship with them.

In this text we also get the sense that something is not quite right with our dear Paul. He’s isolated and has run out of provisions, but it’s more than that. He’s discouraged. He describes how he was feeling later in 1 Corinthians 2 where he says, “I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling.” It’s hard to imagine the Apostle Paul as frightened, but he was. And he was to so profound a degree that the Lord Jesus is going to come and appear to him, personally, and tell him to not be afraid, to not be silent and to not worry about being harmed.

Paul may have been feeling low, but by the grace of God he was about to make some of the most meaningful friendships of his life and accomplish some powerful ministry which (through his epistles) have had ongoing repercussions all over the earth for thousands of years.

Though we may wish for a few more background details, here’s what we know: First, that even the strongest of Christians can fall into discouragement. But, no matter how discouraged you are, how isolated, how out of supply or frightened of what’s coming you may be, you can be built back up in the grace of God, because our Lord has not abandoned you. And, one more thing we can be sure of from this story: No matter how bad the place or how threatening the situation, God can accomplish wonderful things, transform lives and make a difference.

So, let’s get into it in verse 1.

Acts 18:1 – After this, [Paul] left Athens and went to Corinth,

We don’t know why Paul left Athens. Things weren’t particularly volatile when chapter 17 came to a close. But, at some point, he did. And he left alone. Corinth was a trashy city if ever there was one. It was known as a city of vice. It had a pagan temple that employed 1,000 prostitutes. Even among the heathens this was a place known for drunkenness, immorality and all sorts of poor behavior.

So this is where Paul finds himself, on his own, and, apparently out of money and food, because he has to get a job.

Acts 18:2-3 – 2 where he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul came to them, 3 and since they were of the same occupation, tentmakers by trade, he stayed with them and worked.

What does it mean he “found” them? Well, again, we have to fill in the blanks ourselves a bit, but clearly he needed a job and shelter. So it’s probable that he answered an ad or went to the tent shop and inquired of whether they needed an extra hand. They quickly figured out that they were both Jews and they got on well. Was this couple already Christian when Paul met them? We can’t be sure. It seems like Luke would have relayed the story if Paul led them to Christ, the way he did in the case of Lydia, for example. But, what we do know is that this seemingly chance encounter was the start of one of the richest relationships of Paul’s life.

Of course it wasn’t chance, it was providence. There’s Paul, God’s servant, in a strange city, packed with people (at least 200,000 people lived there), he’s got no money, he’s got nowhere to live and the Lord directs him to a shop where he can not only be supplied with work and shelter, but also where he’ll find lifelong friends.

In the Christian life we want to develop a greater and greater openness to receive from the Lord and to be positioned by the Lord so that He can do great things like this for us. If our heads are always down, if we’re always looking in, if we feed selfishness and cynicism and skepticism, it’s going to make us very brittle as God tries to form and shape us. And it’s going to make it very difficult for us to receive some of the wonderful gifts God would like to give us.

Now, we learn something about Paul here: He was a tentmaker. He probably made all sorts of leather goods, but tent making would’ve been a big part of it. Couple of things here. First of all, in our culture there’s long been a divide between blue collar work and white collar work. That’s not really a good thing. You look at Paul: He had a really high level education. His original plan had been to be someone who thought and studied. But, at the same time, in that culture you always learned a trade so you could support yourself. And, for you young people, I’d highly recommend that type of mentality. Particularly if you think you’re going to go into the ministry or full time missions work. Don’t turn your nose up at skills or trade.

But, second, this spoke to me the other day: As tentmakers, Paul and Aquila and Priscilla would be supplying product and services to all sorts of people, including Roman soldiers. We live in a time when everyone wants to boycott everyone else. We live in a time when people refuse to serve others because of their politics or values or their job, those sorts of things. Can you imagine a Roman solider coming into the tent shop and Paul saying, “I REFUSE to make a tent for you, empire scum! Also, let me tell you about the Lord Jesus Christ who loves you so much He died for you!”

If you have a personal conviction from the Lord about particular products or companies that you don’t want to support, that’s your business. But let’s not just jump onto every anger bandwagon. Be gracious. Be led. Be directed by God, not by the crowd.

Acts 18:4 – 4 [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade both Jews and Greeks.

We see a term like “reasoned” there and it’s easy to think that it means he was giving them doctoral thesis-level lectures and intricate logic and all sorts of academic genius. But that’s not what was happening at all. Here’s what was happening:

1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4-5 – 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. … 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. 5 I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.

The most basic message that Jesus Christ, God come in the flesh, came and lived a perfect life, died on a Roman cross, then 3 days later rose again from the dead so that all who believe on Him and call on His name will receive everlasting life is enough to make a difference. Paul found himself in one of the wickedest cities in the world and that was the message. So, when we look out at notorious places, full of sin and ruined lives, what do they need? They don’t need hatred from us. They need the message of the cross. The Good News of that one, magnificent 3 day weekend, where everything changed.

Acts 18:5 – 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself to preaching the word and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.

There’s nothing wrong with working a regular job. Paul proves that. But in his particular situation, I think we’d all agree we’d rather him be preaching theology than patching a tent. Especially because he rarely was able to stay long in one place before being attacked. So, Silas and Timothy arrive and are able to support Paul so that he could focus on the ministry. And that is a very good thing.

As Christians, we should work to financially support ministry. Not only our own ministries, but other individuals and organizations that are proclaiming the Gospel. Allow the Lord to direct you in that.

In Luke’s description of Paul’s message we notice two things: First, that (as always) it was based upon the revealed word of God. Not trend or opinion or human philosophy. What has God said in that Scripture? Second, we see there blazing off the page: Jesus is the Messiah! He was not just a wise teacher, not just a good man, not just a great example of selfless living. He is THE Messiah. Meaning He and He alone is King, is Savior, is the Anointed One. He is the Decider for your life and my life and for the whole world. Let us all bow our knees to the King of kings and acknowledge Who He really is: Messiah and Lord.

Acts 18:6 – 6 When they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his clothes and told them, “Your blood is on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

There are two powerful realities on display here. First of all, you are responsible for your own spiritual health. No one can be saved for you, no one can obey God for you. Your faith is an individual relationship with God and you are responsible to respond accordingly. Second, Christians are also responsible to preach to the lost. Paul here is probably referencing this passage in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 33:3-6 – 3 When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. 4 Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. 5 They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. 6 But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’

That should be a sobering and stirring message for us to be about the Lord’s business when it comes to evangelism. We are commanded to preach and to make disciples.

While Paul’s message to these Jews seems harsh and final, we know that he still loved them. And we know that he wasn’t shutting the door on ever talking to them again. Look at the next verse.

Acts 18:7-8 – 7 So he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, along with his whole household. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized.

There’s something comical about the fact that he set up shop next door. Probably offered a lot of friendly waves from the front porch. In fact, he did more than that, he continued sharing Jesus with any of those faithful Jews who came to hear. One of them was the guy in charge of the synagogue!

So far we’ve seen not only the power of God’s providence, we also can see just how usable our lives can be in His hands. Our words can be used. Our work can be used. Our financial contributions can be used. Our homes can be used. God can take any aspect of your life and apply it to His purpose and that is an exciting thought. And we also learn that opposition is no reason to quit. The Jews had responded to Paul with an organized resistance, he didn’t quit, he pivoted but continued the work. Though, it seems he was having a hard time with it all. Look at verse 9.

Acts 18:9-10 – 9 The Lord said to Paul in a night vision, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.”

Why Corinth and not Athens? Why Costa Mesa and not Santa Monica? Those are questions we can’t really answer. Instead of getting into arguments about election, we’d be better used if we assumed that God has “many people” in Hanford and go out and work the field. The truth is, He does have many people, all around us, currently trapped in sin and guilt and lies and we are sent to courageously be a part of the liberation effort.

On the devotional level, if you’re afraid tonight, facing some unknown or hard situation, take heart that even the Apostle Paul got afraid sometimes. But also take courage by holding fast to the Lord, who knows exactly how we feel and has a word for each of us, He has promises for us, He has provision for us from His limitless supplies of grace and strength. Be of good cheer.

Acts 18:11 – 11 He stayed there a year and a half, teaching the word of God among them.

Paul obeyed and stayed much longer there than he was usually able to. Of course we know that just because the Lord had “many people” in that city didn’t mean it would be easy. The work was hard but worthwhile.

Acts 18:12-13 – 12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the tribunal. 13 “This man,” they said, “is persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

Now, wait a minute, didn’t Jesus say “no one will lay a hand on you?” What gives? Did that promise expire after 18 months? Do you ever wonder if God’s promises really apply to you? Now, sometimes Christians take Biblical promises for themselves that don’t belong to them. Promises to Israel, for example. So, we want to be careful students of the Bible and be sure we understand what is and isn’t promised to us. But, when God has promised, it is sure and true. Thanks to Jesus, all God’s promises to us are Yes and Amen! Paul wouldn’t be hurt in this but that doesn’t mean there was no opposition. In this case, there was an official trial before a Roman official, Gallio.

Acts 18:14-17 – 14 As Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or of a serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you Jews. 15 But if these are questions about words, names, and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal, but none of these things mattered to Gallio.

Some commend Gallio, saying he is a shining example of the separation of church and state. Others say he was being wonderfully impartial. It doesn’t seem like that’s the sense Luke is giving. Instead, we see a man who could care less. He doesn’t even bother to differentiate between Christianity and Judaism. He sees a man being violently assaulted in the courtroom and just lets it happen.

Historical records tell us that Gallio was not a well man. He was dying of consumption. What a sad, missed opportunity. God, in His mercy, allowed a situation in which this terminal non-believer would have the chance to hear from the great apostle, but none of these things mattered to Gallio. As one commentator put it: It matters to him now.

If Luke were here there are a bunch of questions I’d ask him about this particular episode of Paul’s life. But, here’s what we know from what we see: First, God is always busy accomplishing His purposes. Second, His promises will not fail. Third, His providence is on the move and we are invited to be a part of it. Fourth, because God is so powerful and so gracious, He can use anything that we’ve consecrated for that providence, whether it’s our tongue, our time, our money, our home, our sufferings, our triumphs, our friends, or our enemies. Fifth, no city is too far gone and no person is too far gone to be saved by the Gospel. Look at Sosthenes. He was not only the new leader of the synagogue after Crispus became a Christian, but he was probably the representative bringing the case against Paul. Their effort was a failure and he was immediately punished for it. It reminds us of how, under the Hussein regime, Olympic athletes were tortured and imprisoned when they would lose a match.

But here’s the good part: When Paul wrote his first letter to the Christian in Corinth, this is how it opens: “This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes.”

We do have to speculate a bit, but it seems very probable that this is the same man. Look at what God can do. Even in a city like Corinth. Even when we’re low on supply. Even when we’re scared or discouraged or feeling alone. Even when the powers that be are against us. Even still, God is able.

Paul had a dream in which Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid but keep on speaking.” The promise was for Paul, specifically, but that charge to continue on can be ours as well as we live out this life for God’s purposes. Knowing He has much to do, many to save, and no end of options when it comes to using our lives as we submit to Him.

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Bread (Psalm 127)

Three bird species, two frogs, a shark, and one of the world’s largest freshwater fish were among those declared extinct in 2019.

The last known female Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle died in China a year ago April during an artificial insemination procedure, making the species effectively extinct.

You may as well cancel your trip to Oahu. The last Achatinella apexfulva died in captivity on New Year’s Day. His name was Lonesome George. This was his obituary:

George, a Hawaiian tree snail – also a 14-year-old local celebrity and the last known snail of his kind – will no longer be able to entertain school children, or eat tree fungus. He died on New Year’s Day, according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). George the snail, named after the Pinta Island tortoise Lonesome George, never lived in a forest, being born in captivity and growing up in a lab. As it happens, George was a hermaphrodite, but it seems that two snails are required to produce offspring.

The other species lost in 2019 included Boulenger’s Speckled Skink, the Corquin Robber Frog, and the Victorian Grasslands Earless Dragon.

In 2013, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, told a conference in Shropshire that more must done to attract young people into the Church. He warned that the Church of England was, “One generation away from extinction.”

I’ve heard that line many times over the years; it isn’t original to Lord Carey. I couldn’t find an original attribution.

Is it true? It’s only true if we leave God out of the picture. Or maybe it would be better to say that it’s ultimately not true because the Lord is the One building His church, and He promised it would not fail.

The quote is intended to spur slumbering, apathetic, Christians to action. The best way to do that, however, isn’t to guilt us, but to glorify God.

Psalm 127 does just that, in its opening words. “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.”

Believers are “builders” and “watchmen,” for sure. We have a big part to play. It is a cooperative effort. But we remain dependent upon the Lord, and trust Him to complete His work both in us and through us.

I’ll organize my comments around two rather simple questions: #1 Is Your Labor For The Lord More Exertion Than Enabling?, and #2 Is Your Life In The Lord More Earthly Than Eternal?

#1 – Is Your Labor For The Lord More Exertion Than Enabling? (v1-2)

To paraphrase Celine Dion, “The church will go on.”

One verse will suffice as proof. Writing to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul declared that Jesus will “present [the church] to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (5:27).

Here is some math to encourage you. Let’s say you lead one person to Christ every year, and he or she does the same, and so on.

After one year, there are only 2 disciples.
At the end of the second year, 4.
Third year, there are 8 followers of Jesus.
Fourth year, 16.

By year 33, you will have more than 8.5 billion Christians. There would be 34 billion Christians as the 10 year mark.

We’ve read the last chapters of the book. The church will be resurrected or raptured to Heaven, then returning from Heaven to the earth with Jesus in His Second Coming. We then reign on the earth with Him for one thousand years. After that we live-on for eternity with “no more tears.”

Psa 127:1  A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.

Every week I remind us that psalms 120-134 were gathered together in a playlist to be sung by travelers on their pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem for one of the annual Jewish feasts.

It’s super important to keep that in mind for Psalm 127. Here’s why. When we see the word “house,” and then hear talk of children in verses three through five, we immediately begin to read this psalm as a stand-alone psalm that exalts individual home life. Sort of a marriage and family study. We forget its context as a Song of Ascent.

While it will have application to our homes in a limited way, it is not about your house. It is about God’s ‘house,’ the Temple, and it is about the “house of Israel.”

“Solomon” is credited as the author. His dad, King David, wanted to build the Temple. God said to David, “You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in” (First Chronicles 7:4). Instead, God promised to build David a “house” – a spiritual house (Second Samuel 7:11).

I submit that this is the first, main context of Psalm 127.

The backstory is a great example of what is meant by “building in vain.” David’s desire to build a house for God was good. When he shared his plans to build a house for God, Nathan the prophet immediately encouraged David. To quote Debby Boone, “It can’t be wrong When it feels so right.”

God intervened, spoke to Nathan, and sent him back to the king to stop him from building. God’s plan was for Solomon to build the house.

THAT must have been hard:

For one thing, building for God – wasn’t that a good thing?
For another thing: How hard must it have been to confront a king like David – so close to God’s heart – with a halt work order?
For a third thing: David could be a little crabby at times.

Often in the Book of Acts, the Lord sent His servant away from a successful ministry. Or He hindered a missionary from going where he desired, opening a door somewhere else.

It is so important – especially when the desire seems good – to hear from the Lord. Too many things get greenlighted that do not have God’s blessing.

From the Temple, the psalm moves out to the wall surrounding Jerusalem. Perhaps the pilgrims would recall how that the wall lay in ruins for so long until God raised up Nehemiah. Then, contrary to everything we believe about contractors, Nehemiah brought the wall in (1)Under budget, and (2)In a record time of only 52 days.

It was the LORD. He did it. He did it through Nehemiah and the returnees throwing themselves into the work; but it was understood by Israel and her enemies that God enabled them. Humans did what was humanly impossible, and God got the glory.

The wall was necessary for protection. The watchmen were critical for warning. But no city was safe unless the LORD was in the hearts of the people. Israel’s history is full of examples of impenetrable defenses being penetrated; and of improbable victories.

Psa 127:2  It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep.

Solomon was not encouraging laziness. Keeping with the same theme as verse one, he was saying that it is futile to labor without the Lord’s leading and enabling. The “bread of sorrows” was a poetic way of describing someone working their fingers to the bone. We should “rise up early, and sit up late,” serving the Lord. But without His leading, then His enabling, we’re working our fingers to the bone for nothing.

Thinking again of Nehemiah and the wall-builders. They certainly were not lazy:

Neh 4:15  And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.
Neh 4:16  So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah.
Neh 4:17  Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.
Neh 4:18  Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
Neh 4:19  Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall.
Neh 4:20  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
Neh 4:21  So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared.
Neh 4:22  At the same time I also said to the people, “Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.”
Neh 4:23  So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.

They worked hard is an understatement. But it was with the Lord, in His will.
“He gives His beloved sleep.” Your labor in the Lord should be spiritually restful. It shouldn’t be anxious, worrisome, or depressing. There will be plenty of discouragements, but even these are to be cast upon the Lord. After all, you are His “beloved.”

Everything we are saying can be summed-up by this quote from A.W. Tozer:

If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.

That is obviously the worst-case scenario. We would do well, however, to always check our desires to see if the labor is from the Lord, and therefore enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

I have to conclude that a lot of what today is labeled as “spiritual burnout” is the direct result of our exertion rather than His enabling. It’s something you ought to explore in conversation with Jesus.

#2 – Is Your Life In The Lord More Earthly Than Eternal? (v3-5)

In 2019, there was an average of 1.93 children under 18 per family in the United States. This is a decrease from 2.33 children under 18 per family in 1960.

Two-parent households in the US are declining, and the number of families with no children are increasing.

Should we be having more children? Isn’t that what the rest of this psalm exhorts us to?

There may be application in these verses to the modern tendency to have fewer children. But it is not a command; and, in context, we are looking at the house of Israel – not our homes.

Psa 127:3  Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Seems straightforward enough. If you want to be blessed, have lots of kids.

Solomon’s intent is not a command, but a promised gift from God. He promised Abraham when He told him, “and I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2), and “you will be the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:9). Later the Lord promises the children of Israel in the wilderness that “He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb” (Deuteronomy 7:13).

These are not commands from God for them to reproduce, but God’s sovereign promise to reward His people, to multiply them for His purpose, their security, and inheritance.

We tend to read everything in God’s Word as a command. We want so desperately to be able to quantify our relationship with Jesus. We make checklists to be sure we are on-track spiritually. We chastise ourselves, or others, for missing one day of devotions.

The one commandment is this: “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND,’ and ‘YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Luke 10:27).

To read Psalm 127:3 as a command misses the blessing. He was telling the house of Israel, the twelve tribes, what He was going to do for them – not telling them what they must do for Him.

Never in the Old Testament does anyone need to be exhorted to have more kids. Quite the opposite. It was always a shame to remain barren. It was considered a shame precisely because God had promised to bless them with kids. Thus a Jew would not have understood this as a command, but as a reward.

Under the Law, God promised to bless the godly with children (Deuteronomy 28:4). He has given no such promise to Christians. We would say that having 1.9 kids or 2.3 kids is up to you.

BUT consider this: Is your numerical goal godly? Are your reasons for your decision earthly, selfish? Or are they eternal?

If someone were to ask you, “Why did you have X-number of kids?, would your answer be based on earthly priorities, or on eternal promises?

Psa 127:4  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth.
Psa 127:5  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

Unusual wording – to us, that is, but not to a Jew. “In the gate” is where an ancient Israeli city did business. It’s where you would go with your complaint, or to settle an issue, or to transfer title, etc., etc. Think of it as the City Council, or the Board of Supervisors.

There is a passage in the Book of Ruth (4:1-12) that describes in some detail a meeting in the gates during which Boaz redeems Ruth to marry her.

The “enemies” referred to here are “in the gates.” They not foreign armies, but fellow citizens.

The picture being drawn here is of the elderly having children to defend them against those who would take advantage of them. It is a warning against elder abuse.

Elder abuse was a big problem in ancient Israel, along with taking advantage of widows, orphans, and the poor. If you had kids to care for you, you’d be protected. They were to take care of you as warriors in a battle. Their “weapons” were the words they “[spoke] with their enemies in the gate.”

FYI – Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities. In almost 60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member. Two thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

Concluding his comments on Psalm 127, William MacDonald writes,

This psalm is a tremendous unfolding of the word of the Lord through Zechariah, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (4:6). There is such a danger that we depend on the power of the dollar or on human ingenuity. But the Lord’s will is not accomplished in that way. It is by His Spirit that we build for eternity. It is not what we do for God through our own resources, but what He does through us by His mighty power. All we can produce is wood, hay, stubble. He can use us to produce gold, silver, precious stones. When we act in our own strength, we are spinning our wheels. When we bring God into everything, our lives become truly efficient. Carnal weapons produce carnal results. Spiritual weapons produce spiritual results.

The apostle Paul captured this same thought when he wrote to the churches in the region of Galatia. He wrote, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (3:3).

How do you know if your priorities are eternal? Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, saying, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (First Corinthians 1:25).

One gauge to identify whether your priorities are earthly or eternal is to review your life in Christ thus far, looking for decisions that were absolutely foolish from an earthly perspective, but in fact revealed God’s wisdom.

Finances can sometimes reveal Christ-led foolishness. There are a few Christian ministries that teach you about godly use of your resources. That’s great – as long as you understand that there needs to be wiggle room for God to lead you foolishly so that you can reveal His wisdom.

We had a couple in our fellowship, married, who were both Navy doctors. When their time in the service was over, they went immediately into missionary medicine. I remember them being told by believers to first establish a practice, earn money, so they’d be able to have it in the bank. Wait ten years.

They followed God’s leading, and it seemed foolishness even to believers.

I’ve known lots of believers over the years who put-off doing certain spiritual things for a future time that never came.

Anytime you hear the story of the Rich Young Ruler, whom Jesus told to divest Himself of his worldly possessions, you’re told it was a suggestion unique to him. You’re told it doesn’t apply universally.

But could it apply to you? That’s the question to ask.

There used to be a Christian bumper sticker that showed believers going against the flow of the world. With spiritual priorities, that’s bound to be the case. So gauge yourself.

COVID19 is going to be held responsible for 20% of the churches in America closing their doors; to become extinct. Churches are losing court cases regarding our constitutional right to meet. Huge fines are being levied against churches who meet indoors.

There is in-fighting among believers about whether churches should follow exactly government mandates or not.

The church will go on. Then we’ll go up! Jesus’ coming to resurrect the dead in Christ, then catch-away living believers, is imminent.

Meanwhile, we are essential because we have the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation.

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; none of us is righteous enough to deserve Heaven.
What we deserve for sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The Gospel is a universal call to every heart to believe God and be saved by grace and not by works.

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Prophecy Update #627 – Who Was That Masked Man?

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 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 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.

In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the apostle John saw that one day the citizens of the world would be identified by, and conduct all their business by, something in or on their forehead or their hand.

The prophecy seemed ridiculous – probably a metaphor – for centuries.

Not anymore. There are any number of biometric technologies fully developed that could be implemented globally pretty much overnight.

What’s that you’re asking? How can facial recognition work when we are all wearing masks?

An article posted on biometricsupdate.com was titled, Innovatrics adds mask detection to face biometrics platform, SmartCone launches COVID-tracking solution.

Excerpts:

Innovatrics has added a mask detection capability to its biometric facial recognition platform SmartFace which also detects if the mask is properly worn, covering the wearer’s nose.

The company says the new feature… can send instant notifications or deny entry to people without masks. The new SmartFace feature is intended for use at access points for venues like production plants, office buildings, shopping malls, and hospitals, enabling easy enforcement of safety and security measures.

What’s that you’re asking? How can I be sure my ride-share driver is wearing a mask?

Ride sharing companies Uber, Didi and Ola are all using facial recognition and automatic face mask detection to check their drivers, and may extend the scans to passengers, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

An Uber spokesperson told the Herald that the company has already built a capability to check riders for masks in places where they are mandatory. The system involves riders who are reported by a driver to have taken a ride without a mask will be asked for a selfie to confirm they are wearing one before being allowed to book another ride. According to the report, the mask detection feature will be rolled out to the U.S. and Canada this month, and then to Latin America.

Have you heard of Symp2Pass?

SmartCone Technologies is planning to launch a comprehensive biometric solution for web processes to support safe returns to work, school and play, the company has announced.

Users can check themselves and family members for COVID-19 symptoms through any mobile phone, tablet, computer or smart device, with a medically recognized, researched and proven process… The solution integrates unsupervised AI learning to continually improve at identifying patterns within the data it receives. Geolocation data from users is continually mapped, and updated based on the position of safe, suspected, or infected people.

Symp2pass will be made globally available in the coming weeks, and will be integrated in a COVID-19 SmartCone Kiosk.

“This pandemic is causing fear and doubt in millions globally,” notes SmartCone CEO Jason Lee. “SmartCone’s COVID-19 Task Force with the new ‘back to work, school and play’ process by Symp2pass will give people peace of mind knowing they are taking the best precautions available to ensure safe public spaces to co-exist.”

“Symp2pass will support every person to continually monitor their own health and use their personal map to find those safe spaces to visit,” says Idea Capital Safe Spaces Corp. CEO Richard Harris.

“Businesses will identify themselves as Symp2pass sites and use the SmartCone Kiosk as the monitoring system ensuring they remain a safe space.”

https://www.biometricupdate.com/202009/innovatrics-adds-mask-detection-to-face-biometrics-platform-smartcone-launches-covid-tracking-solution

Here is something to consider: Would these companies be investing millions or billions of dollars in a technology that won’t be needed if we were ever going to return to normal?

COVID19 is not one of the pestilences we read about in the Bible. Those occur during the Great Tribulation.

If it has a sinister, Satanic, spiritual purpose, it is that it is pushing the world population towards a global, digital biometric system. It is the kind of society futurists have been predicting since the apostle John wrote the Revelation.

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!

Head For The Hill (Acts 17:16-34)

The book of Acts is such an enthralling book. To see these astounding things happening, against all odds, with powers and empires trying to hold back God’s work, yet the Gospel keeps spreading and transforming lives. Saving people who seem unsavable. Reaching places that seem unreachable.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to start thinking of these stories as if they belong in a superhero comic or Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. That they’re the fantastic exploits of larger-than-life champions, a sort of Christian mythology, far removed from the kind of spiritual life I should expect. It’s a mistake for us to think that way. When we look at these Christian examples found in the book we discover that they assumed others would also experience the filling of the Spirit, that they would be used, that God’s work would continue, not only through Apostles, but through ‘average’ Christians. Paul thought that of Timothy and Titus and, really, all the Christians he wrote epistles to. So did Peter, who wrote to all of us in his letters that he expected our faith to be strong and genuine, that we be ready for action and that the angels of heaven are eagerly watching God unfold His work through us, much in the same way we eagerly watch Him do so in the stories of Acts. It’s a mistake for us to separate out those ancient Christians from ourselves, as if we’re in a lower weight class.

But there’s also a tendency to treat the book of Acts like a recipe book. That if we simply copy the methods of the first century church, then that will “unlock” the dynamic power of God. First of all, we see that there were all sorts of different methods depending on what was going on. Second, these examples are not formulaic. They’re a historic testimony of an ongoing effort. Luke says in the very first verse that his books are a record of what Jesus began to do and to teach. For over 2,000 years Jesus has still been doing and teaching through His Body here on the earth, that’s you and me.

So, if Acts isn’t a comic book and if it isn’t a recipe book, what is it? Just a history book? We know it’s more than that. It may help to think of it as a book more in the warfare theory category. After all, the New Testament says that we are engaged in a spiritual war. Sent out with armor to demolish strongholds, to conquer, to rescue captives. Books about the practice of war will, naturally, have a historical bent, but will be more than that. They show us principles of battle science. They tell tales that not only stir our hearts but have real world application, that is, if you plan on going to war yourself. But, when learning from them, you wouldn’t say, “Ok, here’s what Napoleon did to defeat the armies of Austria, so I just need to copy him and I’ll win, no problem.”

What’s the point of all this? We’ve come to one of the more celebrated passages of Acts – Paul on Mars Hill – and I would submit to you that for us, this is one of the most relatable stories in the entire book. Of course, all of it has application and value. But for the relatively unpersecuted, 21st century Christian, we can see ourselves in this scene much more easily than locked in a 3rd world dungeon, or being beaten in the city square, or being brought before a Church council. In other parts of the world and in other times in history, those other scenes have been more comparable to what Christians regularly experience. But Paul, speaking to a diverse group of people, each with their own philosophy and perspective, that’s a lot like what we encounter. You may not find yourself in the Areopagus, but is the water cooler at work all that different? Maybe not.

So let’s take a look at this famous story and see what sort of principles we can gather about God’s heart, His work and how it might apply to us and through us.

We’re picking up in verse 16 in the city of Athens, where Paul had fled to escape danger in Berea.

Acts 17:16 – 16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed when he saw that the city was full of idols.

What was so different about this pagan city compared to every other pagan city he had visited? All these Gentile places were full of idolatry and heathen temples and all sorts of outright polytheism. So why did Paul have this sharp reaction? Well, first of all, Athens was well known for being incredibly idolatrous. Pausanias, who lived shortly after Paul’s time, is known for writing a book called Description of Greece. He said, “there were more images in Athens than in all Greece besides.”

We would also say that Paul was particularly moved by the Spirit in response to what he was seeing. He didn’t normally have a casual opinion of sin, but as he looked around and saw the saturation of idolatry, his heart was stirred. Perhaps it was even more stinging because Athens was supposed to be the center of study and learning. “A city…thought to be more enlightened than any other…[where] learning and arts were carried to greater perfection than anywhere else in the world.” And what did it produce? Lie after lie. Snare after snare. Spiritual ruin. No wonder it distressed a man who knew the Living Savior.

There’s a principle of application for us here. Paul was waiting and as he took a look around, he had a spiritual perspective and saw spiritual needs. We are waiting. Waiting for the Lord’s return. While you’re waiting, take a look around and get busy furthering God’s work.

Acts 17:17 – 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God, as well as in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.

One spiritual truth that comes out of this situation is that everyone who isn’t born again needs salvation equally. The Jews needed it just as much as the idol worshipers. The Stoics just as much as the Epicureans. The idle troublemakers in the marketplace just as much as the shopkeeper. All are in need of God and all are loved by God.

A point of application here is: Paul wasn’t only distressed, he walked onto the field and got involved. There’s a lot out there to upset us, especially as God-loving, moral people. Let’s not just be upset, but to take our concern and put some legs on it and get to the Lord’s business however we can.

Acts 17:18 – 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him. Some said, “What is this ignorant show-off trying to say?” Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

We don’t need to get too deep into what it meant to be a Stoic or an Epicurean. Suffice it to say, they were different philosophies about how a person should live. Some of these people believed that the gods were too far removed to have anything to do with humankind. Sort of agnostics. Others thought that the highest value of man was to live a good life and relate well to friends. Some were pantheists – thinking there is no actual, personal God. Others, I’m sure, didn’t care about religion as much as they just wanted to make a buck and mind their own business.

And this is the situation we find ourselves in today. There are a lot of people with a lot of different ideas. You come across them all the time at work or in school or in the donut shop. The internet has made junior philosophers of everybody. There are some people who fashion their lives after a Jordan Peterson video or do whatever Joe Rogan or Oprah Winfrey says. There are other people deep into Critical Race Theory. I’ve got a friend from college who has decided he doesn’t want to be a Christian anymore, he’s watched some stuff on YouTube and now he doesn’t think human beings have a free will. Not in a theological sense, in a philosophical sense.

So, on any given day, you and I might encounter a modern day “Epicurean” or “Stoic” or a scoffer or just people who don’t quite understand what you’re all about as a Christian. Paul examples to us here that, no matter who you’re talking about, the target goal is the same: Tell them the GOOD news about Jesus Christ. How He lived and died and rose again and what that means for each and every person on the earth.

We note that some called him an “ignorant show-off,” or a “babbler.” Your translation may even render it “seed picker.” Which shows that even though there wasn’t violent hostility in Athens, there was still hostility. And we should expect there to be levels of hostility to rear up when we live out or speak out our faith in Christ.

Acts 17:19-20 – 19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you are presenting? 20 Because what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these things mean.”

The Areopagus was a prestigious place, this was quite an opportunity, but the setting is somewhat casual. Paul’s not on trial. There’s no riot or commotion. There was a group of people interested in hearing him. In that sense, it’s like when your supervisor at work suddenly says, “You go to church, right?” That moment can feel intimidating, because in many cases such an opportunity is somewhat rare. Or maybe you’re at some training and they’re doing a Q&A time or want input and suddenly the focus is on you and you’ve got these professionals or experts and you get the chance to speak. Maybe you’re in a classroom setting or even just on the family text thread and that nonChristian sister-in-law with a Masters degree opens a door for you to say something about what you believe.

In that moment we want to react quickly, take the opportunity that is presented. We’ll see Paul doesn’t have much time, but he uses what time he has. And we want to realize that the things we say might sound new and strange to a lot of people. Our perspective on what matters in life, our perspective on suffering or generosity or truth and ethics, these are things that many people not only don’t understand but are confused by.

What we’ll find is that, in this moment, Paul is not going to present them a “teaching” as much as he is going to present to them a Person. And that is a very important principle when it comes to living as witnesses for the Lord. Christianity is not a system. It’s not a philosophy. It is a relationship with the Living God, our Creator, our Savior, who then does take our lives and give us a worldview and way of living, but it’s the Person we want to present, not a philosophy.

Acts 17:21 – 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.

Luke gives us an editorial comment here, but it can encourage us. Some of the people around us are not on a genuine search for spiritual truth. The Philippian Jailer, that guy’s in crisis. He is genuinely looking for answers. Same with the Ethiopian Eunuch. These folks, some were probably earnest, but a lot were just going about their business without any real interest in Paul’s God. Even so, God’s word and the Holy Spirit are powerful enough to break into hearts and make a difference.

Acts 17:22 – 22 Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said, “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect.

It’s not a good thing to be “religious in every respect.” Religion is a deadly thing. Look at what intense “religiosity” did in the Bible, whether it was the Athenian flavor or that of the Pharisees. We relate to God on the heart level, not the legal, ritualistic level.

Acts 17:23 – 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

Now, remember, Athens was supposed to be this pinnacle of thought and learning and spirituality. But think for a moment about how silly this really is. In Greek mythology the gods would sometimes come down and mingle with the people. Imagine some god, the unknown god, showed up one day, and said, “I’m here. I’m powerful. I want to know if you worship me.” Their response was, “Oh yeah, we put a little shrine over there. That one can be yours.”

“Well, did you search for me or honor me or try to obey me?”

“Like I said, there’s a placeholder shrine over there…we’re hoping that would cover it…”

That’s the pinnacle of human philosophy. The best man can do is make gods for himself, fashioning them according to his own imagination and frailties and insufficiencies.

Luckily, we no longer need to live in ignorance, because the one true God has revealed Himself.

Acts 17:24-25 – 24 The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.

God is not only Maker, He is Master and He is the Maintainer of all things. Breathing hasn’t been quite so easy the last weeks with the fires, but let’s be reminded that every breath is literally a gift from God. He does so, not because He needs us but because He loves. He is a Giver and a Sustainer and, Christian, He will sustain you now and forevermore.

Acts 17:26-27 – 26 From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

There’s so much talk about ethnicity and race these days. We don’t want to be callous or without tact, but boiled all the way down, the Bible declares there is one race – the human race. Interestingly, the reason why mankind has split off into national groups is, according to Paul, so that God could work out His loving providence and draw all men to Himself. How can that be?

Well, we remember the first great division of people at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. There they were, working together to reject God, and God said, “For their own good we need to split them up, because if we let them continue on this path, they’re going to be lost.” So in love God confused our language. And here Paul reveals that God scatters people throughout the world and throughout the generations so that they will always be as close as possible to connecting with Him if they will turn in repentance and faith.

On a practical level, this means that God has scattered you into this time and this place for a particular, loving and spiritual reason. This is why we need to be very careful about tinkering with the movements of our lives. We don’t want to spend time in Philistine territory like David did. We want to be where God wants us to be because He wants us there on purpose.

We also learn here that any person, in any condition, can reach out for God and immediately lay hold of Him. There is no one too far gone. Whether you’re the prodigal in the pig pen or the king in the palace, God our Savior is immediately within reach and He is, in fact, reaching out to each of us.

Acts 17:28-29 – 28 For in him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ 29 Since, then, we are God’s offspring, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.

When you think about nonChristian religious ideas which try to answer the questions of how we get to heaven or how to live a meaningful life, they’re pretty sad. About as sad as carving a little image and calling that a deity. People in our day-to-day lives will often say things like “I’m a good person.” Ok, but that’s not anything. That’s like saying, “I’d like to be awarded the Nobel peace prize, please.” “Ok, on what basis?” “Well, I didn’t commit genocide today.” That’s not how it works.

Now imagine a thrice Holy God who gave you life and breath and help and a way to be saved. And you stand before Him and say, “I wasn’t AS bad as I could’ve been.” “Ok. Well, did you love Me? Did you try to know Me? Did you listen when I spoke to you?” “No, I made you this carving.”

Paul highlights the fact that even unbelievers have an innate understanding that there is a God and that we owe our lives to Him. “Some of your own poets have said…” As Christians we need to preach and live out the truth that our lives are not our own. They belong to God. A gracious God, full of love and kindness. But our lives are His, for His glory, for His use.

Acts 17:30-31 – 30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

No more excuses. If a person wants salvation, if they want a life of meaning, if they want to be saved from hell and be made right, they must turn toward God from whatever other idol they serve or philosophy they follow. It is commanded. And that is the first step for the unbeliever. Not some method or program or formula. Repent! And it’s urgent they do so, because each passing moment, each breath they take is one closer to that final judgment, where they will stand before a perfect God and have to answer this question: Are you righteous? There is none righteous, no not one. Only Jesus Christ passes inspection. And only those who are in His hand will escape judgment and the penalty for their sin. Christ is that Man appointed by God, He is the GodMan, who will judge the world in righteousness. And we know it’s true because He was raised from the dead.

Acts 17:32-34 – 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 So Paul left their presence. 34 However, some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

It would’ve been an intimidating crowd and a not-altogether friendly one, but Paul didn’t shy away from really delivering them the truth. They asked some questions, he directed them to Jesus and for their need to repent and be saved. Some people mocked him, some were shook but weren’t ready to decide, others were born again. And that’s going to be our experience as well. The encouragement is that, when we share the Gospel, the reaction is not our responsibility. There will be a whole range, like we’re seeing here. Our responsibility is the message, so let’s be sure to deliver it in full. That doesn’t mean we have to narrate the entire Bible, but we can give a presentation of the truth in telegram length, if necessary. God is real. You’re a sinner. God wants to save you. Jesus Christ is the only way. Repent and believe.

What Acts demonstrates is that, just as God has scattered people throughout the world on purpose, He has also put you in certain places on purpose so that you can further His work and testify on His behalf. We can do so with force and boldness, like Paul, but also with grace and tact, like Paul. He didn’t get into a shouting match with the scoffers. When it was time, he left peaceably.

As the chapter closes, Luke records 2 of the converts. I find this to be a very interesting post script to the scene. Dionysius was an “Areopagite,” meaning he was probably one of the judges in this prestigious institution. He would’ve been at least 60 years old, and he was named for a Greek god also known as Bacchus, as in the god of drunken revelry. Among other things, he was also the god of insanity and ritual madness. But, he was also a god who had, supposedly, died and risen again. So here we have this man, long steeped in paganism, an exemplar of Satan’s counterfeit and ruin of man. And even he could be reached by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Tradition tells us that he would ultimately become the Bishop of Athens. What a great end after so many wasted years.

So, when you and I find ourselves in some intimidating conversation, take heart, take the opportunity and remember that we are part of the continuing work of God on the earth. And our God can overcome any lie of the Devil, our truth is enough to impact the smartest guy in the room, and no life is too far gone. Even old Areopagites might be brought from darkness to light and used by God.

We may not find ourselves in Philippian dungeons, but we probably will find ourselves on a Mars Hill or two at some point. Head for the hill and know that you are in good company and have a good God standing with you, filling your heart and using you for His glory.

Amazing Grace (Romans 5:1-11)

Since the movie release in 1964 children have been singing about a familiar life changing word. See if you can guess the word from these lyrics.

“When the cat has got your tongue there’s no need to dismay just summon up this word and you got a lot to say, but better use it carefully or it could change your life.” To that a man testified, “For example, one night I said it to me girl, and now me girl’s my wife!”

“Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious, if you say it loud enough you will always sound precocious… The word?

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

There’s another word that I want to discuss this morning. This word is more ordinary, easier to pronounce, but far more wonderful, glorious, and majestic in meaning than anything man could summon up. The word is grace.

Grace should be on lips on of every child of God and planted deep in our minds and heart. Why? Because when you understand this word it will change your life.

The following definitions have been given for the grace of God as seen in the Bible.

Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum says; “The grace of God is favor that is unmerited, that is totally unrelated to every, or any question of human merit.”

J.I. Packer says, “The grace of God is love freely shown towards guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity and who had no reason to expect anything but severity”

Some have described grace by seeing it as acronym:

Gods
Riches
At
Christ’s
Expense

Grace is a large subject in the Bible. Grace, like a diamond has many facets. The facets of grace are seen in both the Old and New Testament.

This morning I want to narrow our focus to God’s gift of saving grace as seen in the New Testament.

Paul summarizes God’s saving grace in Ephesians 2:8-9 by saying, for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Greek language scholars point out that the gift Paul refers to in these verses is God’s saving grace. God’s saving grace is the total package of salvation that God lavishes on the sinner by faith alone.

God’s package of salvation is revealed in scripture as having three acts of grace in a believer’s life:

Justification: We have been saved from the penalty and guilt of sin by being declared righteous
Sanctification: We are presently being saved from the power of sin and conformed into the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit
Glorification: We will be saved from the presence of sin by entering glory either by death or the rapture

This morning we will see a summary of these three acts of salvation in Romans 5:1-11. The three acts of salvation are seen more fully in Romans 1-8. We will use Romans 5:1-11 as an outline and include passages from Romans 1-8 to help us understand this wonderful truth.

As we work through this topic this morning we’ll focus our thoughts around three points.

1. We are saved by grace.

2. We are sanctified by grace.

3. We are secure for future glory by grace.

First we are saved by grace (Romans 5:1a, 1:18, 3:10, 21-28, 4:22-24).

1a Therefore, having been justified by faith,

The word therefore indicates that Paul is summing up and applying what he previously in taught the believers in chapters 1-4. The truth was justification by faith.

Paul began his discussion on justification in Romans 1:18 by showing mankind’s need.

Romans 1:18 says, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…

God’s just response to ungodliness, unrighteousness, and sin is wrath. Next Paul presents mankind’s problem; we are all guilty of sin.

Romans 3:10, As it is written, there is none righteous, no not one.

Paul quotes Psalm 14:3 which gives God spiritual assessment of all mankind. There is none righteous, no not one. All descendants born of Adam and Eve, with the exception of Jesus, are born with a sin nature and therefore we are under the wrath of God.

Wait, can’t you go to Heaven by being a good person or keeping the Old Testament law such as the Ten Commandments? No!

Romans 3:20 therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Keeping the Old Testament law can’t save you. You can’t earn God’s righteousness by works. Isaiah 64:6 says, “Human good works in comparison to God’s righteousness, are like filthy rags.” Not only can we not be saved by works, but we could never keep God’s law perfectly.

Here’s a test to prove God’s spiritual assessment. Have you ever put anything before God? Lied? Coveted something not yours? You have already broken three laws.

James says if you break one law you are guilty of them all (James 2:10). Those who break God’s law are under the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10), which is God’s wrath (Romans 1:18).

BLUF: You and I are sinners unable to save ourselves, Mankind’s only hope is for God to provide the righteousness needed so we can be saved.

Good news! God provides this righteousness through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Romans 3:21-23,

21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

All have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of righteousness and perfection. The word “sinned” means “missing the mark” and “hitting the wrong mark.”

God in His grace has made a way for sinners to receive His righteousness by faith alone and be saved! God made our salvation possible by sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins. God then gave outward evidence of this fact through the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Romans 4:25).

Romans 3:24-26,

24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,
26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Through the cross God has made it possible for the sinners to freely receive His gift of salvation and go to heaven. God’s gift of salvation came at a great cost. God had to send His Son to die in our place.

Notice what God accomplished by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross.

Vs.24 God provided a redemption. Redemption means a ransom payment. Christ’s death on the cross paid our ransom price in full. The sinner can now be released from slavery to sin, Satan, and death.

Before Jesus yielded His Spirit to the Father on the cross he said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). This comes from one word Greek word tetelestai which means paid in full. This word I am told was found on first century receipts in the ancient markets.

Vs. 25 God provided a propitiation by Jesus’ blood. Jesus death provided an acceptable sacrifice that satisfied God’s wrath against sin and His broken law. Jesus took God’s wrath described in Romans 1:18 so we don’t have to bear it.

Vs. 26 God provided a means that He could freely justify the sinner and remain just and holy. God’s justice and grace are both displayed through the cross.

There is another important aspect of Jesus’ work on the cross as it relates to our justification, it is called imputation. You can read about it in Romans 4:22-24. Imputed is a banking term that means “to place on one’s account” or “on one’s bank ledger.”

We see a physical example of imputation in Paul’s letter to Philemon, where he told Philemon to put Onesimus’ debt on his account (Philemon 1:18). Paul did not commit the crime, but he told Philemon he would bear the debt.

Concerning Jesus’ work on the cross Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

When Jesus died on the cross God imputed the sins of the world on Jesus. As a result of that finished work, God can impute Jesus’ righteousness to the person who places their faith in Jesus. When God looks at the spiritual ledger of the believer He sees Jesus’ righteousness.

Based on this transaction by faith God justifies the sinner. Justification means that God declares the sinner righteous on behalf of His provided righteousness.

Back to Romans 5:1a, notice two things before we move one.

First, justification is by faith alone apart from works. Second, justified is past tense, it’s not a process, it’s the one time act of God in the past that carries its results into the future.

Secondly, we are sanctified by grace (Romans 5:1b-4).

Paul now goes on and presents the argument that Grace is not only sufficient to save us in the past, but sufficient to sustain and sanctify us in the present.

Romans 5:1b we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Since the believer has been declared righteous, we can now enjoy certain blessings as a result of our position in Christ.

First we have peace with God. Before you were a believer, whether you realized it or not, you were an enemy at war with God. Colossians 1:21 says and you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled.

Romans 5:10 says we were reconciled to God through the cross while we were enemies.

Reconciled means, “to render savable.” God so loved the world He sent His Son (John 3:16). We love Him because He first He first loved us (1 John 4:19). God was the one that acted first to make peace with mankind. God through the cross has removed the enmity that stands between sinner and Himself, making it possible for whosoever will believe to become His friend.

This is good news! The war is over, we should be celebrating like they did when WWII ended, just no kissing random people!

If you are a believer God is not mad at you, He is not against you, He is for you, and you are on His side. Under grace and the New Covenant we must not think of our relationship with God as an ancient vassal treaty made with a tyrant king. The agreement was usually to pay tribute to or to be besieged and destroyed.

Through faith in Jesus, we are now the friends of God. More important, we are called children of God (1 John 3:1). If you being evil know how to love your children, how much more will our Father in heaven love us (Matthew 7:11)?

2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

The believer is presently seen as standing in God’s grace, in contrast to our previous standing in wrath (Romans 1:18). The grace in which we stand is the sphere of grace. This means among many other things, that we stand unconditionally in God’s favor, love and blessing. Our standing in these things is not based on our works, because that would cancel and contradict grace. If it is by works then God’s a debtor and not a giver, thus grace is no longer grace (Romans 4:4, 11:6)

Sadly some believers, trapped in legalism, live their entire Christian life on a roller coaster. Always focused on the guilt of their failures and how they need to do better and work their way back into the love and favor of God. This is false!

You have been justified! Paul is declaring the present results of God’s past work! You have been declared righteous, your guilt is gone. You remain in the sphere of God’s favor, not because of your works, but because of your new position in Christ.

Paul takes our standing in grace to its theological conclusion at the end of verse 2, we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

The word hope is the absolute assurance of future glory. The believer can rejoice, exult, boast, and praise because we can have assurance that what God begun by grace He will finish by grace. Paul says in Philippians 1:6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

It is false to think that salvation begins by grace alone and now must be maintained by our works. Just as our justification is not based on works, our sanctification, is not based on works. Salvation is a total package by grace from start to finish. If it’s not all by grace, then it’s not by grace. Period.

What about the trials of life, persecutions and temptations of life, will God be able to sustain us through these by His grace and bring us to glory?

3a And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations,

The tribulations Paul refers to is not the Great Tribulation. Tribulations refers to the afflictions, distresses, and pressures we face as we walk with Jesus. Tribulations could refer to physical suffering, persecutions, or temptation.

Paul encourages believers that God is able to sustain and change us into the image of Christ through tribulations.

The Apostle Paul was a living example as seen 2 Corinthians 12:8-9. Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to remove his throne in the flesh. Some believe the thorn in the flesh was an eye disease.

Jesus responded to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then responded, “Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The Greek word that Paul used for boast in 2 Corinthians 12:9 is the same word translated “rejoice” (Romans 5:2, 11) and “glory” (Romans 5:3). The believer can rejoice because God has given us grace to sustain us.

This morning if you find yourself in one of these situations the Lord has sufficient grace to sustain you. Hebrews 4:16 says, “therefore let us boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Since we stand in grace, God is always ready to give you the grace and mercy needed, all you need to do is ask.

3b knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;
4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

God is not only able to sustain us through tribulations, but also by His providence, to sanctify or change us into the image of Jesus through them.

Paul says, “Tribulation produces perseverance or endurance,” which is the ability to continue working in the face of strong opposition and obstacles. God builds our spiritual muscle, through trials. Endurance comes by being stretched and pushing our limits, not while resting in our present ability and comforts.

Patient endurance produces proven character. The word character, I’m told, was used of testing different types of metals. Just as the gold smith heats up the fire to burn away the dross, God through our circumstance refines us into fine gold.

Job said concerning God’s work in his testing, But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

God through trials also focuses the believer’s heart and eyes on our future hope. If we want to be like the believers in the hall of faith of Hebrews 11 our focus needs to be on the eternal city, the New Jerusalem, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). As you see from reading that chapter, God used their present situation to focus their eyes on His future promises.

Third we are secure for future glory by grace (Romans 5:5-11).

5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

The future hope of the believer will not be a disappointed. Disappointed means to be put to shame because of failed promises. God will not fail to bring us to glory as He promised by grace.

God has given the believer at least three present reminders that our hope will not be put to shame.

First, we have the Savior. Jesus rose bodily from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3 says, “we have a living hope through the bodily resurrection of Jesus.”

Second, we have the scriptures. The scriptures will not be broken (John 10:35). God has promised He will complete what He has begun (Philippians 1:6) and His promises are always yes and amen (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Third, we have the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee (Ephesians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 1:22). The Spirit is like an engagement ring that has been given to the believer, the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:31), so we can remember that He will fulfill what He promised.

One aspect of the Spirits ministry is given in verse 5, God floods the believer’s heart with reminders of His loyal love. Paul pours out this torrent of love by the inspiration of the Sprit in verses 6-11.

Paul presents two arguments in these verses to teach of the extent of God’s love and the assurance of our security and future glory.

First in verses 6-10, Paul uses the argument from the lesser to the greater.

Here he says the extent of God’s love is seen in that God sent His Son to die for us when we were weak (vs.6a), not just weak but ungodly (vs.6b), not just ungodly but sinners (vs 8), not just sinners but His enemies (vs.10).

Second in verses 9-11, Paul uses greater to the lesser, showing the first two “much mores” of our future security.

Since God sent His Son for us while we were His enemies we can be assured that He will not now forsake us now that we are His friends. We can have assurance that God will deliver us from future wrath (vs.9) and bring us to glory (vs.10).

6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

God sent His Son into the world not because man had made themselves righteous and deserved it. Mankind was without strength, we were unable to make ourselves righteous. Mankind was ungodly, without reverence or affection towards God. It was at this time that God sent His Son according to His perfect timetable.

7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It’s rare for a person to die for a moral and upright person. Possibly a person would be willing to die for a good self-sacrificing and benevolent person. These are rare, which is why the Medal of Honor is not something given out every day.

Notice the contrast, but God sent His Son to die for His enemies. How many people would send their son to die for their enemy in the fox pit across from them?

No one! Yet God sent His Son into the world which Romans 1 says was suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. The world is also lead by Satan in active rebellion and war against God (Ephesians 2:1-3, 1 John 5:19). Yet God in His love sent Jesus to die on the cross to save whosoever will believe.

9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

If God, in His love, sent Jesus to save us from wrath (Romans 1:18) while we were His enemies, will He not much more so save us from future wrath now that we are His friends? Of course!

The believer does not have to fear the wrath of hell (Mark 9:43-48), or the wrath of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 6:14-17). Since God in His grace has saved us from wrath by justification, He will sustain us from wrath.

10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

If God, while we were enemies, made peace through the cross so we can be saved, will He not much more keep us secure and bring us to glory (1 John 3:2, Colossians 3:4) now that we are His friends? Of course!

Paul presents the conclusion of God’s amazing grace by asking some rhetorical questions in Romans 8:31-39,

31 then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
33Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written: “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE KILLED ALL DAY LONG; WE ARE ACCOUNTED AS SHEEP FOR THE SLAUGHTER.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,
39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul here again proves the lesser by greater. Since God has done so much in His love, we can be certain that He will protect us, freely give us all things needed, defend us, and sustain us for glory despite our failures and trails.

11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

The application Paul gives is we are to rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace does not give us license to sin, Paul addresses that question in Romans 6 where he says, “God forbid we should think like that.” Rather our focus should be on Romans 5:5 that says that the Spirit wants to flood our heart with torrents of God’s love.

In closing, the more I understand God’s grace, the more the Spirit will overflow my life into godly service, sacrifice and worship.