Tag Archives: Jesus

What Is A Great Christian?

Jesus’ disciples asked him who is greatest in the kingdom of the heavens. In other words, who is greatest among Jesus’ followers? If they expected him to choose one of them, they got a surprise.

Jesus called a child and had him stand among them. He told his disciples that unless they changed and became like children, they would certainly not enter God’s kingdom. Notice the switch: not just fail to be great in God’s kingdom, but fail to enter God’s kingdom!

So, Jesus said that the one who humbles himself like a child is great in God’s kingdom. But why is humility so great?

The Bible tells us that Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly glory and became not just a man, but a servant. In another place Jesus says that whatever we do to the least of these brothers of his, we do to him. So Jesus humbled himself and he identifies personally with those who are humble.

To be great in God’s kingdom one must be like Jesus: humble and willing to identify with others who are humble.

Jesus goes on to say that anyone who causes one of these little ones who believe in him to stumble would be better off if they had a large millstone tied around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. That’s harsh!

He also says that if our hand or foot causes us to stumble then we should cut them off and throw them away because it’s better to enter life maimed than go to hell with both hands and feet. Jesus is calling for radical action to keep from sinning, not literal dismemberment, but his figure of speech gets our attention.

Our personal sin can lead others astray, especially the “little ones.” Christian humility demands that we live holy lives not just for ourselves, but for one another. Christian humility is not just words. It is actions. It is putting others before ourselves.

Finally Jesus says, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones because their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Popular opinion values the “big ones”: the big celebrities, the big politicians, the big money makers, and so forth. So we may be tempted to look down on the “little ones.”

Sinful pride tries to convince us that we are better than the “little ones.” But when we lift ourselves up by putting others down we are not acting like citizens of God’s kingdom, much less great citizens. And sinful pride comes before a painful fall.

Jesus did not rebuke his disciples for wanting to be great in God’s kingdom. But he did make sure that they understood God’s criteria for true kingdom greatness. The one who humbles himself like a child is great in God’s kingdom (see Matthew 18:1-10).

May God’s Spirit enable us to be great Christians,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Culture Wars and Prayer

Elijah appears suddenly in the pages of the Bible in 1 Kings 17. He is a prophet, a man of God.

Elijah lives at a time of spiritual decline in Israel. God’s people are being led astray to forget the God of the Bible and to adopt a competing worldview.

The champion of this competing worldview is a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel is a Baal worshiper. Baal is an idol. Baal worshipers give this idol credit for controlling the rain, and thus having the power of life.

Jezebel is married to the king of Israel, a man named Ahab. She uses her political position to promote Baal worship. She also abuses her power to intimidate and persecute those who worship and serve the Lord.

Baal worship threatens to extinguish belief in the Living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So God sends Elijah to confront King Ahab with bad news. Rain in Israel will cease. Why? To prove to the people that Baal does not control the rain, God does.

Eventually Elijah faces a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. This event is one of the most dramatic in all the Bible (see 1 Kings 18). It is a contest to prove who is really God.

The contest was simple. The prophets of Baal would prepare a sacrifice and call on Baal. Elijah would prepare a sacrifice and call on the Lord. The one who answered by fire would be the true God.

The prophets of Baal cried out to the idol but, of course, it failed to answer. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord. In his prayer he called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again, back to the truth, back to the Lord.

Israel was experiencing what some would call a “culture war.” Two competing worldviews were struggling for the hearts of the people: Baal worship versus faithfulness to the God of their forefathers.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today, a time of frustrating spiritual decline. Powerful proponents of secularism are working diligently to erase the God of the Bible from the public square and from the hearts of the citizenry.

Whether we call this struggle a “culture war” or a “spiritual battle,” the stakes are high. Elijah recognized the fundamental issue in his struggle and he expressed it well in his prayer. The basic issue was not the laws of the land or the leaders on the throne. The basic issue was the hearts of the people.

Elijah’s response to the struggle in his time included bold prayer. His prayer called on God to turn the hearts of the people back again. We should follow his example and pray passionately for God to turn the hearts of the people back to the truth, back to the gospel, back to Jesus.

God answered Elijah’s prayer and brought a great victory. But the struggle continued. We can expect the same: great victories and continued struggles. We can be faithful in fighting the good fight, because we know that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to be faithful,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

What Is A Disciple?

Jesus has given us a great mission. We are to make disciples of all peoples. But what is a disciple? Jesus’ instructions help answer that question.

First, he says that we should baptize disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So disciples are baptized believers. To make disciples, we bring people to saving faith in Jesus and baptize them.

Next, Jesus says that we are to teach disciples to obey all that he has instructed us. Disciples are learners. But they are not just learning information. They are learning to obey. Disciples don’t just know Jesus’ teachings, they apply Jesus’ teachings to everyday life. To make disciples, we instruct them in living the Christian life.

So far, so good. But can we be more specific? In our personal evangelism classes, we use a working definition of “disciple” so that we know what we are trying to accomplish. Here it is: A disciple is a baptized believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who is attending Sunday school regularly. Now that definition is simple, but it gives us something objective to shoot for.

Once disciples are made, they begin to grow spiritually. How do we define a mature disciple? Our definition must be more comprehensive. First, a mature follower of Jesus will attend church regularly. For Grace Baptist, that is Sunday school, Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening discipleship, Wednesday evening prayer (or working with children), and any other ministry activities that are necessary.

Second, a mature follower of Jesus finds a place of service in the church and serves faithfully. Many opportunities for service are available: Sunday school teachers, greeters, musicians, children’s workers, cooks, counters, property maintenance, drivers, and much more.

Next, a mature follower of Jesus gives tithes and offerings to the local church.

Also, a mature follower of Jesus reaches out to people outside the church, looking for open doors of ministry, looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus. Part of being a disciple is making disciples, that is, helping others come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Finally, a mature follower of Jesus is someone who faithfully attends to personal spiritual disciplines, like reading the Bible, prayer, worship, and fasting. These disciplines are spiritual sustenance to followers of Jesus. Without a steady diet of Christian spiritual disciplines, a follower of Jesus will be spiritually anemic.

So our goal is for every follower of Jesus to be faithfully attending, serving, giving, sharing and growing in Christ. All of this is done in the local church. We grow toward maturity in Christ together, in fellowship, a fellowship which provides the encouragement and accountability that each of us needs.

Making disciples is an ongoing mission. These goals are never finished in this life. No individual believer reaches perfection in this age. We always have room for growth. And, no local church should ever stop reaching new souls for Jesus. Those new believers must then be grown toward maturity. And God’s kingdom advances.

So, let’s be disciples and make disciples!

May God’s Spirit inspire and enable us to do great things for his kingdom,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

How Can We Be Alert In Prayer?

Does your mind wander when you pray?

Praying alone in a quiet place can be a relaxing activity. In fact, it can be easy to doze off. When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane the night before his arrest, he asked his disciples to watch and pray with him.  They fell asleep . . . 3 times.

Being informed can make us alert. What if Jesus’ disciples had known that an angry mob with torches and clubs was coming to take Jesus away by force? I doubt if they would have fallen asleep!

The Bible urges us to be alert in prayer: “With every kind of prayer and petition, pray in the Spirit at all times; and to get this done, be alert by using all perseverance and prayer for all believers, and for me, that a word will be given to me when I open my mouth to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19).

Persistent prayer for all believers is one way to stay alert in prayer.  Pray for all Christians everywhere, those you know and don’t know, those you like and don’t like, those in your local church and not, those in your denomination and not, those in your country or culture and not. That’s a tall order!

There are tens of millions of Christians around the world, we cannot know each one personally. Instead, we must learn what we can about believers in faraway places so that we can pray for them.

God’s Spirit may stir in us a special interest for certain communities or circumstances. For instance, we may have a special compassion for persecuted believers.

Then it says, “and for me,” that is, pray for me. In addition to praying for all believers everywhere, we should also pray for individual believers we know personally.

But what about people who have not yet been saved? Shouldn’t we pray for them?

When Jesus saw crowds of folks looking like sheep without a shepherd, he had compassion on them. He urged his followers to pray to God, not for the lost sheep, but for believers to do the gospel work.

In the instruction above, the writer asks his readers to pray that he will be bold in making known the mystery of the gospel. A mystery in the Bible is not something that is difficult to understand. It’s something impossible to know until it is revealed. The gospel is the revelation about Jesus, that he died and rose again so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life.

The best prayer for lost people is prayer for saved people to be bold and share the gospel. We need prayer for boldness to witness because our natural disposition is to keep quiet about the gospel. Telling others about Jesus requires the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

Pray for God to give you the same concern for others that Jesus has. Compassion for others will keep you alert in prayer.

May the God’s Spirit inspire us to share in his great harvest,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Prayer, Religion

Don’t Miss the Signs of the Times

The religious leaders asked Jesus for a sign from heaven. They wanted proof that Jesus was sent from God (Matthew 16:1).

Jesus scolded them. They could read the weather, he pointed out, but not the signs of the times. Jesus gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, cast out demons, and preached with astounding authority. What more did they want?

The Son of God was standing right in front of them, but they couldn’t see it. Their personal agendas were more important to them than God’s kingdom plan.

Jesus told them that they would get no sign except the sign of Jonah. What does he mean?

Jonah didn’t warm up to God’s plan. God sent Jonah to preach in Nineveh but Jonah didn’t want to. So he took a boat going the opposite direction of Nineveh.

Jonah’s flight from the Lord ended in the belly of a big fish. He was as good as dead. But God was merciful and preserved Jonah’s life.

Jesus is telling these religious leaders that something similar will happen to him. Not that he will run away from God, but that he will suffer the punishment for all who do, a punishment that will require his death.

Jesus did not go down into the belly of a big fish but into a tomb, buried and dead. Then God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the sign that Jesus is speaking about, his resurrection.

Jesus’ resurrection is God’s greatest sign. For those who dismiss it, nothing will be good enough. For those who recognize it as God’s power, nothing could be better. They see, understand, and act.

In the Old Testament we read about men from Issachar who understood the times and knew what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). Every generation needs men and women who understand the times and know what to do.

Unfortunately, in our day there are many folks who are like those religious leaders who asked Jesus for a sign. They understand nature far better than they understand the Creator. But we need people who can do more than understand nature and question God.

First, we need folks who understand the times from an eternal perspective. Our times are so bad in a spiritual sense that we may be tempted to conclude that God has abandoned us. But that would be a mistake.

Jesus told the religious leaders in his day that they were a wicked and adulterous generation. It’s hard to imagine a more negative analysis! And yet the Son of God came and walked among that wicked and adulterous generation.

We must not be discouraged by the dark state of our world. Despite this present darkness, God is working to accomplish all that he has promised.

The church in America is undergoing historical realignment. Until recently Christians have been divided mostly along denominational lines. But now Christian denominations are dividing within themselves between those who believe the Bible and those who do not.

Those who trust Scripture are now a remnant in many denominations. In some cases they are leaving their institutions behind because they can no longer participate in the disobedient course being taken by spiritually darkened leaders.

Our times are characterized by increasing skepticism towards God’s word and expanding secularism in every facet of life. As a result, biblical illiteracy is growing by leaps and bounds, and church participation is faltering.

Once we understand the times, we must know what to do. A skeptical and secular world must hear and see the truth of God’s word.

The world will only hear God’s word when God’s people are bold enough to proclaim it publicly. The world will only see God’s word when God’s people are confident enough to live in obedience to God’s commands faithfully and openly.

Jesus promises that obedience to his message is like a house built on solid rock. The wind blows, the rain falls, the river rises, but the house stands. He warns that a life of disobedience is like a house built on sand. The wind blows, the rain falls, the river rises, and that house crashes.

All around us we see lives and families and communities crashing because they are built on the sandy ground of skepticism and secularism. We have the answer.

Our task in this dark generation is to obey God’s command and to testify about Jesus. Now.

May God’s Word always be a lamp for our feet and a light for our path,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Christmas Bible Reading from The Book of Revelation

Christmas Bible readings from Matthew and Luke are typical, but there are other places in Scripture that speak about Jesus’ birth. The Book of Revelation is a word from God to his people about the realities in heaven that effect and direct human history, things which we cannot see with our natural eyes, spiritual happenings. Chapter 12 uses symbols to describe a cosmic battle that rages between God and Satan. And Jesus’ birth is an important part of this struggle.

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman dressed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of 12 stars and being pregnant, she cries out in labor pains, tormented to give birth.
And another sign appeared in heaven: Look! A great red dragon having 7 heads and 10 horns, and upon his heads 7 diadems, and his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
And the dragon stood before the woman, the one about to give birth, so that when she gives birth he may devour her child.
(Revelation 12:1-4)

If you have not spent time reading the Book of Revelation, it can be a strange experience at first, like stepping into a sort of theological Alice in Wonderland. The Book of Revelation is filled with apocalyptic literature, a style of writing that uses many symbols.

In this section we see several important symbols. The woman who is dressed in the sun is a symbol for God’s chosen people, Israel. God’s people are often spoken of in Scripture as God’s wife or bride. In the Old Testament Israel is God’s wife. In the New Testament the Church is the Bride of Christ.

The woman’s child is the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the one he promised to send as savior of his people. He is Jesus.

The dragon is obviously an enemy of the woman and her child, that is, an enemy of Israel and Messiah Jesus. The dragon with his 7 heads and 10 horns and 7 diadems represents political power. The diadems on the dragon’s heads are crowns.

There are 2 kinds of crowns in the Book of Revelation. Stephanos is a crown made of a wreath. It is given to winning athletes and worn at feasts and celebrations. It is usually made of some type of greenery that fades quickly. But the diadem is made of precious metals and stones, jewels. It is worn by kings and queens. It is a symbol of empire, of political and military power. The dragon wields political power.

Nations and their leaders who are enemies of God’s people are often symbolized by giant dangerous creatures, like dragons and leviathans. Pharaoh and Egypt were enemies of God’s people in the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh tried to destroy the Hebrews, God’s people, by throwing all their baby boys in the Nile River. In the Book of Esther, we read about Haman in the ancient kingdom of Babylon. Haman had political power which he tried to use as a tool to destroy the Jews who were in exile in Babylon. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem King Herod tried to destroy him, killing all the babies in that town. So, this red dragon represents political powers and their leaders who try to destroy God’s people so that his chosen Messiah cannot come and carry out his mission. But there is more to it.

And she birthed a son, a boy who is about to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron, and her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.(Revelation 12:5)

This is an apocalyptic version of the Gospel, Jesus’ life and ministry from a heavenly perspective. We are familiar with the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which give us an earthly view of Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke is filled with things familiar to us: taxes, a pregnant woman, a long journey, a town packed with travelers, the cradle, the animals, the shepherds. True, we still have the angels, but the earthly focus is unmistakable.

In Revelation 12:5, however, we are given a different perspective. Jesus’ birth, life and ascension back to God in heaven is reduced to one verse. The focus here is on his role as king. He will rule all the nations with a rod of iron. No nation, people or culture will defy the rule of Jesus. Jesus is King of kings. His rule is unbreakable, a rod of iron. His rule is endorsed by God. Jesus is welcomed to God’s throne. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people in the Old Testament. God promised to send his Anointed One as a descendant of Abraham. And God promised that he would be the one to rule forever. Jesus is born to rule.

These verses tell us 2 things. First, Jesus’ birth is one of God’s great goals in history. And second, Jesus’ birth leads to his universal eternal rule.

And the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God so that they might care for her 1,260 days.
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels made war against the dragon and the dragon and his angels made war. And he was not able nor was a place found for them any longer in heaven.
And the great dragon was thrown out, the ancient serpent, the one called the Devil and Satan, the one leading astray the whole inhabited earth, he was thrown to earth and his angels were thrown down with him.
(Revelation 12:6-9)

If we have any doubt about the identity of the dragon it is dispelled in this section. The Lord wants to be sure that we know who the red dragon represents. He is more than a symbol for nations and their leaders who are hostile to God and his people. He is a powerful person using those nations and rulers against God and his people. He is the ancient serpent, the one who tempted Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden and so lead all humanity into a fallen state. He is the one called the Devil, which means slanderer. He is the one called Satan, which means adversary. He is the one who leads the whole world astray. Just as he persuaded Adam and Eve to doubt God’s word, so he still persuades people, communities, cultures, societies and nations today. His first recorded words, “Did God really say?” are still his most effective tool.

John’s vision includes a great battle in the heavenly realms between the Angel Michael and all the angels who follow him, fighting against the dragon, Satan, and his angels. Despite Satan’s great power, he loses and is expelled from heaven. All of this is a reminder that what we see in history is driven by forces which are invisible to our natural eyes. Spiritual warfare rages all around us. We see and experience the results. The results are broken lives and families, broken communities and nations. The battle is real and the losses are tragic. But these visions show that there is a victory and it belongs to God.

And I heard a loud voice in the heaven saying, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ, because the accuser of our brothers is thrown out, the one accusing them before our God day and night. (Revelation 12:10)

The scene shifts in verse 10. John hears a loud voice of praise in heaven, God’s dwelling place. What follows in an expression of worship. Songs of worship are found throughout the Bible and they are some of the most inspiring passages of Scripture to read and meditate upon. But many of the worship songs before the Book of Revelation use the form, To God be, To God be the glory, the power, the honor, and so forth. It is an expression of hope and belief about the future: may it be. But the loud voice in heaven affirms that the time of God’s victory is no longer in the future, the kingdom of God is no longer merely potential, Now are the salvation and power and kingdom of God. Jesus began his preaching ministry by proclaiming that the kingdom of God is near. He taught his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. But John’s vision of the worship in heaven sees the time when God’s kingdom is consummated. Note that God’s kingdom is closely related to the authority of Jesus, the one born to rule.

The consummation of God’s kingdom rule is also important for God’s people. They are the ones who were being harassed by Satan. He accuses them before God night and day. His accusations may include lies, since he is the great deceiver, but they are damaging because they also contain some truth. God’s people have sinned and rebelled against the Lord. Satan knows that for God’s holiness to remain intact, for his righteousness to be unstained, he must exercise justice and punish his people, cut them off from his love and blessing. Satan believes that he has put God in an impossible situation. He must either show himself to be unrighteous by blessing those who do not deserve it, or he must show himself to be unloving by condemning those he created for fellowship. But God is not defeated. Jesus is the answer to the spiritual conundrum. That’s why Satan tries so hard to destroy Jesus. He knows that Jesus can defeat him. Jesus’ rule leads to Satan’s defeat.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life unto death. (Revelation 12:11)

So God’s people have victory over Satan and his accusations. Notice that this victory comes by the blood of the Lamb. “Lamb” is a reference to the Passover feast memorializing God’s rescue of his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. God instructed them to sacrifice a lamb to remember his salvation and to look forward to a much greater salvation. So, Satan is accusing God’s people of sinning, which they have done, forcing God to exercise his justice and deny his love, or exercise his love and deny his justice. But Jesus sacrifices himself at Calvary, giving his life as a sin offering for God’s people, the ultimate Passover Lamb. It is his blood, his life, offered as a sacrifice that enables God to forgive his people. God’s holiness is satisfied because the sin of his people is punished and God’s love is satisfied. This frees God to forgive and bless his people, demonstrating his mercy and grace. Satan is expelled from heaven and his accusations are silenced. God does not simply ignore sin. That would make him unjust. God does not abandon his people. That would make him unloving. His solution is brilliant, a cosmic victory.

We shouldn’t miss something important about this verse. God’s people overcome by the blood of the Lamb, by Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, but also by the word of their testimony. The salvation that comes from Jesus’ sacrifice is not forced on anyone. It must be appropriated by personal faith, by the word of their testimony. Only those willing to testify, to place their faith in Jesus, will enjoy the benefits of his sacrifice. And this testimony is not empty words. Notice what it says: They did not love their lives even to the point of death. In other words, they were willing to die for their testimony. Saving faith inspires meaningful words which are backed up by actions, by sacrifice, even by martyrdom if necessary.

In verse 5 we read that the woman, God’s people, gave birth to her son, Jesus, who will rule the nations with an iron rod, and he was snatched up to God, to his throne. This is a short version of the Gospel, a heavenly perspective that focuses on his birth and ascension (his coming and going, if you will). Now, in verse 11, we get his important sacrificial death, the blood of the Lamb, which is the proper focus of saving faith. Those who overcome the enemy do so by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. The blood of the Lamb does not automatically save all who are born on earth. Each one must decide and be willing to hold that faith as more precious than even life itself. Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection offer us eternal victory.

But the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

Therefore, rejoice O heavens, and those dwelling in them. Woe to the earth and the sea for the Devil has gone down to you, very angry, knowing that he has little time.(Revelation 12:12)

Victory has begun with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it is not finished. There is still a battle to be fought. This reminds me of playing ball on the street as a boy. In our neighborhood we usually played baseball or football. We played together so often that we knew once the teams were chosen which team would win. We could tell by who was on each team. If you were chosen by the losing team, well, that was no fun. You just had to go out and do your job of losing and being a good sport. But when you were chosen to play on the winning team, it was great fun to play! The Book of Revelation is telling us that we know who will win. We know by whose team we are on. Jesus is the winner. All who follow him will share in his victory. Anyone following the devil and his team will share in his loss.

And when the dragon saw that he was thrown to the earth, he pursued the woman who gave birth to the boy.(Revelation 12:13)

It may seem strange to read about dragons in the Bible. Is this evidence that the Bible is merely some sort of religious mythology with no basis in fact? It is fashionable in our culture to be skeptical of invisible heavenly happenings. But so-called “consensus science” and its self-imposed Darwinian limitations have failed to explain the richness of the human experience of reality. Darwin leaves too much out. The Bible reveals what naturalistic science cannot see. In symbolic language we are reading about the cosmic struggle between God and his enemy Satan. And the enemy hates all that God is trying to do through and for his people. He works to destroy God’s work, his people.

Notice how God’s people are identified in verse 13. They are the woman who gave birth to the boy, Jesus. Five times in this short chapter the ancient Greek word for giving birth is used (tiktō). That’s why it is appropriate to use this chapter as a Christmas reading. In just 17 short verses the birth of Jesus is mentioned at least 5 times. Why? Because Jesus’ birth is an important part of this cosmic struggle which is raging between God and his enemy, the Devil.

But we hear competing notions about the real meaning of Jesus’ birth. What is the true nature of Christmas? The watered-down version of Christmas asserts merely that people have good hearts and simply need a little inspiration to be generous and loving and kind and do the right thing. Jesus’ birth is sentimental folklore like other religious myths which are designed to appeal to our better nature. This popular presentation of Christmas uses the pictures of Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph and the animals and shepherds, all part of the Bible’s presentation. By using imagery that evokes the Bible’s account, this false version reinterprets the Bible’s message, replacing the truth with a lie.

A much better version of Christmas reminds us that Jesus’ birth is not folklore but history and that he came for more than the cradle. He came to die on the cross. And even more than that, he came to wear the victor’s crown. This biblical version of the cradle, cross and crown reminds us that we need more than someone to appeal to our better natures. In fact, the Bible asserts that we have no better nature, merely a sin nature. Our sin nature will destroy us if left to run its course, and we haven’t the power to stop it. We need a Savior. Jesus is that Savior. He offered himself as a sin offering on the cross and God raised him up and received him back to heaven. He is alive and able to live in the hearts of his people through God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, giving us power to overcome our sin nature.

But even this presentation of Christmas leaves out one important aspect. Jesus came to conquer more than just our sin nature. Once we have been forgiven in the eyes of God by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, because of our faith in him, we still have an enemy who is out to destroy us: Satan. The ancient Serpent who persuaded Adam and Even to doubt God and disobey him is still deceiving people, trying to persuade them to reject God and his salvation. The dragon is active in turning nations and empires against God’s people in an effort to destroy them. So Jesus’ birth is certainly about more than sentimentality but it is about more than our personal salvation. Jesus’ birth is an important part of the cosmic battle between God and Satan.

And the 2 wings of the great eagle were given to the woman so that she might fly to the wilderness, to her place, where she is nourished a time and times and half a time away from the presence of the serpent. (Revelation 12:14)

The imagery here comes from the Book of Exodus. After God rescued his people from cruel bondage in Egypt he brought them to Mt. Sinai in the desert. He said, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Now we read in the Book of Revelation that God will again bring his persecuted people to a place of safety in the wilderness. When it says “time, times, and half a time,” it is probably a reference to a period which is measured as 1,260 days and as 42 months in other places. It is 3 and a half years. Why any time at all? Why would God allow his people to be pursued and flee into the wilderness?

Before God brought his people out of slavery in Egypt he made them wait while he visited 10 plagues on the land of their oppressors. Why? Why not just come in and destroy Pharaoh’s army and put an immediate end to their cruel bondage? Why make them wait? God was doing more than rescuing his people. He was revealing his power and his redemption in unforgettable ways. More than that, he was refining their faith like gold in a fire. He wanted more than their freedom, he wanted their faith. He wanted them to see his glory in ways that they would talk about for generations.

Here, at the end of the age, we see in the Book of Revelation that God’s tactics are unchanged. He delays victory so that his people can be, not just saved, but strengthened. We can believe that the wilderness times in our lives, the struggles we experience, are allowed by God in order to show us his power, to reveal his work of redemption to us, and to refine our faith like gold in a fire.

And the serpent spewed from his mouth after the woman water like a river so that it might sweep her away. And the earth helped the woman, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon spewed from his mouth. (Revelation 12:15-16)

Notice that God’s enemy keeps changing his name: devil, dragon, serpent. Every time we turn around he is wearing a different mask. That should be no surprise. Satan is a master of disguises and full of deception.

Verses 15 and 16 demonstrate one of the challenges to interpreting the symbols in the Book of Revelation. The idea of a river coming from someone’s mouth would seem to be a symbol for speech. Since it comes from the Devil’s mouth, it would make sense for this river of water to represent an overwhelming barrage of deception. The Devil is full of deceit. But if that is a correct interpretation, then how does the earth open its mouth and swallow words of deception? Mentioning the earth makes the river seem more literal, like a natural disaster. Is it some combination of the two?

While many of the symbols in the Book of Revelation are interpreted by the book itself, and others are fairly easy to interpret without much assistance, some are quite difficult. But we must remember that God sometimes keeps the interpretation a mystery until some future time. In chapter 10 of John’s Apocalypse, the apostle hears 7 thunders. Seven is an important number in the Book of Revelation. It is the number for completion. The thunders apparently say something that is intelligible for John and he is ready to write it down. But a voice from heaven tells him not to write. The 7 thunders are kept from us for now. This is reminder that God has not revealed everything to us. Some things are kept for later.

One thing is clear from these verses: God always provides for his people, even though he allows the battle to be prolonged and even though he sometimes leads his people into wilderness places. God often uses a seemingly impossible avenue of rescue, something that we would never think of. When he brought his people out of slavery in Egypt, God led them up to the Red Sea where they were trapped by Pharaoh’s armies. Disaster seemed imminent. But then the Lord opened the sea and his people crossed through on dry ground. Pharaoh’s armies followed them and were swallowed up by the sea. God provided a way which the Hebrews could not see, until the time came. When the time comes, we will understand these symbols in the Book of Revelation. For now, we know enough to trust God.

And the dragon was enraged at the woman and he went out to make war against the rest of her offspring, those keeping the commands of God and having the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)

Satan keeps failing but he keeps fighting. Verse 12 says that he knows his time is short. This implies that he knows he will ultimately lose but he is hard-hearted, stiff-necked, and unrepentant. He never learns. Every time he tries to destroy God’s people God turns it into a celebration. Pharaoh tried to destroy God’s people in Egypt by throwing all the boy babies into the Nile River. But God saved them and instituted the Passover Feast. In Babylon a man named Haman hated God’s chosen people and tried to use the government to wipe them out. The result? God saved them and since then they have celebrated the feast of Purim to commemorate it. Back in the Promised Land, Antioch IV Epiphanes tried to destroy God’s people, but God saved them and they celebrate Hanukkah to remember it. King Herod tried to murder Jesus in Bethlehem, but he failed and so we celebrate Christmas. Satan used the Pharisees and Pilate to kill Jesus, but God meant it for our good and he raised Jesus up from the tomb and we celebrate Easter.

We have all this evidence of God’s faithfulness to his people, his ability and willingness to turn our defeats into victories. With all these examples of God’s faithfulness we should have great confidence in God. After all these defeats have been turned to victory throughout history there is no reason to think our lives and our place in history will be any different. God will turn our struggles and defeats into triumph!

Notice how God’s people are described in verse 17. They are the ones who keep God’s commands and have the testimony of Jesus, a combination of works and words. To testify without obeying is not enough. To obey without testifying is not enough. Obedience does not mean perfection. We still struggle with sin but we can humble ourselves before the Lord and be forgiven. Nevertheless, if someone has no desire to obey God it is a sign of no salvation from God. We cannot run with the Devil and share the Lamb’s victory. God’s people trust and obey.

President Donald Trump recently announced that the United States of America will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The whole world was stirred up by the announcement. After thousands of years, Israel and Jerusalem are still at the epicenter of history. God promised the land of Israel to his chosen people 4,000 years ago. He chose Jerusalem as the place where his name would dwell with his people. And he promised that even if his chosen people were scattered to all the nations of the world, he would restore them to the Promised Land: Israel. That may seem like ancient history, but God is faithful and his promises are sure.

God continues to prove the skeptics wrong. He does the impossible and he does it in the pages of our newspapers. Until very recently in history it did not seem possible that God’s ancient promise to gather his people and restore them to their land could ever come about. How can a people be scattered to the 4 corners of the earth for almost 2,000 years and even maintain their ethnic identity? Most peoples would intermarry and cease to be distinct. But God’s chosen people, Israel, has not only remained a people after being expelled from their homeland in the first century, but in May 1948 the impossible happened: Israel became a Jewish nation again, just as God promised. He gathered Jews from around the world and restored them to their homeland. And he did so after one of the most brutal attempts to destroy them history has ever seen: the Holocaust. The enemy’s hatred for God’s people is vicious, but he has failed.

God’s promises will all be fulfilled. Satan will lose. Jesus is the victor. We should trust the Lord, obey his commands, and testify to our faith in Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Jesus and Christmas in a Land of Skepticism

The Gospels tell us that Jesus fed a crowd of more than 5,000 people out in the wilderness with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. And everyone was satisfied. A miracle! But why did he do it? What does it mean?

Some folks claim that Jesus did nothing supernatural. They say that many people in the crowd already had food but were too selfish to share. All Jesus did, they argue, was inspire them to open their hearts and share with one another.

The non-miraculous interpretation of Jesus feeding the 5,000 may sit well with skeptics, but it doesn’t fit the Gospel writers’ accounts. The Gospel writers clearly present Jesus as a man of miracles, born of a virgin, healing all kinds of diseases, casting out demons, and even commanding storms to stop!

So, if Jesus did not feed the 5,000 in order to inspire people to be more generous, then why did he do it?

Another interpretation of this episode starts by recognizing that Jesus truly performed a supernatural act by dividing 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed more than 5,000 people. But this version goes on to say that Jesus’ goal in feeding the 5,000 was to inspire sacrificial giving. As a young lad in the crowd gave his lunch to Jesus, we should give our all to Jesus.

But John is the only Gospel writer who mentions this lad and John never says anything about the boy’s desire to give his loaves and fish to Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke never mention the youngster at all, so the boy certainly cannot be vital to a proper understanding of Jesus’ actions.

If Jesus is not inspiring generosity toward others or promoting sacrificial giving to him, then what is the meaning of his feeding the 5,000?

The people who ate Jesus’ miracle meal that day recognized that Jesus was doing something similar to what God did when he fed Israel in the wilderness. After the Lord rescued his people from bondage in Israel he rained down manna from heaven to provide food for them in the desert.

Jesus is demonstrating that he has the same kind of power that God displays. When they asked for more miraculous meals, Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus believes in generosity and sacrifice, but something bigger is at stake. Jesus is God in the flesh, come not just to promote or inspire good deeds, but to give himself so that we can have eternal life in heaven with God.

Each year we hear heart-warming and sentimental expressions about the true meaning of Jesus’ birth, the real spirit of Christmas. A plethora of virtues find room in the inn of a humanistic Christmas: love, generosity, sacrifice, family, compassion, and so on.

As the wise men came and brought gifts to Jesus we should give gifts to one another, so the popular reasoning goes. But the magi from the east were not on a goodwill tour. They traveled a great distance not to promote a spirit of gift-giving, but to worship the King.

The Bible says that Jesus’ birth is a cosmic turning point in human history. The nations of this world languished in violence and hatred, hunger and poverty, suffering and sorrow, disease and death. God made us for better.

Jesus, born to a young lady named Mary and laid in a manger, is God stepping into this tragedy we call life, sharing our ups and downs. His mission? to bring victory over death and joy in God’s presence forever. That’s bigger than anything that comes in a gift bag.

So Christmas is not just a time to promote human virtues or to enjoy temporary delights. Christmas is the time we remember this greatest episode in all human history: Jesus is God in the flesh come to save his lost people.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill,

Brother Richard

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion