Saturday, December 16, 2017

We worship Jesus, fully God and fully Man, and find context for sorrow and trial.

Born of woman ...
Christmas Question 3: Why was it necessary for Jesus to be a true human being?
(Galatians 4:4 – Part 3, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, December 17, 2017)

What does the Bible say about Jesus Christ?

Jesus was the Son of Mary, but not of Joseph. Mary's firstborn is the Son of God. Looking at God's revelation to and through Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, what did God teach us about Jesus? Through Jesus, God would “visit” and “redeem” His people. He would be a powerful “horn of salvation” as the promised King from the “house of David.” This Messiah would “save us from our enemies,” particularly from our worst foes, sin and death. He would be the living embodiment of the “mercy” of God and the eternal sign that God had not neglected to “remember his holy covenant promises.” Because of this one Savior, we would be able to “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

Jesus would also be the “Most High” God, even the “Lord” Himself. By Him, God's people would have “forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God.” He would be the “sunrise” of a new resurrection era, who would “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” and would thus “guide our feet into the way of peace.”

These are enormous claims, but in order to become a reality, everything would have to be done God's way. While Jesus was and is truly divine, He also needed to be perfectly human. And so He was. Paul says in Romans 1:3 that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh. You do not get to fulfill that requirement unless you are born of woman. As Paul says in Philippians 2:7, the Son of God “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Or in the words of John 1:14, the Word who was in the beginning with God and who Himself was God, “became flesh.”

If Jesus is one person, how can He have two natures—a divine nature and a human nature?

This creates a problem for our understanding. We wonder how one person could have two natures and be simultaneously both God and man. But to be sure this is not the only troubling doctrine of our religion. How could God make all things of nothing? How could God uphold everything in the universe? How could He bring about a new heavens and a new earth in the twinkling of an eye? How could God make the life and death of one man count for His just requirements for untold millions? So we do not know how Jesus could be fully God and fully man. We only know that the one Jesus is clearly God and that He is clearly man.

Is this kind of theological affirmation something that the church made up, or is it really the truth?

The church did not make up this doctrine of Christ, they were forced into it, by heresy and the Scriptures. We see in the Bible the start of what becomes a more pronounced matter of concern in the centuries ahead, that there were some who wanted to say that Jesus was God, but that He only seemed to be man. In 1 John 4:2-3 we learn that some were unwilling to confess that Jesus Christ had “come in the flesh.” This would have made Him fully God, but not fully man.

People would never have made up the Scriptural doctrine of Christ. What people have made up are simplifying doctrines that are not in line with the Scriptures. By the year 325 AD the church had condemned the false theology of docetism which is an unsatisfactory theology.

What does it mean that Jesus was born of woman?

Consider the cost from Genesis 3:15-16. Jesus identified with us in this broken world. Think of what took place between the Lord and His disciples after the Transfiguration. We read in Matthew 17:14–17, “[14] And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, [15] said, 'Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. [16] And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.' [17] And Jesus answered, 'O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?...”

From the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus did the unimaginable: He took His place as the Substitute for sinners—as the Man who stood in the breach for sinful men and women. How else can we understand His willingness to be baptized by John? John was perplexed but was forced to accept the determination of His great Superior who put Himself in the position of an inferior in Matthew 3:13–15, “[13] Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [14] John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' [15] But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he consented.”

And that was only the beginning. At the end of His ministry in Gethsemane we read these words of Jesus in Matthew 26:38, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” This was no overstatement. Jesus had a real human soul and would soon truly die. His human body would be placed in a borrowed tomb. He has associated with us and we with Him. His death is our death; His burial our burial; but then also His resurrection our resurrection.

Why was it necessary for our Savior to be a true human being?

Jesus had to be a true man. Let me highlight three reasons. First, justice demanded it. The offense against the Lord was perpetrated by humans and the penalty needed to be paid by a man who could die, as God had said from the beginning. So we read in Hebrews 2:14–15, “[14] Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, [15] and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Or as we learn in Hebrews 10:4, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Second, Jesus' humanity is a great aid to our encouragement. There is a man in heaven, and we know where He is. Remember what Stephen saw in Acts 7:55—“the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” As Hebrews 7:24-25 tells us, “He always lives to make intercession” for us, and He will return on clouds of glory as God and man (Acts 1:11). Finally, we have a Friend in heaven who is more than sympathetic to us in our hour of distress, as we read in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus is just as entirely human as Adam and you—an absolutely necessity for our salvation. God is the only one who could decide what was required in order for us to have fellowship with Him forever. He determined that the blood of animals could not take away our guilt and shame. Only through Jesus of Nazareth, the second Adam, could we have what we desperately needed.

Application: Where do you find courage for living? Perhaps it will help you to know not only that heaven is real, but that there is just the right human being there, not just anyone anywhere, but the God/Man Jesus at the center of all power and authority. “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” We worship, and our sorrows find a resting place and a context that brings peace.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wonderful, Marvelous, Savior, Jesus

God sent forth His Son...
Christmas Question 2: Why was it necessary for Jesus to be truly God?
(Galatians 4:4 – Part 2, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, December 10, 2017)

What does the Bible say about God?

God is wholly other, the one being who is uncreated. He is the Uncaused Cause. His Name, I-AM, tells the story of His incomprehensible nature, for He is the only Source of Being. We are creatures. We were not “sent forth” because we were not preexistent, but God sent forth His Son.

What is the Trinity?

The Word “trinity,” which is not found in the Bible, is a one-word way of saying what the Bible clearly does affirm. 1. Monotheism: There is only one God, 2. Three persons with Sameness in divine essence: The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and 3. Yet Distinctness: The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, The Son is not the Father or the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. For our text, it is important for us to consider that the Father who sent forth the Son, and the Son who was willingly sent forth by the Father are both fully I-AM.

The angel Gabriel told the young virgin Mary to Name her child, Jesus, which means “Jehovah is salvation.” This is the Greek word for the Hebrew “Joshua,” the Name of the famous Old Testament warrior who led the people of God into the Promised Land. After so many years without a king in the line of David, Mary was told that regarding Jesus, “the Lord God would give to Him the throne of His father David,” and that “His kingdom” would have “no end.”

Mary also learned that the baby would have no human father, but that He would be “the Son of God.” Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greeted Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” Mary, at that very instant, rejoiced in the One she also called “the Lord” and “God my Savior.”

Does the Bible really teach the Trinity or did the church make that up?

One way to settle your soul on the fact that the church did not make up the truths that are necessary to believe the doctrine of the Trinity is to meditate on two key episodes regarding baptism from the Bible itself: the baptism of Jesus, and His parting command to His disciples regarding baptism. We read in Matthew 3:16-17 regarding the baptism of Jesus by John, “When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold a voice from heaven said, 'This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'”

At the end of Matthew's gospel, the resurrected Lord instructed His disciples to baptize future followers of Jesus in the One Name with the three persons listed separately. Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God?

Hebrews 7:16 sets Jesus apart from every religious ruler among the Jews because He had “the power of an indestructible life.” He could credibly make the promise to “lay down” His life and also to “take it up again” (John 10:17), a promise that he kept. Only God could safely have supreme authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). The entire mission of the church over the last 2000 years is based on Jesus having complete divine authority. When we see Him, we see the Father, because He is the visible representation of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). The One whose Name means “Jehovah is salvation” is indeed Jehovah in the flesh.

Why did God send forth His Son? What was the mission of the Father and the Son?

Whatever the mission of the Father was in sending His Son, it was an objective that involved a complete agreement—an “eternal covenant” (Hebrews 13:20)—between the Father and the Son. When Jesus prayed to the Father in the hearing of His disciples immediately prior to the events of the cross and the resurrection, He said in John 17:5, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” He knew the mission.

What was this mission? Jesus says in John 18:37, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” If you are here today to hear the Word of God, Jesus came to bear truthful witness to you. What is that truth? It is a rich and full message that will captivate your life for all eternity—a message about the glory of God and His love. That message has its center in the cross of Christ, a great work of redemption—a death for Him and a life for us with Him forever. As Paul says in Galatians 4:5, Jesus was sent forth from God “to redeem” His people, “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Or as the angel announced to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, Mary “will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

This work of the cross was successful, and its power goes beyond a place of disgrace outside the city gates of Jerusalem to the resurrection, and far beyond. In the words of the last two verses of “Joy to the World,” we sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.”

Why was it necessary for our Savior to be God Himself in person?

The Messiah who would accomplish this great mission needed to be God Himself and not a good limited being or a committee of experts. In heaven, people will never be god. Jesus is the Son of God forever, and just as entirely divine as the Father, an absolute necessity for our salvation.

There is only one God. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. “God sent forth His Son” to be the Savior of a new world. Consider 1. The power of His death: Only God could have suffered an eternal punishment for us in space and time and declare in John 19:30, “It is finished.” (See Hebrews 10:11-14) And 2. The power of His resurrection life: only a Savior who is fully divine could do what Jesus does now and for all eternity. (See Matthew 28:18-20)

Application: Marvel. Human beings were made to be impressed by the amazing. Cynicism does not fit us well. We were born to worship. We do this better as children, but we need to cultivate the grace of amazement again as adults. Seeing Jesus as Jehovah in the flesh is deeply right, and good for our souls. Think of what the Son of God did before He was sent forth. “All things were made through Him.” (John 1:3) He is the Word of God who not only spoke forth creation, but upholds all things in perfect divine providence. In the words of Hebrews 1:3, Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” We worship Him and say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)

Saturday, December 02, 2017

God's Perfect Timing

But when the fullness of time had come...
Christmas Question 1: Why was Jesus born so long ago?
(Galatians 4:4 – Part 1, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, December 3, 2017)

Two ways of looking at our question: Dismissing what is old, Doubting that Jesus reigns now

Why was Jesus born so long ago? This question might be asked by different people who have slightly different concerns. For instance, one person might assume that newer events are always more important than older events. How could anything that happened 2000 years ago be all that relevant to life today? Another person might not been thinking of history at all, but might feel the distress of the present moment so deeply that he or she would like Jesus to be born today so that help would be with us now. Both of these people might miss what Paul was referring to when he wrote to the churches in Galatia placing the birth of Jesus at “the fullness of time.”

Controversy among the churches of Galatia at the turning point of the history of the world

In the first century, Galatia was a sizable region in modern-day Turkey that was largely a non-Jewish part of the Roman empire. When Paul and his companions had brought the message of Jesus to these Gentiles, many had come to believe that He was the Redeemer for the world. They had received Him as their Savior and Lord, and the churches that began among them were vibrant places of spiritual life. Then some Jewish Christians came to visit them and urged them that they needed to follow the Old Testament patterns of life in order to be accepted as true followers of Jesus. Paul wrote the book of Galatians in order to counteract this error. The “fullness of time” came when God's purposes in the Old Testament world were coming to a conclusion in the gift of a Messiah. The time of preparation for the eternal King of the Jews was over. The Savior of the Jews would be the Savior of the world. People like the Galatian tribes would find hope in Jesus. For the rest of human history, the Lord would use His church as ambassadors of Christ, bringing the message of hope to all the people groups of the earth.

If Jesus had come earlier or later – understanding God's sense of timing from 4000 years ago

Only God could know the right historical moment in history for the coming of Jesus. The ancient Greek language of the New Testament gives us two different words for time. One, chronos, from which we get the word chronological, is used to describe the movement of time through the months and years of history. The second word, kairos, means an opportune moment for decision or action. This second word is used by Paul in Romans 5:6 when he says, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” In Galatians 4:4 Paul is talking about chronological time, but by combining “chronos” with the word translated “fullness,” the two kinds of time come together in the hands of God who is in charge of everything. Only the Lord of time would know when the succession of chronos had come to the exact kairos for the coming of Jesus. That moment of change would be “the fullness of time.” If Jesus had come before that moment, it would have been too early. If he had been born centuries in the future it would have been too late. The reason is that God is in charge of time with His own sense of divine purpose. He knows what He intends to accomplish, and therefore He knew what needed to happen through the Old Testament centuries of preparation and then immediately following the coming of Christ in the New Testament centuries of mission.

Let me illustrate God's perfect sense of timing using another Biblical event, the giving of the Promised Land of Canaan to the Jews. 4000 years ago (2000 BC) God revealed to Abraham (Abram) in a vision what would take place centuries later in the days of Moses. He said in Genesis 15:13–16, “[13] … Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. [14] But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. [15] As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. [16] And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” God had a reason for the delay, and He had a purpose for Abraham's life. He also had a plan for all the Amorites that lived in the land of Canaan in the centuries between Abraham and Moses. Giving that land to Abraham in his day would not have been the right timing. Other events in God's plan for Jews and Gentiles needed to take place.

The logical fallacy of chronological snobbery and the necessity of the last 2000 years

Back to the issue of the timing of the first Christmas. Why so long ago? Can everything from ancient days be so old as to be irrelevant? Only if we consider modern man the measure of everything. This prideful view of history has been called “chronological snobbery” and it is a logical fallacy. It falls apart completely when we remember that time is in God's hands and He is working out His purposes. These last 2000 have not been a waste of time. The Lord determined that He would bring the true meaning of the coming of Jesus to all the people groups of the earth by using weak and broken people as His ambassadors. They would go to far-off lands and do what some of the missionaries of our church are working on today as they live among various tribes, learning their languages and cultures, and speaking the life-giving message of a Jewish Messiah to people who need to know how they can have peace with God. This all has taken time, and it has involved lives like yours, as people were raised up by the Almighty to believe, worship, pray, give, obey, and rejoice as God's purposes have been progressively accomplished.

God as Creator of time and Ruler over perfect timing in every life and in the history of the world

But what about those who are desperate for Christmas to take place right now. We can understand their urgency. In an age when so many things seem dangerous or just plain wrong, or when people are struggling with the present and the future, we surely understand that it might seem better to have the skies filled with angels right now announcing this miraculous birth. We understand that people want an experience of hope here and now, and not 2000 years ago in a village called Bethlehem. Is there an error in this desire?

God is not more distant today because we cannot hold Him as a baby. That baby had a life. He demonstrated who He was and He did what He came to do. His death only needed to happen once and His resurrection and ascension were real. This Jesus has all power and authority as He reigns from highest heaven. He may seem far away, but He is very near you. Paul says in Romans 10:9-9, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The Spirit of the Lord is at work in your heart, and in your worship. He is not distant in today's societal and personal trials. He is as near, and He is at work. One day we will see with our eyes what we are called now to believe in our hearts and sing with our mouths.

God's salvation comes at just the right time—both in your life and in the turning of the ages from the era of preparation (OT), to the season of mission (NT), and on to the eventual moment of the second coming. God's Christmas timing is perfect. Three ideas for this moment of kairos today: 1. Prepare for Christmas by reading a gospel account and seeing the turning point of history in the coming of Jesus at just the right time. 2. Prepare for Christmas by praying to God, thanking Him for the way that He has governed your life as a chosen part of the history of the world and a life that really matters. 3. Prepare for Christmas by daily using your gifts in worship and in life.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A way out of anger, fear, and, despair through Jesus, our new ark of the covenant

How can I bring the ark of God home to me?
(1 Chronicles 13, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, November 26, 2017)

[1] David consulted with the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with every leader. [2] And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and from the LORD our God, let us send abroad to our brothers who remain in all the lands of Israel, as well as to the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasturelands, that they may be gathered to us. [3] Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” [4] All the assembly agreed to do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.

[5] So David assembled all Israel from the Nile of Egypt to Lebo-hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. [6] And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim that belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD who sits enthroned above the cherubim. [7] And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. [8] And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.

[9] And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. [10] And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God. [11] And David was angry because the LORD had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzza to this day. [12] And David was afraid of God that day, and he said, “How can I bring the ark of God home to me?” [13] So David did not take the ark home into the city of David, but took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. [14] And the ark of God remained with the household of Obed-edom in his house three months. And the LORD blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had.

A desire that was right in the eyes of the king and the people

The ark of the covenant was the holiest object in the worship system of Old Testament Israel. It was a precious golden box that was about four feet wide, and about two and a half feet in both height and depth. The arc was to be carried only by authorized people within the clan of the Kohathites in the tribe of Levi. In thinking about the holiness of the ark, we should especially remember that in the Old Testament era, the ark was the center of where God would dwell with humanity upon the earth in the midst of the worship of His people. According to that former system of devotion that God instituted, the ark was “called by the name of the Lord who sits enthroned above the cherubim.” Cherubim are angels, and the ark had a cover that was called a “mercy seat” which included two golden figures of angelic beings.

The ark had been taken out in battle against the Philistines and was lost to the enemy where it did them no good, and actually brought great harm upon them. They sought to get rid of it safely, and it ended up in a private home (“the house of Abinadab”) in a town about 11 miles northwest of Jerusalem (1 Samuel 7:1-2). There it stayed for about twenty years prior to the reign of Saul and then for all the years of Saul's reign, during which we are told here that the people of God “did not seek” the ark. How could this be? No doubt the people were afraid.

While David was the one who led the effort to bring the ark back to the worship of the Almighty, he was not alone in this desire. He consulted all the military leaders and the religious authorities and involved all the worshiping assembly of Israel. Furthermore, he spoke about his desire to do what seemed right to all the people and to make sure that the plan to move the ark was “from the Lord our God.” The idea seemed to have unanimous approval. “All the assembly agreed to do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.”

A day of celebration...

Everything was going very well for about ten and a half miles. All of Israel came together for this great occasion of the journey of God back to the central place of authorized worship. We are told that “David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.” The only obvious problem would be the way that the ark was being moved: “They carried the ark of God on a new cart.” This was not the way that the ark was to be moved according to the Bible. God had commanded the Israelites in the days of Moses to make special poles that were inserted in rings on the ark so that the right people could carry it in the right way without danger to their lives and to the worship and safety of the entire congregation that would come from unauthorized contact with this holy center of Jehovah's presence on earth. (Exodus 25:13-15)

Why would the touching the ark be deadly? Since sin entered into the world, our proximity to God and His heaven has been dangerous. Israel needed to follow the Word of the Lord very carefully regarding these matters as He had warned them through Moses. David and the religious leaders did not give the Word of God sufficient consideration in their plan to move that ark.

Becomes a day of grief, anger, and blessing

Because of this serious omission, a life was lost. The oxen stumbled. No doubt good Uzzah was trying to do the right thing, but God's anger came against Uzzah, though what had taken place was really the responsibility of David and all of Israel. Now Uzzah had come too near the border between heaven and earth, and he was gone. David was angry and afraid of God. He knew that it was a good impulse to want the ark of God, but his question remained, “How can I bring the ark of God home to me?” We might ask today, “How can I have a close communion with God?”

The ark was taken aside temporarily to another private house for a short period. This story is picked up again more happily in chapters 15 and 16, but already we notice that the family that housed the ark was greatly blessed.

How can people be near a holy God?

It is never an easy thing for sinners to be in the presence of the true God. We will not grow in our assurance as children of God if we imagine that our peace with the Almighty is grounded in our own achievement. Our only secure standing with God has come to us through the gift of Jesus, who is Jehovah in the flesh. He is our ark of the covenant. We are right to desire Him.

Because of Jesus, we now have bold access to God in prayer. Even more than this, our King is in heaven already (Hebrews 10:19-22), and we are seated with Him there (Ephesians 2:6-7), united with the One who has atoned for our sins (Hebrews 12:24) and who makes continual intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). This gives us great confidence in life and mission, but our boldness can never be an excuse to ignore the Word of God (Hebrews 12:25, 29). We are not free to approach God in any way that might make sense to us, but only according to the revelation that the Lord has given us in the Scriptures. Even then, our assurance is based on Christ's perfect mediation.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 36 – Remembering God

Gospel Reading—Matthew 10:26-33

[26] “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. [27] What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. [28] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [29] Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. [30] But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. [31] Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [32] So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, [33] but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

Saturday, November 18, 2017

For the King and the Kingdom!

One Mind
(1 Chronicles 12, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, November 19, 2017)

[1] Now these are the men who came to David at Ziklag, while he could not move about freely because of Saul the son of Kish. And they were among the mighty men who helped him in war. [2] They were bowmen and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right or the left hand; they were Benjaminites, Saul's kinsmen. [3] The chief was Ahiezer, then Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah; also Jeziel and Pelet, the sons of Azmaveth; Beracah, Jehu of Anathoth, [4] Ishmaiah of Gibeon, a mighty man among the thirty and a leader over the thirty; Jeremiah, Jahaziel, Johanan, Jozabad of Gederah, [5] Eluzai, Jerimoth, Bealiah, Shemariah, Shephatiah the Haruphite; [6] Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, and Jashobeam, the Korahites; [7] And Joelah and Zebadiah, the sons of Jeroham of Gedor.

[8] From the Gadites there went over to David at the stronghold in the wilderness mighty and experienced warriors, expert with shield and spear, whose faces were like the faces of lions and who were swift as gazelles upon the mountains: [9] Ezer the chief, Obadiah second, Eliab third, [10] Mishmannah fourth, Jeremiah fifth, [11] Attai sixth, Eliel seventh, [12] Johanan eighth, Elzabad ninth, [13] Jeremiah tenth, Machbannai eleventh. [14] These Gadites were officers of the army; the least was a match for a hundred men and the greatest for a thousand. [15] These are the men who crossed the Jordan in the first month, when it was overflowing all its banks, and put to flight all those in the valleys, to the east and to the west.

[16] And some of the men of Benjamin and Judah came to the stronghold to David. [17] David went out to meet them and said to them, “If you have come to me in friendship to help me, my heart will be joined to you; but if to betray me to my adversaries, although there is no wrong in my hands, then may the God of our fathers see and rebuke you.” [18] Then the Spirit clothed Amasai, chief of the thirty, and he said,“We are yours, O David, and with you, O son of Jesse! Peace, peace to you, and peace to your helpers! For your God helps you.” Then David received them and made them officers of his troops.

[19] Some of the men of Manasseh deserted to David when he came with the Philistines for the battle against Saul. (Yet he did not help them, for the rulers of the Philistines took counsel and sent him away, saying, “At peril to our heads he will desert to his master Saul.”) [20] As he went to Ziklag, these men of Manasseh deserted to him: Adnah, Jozabad, Jediael, Michael, Jozabad, Elihu, and Zillethai, chiefs of thousands in Manasseh. [21] They helped David against the band of raiders, for they were all mighty men of valor and were commanders in the army. [22] For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.

[23] These are the numbers of the divisions of the armed troops who came to David in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him, according to the word of the LORD. [24] The men of Judah bearing shield and spear were 6,800 armed troops. [25] Of the Simeonites, mighty men of valor for war, 7,100. [26] Of the Levites 4,600. [27] The prince Jehoiada, of the house of Aaron, and with him 3,700. [28] Zadok, a young man mighty in valor, and twenty-two commanders from his own fathers' house. [29] Of the Benjaminites, the kinsmen of Saul, 3,000, of whom the majority had to that point kept their allegiance to the house of Saul. [30] Of the Ephraimites 20,800, mighty men of valor, famous men in their fathers' houses. [31] Of the half-tribe of Manasseh 18,000, who were expressly named to come and make David king. [32] Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command. [33] Of Zebulun 50,000 seasoned troops, equipped for battle with all the weapons of war, to help David with singleness of purpose. [34] Of Naphtali 1,000 commanders with whom were 37,000 men armed with shield and spear. [35] Of the Danites 28,600 men equipped for battle. [36] Of Asher 40,000 seasoned troops ready for battle. [37] Of the Reubenites and Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh from beyond the Jordan, 120,000 men armed with all the weapons of war.

[38] All these, men of war, arrayed in battle order, came to Hebron with a whole heart to make David king over all Israel. Likewise, all the rest of Israel were of a single mind to make David king. [39] And they were there with David for three days, eating and drinking, for their brothers had made preparation for them. [40] And also their relatives, from as far as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, came bringing food on donkeys and on camels and on mules and on oxen, abundant provisions of flour, cakes of figs, clusters of raisins, and wine and oil, oxen and sheep, for there was joy in Israel.

From day to day men came to David to help him.

During the last several weeks we have been looking at the military side of David's story. Two weeks ago we met “the three,” then “the thirty,” and finally today the larger contingent of all those who were mighty men under David's command. Many things were left out when the Chronicler told this important story. What was included? Names, connections, tribes, places, descriptions of strength and character, and an assessment of loyalty toward David.

Where did all these thousands of men come from ? They did not arrive all at once. Verse 22 informs us that “from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.” David had been on the run from Saul, and had even been forced to feign madness in order to stay alive when he ended up in front of the “king” of Gath, one of the cities of the Philistines. During those days he ended up living in wilderness caves. 1 Samuel 22:1-2 gives us more details: “… his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.” So that was the beginning, but not the end. More men were added in Ziklag and Hebron as it became clear David should be king. (See 1 Chronicles 11:1-3.)

They were mighty men of valor...

Despite their various backgrounds, these men were “mighty men of valor.” Those words can be used to describe both enemies or friends. They can also be a great encouragement of what one could be. When God first called Gideon a “mighty man of valor” Gideon was still very afraid of Israel's enemies. He was no David then, but the Lord changed him with His Word. He was given the gifts of faith and strength, and He became more than He had been. Same for David's men.

With singleness of purpose...

The central declaration of 1 Chronicles 12 came by the Spirit of God in response to David's test. He was not intending to massacre them if they were against him, but to leave them in the hands of the Almighty. Yet they were loyal to David. They in turn looked for peace for David, for David's God, for the army, for the kingdom—a wholeness that might required their lives in battle in order for it to be achieved. This was God's gift to them by the Spirit and also their confession.

Men who understood the times and who knew what Israel ought to do,

As the passage moves toward the anointing of David by all Israel, the numbers coming over to David's side grew dramatically. There are many inspiring notes in these verses, but look especially at the men of Issachar in verse 32, They were “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” What was Israel supposed to do? Unite around David the king, just as the church should unite around the resurrected son of God, Jesus.

And there was joy in Israel—The amazing story of the I-AM—The church and everyone else

Indecisive and corrupt leadership is discouraging and debilitating to warriors and to the whole nation. The right leader fills his people with loyalty and dedication to a higher purpose. Such a man draws people to himself and beyond himself, making them better because of their association with him. We have the best of all captains in the I-AM Jesus. We belong to Him. As God is our help, we seek shalom for the one Triune God and for the entirety of His dedicated church. We need our leaders to be men of faith and strength, mighty men of valor who will remain true to the King even in the midst of disappointment and persecution. How can we help? Faith is a gift of God from beginning to end, but it is a grace which can be pursued by seeing Jesus in the Word. Pray and bring support to your warriors. Rejoice with the King!

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 35 – Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servants!

Gospel Reading—Matthew 10:16-25

[16] “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. [17] Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, [18] and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. [19] When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. [20] For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. [21] Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, [22] and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. [23] When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. [24] A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. [25] It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

Sunday, November 12, 2017

How goes the battle? Thousands of tongues are singing...

Strong Men in the Service of the King
(1 Chronicles 11:20-47, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, November 12, 2017)

[20] Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against 300 men and killed them and won a name beside the three. [21] He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander, but he did not attain to the three.

[22] And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two heroes of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. [23] And he struck down an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits tall. The Egyptian had in his hand a spear like a weaver's beam, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear. [24] These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and won a name beside the three mighty men. [25] He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard.

[26] The mighty men were Asahel the brother of Joab, Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, [27] Shammoth of Harod, Helez the Pelonite, [28] Ira the son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, Abiezer of Anathoth, [29] Sibbecai the Hushathite, Ilai the Ahohite, [30] Maharai of Netophah, Heled the son of Baanah of Netophah, [31] Ithai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the people of Benjamin, Benaiah of Pirathon, [32] Hurai of the brooks of Gaash, Abiel the Arbathite, [33] Azmaveth of Baharum, Eliahba the Shaalbonite, [34] Hashem the Gizonite, Jonathan the son of Shagee the Hararite, [35] Ahiam the son of Sachar the Hararite, Eliphal the son of Ur, [36] Hepher the Mecherathite, Ahijah the Pelonite, [37] Hezro of Carmel, Naarai the son of Ezbai, [38] Joel the brother of Nathan, Mibhar the son of Hagri, [39] Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, [40] Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, [41] Uriah the Hittite, Zabad the son of Ahlai, [42] Adina the son of Shiza the Reubenite, a leader of the Reubenites, and thirty with him, [43] Hanan the son of Maacah, and Joshaphat the Mithnite, [44] Uzzia the Ashterathite, Shama and Jeiel the sons of Hotham the Aroerite, [45] Jediael the son of Shimri, and Joha his brother, the Tizite, [46] Eliel the Mahavite, and Jeribai, and Joshaviah, the sons of Elnaam, and Ithmah the Moabite, [47] Eliel, and Obed, and Jaasiel the Mezobaite.

Warfare and the Old and New Testament Time of Preparation and Mission

In this section of 1 Chronicles we are granted an opportunity to think about David and his mighty men and to make the connection to Jesus and his disciples. We have talked about “the three” and “the thirty” as well as the larger group of “mighty men.” Why so much talk about warriors in the Old Testament? And why do so many think of the God of the Old Testament as a God of war and then assume a contrast to the God of the New Testament as a God of love?

First, we need to state that such a supposed division between the God of one testament from the God of the other will not work. God's steadfast love is a major theme of the Old (Psalm 136) while His coming judgment cannot be missed in the New (2 Thessalonians 1). Yet the movement of His story from preparation to resurrection mission does involve a change in emphasis. There was a time when the leading edge of obedience was conquest of the land of Canaan. That was temporary, and now we go to all the nations as troubadours of hope. This two-fold role was all over the prophets who were prosecuting a case against Israel and also serving as heralds of a new era of blessing, Timing is everything, and the movement of the story from Old to New does lead to a change in emphasis of what mighty men do, yet God Himself never changes.

Abishai and Benaiah

Back to two very famous men who were dedicated to David, we learn of the great achievements of Abishai and Benaiah. The first of these was one of three sons of David's sister, Zeruiah. He used his spear with deadly success when he was greatly outnumbered. He was a commander over “the thirty,” inspiring others who were important to the mission of the king. The second, Benaiah, was a leader of men who was utterly dedicated to David and to his son Solomon. In obedience to their wishes, Benaiah executed other men who had broken faith with David and Solomon, including Joab, who was Abishai's brother and David's nephew. Here in 1 Chronicles 11 Benaiah is presented as a man who had the courage to stand against much larger or more powerful foes and to defeat them, even using their own weapons to win the victory. He was “a doer of great deeds” who “won a name” as a warrior in David's forces.

The “Thirty,” their Families, and Communities

Following the brief mention of Abishai and Benaiah, the Chronicler lists many others (more than thirty) who were part of the “mighty men.” Most noteworthy in these verses are the immediate family members, the extended family clans, the localities, and the tribes that these men are known by. The word “brother” appears four times, and “son” or “sons” eighteen times.

It does not mean anything to us to be a Pelonite, a Hushathite, or an Ahohite. We don't know what it's like to live in Netophah, Pirathon, or Gaash, or even have much of a clue of how it would have affected a man's identity as a soldier to have the foreign heritage of an Ammonite or a Hittite, or to belong to one of the individual tribes of Israel. We do know what it is like to have people we love around a Thanksgiving table, or to miss a town that we associate with special times of gathering. People are made by God to be part of something larger, something you might even be willing to fight or die to protect. All of the men listed here were at their best when they served God by being true to the man He had chosen, David, the king of His elect nation.

We too have one Man who should be the focus of our greatest affection and loyalty. When the God of all glory becomes Man to defeat sin and death, that should get our attention. Our King continues to lead us in a new battle of the ages, a fight that calls for men of strength and courage. We are not taking land by force of the swords and guns of this world, but by the Word and Spirit of God. Our Lord has given gifts of leading men and supporting family and friends for the spiritual warfare that He has ordained during our brief days upon the earth. We give thanks for this good provision, and especially for the great King of the kingdom of resurrection life.

It could be that your family and even your hometown support your connection with Jesus. Thank God! Then again, that may not be the case. Some may applaud your part in the mission that “a thousand tongues would sing” your great Redeemer's praise. Others might be openly combative against the things you hold most dear. Either way, “rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4). We are mighty warriors of the crucified and risen Lord of the resurrection, and we “can do all things through Christ” who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Remember that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). How goes the battle? Much progress is being made. At the time that Charles Wesley wrote his famous hymn about 1000 tongues, only a dozen or so nations had the Bible. Today people are praising Jesus in nearly 3000 languages! Hallelujah!

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 34 – The Society of the Righteous

Gospel Reading—Matthew 10:5-15

[5] These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, [6] but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [7] And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ [8] Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. [9] Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, [10] no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. [11] And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. [12] As you enter the house, greet it. [13] And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. [14] And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. [15] Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Yashov-am and El-azar

The Three Who Heard the Voice of the One
(1 Chronicles 11:10-19, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, November 5, 2017)

[10] Now these are the chiefs of David's mighty men, who gave him strong support in his kingdom, together with all Israel, to make him king, according to the word of the LORD concerning Israel. [11] This is an account of David's mighty men: Jashobeam, a Hachmonite, was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against 300 whom he killed at one time.

[12] And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite. [13] He was with David at Pas-dammim when the Philistines were gathered there for battle. There was a plot of ground full of barley, and the men fled from the Philistines. [14] But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and killed the Philistines. And the LORD saved them by a great victory.

[15] Three of the thirty chief men went down to the rock to David at the cave of Adullam, when the army of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. [16] David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. [17] And David said longingly, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” [18] Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and took it and brought it to David. But David would not drink it. He poured it out to the LORD [19] and said, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.

David's Mighty Men

David was not alone throughout his struggle to gain the kingdom and to keep it. During the next three weeks we will be looking at chapters that speak of his mighty men. Even though God created the world by speaking everything into being, He who needs no help from anyone loves to work through a society of those who fear His Name.

The Lord can make even the wrath of His enemies praise Him (Psalm 76:10), but He has a special love for His elect, His chosen people, who cry out to Him for help and are willing to be used by Him for His purposes. David, as his life prefigured the coming of Jesus, had a society of men around him, men who were often supported by families and by communities.

They Took a Stand and Defended the Kingdom

What did these mighty men do for David? We are told that they strengthened David, that they were important in him becoming king over all of Israel, and that this was all done according to the Word of the Lord. Each of those three points are worth considering. 1) They gave David strong support: The strongest and wisest men know that they cannot go it alone. They find the team that God has given them, such as it is, and they receive the strength that others supply. 2) They were important in David becoming king over all of Israel: David might easily have been the favorite of his own tribe, Judah, but the Lord had better plans for him. God used these men in order to bring about the glory days of Israel under David and his son Solomon. These men loved the kingdom, and they were willing to sacrifice for it. 3) They made good use of the Word of God: Not everyone cares about what God has revealed through His special Word. Some people from all kinds of backgrounds and with a great variety of different abilities share this gift from God: His Word settles their hearts and leads them forward in courageous living. The fact is that God had revealed through His authorized ambassadors like Samuel that David the shepherd-song writer who killed the massive Philistine would be king.

Today we are looking specifically at three among the mighty men who were exemplary. We are told in later verses that though other men performed amazing deeds of valor and strength, they “did not attain to the three,” so it was quite an honor to be included in the three. Two of the three are mentioned by name here, and the third in the parallel verses in 2 Samuel. The names of the two Yashov-am, “the people will return” and El-azar, “God helps (decisively).”

Of the two mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11, the first and chief of the three is Jashobeam. His claim to fame? In one battle he killed hundreds of Philistines with his spear. That's all. But you need a mighty man to defeat the enemy, he was number one. The other of the three mentioned here was Eleazar, and his exploits were similar. On one occasion when everyone else was running away from the battle, he stood his ground seemingly alone, and he won the victory for David, again against the Philistines. Two great men, wildly outnumbered, standing their ground...

They Risked Their Lives to Please the King

One other memorable episode is recorded for our consideration. Three men overheard David say something and they took amazing steps to see that the longing of David's heart was fulfilled. Remember that Bethlehem was David's hometown, and at that time the town was in the hands of the Philistines who were fighting against the men of Israel. David said, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem!”

Well, they did it, though once again, they were vastly outnumbered! They heard the voice of their beloved king and they took action. They had to break through the camp of the enemy, draw water from the well that was by the town gate, and then bring it back to David without spilling it all over the ground. What did David do when he saw such a display of devotion and love? He spilled it on the ground. Why? First, he “would not drink it.” It was too great a gift for that. He saw beyond them, beyond himself, beyond Bethlehem, and well beyond the water, to the Author of every good and perfect gift. He loved God more than anything, and so he poured out the water to God as a drink offering to the Almighty. That is what a real leader does.

The best king over God's covenant people does not live for himself. He gives everything up to the will of the Almighty. Worship is more to him than drinking the best water. His life is an offering to the King of heaven and earth. He sees the blood that his men risk in order to fulfill his word, and he concludes that such a gift is too precious to drink. It must be given to God.

This is the way that we need to see the entire ministry of Jesus and especially the cross. Wildly outnumbered behind enemy lines, He gave everything to the Almighty. He heard the voice of His Father, and inspired by purest love, He fully obeyed. This is our life too as His warriors.

The King of the Kingdom and His Faithful Servants

1. Don't be unduly moved by crowds of people, and 2. Be greatly moved by the Word of God. Let us remind ourselves that we are standing on the shoulders of “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1 and 2 Kings 6:15-17) who would not throw away the Word of God to save their lives. Yashov-am, “the people will return” and El-azar, “God helps (decisively).”

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 33 – We Hope in Jesus

Gospel Reading—Matthew 10:1-4

[1] And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. [2] The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; [3] Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; [4] Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.