Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Former Life

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
(Galatians 2:20 – Part 2, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, March 18, 2018)

It is no longer I who live

All of us are alive today, just as the Apostle Paul was alive when he wrote these words to the churches in the region of Galatia. What could Paul mean by saying, “it is no longer I who live?” Who is this dead “I?” He answers the question himself by writing earlier in Galatians 1:13 about his “former life in Judaism.” Paul was dedicated to what I call “scribal Judaism.” Scribal Judaism came from the traditions of the rabbis over the centuries, obscuring the Word of God (Matthew 23:25-26).

Jesus had His own intense conflicts with scribal Judaism, and He administered the necessary indictment against this false Old Testament interpretation by quoting Isaiah 29:13, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” He then summed up Isaiah's point by saying, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8).

Why would people choose the tradition of men above the Word of God? They hope to establish their right standing through this man-made plan. That was once Paul's problem, and that old Paul had to go. In fact, the old Paul, with the old worldview that was so wrong, had to die. Paul was still biologically alive, but his old “heart” died.

Christ lives in me

What happened to the old Paul? He says in the first part of this verse, “I have been crucified with Christ.” Paul still had a life to live, yet He knew that Christ was living this new life of resurrection Judaism through Paul. Paul was still very much a Jew, but the King of the Jews, Jehovah in the flesh, Jesus the Messiah, was living in Paul. Amazing. (Genesis 2:7 and John 20:21-22)

Paul wrote about his own situation as an encouragement to his young protege, Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:12–17, “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, [13] though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, [14] and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. [15] The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. [16] But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. [17] To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul, New Creation in Christ, Christ in Him, Death-and-Resurrection.

The Galatians and Their Tumultuous Spiritual Struggle

This death and resurrection pattern was not only for Paul but for all who are in Christ. He wrote to the churches in Galatians 4:8, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” These words were not written to Jews but to Gentiles. They did not grow up with scribal Judaism, but with some other worldview big among Gentiles that enslaved them to idols. The resurrection grace of Jesus confronts every other life that people come up with to make themselves right or worthy to themselves, their people, or the powers of the universe. Here in Galatians, Paul wrote to those who once held to (1) a Gentile way of life, they then were (2) found by God and adopted into His household, only to be assaulted by people from Jerusalem teaching them about finishing their new life as Jesus-followers with a generous covering of (3) ceremonial OT Law/Jewish traditions. The final veneer had to be removed.

With all these worldviews flying around, not to mention our systems of establishing our own virtue, how can we simplify this teaching and make it more useful. Here it is: All false worldviews try to take us from our uncomfortable vice to our own manufactured virtue. All those old ways of living life have been crucified with Christ. Only Jesus living in us can bring us safely to the GRACE of God. That's where we want to be, where our virtue has come as a gift to us through the resurrected Christ.

Communion with Christ in Death and Life

Our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection gives us our status with God. That is the beginning of a lifelong adventure of communion with God, which is also a daily gift from the One who gave us life. The goal of that communion with Christ is that we would become like Him (Romans 8:29). Ephesians 4:22 says that you are “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Having problems with your new life in Christ? Could it be that you are trying to live two lives at once? The old one has to die so that the new one can flourish more and more.

Onesimus was a non-Christian slave serving a Christian master, Philemon. Onesimus ran away from Philemon, met Paul, and God claimed him as His beloved child. Paul then wrote to Philemon, and said about Onesimus, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.” The apostle urged Philemon to willingly free his slave, so that Onesimus could serve with Paul as a free man as a part of the Lord's gospel team. It was no longer Onesimus who lived, but Christ who lived in him.

History tells us that centuries later one Patrick of Britain was captured as a 16 year old by an Irish raiding party to serve as a slave in Ireland. After six years he escaped and made his way back home until he came to a greater life of faith and calling. He believed that God was sending him back to the land of his bondage to teach the Irish about the resurrected Son of God. It was no longer Patrick who lived, but Christ who lived in him.

And then there is you and me. If you cling to your old way of life, you are a slave to that former life. Instead, why not say “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me?” Put off the old man of the autonomous I, and put on the new man of the glorious Jesus Christ. What will God do if you give your life more fully and willingly to Jesus as Lord?

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 49 – Mount Zion and The City of Our God

Gospel Reading—Matthew 26:1-56 – The plot to kill Jesus / Jesus anointed at Bethany / Judas to betray Jesus / The Passover with the disciples / Institution of the Lord's Supper / Jesus foretells Peter's denial / Jesus prays in Gethsemane

Sunday, March 11, 2018

You have been freed! You have been found!

I have been crucified with Christ.”
(Galatians 2:20 – Part 1, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, March 11, 2018)

The Cross of Christ as Historical Fact

The ancient observers of first century life, Josephus and Tacitus, both wrote about the historical fact of the cross of Christ. Josephus recorded that “one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works” died when Pilate “condemned him to the cross.” He also recorded that the followers of Jesus were “not extinct” in the time when he wrote his book of “Antiquities.” In the “Annals” of Tacitus, the Roman author calls our Lord by the word “Christus” who “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” He also referred to the extent of the Christian Jewish movement which “broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.” One historian has summarized the facts this way, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”

By “the Christian accounts” the author refers especially to the Bible, which is not lesser historical evidence just because it is the Word of God. By any objective criteria, the gospels and epistles of the New Testament are far more reliable than any other documents that have come down to us from ancient times. “The New Testament has been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work, having over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages.” (Wikipedia). In contrast, we have zero manuscripts from the same period of the works of Josephus and only two early copies of Tacitus' Annals.

Furthermore, in the Bible we have not only thousands of ancient copies, but a wealth of verses to consider from multiple authors about what is a central subject of life-changing concern for the people involved. For example, we can look at the five times that the one Greek word was used which is translated with the two English words “crucified with.” Three of these are from Matthew, Mark and John, and two from Paul:
Matthew 27:44, “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.”
Mark 15:32, “'Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.' Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.”
John 19:32, “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him.”
These three give us the most obvious meaning of what it was to be crucified with Jesus, but they also establish the fact that every fair observer must admit, or else deny all of history: Jesus was crucified. The final two uses of “crucify with” make the same point, but then move on to the meaning of this fact for the church:
Romans 6:6 “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Before we leave the fact of the cross, remember the military observers on the scene. In John 19 we read that “they saw that He was already dead.” To further confirm this “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear.” John adds these earnest words: “He who saw it has borne witness, his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth.” Finally, we read the reactions of the Roman centurion in charge (Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39, and Luke 23:47). The fact of the crucifixion demands your intellectual assent.

The Cross of Christ as Theological Doctrine

But Paul was insisting on much more than this intellectual assent when he wrote “I have been crucified with Christ. Here we need to examine the context of our verse and the life of Paul as recorded in Galatians 1 and 2. The apostle wanted his readers to understand what he called “my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” Paul had a life that sprung naturally from his worldview prior to the Lord meeting him on the road to Damascus. That old life was gone. It had been crucified with the Christ—that is, the Messiah. In his new life, Paul had received the “right hand of fellowship” from the church authorities in Jerusalem, but more than that He had been given his mission by God. The Lord gave Paul the boldness to confront even Peter when Peter was acting according to Jewish rules of separation from Gentiles.

Paul had been a confirmed Pharisee, an accomplished and rising intern of scribal Judaism. He was ready to kill for his old faith. That old man (Paul) could never have said, “I have been crucified with Christ.” Now he was giving his whole life for something a scribe would never have said, since they rejected any suffering Messiah. Paul had given up his old trust (right standing through devotion to the Jewish traditions) and embraced a new trust in the Jesus of Isaiah 53, the lamb that was led to the slaughter and died for many. Paul was not alone. We read quotes of Isaiah 53 in John 12:38, Matthew 8:17, and Acts 32-33 where even an Ethiopian eunuch is brought to the right interpretation of Isaiah's song. They all came to see the truth that Peter preached as recorded in Mark 10:45, that the Son of Man came to “give His life as a ransom for many.” (See 1 Peter 2:22-25.)

The Cross of Christ as a Way of Life

Matthew 16:24-28 tells us that this was not the isolated experience of a few disciples but the pattern of life for the church. We all lived with some old set of trusts. Who owns you? For Paul it was scribal Judaism, so he hated the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53. Now he was “not ashamed of the gospel” but saw it as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Jew and Gentile (Romans 1:16). The gospel claim that “I have been crucified with Christ” was not just about Paul, and was not just a speculative religious doctrine, but a practical demand of the only Christ for all who put their trust in Him. (Today many must say “So long!” to an “I own me!” bondage.)

Union with Christ in His Death

The church has been united with Jesus in His death, a truth that empowers a new life.

1. You have been freed from something old, old trusts with their bad passions and hopeless despair. You still feel pain, but you also taste glory.

2. You have been found by God for a better life as a soldier of the cross. More coming...

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 48 – Mount Zion and The City of Our God
Gospel Reading—Matthew 12:38-42 – The sign of Jonah

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Christian and Worldly Views of Worship and Living

The King and His Worship Servants
(1 Chronicles 23, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, March 4, 2018)

[1] When David was old and full of days, he made Solomon his son king over Israel.

[2] David assembled all the leaders of Israel and the priests and the Levites. [3] The Levites, thirty years old and upward, were numbered, and the total was 38,000 men. [4] “Twenty-four thousand of these,” David said, “shall have charge of the work in the house of the LORD, 6,000 shall be officers and judges, [5] 4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the LORD with the instruments that I have made for praise.” [6] And David organized them in divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

[7] The sons of Gershon were Ladan and Shimei. [8] The sons of Ladan: Jehiel the chief, and Zetham, and Joel, three. [9] The sons of Shimei: Shelomoth, Haziel, and Haran, three. These were the heads of the fathers' houses of Ladan. [10] And the sons of Shimei: Jahath, Zina, and Jeush and Beriah. These four were the sons of Shimei. [11] Jahath was the chief, and Zizah the second; but Jeush and Beriah did not have many sons, therefore they became counted as a single father's house.

[12] The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, four. [13] The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses. Aaron was set apart to dedicate the most holy things, that he and his sons forever should make offerings before the LORD and minister to him and pronounce blessings in his name forever. [14] But the sons of Moses the man of God were named among the tribe of Levi. [15] The sons of Moses: Gershom and Eliezer. [16] The sons of Gershom: Shebuel the chief. [17] The sons of Eliezer: Rehabiah the chief. Eliezer had no other sons, but the sons of Rehabiah were very many. [18] The sons of Izhar: Shelomith the chief. [19] The sons of Hebron: Jeriah the chief, Amariah the second, Jahaziel the third, and Jekameam the fourth. [20] The sons of Uzziel: Micah the chief and Isshiah the second.

[21] The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. The sons of Mahli: Eleazar and Kish. [22] Eleazar died having no sons, but only daughters; their kinsmen, the sons of Kish, married them. [23] The sons of Mushi: Mahli, Eder, and Jeremoth, three.

[24] These were the sons of Levi by their fathers' houses, the heads of fathers' houses as they were listed according to the number of the names of the individuals from twenty years old and upward who were to do the work for the service of the house of the LORD. [25] For David said, “The LORD, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people, and he dwells in Jerusalem forever. [26] And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service.” [27] For by the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered from twenty years old and upward. [28] For their duty was to assist the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the LORD, having the care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of God. [29] Their duty was also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering, the wafers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size. [30] And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening, [31] and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the LORD on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the LORD. [32] Thus they were to keep charge of the tent of meeting and the sanctuary, and to attend the sons of Aaron, their brothers, for the service of the house of the LORD.

When David was old

David prepared his son for the future, providing him with materials that would be used for the building of the temple, as we saw in the previous chapter. He insisted that Solomon be ready to govern Israel's worship as God's chosen king.

A new era for the Levitical clans

David had great concern for the worship of God's people. He considered it his duty to see that the various clans of the Levites were in place to serve according to the Lord's commandments. This required some additional direction in light of the change from a simple mobile tabernacle to a beautiful temple with some additional instructions for worship including the use of musical instruments and singing. David was used by God to provide whatever direction was necessary for this new phase of Old Testament life. The Lord worked through the king in order to grant whatever was lacking. There would be officers, judges, gatekeepers, singers, and other musicians, all organized for the Lord's service. The clans of Levi—Gershon, Kohath, and Merari—still remained intact, but the king provided additional direction for them.

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. (Heb 8:13)

The change from Moses to David is often overlooked, as if all the commandments regarding the worship of the Old Testament were given on Sinai. God brought something new through David. Even more significant changes would come through a later Son of David. These would be appropriate because of a far more significant change in the temple of the Lord. No longer would a central structure be the focus of the Lord's people. The worldwide church welcoming in the nations would lead many to wonder if the followers of Jesus had gone too far. Circumcision would be replaced by baptism, a new rite that could be received by both men and women. A new meal celebrating the death of Jesus our Redeemer would bring fulfillment to centuries of Passovers.

It was the right of Jesus to institute these changes as the new David. He is the Lord's Anointed forever. He has prepared the way for His church to worship God through Him. One day He will return with a new Jerusalem from above, and all God's people will worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

The story of David's anticipation of a new life centered around a fixed temple is now 3000 years old. What does it teach us today? Jesus, the King over a new and better covenant, established new roles for all of us who have been granted bold access to God through His blood. We are servants of God through Jesus, the premier worshiper of the Father. He has granted to us faith, a variety of gifts, and appropriate callings. Our genealogical descent does not determine our acceptability or usefulness.

While all of our ceremonial life as Christians is so different from the preparations that David made so long ago, this much has not changed: Worship of the Almighty is supposed to be at the very center of our lives. The world will always find the worship way of living extreme, but Christians should understand why God and His worship must come first. We are part of God's good tree of life, and Jesus, our root system, is bringing forth good fruit through us. We call upon His Name and then grow in our knowledge of God and the gospel (Genesis 1:1, Romans 1:16-32, 3:20-21), committing ourselves to a life of continuous prayer and obedience (1 Thessalonians 5:10-18, James 5:13-20). Our confidence is in Christ alone, who is the perfect worshiper of the Father. He will lead us.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 47 – He is Highly Exalted

Gospel Reading—Matthew 12:33-37

[33] “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. [34] You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. [35] The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. [36] I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, [37] for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Arise and Build!

Godly Preparation For An Exceedingly Magnificent Endeavor
(1 Chronicles 22:2-19, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, February 25, 2018)

[2] David commanded to gather together the resident aliens who were in the land of Israel, and he set stonecutters to prepare dressed stones for building the house of God. [3] David also provided great quantities of iron for nails for the doors of the gates and for clamps, as well as bronze in quantities beyond weighing, [4] and cedar timbers without number, for the Sidonians and Tyrians brought great quantities of cedar to David. [5] For David said, “Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the LORD must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all lands. I will therefore make preparation for it.” So David provided materials in great quantity before his death.

[6] Then he called for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the LORD, the God of Israel. [7] David said to Solomon, “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the LORD my God. [8] But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. [9] Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. [10] He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.’

[11] “Now, my son, the LORD be with you, so that you may succeed in building the house of the LORD your God, as he has spoken concerning you. [12] Only, may the LORD grant you discretion and understanding, that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the LORD your God. [13] Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the LORD commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed. [14] With great pains I have provided for the house of the LORD 100,000 talents of gold, a million talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weighing, for there is so much of it; timber and stone, too, I have provided. To these you must add. [15] You have an abundance of workmen: stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and all kinds of craftsmen without number, skilled in working [16] gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Arise and work! The LORD be with you!”

[17] David also commanded all the leaders of Israel to help Solomon his son, saying, [18] “Is not the LORD your God with you? And has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand, and the land is subdued before the LORD and his people. [19] Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the LORD.”

Material preparation for a great work

David was very desirous of accomplishing a great work for the Lord, but was prevented from doing so. Nonetheless, he wanted to help in the necessary preparations for the building of the Lord's temple to be completed by his son Solomon. A first step in this preparation, which took up most of the remaining chapters in 1 Chronicles, was the gathering of some of the materials necessary for the successful completion of the job.

Solomon was not building a religious idea without any physical substance. The God who cares about our needs for health, food, and shelter had given to David's son the task of building a real building. Therefore David organized the collection of special stones, iron, bronze, cedar, and many other necessities that were not mentioned in this chapter.

Exhortation to Solomon

How could Solomon do what was far beyond him? All would require great faith and courage. David first gave a stirring exhortation to Solomon. This important man of history was David's son, yet Solomon's father's words go beyond David to God as the father of the true builder of the Lord's house. God says, “He shall build a house for My Name. He shall be My son, and I will be his Father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.” These must have been mysterious words at the time they were delivered. What could the Lord mean by these promises? Now we know. Back to David.

David was not permitted to do the work himself. He had “shed much blood and waged great wars.” Solomon (name from “peaceful”) would be “a man of rest.” The Lord would establish him as king, granting “rest from all his surrounding enemies.” The “peace and quiet” would allow him to complete this great work (1 Tim. 2:2).

God would equip David's son with “discretion and understanding.” He would give the new king “charge over Israel” with the good desire that the king and the nation would “keep the Law of the Lord.” Then there would be prosperity. David encouraged Solomon with the words used in the Bible for a big project when one leader must die and another takes his place. “Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed.” David spoke to Solomon of his provision of materials and people, though more would be needed. He then concluded with these stirring words, “Arise and work! The Lord be with you!

Exhortation to the leaders

The king then turned his attention toward the leaders under Solomon whose help would be important for the completion of this great work. He asked two great questions: “Is not the Lord your God with you? And has He not given you peace on every side?” Rather than force a confession of faith, the “Yes” and “Amen” could come from their mouths.

With those great affirmations, David could continue to challenge them to move further in the direction of godly obedience. “Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.” Then concluding with words that were similar to those he had just spoken to Solomon: “Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God.” Why? “So that the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the Name of the Lord.” This great conclusion gave all the glory to God, as was right.

Beyond David and Solomon

God's Son has a good Word for us today that takes us from Tabernacle to Temple to church (cf. Ps. 127, Heb. 3:1-6). David was not the first great man prevented by providence or death from accomplishing some great dream for God. (Remember Moses' speech to Joshua?) Jesus would die before the full appearing of His great kingdom, yet His death was not a setback in His mission, it established it (Psalm 118:22). He would rise up, living and reigning through His people. Neither Moses nor David could have accomplished that. Because of Jesus' great victory, His final kingdom mission is on, and you are a part of it. Do not assume that He can be stopped out in achieving His desires. Consider the preparation, and hear the exhortation. Rise up and build!

In the days of David and Solomon, God provided everything necessary for the work of building a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is greater than Solomon, and He is building a far superior “temple.” He grants us all the gifts that we need for every aspect of this important work. Our greatest encouragement is that the Lord Himself is with us.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 46 – Be still, and know that I am God

Gospel Reading—Matthew 12:22-32 – A spiritual kingdom

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Take the mercy.

A Safe House
(1 Chronicles 21, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, February 18, 2018)

[1] Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. [2] So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.” [3] But Joab said, “May the LORD add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord's servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” [4] But the king's word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came back to Jerusalem. [5] And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. [6] But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab.

[7] But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. [8] And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” [9] And the LORD spoke to Gad, David's seer, saying, [10] “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” [11] So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Choose what you will: [12] either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the LORD, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” [13] Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

[14] So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. [15] And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. [16] And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. [17] And David said to God, “Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O LORD my God, be against me and against my father's house. But do not let the plague be on your people.”

[18] Now the angel of the LORD had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. [19] So David went up at Gad's word, which he had spoken in the name of the LORD. [20] Now Ornan was threshing wheat. He turned and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. [21] As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David and went out from the threshing floor and paid homage to David with his face to the ground. [22] And David said to Ornan, “Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the LORD—give it to me at its full price—that the plague may be averted from the people.” [23] Then Ornan said to David, “Take it, and let my lord the king do what seems good to him. See, I give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for the wood and the wheat for a grain offering; I give it all.” [24] But King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” [25] So David paid Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site. [26] And David built there an altar to the LORD and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. [27] Then the LORD commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

[28] At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there. [29] For the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon, [30] but David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.

[22:1] Then David said, “Here shall be the house of the LORD God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”

There are at least two questions that the contemporary reader would be puzzled by in looking at our passage this morning. From 21:1, What's so bad about taking a census? And from 22:1, What's so essential about a central and singular place of worship? We'll deal with each one in it's place.

Satan, David, and the Lord God Almighty

The Lord is able to use even His most formidable adversaries and David's ugliest sin in bringing about His perfect plan. “Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” So? This was apparently an obvious violation of the Lord's good order—so obvious that the biblical authors don't really explain the problem to us who are slow to see what Joab and the readers of 1 Chronicles certainly knew. The taking of a census (for war) which was to be accompanied with a tax (Exodus 30:11-16), should have been for the Lord's purposes and not David's. David was usurping God's place in Israel.

A Pestilence on Israel

Though God was sovereign over all that happened through this unusual episode (2 Samuel 24:1), the guilt belonged to David, and by the nation's association with the king, to all of Israel. God was ready to punish the people even though David suddenly came to his senses. Through the “seer” Gad, the King of heaven gave the king of the Jews a choice of punishments. David chose “three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel” rather than face Israel's “foes” or a long period of famine. His reasoning: “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great.”

The extent of this plague was horrific. “70,000 men of Israel fell” and even Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. David and his elders “fell upon their faces” and interceded for the city of God. The king asked the Lord to come against him and his dynasty for what had been his fault. Only the Lord could spare Jerusalem from utter destruction.

Here shall be the house of the Lord God”

In this moment of humble repentance and worship, Yahweh revealed the location of the singular place of worship for Israel throughout the remainder of the Old Covenant period. The plague of death would be stopped because of an acceptable sacrifice at the one place that would be authorized by the Almighty. The one who rules over men and angels was able to spare the lives of thousands of additional Israelites.

David was instructed to build a sacrificial altar at this very spot in order to stop the plague. The king insisted on paying for the property. He told the owner, “I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” After David “presented” burnt offerings and peace offerings to God and “called on the Lord” the God of power commanded and a might angel “put his sword back into his sheath.” It was then that David saw the good that God had ordained through the suffering. “Here shall be the house of the Lord God.” But was it safe? Could fear really give way to faith?

Why one temple? This singular site would lead us to one person we could fully trust—the Jesus of John 2:18-22. God's wrenching story of death and mercy (See Genesis 22:2 and 2 Chronicles 3:1.) was fulfilled on the cross of Christ. David's sin and God's plan to bring hope to the world prepared the Jews for the coming of Jesus as our blood Substitute and the better “temple” of the Holy Spirit. Sin can only truly be atoned for through one sacrifice that is acceptable to God and paid in full by the Son of God. The God of heaven will not allow Satan or our failings to defeat His own plan of GRACE. The Father has sent His Son to be our only safe refuge from eternal disaster. Take the mercy.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 45 – The King Will Desire Your Beauty

Gospel Reading—Matthew 12:15-21 – One Healer, One Chosen Servant, One Holy Temple

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Strengthen me Lord! I can't bear the weight of any more disappointment, and the enemies are grotesquely frightening.

A Heavy Crown Taken, Giants Slain
(1 Chronicles 20, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, February 11, 2018)

[1] In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, Joab led out the army and ravaged the country of the Ammonites and came and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. And Joab struck down Rabbah and overthrew it. [2] And David took the crown of their king from his head. He found that it weighed a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone. And it was placed on David's head. And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount. [3] And he brought out the people who were in it and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and axes. And thus David did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.

[4] And after this there arose war with the Philistines at Gezer. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Sippai, who was one of the descendants of the giants, and the Philistines were subdued. [5] And there was again war with the Philistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam. [6] And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. [7] And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David's brother, struck him down. [8] These were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.

A Heavy Crown Taken

Joab “led out the army” to defeat a foreign power who were the descendants of Abraham's nephew Lot. “David remained at Jerusalem.” The fuller story of David's absence from the battlefield is told in another place. The Chronicler is interested in teaching us about the greatness of David. What that means in this account of the military exploits of Joab is that these were not seen as belonging to Joab but to Joab's king. The crown goes to David, as it should. He is the Lord's anointed.

About that crown: First, it was weighty—about 75 pounds. Second, it was glorious as people count glory—gold with “a precious stone.” Third, gaining it was the fruit of spiritual battle. This particular crown may have been for the head of an idolatrous statue of the God of the Ammonites rather than for the regular use of the Ammonite king. The linguistic difficulty here is that the name of their God is closely connected to the word king. Either way, the war for the crown was a battle between gods.

In any case, David, as the anointed of Yahweh, had the kingdom, the power, and the glory not only in Israel but even over another people group. The citizens of that land were subdued into service at pain of death, and the wealth of their nation, “a very great amount” was now the property of the king of Israel.

Giants Slain

A similar account of three battles with the Philistines to the west comes at the conclusion of 1 Chronicles 20. As with the Ammonites to the east, victories won by Sibbecai, Elhanan, and David's nephew Jonathan were rightly counted as David's triumph. It was not the job of the loyal warrior to seek his own glory, but to find his pleasure in bringing joy to the Lord's anointed.

The gigantic stature and fearsome appearance of the Philistine foes is noted. What had caused fear among the soldiers of the Lord in previous days was now trampled under the feet of men who were willing to be strong in David and David's Lord. Yes they were “descendants of the giants” and associated with the name “Goliath.” Nonetheless, the man who was now the king of Israel had defeated the original taunting Philistine (1 Samuel 17:10, 45-47), and now great conquests were being achieved by “the hand of his servants.”

One Little Word”

While the Chronicler sought to build up the courage of the people of God in his own day by having them look back to David, his ultimate goal is to have them live in the present with an eye to the future. The Lord's promise of a future eternal king from his descendants looms large in our interpretation of this chapter. We must look beyond David to Jesus and His army of servants who will one day cast their crowns before Him acknowledging that all our victories rightly belong to Him.

Think about the rich use of crown imagery in the New Testament:
Crown of thorns (Matthew 27:29)
Church as crown of Jesus (Philippians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:19)
Crown of righteousness for faithful service (2 Timothy 4:8)
Crown of life for those who love Him (James 1:12, Revelation 2:10)
Crown of glory from the Good Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4)
Casting our crowns before the Son of God (Revelation 4:10-11, 5:9-10)

Think also about New Testament teaching regarding victory over frightening enemies:
Powers and principalities (Ephesians 6:10-13)
Jesus won the battle against them with perfect sacrificial love (Colossians 2:13-15)

Regarding our King, Jesus has won unfathomable battles against enemies that were far too strong for us. Most obviously, His death on the cross when considered together with His resurrection has accomplished what no one else could do. He won the victor's crown over the grotesque giants of despair, sin, and death. Only He could bear the weight of the sins of His people and rise again.

Yet even before that ultimate battle, we see the Jesus of the gospels victorious over a withered hand and over people with withered hearts. (Matthew 12:9-14, Acts 2:36-41)

Concerning the church, our God who is at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we ask or imagine. The Lord can move mountains, and He invites us to believe His Word and to obey His commands. (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Remember the power of Jesus working through His people. Yes, the church faces substantial opposition, but we have a mighty fortress in God, and “one little Word shall fell them.” That Word is the Word made flesh, the living Word, and the Word of God.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 44 – You Are My King, O God!

Gospel Reading—Matthew 12:9-14

[9] He went on from there and entered their synagogue. [10] And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. [11] He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? [12] Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” [13] Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. [14] But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Resolved. For Jesus and His Church, So help me God.

The Battle of the Ages
(1 Chronicles 19, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, February 4, 2018)

[1] Now after this Nahash the king of the Ammonites died, and his son reigned in his place. [2] And David said, “I will deal kindly with Hanun the son of Nahash, for his father dealt kindly with me.” So David sent messengers to console him concerning his father. And David's servants came to the land of the Ammonites to Hanun to console him. [3] But the princes of the Ammonites said to Hanun, “Do you think, because David has sent comforters to you, that he is honoring your father? Have not his servants come to you to search and to overthrow and to spy out the land?” [4] So Hanun took David's servants and shaved them and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away; [5] and they departed. When David was told concerning the men, he sent messengers to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return.”

[6] When the Ammonites saw that they had become a stench to David, Hanun and the Ammonites sent 1,000 talents of silver to hire chariots and horsemen from Mesopotamia, from Aram-maacah, and from Zobah. [7] They hired 32,000 chariots and the king of Maacah with his army, who came and encamped before Medeba. And the Ammonites were mustered from their cities and came to battle. [8] When David heard of it, he sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men. [9] And the Ammonites came out and drew up in battle array at the entrance of the city, and the kings who had come were by themselves in the open country.

[10] When Joab saw that the battle was set against him both in front and in the rear, he chose some of the best men of Israel and arrayed them against the Syrians. [11] The rest of his men he put in the charge of Abishai his brother, and they were arrayed against the Ammonites. [12] And he said, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will help you. [13] Be strong, and let us use our strength for our people and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.” [14] So Joab and the people who were with him drew near before the Syrians for battle, and they fled before him. [15] And when the Ammonites saw that the Syrians fled, they likewise fled before Abishai, Joab's brother, and entered the city. Then Joab came to Jerusalem.

[16] But when the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they sent messengers and brought out the Syrians who were beyond the Euphrates, with Shophach the commander of the army of Hadadezer at their head. [17] And when it was told to David, he gathered all Israel together and crossed the Jordan and came to them and drew up his forces against them. And when David set the battle in array against the Syrians, they fought with him. [18] And the Syrians fled before Israel, and David killed of the Syrians the men of 7,000 chariots and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death also Shophach the commander of their army. [19] And when the servants of Hadadezer saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they made peace with David and became subject to him. So the Syrians were not willing to save the Ammonites anymore.

A serious misinterpretation becomes a little world war.

1 Chronicles 19 tells the story of the relationship between King David and a foreign power, the Ammonites. When one Ammonite leader died and his son took his place, the new king's advisers steered him in a very foolish direction. They planted within his mind a very serious misinterpretation of David's motives, assuming that an expression of diplomatic sympathy was only a cloak for espionage and malicious intentions.

Their actions based on this false assessment proved to be devastating for their own future. They chose to humiliate the envoys that David had sent by shaving off some portion of their beards and turning their dignified clothing into humiliating costumes in a grievous insult against the Lord's people, making Israel into an adversary.

The Lord gives victory to David and Israel.

The Ammonites did not humble themselves before David after making this serious miscalculation, but went further in the direction of war by sending to the Syrians in order to hire troops from the north to aid them in their anticipated war with Israel. This in turn caused an escalation of the conflict “when David heard of it,” and the king of Israel “sent Joab and all the army of the mighty men” who walked right into an ambush. The Israelites “drew up in battle array at the entrance of the city” while the Syrian forces who had been hired for service were “in the open country,” leaving Joab and the mighty men with the Ammonites ready to attack and destroy them from one direction and the Syrians seeking to do the same from the other.

Joab divided his forces and turned to Almighty God, with the hope that the Lord would grant victory on at least one of the two fronts, so that they could quickly join forces again and attack the remaining enemy. Joab's words at this difficult moment proved to be inspiring. They echoed the battle cry of men like Moses and Joshua from earlier centuries, and they ring down through the ages to us today. (1) “Be strong.” They were to be firmly resolved rather than internally conflicted. (2) “Let us use our strength for our people and for the cities of our God.” (3) “May the Lord do what seems good to him.”

The result of this plan was amazing. First the Syrians fled, and their fear then infected the Ammonite army who also ran away to the safety of their city. The defeated Syrian tribes called for an expanded group of allies, again provoking David to an escalated response. Finally, the Syrian soldiers were “defeated by Israel” and they “made peace with David” and “were not willing to save the Ammonites any more.”

May the Lord do what seems good to Him!

The Lord has appointed civil authorities as agents of justice as well as mercy. It is right for rulers as they seek the Lord of nations, to (1) “be strong,” and (2) to use their strength to defend their people and their cities, with the confidence that (3) the Lord will do “what seems good to Him.” The kingdom of God will not come by the use of the weapons of this world. As we do the work of the church, Christians do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

How do we fight the battle of the ages? We must prayerfully follow the instruction and example of our King (1, 2, & 3 applied to the cross), who has won the victory already for us. Expect to face many dangers and troubles, but (1) stay strong in the Lord of the resurrection, (2) love the King who died for us and the city of God that He is building, and (3) Keep the faith. Our God will do what seems good to Him. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

The best practical advice for those heading into spiritual warfare:
Resolved. For Jesus and His Church, So help me God.

Old Testament Reading—Psalms 42 and 43 – The Battle Within

Gospel Reading—Matthew 12:1-8

[1] At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. [2] But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” [3] He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: [4] how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? [5] Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? [6] I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. [7] And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. [8] For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”