Monday, September 29, 2008

The Ministry of Persuasion

The pulpit, whether it be in a prison house or a church house, is not a platform for entertaining people, telling jokes, promoting opinion, or performing mass psychology – the pulpit is a platform for preaching truth, solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and persuading men concerning Jesus Christ from the Scriptures. Any platform or opportunity that God provides for the preaching and teaching of His truth is to be considered a pulpit and is to be treated with our utmost respect and reverence for His Majesty.

Nowhere in the Bible do we see the men of God belittling their God-given opportunities to preach and teach. They were not lackadaisical or irreverent in discharging their duties. Instead you always find that in their ministry of persuasion, God’s men were always serious and solemn. Why? Because they were given the ministry of persuasion – convincing and convicting others of God’s truth. God has committed to us the word of reconciliation. “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).

God never gives us a platform for our own personal advancement or popularity but always and only for the preaching of His kingdom and His Christ. In this ministry of persuasion we are royal ambassadors because we are representing the King of kings and Lord of lords and proclaiming His truth – not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:2) - and not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ will not be made void (1 Corinthians 1:17) – and not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

We have been given the ministry of reconciliation which necessitates the ministry of persuasion and it is not to be trivialized or minimized but we are to be serious and solemn in discharging our duties as ambassadors for Christ. Acts 28:23-27 shows us some necessities in the ministry of persuasion.

Paul believed in clear explanation of God’s Word in his ministry of persuasion! (23)

The duty of the preacher is to give the meaning and correct interpretation of God’s Word. We are not to be interested in the preacher’s opinion, his clever speech or his persuasive words of wisdom – we are to be interested in what has God really said! We read in verse 23, “and he was explaining to them.” This means that Paul was giving the meaning of God’s Word to his hearers. Just like Ezra the scribe in the book of Nehemiah who read from the book of the Law from early morning until midday and they read from the book, from the law of God, translating (explaining) to give the sense so that they (the people) understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:8). Ezra was a good example for preachers – “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
We also have the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who after his resurrection appeared to the two men on the road to Emmaus and, “Then beginning with Moses and with the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Explaining and expounding the Scriptures is the only way to persuade men concerning the truth of God’s kingdom and His King.

Paul believed in the serious handling God’s Word in his ministry of persuasion! (23)

We read, “And he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying…” (23). This ministry of persuasion through preaching is no laughing, joking, or irreverent matter. We had better never forget whose ambassadors we are and in whose presence we speak! “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Preaching is a serious matter! God isn’t concerned with whether or not we are well liked, popular, funny, clever, or entertaining – He is concerned with our proper handling of the Word of truth which alone is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Paul believed in the divine intent of God’s Word in his ministry of persuasion! (23)

We read, “And he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus” (23) and, “Preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ…” (31). First, Paul was solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God. When John the Baptist came on the scene and came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). When the Lord Jesus Christ began His ministry after His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). And then in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 the Lord Jesus gave the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 5 He spoke of kingdom citizens being marked by true righteousness, in Matthew 6 He spoke of kingdom citizens being marked by true worship, and in Matthew 7 He spoke of kingdom citizens being marked by true judgment. The kingdom of God is about the King and His subjects. The kingdom of God also entails those who rebel against the King and who hate His people.

The truth of the kingdom of God serves as a grave warning and call to repentance for those who would foolishly take their stand against the rule and authority of God through His Messiah, His appointed King. See Psalm 2.

This is where teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ or trying to persuade concerning Jesus comes in. He is the promised Messiah, the One who fulfills Scripture, the One whom God has made both Lord and Christ, and the only One through whom God will ever grant salvation. The book of Acts is very thorough in establishing the truth of the Kingship of Christ. We only have to get to chapter two of Acts before this wonderful and profound truth is made clear – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Jesus is the King of the kingdom of God and God does not ask us to make him King or Lord of our lives – God commands that we repent and bow in worship receiving Christ as our King based on the truth that Jesus Christ the King laid down His life for us! Kingdom citizens are drawn into the kingdom by being drawn to the King! It is for this reason that we sing, “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my King would die for me?”

Jesus Christ is the King and we can neither make Him King nor dethrone Him as King. He was impaled once on an old rugged cross but He will never be impeached. He died once but He will never die again! He is the King to whom all men must give an account and He is the King whom all men will one day, whether they like it or not, confess that He is Lord! “Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Paul believed in the absolute veracity of God’s Word in his ministry of persuasion! (23)

We read, “And he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the prophets…” (23). Paul believed in the absolute truthfulness or veracity of God’s Word. When we read that he was trying to persuade them from both the Law of Moses and from the prophets we are to understand that Paul was using the totality of the Old Testament as the sole basis for establishing the truth of the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ as its King. This is what the Bible teaches. In our persuasion we are to use God’s Word because His Word is truth and it is His Word that produces faith – “So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). It is not our cleverness or our persuasive words of wisdom that have power unto salvation but God’s Word alone. Paul told Timothy, “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Paul would have began in Genesis and worked his way to Malachi showing over and over again the truth of Jesus Christ the suffering Messiah and exalted King!

Paul believed in the convicting power of the Word of God in his ministry of persuasion! (24)

We read, “Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe” (24). We should never forget that the convicting power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God not only results in some being persuaded/believing but also in some who will not believe. Those who will not believe have hardened their hearts and will not receive and believe the clear, serious, and absolute truth of God’s Word concerning His kingdom and His King. This rejection is willful and in the face of the convicting and convincing power of the truth of the Word of God. Those who will not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved will receive a deluding influence so that they will believe a lie and be judged. As is clear from the following three verses, God will harden the hearts of those who harden their hearts and will not believe.

The Holy Spirit uses the accurate preaching of the Word of God to convict concerning sin (the rejection of the Lordship of Christ in our lives as evidenced by our deeds); to convict concerning righteousness (the kingdom of God and His sinless always obedient King); and to convict concerning judgment (the defeat of all the enemies of God).

Conviction doesn’t come from our cleverness, or ability to talk people into things (persuasive words of wisdom) or our craftiness – conviction comes from the Holy Spirit using the convicting power of the Word of God.

Paul believed in the divine inspiration of the Word of God in his ministry of persuasion! (25-27)

We read, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers…” (25). Paul had been using the totality of the Old Testament while testifying and persuading concerning the kingdom of God and Jesus. Everything that the Bible says is true not only concerning the kingdom, its citizens, and Jesus its King, but also concerning those who take their stand against the kingdom and the King. The reason that everything the Bible says is true and that we can believe in the absolute veracity of the Word of God is because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God who is not only the Spirit of holiness, He is also the Spirit of truth. What He says is right and true!

We can trust the Bible because we can trust its Author – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Since the Bible is divinely inspired it is true and what it says about God, His Kingdom, His King, His subjects, and His enemies is right. This is one of the reasons we read so much in the Bible about not only what marks the children of God but also what marks the children of the devil. And what is absolutely clear about the differences between the children of God and the children of the devil is that the children of the devil will not receive and believe the truth while the children of God do. Look at verses 26 and 27 – these men had just spent the majority of a day listening to solemn testimony and persuasion from the Word of God and many of them would not believe – a truth the Holy Spirit inspired to be written into the Bible through Isaiah the prophet.

God only uses truth to draw men and women to His Son and it is that same truth which draws some and yet repels others. Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men with the truth of God’s Word!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Christianity: Spoken Against Everywhere!

Ours is a day of great confusion and lack of understanding. We are living in a day when false Christianity and false prophets are spoken well of and true Christianity and true prophets are spoken evil of. Evil is called good and good is called evil; darkness is substituted for light and light for darkness; bitter is substituted for sweet and sweet for bitter – but the Word of God says, “Woe to those” who do such a thing (Isaiah 5:20).

But here is the sad truth – it has always been this way and men still haven’t learned the lesson. Not only have we forgotten the example of the prophets who spoke truth in the name of the Lord and suffered because of it; not only have we forgotten the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was truth incarnate and was spoken evil of and suffered; but we have also forgotten the example of the apostles and men of God since who spoke truth and stood for truth and were yet spoken against, mistreated, and persecuted.

Sad to say but most people’s theology is so messed up that they can’t fathom that someone in negative circumstances and in a negative light can possibly be from God. Many wrongly have a type of health, wealth, prosperity, and popularity theology that says in essence that if you are really a man or woman of God then only positive things will mark you. However, just the opposite is true and always will be. A prophet that is well spoken of and is popular is not and cannot be a true prophet. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way” (Luke 6:26). On the other hand Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

So here is a truth we need to grasp: if our Christianity isn’t spoken against because of our stand for and preaching of the truth, especially in this age of apostasy, then can we really say that our Christianity is true and not apostate? True Christianity has always been spoken against and always will be until the end.

Here in Acts 28:16-22 we see that true Christianity is spoken against everywhere and in fact this was the very reason that Paul was in Rome as a prisoner – not because of crimes committed but because of an unflinching and unwavering commitment to the truth.

The negative circumstances (16) – judging by appearance

Paul was under guard and in chains! But not if he were a true apostle, right? Surely God wouldn’t allow such a humiliating experience to happen to one of His own? Rememer Jesus? While being crucified, He was rejected as true and wrongly judged by appearance. Many thought that He couldn't be of God because of His circumstances - "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself, He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, 'I am the Son of God'" (Matthew 27:40-43).

We had better never judge by appearance! Look at that little Jew that preaches God’s Word and refuses to tickle the ears of the people – he can’t be true or else he wouldn’t have to endure such difficulties. Come on Paul, what do you mean telling us that you are a true apostle and that you will prove it by your difficulties? – “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendents of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? – I speak as if insane – I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked (four counting the one we just read about), a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:22-27). Danger, Danger, Danger! Difficulty, Difficulty, Difficulty! And Paul said that if that wasn’t enough, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

In this age of mega churches and the smooth sailing of apostate Christianity, how many would consider the apostle Paul and his negative experiences as the real deal?

The reasons for the negative circumstances (17-20)

First there were false accusations based on rejecting the truth (17). Paul had been accused of preaching against the people – not true! Paul had been accused of preaching against the customs – not true! And yet - he was delivered as a prisoner.

Second there was a faulty judicial system in spite of the truth (18-19). Paul had been found innocent by Rome. But he was held captive by Rome because the Jews objected (spoke against it). Because the Jews spoke against Paul and his release, Paul was forced to appeal to Caesar – not to bring accusations but to be proven innocent.

The third reason for Paul's circumstances was his faithful commitment to the truth (20) – the hope of Israel - the resurrection from the dead and God verified it by raising Jesus from the dead.

The opportunity because of the negative circumstances (21-22)

Paul was now in Rome, although as a prisoner, and yet he took the opportunity to do what he did everywhere; he would give the gospel to the Jew first and then to the Greek. Having called the leading men of the Jews to come and see him Paul began to explain his circumstances. After explaining his circumstances the Jews in Rome said that they hadn’t received any letters from Judea warning about him and that no one had spoken anything bad about him (21). While they hadn’t heard anything bad about Paul, they did know that Christianity (this sect) was spoken against everywhere (22). As a matter of truth it had only been three or so years earlier that the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because of riots and disturbances in the Jewish community sparked by the preaching about Christ – see Acts 18:1-2.

These Jews in Rome were curious as to what Paul’s views were concerning Christianity, this sect that was spoken against everywhere, so they set a day to come and hear Paul (23a). This is the kind of opportunity that God intends our negative circumstances to cause – that we would be able to use the Scriptures to explain, prove, and persuade concerning Jesus and the faith once for all handed down to the saints.

Our battle isn’t over opinion but over truth and we will be hated because of it!“Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Amazing Grace on Display

One of our most beloved and treasured hymns is Amazing Grace written by John Newton a former captain of a slave ship. As a young lad Newton had memorized Bible passages and hymns at the knees of his mother who died when he was about seven years old. However, John Newton wasn’t converted until he was twenty-three years old. After falling deeper and deeper into sin, Newton found that he was capable of anything. Then on the night of March 9, 1748, Newton was jolted awake by a brutal storm that descended too suddenly for the crew to foresee. The next day, in great peril, he cried out to the Lord. He later wrote, “That tenth of March is a day much remembered by me; and I have never suffered it to pass unnoticed since the year 1748 – the Lord came from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.”

Psalm 107:23-32 says, “Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, and praise Him at the seat of the elders.”

This happened to John Newton; this happened to the disciples of the Lord on several occasions; and this happened to the apostle Paul more than once – so that any of them would have been able to sing, “Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home!”

Here in Acts 28:11-15 we see God’s amazing grace that not only delivered Paul and the others safely from the storm and shipwreck on Malta but also provided Paul with the encouragement of fellowship with the brethren as God guided him to his desired haven – Rome!

Going to Rome had long been a desire of Paul’s heart. Paul had written his letter to the Romans at least three years before these events while he was in Corinth. And in his letter to the Romans Paul said, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Romans 1:9-13).

So as we move into our text this morning keep in mind that Paul had written the letter to the Romans at least three years earlier and that they too would have looked forward to seeing Paul just as he had longed to see them.

Christians on the boat (11-13) – Luke and Aristarchus sharing in suffering.

It’s encouraging to know that we are not on this journey alone. Luke who wrote the book of Acts said, “At the end of three months, we set sail on an Alexandrian ship…." After being shipwrecked on Malta and given safety and shelter during the dangerous time of the year for navigation, the right season for sailing returned – after three months. Another ship, evidently with a captain and pilot that knew better than to try to sail at that time of the year, had wintered at the island. What a coincidence - God caused these circumstances to coincide! This ship took on the passengers from the ship that had wrecked and began its voyage towards Rome. This time the weather was in their favor and was not a deceiving south wind. This south wind was so advantageous to the journey that the trip from Rhegium to Puteoli only took two days. Puteoli was an island just off the toe of Italy.

But keep this in mind – Luke and Aristarchus were with Paul and what an encouragement that had to be. There is nothing more discouraging than to believe that you are all alone in your service to God. Elijah the prophet was severely discouraged when he thought that he was the last true prophet alive – but it was great encouragement for him to know that God had 7,000 who hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal. All courage to stand against the false and stand for the true can leave when you think you are all alone in your service to God. Never forget that we are not alone because God always has a remnant according to His gracious choice.

Also as we face difficulties and persecutions for the sake of righteousness there are two things to remember: (1) that Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Hebrews 13:12-13) and (2) resist the devil, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:9-10). We are not on this journey alone!

Christians at Puteoli (14) – showing hospitality!

We are encouraged not only because there are others on the boat with us but also because there are others whom we have not met yet that care about us and will provide us with hospitality. Hospitality is to mark the children of God. “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9). And hospitality is one of the ways that God allows His children great privilege in meeting and serving His servants – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

Certainly Paul and Luke and Aristarchus would have been strangers to the Christians at Puteoli but because of their common salvation the brethren invited them to stay with them for seven days. And Luke adds – “And thus we came to Rome!” In other words, “This is how we came to Rome – with God protecting, providing, and encouraging all the way!" It would be here that this little band of Christians would have burst forth in hymnody and sang, “Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home!” Let us never forget to be or quit being hospitable – God uses it as part of His amazing grace to encourage the brethren with Christian hospitality.

Christians at Rome (15) seeking fellowship!

How did there come to be Christians as Puteoli and Rome? It is obvious that Paul hadn’t been to Rome yet and according to his closing in chapter 15 of the book of Romans neither had any of the other apostles. But the book of Acts sheds some light as it shows the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth and that on the day of Pentecost there were in Jerusalem, “visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes” (Acts 2:10).

At least three years earlier Paul had written to the Romans indicating his desire to see them and fellowship with them for mutual encouragement and growth in the faith. True Christian fellowship is based on a desire to bless and be blessed – “that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12). The Christians at Rome desired to see Paul as much as he desired to see them – “And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us” (15a).

They weren’t coming to “get the anointing” or to see Paul do miracles or to hear some sermon addressing their felt needs. They surely weren’t going to hear some health, wealth, and prosperity false gospel from Paul – he was in chains as a prisoner! No! There was a noble-minded reason for the Christians from Rome to make their way out of the city to meet the apostle on his approach to Rome – they were coming to fellowship and to grow – to be a blessing and to be blessed! And the last part of the verse says, “And when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage!”

Thank God for Christians who will go out of their way to encourage God’s faithful servants! Thank God for His amazing grace! Amen!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Divine Pit Stops and God's Faithfulness!

Acts 28:1-10 shows us the sovereignty of God in His guidance to getting us to where He wants us to be. Here we see that there may be some pit stops along the way and those pit stops are divine appointments on the journey. For instance, the gospels tell us of Jesus, after His baptism in the Jordan River and after John the Baptist was taken into custody that Jesus withdrew and came into Galilee. However, there was a pit stop, a divine appointment along the way. We read in John’s Gospel concerning this same incident, “Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:1-4). The KJV says in verse four, “And He must needs go through Samaria.” Now here is what I want you to understand – as we read this in our language it may appear that the Bible is saying that the way from Judea to Galilee is through Samaria only. However, normally the Jews avoided Samaria by crossing to the East of the Jordan to travel from Judea to Galilee. And in the original language the word for either “had to pass through” or “must needs go through” is dei, and it means of divine necessity. In other words, Samaria was a divine pit stop on the way to Galilee from Judea for the Lord. Why? Because God has it rigged! Everything was happening on God’s timetable – the circumstances of John the Baptist’s arrest which prompted the Lord to withdraw to Galilee, with the divine necessity based on His Father’s plan to go through Samaria, and at the right time of the day both the Lord and His disciples came to Jacob’s well along with the Samaritan woman whom God was going to save and use to bring others to faith in Christ. What a coincidence!

Malta was a divine pit stop for the apostle Paul on his journey to Rome. God used the circumstances of the unheeded advice by Paul and the dangerous storm to shipwreck His apostle on the Island of Malta. This was indeed a coincidence because God who is sovereign and in control caused all the circumstances to coincide according to His perfect, pleasing and good will.

So here in Acts 28:1-10 we see some important elements of this divine pit stop at Malta which reveals the Lord's wisdom, power, and love and makes us proclaim, "Great is Thy faithfulness!"

Extraordinary virtue found among pagans (1-2)

Malta (1) means a place of refuge and its citizens lived up to its name. The natives didn’t speak Greek and were therefore considered barbarians. However, they showed extraordinary kindness – these natives of Malta would have seen the Roman soldiers and their prisoners and still because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and Luke said, “They received us all.” Many wrongly assume that because of some extraordinary kindness shown by some pagans that the doctrine of the depravity of man is disproved. However it doesn’t disprove that doctrine at all. After all, the Lord Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11).

So extraordinary kindness from lost people doesn’t negate the doctrine of the depravity of man but actually establishes another doctrine that is true about all men – the work of God's Law written in their hearts. Although the specifics may vary, every culture holds some things to be right and other things to be wrong – “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14-15). And therefore, “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). These natives of Malta were exhibiting extraordinary kindness because of this biblical doctrine!

Expected vengeance based on false assumptions (3-4).

While humbly serving others, Paul ended up being bitten by a poisonous snake (3). The natives saw the creature hanging from Paul’s hand and thought him to be a murderer whom Justice was not going to allow to live (4). Little did they know that Paul was an apostle of Christ and that the Lord had promised his apostles that “they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:18).

Exalting vindication based on faulty expectations (5-6).

Bitten by a poisonous snake, Paul suffered no harm (5). Their faulty expectations caused them to believe that Paul would soon swell up or either suddenly fall down dead (6a). However, after they waited and watched for a long time, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god (6b). Paul went from being considered a murderer to being considered a god - a title which he never accepted anywhere.

Exacting verification of a faithful apostle (7-9).

After being bitten by a serpent with no harm, Paul then prayed and laid hands on Publius' father and healed him (7-8). After that the rest of the people came to Paul and were cured (9). These were the signs the Lord promised to his apostles as verifying or authenticating signs for the preaching of the Gospel.

Exciting validation of God’s faithfulness (10).

During his two years in Rome, Paul wrote Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. It was to the Philippians that Paul wrote to while in Rome which would have been after his shipwreck on Malta, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) – “and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed”(10b). Also the honor and love that was shown by the natives of Malta may very well indicate that many were receptive to the preaching of the Gospel. According to tradition, the church on Malta dates from the time of Paul’s shipwreck there, with Publius as its first pastor.

May we never forget that God may have some divine pit stops along our journey and they will be opportunities for the faithfulness, mercy, and glory of the Lord to be displayed!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An Illustration of the Gospel

Several years ago I was preaching systematically through the gospel of Matthew and on a particular Sunday morning had arrived at chapter twenty-one which begins the last week of our Lord’s life on earth culminating in His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. That same Sunday afternoon I was to begin teaching systematically through Genesis in our Discipleship Training hour. So as I started preaching Matthew twenty-one that morning, I stated that the Holy Spirit gave much attention to the last week of our Lord’s life in the gospels and that its account is very important and central to the gospel. After the morning service was over and as I was refreshing my lesson on Genesis chapter one, I realized just how much the last week of our Lord’s life paralleled the first week of creation – that the creation account actually paralleled the redemption account and testified of the Lord Jesus. It was from this that the Lord helped me to better understand the mystery of redemption as shown in Christ and His bride, the church.

Before I get into the illustration let me set the stage with some biblical truths that are necessary if we are going to understand this mystery. The Bible speaks of Adam as the first Adam and it speaks of Jesus as the last Adam – “So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). And also in Ephesians 5:22-33 we read about how marriage is to be like Christ and His bride, the church. It is from viewing the proper function of the marriage and the God-given roles of husbands and wives, that are to parallel the way Christ relates to the church and the church relates to Christ, that we see the failure of the first Adam in redeeming his bride and the success of the last Adam (Jesus Christ) in redeeming his bride.

In order to illustrate the gospel and what Christ accomplished for His bride we need to look at what Adam could have done differently, the effect of that on Eve, and her willing response to Adam as a result.

What Adam could have done differently:
Let’s suppose that Eve, after having been deceived by the serpent and having eaten from the tree which God told them not to eat from, that she offered some of the forbidden fruit to her husband. And let’s suppose that Adam refused to eat the fruit because of his love for God and he said to Eve, “I cannot eat that fruit and disobey my heavenly Father who has always been good and more than gracious to us. I delight to do His will and I cannot sin against Him.”

Now let’s suppose that they heard the sound of God as He came walking in the garden and Eve went and hid herself because she had sinned and was afraid, but Adam went to meet with God and he said to Him, “Father, my bride has sinned against you and has eaten from the tree which you commanded us not to eat. You have said that the wages of sin is death – that we shall surely die if we eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So Father, I want to pay Eve’s sin debt and I want to die in her place.” To which God accepted.

From her hiding place in the garden, Eve watched as God nailed Adam to a tree and she watched as Adam endured the wrath of God for her and she watched as Adam gave up his spirit and died. Then she watched as God took Adam off the tree and laid him in a tomb and sealed it with a stone. Three days later Eve watched as God came back into the garden and back to the tomb, removed the stone and said to Adam, “Arise My Son! The death you died was not your own for you never sinned against Me and with you I am well pleased!

The effect of that on Eve:
Surely Eve’s heart would have been broken over her wickedness and Adam’s willingness to give his righteous life as a substitute for hers. She would have mourned that her sin caused the death of her husband who had never sinned.

Eve’s willing response to Adam as a result:
Eve would have been moved to repentance, recognizing her sinfulness and Adam’s righteousness, she would have turned to Adam for forgiveness and she would have said to him, “O Adam! Please forgive me. It was my sin, my disobedience that caused your death and I am sorry.” To which Adam would have replied, “Eve, you are forgiven – it was for you I died, even while you were yet a sinner.” Then Eve would have said, “Your love for God is beyond dispute, your love for me is beyond dispute, and therefore, from now on it is my desire to live under your loving leadership.”

Had Adam done this then Eve’s obedience to God would have been restored through her loving obedience to Adam because Adam would never lead Eve to do anything in violation of God’s will. However, we know that this is not what the first Adam did – but it is what Jesus Christ the last Adam did! O what a Savior and Lord!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Faith on Trial...Characteristics of a Child of God

How do you know for sure that you are a child of God and that your assurance is biblically based? In other words, if you were on trial, having to defend your faith and prove that your faith is in line with God’s Word, could you give undeniable evidence?

In Acts 26:1-32, Paul gives a defense of his faith before King Agrippa, and in Acts 26:19-23 there emerges the characteristics of a child of God that are in line with God’s Word and are the biblical proof that gives us assurance that we have eternal life.

So let’s examine these characteristics in verses 19-23 and see if our faith passes the test and is biblical saving faith.

The first characteristic of a child of God is obedient participation with revealed truth (19) – “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision.” The child of God walks in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord. “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). Obedient participation with the revealed truth of Jesus Christ as Lord is obedience to the Gospel. Not obeying Christ as Lord, which is revealed in the Gospel, is to prove disobedient and is a characteristic of a counterfeit Christian. “…the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9). Our Lord Jesus said the same thing when He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

The second characteristic of a child of God is continuing perseverance in truth (20) – “but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Persevering in truth with a continued life adjustment to truth is evidence of genuine repentance and saving faith. To turn away from the truth and not practice the truth for whatever reason(s) is evidence of not having really received and believed the truth. “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him; the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:3-6). See also 1 John 3:7-10. Our Lord Jesus also said this, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free….Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death” (John 8:31-32, 51). Not continuing in the truth, not persevering in the truth, or not abiding in the truth is a characteristic of a counterfeit Christian – “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). And also, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot [practice] sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness [continuing obedience to the truth] is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10).

The third characteristic of a child of God is accepting persecution for the sake of truth (21) – “For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.” It was because of Paul’s obedient participation with revealed truth (that Jesus of Nazareth is both Christ and Lord) and continuing perseverance in that truth that he was hated by those who rejected that truth. The first two characteristics of a child of God inevitably lead to the third characteristic – being persecuted for the sake of truth. “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:13-16). Our Lord Jesus also said this, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do know the One who sent Me” (John 15:18-21). And the apostle Paul also wrote these words which are in line with this third characteristic of a child of God, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendent of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:8-10).

The fourth and final characteristic of a child of God as found in our text is only preaching nothing but the truth (22-23) – “So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” The child of God preaches nothing but the truth and does not go outside of what God has revealed in His word. This truth is clearly stated in many places in the Bible and especially in 1 John 4:1-6 – “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” See also for further study John 5:39-47; 8:42-47; 13:20; and 15:20-21.

When giving a defense for the hope that is within us we need to always show that we are obedient to truth, continuing in truth, accepting persecution for truth, and only preaching the truth – after all, this is what marks a child of God and gives him or her biblical assurance of salvation!

If you were on trial, having to defend your faith and prove that your faith is in line with God’s Word, could you give undeniable biblical evidence?