Union Chapel Baptist Church

Archive

You are currently browsing the archives for the Pastor’s Blog category.

Mar

14

The Day of the Lord

By admin

1Thessalonians 5:1-11

IV. Exhortation to the Thessalonians (4:1-5:22)

B. Exhortation Regarding Eschatological Needs (4:13-5:11)

Paul now changes his subject to The Day of The Lord. What is this?

The Day of The Lord is a special time of divine visitation mentioned often in both the Old and the New Testaments. It is a time when God brings judgment upon the earth.

“Paul’s discussion of the broad Day of the Lord in the opening part of 1 Thessalonians 5 involved the introduction of a new and, therefore, different subject from the events of at the end of chapter four. Three things indicate this change of subjects.

First, Paul began verse 1 with a significant combination of two Greek words back to back (peri de). In every other instance, when Paul placed this combination at the beginning of a statement, it was to introduce a new subject.

Second, the second word in this combination, de, even by itself has the essential significance of introducing a new subject.

Third, the Thessalonians already had a “perfect” (accurate) knowledge concerning the broad Day of the Lord before Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to them (v. 2), but by contrast they were ignorant concerning the “catching away,” the Rapture of the church (4:13-18). It is apparent that when he was with them prior to writing this letter, he had given them exact instructions concerning the Day of the Lord but had not taught them about the Resurrection and meeting with the Lord in the air of chapter 4. The implication is that this “caught up” event was not part of the events of the Day of the Lord.

All three factors indicate the same thing: the broad Day of the Lord is a different subject from the Rapture of the church. This difference is significant for four reasons.

First, it indicates that the broad Day of the Lord will not include the Rapture of the church.

Second, the broad Day will include the Second Coming of Christ; but, since it will not include the Rapture, the Rapture must be a separate event from the Second Coming. Thus, the Rapture must take place at a time different from the Second Coming of Christ which happens immediately after the Great Tribulation.

Third, since the Rapture will not be part of the Day of the Lord, there must be a period of time between the Rapture and the beginning of the broad Day.

Fourth, since the Rapture will not be part of the Day of the Lord, it will not be the starting point of the broad Day.” (Above discussion copied from: Renald Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord, Come! A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church, p. 59.)

So now let’s look at what the text says about this Day of The Lord.

a. Brethren (you) 5:1-2

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.

The first thing we note is that Paul, in the few brief weeks he was with the Thessalonian Believers, had already taught them about the coming Day of the Lord. They had no need for anything to be added in the letter in regards to details and descriptions of the Day of the Lord. They already knew the imminent nature of this Day. It will come upon the world like a thief in the night. As thieves do not send word of their impending break-in into our homes, neither will there be word sent from Heaven of God’s impending break-in into the course of this world. There will be no notices given. It will just happen at God’s appointed time. No prior notification.

This is something those Believers were aware of. Paul wrote that the Brethren, you, have been instructed in this truth.

But we also need to note that Paul wrote that they knew it was pointless to try to determine when the Day of the Lord would begin. Paul was telling them they knew not to try to set dates. In regards to the “times and the epochs” they had already been instructed that trying to predetermine its coming was a pointless act.

b. They (them) 5:3

However, notice the contrast in verse 3. We have moved to a different group: they / them.

While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.

First, we can note that Believers are not the subject here. Not only is there a contrast in pronouns between Brethren / you and those who are designated they / them, but the group referred to as they and them are in complete ignorance. The events of the Day of the Lord will burst upon them suddenly as birth pangs come upon a pregnant woman.

And it will be a time when this group is doubly unprepared for this event because they believe themselves secure in their “Peace and safety!” Who is this group?

It is natural to conclude this group is made up of the vast numbers of humanity who are not Brethren. They are those who have not placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior and who are alive on the earth at the moment the Day of the Lord begins.

They believe themselves to be secure in their lives. This vast number of people were described so well by David in Psalm 10:3-11. Listen to his description:

For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, And the greedy man curses and spurns the LORD. The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, “There is no God.” His ways prosper at all times; Your judgments are on high, out of his sight; As for all his adversaries, he snorts at them. He says to himself, “I will not be moved; Throughout all generations I will not be in adversity.” His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression; Under his tongue is mischief and wickedness. He sits in the lurking places of the villages; In the hiding places he kills the innocent; His eyes stealthily watch for the unfortunate. He lurks in a hiding place as a lion in his lair; He lurks to catch the afflicted; He catches the afflicted when he draws him into his net. He crouches, he bows down, And the unfortunate fall by his mighty ones. He says to himself, “God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it.”

This is a people who completely ignore God. They have no sense of God’s condemnation of sin. They feel themselves secure in their “Peace and safety!” They have no concept of their deadly condition of living under the wrath of God.

It is upon this group that the Day of the Lord will suddenly burst upon them with God’s mighty destructive power. And none of them will escape. There will be no escapees of the unsaved from the destruction of the Day of the Lord.

This suddenness means, of course, that none of the judgments of Revelation 6-18 will have occurred. Otherwise, there would be frightful warning that the Day of the Lord was about to begin. This implies that the Day of the Lord includes all of the judgments given in Revelation 6-18. In other words, the entire seven years of destruction and distress given in those13 chapters is all part of the Day of the Lord and is preceded by the events of 1Thessalonians 4:13-18, the Rapture.

c. Brethren (you) 5:4-5a

So notice that at verse 4 Paul switches back to writing about the Brethren / you.

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day.

It is interesting that the Old Testament prophet Joel described the Day of the Lord as “A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness.” Joel 2:2

The prophet Zephaniah described it in this way in 1:14-15:

Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness,

For the world, it will usher in the darkest days of human history since the Fall. Even the destruction of the Flood happened fairly quickly and simply involved death. What is described in Revelation is not just death, but vast prolonged suffering leading to death, and even death is sometimes kept from them in their suffering.

But guess what? We are not children of darkness. We, as the Brethren, the Children of God, are not in darkness. We are all sons of light and sons of day.

Paul described our condition in Colossians 1:12-14 when he wrote:

… giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

We have been rescued from the domain of darkness. That is what the rest of the world exists in: the domain of darkness. We have been transferred from that dark kingdom into the kingdom of His beloved Son. And Who is this beloved Son? In John 8:12 John recorded “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.””

Being in the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son is being in the Kingdom of the Light of the World. This is why we are all sons of light and sons of day. Because of this, that great and terrible Day of the Lord will not overtake us as it will the unbelievers of this world. We need never fear its coming because it will not overtake us. That Day is not for us Believers.

d. We (us) 5b-6

At this point, Paul began to include himself in the discussion. He worte:

We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

Paul, along with all other Brethren, all other Believers, is not of night nor of darkness. Paul is also a son of light. So Paul began to include himself. As he is included in being a son of the light, he also included himself in the instructions he gave in light of that truth.

Because we are all sons of light and of the day, we should not sleep as others do. What does that mean?

The word translated “sleep” is not the same word used in 1Thessalonians 4:13-15. This word tends to be used of those who are in a deep sleep. For example, in Matthew 8:24 when Jesus was fast asleep in the boat, not even wakened by the horrible storm. It was the word Jesus used in the parable of the wheat and the tares when the workers slept while the enemy sowed tares in the field in Matthew 13:25. Because it has the idea of a deep sleep unaware of things around, it is used metaphorically of being spiritually asleep, i.e., secure and unconcerned in sin, or indolent and careless in the performance of duty. This is the type of sleep the world is in. They are spiritually unaware and unconcerned about their true spiritual state.

We Believers, since we are sons of light, living with the light of Christ in our hearts, should never be people who are spiritually insensitive. That should never be us.

Instead, we should be alert and sober. “Alert” simply means awake. This is being spiritually awake. Awake to the darkness surrounding us in this world. We should be people who are not spiritually insensitive but ones who are very cognizant of the darkness of this world, this culture.

“Sober” is a word meaning to be sober–minded, watchful, circumspect. It is the opposite of being drunk. We are being instructed to not be spiritually insensitive but rather very spiritually aware of this world in which we live and its spiritual darkness. The Apostle Peter used both these words, in reverse order, when he wrote in 1Peter 5:8:

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Satan wants to destroy us. We need to be spiritually aware of his devices through maintaining our spiritual wits about us and being very much on our guard against the wickedness of this world.

e. Those 5:7

Then Paul, in verse 7, goes back to considering the lost as a contrast to the Brethren. He wrote:

For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.

This spiritual insensitiveness and spiritual dullness is typical of those who live in spiritual darkness, the spiritual night. They love the dark and shun the light. This is why John wrote of Jesus in John 1:4-5:

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Darkness is the condition in which this world exists and, because of this, they shun the light. They dull their senses with drink. They love the spiritual darkness and dullness in which they live. That is the condition of the lost, those who live in the kingdom of darkness.

f. We (us) 5:8-10

In contrast to them, Paul wrote of all of us Believers in the next three verses.

But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.

Since we are of the day, we should not be like the lost. Rather, we should not be spiritually dull but spiritually watchful, spiritually circumspect.

How do we maintain this soberness, this watchfulness?

We do this by protecting our emotions and our mind.

We protect our emotions by putting on the breastplate of faith and love. When we are struggling it is easy for our emotions to take us down. When we focus on the hurts, the pain, the struggles, we can plunge into an abyss of self-pity and destructive thoughts. We can begin to doubt God and His love for us. We can become angry with God and our faith can become shipwrecked on the rocks of tribulations.

To protect our emotions, our hearts, we need to have on our breastplate of faith and love. Paul is not real specific on whose faith and whose love. He is most likely thinking of our own faith, our trust in God. This faith is a faith that transcends the tribulations, the trials. This trust that protects our emotions is a trust that focuses on God. As Job said: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him (Job 13:15). This is a faith that does not depend on the circumstances. How do we maintain such a faith?

By also focusing on God’s love. Paul wrote, in 2Corinthians 5:14-15:

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

We need to be controlled by the love of Christ. We need to hold on to the truth that we are loved by our God and our Savior. Faith and love will protect our emotions as we live among a people in darkness.

Not only our emotions need protecting, but our minds as well. What protects our minds, our thinking, is the holding on to the hope we have in salvation. This hope is what Paul wrote about in 1Thessalonians 4:13-18. Words applicable only to those who believe that Jesus died and rose again. Words that only apply to those who are saved.

No matter what this world throws at us. No matter how we are attacked. We have a sure hope in Jesus. As Jesus said:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

That is our hope. If we focus our thinking on the future we will have with Jesus and all the other Brethren, it will protect our thinking and help us not to adopt the thinking of this world. If we keep ourselves always aware that one day we will be with Jesus and stand before Him, it will help us not to adopt the spiritually dull views of our world.

And we have this hope because God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Wrath is coming to this world. That wrath lands on this world and its inhabitants when the Day of the Lord begins. But we are not destined to suffer the wrath of God. Instead, we are destined to be delivered through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are destined to obtain salvation through Jesus. This is speaking of ultimate salvation; deliverance from this world and transformation into the image of Jesus. This is the deliverance Paul wrote about in the last six verse of chapter 4. We know this as the Rapture, the transforming us and taking us out of this sinful, dark world to spend eternity in the presence of our precious Lord and Savior.

And we can take this as a guarantee because Jesus died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. The wonderfulness of this promise is not conditional for Believers. We will be delivered from God’s wrath because Jesus took God’s wrath upon Himself there on the cross. Because He did, whether we are spiritually watchful or whether we become insensitive to spiritual things, blending into the darkness of this world, either way we will live together with Him. As Paul wrote before, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Our future with Jesus does not depend on how we live our lives here on this earth. Our future with Jesus only depends on the sacrifice of of our Savior. We should live in watchfulness, but whether we do or not we will escape God’s wrath because Jesus took it upon Himself.

g. Conclusion 5:11

In light of that truth, Paul gave two commands to us in verse 11.

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.

“Encourage” is the verb form of of the Holy Spirit’s title in John 14:16. It means to come to the side of someone to give them aid or help and, thus encouragement. We are to come alongside of each other in our struggles in this dark world to give each other help. To give each other encouragement. To help lift each other’s spirits in the battle.

And then we are to build up one another. “Build up” means exactly what it says. We are to make each other stronger buildings. Buildings? Well. We are the Temple of God. We are described as parts of a building and, individually, temples of the Holy Spirit. So the building metaphor is appropriate. And in the struggle, we can become damaged buildings, rundown structures not fit to house the Spirit of God.

So, as we are in the struggle, we need to protect our emotions and our thinking. But it is not always easy to do. So when we are struggling spiritually, we need others to come alongside of us and give us aid. Then help us to be a stronger dwelling for God. We need to encourage each other and build each other up.

Paul wrote that they were doing this, but they needed to keep doing it. The struggle only ends when we are no longer here.

We are not destined for wrath, but the world is.

We need to reject the darkness and spiritual dullness of their thinking and keep our hopes and hearts focused on our Savior and His salvation.

Then we need to encourage each other and build each other up, until the Lord returns for us and we, all together, are transformed and taken from the earth to be with Jesus, that where He is, there we shall be also.

Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.

Mar

5

The Dead in Christ

By Stephen Mitchell


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

IV. Exhortation to the Thessalonians (4:1-5:22)

B. Exhortation Regarding Eschatological Needs (4:13-5:11)

How many messages have you heard on these six verses? I am sure you have heard them expounded at funerals, maybe grave-side readings. I just used these six verses at a recent funeral. And any time a pastor focused on the Rapture, these verses were read. I have heard them taught and preached many, many times. I am not sure what I could say that is new about these sentences that Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica.

What we are going to do this morning is focus, not on the Dispensational Theology of these verses, or how Reformed Theology may use them, or on how any other systematic Theology may fit them into one system or another.

What I would like to do is to take us carefully through the passage and look at what Paul has written by the Holy Spirit.

a. Purpose (4:13)

The first question we need to ask ourselves is “Why?” Why did Paul write this section of the letter?

Now, often, when we look at a passage, we have to look for clues within the context to find hints as to the author’s purpose in writing.

But not here in verses 13-18. Paul tells us his purpose at the beginning and at the end of these verses. Paul’s purpose in writing these sentences is to give us accurate information about one of the most difficult of human experiences: death.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep.”

The word translated “asleep” is the word koimaō. This word is used of someone sleeping, as in Matthew 28:13 (You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’)

But it is also used metaphorically to refer to ‘Death.’ We see this use in Matthew 27:52 (The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.)

This is explained by Jesus and John in John 11:11-14:

“He *said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”

It is this metaphorical use that Paul emulated here in our passage in 1Thessalonians 4:13. Paul wrote to inform the Thessalonians about those Believers among them who had died. He did not want them to be ignorant of what had happened to their brethren. Nor did he want them to think that their brethren who had died had missed out on the blessings of the return of Jesus.

The reason he did not want them to be ignorant was so that they would not sorrow as the world sorrowed. For the world, death marked, and continues to mark, a permanent separation. I continue to hear words at funerals that attempt to give hope when there is none. Such words as ‘They are still here with us.’ ‘They are with us here in our memories.’ ‘They are looking down on us.’ ‘I can feel their presence.’ Etc., etc., etc. But none of those words are true. Our loved ones are not still here with us. They do not hover over us watching out for us. Our memories remain of them, but they are gone. What Scripture is very clear about is that a person’s soul, at death, is separated from the body and is gone. Gone where?

Solomon wrote about death in Ecclesiastes 12:7 (then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.) And that is absolutely true. The spirit of every person who dies is immediately in the hand of God. But where is that spirit?

What Paul was doing was giving those Believers who remained alive hope about the future for those who had died. He was telling them that death, for Believers, is not an eternal separation.

b. Those Alive – Condition (4:14a)

So, after giving a purpose for his words, Paul immediately spoke of those living, specifically, of the conditions under which his words would be true as a comfort.

The condition: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again.”

Notice that these words of comfort are not for everyone. Everyone dies, and all mankind experience the grief of the separation of death. But Paul’s words of comfort are not for all mankind. They only apply to those who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Many arrogantly or flippantly think that they’ll see their loved ones in Hell for a big party. That is false. The very fact that Believers have a hope implies very strongly that unbelievers do not. The separation of death is permanent for them. They will not be with loved in Hell or the Lake of Fire. Their separation will be permanent. They will be in the same place, but not with each other. They are without hope.

But for those who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, relationships will continue after the resurrection.

c. Those Dead – Condition (4:14b)

But notice that Paul also gave a condition the dead must fulfill for them to experience this hope.

The condition: those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Even though we are Believers in the resurrection, these words of hope do not automatically apply to all those we love. It only applies to those who were in Christ at the moment of death.

What does it mean to be “in Christ?” The moment a person puts their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus that person becomes a member of the body of Christ.

Romans 12:5 “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

1Co 12:12-13 “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

1Co 12:27 “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”

Believers are considered as being members of Christ’s body and are, thus, in Christ. There is a lot more involved in this, but for today, just note that “in Christ” means a person has placed their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, these words of comfort are not only only for those who are saved, it applies only to the dead who were saved at death,

Now notice again the second half of verse 14: “even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” The “even so” was telling the Thessalonians that their dead loved ones were going to be resurrected just like Jesus. And that resurrection meant that they were returning with Jesus. The Thessalonians were looking forward to the return of Jesus. Not only would that be a glorious reunion with Jesus, but it will also be a glorious reunion with our departed fellow Believers.

“God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” God Himself, in Whose care are all of His children, living or dead, is going to bring with Him those Believers who have died. They will not stay in Heaven. They will one day head back to earth. They have a great event, a wondrous event, a glorious experience coming to them.

And all these precious Saints who have died. Can you imagine the laughter in their eyes and faces as they know what’s coming. They are headed down to earth for the great resurrection of Believers. If I am still alive, I can imagine the laughter of my mom as she heads down with Jesus to get her Stephie. The delight of Ed and Mary as they head here with Dorita to pick up Darlene and Kevin. Our loved ones delight and joy as they come to rejoin us.

d. Those Alive (4:15a)

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord,”

Since we do not have in any Gospel these words, Paul would have been reassuring them that this revelation of reunion was directly from the Lord. This is not a supposition, a longing, or anything questionable. These words of hope are directly from Jesus. This is His plan. This is how He is going to carry out the words He gave the Apostles there in John 14:1-3.

So this hope pertains to those who are physically alive and remaining on this earth at the moment Jesus returns.

e. Those Dead (4:15b)

“will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Those who have died are not going to miss out on anything. In fact, those who are alive are going to have to wait on those who have died. Whatever is going to happen at the coming of Jesus, the dead will not have missed out on even a second of that thrilling and glorious event. So what is going to happen?

f. The Lord Returns (4:16a)

The central thought of these 6 verses is the first half of verse 16.

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God,”

Jesus is going to give a shout as He is coming down from Heaven, with the archangel shouting as well (Michael? Jude 9), and with an angel, presumably, blowing the trumpet of God. This is the whole focus of these verses. It is the focus of all the Hope of His Body, the Church. It is our motivation for living a righteous life.

Titus 2:11-13 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,”

That shout of Jesus will girdle the earth. That shout will be a shout of absolute omnipotent power.

That shout will be a shout of sovereign command.

We saw a little of the power of that shout in John 11:43 “When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’”

That shout can no more be ignored than Lazarus could have chosen to stay dead. Jesus’ command is absolute. He will shout as He is coming down …

e’. Those Dead (4:16b)

“and the dead in Christ will rise first.” The graves will open, and all who have died in Christ over the last 2000 years will rise up out of their graves, the sea, the ashes, wherever they lay. Since the souls have been brought by God from Heaven we conclude that each Believer’s soul will reenter that body they departed, the body will be transformed, and the dead will walk. The shout of our Lord will empty every tomb of the saved, no matter where or under what condition.

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Corinthians 15:51-57

d’. Those Alive (4:17a)

“Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up …” Those Believers who are alive and remain here when this event takes place will be caught up, snatched away from earth. Our place will be empty. Our possessions no longer important. Our careers no longer to be striven for. We will be gone from the earth.

c’. Those Dead (4:17b)

“together with them” We will not be snatched alone. We will go up with the vast company of Believers who died in Christ since the Church began on the Day of Pentecost. We will go up with Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Mark, Luke, Luther, Katherine, Thomas, Philip, and all the host of Saints we have heard and read about through the centuries. All of us will go together. Those precious Saints whose faithfulness down through the centuries has brought the Gospel and God’s Word to us, they will be in that crowd of Believers.

b’. Those Alive (4:17c)

“in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” And now there is no more dead and alive. Now we will all be alive in Christ, not only spiritually, but physically as well. And we will be headed up as one great troupe of living eternally transformed people to meet our precious Savior and Lord in mid air. All those who had died had already been with Jesus. For those still alive, that indescribable joy comes at that moment when they meet Jesus in the air.

And it will not be a temporary, short meet and greet. No! “and so we shall always be with the Lord.” We will be with our precious and dear Savior from that moment on. As our Bridegroom, we will live eternally with Him in sweet communion, in perfect love, in total sinless holiness, a perfect Bride adorned for her Husband. We will be with Jesus

a’. Purpose (4:18)

“Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Therefore, in light of this truth, because of this hope, comfort one another with this truth. As Paul wrote to Titus: This is the blessed hope. This is all of our futures, if we Believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is where we are going.

For our Christian loved ones, death has lost its sting. Death has lost its victory.

As Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 15:57

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have future and eternal victory promised in Christ Jesus. On that truth we can hang all our hopes and dreams. No matter how dark it gets down here. No matter how death has hurt us. No matter how we may struggle here in this world.

We have a sure and steadfast hope in Christ Jesus. And whether we go in death or when Jesus returns, one day we will be together with Jesus and with all the Believers through the ages, enjoying sweet, perfect eternal fellowship in the presence of our precious and dear Savior Jesus.

So do exactly what Paul said to do:

“Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Feb

25

The Believer’s Responsibilities

By Stephen Mitchell

1 Thessalonians 4: 9-12

IV. Exhortation to the Thessalonians (4:1-5:22)

A. Exhortation Regarding Personal Needs (4:1-12)

The influence of Jesus and His followers landed upon the Roman Empire like an antibiotic upon a plague. In so many ways, as the Words of Scripture with the work of the Spirit began permeating the Empire, the hearts and lives of its citizens began to be transformed. Babies began to be seen as having intrinsic value. Girls and women began to be seen as valuable in their own right, not just for how they could be used by men. Wealth began to be seen for its true value as a way to help others, rather than having value in and of itself. All humans began to be seen as of equal value and worth, not determined by the circumstances of birth, economics, position in society, etc. The gods began to lose their force of influencing evil behavior and God’s righteousness began to become a motivating force for behavior.

Two ways society was transformed are included in these four verses here in 1Thessalonians 4:9-12.

2. Family responsibilities (4:9, 10)

A Patron and his clients. (The following four paragraphs are copied from A History of Private Life vol. 1)

“Materially free within the limits of the manumission agreement, the former slave remained symbolically under the authority of his patron, and the Romans, much given to vaguely paternalistic pronouncements, often repeated that a freedman had the duties of a son—duties of piety—toward his former master, whose family name had become his own. [Early on] freed slaves were required to appear twice a day at the home of their former master, to bid him good morning and good evening, but this duty fell into neglect [over the centuries].It seems that freedmen, unlike clients, were not required to pay the patron a protocol visit (salutatio) every morning. But they were often invited to dinner, where they found the master on his couch surrounded by those same clients. Dinnertime brawls between the two groups of loyal but unequal retainers were common. Poor clients resented having to compete with prosperous ex-slaves for the master’s attention. The [Roman] poets Juvenal and Martial, reduced to paying court to the great in order to live, hated wealthy ex-slaves as well as Greek clients, for these were their competitors.

With a “court composed of clients and toilsome, not ungrateful freedmen.” as Fronto puts it, a household made a brilliant place for itself on the public stage—a necessary and sufficient condition to be deemed worthy of membership in the ruling class. “I had many clients,” wrote one very wealthy former slave as proof of his success. What was a client? A free man who paid court to the paterfamilias and openly declared himself the client of his patron; he could be rich or poor, miserable or powerful—sometimes more powerful than the patron to whom he paid respects. There were at least four kinds of clients: 1) those who wished to make a career in public life and counted on their patron for protection; 2) men of affairs whose interests could be served by the patron’s political influence, particularly when he stood to profit from their success; 3) poor [people] such as poets and philosophers, often Greek, many of whom had nothing to live on but what their patron gave them and who, not being commoners, would have found it dishonorable to work rather than live under the protection of a powerful man; and, finally, 4) those clients who were powerful enough to move in the same circles as the patron himself and who might legitimately aspire to be remembered in the patron’s will in gratitude for their homage. This last-named group would have included leading statesmen and imperial freedmen, all-powerful administrators. A wealthy old man without heirs would have had many clients of this kind.

Such was the mixed crowd that lined up in regulation order every morning in front of the patron’s door at the hour when the cock crows and the Romans awoke. The clients numbered in the tens, sometimes even hundreds. Neighborhood notables were also besieged, but by smaller crowds. Far from Rome, in the cities of the Empire, the few powerful rural notables also had their clienteles. That a wealthy or influential man should have been surrounded by protégés and self-seeking friends is hardly surprising. But the Romans erected this unremarkable custom into an institution and a ritual. “Unimportant people,” Vitruvius wrote, “are those who make visits but receive none.” A man who was the client of another man proclaimed the fact loudly, boasting of his own importance and stressing the patron’s influence. People referred to themselves as “the client of So-and-so” or “a familiar of Such-and-such a household.” Those who were not themselves commoners would pay for the erection of a statue of their patron in a public square or even in the patron’s own home. The inscription on the base would list the patron’s public duties and spell out the name of the client.

The morning salutation was a ritual; to fail to appear was to disavow one’s bond of clientage. Clients lined up in ceremonial costume (toga), and each visitor received a symbolic gift (sportula), which enabled the poorest to eat that day; in fact this custom supplanted the earlier practice of simply distributing food. Clients were admitted into the antechamber according to an inflexible hierarchical order that duplicated the civic organization by ranks. At dinners, too, guests of different rank were served different dishes and wines of different quality, according to their respective dignities. Symbolism reinforced the sense of hierarchy. The paterfamilias did not simply receive individual greetings from certain of his friends; he admitted into his home a slice of Roman society, respecting public rank and inequalities. Over this group he exerted moral authority, and his knowledge of proper behavior always exceeded that of his clients.” A History of Private Life vol. 1, pp. 89-91.

So here is Roman society. Either you were a Patron, a free-born citizen, a freed slave, or a slave. If a slave, you were property. If a freed slave or a free-born citizen, then you were a “Client” of a “Patron” to whom you owed obsequious (fawning) attendance every morning or evening, looking for some handout. The Patron’s reputation depended on how many “Clients” he had lining up at his door every morning. Society was built upon everyone using someone else in order to get ahead in life, either through fawning over or through basking in the fawning of as many people as one could get.

We can hear some of this fawning in James 2:1-7

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,”

And it was into this self-serving, self-absorbed culture the Holy Spirit lobbed the grenade of “Love one another.”

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;

To love one another.

What effect do you suppose this had upon those who basked in people fawning all over them? Who determined the size of gift by how loudly they proclaimed his greatness? How do you suppose a Patron’s attitude would change when he became a believer in Christ and the Holy Spirit began grinding into his soul every morning “Love one another?”

And how do you suppose the “Client’s” attitude would change when he stops to line up every morning with the rest of the crowd to fawn all over the Patron in hopes of gaining something from him, and the Holy Spirit begins to rasp at his soul with the command “Love one another?”

Imagine you yourself are that wealthy Patron. Some, if not many, of those at your door are there to fawn all over you with praise and honor coming from lips simply looking for food for his family. What would you do? Would you give them a finances for food and clothing and tell them not to come back until they need more? That would hurt your standing in the community if the numbers at your door began to dwindle. Would you continue to accept the words you knew in your heart were unearned? What should you do?

This is why what Paul wrote was so powerful. He did not attempt to tell them how to handle each situation. He simply reminded them that the Holy Spirit was teaching them. But they needed to do better.

for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more

How about if you were a client lined up outside the door of a wealthy Patron? What would you say? Is it loving to lie? Can you be as obsequious as the custom demands, and still be able to have a sweet devotional life with your Lord? Yet, if you are not, you may not be able to feed your family that night. What do you do?

You listen to the Holy Spirit. You act in Love. You let the Holy Spirit continue to teach you as you seek to live out your life even more loving than before.

3. Societal responsibilities (4:11, 12)

And it may be this exact situation Paul had in mind because of the way he moved into the instructions of verses 11 & 12.

and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,

It may be this idea of living off the handouts of another that Paul has in mind because he immediately moved into instructing them to work with their own hands. It was so common for poorer people to live off a wealthy member of society by fawning and false praise rather than by laboring.

For followers of Christ, living off another’s wealth was an unbecoming life. Think of it. Being loudly effusive in false praise is not exactly leading a quiet life. Dancing attendance at another’s doorstep with many others in order to fawn and scrape is not attending to your own business.

How one’s life would be simplified if he simply began to work to earn a living.

Paul himself did exactly that. In Acts 18:1-3

After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers.

Paul could have lived off Patrons or, like itinerant orators, lived off speaking fees. Instead, he did exactly as he instructed others: he worked with his hands.

And this was another grenade lobbed into the godless culture of Rome because manual labor, working with your hands, was despised in Roman society.

“Idleness was the cornerstone of ‘private life;’ in fact, in the [Roman Empire] it was considered a virtue.” AHoPL, p. 118.

The nobility had a contempt for labor, and they had an undisguised scorn for those who worked with their hands. They exalted leisure as the indispensable quality of a worthy life. The worker was regarded as very much a social inferior, one who lived a base and ignoble life. In a society where a person’s value was determined by his wealth, to work with your hands meant you were poor and essentially worthless. “Workers were reviled not because they worked, but because they belonged this the inferior class [of those who could not life a life of leisure].

Now here comes Paul telling these new Believers to work with their hands. What a slap in the face of the old ways of thinking and valuing. If you are wealthy, what do you do? If you are free-born, your culture tells you to dance attendance on some wealthy person to provide you with a living.

What do you do? Do you follow the culture and not lose face in their eyes? Do you follow the Spirit in obedience? What do you do?

Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ impacted a Believer far more than just stopping the worship of idols and the emperor. It began to change a person’s whole manner of life. His whole manner of functioning in society.

And Paul’s rational for this transformation is so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

The culture’s attitudes between its members did not reflect righteous behavior. A Believer who followed the customs of the culture was not behaving properly towards those who were not Believers.

The word translated “properly” is a word denoting ‘with proper decorum,’ ‘in an honorable or decent fashion.’ Our behavior towards those outside of the Faith is to be behavior that reflects decently on our new identity in Christ. Lieing to another, living off their earnings, accepting unearned praise and honor, all reflect badly on who we are as followers of Christ.

As Believers, we rely on God to provide. We work and earn our own way, and depend upon God to care for us. He alone deserves our praise, our genuine praise. We are not to take praise to God and give it to the undeserving simply to get what we want.

We need to work with our own hands, attend to our own business, and lead lives that reflect the quiet the Spirit has brought to our souls.

Conclusion

We face similar dilemmas every day. Our culture demands we behave certain ways in order to fit in. Our culture demands certain beliefs in order to fit in.

But the Holy Spirit speaks into our souls through His Word telling us to be different.

The Apostle Peter told us, in 1Peter 1:14-16:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

And then, in chapter 4:1-5:

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians some very simple instructions. But, if they followed them, their lives would become radically different than the culture, even to the point of becoming despised by the cultural elites.

The only real dilemma for those Believers then, and for us today, is this:

Who do you want to please?

Dec

28

Silent Night, Holy Night

By Stephen Mitchell

SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT

by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber

Joseph Mohr was born in Salzburg on 11 December 1792, to an unmarried embroiderer, Anna Schoiberin, and Franz Mohr, a mercenary soldier and deserter, who abandoned Joseph’s mother before the birth. At his baptism shortly after birth, as the parents were unmarried, Joseph received the name of his father, according to custom.

Johann Nepomuk Hiernle, vicar and leader of music at Salzburg Cathedral, enabled Mohr to have an education and encouraged him in music. As a boy, Mohr would serve simultaneously as a singer and violinist in the choirs of the University Church and at the Benedictine monastery church of St. Peter. From 1808 to 1810, Mohr studied at the Benedictine monastery of Kremsmünster in the province of Upper Austria. He then returned to Salzburg to attend the Lyceum school, and in 1811, he entered the seminary. Since he was of illegitimate birth, a special dispensation was required in those days for him to attend seminary. On 21 August 1815, Mohr graduated and was ordained as a priest in the Austrian Roman Catholic Church.

In the fall of 1815, Mohr was asked to provide temporary help in the village of Ramsau near Berchtesgaden. Mohr then served as assistant priest in Mariapfarr (1815-1817). It was during this time, in 1816, that he penned the words to “Silent Night” in Mariapfarr. Poor health forced him to return to Salzburg in the summer of 1817. After a short recuperation he began serving as an assistant priest at St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, where he made the acquaintance of Franz Gruber, schoolteacher in neighbouring Arnsdorf. The town and church was often subject to flooding from the Salzach river. Flooding before Christmas had damaged the organ in the church in Oberndorf making it unusable for the Christmas Eve midnight Mass.

So on a cold Christmas Eve in 1818, Mohr walked the two miles from his home in Oberndorf bei Salzburg to visit his friend Franz Gruber in the neighbouring town of Arnsdorf. Mohr brought with him the poem he had written some two years earlier. The Christmas Eve midnight Mass was only a few hours away, and Mohr hoped his friend, a school teacher who also served as the church’s choir master and organist, could set his poem to music. Gruber composed the melody for Mohr’s “Stille Nacht” in just a few hours.

The song was sung at Midnight Mass in a simple arrangement for guitar and choir. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the creation of this Christmas Carol. Various legends have sprung up over the years concerning the genesis of “Silent Night”, but the simplest and likeliest explanation seems to have been that Mohr simply wanted an original song that he could play on his favourite instrument, the guitar. Within a few years, arrangements of the carol appeared in churches in the Salzburg Archdiocese and folk singers from the Ziller Valley were taking the composition on tours around Europe.

Mohr, a generous man who donated most of his salary to charity, was moved from place to place, and remained in Oberndorf only until 1819. After Oberndorf he was sent to Kuchl, followed by stays in Golling an der Salzach, Bad Vigaun, Adnet and Anthering. In 1827 he was made pastor of Hintersee, and in 1837 of the Alpine village of Wagrain. Here he created a fund to allow children from poor families to attend school and set up a system for the care of the elderly. Mohr died of pulmonary disease on 4 December 1848, at the age of 55. Mohr obviously never forgot his humble and difficult origins, doing all he could throughout his life to help those who were living in poverty.

In Austria, Stille Nacht is considered a national treasure. Traditionally, the song may not be played publicly before Christmas Eve.

Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Mohr’s name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed the melody was originally composed by a famous composer, and it was variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated by researchers as c. 1820. It states that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr’s handwriting.

In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City, wrote and published the English translation that is most frequently sung today, translated from three of Mohr’s original six verses.[8] The version of the melody that is generally used today is a slow, meditative lullaby or pastorale, differing slightly (particularly in the final strain) from Gruber’s original. Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain, although newer translations usually are not.

In 1997 the Silent Night Museum (Saltzburg, Austria), commissioned a new English translation by Bettina Klein of Mohr’s German lyrics. This is the translation on the bulletin insert. Whenever possible, (and mostly), Klein leaves the Young translation unchanged, but occasionally Klein (and Mohr) varies markedly. For example, “Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar, Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar” is translated by Young: “Round yon Virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild” where as Klein rewords it: “Round yon godly tender pair, Holy infant with curly hair,” a translation closer to the original.

The carol has been translated into about 140 languages.

[Much of the above copied from two Wikipedia articles.]

Mohr’s poem focuses exclusively on that night that God’s Son, Jesus, entered into human sight through the womb of the virgin Mary. We will look briefly at all six verses of Mohr’s message in poetry.

1. Silent night! Holy night!
All’s asleep, one sole light,
Just the faithful and holy pair,
Lovely boy-child with curly hair
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

2. Silent night! Holy night!
God’s Son laughs, o how bright.
Love from your holy lips shines clear,
As the dawn of salvation draws near,
Jesus, Lord, with your birth!
Jesus, Lord, with your birth!

3. Silent night! Holy night!
Brought the world peace tonight,
From the heavens’ golden height
Shows the grace of His holy might
Jesus, as man on this earth!
Jesus, as man on this earth!

4. Silent night! Holy night!
Where today all the might
Of His fatherly love us graced
And then Jesus, as brother embraced.
All the peoples on earth!
All the peoples on earth!

5. Silent night! Holy night!
Long we hoped that He might,
As our Lord, free us of wrath,
Since times of our fathers He hath
Promised to spare all mankind!
Promised to spare all mankind!

6. Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds first see the sight.
Told by angelic Alleluja,
Sounding everywhere, both near & far
Christ the Savior is here!
Christ the Savior is here!

All six verses begin “Silent Night, Holy Night.” To be honest, being a celibate Roman Catholic priest, I’m not sure he was qualified to write about how silent the birth of Jesus was. Because of God’s judgment on Eve’s fruit-bearing, women bring forth the fruit of their bodies with a lot of pain. “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children.'” Mary would have been no different. Just because she was giving birth to the Messiah does not mean she would have been exempt from that curse. Every cry of a woman in labor is God’s reminder that He hates sin and sin must be judged. So, through the birth, I seriously doubt the night was that silent.

But there was definitely holiness present that night. Jesus was not conceived with a sin nature. He was, from the moment of conception, exactly what He had been from eternity and would continue to be through eternity, holy, undefiled, innocent. Hebrews 7:23-28 speaks of Jesus’ ministry as High Priest before God. Listen to what it says about Jesus’ sinlessness:

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

Mohr went on, in verse 1:

All’s asleep, one sole light,
Just the faithful and holy pair,
Lovely boy-child with curly hair

I am sure, after the struggle of a birth, sleep would be welcome and, perhaps, sleep did come. Just the faithful and holy pair? Not sure about the “just” part. Births in that culture were a community affair of the women. It would not just be family members, either. The community’s women would gather to help in the birth and to celebrate the new life. Husbands? They were not welcome to attend. Would they all leave afterward? On that I cannot say. But we do know that the Roman Catholic doctrine of the holiness of Mary is false. The only intrinsic holiness was found in the baby, not in Mary or Joseph. In Luke 1:46-47 we have the beginning of Mary’s reaction to her cousin Elizabeth’s declaration about the baby Mary was carrying. Listen as Mary begins her song:

And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”

Mary, as every other person on the planet except Jesus, was a sinner and needed a Savior.

But Mohr’s statement about Jesus is very interesting. “Lovely boy-child with curly hair.” Mohr was recognizing the Jewishness of Jesus.

First, it might be appropriate to mention here that the typical imagery of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem alone is most likely false. Unless Joseph was the only remaining member of his family, there would have been many that traveled with them. Notice what Luke wrote in Luke 2:1-5:

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

Secondly, though Mary went up as a family member of Joseph’s family, Mary was a descendant of David in her own right. If we understand the genealogy of Luke 3:23-38 as that of Mary, as it seems, then Mary was a descendant of David through David’s son Nathan, while Joseph, whose genealogy is in Matthew 1, was a descendant of David through David’s son Solomon. So Jesus was the legal son of Joseph and the actual son of Mary apart from any human father.

Legally and biologically, Jesus was a Jew. Mohr’s pointing this out by describing Jesus with a typical feature of Jews, the curly hair, is a bit surprising. In that culture, antisemitism was endemic. Martin Luther, near the close of his life, wrote a polemic against the Jews that was as vicious as it could be without actually calling them to be slaughtered.

But Jesus had to be a descendant of David for God to keep His word. As Gabriel said to Mary in Luke 1:31-33:

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.

Jesus was Jewish and God is not done with the Jews. He has a plan for them and “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Jesus will one day reign on the throne of His ancestor, King David. On that throne, Jesus will reign, not only as King of the Jews, but as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will reign as King and Lord over all of Creation.

In verse 2, Mohr emphasized God’s love and salvation. It does not appear to be clear whose holy lips are being emphasized, God the Father’s or God the Son’s. But Mohr’s emphasis on the “dawn of salvation” drawing near is very clear. Finally, thousands of years after the promise given to the serpent in Genesis 3:15, the promised seed of the woman who would crush the head of our ancient enemy Satan had arrived. Within just a few short years, salvation would be accomplished for all mankind, if they would only place their faith in God’s holy Son Jesus. Jesus did come to reign and He was truly Lord at the moment of His birth. The Magi’s question was very perceptive: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” He did not have kingship thrust upon Him. He was born king by virtue of Who He is. Mohr had it right. “Jesus, Lord, with your birth.”

In verse 3, Mohr wrote that the coming of Jesus into the world that night brought peace. The angels spoke of God’s peace to the shepherds as they were out in the fields watching over the sheep in Luke 2:10-14:

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

As Longfellow had written in his poem, “There is no peace on earth.” That was equally true 2000 years ago. In fact, peace cannot exist where God does not have full reign. All the attempts, both nationally and individually, of man to bring his own peace, to provide his own peace, have always been dismal failures. “’There is no peace for the wicked,’ says the LORD” [Isaiah 48:22]. True peace has only come with the presence of Jesus. Which is why Jesus said to the Disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” [John 14:27]. True peace only arrived with the baby in the manger. And because this world is riddled with man’s evil, that peace could only have come from Heaven itself.

And Mohr wrote that Grace, God’s goodness undeservedly lavished upon us, came upon us in the person of Mary’s holy child. Look at the Scriptures to see how often God’s grace is coupled with the presence of Jesus. Listen to just two examples, John 1:14 and Romans 5:15:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.

Truly, as Mohr reminds us, grace has come upon us from Heaven in the person of Jesus, man on this earth.

Then in Mohr’s 4th verse, he wrote that the love of the Father and the love of the Son graced mankind with the coming of Jesus. Paul wrote, in Romans 8:39, that the love of God is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And that love can only come to our hearts through the saving work of the Son of God. The Apostle Paul closed out his letter to the Ephesians with this prayer: “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” [Ephesians 6:23].

Mohr also wrote that the Father graced and the Son embraced all the peoples on earth. God’s grace was poured out for all mankind. It continues to be freely available through faith in Jesus. And Jesus did embrace all mankind by taking on humanity. We call this the Incarnation. Jesus laid aside some of the independent exercise of His divine prerogatives, took on humanity, and submitted Himself to the Father as a man. Paul wrote of this in Philippians 2:5-8:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, 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.

Then, the author of Hebrews expressed the same truth this way, in 2:9:

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

And then, in verses 14-15:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Jesus took on humanity to be like everyone, but without sin. Then He went to the cross and died for everyone.

It was in this way that Jesus embraced all mankind by becoming as human as we are, yet without the taint of sin.

In verse 5 Mohr wrote of man’s hunger to be free of the just wrath of God. We know we are sinners, though we try to pretend that we are not. We have devised all kinds of religions trying to provide our own righteousness to escape God’s just wrath at our sin. Yet, the truth is that, without the forgiveness brought by Christ’s sacrifice, we continue under the wrath of God. John said it so well in John 3:36:

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

We do not agree with Mohr that all mankind are promised to be spared. We must part with him on this stanza of his poem. Only those who believe in the Son have been promised eternal life. After all, isn’t that exactly what John 3:16 states?

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

And the two verses before it?

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

God delays His just wrath at our sin in order to give us more opportunity to accept His free gift of salvation. But most people ignore His gracious offer of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Which is why Jesus told the Disciples, in Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The promise of redemption, of salvation, is available to all mankind, Jesus died for all mankind. But forgiveness only comes to those who put their faith in Jesus as their Savior.

In the 6th and last stanza of his poem, Mohr brought us back to the events of that glorious night of miracles. God gave a humble group of shepherds the privilege of being the first to publicly hear of God’s gift of a Savior. Why them? It is very likely that the sheep they were watching over were destined for the Temple as sacrifices. If so, God was graciously letting them know that the true sacrifice, the Lamb of God, had been born into the world. Soon, they would no longer need to provide a lamb that was unblemished because the Holy, Undefiled, Unblemished, Son of God would offer Himself up to God as man’s substitute. He would die for our sins.

As a fitting close to Mohr’s message in poetry, he called for this message to be sounded out both near and far, Christ the Savior is here!

This is truly a message for us. God Himself has called us to be His ambassadors to this world to sound out that Christ the Savior has come and offers, through His blood, forgiveness for our sins, peace with God, love for God and for each other, and the privilege of living in the Grace of God for eternity.

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.

Christ the Savior is born! Christ the Savior is here!

Dec

20

Hark, The Herald Angels Sing

By Stephen Mitchell

by Charles Wesley (mostly)

Charles Wesley was the hymnist of the English Revival. He was born the eighteenth child and youngest son in a family of nineteen in the home of Samuel and Susannah Wesley. Father Samuel was rector of the poor and not too cultured town of Epworth. Charles studied at St. Peter’s College, Westminster, London; and in 1726 began his studies at Christ Church, Oxford. While there he helped form the Holy Club, of which George Whitefield and his brother John later became members. In 1735 Charles was ordained before he and John accepted the urgent invitation of General Oglethorpe to go with him as chaplain and teacher to his colony in Georgia in the New World. While in Georgia both Charles and John Wesley were witnessed to by the Moravian leader August Spangenberg who taught them that they needed a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Dissatisfied and ill in health, Charles returned to England the next year. We often hear about John Wesley’s salvation experience at Aldersgate on May 24, 1738. Charles had a similar experience, on May 21st, 1738, only three days prior to John’s experience. Charles’ greatest contribution to the Christian church was over six thousand hymns, four thousand of which were published. What John Wesley preached, Charles Wesley sang. Some of his greatest hymns are “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Jesus Lover of My Soul,” “Love Divine, All Love Excelling,” “O, For a Thousand Tongues,” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” For a while Charles traveled with John in his preaching tours. After 1756 he traveled little, not having the iron constitution of his brother and having a family of eight to provide for. From 1756 to 1771 Charles preached at Bristol, England, and from 1771 until his death in 1788, Charles preached in London. [Copied and emended from The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church]

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. Its lyrics were substantially been written by Charles Wesley. Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune we sing today. Moreover, Wesley’s original opening couplet is “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”.

The popular version is the result of alterations by various hands, notably by Wesley’s co-worker George Whitefield who changed the opening couplet to the familiar one, and by Felix Mendelssohn, whose melody was used for the lyrics. In 1840—a hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems—Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of movable type printing, and it is music from this cantata, adapted by the English musician William H. Cummings to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, that we sing as the carol known today. [Copied from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hark!_The_Herald_Angels_Sing]

Hark, The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.

“What John Wesley preached, Charles Wesley sang.” Charles composed this song, originally titled “Hymn for Christmas Day,” to express the identity and purpose of the Incarnation.

In its first verse, Wesley wrote that the angels sang of the glory of the newborn child. While the sacred text states that the angels spoke, not sang, we fully understand the urge to place song in the mouths of the angelic host. Singing praise comes so naturally to mankind it is easy to suppose it does to the angelic host as well. And Wesley began with the need to “Hark!” Pay attention. What the angels tell mankind is a very important message that needs to be listened to.

What was it that the angelic host proclaimed? Wesley collapsed several mighty themes into three short lines:

“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

What glory did this newborn king possess? It was not a glory that was apparent to human eyes. But it was an eternal radiant glory. In John 17:5, in Jesus’ high priestly prayer the night before He was crucified, Jesus said to His Heavenly Father: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” This was a glory with which the angels were very familiar. After all, from the beginning the angels had been proclaiming “Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord of Hosts,” and all along they had been including this person Who had entered human sight that night in Bethlehem.”

What about the concept of King? Looking back upon the completed text of the Bible, we know that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To honor His place as the newborn King, over a couple of months, God led Magi from Babylon to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to kneel before this infant child. The Magi were the ruling party of the Parthian Kingdom and they chose who was to be the kingdom’s next king. They were, quite literally, king makers. And in the hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the Parthian Kingdom had twice dealt the Roman army its worse defeats of their history, totally annihilating more than one Roman Legion.

These are those who knelt before the infant child to worship because that child was truly ‘the newborn king.’

And ever since the Fall, peace has been missing from this earth and from the lives of its inhabitants. We have been at war with God, with others, and with ourselves. Yet the angels brought the message of peace from God the Father in that simple declaration of:

“On earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” This peace is suddenly available because, as the angels said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

It is only in the saving ministry of the Lord that we can find peace. Peace with God, peace with others, and peace within ourselves. It comes because of God’s great mercy.

Charles Wesley was most likely thinking of 1Peter 1:3 when Peter wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” God’s great mercy had arrived on this earth in the person of a tiny newborn baby. A newborn baby destined to bring reconciliation between God and man. In fact, later on Jesus was Himself described as the mercy seat, the place where God and man meet together for peace.

In Hebrews 9:5 it states about the Ark of the Covenant, “and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” What is significant is that the word translated “mercy seat” in Hebrews 9:5 is the same word translated “propitiation” in Romans 3:25. Listen to the words of Romans 3:24-25:

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;”

Do you see it? The Mercy Seat, the place where the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled in the Old Testament when the High Priest entered once a year to make atonement for the sins of Israel, is now Jesus, the place where man’s sins are provided for to bring peace with God. God has reconciled mankind to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Listen to Paul in Colossians 1:20-22, writing about what the Father has done in Jesus:

“and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”

What a lot of truth in three short lines.

“Glory to the newborn King:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

Which is why Wesley thought it fitting to call upon all the nations of the earth to rejoice and joyfully proclaim:

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

But Wesley’s message, as full as it already was, was not over.

Wesley returned to the theme of the baby’s position as he began his second verse.

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,

First, Jesus’ office of Messiah, Christ, Anointed, is mentioned as Wesley that Jesus was adored in the highest Heaven, the abode of the Throne of God. We love, because we are loved. The Apostle John wrote the “We love Him, because He first loved us.” Love is inherent within the nature of God. John wrote that “God is love. [1John 4:8]” That love has been, is, and will be, eternally expressed between the three Persons of the Trinity. Jesus told the Disciples, in John 15:9:

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” Jesus, praying to the Father in John 17:26, said: “and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus was adored by those that dwell in the highest Heaven.

But, not only is He adored, but He is the ‘Everlasting Lord.’ Surely Wesley had Isaiah 9:6 in mind as he wrote that line. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” The everlasting Lord. Father of Eternity. Mighty God.

Though thousands of years passed before God gave the Redeemer, even though in Israel’s eyes the Messiah was long in coming, yet, it was in “the fullness of the time” that “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.”

As Wesley wrote:

late in time behold him come,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:

Surely referring to Galatians 4:4. That long-looked-for seed of the woman had finally come. The offspring of a virgin’s womb.

But that was absolutely necessary because the Redeemer, the Savior, could never come of a human male. We are steeped in our sin. A Redeemer could have no sin. So God gave His own Son,

veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,

And we hear John’s statement:

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Which is why He is called “Immanuel, God with us.” And we hear God’s ancient cry from Isaiah 59:15-16:

“Now the LORD saw, And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation to Him, And His righteousness upheld Him.”

God provided the Lamb, His own Son, to come to earth and take on humanity to provide the eternal sacrifice for sins. As it says in Hebrews 7:26-27:

“For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”

Because only God is without sin. Therefore, only God could provide a perfect sacrifice for sins, Jesus the Righteous Son of God. Truly God in the flesh. Immanuel, the Incarnate Deity. God in the Flesh.

And because He could be our only hope, as Wesley wrote, Jesus was

pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.

Jesus came willingly. He was not forced to do this. He came because He loved us and it pleased Him to come as our sacrifice. As Jesus Himself said in John 10:17-18:

“I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.” He was truly pleased to come and dwell with us and then freely offer Himself to God as our substitute. Jesus, our Immanuel.

And so, with Wesley, we also say

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

We honor and praise this Prince of Peace. We honor and praise this our Sun of Righteousness. The only One Who can take us out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. The only One Who can give us of His righteousness while taking on our sin.

And with the knowledge that we have been transferred to the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son, we declare to the world:

Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.

Jesus, and Jesus alone, came to bring us light and to give us Life. Jesus told Thomas, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Jesus came to bring healing from all of life’s ills. He is the only solution to the Problem of Evil we all struggle with. He heals us of all our diseases, both physical and spiritual. Only Jesus.

Wesley finished his great message in poetry with:

Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.

He did not come as a conqueror. That is for later. He came as a wee babe, tender, vulnerable, gentle, meek, mild. He came to woo us to the Father. He laid aside His Glory before which no one can stand, veiled it in human flesh, and came and lived as one of us in order to give us these three things:

Victory over Death!

A resurrection to Glory!

A new birth to make us new creations in Christ!

What wonderful and mighty deeds to thrill each person’s heart. We no longer have to fear death. He has conquered it for us through His death.

We no longer have to fear eternity. We have been guaranteed resurrection to glory because of His resurrection. Because He lives, we live also.

We no longer have to stay in chains to Satan. We have been born into the family of God. We are new creations in Christ Jesus. We can have victory over sin, over Satan, over Death.

Which is why, as a company of the Redeemed, we say with our dear departed brother,

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King:”

Dec

10

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

By Stephen Mitchell

In 1861, two years before writing this poem, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was tragically burned in a fire. After Longfellow’s wife trimmed some of the length off their seven-year-old daughter’s curls on July 10, 1861, she decided to preserve them in wax. She failed to notice that some of the wax had fallen on her dress, which caught fire.

Henry first tried to put it out with a rug. It was too small, so he threw his arms around her. She died the next day, and he had suffered such severe burns to his face, arms, and hands that he couldn’t even attend her funeral. He grew his signature beard because it was too painful to shave.

Christmas of that year, he wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” On the anniversary of the tragedy he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

On Christmas 1862 he wrote, “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.” He made no journal entry at all on Christmas 1863—perhaps because his son, a lieutenant in the Union army, had recently taken a bullet that severely injured his spine.

In 1863 Longfellow’s oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father’s blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer”, he wrote. “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good”. Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church (in Virginia), during the Mine Run Campaign. Charles eventually recovered, but his time as a soldier was finished.

Longfellow wrote this poem on Christmas Day in 1863. Titled “Christmas Bells,” it was first published in February 1865, in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor and Fields. References to the Civil War are prevalent in some of the verses but are not commonly sung.

It was not until 1872 that the poem is known to have been set to music. The English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, used the poem in a processional accompanied with a melody he previously used as early as 1848. The Calkin version of the carol was long the standard. [The above partially copied from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Heard_the_Bells_on_Christmas_Day]

The following are the original words of Longfellow’s poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

From Longfellow’s poem and his journal entries, there were two things that burdened his soul during the 1863 Christmas Season. These were his sense of profound loss and the burden of man’s hatred to man.

Christmas is a time of great sadness for so many. It is supposed to be a time of family gatherings and rejoicing together in the gift of God’s Son Jesus. Yet, it is also a time where losses in life are felt most intensely. That sense of separation where there should be fellowship and rejoicing is deeply felt and a sadness of heart creeps in. Longfellow felt it keenly. That first Christmas without his beloved wife, he wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”

But this Christmas of 1863, he not only felt the absence of his wife, he now sat beside the bed of his deeply wounded son as his beloved son struggled to recover. And Longfellow wrote of the sound of the cannons drowning out the sound of the bells ringing “Peace on earth, good will to me.”

Separation and cruelty. Death and evil. Longfellow hurt and mourned these circumstances of life.

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song,

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

These two things in our lives often bring us to despair, to sorrow, to a deep heartsick mourning.

This is nothing new. David, in his own song before the Lord, Psalm 18, cried out:

The cords of death encompassed me, And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.

The cords of the grave surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me.

Cords of death, and torrents of ungodliness. Death and evil.

In another of his poems, Psalm 22, David began:

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.

O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest.

The struggles we have with the losses of those we love. The heartsickness we know when we see the cruelty of evil upon the innocent, these are age old. Even from the very beginning we hear Eve’s cry at Seth’s birth from the loss of her sons Cain and Able.

God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.1

Eve lost two sons that day: Able from murder, and Cain from the punishment, for God banished him to wander the earth away from his family.

And God has not been deaf to our anguish at the empty places in our hearts because of loss. This is exactly why God sent His Son Jesus to take on humanity.

God knows very well the continuous pain of losing those we love to death. After all, it was exactly that consequence that God warned Adam would begin if Adam chose to disobey God.

Genesis 2:16-17 “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Adam did not grasp the enormous consequences of his act of rebellion, but God did. And God immediately began the program of bringing a solution to death.

Genesis 3:14-15 “The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

God had prepared from eternity past the solution to man’s separation at death. God had a remedy prepared.

Heb 2:9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Jesus knew intimately the pain of losing a loved one. We assume that he lost his earthly father, Joseph, when Jesus was a young man since, by the time He began His ministry, Joseph was no longer around.

And we know He knew the pain of loss when his dear friend Lazarus died. In John 11, when Jesus went to see the family of His friend after His friend had died, Lazarus’ sister Mary went to meet Jesus:

Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They *said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

Jesus knew the pain of the separation of death. But He also knew something Lazarus’ family had not yet realized. Jesus Himself was the answer to that pain. A little earlier in chapter 11 this event happened:

So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

And right there is God’s solution to the pain of the separation of death. Not to bring the loved one back. But to bring us to our loved ones. If we have faith in Jesus, we will live, even if we die. Physical death cannot stop the eternal life we gain from faith in Jesus. This is why Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, in 1Thess 4:13-18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

There is coming a resurrection day when all of God’s children will be reunited together in the presence of the risen Lord Jesus. It is this truth that is to bring us comfort in the pain of losing a loved one to death.

But what about the problem Longfellow specifically wrote about in his poem?

For hate is strong

And mocks the song

Of “Peace on earth, good will to men.”

This has troubled all of the descendants of Adam. We call this the Problem of Evil. How can a good God, who declares “Peace on earth, good will to men,” allow such evil as warfare, violence, suffering, and every other manifestation of the presence of evil in this world?

I do wish I could give you ‘Three points and a poem’ and solve the dilemma. I cannot.

This is an old dilemma with no human solution in sight. This is why we have the Book of Job.

Job lost his possessions and then his family through natural disasters and through evil done at the hands of men. And last of all he lost his health, suffering greatly physically. All of it ultimately at the hands of Satan, our great enemy and the ultimate cause of all the ills and suffering in this world. It was Satan who tempted Eve and Adam in the garden and who has been laboring to destroy mankind ever since. The Apostle Peter put it this way in 1Peter 5:8

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

But, as it is today, the opinion of society in Job’s day was that, if bad things, evil things, happened to you, it was because of evil things you yourself were doing. That is the accusation Job’s three friends, and Elihu, a younger friend of Job’s friends, brought against Job.

But Job maintained his innocence against all accusations. He knew that he lived in obedience to God, a claim that God Himself stated at the beginning of the book.

So while they accused Job of being evil, Job begged God for an explanation of why he was suffering the way he was. And God gave Job an answer in Job chapters 38-41.

Let me summarize God’s four chapter answer for you.

Job! You cannot possibly understand why evil happens to those who are good and/or innocent.’

That’s it. Not what we want to hear. Not what Longfellow wanted to hear. Not what we want to hear as we endure or see the innocent suffer. But it is all the answer we can handle.

In fact, God asked Job a very significant question right in the middle, in Job 40:1-2:

Then the LORD said to Job, “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.”

Do we want to find fault with God’s handling of this world? That is what God asked Job. And it is often what we do when we see evil in this world. But that is not all. God continued to confront Job and his suppositions about justice done him. Job 40:6-14

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said, “Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His? Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity, And clothe yourself with honor and majesty. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low. Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him, And tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place. Then I will also confess to you, That your own right hand can save you.”

How often do we see evil and want God’s power to attack and destroy it, as if we ourselves would clothe ourselves with the majesty and power of God and strike all evildoers and bring them low.

But, if we could do that, if we even had enough knowledge to do it right, then we could provide our own deliverance, which we, of course, cannot. That arrogance has no rightful place in our hearts.

There is a truth about the Problem of Evil we rarely consider. You and I are fully as much a part of the Problem as everyone else. We often act as if we stand outside of the problem demanding that God deal with the problem. But we do not stand outside of the Problem of Evil. We are fully a part of it. Paul put it this way in Romans 2:3:

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

When we demand that God deal with Evil, never forget to include ourselves in that demand. Thank God that He does delay His righteous judgment of evil because that delay has given us the opportunity to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and to escape the judgment that rightly belongs to us.

Longfellow, in the last verse, actually gave himself and us the right answer to the problem of evil.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail, 
The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

God is not dead. God is not asleep. God has not lost control.

God will bring about justice. Evil will fail and be eradicated. Justice and Righteousness will win and be administered by God.

The prophet Amos wrote, looking forward to that day, “But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

It is the knowledge that God is still in control and will bring about righteousness that brings us hope in the face of evil and suffering.

The answer to our struggle with the Problem of Evil is simply faith. We cannot, in any way, shape, or form, understand God’s handling of this earth. But God never asks us to. He simply asks us to trust Him and what He is doing.

This is what God said to Habakkuk when Habakkuk struggled with what God planned to bring down on the rebellious land of Israel. “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.

The proud one, the one who refuses to humble himself under the mighty hand of God, that soul is not right with God. There is a future promised to that one of eternal torment. But the righteous? We are to live by faith. Such a powerful statement. One so important, it is quoted four times in the New Testament. The righteous will live by his faith.

And that, my friend, is the answer to the problem of evil. Trust God that He knows what He is doing and live by that faith day-by-day, no matter what the day may bring forth. We cannot know what God is doing here on earth, but we will see when we gain Heaven.

The Apostle Paul wrote, in 1Corinthaisn 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

Accept that we cannot know fully why things happen until we gain Heaven and then we will praise Him for what He has done.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

And what about the peace on earth of which the angels spoke to the shepherds?

The last instruction recorded in the Gospel of John that Jesus gave His disciples before His greatest confrontation with the Problem of Evil is appropriate for us to remember. Jesus said, recorded in John 16:33:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Dec

6

Angels From The Realms Of Glory

By Stephen Mitchell

This hymn was written by James Montgomery (1771-1854), who was born in Scotland of Irish parents.  His father, John Montgomery, was a Moravian pastor—apparently the only Moravian pastor serving in Scotland at the time.

Montgomery’s parents felt a call to serve as missionaries on the island of Barbados, West Indies, in the Caribbean.  When James was only five years old, his parents departed for the West Indies, leaving James with a Moravian group in County Antrim, Ireland.  His parents died in the West Indies a few years later, so James never saw them again.  One wonders how well he remembered his parents—and whether he resented them for abandoning him at such an early age.

The Moravians made it possible for James to enter Fulneck Seminary in Yorkshire, but that turned out to be a bad fit.  James had the soul of a poet, and poetry was banned at Fulneck.  In 1787, he apprenticed himself to a baker, which also proved unsuitable.  He bounced from pillar to post during his late teens.

But in 1792 he began working for Joseph Gales, who published the Sheffield Register, a local newspaper.  Gales supported a number of radical causes, and in 1794 was forced to flee to Germany to avoid prosecution.  Montgomery, although still in his early 20s, was able to gain control of the newspaper, and changed its name to Sheffield Iris.  Under his leadership, the paper continued its radical bent for more than three decades—advocating such seditious causes as abolition.  Montgomery was twice imprisoned for his editorials, but his imprisonments only added to his popularity.

As a young man, Montgomery drifted from the faith, but as he matured he returned to the Moravian church and became an advocate for Christian missions.

On Christmas Eve, 1816, Montgomery was reading the second chapter of Luke, when these verses captured his attention:

And suddenly there was with the angel

a multitude of the heavenly host

praising God, and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace,

good will toward men’

(Luke 2:13-14, KJV).

Montgomery was inspired to write this hymn, which he wrote quickly and printed in the Christmas Eve edition of his newspaper.  Each verse of this hymn speaks to the nativity from the perspective of a different group of people.

• Verse 1 is about the angels, who are urged to “proclaim the Messiah’s birth.”

 

Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er all the earth
Ye, who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth

Angels from the realms of glory: In Matthew 18, the Disciples asked Jesus who is the greatest in the Kingdom. After calling to Himself the weakest of the weak, a little child, Jesus said to the Disciples that they needed to have humility. Then, Jesus said something rather startling: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

It is from this statement that belief in guardian angels has come “their angels.” But Jesus never said that angels follow anyone around. Rather, pay attention to what Jesus actually said: “their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” Rather than running around on earth, angels stay in the presence of God the Father waiting eagerly to be dispatched to earth on behalf of someone in need. Angels dwell in Heaven, in the presence of the Glory of God, looking directly into the face of Glory.

The Book of Job appears to tell us that angels were present when God created this earth and the Universe in which it dwells. Job 38:4-7 relates:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,

Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?

On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone,

When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

This, by-the-way, is the only place where we find angels singing. While we read in the Scriptures about the unfolding of our Salvation through history from the Garden of Eden, the angels have been on hand to watch it down through the Millennium.

And as they sang at the foundation of the earth, they are suddenly called upon to proclaim the beginning of the final chapter in providing for the Salvation of mankind and the conquering of their ancient enemy, one of their own number, the mighty Cherub Satan.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Angels are God’s Messengers and God’s agents whom He uses to accomplish His will among us. They are mighty but totally devoted to God their Creator and Master. These beings are so devoted to God’s commands, that they do nothing of their own will but only carry out the will of the Father in Heaven.

This is why Jude considered it such an offense of the false teachers to “revile angelic majesties.” Why? Because what they do they do by express command of God. What have they done? Specifically, they have been God’s messengers of truth, such as when they proclaimed the arrival of the Savior, Christ the Lord. To deny the message is to revile them, declaring that they do not know what they are saying.

But we owe great debts to these spiritual beings who have stayed faithful to God, far more than we realize. They were involved in the giving of the Law. They have been locked in a battle some 6000 years long, of which we get a glimpse in Daniel. They announced the coming of the Messiah. They ministered to Jesus in the Garden. They announced the risen Lord.

Angels are God’s agents and messengers. And that still night some 2000 years ago. They scared a motley group of smelly shepherds almost out of their wits to tell them: Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.

 

• Verse 2 is about “Shepherds in the fields abiding.”

Shepherds in the fields abiding
Watching o’er your flocks by night
God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the Infant light

If Jesus was born in the winter months, then the Shepherds abiding in the fields were those specifically watching over the sheep and goats destined for sacrifice. At least, that is the assertion of Alfred Edersheim, the author of the greatest biography of Jesus outside the Gospels themselves.

They kept the sheep and goats outside away from things that could scrape against them, cause a blemish, and thus disqualify them to be used as sacrifice in the Temple.

Recall that the brightest light at night, apart from the moon, was a fire, a torch.

When I was a teenager living in Pomona, CA, I liked to go for walks at night. I recall one time I was walking through a neighborhood. Occasional dogs barked. I could hear a helicopter overhead. Suddenly, that helicopter hit me with its searchlight. I had difficulty seeing where I was walking as the light was so intense. And talk about sudden. It was a definite shock. I stopped and looked up and was completely blinded.

Now imagine you are a shepherd out at night sitting around the fire, quietly chatting, watching the sheep. “And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.” A sudden brilliance unlike anything they had ever seen? You better believe they were about scared out of their wits.

Which is why the angel first told them everything was OK. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” Why not? What possible thing could calm these men down?

for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

The nation had been looking for the coming of the Messiah. Jewish writers and correctly figured out it was time for Him to come. But they were looking in the wrong place and for the wrong person.

Montgomery wrote God with man is now residing.

What never entered their heads is that the Messiah had to be God in human flesh.

They completely missed the truth stated so clearly in Isaiah 7:14. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Immanuel – God with us.

What the shepherds did not realize at the time was that that announcement of the angel was an announcement of a loss of a job. That baby, God with Us, was to be the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Once the perfect sacrifice was made through the broken body and shed blood of the Messiah, animal sacrifice would no longer be needed. We would have the perfect sacrifice for sins.

An what about that last phrase: Yonder shines the Infant light? That is just a cultural myth grown up through the centuries. The baby Jesus did not glow. But one day His glory did shine forth and completely scared Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. And when Jesus returns? The glory of His holiness will shine forth and all evil will persih before Him. So I guess we can forgive a little cultural anticipation of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

 

• Verse 3 is about “Sages,” the Magi or Wise Men.

Sages leave your contemplations
Brighter visions beam afar
Seek the great Desire of nations
Ye have seen His natal star

We know the Sages, the wise men, did leave their contemplations to seek one of infinite greater wisdom, He who is born King of the Jews. They were drawn by a star. There have been many speculations and many natural phenomena have been suggested as that star. But, a star that leads to Bethlehem and then stops over a single home? That has to be of supernatural origin.

But they are seeking the Great desire of nations, as Montgomery wrote. This is a reference to Haggai 2:7 in the King James Version:

And I will shake all nations,

and the desire of all nations shall come:

and I will fill this house with glory,

saith the Lord of hosts.

While the KJV translation is not quite accurate in that verse, the sentiment is completely correct. Jesus is the Desire of nations. Only He brings forgiveness, Only He brings fellowship with God, Only He can bring genuine peace. As God told Abraham so long ago, speaking of Jesus, “In you shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” Only in Jesus do we find our deepest needs and desires satisfied.

And mankind’s contemplations, their philosophies, are mere speculation apart from the reality that God lives and He has sent His Son into the world to redeem sinners. Any worldview which ignores that truth is doomed to be empty speculation.

• Verse 4 expands the vision to “Saints”—a word that in the New Testament applies to all Christians.

Saints before the altar bending
Watching long in hope and fear
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear

Montgomery finished off in our version with the consequences of the coming of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

The creation of Saints is owed entirely to the reality that Jesus came as Savior. He did not come as conqueror. Which is what the Jews were looking for. Mankind has always longed for a Savior, someone to deliver us from this mess of a world so polluted with sin.

Here in the US we long for political leaders who will bring about conditions that we hunger for, whatever they may be. The world loves the tales of mighty heroes who will deliver us. And Jesus is the ultimate deliverer. But, before He can deliver us politically, He must deliver us spiritually.

This is why Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” But the vast majority of people in the world refuse to recognize their hopeless condition before God. They think they can deliver themselves.

But it takes the Savior Jesus to actually make mankind Holy, Saints, who can dwell with the Holy, Righteous God for eternity.

As Saints, we bow our knee before our Savior. Montgomery is referring to Philippians 2:9-11:

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.

We are truly watching for the Hope. Paul wrote of this to his fellow minister Titus:

…looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.

And we are those who, knowing our sinful condition and the holiness of God, bow before Him and walk daily with reverential fear. We do this because we know Jesus can return at any moment.

 

Montgomery referred in the lines Suddenly the Lord, descending, In His temple shall appear to one of the last promises in the Old Testament, Malachi 3:1:

Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.

This sudden return is the reason why we are told, “Now is the day of salvation.” You may not have another opportunity to trust in Jesus as your Savior.

 

Conclusion:

Montgomery concluded each verse with the phrases:

Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Because His coming was important enough to send a host of angels to announce it, because His coming was to provide the sacrifice that made all other sacrifices obsolete, Because His coming makes all human wisdom empty, Because His coming creates those who are holy enough to be in God’s presence, we should bow before Him and worship. He is worthy of all praise and all worship.

Even though He came as Savior, still, He was and always will be the rightful King of this world. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let every knee bow before the Lord of all.

Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

 

Nov

21

The Faithfulness of the Lord

By Stephen Mitchell

Lamentations 3:19-26

A. The Struggling Soul 19-20

Eliphaz the Temanite said to Job, in Job 5:7, “For man is born for trouble, As sparks fly upward

Jesus told His disciples as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Here in Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah lamented over the destruction of the nation of Judah and the troubles he was going through.

The people of God, the Jews, have been attacked. The people have been killed. Vast numbers have been taken captive as slaves. Why?

Read Lamentations 1:3-7 Notice again verse 5, “For the LORD has caused her grief Because of the multitude of her transgressions

Hundreds of years before, God had warned them of what He would do to them if they followed the evil of the godless nations around them. They refused to listen, rebelled against God, and God had finally brought His judgment upon the land. The Temple was destroyed, the nation destroyed, and the land became the property of another nation. Many people were slaughtered and many of the rest taken as slaves and torn from their homes and resettled in a strange land.

And Jeremiah, writing as if he is the nation of Judah, wrote, “Look and see if there is any pain like my pain Which was severely dealt out to me, Which the LORD inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.1:12

But what about the prophet Jeremiah? He, too, suffered, as a citizen of that land. Listen to his groaning.

Lamentations 3:1-18

If you read the book of Jeremiah, and the book of II Chronicles, you will find that all the ways Jeremiah felt under attack was actually done by his fellow Jews. But Jeremiah, as we often do as well, laid the blame for all his troubles on the LORD, on God. When we get to verse 18 Jeremiah wrote “So I say, “My strength has perished, And so has my hope from the LORD.”” Jeremiah told God, ‘It’s your fault.’

So when we get to verse 19 of chapter 3, Jeremiah described himself as remembering all the bitterness of his experiences as Babylon captured Judah, destroyed the Temple, killed the king, his family, and many of the prominent men of the land, and took many thousands captive.

He described himself as afflicted: a state of pain due to the circumstances.
He described himself as wandering: unsettled.
He described his life as one of wormwood, a bitter plant, and bitterness, without any sweetness in life.

Then he wrote that his soul surely remembers and is bowed down within him.

Surely remembers” is actually the word “remember” twice. It stresses the abundance of the memory.
Remembering, he remembers some more. The sense seems to be that Jeremiah’s memories of his affliction and troubles kept repeating themselves over and over in his mind.

The result of this is that his soul is bowed down within him.

He is depressed. His heart is bowed down with the weight of his troubles. He is depressed with the recurring memories of his troubles. They run over and over and over in his mind. He cannot escape them.

B. The Hoping Soul 21

How does Jeremiah escape this vicious cycle of bad memories flooding his mind over and over and over again. He wrote how he escaped it in verse 21.

Remember, these are Jeremiah’s own words. He recorded this. He wrote down how he escaped the vicious cycle of bad memories.

This I recall to my mind.

The word translated “recall” is a word usually used in the OT in regards to salvation.

The Bible is rich in idioms describing man’s responsibility in the process of repentance. Such phrases would include the following: “incline your heart unto the Lord your God” (Joshua 24:23): “circumcise yourselves to the Lord” (Jeremiah 4:4); “wash your heart from wickedness” (Jeremiah 4:14); “break up your fallow ground” (Hosea 10:12) and so forth. All these expressions of man’s penitential activity, however, are subsumed and summarized by this one verb šûb. For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good.1

In this context, Jeremiah used it to express a conscious turning of his mind away from the depressing thoughts and turning his mind to new thoughts. Jeremiah intentionally and deliberately, began to think about something else. He changed his thought life.

Therefore I have hope.

This changing what he thought about brought him the hope he was completely lacking. Hope is a confident expectation. Jeremiah went from seeing himself and his condition as hopeless, to having hope in his life.

Jeremiah intentionally changed his thoughts from his afflictions to … what?

C. The Faithful LORD 22-23

The very next word Jeremiah wrote is the word “Mercies / Lovingkindnesses.”

Jeremiah forced his thoughts away from his very difficult circumstances to thoughts of the Mercies of the LORD. What exactly is God’s Lovingkindness, His Mercy? It is His commitment to His covenant obligations.

God has sworn by His own Self, that He would do good to Israel. That He would redeem her. That He would not let her perish from the earth. This never meant she would not be punished for her sins, but it did mean she would not be completely destroyed.

God said, in Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.

But what about God’s Mercies for the individual such as Jeremiah?

God said, in Isaiah 21:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

So Jeremiah tore his thoughts from his circumstances to His God and to the reality that God had not, was not, and would not forsake Jeremiah. The LORD had strength available for Jeremiah to go through his troubles. The Lord was ready to hold up Jeremiah so he would not fall in his affliction. The LORD had not forsaken Jeremiah, in spite of the affliction he was going through.

And Jeremiah knew this truth. This is why he wrote “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease.” God’s Mercies / Lovingkindnesses never stop. He is always merciful and kind to His children, even when they go through difficult times. We were never promised a trouble-free life. But we were promised that our LORD would walk with us through those heartaches and struggles, caring for us and giving us the needed strength and encouragement for the day.

Jeremiah stressed this when he wrote next, “For His compassions never fail.”

Compassion” describes the feeling of seeing a helpless person in distress. Seeing an infant hungry or hurting. Seeing a child suffering. Seeing these precious little ones struggling with serious illnesses or disease. Our hearts go out to them. We have Compassion.

God sees us exactly that way but, of course, with a far greater compassion than we have. He knows our struggles. He has Compassion on us. And His compassions never fail. The word “Fail” is actually a word that means ‘to bring to completion.’ Such as when we finish a project, maybe finishing fixing the brakes on the car, or completing a delicious dessert for the Carry-in. God’s compassions on us are never like that. He is never done with us. He never says to us, ‘Okay. I’m done. Now you take it from here.’

God’s compassions never reach their end, They are new every morning. God’s compassion on us is always as if we had just seen a baby suffering. That great tug on our hearts is, in a small way, what God feels about us. While we can become jaded walking through sufferings with someone, almost becoming indifferent to the constant struggle, God never does. His compassions on us are fresh every day of our lives.

Which is why Jeremiah, overcome with the wonder of God’s love and care for him, burst out:

Great is Your Faithfulness!

King David knew that, which is why he wrote, in Psalm 31:19How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, Before the sons of men!

God’s faithfulness to us is so vast we cannot even begin to comprehend. The Apostle Paul knew that, which is why he wrote, in Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Great is Your Faithfulness. God’s total dependability is unmeasurable. He is always faithful to those who love Him, to those who walk with Him in obedience.

B’. The Hoping Soul 24

In light of that the truth, Jeremiah turned back to his soul and his hope.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

What does that mean? Ever since God gave the Jews the land of Israel some 3,400 years ago, each Israelite, each Jew, took great delight in his or her portion of the land. It was their inheritance. But what about when the land is taken from them? What about in Jeremiah’s time when God allowed another nation to take possession of Israel? What then?

Jeremiah wrote that he has taken the LORD Himself as his portion. The land no longer mattered to him. He had the LORD. The LORD was his portion, his inheritance, his future.

And because of this, he wrote, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” Jeremiah did not just have hope. His hope was in the LORD Himself. The land can come and go. We can lose property, or never have it. We can lose finances, or health, or all the other things this world values and holds dear. But we can never lose the LORD. He is our true portion, our true hope in this world.

A’. The Patient Soul 25-26

So Jeremiah, after looking at his affliction and troubles, had struggled greatly in his soul. The memories of what he had and was going through ran over and over and over in his mind. Then he tore his mind away from his struggles to thoughts of God Himself. What was the effect upon Jeremiah?

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.

The word “Good” has the sense of ‘a practical benefit.’ To the person who seeks the LORD, to the person who waits for the LORD to do His work, the LORD is a practical benefit. It greatly benefitted Jeremiah to tear his thoughts away from his circumstances and put them upon the LORD. Jeremiah began to experience peace in his soul. Instead of distress, focusing on God brought Jeremiah hope.

And it brought Jeremiah from a struggling soul to a soul who patiently waited for God to do His work.

It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD.

As we wait quietly for our LORD to do His work in this world, we can have hope. We can have peace. We can have souls that are at quiet rest in the hand of the Lord.

As we focus on God and His goodness, His faithfulness, His compassion, we can have souls that are settled and secure in our hope for God’s deliverance, His “Salvation” from the distresses of living in such a sinful land and among the rebellious, wicked people of this land.

We know God’s judgment is going to fall on this world because of the great wickedness, because of the slaughter of innocent blood, because of the rebellion against His rule.

But while we are here, we can, like Jeremiah, speak God’s Word to a rebellious and disobedient people. And we can rest secure in the hope of God’s deliverance from all suffering and sin.

We can rest at peace because we focus our hearts upon God Himself and His great Faithfulness.

1. Victor P. Hamilton, “2340 שׁוּב,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 909.

Nov

5

What Does it Mean to be Human?

By Stephen Mitchell

Genesis 1:26-31

The cultural battles we face here in our society, our culture, center primarily around this question of identity: Who are we? Or, rather, What are we?

We know what our culture thinks we are.

Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of an animal, and a species of the Order Primates, akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material.” George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, 1971, p. 345.

What are the consequences of this view of what and who we are? What does it mean to simply be “a sort of an animal … akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material.” Let me illustrate with a deservedly infamous quote from the former medical director for Planned Parenthood, Dr. Mary S. Calderone, recorded in the Medical Moral Newsletter of February-March, 1968:

We have yet to beat our public health drums for birth control in the way we beat them for polio vaccine; we are still unable to put babies in the class of dangerous epidemics, even though that is the exact truth.

Notice that, in spite of the Abortion position that the baby in the womb is just tissue, Dr. Calderone, in 1968, stated very clearly that they are babies. But, in her view, babies are a dangerous epidemic. What does one do when faced with an epidemic? Why, eradicate it, of course. And so we have, in this country, Planned Parenthood.

James Rachels, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama, wrote in his 1990 book Created From Animals, p. 245,

Darwinism [evolution] undermines both the idea that man is made in the image of God and the idea that man is a uniquely rational being. Furthermore, if Darwinism is correct, it is unlikely that any other support for the idea of human dignity will be found.

Robert Reilly, in the Fall 1988 Intercollegiate Review, wrote an article titled “Atheism and Arms Control: How Spiritual Pathology Afflicts Public Policy.” Listen to his words:

The problem is that, by denying the possibility of a relationship between God and man, atheism also denies the possibility of a just relationship between men. In other words, atheism removes the grounds for the recognition of, and therefore respect for, another person as a fellow human being. … Human life is sacred only if there is a God to sanctify it. Otherwise, man is just another collection of atoms and can be treated as such.

In contrast to the world’s view, listen to the majesty granted to man in these ancient words.

Ge 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

So, in contrast to the world’s godless and hopeless view of mankind, What are we? What does it mean to be Human?

It Means to be Spiritual.

God created us physically, with a physical body, with physical needs, with physical supply. He also created us with a soul. Man is a body – soul duality. We have both a physical part and a spiritual part. It was only mankind that God created to exist “in the image of God.”

What does it mean to exist in the image of God? Scripture does not tell us exactly, but it gives a few details.

First, the image of God involves being able to know the truth. Turn to Ephesians 4:17-24 and read or listen to these words of contrast between the world’s philosophy and the image of God.

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

In some way, the image of God involves being able to know the Truth. We can know the truth about God, the Truth about Jesus, the Truth that is both righteous and holy. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He did not walk and talk with the animals. Adam and Eve could know God experientially, know Him in His righteousness and holiness. We know this because, when they sinned, they hid themselves from Him. They knew they were no longer holy and could no longer commune with God as they had done before. They knew the truth about the holiness of God in His character.

Then, in Colossians 3:9-10, Paul wrote:

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.

So secondly, the image of God also involves a true knowledge. Elsewhere the Scriptures tell us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. A true knowledge is knowledge based upon truth. That truth begins, most fundamentally, with the reality of God being God, Someone to fear and reverence. We were made different than all other creatures. We were made to know God in His holiness and to give Him the reverence due Him as our God and Creator. We were made to relate beyond the physical. We were made to find our greatest answers in the spiritual realm, not in the physical. We were made to see beyond the daily grind of food and shelter to God for all the answers to our deepest needs. Something no other physical creature has or can have. We were made to be spiritual beings in a physical world.

It Means to be Moral

The ultimate outcome of this world’s godless philosophy is Might Makes Right. If you have the power to do it, it must be right. There is no over-riding moral philosophy. There is no ultimate moral standard. There is no right and wrong. In the 1980 book Humanist Ethics, edited by Morris Storer, the humanist Max Hocutt wrote:

The nonexistence of God makes more difference to some of us than to others. To me it means that there is no absolute morality, that moralities are sets of social conventions devised by humans to satisfy their need.

That these “needs” really mean “desires,” note the tens of millions of babies slaughtered to the refrain of reproductive “rights.” Rights of whom? Certainly not the rights of the babies in the womb. No. They are the weakest of the weak. The stronger slaughter them and call it a “right.” Whatever the stronger can impose on the weaker is justified as a “right.” Their moral philosophy always degenerates into “Might Makes Right.”

But why would Hocutt, speaking of Humanists, write that “the nonexistence of God makes more difference to some of us than to others?” Because all can see a universal moral standard in the hearts of mankind. That must be explained, or explained away. So the Humanists argue among themselves about morality.

But listen to what the Scriptures tell us, in Romans 2:14-15:

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.

If you want to see the knowledge of right and wrong on the heart of every one, just do something against another and immediately, they will declare themselves slighted, wronged, sinned against. That shows the presence of the moral law engraved on their heart. The Scriptures explain the existence of this universal Moral Law, the Natural Law.

And that moral law has a very powerful judge adjudicating that law. Listen as the Apostle Paul records this truth for us in Romans 2:3-8.

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

We were made to be moral beings accountable to the ultimate Moral Judge for every deed.

It Means to be Rational and Emotional

Animals can have some traits of rationality and emotion. But animals are incapable of rationality anywhere close to the level that we approach as creatures made in the image of God. Do you recall the quote I gave you by James Rachels?

Darwinism [evolution] undermines both the idea that man is made in the image of God and the idea that man is a uniquely rational being.” Why does the belief in Evolution undermine the idea of man being a uniquely rational being? It is because, if everything has arisen from random, purposeless processes, we have no justification for rational thought. Rational thought implies a Universe formulated upon rational principles and that demands a rational Designer. If everything is random and purposeless, we could have no basis on which to think we were rational beings. Jason Lisle noted this in his book The Ultimate Proof of Creation.

Evolutionists must assume the preconditions of imtelligibility in order to make any argument whatsoever; they must assume things like the laws of logic and uniformity of nature. But these preconditions of intelligibility do not comport with an evolutionary worldview. They only make sense if creation is true.

So notice what God calls Israel to do in Isaiah 1:18: “’Come now, and let us reason together’ says the LORD.” And, in Psalm 50, after castigating the wicked for their evil, the LORD stated to them, “I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.” God certainly expects even the wicked to be able to use rational thought. God deals with us rationally.

And emotion? Look at the beautiful works artists have created, pouring their emotions into their creative abilities in art, words, construction, and all the many ways mankind expresses their emotions in their creative ways.

This is what God also did. If we look at the majestic beauty of His creation we stand in awe of His abilities.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Psalm 19:1

O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! Psalm 8:1

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. Luke 12:27

God has made us to be both Rational and Emotional Beings as He is Himself.

It Means to be Relational

In “An Interview with Robert Rimmer on Premarital Communes and Group Marriages,” The Humanist (March/April 1974), this statement was made:

Marriage and family life have been largely responsible … for today’s prevailing neurotic climate, with its pervasive insecurity, and it is precisely this climate that makes so difficult the acceptance of a different, healthier way of life.

The creeping destruction of family relationships is a stark reality of today’s culture. Marriage has become essentially meaningless. Procreation is regarded as a burden. Family roles are regarded as tyranny. Men and women are portrayed as enemies with men being ridiculed for being male and women criticized for not acting aggressively as men.

The pathological behavior of children from dysfunctional homes screams this truth from every location that children inhabit. The neurotic behavior of our culture is seen when studies constantly show how serious are the effects upon children of fatherlessness yet the culture continues to cut the natural ties of families.

Yet God made us to be relational. As soon as He had made Adam, God showed Adam that he needed a mate. And after God made sure Adam understood that none of the animals that God had made could satisfy Adam’s hunger for a partner, God made Eve, beautiful to Adam in every way and perfectly suited to be his partner for eternity. After all, without the entrance of sin, and death by sin, Adam and Eve would still be partners together in marriage to this day.

And God showed Adam that Adam needed a relationship with God Himself as well. He showed him this by God’s presence walking and talking with Adam in the cool of the day. And this relationship need continues to this day. This is why Job said, “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” 23:12. This from a man suffering greatly. Yet, even in his suffering, time with God through God’s Word was a greater need than eating.

And what about kids? Are they a burden? Are they a disease? Joking aside, not according to God Who gives us our children.

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5

Being human means being relational.

It Means to be Volitional

Volitional means to have the ability to make free choices, to have free will. Animals act by instinct. Animals, for the most part, lack free will. A Monarch butterfly cannot choose to winter in Barbados rather than in Mexico. Sharks cannot choose to make friends with their prey, in spite of Disney cartoons.

The behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner wrote that all human behavior is determined by behavioral and genetic factors. This is why we must be soft on criminals. It is not their fault. They could not help their behavior. It is all society’s fault. It is their parents’ fault. It is the environment’s fault. Anything to avoid free will. Since we are simply more evolved animals, everything can be attributed to instinct.

But how do the Scriptures see us? From the beginning God has given us choices and demanded that we make the right choice. If we do not, we are held accountable.

God told Adam about eating the fruit of the garden, all except one type. Then God told Adam that there would be consequences if he disobeyed. And God held him accountable when Adam disobeyed.

When Cain was angry, God told Cain he needed to make the right choice and, if not, there would be consequences. All through Scripture, God holds mankind responsible for the choices we make. God treats us as if we are Volitional beings, people who have free will. We are not like the brute beasts. We do not act by instinct. We exercise our free will. In Ezekiel 18:30-32, God discussed this with Israel. Listen to the discussion:

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Do you hear it? Being Human means being able to make choices, to have free will, to be volitional.

It Means to be a Ruler

Carl Amery, quoted in the 2003 book Environmental Mafia: The Enemy is Us, stated:

We, in the Green movement, aspire to a cultural model in which the killing of a forest will be considered more contemptible and more criminal than the sale of 6 year old children to Asian brothels.

Our current culture has turned God’s intent for human rulership on its head. No longer are we the rightful rulers of this planet. We have become the lowest of the low. We are denigrated as the cause of all earth’s troubles. We have become the creature with the lowest value. As I pointed out two weeks ago, look at how much we spend on protecting the life of beasts while we slaughter people by the tens of millions. The forests have greater value than 6 year old children. California struggles to supply sufficient water for their population while releasing vast amounts of potential drinking water to save a few small fish.

When we lived in California the Stormy Complex Fire swept through the area in which we lived. After the fire we toured a logging operation that was reclaiming trees killed by the fire. There were potentially millions of board feet available to be logged that were killed in the fire. Many, many homes could have been built from that available lumber. But the logging operation was stopped and those tens of thousands of trees left to be a further fire hazard because the logging operation might have harmed a small flower. Human needs subservient to a small flower.

That is not a problem. As rulers, we have the right to protect the flora and fauna of this planet. But we must never confuse rulership with value. And that is the error of our culture. Every person is of infinitely greater value than any creature or plant. We want to be good stewards of this planet put into our keeping, but not by devaluing the souls for whom Christ died.

Notice the difference of value Jesus used to encourage his followers in Matthew 6:26.

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Then, in Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

And at the very beginning, in Genesis 1:27-28, God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Being human means that you have the right to rule over this earth. We share the rule with all other people.

Conclusion:

God’s view of us is radically different than the current views of our culture. God’s view of us exalts us above the creatures, the plants, and even the earth itself.

Psalm 8:3-9

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Do not let anyone tell you you have no value and are of less worth than the creation. We are Human Beings whom God created to fellowship with Him and for whom God’s Son shed His blood on Calvary. Remember who you are as our culture continues to deny our worth and uniqueness. Rather than just being a little higher than the apes, God has made us just a little lower than God Himself.

 

Mar

2

A Mind with True Tranquility

By Stephen Mitchell

The Roman Senator, Seneca the Younger, in an essay titled “On Tranquility of Mind,” section 12, wrote of those whose lives are full of activity but no real purpose. Rushing here and there, being involved in everyone’s business, their lives are full but without purpose. And the busyness can often lead to disaster due to the fickleness of the Roman goddess Fortuna (Fortune). She may bless or bring calamity.

“For if a man engages in many affairs, he often puts himself in the power of Fortuna, while his safest course is rarely to tempt her, always to be mindful of her, and never to put any trust in her promises.”

Though Seneca noted, in section 10, that “All of us are chained to Fortuna,” he advised that the less we do the less we tempt capricious Fortuna. Continuing the discussion in section 12, Seneca recommended that individuals always have an acceptance that their plans may fail. This failure, of course, is due to the fickleness of the goddess.

“Say, ‘I will set sail unless something happens,’ and ‘I shall become praetor unless something hinders me,’ and ‘My enterprise will be successful unless something interferes.’ This is why we say that nothing happens to a wise man contrary to his expectations — we release him, not from the accidents, but from the blunders of mankind, nor do all things turn out as he has wished, but as he has thought; but his first thought has been that something might obstruct his plans. Then, too, the suffering that comes to the mind from the abandonment of desire must necessarily be much lighter if you have not certainly promised it success. We ought also to make ourselves adaptable lest we become too fond of the plans we have formed, and we should pass readily to the condition to which chance has led us, and not dread shifting either purpose or positions — provided that fickleness, a vice most hostile to repose, does not get hold of us. For obstinacy, from which Fortuna often wrests some concession, must needs be anxious and unhappy, and much more grievous must be a fickleness that nowhere shows self-restraint.”

The Scriptures say some very similar things. For example, Jesus spoke of a man who unwisely left God out of his plans.

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21)

The half-brother of our Lord, James, wrote something very similar in chapter 4, verses 13 through 16.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

The fundamental difference between Seneca’s attitude and that of the Scriptures is the attitudes seen in the respective deities. For Seneca, the decisions of Fortuna are one moment beneficial and the next, injurious. “[W]e ought at least to reduce our possessions, so as to be less exposed to the injuries of Fortune.”

But in the Scriptures, God’s plans for us always have a purpose and are never capricious. In Jesus’ parable, the rich man left God completely out of his plans, not considering what God desired for him, not even behaving as if God existed. Jesus gave this parable as an example of the effects of greed and of not trusting in the Lord’s ability to provide for us.

James gave his instructions in the context of God’s place as the Lawgiver and Judge. One must always consider God and His desires when planning one’s own future.

In both cases, God’s permission or restraint is governed by His plans for mankind as Lawgiver, Judge, and Provider. The Scriptures never present God as permitting something one day and stopping it the next. He is never capricious. In fact, earlier James wrote of God that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

So one can follow Seneca’s advice and refrain from doing much so as to not give fickle Fortuna more opportunities to harm you, or one can follow the Scriptures and go out to do much, confident that what God allows or restrains, He always does for a good purpose.

Living Jesus’ and James’ way makes for a much more peaceful and confident life: a mind with true tranquility.