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Archive for August, 2017

altar

In Exodus 20:22-26, we find Moses meeting with God.  He has just walked into the darkness after God has given the 10 Commandments and all the people are afraid.  Moses is elected mediator and he enters God’s presence on Mt. Sinai.  Here, God begins to expound about the commands he just gave.  In this passage, we find God giving details as to how to carry out worship to him and how to avoid breaking the first two commandments he has just given.

22 And the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. 23 You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. 26 And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’ ~Exodus 20:22-26

In verse 22, God instructs Moses to tell His people that because they have seen for themselves that he has come down and condescended them from heaven – because they have personally witnessed God’s presence among them – that there should be no need to break command number one.  There should be no reasonable excuse for you to make images of God as if he were not present.  Not only that, but they had experienced God’s voice, not his form.  They had not seen any images of Him to even have the ability to make a proper representation even if they had been permitted to do so.  This served as a reminder to both they and we that we must keep close to God and his presence on account of his Word alone.

In verse 23, God forbids making gods out of fine materials.  He knew the people were apt to use their silver and gold to make images and set them up beside him in pretense of worship to him.  With these, they pretended to worship and honor God but actually became guilty of idolatry and worshipped them in place of or in addition to God.  In other words, they started out with the idea that they were going to use their best, most expensive materials to make the most elaborate things to worship god with, but ended up worshipping those things their hands had made as idols.  They stopped giving honor and glory to God and began giving it to the things their hands had made.

Next, verse 24-26 instructs the building of altars and promises a blessing where he is remembered.  The altars were to be made of earth or unhewn stone.  The altar was to be a place of honor and worship to God.  Therefore, God determined that it ought to be made from the unadulterated versions of what he created without man’s modifications.  The composition of the altar was to remind men that they cannot improve upon God’s building blocks for change. Furthermore, they may be tempted to make a graven image if they were permitted to finish the stones rather than using them as they found them.   Finally, the humble, base materials God called for here coupled with the lowness with which they were to be constructed were to help God’s people realize that worship to God ought to be humble and self-abasing rather than external, flashy, prideful, and pompous.

Matthew Henry says this in relation to God’s promise to meet with them and bless them anywhere his name is remembered: “In all places where I record my name, or where my name is recorded (that is, where I am worshipped in sincerity), I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.  Afterwards, God chose one particular place wherein to record his name: but that being taken away now under the gospel, when men are encouraged to pray everywhere, this promise revives in its full extent, that wherever God’s people meet in his name to worship him, he will be in the midst of them, he will honor them with his presence, and reward them with the gifts of his grace; there he will come unto them, and will bless them, and more than this we need not desire for the beautifying of our solemn assemblies.” 

So, what does this mean for us today?  The practical applications are thus:

  1. God’s Word alone is to be sufficient evidence of his enduring presence with us.
  2. We must recognize and be on guard against the temptation that comes by setting out to build God’s kingdom starting with what we consider the best materials when we are actually building a kingdom for ourselves because we love those things and the praise and honor that comes with them more than we love God.  True worship and acceptable sacrifice is a result of what God gives, not what man makes.
  3. The place of change, worship, and sacrifice ought to be a place of noticeable humility and lowliness rather than extravagance and man-made showmanship.
  4. God honors the gathering together of his people no matter how humble and small the group is.  If he is being honored and his name is being lifted up and remembered among us, that is a place God is bound and determined to bless.

 

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Looking at Exodus 20:18-21 which are the words spoken immediately after the 10 commandments are given.

 If we look back to just prior in chapter 19, we see that strict rules are given by God about being purified and not going too close to the mountain.  The mountain is then enveloped in smoke and people see thunder, lightning, and hear trumpets.  It is then that the Lord comes down and Moses is first called up.  Moses goes up the mountain and God sends him right back down to tell the people to stay back and warn them again.

 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” 24 And the Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them.” ~Exodus 19:20-24

At this point, Moses is probably like dude, I just climbed up here and you’re sending me back down to tell my guys what I just told them.  We have been preparing for this for three days.  They are consecrated already, God. I warned them already.  You made me draw lines around the mountain, remember?

So that’s where we are when God begins to speak the ten commandments.  The people have been warned twice and consecrated and Moses is somewhere at the foot of the mountain with them because it does not appear that he has had time to go back up the mountain with Aaron yet.  The ten commandments are given and immediately afterward is where we pick up today.

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. ~Exodus 20:18-21

These supernatural events – thunder, lightning, smoke, the trumpets alongside the voice of God Himself produced absolute terror in the people – as they would any and all of us.  The text says they stood “far off.”  They elected Moses their mediator.  “You talk to God Moses.  Don’t let him talk to us! We will die for sure!” 

Moses answers them and says, essentially, “Fear not; fear God.”  This is so cool.  Exodus 20:20.  Here is our clear vision.  Here’s 20/20 guys.  Don’t fear death and the judgement of sin.  Fear the God who command you not to sin!  If you do the latter, you will no longer have to fear the former.  If you refuse to do the latter, you better fear the former.  Therefore, fear not; fear God.

What was happening right before the eyes of these people was fearful.  Just close your eyes and consider it.  Consider standing in the wilderness and witnessing these events.  It was indeed terrifying and meant to be so.  But what were they ultimately afraid of?  That the fire and fury of God would consume and destroy them.  Moses says, “No.  Don’t fear that.  Fear God and you will live.”

The truth is, our sin and guilt will destroy us and his judgment will consume us if we fail to fear God, believe the promises of the Savior, and trust in his mercy.  So fear not; fear God is what Moses says to them and then, this is amazing, Moses walks towards the darkness.  Everyone else is getting as far away from God’s presence as humanly possibly and Moses is drawing near.  The first question that came to my mind when reading this passage was, “Why wasn’t Moses afraid?”  He’s just a man like the rest of them, right?  And the answer is, Moses was not afraid because Moses knew his calling.  Moses heard God’s call and nothing was going to stop him from doing that which God had purposed for his life.  He wasn’t afraid to draw near to the most powerful being in the universe because Moses had heard directly from God himself on numerous occasions and God had graciously instructed him.  Moses knew his call.  He knew the voice of His Master and it gave him great confidence and assurance to do all that which God expected of him – fearful or not.  Moses was courageous because he knew and understood his call.

In all of this we see how the law was given.  This was quite an epic event – one not soon forgotten.  This was God’s way of making absolutely clear to us that His law is of utmost importance.  He wants us to learn to fear Him first, above all else, that we might not sin, lest, as we deserve, we die without mercy.  The law was given in such a way that it might startle, wake, and humble sinners in preparation for Christ and the gospel.  Without understanding the wrath and judgement we all deserve for transgressing this law, we cannot understand and desire the mercy and forgiveness of the gospel.

If you are sharing a gospel that only includes love, mercy, and forgiveness while leaving out the law, you are not sharing the true gospel.  Without the law, sinners do not have a need for a Savior.  The law, the Bible teaches, is the schoolmaster meant to bring us to Christ.  We must realize the seriousness of God’s holy law, understand how thoroughly we have broken it, and feel the weight of God’s coming judgement before we feel any read need for a Savior or commit to Him as Lord.

So share the gospel.  Don’t forget to talk about the law, first, though.  Amen.

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covet

The tenth and final command has to do with envy.  Covetousness is wanting and desiring something someone else has.  In a word, jealousy.

Yesterday my kids and I did a lesson on jealousy.  It talked about Joseph and his brothers.  When I asked them about their own jealousy and who they thought got special treatment in the family, they all pointed at one another.

How could all of them think the other one is treated more special if it were true?  Their jealousy is not based on reality, but selfishness.

Anytime we see someone else get something we want, we have a choice.  We can feel happy for them or we can feel bad for ourselves.  The first results in friendship and kindness toward that person; the latter results in dislike and dissention with them.

Jealousy and covetousness is the root of many backbiting and deceitful schemes done in order to bring down the one being envied.  Covetousness in a person’s heart often leads to gossip, slander, thievery, hatred, anger, and broken relationships.

The Bible teaches us that we do not have because we do not ask, and, when we do ask, we ask with selfish intent.  That is why we quarrel with one another and with God.

The best picture for me is watching my kids fight over “things.”  Everything from attention to toys to candy to seating arrangements are coveted jealously among children.  I consider how I feel as a parent when they hurt one another over jealousy.  I consider how I try to make things even and fair, but how each child’s needs are different.  Therefore, I have to give them different things at different times.  I consider how they do not understand when they covet and all they can see is what they’re not getting instead of what they have.  I think about how it upsets me when they fight over things and positions instead of sharing and loving one another.  Then I think of how we adults do the same thing.  Jealousy and envy accounts for much of the reason people do not live in peace with one another.

When a person is jealous, they often avoid and malign the one whom they envy.  They try to make others dislike that person.  The one envied ends up wondering what they did wrong and feeling totally rejected unnecessarily all because of another’s selfish, jealous hatred of them.  That’s the whole goal of the one coveting, by the way.

Covetousness is a terrible evil.  It destroys relationships, instigates dishonesty, and makes us guilty of unfaithfulness to God.

Like I tell the kids, if you start to feel jealous or see someone else get something you want, do not say something mean to or about them.  Say something nice.  Complement them.  Be genuinely happy for them. We ought to do the same and God may see our good attitude and bless us for it.

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lie

“You shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” ~Exodus 20:16

Here we have the ninth commandment.  This command involves truth-telling – especially regarding others’ reputation.  R.C. Sproul says this: “Truth in relationships, especially between Christians is divinely commanded and truth-telling is integral to authentic godliness.  God forbids lying, deception, and malicious representation…One way of acknowledging the dignity of our neighbors, who bear God’s image, is to recognize that they have a right to the truth.  Telling the truth shows proper respect for our neighbor and for God, and is fundamental to true religion and love of one’s neighbor.” 

The sin of bearing false witness is one of saying lies, gossip, or malicious slander about another person falsely with the intent to discredit, malign, or injure their reputation in some way.  It is the age-old bully tactic wherein a bully who wants to make himself feel bigger makes up a story or fabricates and modifies the truth in order to make someone else smaller or to cause others to like that person less.  The primary cause and root sin of such a sinful action is often jealousy and envy.  Confident, self-assured people who trust in God do not have any need or desire to tear down others by telling lies and spreading slander.  Confident, self-assured people who trust in God do just the opposite.  They tell the truth both to and about other people – regardless of whether that truth is praise or warning.

There is a great need for Christians to understand this command today.  We live in a culture who prefers politeness and politically correct speech to truth-telling.  Many professing Christians only have ears when the words we have are encouraging or praise for them.  When they are warning and exhortation, the truth-teller is most often ignored, hated, shunned, and slandered.  This is not an honest approach and it is an affront to the ninth commandment.  It is an affront to the God who gave it.  The reason this is true is because not telling the truth about or to someone who is sinning is just as offensive to God as telling lies about someone who is living a righteous life.

We are not at liberty to say whatever we want to about or to other people without consequence.  Speaking falsely is most commonly done out of fear, pride, envy, or malice and is extremely offensive to God.  It should be extremely offensive to God’s people as well – especially when we witness our own being abused and slandered falsely.

Consider the ninth commandment any time you speak to or about other people.  Ask yourself, “Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary?”

The first and foremost consideration must always, always be truth.  Do not speak lies or gossip about others when you are not absolutely certain of what the truth is.

Secondly, be kind.  Contrary to popular belief, being kind is not the same thing as never saying hard things about or to someone.  We are called to exhort one another daily.  Kindness is not only saying easy things, rather, it is saying everything with respect and love for our hearers.

Finally, is it necessary? Truth-telling is necessary whenever there is peace and harmony, and, especially, whenever there is conflict, disagreement, or discord among people. It is necessary to tell the truth in times of peace – but it is more necessary to tell the truth in times of war.  Keep in mind that telling the truth about those who are telling lies about others is just as imperative as not telling lies about those who are living righteous lives.

Do not speak falsely, secretly, slanderously, or maliciously about other people.  Speak the truth to them and about them.  Amen.

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In Ezekiel 17, the prophet Ezekiel is given a word from God for his people.  He describes it first in a riddle and then explains how it applies to the people of God and their deeds.  We find great practical application by this parable and the error these people made.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, propound a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel; say, Thus says the Lord God: A great eagle with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar. He broke off the topmost of its young twigs and carried it to a land of trade and set it in a city of merchants. Then he took of the seed of the land and planted it in fertile soil.[a] He placed it beside abundant waters. He set it like a willow twig, and it sprouted and became a low spreading vine, and its branches turned toward him, and its roots remained where it stood. So it became a vine and produced branches and put out boughs.

“And there was another great eagle with great wings and much plumage, and behold, this vine bent its roots toward him and shot forth its branches toward him from the bed where it was planted, that he might water it. It had been planted on good soil by abundant waters, that it might produce branches and bear fruit and become a noble vine.

“Say, Thus says the Lord God: Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, so that it withers, so that all its fresh sprouting leaves wither? It will not take a strong arm or many people to pull it from its roots. 10 Behold, it is planted; will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind strikes it—wither away on the bed where it sprouted?” ~Ezekiel 17:1-10

Ezekiel begins by using imagery to describe a big, strong, dignified bird – an eagle.  This bird took the best part of the strongest tree – the top of the cedar for himself.  He carried off the strongest, most promising materials with which to build his house.  He took these young twigs of the tree top and he brought them to a great city with much wealth and opportunity.  He planted them in fertile soil near abundant water.  Every advantage was nigh.  This plant was bound to succeed and produce good fruit.  No doubt.

It grew, but it grew low to the ground like a vine, not tall and respected like the cedar it had been before.  Because it was low and would prefer to be noble as before, the vine reach out to another eagle.

The imagery is explained in the following verses:

 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Say now to the rebellious house, Do you not know what these things mean? Tell them, behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took her king and her princes and brought them to him to Babylon. 13 And he took one of the royal offspring and made a covenant with him, putting him under oath (the chief men of the land he had taken away), 14 that the kingdom might be humble and not lift itself up, and keep his covenant that it might stand. 15 But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and a large army. Will he thrive? Can one escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant and yet escape?

16 “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant with him he broke, in Babylon he shall die. 17 Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company will not help him in war, when mounds are cast up and siege walls built to cut off many lives. 18 He despised the oath in breaking the covenant, and behold, he gave his hand and did all these things; he shall not escape. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely it is my oath that he despised, and my covenant that he broke. I will return it upon his head. 20 I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon and enter into judgment with him there for the treachery he has committed against me. 21 And all the pick[c] of his troops shall fall by the sword, and the survivors shall be scattered to every wind, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken.” ~Ezekiel 17:11-21

The first eagle represents Nebuchadnezzar.  At the time, Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful king in the world.  He came to Jerusalem and took the great men and the strongest young men and the princes.  The cedar top and young twigs represents these choice, best men.  He carried them off into captivity into Babylon.  Instead of capturing God’s people and killing or destroying them, he took them to his great city.  He said, “I’m gonna let you live.  And not only am I gonna let you live, I’m gonna give you every good thing and every good opportunity in order for you to produce good fruit for me.  But, the only catch is that you must not usurp me or try to overrule me or my kingdom.  It is a humble, low place where you must live and stay (hence, the low-spreading vine.) It is a humble status but it will come with great blessing – despite what you deserve which is death.

So…let’s make a covenant – a promise.  The promise is between you – the defeated exiles who are in bondage – and me – the most powerful king in the world.

 And he took one of the royal offspring and made a covenant with him, putting him under oath (the chief men of the land he had taken away), 14 that the kingdom might be humble and not lift itself up, and keep his covenant that it might stand. ~Ezekiel 17:13-14

This promise was made under oath by the king over God’s people with the enemy king.  (King Zedekiah and King Nebuchadnezzar.)  It was I will allow you to live and thrive here in peace if you live in obedience to me, in deference to me, and in humility.  You will surely prosper.  Did they?

No.

But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and a large army. Will he thrive? Can one escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant and yet escape? ~Ezekiel 17:15

God’s people did not proper because God’s people lied under oath.  God’s people did not prosper because they went back on their word.  God’s people did not prosper because they lacked integrity.  God’s people did not prosper because they were full of pride, ambition, and superiority even when they had been beaten and taken in exile because of their own sin.

The people of God had agreed to the conditions of peace in exile and then they reneged and sneakily went to Egypt to make a worldly ally and get help to overtake the king they’d just promised obedience to.  God himself despised King Zedekiah’s unfaithfulness and lack of integrity.  Think about this.  We need to get this.

Nebuchadnezzar was an enemy of God.  He was an enemy of God’s people.  Yet, God despised his own people for breaking a promise they made to him.  Why?

God cares about integrity and truth telling, no matter who you’re dealing with.  Whether it is a fellow believer or your worst unbelieving enemy, God expects you to deal honestly and keep your word.  Matthew Henry says this: “Truth is a debt due to all men, and if they professors of the true religion deal perfidiously with those of a false religion, their profession will be so far from excusing, much less justifying them, that it aggravates their sin, and God will the more surely and severely punish it, because by it they give occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” 

God took it personally when his people broke their promise to he who had spared them and treated them decently because it was sin against him and it was done only out of pride, ambition, and a lack of faith in Him personally.  He avenged himself on them by those they tried to make their saviors in his stead.

“Those who deal treacherously with those who put a confidence in them will justly be dealt treacherously with by those they put a confidence in.” ~Matthew Henry

In other words, what goes around comes around.  If you deal falsely, no matter who you choose to deal falsely with be they good or bad, you will be dealt with falsely and God will make sure of it.

 Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” ~Ezekiel 17:22-24

Finally, God plants his own vine.  Under this great, noble cedar all kinds will be welcome and secure.  All kinds will flourish and grow.  God will remove the high, lofty, prideful branches and replace them with the lowly and humble.  There is room for all kinds in Christ.

We are the exiles!  We were in Adam when he was exiled from the garden.  We are the ones who are subject – we are the subjects of the most powerful king there ever was – Jesus Christ the King!  While we all deserve judgment and death, he allows us to live and thrive.  He gives us great blessings with every opportunity and advantage we need in order to produce good fruit for him.  His covenant with us is that of Nebuchadnezzar with Zedekiah: Stay humble and submitted to me.  Live in obedience, deference, and humility to me and you will surely prosper and produce good fruit for me.  Do not look to the world or to other false kings or idols to save or help you.  Do not look for a way to raise yourself up in pride for self-exaltation.  If you do, I will make them be false to you and destroy you because of your falseness to me.  I will remove you and replace you with anyone and everyone who you thought you were superior to.

What a picture of our call!  Of the honor due Christ!  Of the warning and danger of seeking out worldly allies, help, idols, and prideful ambition!  We cannot break our alliance with the most powerful King Jesus mid-game and expect to still thrive, be blessed, and succeed with our own selfish plans.  God will not have it so.  The reason is because he opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.  Amen.

 

 

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How are we to deal with a person who is under demonic influence, oppression, or possession?  What are we to do when someone accuses us of being demonically influenced when we are genuinely working for the Lord?  I studied the scriptures to answer these questions because I personally have been accused on several occasions by religious leaders in this way, and I have also seen demonic activity first hand.  Fortunately, Jesus has the answers for how to navigate these kind of situations.

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” ~Matthew 12:22-24

Here, in the gospel of Matthew, we have an account of a man who was indeed oppressed by demons.  This affliction had rendered him both blind and mute.  He could not see and he could not speak.  That is quite a plight!

The man’s friend’s brought him to Jesus.  Apparently whoever was bringing him had faith that Jesus just might be able to help the man.  Jesus did.  The text says that Jesus healed him and the man became able to see and speak.

Jesus did an amazing miracle and completely changed this man’s life!  He healed and delivered him from demonic oppression.  Everyone standing around who witnessed this miracle was amazed.  They praised Jesus publically and began to believe that he may indeed be the Messiah saying, “Can this be the Son of David?”

But…when the scripture says but, we know they’re bound to be trouble coming.  But, not everyone was excited about this miraculous healing and deliverance performed before their very eyes.  It says that when the Pharisees heard it, they said Jesus had done this by Satan’s power.

Interesting, it was not when the Pharisees saw the miracle that they began to malign Christ, it was when they heard something.  What did they hear that caused them to utter such indecent, slanderous remarks?

They heard the people praising God and wondering at his authority and power.  They were insanely jealous of the applause, attention, and respect Jesus was getting.  This, they would not tolerate.  Those were the idols they most coveted and demanded of everyone.  It was nothing more than serious jealousy and pride that prompted the most evil, most derogatory accusations imaginable.

This is truly unbelievable.  Here, we have a man completely dispossessed and delivered from the suffering and torment of Satan.  We have a miraculous change wrought because his friends cared so much about him that they brought him to Christ – the miracle worker.  Christ miraculously heals him!  A man who could not speak!  A man who could not see!  A blind, mute man was now seeing and talking!  Everyone was amazed and yet the religious leaders are standing around spewing accusation and condemnation at the man who just restored this desperate soul to perfect health.

They saw the miracle but they refused to see the Savior.  All they saw was red because of their insane jealousy.  They thought that because Jesus was being exalted that they would be diminished.  If you know anything about prideful religious leaders, you know that they do not take well to being shown up.  Thinking only of themselves, they sought to malign Christ in the most derogatory and indecent way they could possibly think of.  They accomplished this by calling him demonic and attributing his healing power to Satan rather than God. Think about that.

“Christ is directly opposed to Satan’s malice; his favors to the devil’s mischiefs.” ~Matthew Henry

People who are of God do not accuse others of being demonically oppressed and possessed while balking and pointing in condemnation.  That is what jealous religious fakes do.  If a person was truly of God and thought another to truly be in bondage to demons, that person would do what Jesus did.  He would seek to help, to heal, and to pray over that poor, afflicted brother or sister for deliverance from God.  If they were friends of this individual, they would bring him to Jesus for help.  Friends don’t point and stare and make a show saying, “Look at him!  He’s demonic!  Maybe he should get that checked!” about a person who is clearly incapable of helping himself.  This is the difference between what Jesus did with someone who was indeed demonically oppressed vs. what the religious fakes did with someone who was doing the will of God that they sought to accuse and discredit and who was not demonically oppressed.  It’s a great contrast between men’s jealousy and God’s mercy.

Jesus answers these unfounded, low- blow accusations of those who needlessly hate and envy him this way:

25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. ~Matthew 12:25-30

Firstly, Jesus tells them that divided kingdoms don’t stand.  You cannot fight with yourself and prevail or expect any kind of victory.  Satan does not cast out Satan.  Why would Satan want a man healed of…him?  Makes no sense and doesn’t work.

Next, he exposes their hypocrisy.  Their own sons did the very same thing.  They prayed over people and asked the Lord to deliver others from demons by the Name of God.  They did not condemn their kids for doing this.  Rather, they esteemed them for doing this very thing.  It was their personal vendettas against Jesus and their spite and envy of him that caused them to accuse him of partnership with Satan.  They applauded others while condemning him for the exact same act.

“It is the way of malicious people, especially the malicious persecutors of Christ and Christianity, to condemn the same thing in those they hate, which they approve of and applaud in those they have a kindness for: the judgements of envy are made, not by things, but persons; not by reason, but prejudice.” ~Matthew Henry

The verdict Jesus give is that because they did this double talk and were guilty of favoritism and partiality when it was convenient for them, it will result in judgement.  Their own sons who were doing what Jesus did here that they applauded while condemning him – those guys would be their judges.  Favoritism and partiality has no place in God’s church and it will be judged.

Finally, Jesus shows that if he was casting out demons not by Satan as they suggested, but by God’s power, then the kingdom of God was here, now and they were refusing the very God they professed to be leaders and teachers for.  If they were not with him on the crusade against Satan, he told them they were against him.  There was no middle ground.  There was no neutrality.  If you are not tirelessly working to further God’s kingdom, you are hindering it according to Jesus Christ.

31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. ~Matthew 12:31-32

Lastly, if you see the work of the Spirit which is meant to draw you to the Lord and you call it Satanic or chalk it up to some other evil force instead of God and his amazing power, you cannot be forgiven because the very providence God has sent to draw you to repentance and salvation you have maligned and rejected as false and evil.  This was what these men did.

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My husband taught on Colossians 4 this past Sunday and there were a few things I wanted to study further and comment on because of their great importance.  After his discourse on interpersonal and familial relationships, Paul begins chapter four with a few last commands and then mentions quite a few people.  Being that most of them have weird names and most of us generally gloss right over the closing salutations of epistles, I want to look at those people specifically and glean some wisdom as to why he does this.

Firstly, Paul tells the Colossians to pray.  He instructs them to be both watchful and thankful in prayer.  He asks them to pray for he and his companions who are in prison for preaching the gospel, and especially that they would have opportunities to share the gospel.  He also asks that they would pray that he would be able to convey the message with clarity.

Next, he tells them to be wise – especially toward outsiders.  He is speaking of those outside the faith, also known as unbelievers.  He instructs them to always speak with grace, tastefully, if you will.  The reason he gives is so that they will know how to answer everyone.

Now, before he closes his letter, Paul begins to name names.  He mentions more than a few individuals and a couple groups of people.  It is quite important that we consider these people, who they were, and try to understand why he does this.  Why are these names included in the sacred scripture?  Let’s see.

The first person mentioned is Tychicus.  Paul said he was sending this man to tell the Colossians how he was – to give a report on Paul who was, of course, in prison for preaching the gospel.  He includes a man named Onesimus with Tychicus.  He calls Onesimus a faithful and beloved brother and adds that Onesimus is “one of you.”

Onesimus.  Now here’s a guy Paul devoted a whole book – Philemon – to.  The whole whopping one chapter of Philemon is a matter of Paul vouching for Onesimus.  Why does he do this?  He does it because Onesimus had been Philemon’s slave.  Onesimus had run away.  He had been a slave.  He’d done wrong in his past.  But he had been converted to Christ and Paul had discipled him.  He had ministered to Paul in prison and Paul knew first hand that Onesimus was a changed man, that he was trustworthy, and that he was a true brother in Christ.  Paul also knew that Philemon would not take well to Onesimus’s return.  He knew that it was very likely that he’d be looked down upon, excluded from fellowship, and thought ill of when he returned to Philemon.  Therefore Paul sends a letter to instruct Philemon to accept this man.  He does so once again here in Colossians.  Paul goes to great pains to include and honor Onesimus in the church, even after all the failure of his past.

It is very important that we get this.  It is important that we understand why Paul did this.  Why was this so incredibly important to Paul – so much so that he makes special mention of this man not once, but twice in the epistles?

Paul was once like Onesimus.  You and I were once like Onesimus.  Lost sinners do wrong things to others.  When we become Christians, people do not automatically believe that we are changed.  Church people, on many occasions, do not feel particularly inclined to include us after we have just come out of grievous sin and rolled on into their fellowship.   They’re scared.  They’re proud.  They’re self-protective.  Paul knew how people are – even Christian people.  Good leaders understand the difficulty diversity brings.  So, instead of excusing the suspicion and prejudice he knew his buddies were going to have against this man, he takes special time to honor and publicly vouch for him calling them all to grace, peace, acceptance, and inclusion of this particular brother in Christ.

Barnabas did as much for Paul in Acts 9.  Remember, Paul was a murderer, a Christian hater, an abusive religious leader.  Not many Christians were real anxious to trust and include him just because he said he knew Jesus now.  But Barnabas stood next to Paul.  He did what Paul is doing for Onesimus here.  Paul knew how it felt to be the one under a cloud of constant suspicion and mistrust.  Therefore, he instructs his church to include this man.  What a beautiful picture of grace.

Matthew Henry says this: “The meanest circumstance of life, and greatest wickedness of former life, make no difference in the spiritual relation among sincere Christians; they partake of the same privileges, and are entitled to the same regards.”

Next, we have Aristarchus.  Aristarchus was just mentioned as a fellow prisoner.

Then we have Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.  Remember, at one point Paul had big issues with Mark.  Mark had deserted while they were preaching the gospel and went home.  The next time when Mark wanted to go on a mission with Paul, Paul absolutely refused to take him.  Here, though, we see great evidence that Paul and Mark were completely reconciled.  By making mention of Mark here, and even giving great recommendation and honor to Mark in view of the churches, Paul proves his forgiving spirit and that reconciliation was full and final.

This is what Christians are called to do even when disagreements are sharp and strong.  This is the gospel applied to our relationships.  Christians are not at liberty to stay at odds with one another no matter how severe the disagreement is.  We are called to reconcile – and reconcile to the point of previous peace or better.  This is a very important principle found in Paul’s mention of Mark here.

Next we have a man named Jesus who was called Justus of whom little is known and then Epaphras.  Epaphras is honored for his faithful prayers for the church.  He was actually the founder of the Colossian Church.  Then, we have Luke the doctor and Demas mentioned.  Demas later forsook Paul and in 2 Timothy 4:10. Paul calls Demas out by name for his sin.

Now this, remember is the same guy who just instructed his church to always make sure their conversations were seasoned with salt and full of grace – especially with outsiders/unbelievers – yet he writes his very public letter to Timothy that this particular guy forsook him and states his specific sin – loving the world.  The fact that Paul mentions Demas here with honor tells us that Paul had no personal issue with Demas before he called out his sin and his name individually for all to know.  There’s a lesson here.  It is not wrong to call out sin in leadership – even by name when necessary.  (See 1 Timothy 5:20)

Next we have Nympha.  Paul greets Nympha and describes her as one who has a church in her house.  Gasp!  A girl!  With a church!  In her house?!  What?!! Yep.  I think that greeting speaks for itself.

Finally, Paul mentions Archippus.  Here is an interesting instruction.  Paul tells the members of the Colossian Church to admonish this minister – their minister!  The people are called to admonish their leader and remind him to make certain he is working diligently for the gospel.  Imagine that.  Wow.  Kinda puts to rest some misconceptions of the religious rules we are indoctrinated with today, huh?

I don’t know about you but I am just amazed at the amount of wisdom found just in the listing of these names in this ending salutation.  There is great wisdom, instruction, and importance in understanding who these people were and why Paul takes the time to mention them.  They are thus:

  1. Your past should not dictate your future within God’s church.  You can do great things for God even if you were the worst kind of sinner in the lowest social position!  Good leaders will build up the lowly and call others to do the same.
  2. Your disputes with other believers, regardless of how sharp, can and should be fully reconciled.  Restoration among all believers is the gospel lived out.  
  3. Present good standing in the church does not excuse poor future behavior and sin.  There should be no good old boy system within God’s church!  Good leaders are never partial and they give honor and call out sin as needed no matter who is involved.
  4. Girls can have churches!  Churches can be in houses!  Hallelujah!
  5. Members can and should admonish their leaders. 

Lastly, Paul concludes with asking the Colossians to, “remember my chains.”  Think of me.  Pray for me.  Be faithful.  Remember my suffering for Christ.  Remember me and remember why I’m here.  We should all remember those who suffer and are persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ as well.  Amen.

 

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