Romans 4

  1. Background:

In the last three chapters, Paul has written to the early Roman church to conclude that all men are sinners, both Jews and Gentiles alike. All men counted righteous before God by the propitiation of Jesus Christ. Hopefully, by focusing on the Gospel, this argument will alieve the racial stress the early Roman church is facing so they may be able to strengthen their witness to the world for Christ.

2. What Can We Observe About God?

He is a God who brings the dead back to life and creates things from nothing.

 “… before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.”

Verse 17

Bible readers can make this observation very early in the Bible story. In creation, we see God’s ability to make everything from nothing only with the power of His word. Later we see God’s power through Elijah bringing the widow’s son back to life again in Lazarus and then ultimately in Jesus Christ. Paul is applying this truth to the context that God can bring about His promises to Abraham even when there was no reason for hope.

“Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.”

Verse 18

Paul argues that Jews should not boast that they are Abraham’s physical descendants and therefore in favor with God. Instead, they should take notice that God imputed righteousness to Abraham’s righteousness through faith. Indeed, Abraham’s boasting wasn’t in the physical attributes that somehow availed himself to righteousness.

“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. “

Verse 3

His old age and the barrenness of Sarah’s womb are the backdrop wherein Abraham believed God and God imputed righteousness. Paul delivers this lesson to the Jews who might be boasting in their physical lineage for salvation. Even Abraham’s redemption did not come about this way; how much more can his children make such claims?

Abraham’s righteousness was God’s work in otherwise impossible circumstances. Abraham believed God could do it and would keep His promises. Paul said, “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief” (Verse 17). God counted Abraham as righteous and sinless. “And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness” (Verse 22).

Abraham probably understood very little what God would do to redeem the human race, but God did not require perfect understanding for salvation, only faith. In our situation, God neither requires good works or knowledge of what God will do. He only requires the same thing that He expected of Abraham, belief in God’s promises.

This kind of faith was put to the test when God asked for Isaac’s life. How could God keep His promise if Isaac could not live? The conundrum weighed heavily on Abraham, but he believed that if God could create life from nothing, He could somehow preserve the life of Isaac.

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

Hebrews 11:17-19

3. How does this passage point to Jesus and the Gospel?

The direct connection between Abraham’s faith and the Gospel follows in verses 23 through 25, 

Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

Lessons from Abraham and the Old Testament apply to Christ’s covenant, namely, belief unto forgiveness of all sin and righteousness with God. The promise is clear, “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Our place in the Gospel and Christ’s covenant is the same as Abraham’s and God’s promise. We believe Jesus Christ and God imputes righteousness to us.

4. How do we apply this passage?

If you are an unbeliever, the passage calls for us to look on the cross of Jesus and consider it. Could it be that Jesus did die for sinners on the cross? Could it be that God did raise Him from the dead? If your conclusion is yes, then you can be saved. The conclusion that God did do these things is the drawing work of Jesus of people to Himself.  

If it weren’t for the gospel message, none of us could decide to find God and begin a relationship with Him. He is drawing people to Himself through the cross’s message. The desire to turn to Him is the work of God’s Spirit interacting in your heart, giving you light to understand His purpose with the cross.

If you are a believer, the subthemes of Abraham’s trial will apply to you. The same faith that marks the beginning of our covenant with God will be put on trial as we walk this world. Our “Isaacs” will be required of God. In the interest of preaching the Gospel everywhere, we will be put in positions to trust God where impossibilities loom.  

Do not be so self-centered as to think this passage deals with your own ideas of success and comfort in this world. The Holy Spirit inspired the new testament to guide the church to serve God and get the Gospel to dying people. The truths that teach God’s great trials of faith apply to the lives devoted to Him in service, not to Christians who have yet to understand this world is about Him and not about us.

Genesis 1 — Foundations: Who is God

 1. Background

Our starting point with God must start with a simple statement, “In the beginning God”. No explanations–no test tubes exist to do experiments on God, just a simple message that is either accepted by the reader or not. No matter if you accept or deny this statement if you want to know any more about this God, then we must start with who He is, the God who is there.

2. What Can We Learn about God?

In the beginning, God was there, and we were not.

He created all that exists. He did not merely rearrange cosmic material but instead created all that we can sense from nothing. Our relationship to Him must reflect that He is God and we are the created. We are created beings in His world, and our very life flows from His sustaining power. Though God gave us a special place in His created order, we do have the authority to make judgments of Him, but He does have the authority to make judgments of us.

On a much smaller scale, one who develops and creates a piece of art has the sole authority to decide what to do with it once it is completed. The artist may choose to put it on display or decide to scrap the project and do something else. No other opinion has the deciding power like the author.

But someone here might object: “But what gives God the right to make judgments against me?”

Because God is Creator, He has the right to do with us as He pleases just as much as He can with non-animate objects. Our life exists because He has decreed it. Furthermore, Verse 26 and 27 explains, He especially made us in His image.

 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:26-27

This unique mark is given and the privilege to govern His creation to us emphasizes our responsibility to Him. Someone today might object to what is written in His word, but in the end, He is God, and the world’s diversity of opinions cannot alter that.

Paul, the Apostle, brought this truth to bear on the Athenians whose religion contradicted only one Creator God. Instead, they held that there are many gods who all have their distinct realm of power. Today there are many polytheist religions in the world. But when Paul traveled to Athens, he explained that God affects everything in our lives, but nothing we possess could ever change or reduce Him. (Acts 17:24-25)

If wisdom were the only factor in our decision to fear God’s word or not, then it would be more than enough reason to what God expects from whom He has created in His image. Very early, just after the creation narrative, God reveals in His word that if we do nothing worthy of judgment, then we will be accepted of Him; there would be no need for His judgment against us.

 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.

Genesis 4:7

If we do right, then there is no need for judgment. If there is judgment today, that only can point to the guilt of the judged one. In the beginning, God created a good world that functioned without disorder. There is no judgment to be seen in the first two chapters of the Bible because there was no transgression–no death, no decay, no disease, no sin.

3. How does this Passage Point to Jesus?

Judgment at the cross.

Our world is no longer the world of Genesis 1 and 2. If you haven’t taken to time yet to read chapter two, please do so now and observe the harmony and delight between God and man. They enjoyed each other’s company without a guilt present and with no sin to hide.

But once sin has entered in by chapter three, humankind lost their intimacy with their Creator, having rebelled against Him. They knew shame and now had something to hide. The guilt of sin left them without access to God, who is Holy and is without sin. God drove them from the garden and His presence without a way back to the relationship with Him they once enjoyed. But before they left, God clothed with the skins of an animal, the first sacrifice. This sacrifice did not remove their sin but was a sign that God did not immediately enact judgment upon them. A plan of God was set into motion, but a sacrifice nevertheless had to be made for sinners.

By Genesis 6, the entire world was thoroughly corrupted by sin.

 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

Genesis 6:5-7

God is a God who will judge sin. His willingness to show mercy in no way takes from His sense of justice and righteousness. As the Creator-Judge of His creation, He will condemn all that sits in rebellion against His created order. If death should come onto all sinners, then it is right and just. It isn’t shocking that a judge would judge when a crime has been committed. But it would be arguably wrong for a judge to forgo judgment when justice demands it. Therefore, God’s mercy is the more shocking event between God’s judgment and compassion in the Bible.

God shockingly finds favor in one man, Noah, and his family. God’s plan of mercy will rest on Him and continue to rescue sinners from judgment. God’s redemptive plan ultimately leads us to God’s own Son, who chose to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin. This sacrifice, unlike the one made in the garden, actually does remove sin.

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 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;

Romans 3:24-25

There is redemption in Christ. The reason why there is redemption no other is because no one besides God can call you “back, to redeem. What I mean is, the action of redemption implies something was lost but is now being bought back. Can another god call you “back”? When did you ever belong to the “gods.” Where human beings made in the image of Zeus or Buddha or some other being? Is not humanity stamped with His mark since the beginning? Being sold under sin is a condition only God can purchase us back from.

The resurrection is the ultimate sign of God’s redemptive plan in Jesus alone. What other means do you have that can rescue you from the grave? Will you trust your strength or your dilapidated sense of goodness? He alone is the means of rescue and return of sinners back to God.

God’s motivation behind all this is the goodness of His heart. His love is unfathomable and is the reason we should all be wood into His presence. When anyone grasps the magnitude of God’s love and what He is willing to do for His enemies, let alone His children, how can there remain any more skepticism of His character?

Yes, God is fiercely angry over our sin. But Christ was the propitiation supplied by God. If we were somehow able to propitiate God’s wrath with our sacrifice, then God could now say that we are saved freely by His grace. In the end, God satisfies His wrath through His own sacrifice–His plan, His Lamb, His Righteousness!

Even the faith that is required to be saved is all of Him.

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

Romans 3:22

But what isn’t faith something I do? Isn’t it something I produce? No, even faith is a gift. Roman’s 10:17 explains how faith is produced, and it isn’t by anything we do, but God delivers the word to you in the form of the Gospel. (So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.) Hearing the Gospel message provides the grace and means to faith needed to receive God’s righteousness. The end result is that no one can boast on their own works, logic, or intelligence. If it weren’t for God giving the Gospel message, there would be no salvation!

4. Application:

As a young child, I heard the gospel message. With my unlearned lips, I confessed what God had told me. I am a sinner in need of His son for salvation. If it weren’t for God finding me first with His Gospel message, giving me the grace to understand and repent, I would still be lost today in my sin and ignorance of God. All glory to God who saves sinners through His own counsel!

Romans 3

  1. Background

Paul has set an intellectual but caring trap for the Jews who would be reading his letter.  In chapter one, Paul would have had everyone, particularly the Jewish Christians in Rome, nodding in agreement with him as he set out to explain sin and what sinners do.  But in Chapter two Paul sprung his trap as he concluded the Jews also to be condemn under the same sin they happily condemn others for.  The result of Paul’s argument leaves Jews and Gentiles on an even plane as the result of sin.  For Jews who saw themselves as more valuable subjects in God’s kingdom because of their race would have taken offense at Paul’s arguments.  

So Paul begins to deal with the Jew’s objection before they even have a chance to raise a question. It is as if Paul could hear their return arguments in his mind as he writes and so chapter three begins with the question, “Then What advantage is there to being a Jew?”  Paul will repeat this kind of argumentation through his letter, asking question in the place of those who would object and give an answer.  It would doe us well to remember that Paul has already explained his concern for people and his desire is to see them come to knowledge of God rather than to simply win arguments (see Rom 1:14-16).

  1. Theological Observations (What we learn about God):

The exhibition of God’s faithfulness and righteousness is of utmost importance to God.

“4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” 

Paul has self-imposed the question in verse three,”For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Or in other words: “since there are unbelieving Jews, does that mean God is not trust-worthy?”

The Old Testament Word of God was given to the Jewish nation, but many of them have stumbled upon it, rejecting it and rejecting God. Their rejection resulted in their captivity into Babylon. At the time of this letter to Rome, the Jewish nation is under Roman tribute and the leaders still widely reject God having just recently murdered Jesus Christ. Paul’s question comes into play as some might see the Jew’s rejection of God has a sign that God is not trust-worthy, either in His own promises, or His power to maintain a nation in unity with Himself.

Shouldn’t the Almighty possess enough power within Himself to maintain a peoples allegiance to Himself? The answer in verse four tells us that God is deeply concerned about His name, particularly the trustworthiness of His name. The reason why there are those who reject God even after handling His word is because of sin, which is the summarizing point of all of chapter three.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Verse 23

The ultimate day of revelation for this truth is the day that verse four is alluding to, a great judgement when all men will be shown to be liars and God be true. The focal point of judgement day is God and His faithfulness, His righteousness in contrast to man’s unfaithfulness and rebellion.

The fall of humanity began when we questioned God’s character. We found what seemed to us to be a logical reason to cast aside God to be free of His authority. We suppose that God must not be all that good after all if He should deny me something so sweet as the object of my lust. Further on, we suppose there is no God because of the delay of His judgement.

All sin and rebellion against Him is predicated on the suspicion of God’s faithfulness and goodness. This depravity deepens into complete denial of Him altogether as we place ourselves on His throne. All humanity is guilty of this. All have sinned and come short, so let it be shown once and for all on that day that all men are liars and only God is just.

Our ability to remain self-centered even as we read the Bible makes us to only see ourselves in God’s day of judgement, as though that day is focus on self and what we’ve done. But the main character of God’s day is God when all knees will bow and confess He is indeed Lord before the celestial court.

“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

Romans 14:11

If then the judgement is more about God than it is about us, how then should we prepare for such a day? If only those who were heading to judgement would think on this truth for any length of time, they might consider what is required of us from His perspective rather than our own. Does not the world religions revolve around doing “good” deeds that we define as being good or bad? But what if the God who judges us doesn’t agree with our moral standards? Will we be able to stand against Him in our day in court with Him, as He opens the books to our lives?

What hope do I have then if I already am already convicted of sin headed for that day of judgement? What argument will God accept on my behalf?

Only God is good.

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:”

Romans 3:10

Usually when modern people say that someone is a good to them, they mean that person is particularly kind or generous. And while God certainly is those things, the goodness given in the scope of Romans three is a standard of which no one else can attain to. This good standard is what God’s own sinless perfect characterizes. You’ll see from Paul’s own rhetorical objections that he is speaking about the moral character of God being “good”.

I paraphrase Paul’s own refuting questions: “Can God judge us if our sin is used by Him to show His own goodness and glory? Will He remain faithful to His own promises even though some of His own people reject Him? ” He has rhetorically asked in verse five, “Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance?” and again answer his own question with another rhetorical question in verse six, “then how shall God judge the world (if He isn’t good, then how is He qualified to judge?) All of the above questions all have a common denominator, “Is God good”?

This has been the bottom line for humanity since Genesis 3 all the way through human history. Adam and Even began doubting God’s goodness in garden of perfection. The could not see past the one prohibition to see the perfect life they have been given (and when I say they, I mean “we”). Even when God gives the Hebrews salvation from Egypt and gives them good gifts, humanity still manages to find ways to doubt God’s goodness and sin against God.

God has chosen the Hebrew race, but does that make them superior to others? No, because all are found to be sinners before Him. People have mistakingly judged the sinners of the Bible has “them” and failed to see that the story speaks of “us”. God has concluded all to be sinners, not just the ones we read about.

If we all have failed God, in want sense can we boast against another? If we find our own standards of goodness, then yes, we say I’m not like that sinner over there. But this attitude is completely ignorant that the only standard by which we are finally judged is God’s. If we judge ourselves by any other standard than God’s we will define some in our world as good and others bad. But when we give ourselves over to God’s word and allow Him to define standards the end result is that only He is good and we are not. There is therefore, no reason at all to boast in the supposed superiority of one’s own merits. Even the best of our merits have “fallen short”.

Still if all we have done is weighed the goodness verses the badness of our deeds, we are still missing the point of what we truly need. Humanity does not need to enact “better” morals. Even if we could do better, then whose standard are we using to decide what is better or not? Are we not still ignoring God’s standard? God says in verse eleven, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”

Our greatest fault is also our greatest need. Our greatest need is to seek God and to know Him for that is what we were created to do, and yet herein lies the crux of the human problem. Sin has corrupted us to the point that without an act of God’s power, there is no situation where people seek God on their own. All we seek is our own and if anyone is said to seek God, it is only for the end result of achieving the intentions of our own heart. This is the same result in every religion of the world, no matter its name.

It is this that God refers when He says, “There is none that understandeth”. Sin has blinded our heart to see any further past the desires of our own lusts. Once sin entered in, we forsook God’s definition of good and came up with our own definition for all sorts of things. “Holiness” no longer refers to God’s immaculate perfection that only belongs to Him, but to any deity we deem to be superior and relatively clean. “Sacred” no longer means something that belongs to God’s special use, but to any object or idea that humanity as exalted above ourselves. Many religious leaders learn to control minds through their own definitions of what is sacred and what is not.

To understand what God wants us to understand about our sin, all one needs to do is sincerely match themselves up against God’s law. God gave the law not so we might justify ourselves, but that all would become guilty before Him. With that confess of guiltiness before God, we are one step closer to reconciliation.

“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

Romans 3:19-20

Our guiltiness before God should bring us to the conclusion that only He is good. On God’s part (and you can take it from His word directly), in calling out our guilt so plainly is not some form of snobbery where God relishes in His superiority, but rather is a necessary step for sinners to take we might turn to Him in faith. The faith and belief God wants is such that believes that He is good and when we submit ourselves to His will, that is good also. If He should direct our path in a direction we would not normally ourselves take, that too is good. In fact, obeying Him would be better.

When one believes that only God is good and we are not, then our obedience and offerings to Him are willing and reasonable responses to Him, knowing that He works all things to the good of those that love Him.

His Plan Delivers a Blessing Full of Many Gifts

I admit having trouble thinking of a word or title that can adequately define this particular character of God. When God accomplished one particular thing, many things that benefit believers are simultaneously accomplished. Furthermore the benefits to be enjoyed by believers come at a great cost to Him, but no cost at all to us. Is this simply the goodness and love of God? Yes, but it is also the exhibition of His righteousness in the means He chooses to accomplish His will, namely, the propitiation of Christ.

 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;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Verses 25-26

The propitiative sacrifice of Christ not only exhibited God’s righteousness, but also imputes His righteousness on sinners who could never dream of be so. He is the Just and the Justifier through the means of Christ.

If you’re wondering what could anyone say that might tarnish God’s holiness, then it is the idea that God could forgiven sins without a just payment for “sins that are past”. But what Paul is revealing is that God was able to forgo punishment on those who deserved it because He was reserving His wrath to be place on the Jesus Christ, our Propitiation. So many good things were accomplished in this one act on the cross, including the defeat of Satan and the fulfillment of God’s promises since Genesis 3:15.

What word is there that could ever really describe this awesome character of God seeing that so many elements are rolled into just a few verses? The only adequate verbiage I have ever seen is recording in Revelation when the hosts fall before God cry out “Holy Holy Holy” in utter amazement.

4. Application

Paul’s application should be mention of course, in verse 29:

 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also

Verse 29

The disputing between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church has implication for God’s people everywhere. We have absolutely no grounds to pit one race or kind of people over another. All are sinners equally and all are saved through the same means in Christ. Referring again the Revelation scene around the throne has recorded that all tongues, races, and tribes will be present together in eternity for the worship our wonderful God!

While the world attempts to solve their social problems through human statutes, human princes, and even sheer violent force, the church only needs to be focused on the heart of the gospel until the return of this world’s only true King. Though, in this final age before Jesus’ return, we may strive for a better society through noble means, still, sin corrupts all that men may do. There is no solution outside of God’s plan to create a new heaven and a new earth. The Gospel is the means by which He does so, and we already see the seeds of the gospel taking root in places all over the earth. The fullness of the Kingdom of God will not come until this age is fulfilled and the Lord’s return is fulfilled. So work while you have the light and serve Him with all your heart.

Jeremiah 10 — Foundations: God’s Character

  1. Background

God’s people held a special relationship with Him in a covenant. But when God’s people were unfaithful to Him, He would eventually allow them to be taken captive by their enemies. When Judah was invaded and captured by Babylon, the silversmiths and craftsmen began making idols in hopes their idols would save them. Jeremiah, God’s prophets, warned them that it only further aggravated God’s jealousy, bringing more judgment upon them.

2. What can we observe about God?

There is none like Him.

Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; Thou art great, and thy name is great in might.

Verse 6

Can the God who created the universe be reduced to a tree stump found in the forest? (v3) Can the God who said, “Let there be light!” be domesticated to a wooden figure that cannot speak at all? (v5) Can the God who gave men life and ability be made again by man’s imagination? (v9)

If the God of the Bible is true, then He cannot be reduced or domesticated to finally be placed on a shelf like other idols men have made. Instead, His throne sits above all nations governing them, and those who rebel against Him cannot stand against His judgment when it comes.

But the Lord is the true God, He is the living God, and an everlasting king: At his wrath the earth shall tremble, And the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.

Verse 10

None of those idols one finds about the shelf or in the temples have made the heavens and earth. And in the end, their names will be forgotten, just like the people who made them (v10). Only one God created all that exists with the power of His word (v12-13). When men make an idol and ask its blessing, we only prove our great ignorance and further condemn ourselves to darkness (v14). Can a breathless idol provide you with life?

God is a jealous God.

What made God so jealous is His people already knew that there is another God but Him. In their nation’s constitution, it says this:

 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

So when Judah began producing idols of wood and silver, this only deepened their sin against Him. They are supposed to His special people, His unique inheritance. Still, just like a spouse who has been discovered with another lover, God’s jealousy incited His wrath against them in judgment.

Our God is a jealous God. It is also written in their constitution:

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: 

EXODUS 34:14

3. How does this passage point to Jesus?

Through Jesus’ covenant, the Gospel can bring others into an intimate relationship with our one and only Creator.

God’s jealousy only exists with His people. When His people betrayed Him with idols, He became jealous because of His love for them.

Since thou wast precious in my sight, Thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, And people for thy life.

Isaiah 43:4

If it can be said that people can have an intimate relationship with God, then one can understand God’s jealousy and anger when the objects of His love are unfaithful. How then does an outsider begin a relationship with God?

If we return to Athens where (last week’s lesson) we saw Paul trying to convince idol worshippers to believe God and become a Christian, we’ll find our answer.

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:  

Acts 17:29-30

First, we take what God has revealed about Himself and allow it to change our beliefs. He isn’t an idol that can be made by men. God commands all who will come to Him to repent from false gods, who are not gods at all. If we are going to begin a relationship with God, we first renounce other pretenders and false gods.

That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:12-13

God has chosen a covenant through Christ’s sacrifice to bring us near to Him. His death on the cross removes our sin and the transgressions we made in ignorance, and His resurrection began the covenant that ensures our hope in knowing God. Even though we were once strangers to God, we may draw near to God through Jesus Christ, who purchased us.

The result of God’s covenant brings outsiders into a loving relationship with God. His protective jealousy also extends to you. If God used something so valuable as the blood of Christ in your redemption, then rest assured that God is infinitely invested in your relationship with Him and He will jealously defend it!

4. Application:

We give God our allegiance and take part in God’s covenant when we recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior. We believe God raised Him from the dead therefore initiated the covenant we enjoy with God!

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Romans 10:9-10

If you desire to be saved, you can by repenting false gods and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ today!

Romans 2

  1. Background

After Paul’s introduction, he wastes no time getting to the point. The church in Rome is a mixed church with both Jews and “Greek” Christians. As a church planter all over the world, he knows what kind of problems the Roman church must be facing. So how does he deal with the self-righteous attitude of the Jewish Christians? He responds by giving the world one of the most influential arguments for the Gospel.

2. What Can we observe about God?

God’s is patient and kind with rebels so that they would turn to Him in repentance.

“..despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering: not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”

Verse 4

By the end of chapter one, Paul had set a literary trap for his Jewish readers. He knew they would be nodding their head at all the terrible things sinners do, even the sins Paul had specially written. But at the turn of the page in chapter two Paul delivers a piercing argument to the self-righteous. “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (v1)”

The problem self-righteous people have is they cannot see how God is to them because they cannot see their own guilt. If you reject God’s assesment of your life and fail to admit your guilt before Him, you will see little need for His grace and forgiveness.

It is far easier to see the guilt of everyone else. When Paul referred to sinners and what they do in the third person, there was not conviction in this at all for someone not considering their own selves. But Paul has abruptly turned the argument on the reader so now every thing that is true about sinners in chapter one is also true about the reader in chapter two.

For the self-righteous Jews, this puts them on even ground with the “sinners” in their midsts. But the wonderful truth found in God’s heart is that He is kind-hearted and patient. His patience serve the purpose of giving you time to realize the depth of your sin and perhaps confess God is right in His assessment of you.

Even though God is great in mercy, He will not make room for sin to continue.

“But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God .”

Verse 5

There will be a day that God has decided when all the sin that hasn’t been atoned will be brought to judgment before Him. In this judgment all sin will be accounted for and dealt with as He will “render to every man according to his deeds”, v6.

In that day of judgement, there will be a general separated of those who have done well unto eternal life against those who have perished in their sin unto “tribulation and anguish”. This is what every Jewish member of the church would know, but Paul’s point is in verse 11, “For there is no respect of persons with God.”

There may be those in the Roman church who feel their righteousness before God is already established and is to be expected. After all, they are Jews, God’s chosen people, and have known the laws of God since birth. But Paul continues to say that those who sin knowing the law also are judged the same as those who sin without knowing God’s law. Knowledge of the Bible or of God’s law does not provide oneself with righteousness neither does it atone for sin.

“For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.”

Verse 12

With this dichotomy, Paul is concluding the religious and the irreligious to all be under sin and death without distinction though they would seem completely opposite to an average person. That is why the goodness of God cannot be said it only leads to religious knowledge or an understanding of God’s laws.

If the weight of one’s sin only provokes oneself to study and gain knowledge, then God’s wrath would still abide on such a person even with all his knowledge. The purpose of the law is not knowing it but fulfilling it. Just as the next verse says, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”

Such a statement begs the questions, is there anyone that can fulfill the law and justify themselves before God? Wouldn’t those who stand the best chance at this be God’s chosen people, the Jews? In Paul’s time being Jewish meant one had the privileges of growing hearing God’s law, but only those who fulfill the law will be justified before God. Hearing it often does not in itself add virtue to one’s account.

Finally, there will be a day when God’s patience has run it’s course and there will be judgement even of the secrets of every man’s heart. On this day, it will not matter how well someone manage to keep up appearances to seem virtuous, but will draw out the sinful thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”

Verse 16

God desires a true and authentic relationship with His people.

“But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”

Verse 29

Is it so hard to image that God desires real commitment in His own relationships? Parents love their kids to trust and obey them. Spouses cherish faithfulness above all else in their relationships. This genuine relationship with God manifests itself in the way we carry His words and His law.

There is no relationship with God outside of the way He has revealed Himself with His Word. He is God and we are not which suggest that if we are to continue with God, we must be able to accept His evaluation of our lives. It would not seem to be such a difficult thing today knowing His love is unfailing and He thinks on our good. But sin has damaged us. We cannot without His help trust His like as we were created to do.

3. How Does the Passage Point to Jesus?

God’s patience points to Jesus Christ.

What is the difference between God’s patience and delayed justice? If delayed justice is evil, then how do we reconcile God’s patience in dealing with the sinful human race? Doesn’t humanity continue to store up more evil deeds every passing day? Even in the Scriptures itself bears witness that delayed justice only promotes more evil:

11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

Ecclesiastes 8:11

However when we speak of “delayed justice” we assume that the crime or sin has been left unsettled and a debt remains to be paid. On the New Testament side of the cross, we readily look to the cross for the full payment for the sins of humanity. On the Old Testament side of the cross, there was yearly reminders that the debt had yet to be paid in the day of atonement, but the payment from God’s Lamb is forth coming.

When John saw Jesus walking he declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” This action was “finished” on the cross. The cross is where justice was delivered in full for the sins of the world. Some would say this is arguing for universalism, a belief that all will be saved because Jesus atones for all.

The Bible doesn’t teach Jesus atoned for all sin, but He did die for sin in that if anyone turns to God in repentance, they will find atonement to be available to them without any further cost to what Jesus has already paid. God’s goodness patiently points sinners to repentance and faith in Christ!

God’s mercy and judgement meet at the cross of Christ.

God waits for sinners to repent in His patience. At the cross, we see what God was waiting to do and is now patiently drawing people to. Jesus took the wrath of God against sin for us so we might be justified in escaping the penalty, but for those who only harden themselves with “impenitent hearts”, for them, there is only God’s wrath such as the wrath Jesus experienced on the cross. The penalty against sin was clearly sin at the cross as God judged His own Son.

Therefore, there is coming a day of reckoning against those who refuse the final goodness of God, the sacrifice of His own Son. The clock on God’s patience will have its final tick and all sin that has not been atoned for at the cross will be judged finally.

Through the resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit, God brings about an authentic relationship with His people.

Paul refers to inward Jews and outward Jews, but what does that mean exactly? It means God desires knowledge of Himself to be inside a person rather than just an outward conformity. God wants obedience and allegiance to Himself flow from a willing heart rather than coercion or desire for self-advancement.

Can there be a genuine relationship between two people if one party is only using the other for sell advancement? Can there exist genuine friendship when one feels as though the are forced to say nice friendly things to the other? God’s solution to this was Jesus.

God became a man and offered eternal life to men in a way that separates those who would use God and those who would genuinely come to love God. Those who come to God predicate their faith on God’s faithfulness to His word, His authority, and His kindness. All of this is expressed by Jesus as He taught God’s word as unyielding truth but yet showed compassion to broken sinners. Jesus authority was clearly demonstrated as the dead were raised, sick were healed, and demons cast out.

Now that we serve a risen Jesus Christ, He stands alive today directing through the Holy Spirit the business of transforming lives. The transformation that takes place in a believer is such that ultimately brings about a genuine relationship with God.

While we yet live, we still have earthly desires, but with the presence of the Holy Spirit, there is clearly a work being done that is changing hearts and minds towards God, not just outward compliance, but an inward yearning to love God and seek His approval.

Application:

Many verses can be found that teach how the above truths ought to be applied:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me

Galatians 2:20

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 

Colossians 3:1-2

Because Jesus has accomplished all that I can not, I have my identity built firmly in Him. But there is left for me to discipline my life after my new identity. Just as muscles can be strengthened so my faith in Christ can be exercised, stretched, pulled, or even damaged.

Simply living life will provide enough opportunities to trust God and live for Christ. In such cases one will either choose self or one will choose God. Choosing Christ will mean setting aside earthly things by sacrifice, giving, and discipline. Just as it takes discipline to lose weight, so discipline and sacrifice is needed to set our already earthly affections on things of God. But it can be done because those in Christ have the help of the Holy Spirit!

In response to these truths I will list out areas of my life that can be given to God. These “areas” are mostly likely blocks of time in my life that are unyielded or in conflict with God’s direction. Many baby Christians learning to trust God may need to yield their jobs and hobbies that conflict with Church times. Other may need begin yielding their tithes or “firstfruits” over to the Lord.

For me I will take inventory of my time, ministry, family life and judge for myself what disciplines I’m missing. I am sure the Holy Spirit will help me understand what I’m missing. With His help, how can I know what I don’t know?

Romans 1

  1. Background

Paul is writing to Christians in Rome from Corinth just as he is preparing to bring the offering of money to the church in Jerusalem. Chapter 16 tells us Phebe from Cenchraea (where Paul is writing) will be carrying the letter to the Romans.

The foremost issue of the letter and its reason for composition is the question whether or not Gentile Christians should be circumcised and follow the law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul’s major point throughout the entire letter is that Christians are saved from sin through Christ alone and not by keeping the works of the law, including receiving circumcision.

2. What we learn about God.

God desires His own to be separated away from the common.

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God. “

Though God’s desire for people and things to be separated unto Himself isn’t the main idea of the chapter, yet it still adds to the flavor of the overall message. The gospel’s fruit separates the holy out from the sinful by transformation of sinners in Christ. The work of the gospel continues to separate or sanctify believers through the Holy Spirits transforming work. Paul identifies himself as an especially called out servant separated to God’s purpose. God has always had His called out people or things separated for His own pleasure and use.

(ot verse, separated)

Belonging to God in this special way is what makes something or someone “holy”. Holiness is the state of something or someone that belongs to God in entirety without the taint of sin. For human sinners, our holiness does not come from ourselves but is imputed by Christ who died to give us His holiness. Therefore, anyone in Christ can offer themselves as a holy offering to the Lord totally separated for His service. Such is Paul’s case, “a servant of Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.”

We cannot call ourselves to apostleship, however through Christ and the gospel we can offer our lives as a holy gift to the Lord’s service.

God desires the Gospel to be preached especially where it has yet to be preached.

“I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.” v16

This is not just Paul’s desire, for his own desires come from the working of the Holy Ghost in his life. Paul explains why he hasn’t been able to visit the Romans as of yet. It is because other places have a greater need for the gospel. And where the need is greater there also lies a greater debt to those who need to hear it.

This is also telling of God’s heart in the matter. When He inaugurated the Gospel plan by becoming flesh and working in Israel, He had at that time also held the need of the world in His heart. He would train men who could take the message for Him. This was done not out of need to supplement a lack of ability to take it Himself, but according to His design. He desires for those who have been blessed by the Gospel to also be its preachers.

As it comes down to the question, where then should I preach? While there are other scriptures to consider, do not forget to consider this one as it reveals to us the heart of God. He wants the most needy to hear.

“Righteousness by faith” reveals that God wants an intimate relationship with you.

“For there is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” v17

This verse communicates what every person needs, righteousness with God. Without righteousness with God, the scriptures conclude all to die in their sin, forever separated from God in the Lake of Fire. Only righteousness with God will deliver someone from eternal punishment. That righteous with God is delivered by faith in Christ.

However behind this verse is the heart of God when you ask the question what does God looking for when He extends righteousness to other? He is looking for the relationship that only faith can build.

Sometimes we use the word “faith” in a way that doesn’t describe biblical faith at all. To have faith in God does not merely mean we simply acknowledge with wavering lips that He exists somewhere in the heavens. No, this faith, the biblical faith is a faith that trusts and risks everything on the reputation of God.

Let me explain in a much smaller category. When you want to buy a used car, you want to look for a salesman who is trustworthy–someone with a name of faithful reputation. You want to believe that this person will not cheat you, but give you a fair deal. Unless you are a master mechanic, you will have no choice but to have faith in the person you are buying from. In this scenario you are practicing something that is much closer to biblical faith.

God wants you to risk everything on Him–your marriage, you children, your job, your life. Paul inserts a quotation from Habakuk to show this has been a biblical principle all throughout God’s revelation of Himself. The quotation says, “the just shall live by faith”. And so everything that we have that constitutes our life is risked on God’s reputable name.

At first, because you do not know God, this faith may look shaky, but faith builds in intimacy and produces the relationship that God wants to have with you. God is wanting and yearning the relationship that He created you for–by faith in Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

God is angry over our sin.

For the wrath of God is revealed form heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” v18

To ignore God’s anger and focus only on the love of God is to distort Him and ultimately worship a false god. God’s love would not be complete without understanding His anger and specifically what makes Him angry.

Just as people often misuse the biblical idea of faith in modern vernacular, so the word “sin” is often misused. It is not adequate enough to say sin is doing bad or naughty things because that would not explain the magnitude of God’s wrath and judgement that is manifested in the world today. It also doesn’t help anyone understand why there is a hell and place of torment day and night.

If faith is what God wants from us so that we might enter into an intimate relationship with Him, then sin is everything that thwarts God’s will for man. If I desire most of all to have a relationship with my son that is both loving and genuine, then sin would be anything that disrupts that relationship.

Sometimes the Bible describes God as a King and Jesus preached the kingdom of God is here and therefore people should repent. In this scenario, sin is anything that does not submit itself to God’s kingdom. The call to repent is to humble oneself before the King and give Him our full allegiance.

In Romans chapter one, sin is all “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men that suppresses the truth”. The truth that all men should know is God is there, He has created all, and they have not honored Him, rather they have suppressed this truth. If you cannot yet grasp what sin is yet, you still still be able to discern that the Bible is not merely talking about naughty acts of sin, but something deeper in the heart, some attitude that stands against God and His truth.

Paul gives to the Romans examples of truth suppression they would understand immediately. For instance, as the Roman christians would walk the streets of Rome they would see idols in the shapes of “birds, animals, and creeping things” v23. The pagan population would purport these images to be the divine which is gross sin against the truth of who God is.

Paul is speaking in general terms to encompass all of humanity at this point. God’s punishment for sin was to simply let them be consumed by their own lusts. God’s most severe judgement is to remove His hand from the sinner and allow them the “freedom” they so desire. The result is their hearts and minds are consumed by lusts.

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:…For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections” v24, 26

An example of this type of judgement is the resulted is homosexuality to which Paul refers to as “unseemly”, and “vile affections”. These words stand in stark contrast to our own modern societies normalization of it. As a reminder, Paul is still speaking in general terms, and though he does not pull punches when it comes to naming the sin, he is still writing the book of Romans in hope that any sinner would respond to the Gospel, repent, and turn to God. The larger point being made is the normalizing of sin is a sign of God’s wrath and judgment as He gives people over to their own lusts.

Verse 28 goes to describe that under this wrath and judgement, sexual deviations of all sorts will rise and more of what was once considered vile will become “normal” in the society that is being judged by God. As this society continues its spiral to eventual destruction more and more obvious sinful behavior will become normalized. Paul gives a list of examples in 29-32.

If you’re curious to as why God’s judgement is to simply let people do as they please, the answer is suggested throughout the whole chapter. God only needs to remove Himself from our lives to seal one’s doom. From the beginning, God is good and He is life. But once He has removed Himself, there is only evil and death. Under this judgement, everyone has chosen of their own volition to rebel against God, therefore God’s anger against them is and open-and-shut case. But the coming of Jesus and the Gospel means there is hope of eternal life even for the most vile and unseemly sinner.

3. How Does this Passage Point to Jesus and the Gospel?

The letter of Romans is all about the Gospel. It is God’s power unto salvation against the forces of sin.

The Gospel separates the common from the uncommon.

Paul introduced himself as a person separated to the service of the Gospel. Previously, Paul was commissioned to attack the church and deliver Christians to punishment and death. But after he met Jesus on the road, he was transformed and “separated” as a special vessel unto God for preaching the Gospel (see Acts 9:13-15).

How did God separate Paul to this service? Through the Gospel, namely the blood of Jesus Christ. As Jesus died on the cross, He became sin for Paul and others who would believe. His death and shed blood was given to God as a substitutionary sacrifice for all sin of mankind. When Paul believed on Christ, the blood of cross was applied to Paul’s account and cleansed him of all sin past and future. Paul was separated from sin to the service of God called by this new sin-free identity in Christ. This doesn’t mean Paul lost his volition to make his own choices, but Paul chose to live out his identity and a living sacrifice everyday (see Roman 12:1-2).

Without Jesus and the cross, this new identity in Christ, free from sin would have never been made available to him. Paul’s conversion widely read all over the world teaching sinners how they two can be cleansed from sin and serve the living God.

4. Application

Theres so much in this chapter about being separated for God’s special use. Even the idea of taking the Gospel to where it is needed the most would assume great gospel by those who would take it. They would need to be greatly prepared and “separated” in their hearts to perform the task.

The truths of this passage would point us to be committed to a intimate relationship with God. Like all relationship, they require work and faithfulness. I want to be useful to the Lord and take the Gospel to where it has the most need, but I cannot do that without being a properly separated vessel for God’s use. The power to sustain the servants life comes from daily walking with God.

Living this life would mean managing the minutes of my day to seek God and spend has much time in the Word as possible. As I take inventory of my time, am I spending the time needed to be devoted? If nothing is has important as being empowered by God, then what can I stand to lose to make sure I’m constantly attending on Him?

Mark 14

1. Background

Jesus and His disciples are nearing the end of their week in Jerusalem.  He has confronted the Sanhedrin at the Temple and has condemned the whole institution according to their corruption of it.  The Disciples have asked when will the destruction take place and when will Jesus return to reign.  Now the stage is set for His betrayal and murder as the Sanhedrin are driven mad looking for an opportunity to kill Him.

1 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.

2. What can we observe about God?

The heart of God is extravagantly generous.

There is a very clear contrast between the “woman” who anoints Jesus’ head and Judas who betrays the Son of God for money.  One vile greedy deed is compared with extravagant generosity—the two deeds could not be more polar opposite.  Even though the woman’s gift was so astonishingly good hearted toward her Master, still she received the condemnation from even the disciples. “What a waste” they said.  

And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor.

vv4-5

They suppose the exceedingly valuable ointment had far better uses than being poured on one man’s head, albeit it was Jesus’ head.  Still, they could not look past the impractical use of the gift.

(3) How does this point to the Jesus and the Gospel?

The gratefulness and generosity towards Jesus shown by the woman is what the gospel accomplishes in the heart of those changed by it.  The wondrous extravagant giving of God produces gratefulness and generosity in those who have received it themselves. Therefore it is not merely the heart of the woman we see, but God’s heart toward sinners.  From a heavenly perspective, it might seem to be a waste to pour out something so precious as the blood of God’s Son on a filthy sinners head such as my own.  Many would say it would be a great waste and grossly uneven exchange for God to received myself in the place of His Son’s death.  But such is the heart of God.  His precious blood is more than enough to purchase away my most heinous sin so that I might stand before God, more than forgiven, but justified. 

Even when He is being betrayed to death, He is still in control.

As they enter the city again together for the last time with their liberty.  Jesus seems to know every detail in the next few hours.  He knows who they should meet and where as they approach the city.

And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him.  And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.  And his disciples went forth and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.

vv13-15

  Such observations may be trivial and may or may not necessary point to supernatural knowledge, but the proceeding foreknowledge does. He knows who will betray Him (v18), how many times Peter will deny Him (v30), who will leave Him (v27) , and where the betrayal will take place (v42).  He knows He will be delivered to the Romans (v41) and be crucified, but most importantly He knows He will face the full wrath of God for the sin of humanity.

And he went forward a little, and on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

vv35-36

(3) How does this point to the Jesus and the Gospel?

The cup is for the ultimate purpose of why He came, to drink the wrath of God in place of sinners.  His humanity already buckling under the weight of coming judgement, still He steeled Himself to submit to God, knowing what was to come.  This is where the sovereignty and love of God ultimately meets, though the cross would mean His bodily demise and anguish of soul, still He is control and nothing is happening out of His power.  

As the Jews proceed with their mockery of a trial in the middle of the night, Jesus answers them with a brazen quote of OT scripture depicted the kind of power Jesus possesses.

And Jesus said, I am, and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

vv62

They charge Him with blasphemy because in the light of that quotation from Daniel and the combination of “I am” to add weight, Jesus has revealed Himself as deity before them. Though what first must be accomplished before they see Him in the clouds of heaven is the bloody cross.  The promises of the Gospel are being made in His blood and will be ratified through His resurrection.

4. Application

I will look to be generous in the way Jesus has been generous to me.  I know my standing in God is because of His lavish gift of Jesus on the cross.  Is it no reasonable to offer my life in service? Everything given to God and under His will is good, a far better “good” than I could plan for myself.  Even our giving doesn’t really feel like giving when giving to God who uses it it for our good.

Mark 13

1. Background

The temple and its abandonment by God as been the topic since Chapter 11.  The corruption of the temple by its leaders has brought on God’s final rejection and replacing it with Jesus Himself.  In Chapter 12 we saw the final showdown between Jesus and the Sanhedrin in which Jesus superior knowledge and authority over the OT.  Now Jesus is walking away from the temple symbolically with his disciples.   A final discussion on the temple’s destruction and end times begins.

2. What Can We Observe About God?

What God reveals is for the benefit of our faith. V31

The disciples ask for clarity of a puzzling statement Jesus made as they left the temple for He had said the temple would be completely demolished.  They had expected Him to say something in admiration of the beauty for so their comment of Temple’s grandeur suggests, but His response was surprising and perhaps very dangerous if the wrong hears should hear it.

So once they crossed the valley and ascended to the Mount of Olives, Peter James and John asked Jesus privately what He meant.  They ask for two specific pieces of information.  Our hermeneutics will be contained in the scope of these questions:

1. When will the destruction of the temple be?

2. What the (miraculous) signs of their final fulfillment (the end).

Jesus begins to reveal what man would in no otherwise could ever know.  It is revelation, not merely what anyone could learn from keen observations.  It is revelation from God’s mind given to them to help them in the days ahead.  These disciples and Christians through the ages will face dark times and the revelation God is giving now is to benefit their faith and bolster their trust in God, even when times are dark.

To answer their question regarding the temple, Jesus does it somewhat indirectly. He doesn’t want to simply satisfy their curiosity about the specific timing of the events but focus on the importance of their faith during the coming perilous times.  Before the temple is destroyed, several events will begin to take place that they must be ready for, namely false Christs, v6.

As tensions mount between Jews and Romans, there will be many Messianic pretenders.  Jesus said they will deceive many, so Jesus is warning them now of this so their faith would not be subverted.  One particular example of a false Christ that arose in those days is recording in Acts 5:36:

36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.

Many such men arose during the Roman occupation with different amounts of “success” only in deceiving many.  There were other threats than just false Messiahs. The threat of war, natural disasters, and famines are all causes for anxiety and despair if their faith is not planted firmly in the God who is in control, v8.  Jesus tells them, “be ye not troubled..the end shall not yet be”, v7.

Jesus continues to reveal that in this time persecutions on them for their faith will begin.  The powers that be, both Jewish and Gentile, will be upon them for ill.  Christians will be imprisoned, beaten, killed for the faith.  But even then the coming persecution serves a purpose to testify of the Gospel before kings, governors, and princes.

But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches in warning them of the cost of discipleship.  Faith in Jesus means persecution even amongst family members. Verse 12 says, “brother shall betray brother”, fathers against sons, children against parents.  In spite of the persecution, the Gospel will be preached to the whole world, v10.  Again through the devices of God’s enemies, He will accomplish all His desire.

Persecution will have another purpose in weeding out the unbelievers from the believers.

13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

Endurance will be hallmarks of those who believe.  There will be Christian pretenders either willfully or ignorantly, but true belief will be evidenced by their faith’s endurance to the end.  As Jesus ends the warning about false Christs and persecution, it seems He is not only addressing the disciples of that generation when He picks up an allusion from Daniel :\

14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:

“The abomination of desolation” mentioned by Daniel 11:31 refers to an event already in the disciple’s past.  But Jesus is alluding to it as a paradigm and warning to a future event so horrendous that the pain and suffering of “those days” will not be matched for anguish.

19 For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.

Still, even in these days of incredible suffering, God will still be reigning, and divinely working on the benefit of His own people, v20.  Such promises in this revelation are given to encourage anyone who’s faith will be tested in these days.  The final sign of God’s promise will be the appearance of Jesus, the Son of Man, in the clouds returning to the earth in power.  Then all who are persecuting God’s power will see and be shaken by His great power.

25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. 26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.

Upon Jesus’ return, His angels will collect up all who belong to God through faith, v27.  And their enduring faith will be the token of their salvation as it endures persecution and all the earth’s anxieties.

God is revealing this through Jesus now to “take heed lest any man deceives you” and thereby subverting your faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of Man who will return in great power.  This passage is often the subject of great division amongst brethren who quarrel the particulars.  Yet, no matter where one splits the hair, the purpose of God’s heart and intention is not altered.  He is delivering encouragement and promises to bolster the persecuted Christian’s faith.

Even the mysteries of God are sealed up for the furtherance of our faith. V32

This is mixed with what God reveals and chooses not to reveal.  Even what He chooses not to reveal until a time of His own choosing serve the same purpose as His other revelations, for our benefit to faith.

32 But of that day and of that our knowers no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

When God says a thing will be kept secret then there isn’t left anything to do but trust Him with the responsibility of it.  But history has shown us that humanity still make attempts to calculate the timing of His return.  Even when we are relieved of the burden to carry such things, we will attempt to take it off the shoulders of God.  It is a matter of faith to watch and pray for His return, even though we are not given the time.  To wait for Him in such a state serves the purpose of preaching the Gospel with urgency yet in the context of possible delays.

God chooses faith to be the deciding factor of your future. V36

At the conclusion of Jesus’ response to the disciple’s questions, He directs their attention to thee question of whether or not God will find faith in you at the moment of His return. 

“36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.”

Because Jesus is teaching there may be a significant delay in His return, there may be a temptation to let down one’s guard and loosen the grip on faith to pursue the flesh. So that is why we are admonished to keep a vigilant watch on His return, thereby maintaining our faith.  This summary lets us know the whole point if this apocalyptic revelation is focused upon our faith. We may use this material to participate in arguments of interpretation, but none should need to argue the true matter of your life is faith in Jesus Christ. Your eternity will not be determined in your arguments of interpretation, but on the existence of your faith in Christ according to the scriptures.

3. How Does it Point to Jesus and the Gospel?

God’s final revelation is in Jesus Christ Himself.

When you pick up the New Testament of Jesus Christ, you are reading the collaborated witness from three different sources:

    1. From Old Testament Scripture
    2. The eyewitness’s testimony
    3. The revelation of God
  1. Through the abundant use of quotes and allusions to Old Testament Scripture, the NT shows how every theme, role, and ritual is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  The failures of humanity are picked up by Jesus, atoned for, and are completed in His cross and resurrection. In our passage uses quotation of Daniel 13:7 cross-referenced with v26 for example.  Jesus is the Son of Man comes with God’s authority to fulfill all His will.

2. The reports of Jesus’ life and disciples commission to the world were “not done in a corner”.  What we read are “those things most certainly believed” among a multitude of eyewitnesses. These aren’t legends written centuries later of a man who has been deified through exaggeration, but eye witness accounts who with difficulty but undeniably confess their faith in Christ.

3. The Jews have asked for a sign for who Jesus is and now the disciples have asked for a sign that will signal the timing of His coming.  The Gospel according to Mark gives us two major signs that both stand as the foundation for our belief but also condemnation against disbelief and the are the first and second coming of Jesus Christ.   Very shortly after Jesus is arrested, He will be killed and raised from the dead—the sign of His ultimate authority, but also again when Jesus says He will return, namely the “Son of Man” will return in the clouds and all will see Him.  This reference to Daniel’s Son of man is God revealing Himself in human flesh and carrying all His majesty and authority with Him. Indeed Jesus performed other signs through God’s power, but His first and second coming are like bookends of the gospel that mark where men may enter into a relationship with God through Jesus’ gospel.  Jesus’ death and resurrection open the way for righteousness by faith, and Jesus’ second coming marks the end and ensuing judgment.  If Jesus were merely a man, He would not be capable of either of these signs, nor of the healings, exorcisms, and raising the dead.  All such power witnessed by the public reveals God’s witness of Jesus Christ—God’s ultimate self-disclosure in human flesh.

John records for us what Jesus said:

John 10:38

38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

4. Application

The exhortation to watch and pray needs little imagination to apply.  It is a call to recalibrate our days in the truth of Jesus’ return.  Because He has done so much for me, I want to be found faithful when He returns.  He has left us here to do a job, a job most rewarding and satisfying to fellowship together with Him.  As a teacher, may I use these words to encourage others to find their joy in His coming and waiting for His return.

Mark 12

1. Background

Jesus is beginning His third day since arriving to Jerusalem for Passover feast and ultimately the cross. The conflict between Jesus and the Sanhedrin has been building and here it will reach a climax as Jesus answers their entrapping questions and manifests His own authority.

2. What do we observe about God?

God’s victory is in spite of all that His enemies can do.

Chapter 11 ended with a challenge to Jesus’ authority and so chapter 12 begins with Jesus taking the offensive in this showdown between Jesus and the Sanhedrin.  He puts forward a parable that thoroughly explains the outrageous sin of the Jewish leaders and reason for impending judgment. In parable form, the husbandmen are the Jewish leaders who are confederate against the Lord.  They take measures to keep the benefits of the kingdom for themselves by abusing God’s servants He sends to rebuke and correct them, some prophets they killed some they treated shamefully. Finally, God sends His Son, not a servant but God’s heir.  Jesus has visited Jerusalem and the temple only to find thieves and robbers who control the temple for personal gain.  Soon they will nail the Son to the cross and God will come with judgment against them.

Knowing that Jesus spoke the parable against them, they ironically do exactly as the parable describes them and begin vigorously planning a way to destroy Jesus.  But what does it say about the God who knows what they will do to His Son, yet He still send Him anyway?  If it were anyone else it would be foolish but because God is God, it speaks of His plan to use the maneuvers of His enemies to gain the victory.

There is perhaps no greater exercise of wisdom than using the devices of the enemy with great irony to bring about victory.  But this isn’t a new concept in scripture.

Psalm 7:15

15  He made a pit, and digged it,

And is fallen into the ditch which he made.

Psalm 57:6

They have prepared a net for my steps;

My soul is bowed down:

They have digged a pit before me,

Into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. Selah.

Psalm 9:16

16  The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth:

The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.

Luke 19:22

22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.

God has revealed when it’s time for judgment that He doesn’t even need to use His own righteousness standard (though He will).  All that is necessary to condemn sinners is the words and standards they produce for themselves.  In other words, people will have judged themselves by their own double standards.  Paul’s conclusion to the Jews that all are under sin, even the Jews, could be proven on this point (see Romans 2:17-24).

Therefore God uses the devices set forth by sinners to bring about His own purpose.  The husbandmen suppose to claim God’s inheritance for themselves and so kill the son, but it’s through killing the Son that God’s purpose is brought to pass and given to the gentiles through faith in Jesus Christ.

God’s value of gifts is not in the size of the gift, but in the cost to the giver.

Even in the context of a corrupted leadership in the temple system, there is still a remnant of faith that thrills Jesus.  In the bustle of rich men giving their surpluses to the temple offering, in comes a widow woman with a meager offering of two mites, one mite worth only a fraction of a penny.  What is her gift compared to the great bags of money the rich men put in? 

Jesus calls His men over for a discipleship experience and brings their attention to her gift. Jesus says on the contrary, “she hath cast more in than all they that cast into the treasury”.  More?  Can’t Jesus count?  While the world defines the size the of gift as an act of generosity, God values the cost to the giver to determine what is generous.  For the rich men, their sizable gifts cost them nothing, no change in lifestyle, no damage to their economy, but the woman had given all she had, albeit only two mites.  Jesus concludes her gift is greater than of them put together.  The first will be last and the last will be first in the Kingdom of God.

3. How does the passage point to Jesus and the Gospel?

Jesus is the Son that God sends and delivers up to the evil farmers to do with Him what they will.

Like the widow’s gift and like the parable of the lord who sent his son, so God generously gives His Son to us for our sin.  Three major purposes of God are accomplished in the gospel. 

First is Jesus’ substitution payment for our sin that we cannot go without.  Sin has left us irreparably in damnation bound for an eternity in hell.  Only God’s gift to us in His Sn’s substitutionary death are we able to escape death and the effects of sin.

Second, while the cross of Christ is the means of salvation, it is also the means of judgment to all who disbelief. The death sentence from sin simply continues on its course if one refuses God’s gift.  God has no need to add to the punishment more than what is already bound to happen.  To separate from God is to separate from life itself and thus leaves the only outcome of death in hell.

Thirdly, but why would you perish when God has already paid the price of death for you?  If God’s love could be measured, it would be measured in God’s generosity towards you in the gift of His Son.  His love is the compelling argument of why we should trust Him.  Not because we have to but because God is good. Yet if sin has hardened your heart that you insist on life without God, you may do so and accept the consequences of life without Him.

4. Application.

Even as I have already come to the cross for salvation, I still recognize that I with Jesus, I have nothing to avail myself to the love He has given to me by grace.   Even though I would have no need to beg for salvation after His blood has already been applied on my behalf, still I come frequently to the cross for renewal and transformation until the day Jesus comes to get me.

May transformation continue in the way I give, that I might give generously like my Lord.  May my giving reflect the costliness of His gift to me and thereby giving others an opportunity to receive Christ.  I will ask God for opportunities to serve through giving and give generously when they come.

Mark 11

1. Background

Jesus left Capernaum in the north and made the travel to Jerusalem via Jericho.  Along the way, we’re reminded of His disciple’s difficulty to understand the imminent suffering and death of their Master.  But despite the lack of understanding, we still see examples of faith and following in the way.  Now Jesus in on the doorstep of Jerusalem and we are only a week away from the cross.

2. What Observations can we make about God?

What God gives, He gives in order to produce fruit.

On Jesus’ way up to the city, the pilgrims who are with Him create a stir, praising Jesus and praising God for whom they suppose to be the Messiah, and of course, He is, though Mark has made it plain to us Jesus is not the kind of Messiah that everyone supposes.

And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: 10 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

If the confusion among the disciples is such to completely misunderstand Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth and Jerusalem, it’s only logical the masses would be more mistaken, (see Mark 9:31-32). Still, at this point in the journey, there is no lack of enthusiasm, hype, and expectation.

While the passage does not explicitly say, it is apparent that God’s intention and desire is not simply the enthusiasm, pomp, and hype men can offer.  Jesus’ choice of transport in a donkey counter-acts the mighty-military king everyone supposes the Messiah to be, someone riding on a white war horse or the like.

And instead of riding the waves of popularity all the way to the throne or the start of an insurrection, Jesus simply enters the temple, sizes it up, and retires the day—an anti-climactic scene to end the day to be sure.  What is God’s purpose in all this, what does He want if it isn’t the enthusiastic support of men?

The fig tree offers the first direct clue—fruit.  Somebody planted a fig tree because they desired figs, but Jesus found none and it displeased Him.  Symbolic to be sure, it introduces the hot displeasure of Jesus as He enters the Temple looking for faith and prayer but only to find thieves. As someone desires figs and planted a fig tree, so God desires faith and prayer and so gave Israel a tabernacle. From a distance, they might look as they could be producing fruit, upon closer inspection, both the tree and the temple institution is fruitless.

13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. 14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; 16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. 17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

The real matter of the passage is that God gave Israel a temple to be used to focus men’s faith onto God.  It was to be a place of prayer and meditation, but now through the course of politics and sin, the temple is merely an opportunity for business gain, and Oh how it displeases God!  Such fruitlessness and corruption warrants a curse.  Never will a man eat from you again! And it is dried up at the roots upon the command of Jesus’ powerful word.  The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

Though in the context of the passage, the scope seems to only allow for discussion about the temple.  However in the context of the entire NT, God’s intentions for fruit goes well beyond just the temple, but people.  The Gospel is preached to people and people are to bear fruit, first of repentance, and then faith in Jesus Christ.  Hype or enthusiasm is no substitution for faith, and popularity is not the same as discipleship.

God will keep accountable those who fail to produce good fruit, yet is patient.

From observing the fig tree and the temple, it would be an accurate picture to think of God as a farmer tending to what He has planted.  If an entire plant fails to produce a crop then the entire plant is removed.  This is the case for the whole temple system.  If it were a matter of mere pruning the deadness away so that the plant could become more fruitful, then God would do so.

Luke records a very similar parable taught by Jesus on the fruitless fig tree:

Luke 13:6-9

He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

In this case, the fruitless tree is given time and more nutrients to see if it will produce fruit.  But if at last it fails, then the whole is removed.  God generously supplied along with the temple priests, prophets, kings, and more innumerable blessings, but at last, sin corrupted even to the roots.

Again, is Mark merely speaking about the temple or about people?  The scope of the gospel of the kingdom of God is all will either be separated into what is good or what is bad—a final judgment.

3. How does the passage point to Jesus and the gospel?

God supplies in Christ what He commands.

Rather than seeing a failure on God’s part, the Bible reveals to us His goodness inspire of the constant rebellion and rejection.  Even after the pronouncement of the temple’s renewal, Jesus tells his men, “Have faith in God.”  But once the temple is removed, to what then shall Israel have to focus their prayers and faith?

Shortly the religious leaders, envious and unwilling to lose their profits from the temple, charge Jesus for blasphemy against the temple:

Mark 14:58

58 We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.

Ironic, the one whom John calls the Word made flesh is being charged with blasphemy of God’s word.  Everyone fails to see what God is doing. God has always intended the temple to be a place of prayer and faith, but since men and sin have corrupted that purpose, God is supplying a new temple, one out of men’s hands, a fruitful vine that cannot be corrupted.

Jesus instructed His men in the connection between faith and prayer:

22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. 23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. 24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

When we view these scenes in the order Mark has given them to us, the Gospel message emerges once again.  The best our religious efforts can muster is perhaps a bit of hype and enthusiasm.  But upon closer inspection, sin has left us fruitless.  Though we attempt with our religious efforts to dress it up as a fruitful tree, all we are able to produce is idols, self-interest, and lust for wealth. 

Yet God in His never-ending kindness removes the dead temple to replace it with a living temple, one not corrupted by human hands.  Though human hands would slay Him, we lay upon Him the curse of the fig tree, which He bore on the cross.  But His lively resurrection is the power of life to all who believe in faith.  Jesus is our fruitful vine, and all who believe in Him are the branches that produce the fruit of faith God desires.  Only let everyone who understands be sure their faith abides in Jesus Christ alone, for He and no other is able to give life and sustain it.

4.  Application

I realize that I am helpless to produce anything God would find pleasing or useful.  Once again, God’s word prompts me to renew my spirit of repentance before God and become like a child expectant to receive what I lack from the Father.

I am reminded of the great patient love God has for me in bring me closer to Christ.  So I would do well to exercise His patience with others who are on their own journeys.  May the be transformed by the gospel and God’s love as long as they are in my care, my wife, my children, and my sons in Christ.