Patrick: Missionary to Ireland

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What do you know about Saint Patrick? Did you know…

  • that the color first associated with Saint Patrick was blue?
  • that Saint Patrick was from England, not Ireland?
  • that Saint Patrick was a slave for six years?
  • that Saint Patrick was a devout Christian missionary?
  • that Saint Patrick was NOT a leprechaun? Ok, you probably knew that one…

Born somewhere on the main English Island (approximately 383 – 415 A.D.), Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders at 16 years old and enslaved by a warrior chief to feed pigs. Patrick was a Christian and prayed constantly during this time. After six years of enslavement, Patrick escaped and ran 200 miles to a harbor and sailed back to England. Only to be called by God to return as a missionary to Ireland.  

Ireland was populated by pagans and barbarians. Patrick faced opposition by the druids, an religious group of men who practiced magic and were educated in matters of history and law. Opposed both by Druids and Arian priests, he planted orthodox churches and monasteries, mostly on the northern and western sides of the island. During his ministry Patrick wrote: “Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty who rules everywhere.”

By the end of his life (493 A.D.), he was said to have baptized ten thousand, and planted over a hundred churches. Patrick strongly opposed slavery; having been a slave himself and having witnessed many of his Christian converts being abducted and sold as slaves. Within Patrick’s lifetime, the entire Irish slave trade had ended. 

There is much that is legendary about the life of Patrick and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. One legend of Patrick is that on the night of Samhein (or Bealtine), when all fires were to be extinquished on the island, he lit a bonfire on a mountain in protest! Another legend explains the absence of snakes in Ireland by stating that Patrick drove away all the snakes, chasing them into the sea. Most notable of all is the shamrock legend. It is said that in order to explain the concept of the Trinity to the Irish pagans, Patrick used a three-leaf shamrock to illustrate God’s triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later, Christians identified the three leaves with the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13); and in the event you found a four-leaf clover, the fourth represents luck (hardly a Christian concept).

The Confession of Saint Patrick is Patrick’s own autobiography which relates his enslavement, conversion, and ministry. In his confession, Patrick provides a summary of his theology:

“There is no other God nor ever was nor will be after him except God the Father,* without beginning; From whom is all beginning; Who upholds all things as we have said: And his Son Jesus Christ whom together with the Father we testify to have always existed; Who before the beginning of the world was spiritually present with the Father; Begotten in an unspeakable manner before all beginning; By whom were made all things visible and invisible; Who was made man, and having overcome death was received into heaven to the Father: And he hath given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God:*e In whom we believe, and we await his coming who ere long shall judge the quick and dead: Who will render to every one according to his deeds, and has poured out abundantly on us the gift of the Holy Spirit, even the earnest of immortality, who makes those that believe and obey, to be the sons of God the Father, and join-theirs with Christ; Whom we confess and adore—one God in the Trinity of the sacred name.”1

Many details of Patrick’s life are lost to us and we can’t be sure about some of the particulars. What we do know is that Patrick of Ireland was a courageous Christian missionary who followed God’s call to share Christ in a difficult, pagan culture. So if you want to celebrate in the true spirit of Saint Patrick of Ireland, take some time to tell your non-Christian friends and acquaintances about the unique, triune God of the Bible… and get rid of any snakes you may run across in the process. 

1 Saint Patrick, The Confession of St. Patrick with an Introduction and Notes, trans. Thomas Olden (Dublin; London: James McGlashan; James Nisbet and Co., 1853), 44–46.

In honor of Saint Patrick, enjoy this classic and hilarious video from Lutheran Satire: St Patrick’s Bad Analogies!

The Mark of the Beast and the Covid Vaccine

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There’s a lot of misinformation and confusion these days among Christians about current events and the Bible. Some have equated the COVID vaccine with the mark of the beast. Here’s why I think that’s unscriptural and a harmful idea we should reject. 

What does Scripture say about the mark of the beast? 

The mark of the beast is first mentioned in Revelation 13:16-18: 

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

Revelation 14:9-11 gives more clarity about the mark: 

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” 

We see here that those who worship the beast receive his mark. Other scriptures make this important connection: Revelation 16:2; 19:20; 20:4. 

Some scriptural truths about the mark of the beast: 

  • It is taken willfully – it is not accidentally or inadvertently. 
  • It is taken by those who deny Christ. 
  • It is taken by those who worship the beast. 
  • Those who take it are destined for hell.

Already we see that the mark of the beast cannot be equated with something as mundane as a vaccine. But what is it? Is it a literal mark that will be offered to us in the future? 

Is the mark of the beast a literal mark? 

The mark of the beast most likely is not to be taken as a literal mark. It’s important to realize that scripture uses “marks” to refer to those who belong to God. For example, in Revelation, there is another mark spoken of – the mark of God. 

“I will write on him the name of my God” (Rev. 3:12).

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev. 7:3).

“They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4).

“Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1).

“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:3–4).

Furthermore, the book of Revelation is intended to be understood in symbolic terms. Jesus makes this clear in Revelation 1:20 when he discloses the meaning behind some of John’s early vision. Jesus is pictured with a two-edged sword in his mouth. It ought to be obvious that this is not his actual appearance but represents the two-edged sword of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12). Throughout the book of Revelation, we are told that certain images are symbolic and not literal. 

The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 tells Israel to bind God’s commands on their hands and between their eyes (Deut. 6:8) and in Ezekiel 9:1-6, God’s people are sealed with a mark on their foreheads, but this is not a literal mark but refers to God knowing his people. It is likely that the mark of God and the mark of the beast in Revelation are also not to be understood literally. 

What did it mean to the original readers? 

John is writing revelation to the seven churches in Asia in the late first century. These churches were experiencing persecution from the Roman empire. At this time, Roman emperors such as Nero and Domitian were worshiped. Domitian demanded to be addressed as “Lord and God” (Suetonius, Dom. 13). Pliny wrote that Christians were told to worship the image of Caesar (Pliny, Letters, 10:96-97). Sound familiar? The number 666 could be a gematria for Nero Caesar.

Some scholars understand the number “666” to be an example of Hebrew gematria – where a letter of the alphabet is assigned a number. The numerical equivalent of Nero’s name in Hebrew is – you guessed it – 666. Whether this is the true meaning or not is debated, but it is certainly possible. Nero was considered by some early Christians to be the antichrist. 

What we do know is that:

  • Revelation is highly symbolic.
  • Revelation is written to churches in the first century.
  • Revelation describes the persecution of first century Christians. 
  • Revelation is given as a comfort, not for fear. 

Can a Christian receive the mark of the beast? 

Could the mark of the beast also refer to some present or future reality? Absolutely. However, just as it did in John’s day, it would signify those who reject Christ and turn to Satan. Whenever, someone abandons Christ and follows Satan in order to avoid persecution, we see the very real outworking of this “mark.” See Jesus’ warning in Matthew 16:24-26. Those who take the mark are punished in hell. Here’s what Scripture says about those who belong to God. 

Romans 8:38-39

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

John 10:27-29

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 

If we belong to Christ and are faithful to him, we are in no danger of receiving the mark of the beast. It is impossible to be separated from God’s love by anything in creation – that includes vaccines! No one can take us from the Father’s hand. 

How should Christians respond to alarming current events? 

We have seen much turmoil and controversy in the past year. The pandemic, racial unrest, a tumultuous election, and a new presidential administration. On top of this, there is no shortage of voices giving opinions and sometimes even misinformation. The worst of all are those who claim to speak for God but do not speak the truth. 

As Christians, we should avoid sensationalism and conspiracy theories. Remember all the ruckus leading up to the “Y2K bug?” I remember when people predicted that Barack Obama was the Antichrist and would bring a one-world order. The list goes on and on. When will we learn our lesson to not get carried away with these things? Rather, God tells us to “fear not” over and over again in Scripture! 

When I hear someone say that the COVID vaccine is a way for the government to track or catalogue people, I can’t help but laugh. As Americans, we are required to have a social security number, a driver’s license, car insurance, we already must have vaccines for some international travel, our we carry around super-computers in our pockets with GPS tracking, microphones, and cameras! We are already more connected than we often realize. Living with suspicion and conspiracy is simply no way to live in the world. We cannot live by what “could be” or by being fearful of what the next headline will mean for our future. Rather, we trust in the Lord and await his soon return, knowing that all human history is under his control and we already know that history is moving towards Christ’s victory. 

End times confusion is nothing new. Paul dealt with it with the Thessalonians. Someone had spread the false belief that the day of the Lord had already come! Paul counsels them to “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). This is good counsel for our day. 

Should you take the COVID vaccine? That decision is for each individual to make. I did and I encourage you to take it. Whether you do or whether you do not, however, does not make you more or less Christian. Obey God, follow your conscience, use your best judgment, and do not live in fear of things which God has well under his control. If you belong to Christ, he has marked you as his own, and nothing on this earth can ever change that. 

Hard Questions: Can I Lose My Salvation?

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“Can a Christian lose his or her salvation?” This is a question which I receive on a fairly regular basis. It is a question which I myself struggled with early in my Christian life. It is certainly an important question and there is a lot of division on how best to answer it. My short answer is: No. A true Christian cannot lose his or her salvation. But why is there so much confusion about this issue and what does the Bible say?

Troubling Warning Passages

I think one of the reasons for the confusion is the presence of so many warning passages in the New Testament which warn against apostasy, or falling away. The presence of these passages implies that it is possible to fall away from the faith. Why else would they exist?

Colossians 1:21-23 tells us that Christ reconciled us “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.”

Jesus himself said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” Mark 13:13. He also said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.’” John 8:31.

The writer of Hebrews warns us to strive for holiness “without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14).

Many other such passages could be cited which warn the hearer against falling away from Christ.

Those Who Fall Away Are Not Genuine Believers

Scripture speaks frequently of those who profess faith in Christ, but are not genuine believers. Jesus said that many would call him Lord at the judgment, but would be turned away (Matthew 7:21-23. In the parable of the sower, Jesus addresses those who fall away:

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Matthew 13:20-21

John states the matter clearly when writing of those who had left the right way for another form of religion: 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Scripture clearly provides the category of a “false believer” and warns believers to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). This quote has been attributed to several different individuals but sums the matter up well: “A faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.”

Salvation Belongs to the Lord

I fear that we have too often over-emphasized the human response in salvation and under-emphasized God’s initiative in salvation. It is true that we must repent and believe the gospel. It is equally true that we must be born of the Spirit (John 3:3) – this is something that God must do.

Peter tells us that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Our new birth was not brought about by our will, for we were not born by “the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13). Peter continues talking about the new birth and says that we are now “kept by the power of God,” literally we are “being guarded by God’s power” (1 Peter 1:5).

Furthermore, our salvation is rooted in God’s gracious choice. Romans 8:30: “Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Notice that all those who end up at glorification are those who were predestined. No one falls off along the way. Ephesians 1:3-14 beautifully lays out our election and the fact that we are “sealed by the Spirit.” It is impossible for someone chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be in danger of losing salvation.

Jesus says that his sheep “will never perish and no one will snatch them out of [his] hand” (John 10:27). He also says that when the Holy Spirit comes, he will be with us forever (John 14:16). Some other passages which speak of God assuring our salvation include:

Jeremiah 32:40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

Jude 24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:8-9 [Jesus Christ] will sustain you to the end; guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Isaiah 46:3-4 (ESV) “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Psalm 37:28 For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

Notice in all these passages who it is that is responsible for our salvation. God ensures our sanctification, perseverance, and endurance. He chose us, He called us, He caused us to be born again, He justified us, He sanctifies us, He sustains us, He preserves us, and He will glorify us at the day of Jesus Christ.

Reflections on the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention

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Katrina and I have just returned from the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, Alabama. Part worship service, part business meeting, part family reunion – there’s nothing like it when our denomination of churches gather together annually to do the work of the kingdom!

The theme for the meeting this year was “Gospel Above All.” I left the meeting this year greatly encouraged. Several members of our church family have asked me about the meeting, so I thought I would share some of the highlights of the meeting.

THE PASTOR’S CONFERENCE

The annual meeting always begins with the Pastor’s Conference – a two day marathon of worship, preaching, and teaching. This year, the conference was devoted to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-16 with each speaker preaching a sermon from one of the beatitudes. All of the speakers were great, but the highlight for me was Andrew Brunson’s testimony and sermon based on Matthew 5:12, “Blessed are the persecuted.” Andrew Brunson was imprisoned in Turkey where he had served as a pastor. He was imprisoned for two years until his release in October 2018. Following his sermon, he joined his wife Norine along with Nik and Ruth Ripken, and Jack Phillips – the Colorado cake shop owner who faced numerous lawsuits because of his Christian convictions concerning marriage.

http://sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc19/news/53088/persecution-on-the-move-at-home-overseas-panel-says

NEW LEADERSHIP

This past year has been a year of transition for our convention. Five of our SBC entities have been in the process of searching for new leadership. Four of those positions have been filled and we were able to hear from these new leaders during the meeting.

The Executive Committee hired Ronnie Floyd, former pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, as its president and CEO. The executive committee carries out the work of the SBC throughout the year.

The International Mission Board hired Paul Chitwood as president. The IMB oversees all of our international missionaries. Dr. Chitwood formerly led the Kentucky Baptist Convention and I came to know him well during my time as a Director of Missions in Kentucky.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX called Adam Greenway as president. Dr. Greenway formerly served as the Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I came to know him well during my time in Louisville.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary called Jamie Dew as president. Dr. Dew formerly served as a vice president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. During the report from New Orleans, the former president Dr. Chuck Kelley spoke and introduced Dr. Dew as the new president.

Lifeway Christian Resources is still searching for a new president following the retirement of Dr. Thom Rainer.

THE PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS

JD Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, NC, was our SBC president this year. He has done a great job leading our convention to take action against sexual abuse in our churches. He delivered a great address as president expounding on the theme of the meeting, “Gospel Above All.” Greear was elected to a second term as SBC president. SBC presidents may serve up to two consecutive terms as president. He was unopposed.

IMB PRESENTATION

Paul Chitwood delivered his first presentation as president of the International Mission Board since his election last year. He is doing a phenomenal job. This year, we held a commissioning ceremony for 26 new Southern Baptist missionaries! This was the most exciting portion of the meeting and represents why we cooperate together. Many of these missionaries could not disclose their identities because they are going to difficult and dangerous places.

http://www.bpnews.net/53097/the-nations-are-waiting-chitwood-tells-sbc

Additionally, the IMB is sponsoring the translation of the New Testament into the language of a Southeast Asian people group. They were asking attendees to sponsor the translation of a verse or verses. I was able to financially sponsor Matthew 7:8-12. By the end of the meeting, the entire project had been funded! The New Testament will be made available for the first time for this people group!

CONSTITUTION AND BYLAW AMENDMENTS

Perhaps the most important changes made were two key amendments to our constitution and bylaws addressing sexual abuse and racial discrimination. A church will not be considered a cooperating SBC church if it acts “in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse,” or acts to “affirm, approve, or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.” These are important changes which are necessary to maintain the integrity of our convention.

http://www.bpnews.net/53084/southern-baptists-affirm-stances-on-sex-abuse-racism

THE REPORT FROM THE SEXUAL ABUSE ADVISORY REPORT

In light of recent awareness of sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches, SBC President JD Greear commissioned a team to research this problem and propose solutions. The report was made available during the annual meeting. You can read the full report here:

https://caringwell.com/report/

For a more detailed summary of the 2019 Annual Meeting, visit https://sbcthisweek.com/sbc19-an-executive-summary/

You can watch all of the sessions from the 2019 Pastor’s Conference and Annual Meeting here (requires a free Lifeway account): http://sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc19/

Next year, the meeting will be held in Orlando, Florida June 7-10, 2020 and will mark the 175th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Blessings,

Pastor Ray

Why Does Jesus Say We Need to Repent?

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What did Jesus? The first words of Jesus preached are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). These are the exact words of John the Baptizer in 3:2. This is also the message of the Old Testament prophets who called Israel to return to God’s commandments.

Jeremiah 26:13 (ESV)
Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.

Mark characterizes Jesus’ message as “the gospel of God” and joins repentance with believing the gospel.

Mark 1:14-15 (ESV)
14  Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15  and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Greek word for repent is metanoeite, it is an imperative verb – a command, and a second person plural verb – all y’all repent.

 

Repentance is necessary for salvation

Luke 13:3 (ESV) No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

 Why repent? The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The word for “at hand” is in the perfect tense, which means that it has fully come, not that it is coming. It is now here. We leave in the parentheses between kingdom inaugurated and kingdom consummated. Kingdom initiated, and kingdom actualized. Already and not-yet.

The kingdom of heaven brings both blessing and judgment

Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,
25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.
26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.
27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’
28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’
29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

 

We dwell in the darkness of death’s shadow

God’s kingdom has come and brings judgment

Jesus shines the light into darkness through the gospel

Believe the gospel, turn from sin, and turn to Christ!

 

Light in the Land of Death’s Shadow

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At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 as a prophecy about Jesus ministry in Galilee.

Matthew 4:12-17 
12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.
13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

This passage referred to the Hebrew exiles who would return after the Assyrian and Babylonian deportations. God promises to dispel the gloom and anguish and to shine His light on His people once again. “The way of the sea” refers to the major road from Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea which passed through Capernaum on the west side of Lake Galilee. This is the route by which the exiles would return and thus the way would be made glorious. Matthew applies this passage to the coming of Jesus who brings light to those in darkness in this region.

The passage cited by Matthew is followed in the same paragraph in Isaiah by the prophecy of the child who will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting, Father, Prince of Peace. This clearly sets the passage in a Messianic context.

Foreshadows Gentile mission

Galilee had a mixed population of both Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles had occupied Galilee from the time of the Assyrian conquest and deportation in 722 BC. Isaiah would know Galilee as a territory associated with non-Jewish peoples in his day. The mention of Galilee of the Gentiles foreshadows the Great Commission to evangelize all nations which is given on a mountain in Galilee.

Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)
16  Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In Isaiah 9:1-2, God promises light to the returning exiles. However, Jesus is the true light and comes to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the region of death’s shadow.

Christ comes to shine light on those living under the shadow of death. Jew and Gentile both dwell under the shadow of death and are under the curse. Death looms over us as our inevitable destroyer. But Jesus comes and dispels the shadow of death by the life-giving light of the gospel.

 John 1:4-13 (ESV)
4  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
9  The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Jesus fulfills the eternal plan of God by dispelling spiritual darkness in all the earth. 

 

Jesus Tempted, Tried, Triumphant

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“That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist (p. 142).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

 

Christ’s temptation is an example for us that we should follow in his steps when tempted. Christ was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin.

 

Satan attempts to have Jesus satisfy the “lust of the flesh” in the form of the most basic and seemingly harmless of human needs. Jesus is hungry, and Satan tempts him to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. To use his divine power in response to a prodding of Satan, however, would be an act of sin. Jesus will later multiply loaves for others (14.13-21; 15.29-39), but he will not for himself. Temptation often offers itself as an illegitimate or premature fulfillment of a legitimate need.

 Sin will keep you from the Bible or the Bible will keep you from sin. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 in response to Satan. Jesus’ response models the verse he quotes, as he chooses to live in light of God’s word rather than satisfy his hunger. Jesus finds the truth of God’s word sufficient to sustain him and to triumph in temptation.

Psalm 119:11 (ESV) I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Wherever the precise point is located, Satan tells Jesus to leap from the temple and allow angels to rescue him (It is fitting that Jesus is ministered to by angels in verse 11). As before, Satan presents this as a suitable action for the “Son of God.” Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12 to prove his point (the fact that Satan can quote Scripture is a terrifying thought!). Scripture misinterpreted is the work of Satan (prosperity gospel). This would be an appeal to the “pride of life” as Satan is tempting Jesus to vindicate himself.

 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 which refers to Israel’s unbelief at Rephidim when Moses struck the rock which brought forth water. Jesus doesn’t need to be validated or for his Father to prove anything.

 

Satan tempts Jesus with the kingdoms of the world and their glory. This is ironic because these kingdoms will ultimately belong to Jesus when his kingdom is fully realized (Rev. 11:15). The glory of kingdoms reeks of human ambition, worldly pride, and approval of the masses. Satan provides a shortcut to an inferior inheritance which would forfeit “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet. 1:11)

 Revelation 11:15 (ESV)
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

 

Jesus responds, commanding Satan to depart from him. Satan’s temptation to violate the first commandment is unthinkable to Jesus. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 after emphatically rebuking Satan and commanding him to leave him. Just like the first temptation in Eden, every temptation is a challenge of God’s Lordship and an attempt to rob Him of the worship due Him.

After remaining sinless through this temptation, it is evident that Jesus is greater than Adam. After being served by angels, it is evident that he is greater than angels. Even the ministry of angels vindicates Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.

Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

 Follow Jesus example in order to overcome temptation.

1 John 2:15-17 (ESV) Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 
16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 
17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

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Matthew 3:13-17 describes the the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer.

 

John the Baptizer was of priestly descent. His father, Zacharias was a priest and his mother, Elisabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5). John served as a forerunner to Jesus and his mission was the subject of Old Testament prophecy (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1). John was born six months before Jesus and his birth was foretold by an angel.

Approximately 30 years between this passage and the last mention of Jesus (2:23). Jesus has remained in Nazareth until the proper time when he should be revealed to Israel. Luke’s temple episode is the only account which breaks the thirty-year silence from Jesus’ birth to his baptism (Luke 2:41-52).

John is taken aback by Jesus’ request to be baptized by John. John realizes that Jesus is superior to himself. Jesus does not need to be baptized for repentance, however, John does need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Matthew 3:11 (ESV) “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

 John recognized Jesus supremacy and that Jesus’ baptism was higher and great than his. Like John, we must recognize Jesus as God’s Son and confess our need to submit to him. We need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and the cleansing available to us through Jesus.

Jesus had no sin and had no reason to be baptized for the purpose of repentance from sin. This is clear by John’s response, the Father’s testimony, and Jesus’ victory over Satan’s temptation in 4:1-11. The purpose of the temptation is to show that Jesus is without sin. However, Jesus chose to submit to baptism to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’ baptism was unique and unlike any other.

Jesus submitted to incarnation, birth, infancy, parents, Scriptures, Law, God, and to John’s baptism. John’s baptism was the latest stage in God’s redemptive plan. Just as Jesus was subject to circumcision, participation in the temple; he was subject to this latest God-given rite of obedience.

Jesus was baptized in order to obey God

Jesus was baptized in order to be revealed to Israel

Jesus was baptized in order to receive glory from the Father

 

 Romans 5:19 (ESV) For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Although Jesus submitted to baptism out of obedience to God, he had no sin which required repentance. We must trust the perfect righteousness of Jesus as the only basis for our forgiveness of sins and justification before God.

The Transfiguration is a parallel account to the baptism of Jesus: the Father speaks from heaven, Jesus is seen in his glory, he appears with Moses and Elijah (17:1-13).

 Matthew 17:5 (ESV) He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Jesus has been shown to be the son of Abraham, the son of David, the son of Joseph, and now is publicly shown to be the Son of God.

The Trinity is represented at Jesus’ baptism. The Father speaks from heaven, the Son is baptized on earth, and the Spirit descends from heaven. This divine witness testifies to Jesus’ true identity as Son of God and his sinlessness.

Matthew 28:19 (ESV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

John’s ministry was one of preparing for the coming of God (Isa. 40:1-3; Matt. 3:3). John has prepared the way for Jesus, who is God incarnate.

Fully recognize Jesus as Lord

Submit to Jesus’ purifying, transforming work

Rely only on the righteousness of Jesus for your salvation

Believe what God has said about Jesus

 

Church Hospitality for First-time Guests

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Every New Testament church is tasked with reaching others for Christ, especially those in their own communities. The easiest place to begin is with those who choose to visit our churches on Sunday morning. Churches should extend intentional hospitality to first-time guests. Here are some proven pointers to help with hospitality.

Have greeters placed at the door. Have other people who can escort the guests to their seat and serve as a first contact for them. Exchange first names immediately.

Have a guest card for guests to complete and place in the offering plate. Include a space for their prayer requests. Have people in the church commit to praying for these requests and let your guests know this.

Send a follow-up letter on Monday. Send this in addition to any emails or phone calls you might make as well. If you really want to step up your game, pastors, send a brief, hand-written card to each guest.

Put together a gift bag with some goodies and info about the church, ministries, church calendar, “what we teach” statement.

Train church members in hospitality.

Don’t say the V Word (visitor), use the word “guest.” Visitors visit. Guests are welcomed to stay.

The 3-minute rule. Church members should resolve not to speak to anyone they know for 3 minutes after the service. Spend this time meeting someone new.

Instruct members to invite guests to go out to lunch. The pastor should lead by example. Take new folks out for lunch.

Here are some links with additional info, be sure to check them out.

Twenty Years in the Ministry

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Compromise Missionary Baptist Church, Erie TN. This is the church where I was saved, baptized, licensed to preach, and ordained. Photo Credit: Flossie Umphrey (mom).

After preaching the morning service at Briggs Road Baptist Church, I spent the rest of New Year’s Eve 2017 at home, fighting a cold, finishing the last paper of my first Ph.D seminar. It wasn’t until after a night’s rest and conversing with my dad about the annual New Year’s Eve service at my home church where I grew up, that Katrina pointed out that this day was a significant milestone. It was around 1:00am on New Year’s Day 1998, at the close of a New Year’s Eve service that I told my home church that God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen years old. At that same hour this year, I was crashing and decompressing from the mental and physical exertion of working while sick. The significance of this moment was the furthest thing from my mind. Suddenly, the weight of this important anniversary hit me like a ton of bricks and my brain began to process several realities and reflections. Here are some reflections from my twenty-year milestone.

At first, I groaned because – 20 years. It seems like forever ago, and like yesterday at the same time. I used to think only old people talked about things from twenty years ago. I spent so much time being characterized as “the young preacher” or the “preacher boy” but 20 years has a way of doing away with those youthful qualifiers. I used to hate them. Now I kind of miss them. Nevertheless, I will not say “the former days were better than these” for this is not from wisdom.

I then asked myself, “Have I made the best use of these 20 years?” God has blessed me to achieve many significant and meaningful goals and to see many victories in these early years, but as our minds often do, my mind wandered to my failures and shortcomings as a preacher and pastor. I then thought of personal aspirations that I have yet to reach, some of which are completely outside my control. These thoughts drove me to begin setting new goals and to make others matters an intentional focus of prayer.

A third reflection is a sobering one. In these twenty years, I have seen many other brothers who have begun this same journey, yet whose ministries have been cut short by moral failure and disqualification. Others have simply fallen away from the faith and walked away from ministry. Most notable is the minister who was preaching at the service twenty years ago when I surrendered to the call of ministry. A pastor, an evangelist, and an expositor, he was an early example of rigorous study and introduced me to one of my preaching heroes, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I will never forget the day a few years ago, when he arrived at my house with a large box of preaching and Bible study books. What I thought was simply a purge from his library and a generous gift to mine, was in fact, his farewell to ministry, the faith, and his family. Few things have devastated me as much as watching his shipwreck of faith. Not many days pass when I am not frighteningly aware that my own unchecked depravity could end my ministry in ruin and shame. May God give me the grace to run well that I may avoid the tragedy that “after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

My reflections end in thankfulness to God that over half of my life has been dedicated to the ministry of preaching the Word of God. I don’t say this out of Pharisaical sanctimony, but rather in praise toward God for appointing me for His service. When I realized that this milestone had passed without my attention until hours later, I was upset with myself for not anticipating it and marking its significance. I had, in fact, preached the Christmas Eve service last week in the very church where I announced my call to ministry without so much as a mention of the significance of the occasion. After some reflection, however, I thanked God that twenty years later, at the exact moment of the the commencement of my preaching ministry, I was wrung out to the point of physical and mental exhaustion from a full day of preaching, writing, and studying so that the precious memory of the past was unobserved, being buried under the labors of the present. May this milestone be an opportunity of reinvigoration from God for the miles which lay ahead. “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.”

Happy New Year, friends.