A True Story (John 20:30-31; 3:9-15)

John was Jesus’ closest disciple. For him, Jesus was a teacher, a leader, a best friend. But most significantly, Jesus was the Son of God. The Roman postal system was highly advanced, allowing early Christians to distribute information with surprising speed—what one scholar calls the “Holy internet.” This meant that stories of Jesus had spread rapidly, though their meaning had yet to catch up. Peter and Paul had tended Christianity’s fragile soil, but both men would die before seeing it blossom. In John’s own city of Ephesus, Christians were limited to the traditions of John the Baptist (Acts 18:25). Caught between a fading past and an uncertain future, the need arose to record not only the facts of history, but also their significance.

“Jesus performed other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples…But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

John’s message is therefore uniquely suited to a culture like our own. For the first time in recent memory, Western society has re-emerged as a mission field. In the modern world, scholars sought to reconcile a Biblical “Christ of faith” with the so-called “Christ of history.” The gospels’ supernatural elements proved too much to accept, and so scholars such as Gotthold Lessing found themselves standing at the edge of an “ugly broad ditch,” unable to make a “leap” of faith. But today’s postmodern world is vastly different. We’ve crossed Lessing’s ditch only to find ourselves standing in a hall of mirrors. If the modern world was asking: “Should I believe in Jesus or not?” the postmodern world asks: “What kind of Jesus should I believe in?”

John’s purpose, therefore, doesn’t leave this question up to the individual, but anchors it in objective history. To read the Bible, therefore, is to surrender our expectations of who we think Jesus is, and to worship him as he actually was.

A STORYTELLING GOD

In John 3, we see this through the eyes of an elderly preacher. Earlier, Jesus had attracted attention by overturning the tables in the Jewish temple, a symbolic gesture that rang out with a singular message: The Messiah is here. Jesus’ arrival had been less an act of worship than an act of arson. Yet Nicodemus had yet to sift the gospel’s brilliance from the ashes of dead tradition. He comes to Jesus expecting another Rabbi, another scholarly debate. Jesus’ response lays him flat. You must be born again.

Yet Nicodemus fails to comprehend this message. His teeth chip on the stark literalness of it; he can’t digest the underlying meaning.

Nicodemus replied, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things? I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:9-15)

In 2005’s V for Vendetta, Stephen Rea portrays a government inspector seeking to unravel a massive conspiracy. As he closes the gap between himself and the truth, he connects with a mysterious informant. “I believe you have some information for me,” he says. “No inspector,” the informant replies. “You have all the information already. All the facts are inside your head. What you want—what you really need—is a story.” Nicodemus didn’t need another sermon or debate. His head already contained more Sunday School lessons than anyone else in Israel. No; what he needed was a story, some means of bringing these plot points into a cohesive whole.

Jesus tells him the story of the snakes in the wilderness. Israel, during her years of wandering, fell victim to a plague of poisonous snakes. To deepen the nation’s trust, God has Moses craft a bronze serpent and attach it to his staff. If you were bitten, you had only to look at this staff and be cured. What is Jesus saying? He’s saying that there’s something deep within us—something dark and venomous—that can’t be cured by altering our behavior. In other words, Jesus says, You’ve been thinking of sin all wrong. Origen, a writer from the earliest days of the church, said that “everyone who enters the world may be said to be affected by a kind of contamination.” Our hearts are darkly flawed and profoundly selfish—just ask anyone who’s ever worked retail. Altering behavior may serve to bandage sin’s wounds, but it’s the poison that’ll kill us.

Do you see now the necessity of rebirth? Like wine stains on carpet, you don’t need spot remover; you need a time machine. Religion may conceal my past, but only the gospel promises forgiveness and transformation.

With all the wildness of the wind, the gospel takes the human heart by storm. When Jesus is “lifted up”—that is, exalted in his death and resurrection—he draws the poison from our hearts and replaces it with the pure “water” of his Spirit. And into man’s heart, God speaks a wisdom unsearchable, a love unthinkable, a grace incalculable, and a mercy unending. It’s no wonder, then, that Luther once wrote that “the cross alone is our theology.” For there is no other answer, no other remedy for the human condition, save for the cross of Christ. In the first exodus, Moses lifted up his staff. In Jesus’ new exodus, he lifts up himself. In his humiliation, he is exalted. In his death, life flows free.

 

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Important Final Words – Revelation 22:16-21

When people talk about the final book of the Bible, you will sometimes hear it called “Revelations.”  And yes, it contains revelations. And we often just singularly call it “Revelation.”  But the full name is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Written by the elderly Saint John on the island of Patmos, some people think of it as John’s revelation. What it records is John’s angelic vision of Jesus Christ in his final work in the consummation of time. And it is a wonderful book that ties together so much of the rest of Scripture, including particularly other prophetic books like Daniel and Ezekiel.

This writing has been subject to more extremes of interpretation than probably any other Scripture, as it is from a genre of literature known as “apocalyptic.” And our purpose today is not to detail any of that, but to look at the very final words of John – the concluding paragraphs of the Bible.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The purpose of this revelatory account was to encourage the early churches, and by extension the church of Jesus Christ – the body and bride – down to our day as well, as this is God’s institution and work on the earth from the day of Pentecost until now, and until the rapture.

Jesus is seen in fulfillment of Scripture as the offspring of David – speaking of his rightful place as the King – the King of Kings.

Early in the morning, just before dawn, there is often the bright sight of Venus (or sometimes Mercury) in the eastern sky – a beautifully shining “star” that gives evidence that a new day is about to unfold.

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

People think of the book of Revelation as all about curses and judgments, of which there is plenty of information. Yet it also contains an extraordinary amount of promises and blessings for those who will trust and follow the Lord. The Gospel is an open invitation and the gift is free indeed to all who will come and take of it. No judgment in the book has to fall upon anyone, if only they will come to God through Christ.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

These verses are of special interest for our Framework study. The scroll being talked about is in specific reference to the Book of Revelation, but the truth and concepts here would apply to all of Scripture. God’s Word is complete, it is finished, it is final, and it is perfectly sufficient. Adding to it by coming with a Bible in one hand and a bible in the other will put a person in line for the very destruction spoken within for those who do not accept and obey God’s revealed truth. And failing to acknowledge all of it – like accepting only those parts that are politically correct and make current cultural sense – also puts an individual on the other side of the line of truth.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer is nice, but honestly, this is the prayer for the Church – Come, Lord Jesus. Weighing the vision of the judgments of God alongside the magnificence of Christ … it all left John with the exclamation of “Lord, yes, just come soon!”

Do you feel that way? Are you looking forward to that? Have you lived and cumulatively suffered enough of the inevitable sadnesses of this life – physically and otherwise – to be very much ready for the Lord’s return?  I know this: it gets easier to have this very viewpoint the older one gets! With each passing day, this looks better to me than the day before … the week before … the year before. Yes, Christ’s coming would be a great thing!

You Should Already Know That (1 Samuel 28:3-19)

The problem for most folks in living a successful Christian life is not that they don’t know what is the right thing to do, it is more that they don’t do what they already know is the right thing to do. In other words, people suffer more from a lack of obedience than a lack of knowledge.

When I was in elementary school, I remember having a teacher read to the class the famous children’s book called, “Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos.”  It was about this mouse that lived in Franklin’s old fur hat – a sort of Ratatouille character – who was really the brains behind the founding father.

Just because we do not have God sitting on our shoulder or whispering in our ear with specifics about every situation of life does not mean that what we have is insufficient. We have a complete revelation from God to give us direction for life, along with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit living within. We just need to be yielded to this truth.

As we look today at an Old Testament story at the end of King Saul’s life, we see the weak leader of Israel in big trouble. His crutch and connection to God – Samuel – was dead. Saul was in a difficult position. The Philistines were arrayed before him in battle and he did not know what to do. God was silent and there was no prophetic word.

So Saul took matters into his own hands and went to consult with a witch – a medium … a category of people he had previously sought to have eliminated from Israel. He needed Samuel to help him, and this was the only way he knew to get to him. So he disguises himself to get the woman to cooperate without fear.

The woman calls up Saul from the dead, and she is totally surprised herself that it actually worked! This indicates that she was something of a fraud … that what she dabbled in was not a real connection to the dead, but rather to Satanic spirits. Such would be true of similar practitioners today.

Saul delivers the devastating news of pending defeat in battle and the deaths of Saul and his sons the next day. The reason for this had to do with an incident in chapter 15 – how Saul had not obeyed God in the total wipeout of the Amalekites. (Rather than go into this is great detail now, let me simply advertise that you be sure to read our next devotional series on the life of David, where this chapter and topic will be covered on October 8th.)

Being the king in Israel was really not that difficult. God had set up a great system for his people and their leaders – be they priests, prophets, judges, or even the first of the kings, like Saul. Obey God and honor Him and his word, and things would go well and everyone would find that they had plenty of everything that was needed in life. Disobey, and just the opposite would happen. The truth they possessed was sufficient. Simply stated, Saul should’ve known better than to do such a thing.

The truth you possess today in God’s Word is sufficient, especially with the Holy Spirit’s internal residence to enlighten and lead. Yet people today go to their own “Endors” … hoping to find some magical answer from God that is the fruit of their own efforts.

Be found using your energies to grow in your knowledge of God’s Word.

Saul and the Medium at Endor

3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.

4 The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. 6 He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. 7 Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”

“There is one in Endor,” they said.

8 So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

9 But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”

10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.”

11 Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel,” he said.

12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

13 The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”

The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”

14 “What does he look like?” he asked.

“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.

15 Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

16 Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David.18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

“And now you know the rest of the story.” (Acts 8:26-40)

Those of you out there who are perhaps a bit older than a bit younger will remember the famous radio broadcasts of Paul Harvey with his distinctive voice. His daily program would present some story with little-known facts or some isolated piece of interesting information, and the key element of the story would often not be revealed until the very end. And Harvey would sign of with the final line, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

The very first believers were folks with a strong Hebrew Jewish background. Soon we see that there are Hellenistic Jews in the early company of Christians – these being ethnically Jewish people who had adopted the Greek culture and language of the Roman world. Today’s passage will give the story of a proselyte coming to Christ – this being a Gentile who had fully adopted the Jewish faith and God as the one true God. In the soon-coming story in Acts, Cornelius comes to faith, he being a “God fearer” – one who believed in the one true God, but who had not become Jewish. And finally we will see the Gospel extending to fully Gentile peoples. So … Hebrew Jews >> Hellenistic Jews >> Proselytes >> God Fearers >> Full Gentiles.

We today read about an Ethiopian official of some high office who had travelled many miles to Jerusalem to worship and was now on his way home. This was quite a long journey, and it certainly indicates a person very serious about faith and knowing God. Such is also evident by his study of Scripture, as in this passage he is laboring over the meaning of Isaiah 53:7,8 – about the prophecy of Christ as the Lamb of God.

This man knew that he had a part of the story, and that it pointed to something yet to come that he did not understand. Philip is divinely placed in the path of this man to explain this passage in the preaching of the Gospel and the completed work of Christ. The Ethiopian gladly receives the truth and publically proclaims his faith through baptism.

We who live toward the end of time have the great resource of God’s complete written revelation of the whole story of God’s redemptive work. We have the rest of the story.

Notice the vast heart of God in this expansion of the Gospel. This was not simply a message for the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham … it was growing to be universal for all lost peoples. God always had a heart for the nations of the world. His desire was that Israel be a missionary nation to the countries around them, but they blew that assignment over and over. But this new message of Christ’s forever payment for the sin of all people presents a great new era of a message of God’s abounding grace. And Luke is recording the growing network of believers – this new program of God called “the church.”

We are the Church, and we have all that we need. The Bible makes us sufficient, along with the work of the Spirit in us, to live and serve well as God’s people.

Philip and the Ethiopian – Acts 8:26-40

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]   38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

If you are a really careful reader, you may have noted that verse 37 was omitted. In some manuscripts it is contained and says: Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  This would appear, from the evidence of manuscripts containing it, that this is likely a later addition and was not in the original writing of Luke.

For those who heard the sermon this past Sunday where I showed a page from a Greek New Testament, this is an illustration of what I meant about those relatively few passages where some ancient manuscripts say one thing, while others may say something else, or as in this case completely omit it. In any event, you can see that there is no theological controversy attached to these simple words.

When Seeing is not Believing – Luke 16:19-31

Having so far in this Framework series talked about the Authority and Inerrancy of Scripture, we turn now to the third of our four topics – the Sufficiency of God’s Word.

Have you ever thought about how much easier it would be to have faith and confidence in God, or to also testify to other people about His reality if only you could physically see and experience Him? That would make all the difference, right? You could bring your needs directly to Him; people would have to believe and obey, because there would be no denying, right?

Today we read in Luke’s gospel about Christ’s telling of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The background for this is the ongoing debates of Jesus with the Pharisees. They believed they were in good shape with God because they were rich and righteous – the obvious signs of God’s blessing and approval. Beyond that, they constantly pestered Jesus for a sign – something incredible to verify his claims.

The parable details a rich man who had no mercy or compassion for a poor beggar at his gate named Lazarus. Both men die and go to their appropriate abode – each a temporary place for Old Testament era departures from this world – Hades and a place called “Abraham’s side.”

These areas were able to see from one to another, though there was an impassable chasm in between. The rich man in torment begs for relief, but learning it is impossible, he then resorts to begging for someone to return from the dead to warn his five brothers. His reasoning was that a person raised from the dead would be so impressive that anyone would listen to such.

But Abraham says that is not true. The brothers – obviously representative of the Pharisees – possessed a sufficient resource in Moses and the Prophets. In other words, they had the Scriptures – God’s Word – and that was more than sufficient. If they would not belief that, they would not believe someone raised from the dead.

At the end of the day, the issue honestly for most folks who do not believe the Bible is not that they can’t get there intellectually – though that is what they truly believe is their hang-up. Actually, it is that they don’t want to be the creature of a creator, and thus they deny even the inner intuitive sense that there is a God to whom they should be subservient. It is more comfortable to be their own captain than to yield to an external set of guidelines for living.

It really is amazing to see the Pharisees interact with Christ. He heals someone on the Sabbath, and rather than be impressed with the miracle, they are angry that it happened on that day of rest. Eventually, the pinnacle moment of power is the raising of a man from the dead – so happens that his name is Lazarus! And even then, instead of accepting the sign as a display of divine power, they jointly resolve from that time forward to have Christ entirely removed from the scene with his execution by the Romans.

Without going into all the details of end-times events, during the 1,000-year rule and reign of Christ on the Earth, there is a rebellion at the end where even in the visible presence of God, many rise up against him to their demise.

Seeing would still not be believing. The Bible is sufficient. It contains the whole story – a macro story of God’s plan of the ages as it unfolds through dozens and dozens of other stories and historical events. And it all tells us how we may know God and be connected with Him for eternity.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

About Jots and Tittles (Matthew 5:17-20)

What are the differences between these sets of words: I’LL REST and ILL PEST?  There is quite a difference in meaning, but honestly not that much in form and the use of letters. The apostrophe makes the difference between I’LL and ILL, while the little descending line in the letter “R” makes the difference between REST and PEST.  jot_and_tittle

Tiny marks and strokes in written languages can make a big difference between words. And when Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount spoke of (in the language of the King James Version) jots and tittles, he was speaking of little marks in the Hebrew language that were like apostrophes, and of small dashes that distinguished one letter from another.

Not only was Jesus saying that the content of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures was true, it was fully reliable down to the very smallest portion of the letters of the words. There can be no doubt from the entire record of Christ’s statements that he saw the Scriptures as God’s perfect revelation to mankind.

The religious leaders at the time of Jesus, particularly the Pharisees, did not see Jesus as a model for anything but an upsetting of the apple cart of tradition and truth. They viewed him as a rival. And Jesus says that he did not come to compete with the Law (the Old Testament), but to complete it and fulfill it in a way the Pharisees could not. (See, in English that letter “L” made all the difference in meaning between “compete” and “complete.”)

If we call someone today a “Pharisee” we have debased them and criticized them for being arrogant and pompous in belief, speech and action. It is a negative. But at the time of Christ, the Pharisees were respected and generally held in high regard for their precise observance of Scripture. Along the way, they had also codified thousands of actions that were precise (and often ridiculous) requirements to fulfill the Law. And they worked very hard and very publically at being the very best.

But here is the problem: nobody can be perfect about everything, not even a blue-chip Pharisee batting clean-up on the Pharisaic all-star team. Jesus is pitching a new set of fast balls right past them – upping the standard… such as not just avoiding adultery, but being guilty because of lust.

Throughout the chapter, Jesus burns them over and over with their platitudes (“You have heard it said…”), and the chapter ends with the statement that they need to be perfect as God is perfect. And again, there is the problem.

The purpose of the Law was to set a perfect standard of God’s righteousness, showing that it could not be met … that it could only be covered (atoned for) in blood. And Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice, fulfilling the Law and paying the price of sin on behalf of those who could not do it themselves. Christ offers his righteousness for those who will trust and receive it.

This fulfillment of the Law down to its finest and smallest points is what Christ came to do, and it is indeed the good news – the gospel of salvation from the grind of works and deeds that could never really make the standard.

All of this points to the precision of Scripture – from dozens of writers over hundreds of years. And it all ties together in one great message and theme of God’s salvation in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Using Time in the Time We Live (2 Peter 3:1-18)

I think about time a lot – about the span of life and the budgetary use of the time any of us believe we have available in what we assume will be the years of our lives. And I am actually writing this devotional exactly one year – to the very hour – from going to the hospital with what was diagnosed as pulmonary emboli.

I did not realize until the situation had passed, that it was a potentially life-threatening episode. So at this very moment I am profoundly struck by God’s grace in giving me the time of an extended year of life; and I would trust for many more, even if I do have to limp through them with my gimpy knees.

In this final chapter of Peter’s New Testament writings, the idea of time comes up – a perspective on end times, the relative value of time to the Lord, and how to live in a certain time or age. So, I’m going to have some fun with the word “time” as we go through this chapter.

But first, the reason this text is in our Framework series has to do with just one verse in the chapter: verse 16. Here, Peter speaks of the Apostle Paul’s writings by saying, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

The significance of this is that Peter categorizes Paul’s writings as “Scripture.” This is, of course, not that terribly long after the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, so it is quite early in the church age. Paul’s epistles were circulated among the churches and had gained an authoritative status as Scripture = God’s revelation and truth. That is quite an assertion, and it helps us understand how the books of the New Testament came to be accepted as authoritative.

But now, let’s talk about “time” in several ways …

3:1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

I began the sermon yesterday by quoting one of the cultural icons of our age – a TV comedian who scoffed greatly at the notion of believing the Bible or in a God of judgment. It is not rare. Peter anticipated that people would scoff, particularly at the belief that Christ would come again and that a day of judgment would eventuate. “So, where is it?” is the attitude the world may have. “If it has been this long, well, can it really be true?”

But Peter says to expect this skeptical viewpoint… that these people choose to forget that God created it all, and that it was done by his word a long, long time ago. The one who made it will also end it. It will happen, and people will scoff.

A Perspective on Time

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

As finite creatures, we are locked within time. God has no such encumbrance. A day and a millennium are the same to him; he won’t forget something just because a couple of thousand years go by.

I remember all the people I met yesterday, but don’t ask me to recall the names or faces of people I only knew briefly like 10 years ago. But for God, his memory of a thousand years ago is superior to our memory of 24 hours past. God will keep his appointments on his time schedule.

A Perspective on the Time to Come

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

When God does keep his promise of coming again and bringing a final judgment upon a sinful earth, it is going to happen quickly. Nobody expects a thief to show up; he does it without warning, and so will the day of God’s judgment be. We just passed a 9/11 anniversary. Were you expecting the sort of thing as the Twin Towers falling and the Pentagon being attacked to happen when you got up on 9/11/01?

The very practical question arising from this is related to what kind of lives we should live in the pending expectation as to how things could quickly end. Holy and godly – that’s the answer. And the final day is nothing to fear for those who are aligned with God’s promises, because on the other side is a new heaven and a new earth, where life is of a decidedly different character.

A Perspective on How to Use Time

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

The way to live until such time as the Lord returns is to be growing in greater understanding of God’s grace to us in all things, along with growing in our knowledge of Christ and our eternal life in the Lord.

How do you do that? I don’t know of any other way than to grow by a greater knowledge of and obedience to the Scriptures. There is no other way than the academic, hard-working pursuit of reading, studying, praying, applying, and obeying what God has written for us in the Scriptures. To simply sort of like it and dabble in it is certainly not what a passage like this, and dozens of others, picture about the Christian life.

So to you who took the time to read this… that is commendable. You are working at it and committing to it, as are many others around you in our family of faith. Even so, too many others choose not to … choosing to compartmentalize their faith into a narrow window or segment of their schedules so as to have larger chunks of time for the pursuit of personal interests.

But in Peter’s words … “Make every effort… Bear in mind… Be on your guard… Grow in grace.” Yep – you need a Bible to have a FRAMEWORK for that!

From God’s Mouth to Our Ears (2 Peter 1:12-21)

This coming Sunday at Tri-State Fellowship will include a time of communion and remembrance of the Lord’s death for us. As an orienting thought at the end of the sermon, I am going to use a Civil War illustration – one that I’ve thought of using in the past, but had never previously researched the details.

Stimulating my thought on this was an occasion last week where I was at a political gathering with former gubernatorial candidate and Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey. It was at Antietam, and she was telling me that she had an ancestor was buried there, though not really, that the name was on the grave but that he had not actually died in the War … that was the family story.

I knew there was a story like this about a grave in the National Cemetery and went to research it. Actually, the man’s name was Henry Struble, or was it Strubble?

In any event, this fellow had lent his canteen to a wounded soldier during the conflict and had not retrieved it. Some accounts said South Mountain (September 14th), some Antietam (September 17th).

In any event, the wounded fellow did not survive, and he was buried under the name inscribed upon the canteen in his possession – Henry Struble. Some accounts said the deceased man was a fellow Union soldier as Struble (who was from Pennsylvania), while others said he was Confederate – odd, because Rebels were not buried in the Antietam Cemetery.

In any event, Struble survived the War and learned later that his gravestone was at Antietam. Some accounts said he discovered this when he came to the cemetery when it was dedicated soon after the War was over, others said that an acquaintance saw it and told him about it.

In any event, it is true that he visited the grave every year to put flowers on it. Some said on the anniversary of the battle, others that he did it on Memorial Day.

In any event, that story is only 152 years old. The Bible takes us back 2,000 years to Jesus Christ, and to 1,500 years of biblical writings collected before that time. How can we believe in the accuracy of such an old book? Would not the stories have similar twists and turns as the Henry Struble account?

Remember the child’s game in elementary school called “Whisper Down the Line?”  The teacher would write a sentence on a paper and whisper it to the first person in a circle. All around the circle the sentence would be repeated to the next person and so on, until the last person would write on the board what they heard. Finally, the teacher would read her beginning words; and the two sentences were never, ever even remotely similar.

That is what a lot of people naturally feel is what happened with the Bible … that the written version today is not at all like what really happened, and thus cannot be seen as reliable.

In our passage for today, Peter has encouraged his readers to remain true to the truths they had been taught. He knew his time was short, and his desire was for the truth to be firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of Christ’s followers.

12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

But why should they believe and put their lives on the line for this teaching? Peter gives two answers – speaking of the incarnate Word of Christ and the written Word of God.

Verses 16-18 speak about the Mount of Transfiguration, which was an incredible experience for the three disciples who got to see and HEAR just a bit behind the curtain of Glory itself. In Matthew 17 is the scene …

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

That would be impressive! And Peter, while reflecting on that, wrote about why he should be believed …

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

But it was even more than just an experience. All of the experiences the disciples were witnesses of were events that squared with Scripture and the writings of prophets from years before.

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 

These final two verses are of greatest interest for our theme in this Framework series. None of the writers of the Bible made up anything on their own. They were rather inspired by the Holy Spirit and “carried along” to pen what they wrote. The Greek words here are from the nautical world of sailing, and they speak of a wind that fills the sails and moves the boat across the water. The Holy Spirit (the word for which is pneumatos in Greek – like ‘pneumatic’) was the wind in the sails … through the pens … of the human authors to write with divine accuracy the very words that God desired for mankind to possess, even within the unique writing style of each author.

The end result is that we have a good and complete record of God’s truth, through human authors, to depend upon as God’s revelation to us as to how we may know Him and serve and live for Him effectively even in a dark and sinful world.

A Framework in a World Gone Crazy (2 Timothy 3:1-17)

On this day that I write these words, I found myself in a very melancholy mood at the weekly pastoral staff prayer gathering. Conversation around the table featured a couple of items of behavior in the current culture that I simply cannot relate to at all – items that struck me as antithetical to the Christian life and leaking across appropriate lines that separate the markings of a follower of Christ versus the mere stuff of this world.

I find myself more and more out of touch with the ebb and flow of what is popular and valued – things esteemed often for reasons I simply cannot imagine. I fear being old and disconnected, especially in an era that seems to more quickly than ever disregard loyalties to the tried and true, turning rather with an A.D.D. sort of bored disinterest in favor of anything that is young and new. Exterior excitement certainly trumps internal substance.

I feel like a Rolex in a world where the iWatch unveiling has essentially doomed me and my Scriptural substance values system to the back corner of the old socks drawer in the bedroom dresser … good for memories, but not exciting enough for where life is going.

In some fraction, I helped to change the Christian church world by jumping from the traditional structures of my youth and being part of the leading edge toward “contemporary” modalities. The preaching and teaching component at that time did not change regarding the value, authority, and perfection of God’s Word … though it is true that my generation of communicators pressed to not just teach what the Bible said to the original audience and the theology inherent with it, but to go the next step and flesh out the practical applications for a modern world.

But after us came a new wave of exciting communicators who used the Scriptures as a launching point to talk about applications that were not necessarily always supported by the original teaching and intent. It is like laying a foundation for a three-bedroom ranch house, but then building a larger contemporary structure with multiple levels of stone walls, heavy timbers, and glass atriums and overhanging balconies. It was beautiful to look at for a while, but eventually the foundation gave way, and great was the fall thereof!

In the last month, several prominent faces of externally successful church ministry around the country have had more than a few structural faults exposed. It was inevitable when the foundation – the framework – was not appropriately valued.

It may seem like this is new and unique to our times, but it is not. It has been a recurrent problem dating back to the early church, to the days of Paul, and even to the challenges faced by Moses in Israel. And so the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage and instruct his younger disciple in the faith – Randy … ah, oops … no, it was Timothy – yeah, that’s the ticket …

3:1  But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

Wow, those first five verses really do sound like a description of our present age – self-centered and self-focused people who cunningly build empires around themselves, looking like something, claiming to be something. It was like two characters named Jannes and Jambres – who are not biblical names, but rather referred to a very common and well-known Jewish legend about two of Pharaoh’s magicians who opposed Moses. They looked really good for a while, but eventually the smoke and mirrors caught up with them, as they did not possess substance.

Paul instructs Timothy to not go in this direction, but to remember and follow a different model – one that was given to him by Paul – a model of enduring faithfulness built upon the framework of Scripture …

10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The fact is that the faithful life of serving Christ is not going to be easy. Paul suffered greatly and was even stoned and presumed dead, but he recovered and walked back into Lystra to finish his sermon! There is going to be opposition both from those who hate the faith, and difficulties from others who are impostors within the walls. The need is to stay faithful to the Scriptures. God’s Word is the foundation that will stand. It is perfect in every detail and timelessly profitable in any situation.

The Scriptures fully equip a person who knows what they teach to address any and all contingencies. But to be equipped, one has to know what they say. One has to make the Bible and the study of it to be a lifelong passion and pursuit. It is not enough to get some general ideas and run with them toward your own desired application.

The Bible is a framework in a world gone crazy, and truly we live in such a world.

Itching ears, greedy stomach (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

Your average preacher is the spiritual equivalent of the TV weatherman.  He pays enormously for an academic education, then he gets put in front of an audience that expects him to be entertaining—and gets furious when he tells them something they don’t want to hear. 

Paul understood this.  This is why he tells the young pastor Timothy to press in, because times are tough and there will always be rivals.  In his letter to this young pastor, Paul writes:

 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

What was the danger?  Paul knew that Timothy would face an era where people turned from God’s truth to instead embrace a seductive lie.  Itching ears?  By that he meant that sometimes our “felt” needs outstrip our deeper, spiritual needs. 

I hope you recognize that this danger is no less real today.  Go into any bookstore—even the Christian bookstore—and you’ll be confronted by a wall of self-help teachers that offer advice on finance, dating, weight loss, and anything else you can conceivably think of as leading to personal happiness and fulfillment.  With itching ears and greedy stomachs, modern day Christians have unrepentantly devoted themselves to a curious blend of spiritual platitudes and consumerist delight. 

Why is this so dangerous?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?  But that question only assumes that my deepest problem is unhappiness.  If my deepest problem is financial, then financial planning is my surest savior.  If my problem is singleness, then dating advice becomes my gospel.  If my deepest problem is low self-esteem, then a self-help manual works wonders.  But the gospel says that my deepest problem isn’t a lack of personal fulfillment, but the excess of personal fulfillment.  What the Bible calls “sin” is a form of self-indulgence, self-interest, self-absorption.  And the only true remedy for that is the gospel. 

You see, the greatest problem within the walls of today’s church is that we’ve assumed the gospel to be elementary when it should be elemental.  We’ve assumed that the God has saved us from hell, but fail to recognize the ways he has saved us for new life.  And when we minimize that, we’re left to thrive on the petty dalliances of consumerist religion.  What today’s church needs is not a change in her substance, but a return to it.  To refocus our eyes on the beauty of Jesus and his message of forgiveness and transformation.   To realize that when—not if—we fully understand the exhilarating, electrifying joy that comes from knowing Christ, that our so-called needs and “itching ears” will seem trivial by comparison. 

Paul’s letter to Timothy was the last that would appear in the New Testament—and most likely his final before being killed in Rome.   Paul faced this inevitability with courage, with conviction, and with words of encouragement for the rough road ahead:

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

If we care deeply about others, it naturally means caring less about self.  Often people struggle to find a church that “meets my needs.”  But such an approach treats faith as if it were a series of projects, self-improvement schemes with Jesus as the means and self as the end.  But Christianity says that religion isn’t something that you can master; religion is something that must master you.  And so if the gospel is true, I find hope and purpose and joy in Christ alone—and not the cares of my earthly appetite and itching ears.