Tuesday, November 20, 2018

SBG - Episode 27 - "The Creation and Functions of Angels"

Our host, Matthew Dowling, discusses the Bible's teachings on angels, including their creation and functions in heaven and on earth.

The Kingdom in our Midst

The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21b).

Luke now turns our attention to the coming of the kingdom of God. He tells us that on one occasion the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom would come. Jesus said that as carefully as we might study the coming of the kingdom, we cannot see it because it is within us. Jesus was saying that the kingdom does not come in a dramatic fashion; rather, the kingdom enters quietly.

Verse 21 is one of the most misinterpreted verses in the New Testament. It is grammatically proper to translate the verse, “The kingdom of God is within you.” It is equally valid, however, to translate it, “The kingdom of God is in your midst,” which in context is more accurate.

To interpret this verse, as many do, to mean that the kingdom of God is only in the hearts of people is a mistake. God’s kingdom influences every area of life. Moreover, at this point in His discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus was discussing history, not theology. The kingdom of God was in their midst because the King was in their midst.

Jesus continued by telling His disciples that soon they would be looking for the coming of the kingdom but would not see it, and there would be men making false claims about His return. He explained that His return would be as “lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky” (v. 24).

Jesus’ second coming will not be like His first, which was relatively quiet. Then, only those whose eyes were fixed upon God recognized the presence of His Son. The Second Coming, however, will make itself known with bolts of lightning. No one will miss it. The kingdom comes quietly because it comes wherever Jesus is. When the King returns to the kingdom at the end, however, it will be anything but quiet.

Since Jesus resides in our hearts, in one sense the kingdom of God is within us. What are some of other expressions of the kingdom in our midst? Think particularly of the ministries of the church. How can you maximize your exposure to the King and live to the fullest extent in the kingdom?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Giving Thanks to God

Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18).

On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border of Samaria and Galilee. As He was going into one of the villages, a group of ten lepers called out to him. Under the laws of Leviticus 13–14, people afflicted with leprosy were not permitted inside walled cities or fenced villages. Moreover, those touched by them became ceremonially unclean. Thus, the lepers stayed away from other people.

However, this particular group of lepers had heard about Jesus’ healing power and called out, “Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:13). Jesus called back, “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (v. 14). According to the laws of Leviticus, it was the job of the priests to determine if a person had a case of leprosy. They obeyed Jesus on faith, and as they went, they were cleansed.

One of the men, a Samaritan, came back and threw himself at Jesus’ feet, praising God and thanking Jesus. It is interesting to note that, although Jews normally had nothing to do with Samaritans, in this community of misery, all such artificial social barriers had disappeared. At any rate, it was not one of the Jewish lepers but a Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus.

We often read this passage to mean that only one of the ten was grateful, but this is a mistake. First, all of these men had the faith to obey Jesus. Second, leprosy was such a distressing disease that any man cured of it was grateful. It is likely that the other nine men were so excited at the possibility of returning to their homes that they failed to take the time to express their thanks.

Taking time to give thanks—that is the point of the story. We may be thankful for God’s blessings, but how often do we take the time to express our thanks to God? On this occasion, only one in ten did so.

The ancient word for the Lord’s Day worship service is Holy Eucharist, which means “Holy Thanksgiving.” The purpose of worship was seen as a time of corporate praise and thanksgiving to God. Reflect on your time of worship yesterday. Did you take time to thank God? On a piece of paper, list specific things God has done for you recently, and express your thanks to Him for each one.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Abraham's Bosom and Hades

Whether men like it or not, or whether they believe it or not, the Bible clearly speaks of the reality of a heaven and a hell in the afterlife. Consistently and persistently, Scripture declares that at the end of time there is a judgment, and in it there is a great separation—the righteous go to heaven while the unrighteous go to hell (see Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 25:31–46; and Luke 16:19–31).

In typical fashion, the Word of God uses a rich variety of terms to describe these eternal destinies, among which are those in Friday’s study—Abraham’s bosom and Hades. Uniformly, the language reveals the beauty and blessing of being in the presence of God and the torment and awfulness of being apart from Him. The more commonly employed terminology, however, is heaven and hell.

Heaven is the eternal “location” of those who have in this life trusted in God and His coming redemption (Old Testament) or in Jesus Christ and the accomplished salvation on the Cross of Calvary and His subsequent resurrection from the dead (New Testament). The supreme glory of heaven is the presence of God Himself, thus the glorious descriptions in the book of Revelation of the throne of God surrounded by the innumerable angels and “the uncountable redeemed of God” (chapters 4–5).

The Bible uses a variety of expressions for this eternal destiny of blessedness in God’s presence, some of which are “Abraham’s side,” “My Father’s house” (Jesus), “paradise,” and “the new heaven and new earth.” Abraham’s side is a figure of speech used by Jesus to indicate closeness and security in the presence of “the friend of God,” Abraham, the forefather of the Hebrews. Jesus’ language of “My Father’s house” speaks of the new home the righteous have in eternity, emphasizing the security and tranquility of being in the very presence of the heavenly Father.

Paradise speaks of a delightful garden, creating images of a restored greater Garden of Eden where the presence of the Shekinah glory of God will be the privilege of the redeemed as they walk with Him. The magnificence of the symbolic description of the new heaven and new earth visualizes the overwhelming blessings of eternal life at its fullest (Revelation 21:1–22:5). But the heaven of heaven ultimately is being in the presence of Jesus:

  Christ is the heart of Heaven,
  Its fullness and its bliss;
  The center of the heavenly throng,
  The Object of the ransomed’s song
  Is Jesus in the midst.

Hell, on the other hand, is the dreadful “place” that is the eternal abode of the wicked. Here, too, the Bible uses a variety of terms in its vivid description of the final state of the unrighteous. Some of its designations are sheol and hades, gehenna, outer darkness, the second death, and the lake of fire. Sheol (Old Testament) and hades (New Testament) are generic terms to describe the state of death, at times, however, describing the final state of those who are forever apart from God (the Luke passage). Gehenna, derived from Jerusalem’s burning garbage dump, emphasizes the horror and the separation from God of the unrighteous in the eternal state.

Outer darkness is a figure of speech noting the total absence of the God who is light, while the second death expression shows the finality of the last separation. The lake of fire vividly portrays the torment that hell is because of the total absence of God’s love and all that is good and wholesome in the universe, and the fact that this anguish lasts forever. All these and many other designations describe the dreadfulness of hell and serve as a graphic warning to men and women today in any culture and nation of the world.

All we have to do to avoid hell and be guaranteed a place in heaven (at Abraham’s side) is follow the simple advice of the apostle Paul: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). That is the beauty of the Gospel!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Enough Faith to Forgive

"The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).

Jesus’ stern teaching at the beginning of Luke 17 frightened the disciples. He warned them that offenses are bound to come, but “woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves” (Luke 17:1–3).

Then, illustrating the meaning of causing people to stumble, Jesus commanded His disciples to forgive anyone who repents, even if the same person sins and repents seven times a day. Seven is the number for completeness, so Jesus was saying that we must forgive an infinite number of times if necessary.

The disciples realized how hard it is in real life to forgive people who have wronged us deeply, even when they ask for forgiveness. Thus, the apostles said, “Lord, increase our faith!” Considerable trust in God is needed to be able to forgive. If we do not forgive, our hardheartedness may cause a little one to stumble.

Jesus told the disciples that their faith was already strong enough. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you” (v. 6). In other words, even a small amount of faith can work wonders. Jesus was saying: “Don’t tell Me your faith is not strong enough to carry out My commandments. The slightest bit of faith is all that is needed to forgive people.”

We cannot be Christians unless we believe in our hearts that we are forgiven. Faith starts with repentance and forgiveness, so if we have any faith at all, we have enough faith to forgive others. The kingdom starts with forgiveness and spreads the same way.

For those who have learned the grace of forgiving others, there may yet be another aspect to learn. Some Christians cannot forgive themselves. As harsh as the judgment may be, these people are discrediting the Word of God. By holding themselves still accountable, they press for more rigorous standards than does God in His Word. If this is true of you, ask God to forgive you for not forgiving yourself.