discovered

IMG_0789“…they will reign with him for a thousand years…” (Rev. 20:6).

 

 

 

  • Tomorrow will be a day of discovery.
  • We will discover what we are really made for.
  • Our future work and identity as priests and kings will clarify our present experiences.

An ancient Philosopher wrote that “God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time, but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives.”[1] He paints the universe as a gigantic puzzle which fits together perfectly, but there are so many pieces that no one but God can see the big picture. As a result, we all go through our lives not understanding our potential, because we cannot see enough of what is. When our Lord returns, that will change. It will be the universe’s ah-ha moment. The redeemed will finally understand what we are made for.

the image of God

We do get glimpses of our purpose and destiny in God’s revealed word: the Bible. One of those glimpses can be found by examining humanity’s distinctive creation.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness,so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.[2]

A great many theologians have unpacked that phrase “image of God” to explain what it means. But often their explanations go far afield of the meaning given to the phrase in the actual verse where it is first found. I have underlined the words “so they may rule” because that is the first description in the Bible for the reason that God chose to create human beings in his image. Our creation in his image had to do with his ultimate purpose for us.

Another clue to the meaning of image (Hebrew: tselem) in this context is how the word was used in Moses’ time and culture. The word image “has a particularly important background in Ancient Near Eastern politics. It is in that context that we learn of ‘powerful kings in the ancient world’ who ‘placed their tselem (statues of themselves) to represent their sovereignty in territories where they were not present.’” [3] In a sense, then, the images of the rulers ruled in their place as their representatives while they were away. When the rulers had sons, those sons were also in their image and likeness and would stand in for the father, commanding as his representatives, and taking tribute and taxes for their father’s kingdom. This way, a man could extend his rule beyond the territory that he might reasonably be expected to control by himself.

It is not too difficult to see how the cults of idol worship and the phenomena of polytheism might have evolved from this practice. It is also interesting to compare this Old Testament text with other sacred texts that came from polytheistic cultures. For example, the Enuma Elish (Babylonian creation epic (tablet 6) contains this statement about humanity’s creation:

“When Marduk hears the words of the gods,His heart prompts (him) to fashion artful works.Opening his mouth, he addresses Ea To impart the plan he had conceived in his heart: ‘Blood I will mass and cause bones to be. I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name. Verily savage-man I will create. He shall be charged with the service of the gods That they might be at ease!’”[4]

The similarities between this text and Genesis 1:26-27 are striking. In both sacred texts there is a discussion among the deities, although that is not as accurate description of the Hebrew text as it is for the Babylonian one. In both texts, human beings were created for a purpose. These similarities lead anthropologists to surmise that both of these texts stem from an even more ancient tradition. That is partially true. Moses did not invent the story of creation, and neither did these ancient Babylonians. It is our faith in the God of the Bible that leads us to assume that Moses’ description of creation is more accurate and faithful to what really happened. We believe that the Bible is accurate by virtue of our relationship with Christ.

But even if we were to simply compare the two creation accounts at this point, amazing differences emerge.

  • First, compare the descriptions of the nature of these human beings created. In the Hebrew text, these beings are made in God’s image. There is a definite reference to their dignity as creatures, in comparison to all other creatures. The Babylonian text refers to them as savages.
  • Secondly, the Hebrew text extends this dignity to both genders, making a point that both of the sexes possess his image, and both are to be involved in accomplishing his divine purpose. The Babylonian text merely refers to one being, a man.
  • Thirdly, the purpose for human creation is drastically different in the two texts. In the Hebrew text, human beings were created to join God in ruling over the rest of creation. In the Babylonian text, they were created to serve the gods, so that the gods can “be at ease.”

A survey of the remaining texts in the OT where tselem is found is enlightening as well.

  • After the death of Abel and the banishment of Cain, Moses gives the genealogy of Adam through Seth, who is said to be after Adam’s image.[5] This suggests that Seth’s will be the line through whom God’s promised deliverer will come, who will restore humanity to God’s intended dignity, and realign humanity with his intended dignity.
  • God’s covenant with Noah condemned murder because it was destroying a creature who possessed God’s image.[6] Killing people is an insult to God and thwarts his purpose for us.
  • But God’s people were commanded to destroy all the idols, which were images, and demolish all the sacred places they were displayed.[7] Idolatry is condemned because it is a demonic mockery of God’s purposes. God wanted human beings to be his image, not bow down to artificial images made by them.
  • The Philistines, after capturing the ark of the covenant, were so plagued with mice and body tumors that their diviners told them to fashion five golden tumors and five golden mice to accompany the ark as they returned it.[8] These golden objects contained the images of and represented the curse they understood was upon them.
  • The Psalmists speak of the futility of life by describing people as chasing shadows,[9] and God as overcoming Israel’s enemies like waking up from dreams.[10] The image as a lesser representation of the true reality is seen in these uses of tselem.
  • Ezekiel condemned the idolatry Israel was immersed in by describing their images as the jewelry of a prostitute.[11]
  • Amos warned that on the day of the LORD Israel would not be vindicated, but would fall back to the images of the foreign gods they had secretly worshipped.[12]

The New Testament Greek word corresponding to tselem in Hebrew is eikōn, the word from which we get our modern-day term, icon. Notice how the term is used by the New Testament authors:

  • Jesus used it to refer to Caesar’s portrait on a roman coin.[13]
  • Paul used it to refer to idols made to resemble and represent humans and animals.[14]
  • Paul also used it to refer to human destiny. The redeemed are predestined to conform to the image of Christ.[15]
  • Paul also instructed the men of Corinth not to cover their heads in worship, since they represent the glory of God, and are his image.[16]
  • Paul taught that presently Christ is the holder of the unmarred image of God.[17]
  • The author of Hebrews taught that the law was an image because it represented the good things to come, but was not the reality that the gospel is.[18]
  • The Revelation predicted that the great demonic beast would be represented by an image which would be worshipped and would rule over men.[19]

Given this data, which consists of every use of the term tselem in the OT and eikōn in the NT, what are we to conclude that the basic, primary meaning of the words are? We can immediately conclude that in absolutely none of these references is there an implication that the image necessitates immortality. In fact, three terms encompass the meaning of these words in all these various contexts: dignity, representation and rule.

Revelation 20:6

Those three concepts come together so well in the back of the book, where the redeemed are promised an eternity of priesthood and kingship. John says “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.”[20] Later the promise is repeated, and it is made clear that the redeemed will actually share that status not just for a 1000 year millennium, but for eternity.[21] But consider the significance of what is promised when our Lord returns. He promises us a priesthood. Priests are representatives of God before man, and vice versa. They intercede before God on behalf of the community, and they represent God in his holiness before the community. Here is a combination of the two ideas of dignity and representation. The kingship combines all three tselem ideas, because a king has the highest status among the people, he represents them before God, and he rules them.

why no prophets?

No doubt many readers by now are seeing a correlation between these descriptions of human destiny and the threefold messianic expectations. The Messiah was expected to be both prophet, priest and king. Eusebius was the first to delineate this theological classification. He said “And we have been told also that certain of the prophets themselves became, by the act of anointing, Christs in type, so that all these have reference to the true Christ, the divinely inspired and heavenly Word, who is the only high priest of all, and the only King of every creature, and the Father’s only supreme prophet of prophets.”[22] Theologians since his time have also pointed out this significant three-fold office that Christ holds.

But why are there to be no prophets among humanity in all eternity? The simplest answer is that when our Lord returns he will completely and utterly fulfill the function of a prophet by conveying all we will ever need to know about God to his own that he has redeemed. As the apostle Paul puts it, “Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”[23]

But since that is so, isn’t it also true that the roles of priesthood and kingship will also be superfluous throughout eternity? There will be no sins to sacrifice for, and no rebellion to quell. So, why does the Bible describe our eternal fate using these terms?

eternal priesthood

There is more to the priesthood that just interceding for the sinful. The priests in the Old Testament were there to represent the holiness of the God who chose to tabernacle among them. When serving in the tabernacle (and, later, the temple), the priests wore special garments that set them apart from the rest of the community. When they walked among their people, they were to maintain strict standards of separation and had to avoid all kinds of common things that would defile them, making them unfit for service.

The picture of an eternal priesthood tells believers today that their destiny is to represent God in his holiness forever. This goes way beyond the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood, but that priesthood and temple served as a “sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary.”[24] God will be manifesting his holiness throughout eternity, and redeemed humanity will be there as part of that manifestation.

eternal kingship

The dominion God wanted for mankind on planet earth will be accomplished throughout the universe by an eternal kingship. But – once again, we might ask – why kings when there is no rebellion to quell? Well, there was no rebellion in the original creation either. But God still gave a great commission to humanity to have dominion over his creation. The king of Kings wishes to share his authority and glory with those whom he has rescued from death. Perhaps the answer is no more complicated than that. He does not want us to be saved so that we sit on a shelf as his eternal trophies. He redeemed us so that we can accomplish his original purpose, albeit on a much grander scale.

what we are made for

Perhaps knowing what we are ultimately made for will encourage us in these dark days of our pre-existence. We are not yet what we are supposed to be, so if we do not feel as holy as a priest, or as powerful as a king, at least we can trust in his promises for our future destiny. But we can also take these future realities as symbols of his present will for us. God takes no eternal pleasure in our sinfulness and sickness and failure to represent his glory. He wants more for us. He made us for more. When we encounter obstacles to that perfect will, we can pray in confidence, knowing that he does not want us blind and crippled and broken. He has a destiny for us that is more than that.

the here and now

Our present experiences are always going to be much less that that ideal. We are going to fail, and we are going to experience times of slavery and shame. But perhaps just knowing about that glorious destiny that awaits us when our Savior breaks through the clouds will help us endure and eventually overcome those times of failure with a faith that can look beyond them. Our faith is not in us, and our present abilities or capabilities. Our faith is in our coming King who now serves as our great High Priest.


[1] Ecclesiastes 3:11.

[2] Genesis 1:26-27 NET (emphasis mine).

[3] James M. Childs, Greed: Economics and Ethics in Conflict (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 25.

[4] James Bennett Pritchard, ed. The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. (Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ, 2011), 33.

[5] Genesis 5:3.

[6] Genesis 9:6.

[7] Numbers 33:52; 2 Kings 11:18; 2 Chronicles 23:17.

[8] 1 Samuel 6:5, 11.

[9] Psalm 39:7.

[10] Psalm 73:20.

[11] Ezekiel 7:20; 16:17; 23:14.

[12] Amos 5:26.

[13] Matthew 22:20; Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24.

[14] Romans 1:23.

[15] Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10.

[16] 1 Corinthians 11:7.

[17] 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15.

[18] Hebrews 10:1.

[19] Revelation 13:14,15; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4.

[20] Revelation 20:6 NLT.

[21] Revelation 22:5.

[22] Hist. eccl. 1.3.8, in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series (New York, 1890), 1:86.

[23] 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT.

[24] Hebrews 8:5 NET.

From Glory to Glory

clip_image004Psalm 19:1-14 NLT 1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. 2 Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. 3 They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. 4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. 5 It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. 6 The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Nothing can hide from its heat. 7 The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The commandments of the LORD are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are clear, giving insight for living. 9 Reverence for the LORD is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the LORD are true; each one is fair. 10 They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb. 11 They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them. 12 How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. For the choir director: A psalm of David.

clip_image002We are continuing our series on the psalms. Last week we talked about the process that you can use to study a text so that you make sure that you are getting the same thing out of it that the original hearers did. This discovery process requires that we ask certain questions.

The BACKGROUND question is a little trickery than for Psalm 3 because the only things the superscription tells us is that David wrote it, and dedicated it to the choir director. This actually tells us a lot, though. It suggests David finished the final version of this song while he was king. I think he started it while a shepherd, based on the nature imagery of verses 1-6.

The WORD STUDY question also reveals some interesting progression. The names he uses for God keep getting more and more personal.

The THEOLOGICAL FOCUS of the psalm is on the doctrine of revelation, that is, how God reveals himself to us.

The STRUCTURE question puts these elements together and you can see a progression of ways that God revealed himself to David, and how David chose to respond to those revelations.

clip_image006This first part was probably written early in David’s life, perhaps while he served as a shepherd. You can picture David out on a clear day, clouds floating by, and he just takes in the glory of creation. What David sees is the craftsmanship of a divine artist, communicating through the canvass of creation itself. He discovers a great deal about God from staring at that canvass. He also comes to the conclusion that this is what God wants. He wants his creatures to look at the majesty and glory of creation and say “My God did that.” The message is that God is glorious, and that message goes out to the whole planet.

Penny and I just got back from a hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail. We climbed Catawba Mountain, and enjoyed the view from McAfee’s Knob. It was so stunning that we actually came back for seconds on the same day. Our God is awesome, and you can see how awesome he is by looking at what he has created.

clip_image008Next, David goes from the general to the specific. He highlights the glory of one part of this glorious creation: the sun. He describes it as a radiant bridegroom, bursting forth from his wedding canopy. Then, he changes the simile, and says the sun is like a great athlete, eager to run the race and show everybody what he’s got in him. I can imagine young David, sitting under a shade tree, watching his sheep, and following the sun’s course as it rises at one end of the sky, and, over the day, burns its way to the other end.

The sun’s daily course speaks of incredible power under control. The one controlling this great power is the one who created it. Scientists tell us that the earth’s relationship to the sun is incredible. We live in what they call the Goldilocks zone: 93 million miles from the sun’s surface. If we were 92 million miles away, life could not exist on earth. If we were 94 million miles away, life could not exist on earth. But God puts us right where we need to be in relation to this glorious sun.

clip_image010At verse 7, we see our first major structural transition. David is no longer talking about the natural creation, and starts talking about a supernatural one: the Bible. God is still revealing himself to David, but he has added a new form of revelation. I imagine that at some point in David’s life, he was so overwhelmed by the glory of God that he saw in creation, that he started seeking more. That is what the Bible is for. God’s word brings us from recognition of God (Elohim, vs. 1), to revival of the soul through a covenant with the LORD (Yahveh, vss.7,8,9).

Some people never get to this stage. They know that God exists, but they will not accept the Bible. David did accept the Bible as God’s word, and it made a tremendous difference in his life. Look at what he says about the Bible here. Because of God’s revealed word, David says his soul was revived, he was made wise, his heart found joy, he had insight for living, and found truth that was pure, true, fair, , true, fair, desirable, sweet, and rewarding. That is what the Bible can do for us.

clip_image012But, wait, don’t pay yet. There’s more. Another transition is found in this next section. I’m pretty sure that this last part of Psalm 19 was written by David after his great sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. Once again, David uses an even more personal title for God. In this section, the LORD is “my rock and my redeemer.” This speaks of the glory of a personal relationship with God. David knows God as the one who forgives his sins and sustains his spiritual life. He recognizes that although he recognized God in creation, and honored his word, that was not enough. God wants to be more to him, and sanctify and cleanse him, so that they could walk together.

God wants to reveal himself to us in the same way. He wants to change us so that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts are pleasing to Him.

clip_image014The apostle Paul knew about this too. In Romans 12:2, he said “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. ” He told the Roman Christians that the real payout to being a Christian was more than just knowing that God exists and created the world. It was even more than knowing that God gave us the Bible as instructions to follow. There’s even more to God’s will than that. We really know God when we are doing that which is good and pleasing and perfect. The good news is, that (according to Romans 1-11) Jesus’ death on the cross makes that possible. Listen to Romans 5:10-11 “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

clip_image016So, now we are ready for the big idea: THE MORE WE KNOW ABOUT GOD, THE MORE HE CHANGES US. The process begins when we recognize the handiwork of God in the world around us. That awareness of his presence and power drives some us to seek a covenant with him to follow the perfect instruction in his word. But that very word convicts us all of sin, and forces us to seek forgiveness outside of ourselves. We find that forgiveness in Christ. We also find a relationship with God powerful enough to transform us so that we can please him in our daily walk. It is one thing for me to know that God exists. It is another for that God of all creation to be my rock and redeemer. It is one thing to know what God wants, as he reveals it in his word. It is another thing for me to walk with God and prove his will for me by doing it. That kind of change takes a lifetime, but that is what he wants for us.

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Deliver me, my God!

Slide1

 

Psalm 3:1-8 NET

1 A psalm of David, written when he fled from his son Absalom. LORD, how numerous are my enemies! Many attack me. 2 Many say about me, “God will not deliver him.” (Selah) 3 But you, LORD, are a shield that protects me; you grant me honor and give me renewed strength. 4 To the LORD I cried out, and he answered me from his holy hill. (Selah) 5 I rested and slept; I awoke, for the LORD protects me. 6 I am not afraid of the multitude of people who attack me from all directions. 7 Rise up, LORD! Deliver me, my God! Yes, you will strike all my enemies on the jaw; you will break the teeth of the wicked. 8 The LORD delivers; you show favor to your people. (Selah)

Slide2The Bible is the most relevant literature that you and I will ever read. God speaks to us through it, because it is his word. But we sometimes have problems hearing what God is saying. Expository sermons can help. We are beginning a series of expository sermons on the Psalms today. Each Sunday, we are going to take you on a tour of a psalm. We want to serve as reading assistants. We will walk you through the process of discovering what is there.

Today I’m going to try to help you discover what is in Psalm 3. I will also be talking about the discovery process a lot, because you will find that it can help you in your own study of the Bible.

Why do I start at Psalm 3? If you look at Psalm 1, it is — more or less– instructional. It’s an example of what the scholars call a Torah psalm. It instructs us on the right way to live. Psalm 2 would be classified a royal psalm. It focuses on praise for the king, and predicts something about the Messiah. Psalm 3 is an individual lament. That’s where I want to start because I want to show how our praise can flow from our present problems.

When I’m studying a text, one of the first questions that I ask is the BACKGROUND question. What things do I need to know so that I can hear the words of this psalm just like the original hearers heard it.

That’s an important question because there a lot of barriers that keep me from understanding this psalm. Time has gone by. I live in a different culture that the psalmist and his original audience. We live different lives and have different experiences.

The more I know about the background and history of the words, the better I can understand them.

Psalm 3 gives us some help with the background question. It tells us that the author is David, and that he wrote it “when he fled from his son Absalom.” For the full story, read 2 Samuel, chapters 13-19. The short story is this: Absalom decided he would be a better king than his father, and organized a civil war. He succeeded in forcing David to flee Jerusalem. While regrouping, David wrote this psalm.

I think this feeling of betrayal that David expressed here is also the reason for this psalm being placed in book one. You might have noticed that the Psalms are divided into five books. These books correspond to the first five books of the Bible, so Psalm 3 is placed in the Genesis section. That section highlights the fact that we are God’s creatures, and we need him.

Now that we have a little bit of background, let’s proceed to the WORD STUDY question. Are there any words in the text that are unusual words that we might need to clarify their meaning?

Yeah, here’s one: What is a psalm? A psalm is a formal song. The psalms were the songs sung in the temple worship, and later in the formal religious ceremonies of the Jewish families and in the synagogues. Some of the psalms did not begin as liturgy. Psalm 3 began as the heart cry of David after his son betrayed him, and thousands were trying to kill him. The message of the psalm goes back to that original context, so anyone singing or praying it after that needs to make sure that they stay true to David’s meaning.

Like Psalm 2, many of the psalms also contained allusions to a future Messiah. Because of this, Psalms is one of the most quoted books in the NT. So we can also find Jesus in the psalms.

There are verbal clues to the STRUCTURE of this psalm. We do find “selahs” at the end of verses 1,3, and 8, but I think they are serving more for musical purposes. There are four shifts in subject: from the enemies (1-2) to the LORD (3-5), to David (6), then back to the LORD (7-8).

So, now we are ready to summarize the message of this psalm.

Slide3FIRST, we see David’s PROBLEMS).

1 A psalm of David, written when he fled from his son Absalom. LORD, how numerous are my enemies! Many attack me. 2 Many say about me, “God will not deliver him.” (Selah)

 

David had been betrayed, and was in danger of being destroyed. He was overwhelmed with his problems and his own insufficiency to solve them. Have you ever felt that way? I have. Some people think that God keeps us from having problems. That was not the way it was for David. Not for us either. Our problems serve as a gate through which we enter his presence for worship.

Slide4SECOND, we see David’s PROVISION(3-5).

3 But you, LORD, are a shield that protects me; you grant me honor and give me renewed strength. 4 To the LORD I cried out, and he answered me from his holy hill. (Selah) 5 I rested and slept; I awoke, for the LORD protects me.

David gets his eyes off his problems, and turns them on his deliverer. He sees God as his battle shield, who protects him as he fights. He remembers how he has found times of rest when he faced struggles in the past (Goliath, the Philistines, Saul). So he decides to trust God for protection, honor and strength now.

Slide5THIRD, we see David’s POSITION (6).

6 I am not afraid of the multitude of people who attack me from all directions.

Here is a lesson for all of us – a lesson in courage. True courage is not channeling our inner Chuck Norris, and saying “bring it on, I can handle this.” True courage is looking squarely into our impossible situation and saying “I am not afraid because God is with me.”

Please note that David’s situation had not changed. He was still being attacked by “a multitude of people” who were coming “from all directions.”

Slide6FINALLY, we see David’s PRAYER (7-8).

7 Rise up, LORD! Deliver me, my God! Yes, you will strike all my enemies on the jaw; you will break the teeth of the wicked. 8 The LORD delivers; you show favor to your people. (Selah)

This psalm does not end in a resolution, it ends with a petition. The psalm is not all about the problem, it is about David getting his eyes off his problem, and back on to God. I cannot promise you that prayer is going to solve your problems. I can promise you that prayer can help you to refocus on your deliverer.

We are not reading Psalm 3 today because David found a way to overcome a civil war and won back his throne. We are reading Psalm 3 today because it was a prayer that God answered.

The apostle Peter gives us the New Testament corollary to this psalm:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV

Now we are ready for the big idea:

OVERWHELMING PROBLEMS ARE OPPORTUNITIES TO TRUST GOD TO DELIVER US.

I don’t know what your overwhelming problems are. But if you are experiencing them right now, I can assure you that God wants to be your shield and strength. Let the rest of us pray for you.

Father, we want to intercede for those in our fellowship today who are experiencing overwhelming problems. LORD, they are being attacked, and we want to stand with them. But we also want them to know that You are standing with them, and you are going to provide all the help they need. These problems are opportunities for them to trust you for deliverance. Be very real to them right now, and make your presence known to them. Help them to stay close to you as they wait for your deliverance.

Maybe you do not feel overwhelmed by problems right now. That’s OK too. But this psalm speaks to you too. The reason David could trust God in troubled times is that he never forgot where his victorious times came from. Cultivate your relationship with him now, so that when the attacks are coming from every direction, you can draw strength from that relationship.

LORD, we thank you for our brothers and sisters who are experiencing your strength and deliverance right now. Help them to cultivate their relationship with you, so that they can stand in faith and confidence in you when the trying times come.

I have one more prayer. But first, let me explain why we need it. God has a purpose for everything that happens to us. His ultimate purpose is to bring us into a relationship with him, because he wants us to be his adopted children for eternity. He actually gives us difficulties as a gift, because they can lead us to him – to that relationship. Maybe you are here today, and you are not really sure that you have a relationship with God. You can come to him at any time. You do not need to feel anything special, and you do not need any miraculous signs. All you need to do is recognize that you need God in your life permanently. You can get that relationship for free; all you have to do is ask.

But just because you can get it for free does not mean that it comes cheap. For any human being to have an eternal relationship with God is absolutely impossible, because we are all born sinners. Our ancestors rebelled against God and plunged us all into a depravity that we cannot change. All our righteousness is as filthy rags to God. So, what we could not do because of our sin, Jesus did for us. He came as one of us, lived a sinless life, and died a sacrificial death on the cross. That death was God’s judgment on our sin. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate God’s grace in accepting Christ’s death instead of our own.

If you are here this morning, and you are without Christ in your life, I invite you to accept him into your life by taking of the symbols of his death. The bread symbolizing his broken body, and the cup symbolizing his shed blood. Do this as an act of faith. All you need to know is that his death was for you. The rest of us do it for the same reason. We are celebrating God’s grace.

LORD, for all of those who do not really know if you are there to deliver them or not, I pray that this day is the day they find Christ. You want to deliver them from their present problems, and you want to give them eternal life. Come into their lives as their ultimate deliverer today. May they celebrate your grace today.

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invaded

IMG_0789“…the dwelling place of God is with man…” (Rev. 21:3).

·         Tomorrow will be a day of homecoming for God.

·         The Christian hope is not about going somewhere to be with God.

·         It is about God’s plan to invade humanity with his glory forever.

 

If you ask many Christians what their purpose in life is, they might say something like “to get to heaven.”  This is the kind of mindset made popular by evangelistic preachers of the last few  centuries.  But they have created that mindset by consistently misquoting and misrepresenting the promises of Scripture. 

Billy Graham’s heaven

I have deep respect for Dr. Billy Graham and his life of service to the Lord, but his sermons and writings actually serve as an example of this problem.  He quotes John 14:3, which has Jesus saying “Where I am, there you may be also.”  So he uses that verse to prove that heaven is the goal of the Christian, and that one can get there when he or she dies.[1]  But Jesus’ promise in John 14:3 is not about death at all.  He says “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”[2]  The hope that Jesus promised was not the hope of going to God at death, but the hope of Christ coming back to take us – not to heaven – but to himself.  This distinction is all the more important when we realize that Jesus’ purpose when he returns is to reign on this earth!  The last thing a true Christian should want is to be away in some place called heaven when the Savior is reigning on earth.

Graham spoke of heaven like a journey to a place that you had to decide to go, and purchase a ticket for in this life.  He spoke of Jesus’ blood as the price that paid that ticket, and quoted John 14:6 as a proof text.[3]  True, Jesus did say “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  But he was not speaking at all about a place one gets to go to because of the atonement.  The way to the Father was reconciliation of a relationship, not the fare for a new location.

Graham sees this location described in the book of Revelation.  He says that John had “caught a glimpse of heaven” and described it there. So he concludes that “when we get to heaven, all the elements that made for unhappiness on earth will be gone. Think of a place where there is no sin, no sorrow, no insecurities, no quarrels, no selfishness, no racism, no misunderstandings, no hurt feelings, no worries, no pain, no sickness, no suffering, no death.” [4] 

The believer’s hope in Revelation

But can we allow the Bible to determine what the Christian’s hope is?  If we actually look at the book of Revelation, it describes the hope of the believer in this way: 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”[5]

John does not see a people coming up to heaven from earth.  He sees a city coming down out of the sky from God.  He sees God himself invading earth.  In fact, John describes both advents as invasions from outer space.  He said “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[6]  That was the first advent, when Jesus Christ came and lived among us.  At the second advent, when Jesus returns, all of God’s holiness will come down to earth with him. 

the temple from Genesis to Revelation

G.K. Beale’s phenomenal book   The Temple and the Church’s Mission[7]  argued that all of the Bible’s descriptions of the presence of God among men — from Eden to the eschaton — were pictures of God’s ultimate purpose.  His purpose in the Old Testament and the New will culminate in his coming down to us, and residing among us.  The tabernacle, and later, each successive temple was a physical and prophetic manifestation of that plan.  Jesus’ first advent was an even more specific physical manifestation of God’s glory among us.  Like all the temples before him, the temple of Jesus’ body was destined for destruction.  But his resurrection signaled that death will not be the end of the Holy Spirit indwelling the church.  In fact, even the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is merely a guarantee of a future, permanent indwelling.[8]

Shachanti

Notice, for example, these instances of the Hebrew word Shachanti  (I will dwell)  in the Old Testament).

·         “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.”[9]

·         I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.”[10]

·         “And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.”[11]

·         “Now let them put away their whoring and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.”[12]

·         “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD.”[13]

·         “And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.”[14]

·         “Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain.”[15]

The holiness of God’s people was directly related to his presence among them.[16]   The temple was to be a manifestation of that dwelling and that holiness.  But even Solomon recognized that the temple served only as a symbolic reflection of the presence.[17]  God intends to dwell in the midst of humanity in a deeper, more real sense.  He intends to invade the planet, bringing his holiness and sinlessness to the whole universe.   Once the universe is purged of every evil thing, and everyone not found in the Lamb’s book of life has died the second death, God will come down to reside among us forever.  His presence will ensure that the new earth remains pure and sinless forever. That is what the Bible story is all about. 

Christ’s role in the plan

Jesus serves as the crucial figure in the process of making that divine plan happen.   He came and pitched his tent (Greek: skénoō) among us,[18]  and because of what he did, the dwelling place (Greek: skénoō) will be “with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”[19]  John sees that ultimate event as a tremendous uncountable crowd of people redeemed from every nation on earth.  These “are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter (Greek: skénōsei) them with his presence.”

Ezekiel’s temple

The prophet Ezekiel described a future temple that would be constructed as part of the new holy city.[20]  Some interpreters believe he is describing a physical temple that will be built during the millennial reign of Christ, but the New Testament use of the word temple to describe Christ[21]   or Christian believers[22]  would make a new physical temple superfluous.  It would be reverting to the type after the arrival of its fulfillment.  It makes more sense to see Ezekiel’s temple as an allegorical reflection on God’s will for redeeming Israel by restoring his glorious presence in eternity.  As such, it is essentially the same message that John gives in Revelation, albeit John is speaking of the eternal sanctification of all who are in Christ, while Ezekiel concentrated on a sanctified Israel.

the kingdom from the sky

The key to this ultimate sanctified community is the presence of God coming down to earth and establishing his kingdom.  This kingdom can be sought now, and by trusting in Christ a person can enter this kingdom of God by faith. But it can also be inherited, because its final fulfillment has not yet come.  It is called “the kingdom of God”[23]  because it is the same thing as the eternal relationship with God that John pictures in Revelation.  It is also called “the kingdom from the sky”[24]  because it will descend from the sky as John  describes in Revelation. 

The unanimous mistranslation of hé basileía tōn ouranōn as “the kingdom of heaven” is unfortunate, because it has added to the misconception that the goal of Christianity is to get people to a new location after they die.  That notion fit well with the pagan understandings of the first few centuries that the goal of a good life was release into the heavenly realms, but it has never fit with what the Bible proclaims as God’s ultimate purpose.  His purpose (as revealed in Revelation 20:3) is for his presence to come down and reside eternally with us.  This is why John the Baptist, proclaiming this coming kingdom, urged his people to “make his paths straight.”[25]  The picture is not one of our making ourselves ready for a trip up to him, but of making ourselves ready for his trip down to us.

Both the Hebrew word shamayim and the Greek word ouranos can sometimes refer to the place where God dwells with his angels.  But both words are also the normal, everyday words used for the sky, as opposite the Hebrew erets and the Greek .  Both of those words are somewhat consistently translated into English as “earth.”  But the words almost invariably simply mean “land” as opposite “sky.”  The consistent mistranslation of these words in combination: “heaven and earth” has bolstered an unbiblical cosmology, as if the universe can be divided into two distinct places.  Man lives on a place called earth but God resides in another place called heaven.

Purely as a result of a verbal accident, sometimes shamayim va’arets/ ho ouranos kai hé gé does appear to refer to the known universe.  God is called the possessor of both.[26]  He calls both to witness those who covenant to follow the law.[27]  He made both.[28]  He is Lord of both.[29]  But there are an uncomfortable bunch of texts which seem to ruin that carefully crafted cosmology, by introducing a third element (the seas) into the expression.[30]  There are also  texts which state that both the ouranos and gé  are going to pass away.[31]  Given these realities, it makes more sense to translate all of the expressions as referring to “the sky and the land” – thus eliminating the phrase as a cosmological summary.  But this author doubts that the major Bible translations would ever concede this point, since to do so would be to drastically reduce the number of proof-texts for the cherished “going to heaven when we die” doctrine.[32]

The real biblical cosmology is reference not to two places, but to one event.  God is invading this planet with his presence.  He did so temporarily at the first coming of Christ.  He did so for the church at Pentecost by sending the Holy Spirit.  But the final and ultimate invasion is yet to come.  The lost today are being challenged to join this coming kingdom – this kingdom coming down from the sky.  Its coming – his coming – is sure and certain.  There is no way to avoid this event.   The question for everyone today is not where we are going when we die, but are we ready for his coming.  Jesus is preparing a place – not for us to go to when we die, but to bring with him when he comes.   John saw that place coming down from the sky.  So will we.


[1] Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book.  (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 109.

[2] John 14:3  ESV.

[3] Billy Graham,  Unto the Hills: A Daily Devotional.  (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 2.

[4] Billy Graham,  Hope for the Troubled Heart: Finding God in the Midst of Pain.  (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000),

[5] Revelation 21:1-5   ESV.

[6] John 1:14  ESV.

[7] G.K. Beale,  The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.  (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,2004).

[8] 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14.

[9] Exodus 25:8 ESV.

[10] Exodus 29:45 ESV.

[11] 1 Kings 6:13 ESV.

[12] Ezekiel 43:9 ESV.

[13] Zechariah 2:10 ESV.

[14] Zechariah 2:11 ESV.

[15] Zechariah 8:3 ESV.

[16] Numbers 35:34.

[17] 1 Kings 8:27.

[18] John 1:14.

[19] Revelation 21:3.

[20] Ezekiel 40-48.

[21] Mark 14:58; John 2:19.

[22] 2 Corinthians 6:16.

[23] Matt. 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43; Mark 1:15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14f, 23ff; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43; Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 13:18, 20, 28f; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20f; 18:16f, 24f, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51; John 3:3, 5; Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23, 31; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20; 6:9f; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Col. 4:11; 2 Thess. 1:5.

[24] Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19f; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11f; 13:11, 24, 31, 33, 44f, 47, 52; 16:19; 18:1, 3f, 23; 19:12, 14, 23; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1.

[25] Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4.

[26] Genesis 14:19, 22.

[27] Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 31:28.

[28] Genesis 1:1; Exodus 31:17;  2 Chronicles 2:12; Psalm 115:15; 121:2; 134:3.

[29] Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21;  Acts 17:24.

[30] Exodus 20:11; Psalm 69:34; 146:6; Revelation 14:7.

[31] Matthew 5:18;24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33.

[32] For more evidence that the destiny of believers is resurrection at Christ’s return, not heaven at death, see my Kindle e-book  An Advent Christian Systematic Theology,  chapters 19, 21, 24, 61, 66, and appendices C and D.