The Gospel Of “Missing Thomas”

Thomas

Who is “Missing Thomas?”

Even those who are not very familiar with the Bible are aware of the story of the Apostle Thomas. He is known as “Doubting Thomas.” He was the disciple who was not there the first time  that Jesus appeared to His Apostles after He rose from the dead.

“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to then, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord…But Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:19-20, 24

I like to think of him not as “Doubting Thomas” but as “Missing Thomas.”

Think of what was happening for a moment. Jesus was gathering with His disciples; He was among them; it was a Sunday; sound familiar? In the book of Revelation, chapter one,  Jesus is pictured as dwelling among the seven golden candlesticks (menorah). We are told that the candlesticks are the seven churches. The message is obvious: Jesus dwells in the midst of His churches. (I define “church” as a congregation of people who are actually following Jesus’ commandments and loving one another–not just an organization or building that calls itself a church). Think of that gathering of Jesus’ with His disciples as the first church meeting held on a Sunday. At this church service, Thomas was missing!

It reminds me of people who profess to be followers of Jesus, but who are missing when Jesus gathers with His disciples on Sunday for church service. When I first looked at Thomas as “Missing Thomas” instead of “Doubting Thomas” I wondered if there were things the text has to teach us about missing church on Sundays; I believe there is.

“So the other disciples were saying to him (Thomas), ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'”

“After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” John 20:26-28

As a result of not being with Jesus and His disciples on that Sunday morning, Thomas did not have an encounter with Jesus the way the other disciples did. As a pastor, I have a certain perspective when we meet on Sunday. Those who only attend church sporadically miss something–an encounter with Jesus. Every time we have an encounter with Jesus, we gain something by it. Every time we miss an encounter, we lose something.

As a result of not being with the disciples when they gathered with Jesus, Thomas struggled with faith. He didn’t believe that Jesus was alive, and he didn’t even believe the testimony of the other ten Apostles when they told him that they had seen Jesus alive!  Thomas was in a state of unbelief until the following Sunday when he did gather with Jesus and the disciples. Scripture teaches us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17. When we put ourselves in a place where we are among God’s people, worshiping God and hearing the Bible taught, our faith will be nourished, strengthened,  and grow! When we deprive ourselves of that, our faith suffers. And not only our faith, the faith of our children. If you are a parent, you are setting the example for your children. If attending church every Sunday is not a priority for you, do not be surprised when your children grow up and go out on their own, it’s not a priority for them. They will very likely stop attending church altogether. We parents will one day give an account of our parenting to God; it’s an awesome responsibility!

The good news is that there is hope for “Missing Thomas’s.” When Thomas gathered with the disciples the following week, his faith was restored! Thomas had a close encounter with Jesus, and went from being “Doubting Thomas” and “Missing Thomas” to being “Believing Thomas!”

 

Israel and the Church

Olive branch

Having a correct understanding of what the Bible teaches us about Israel and the Church has a huge impact on how we interpret the Bible as a whole. Unfortunately, I believe the Gentile church has a long history of misunderstanding in this area of theology which continues up to the present day.

What happened?

Jesus, the Apostles, and the first disciples of Jesus were all Jewish. At the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples of Jesus who were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. Thousands of Jews including Priests and Levites heard the gospel, believed, and were baptized. The first disciples met in the temple and in private homes. There was no concept among the early disciples of Jesus that to become a follower of Jesus as Messiah meant that you would have to abandon your Jewishness. In fact the first controversy among Jesus followers was whether Gentiles could be “saved” without first becoming Jews–by being circumcised and becoming Torah observant. This issue was resolved in the first church council recorded in Acts chapter 15. The council decreed, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, that Gentiles would be allowed to become part of the people of God as Gentiles–without being circumcised and becoming Torah observant–through their faith in Jesus.

With the success of the Apostle Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, the number of Gentiles in the church grew to vastly outnumber the Jews; Jewish influence in the churches all but disappeared. The Gentile church grew to see itself as a separate entity from Israel, and Gentile believers in Jesus as replacing Israel as the people of God. As early as the 2nd century, church fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110-120), Justin Martyr (c. 160), and Melito of Sardis (c. 170), wrote that the Christian church had replaced the Jews as the people of God. This view is called “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” and has been the dominant view of the church for most of its history. However, there is a growing number of scholars who are challenging the supersessionist view.

What do we find in the Bible on this subject?

We need to understand what the church is; but in order to understand what the church is, we must first understand how the Bible defines Israel. Israel–the Jews–are the physical descendants of Abraham. God made a covenant with Abraham, and gave him circumcision as a sign of that covenant. God told Abraham:

“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” Genesis 17:7 

After the rebellion at the Tower of Babel, where what would become the nations of the world rebelled against God, God decided to create a nation for Himself, through which He would redeem the straying nations of the world. He created this nation from the descendants of Abraham. After His covenant with Abraham, God entered into a covenant with Abraham’s descendants, the entire nation of Israel,  at Mt. Sinai, where He gave them the Torah, the priesthood, the tabernacle, and His divine presence came to live among them in the Tabernacle.

This did not mean that every Israelite who was ever born had a relationship with God by faith the way Abraham did. Some Israelite’s did not. Many fell into idolatry. The unbelieving Israelite’s were not “true” sons of Abraham, because they did not follow in the footsteps of Abraham by faith. Both Jesus and Paul addressed what it meant to be a true son of Abraham. When Jesus was speaking to Jews who opposed Him,  He said this:

“‘I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.’ They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.’  They said to Him…’we have one Father: God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God…You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.'” John 8:37-44a

The Apostle Paul wrote that not everyone who was born of Jewish descent is a true son of Abraham, but those who have a relationship with God by faith:

“For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.’ That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.'” Romans 9:6b-8

“Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Galatians 3:7

The Apostle Paul wrote of the faithful remnant of Jews who lived during the time of Israel’s apostasy during the days of Elijah. Elijah thought he was the only one faithful to the Lord left alive. Elijah prayed to God:

“‘ Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.’ But what was the diving response to him? ‘I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.’ In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” Romans 11:3-4

There has always been a faithful remnant. The New Testament gives us examples of Torah observant Jews who were faithful sons and daughters of Abraham, living at the time of Jesus: the parents of John the Baptist–Zacharias and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, Simeon, and Anna the prophetess, who met Joseph and Mary in the temple when Jesus was presented before the Lord. They all had one thing in common: they were living by faith under the Torah before Jesus came, and they recognized Jesus as Messiah when He came into the world. Those Jews who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and followed Him are the faithful remnant who constitute the Israel of God.

Jesus is the true vine, the true Israel

There is a connection between Israel is pictured as a vine/vineyard in the Bible, and Jesus as the true vine. Israel is pictured as a vine in Psalm 80:8-11, and Is. 5:1-7.

“You removed a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it.” Ps. 80:8

“For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant.” Is. 5:7

Jesus told His disciples in John 15:1 that He is the true vine. Many see some of the events in Jesus’ life and ministry as reliving Israel’s history. He went down into Egypt as an infant and came out again as Jacob and the twelve patriarchs went to Egypt and came out at the Exodus. He was tempted by the adversary in the wilderness for 40 days; Israel was tempted in the wilderness for 40 years. He led the people into the wilderness and fed the 5000; the Israelite’s were led into the wilderness and fed manna to eat. But in every way that Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. Jesus is the consummate Israelite. He told His twelve Apostles:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it will bear more fruit…If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” John 15:1-2, 6

Jesus’ teaching about Himself as the true vine is in an entirely Jewish context. He is not talking about whether Christians can lose their salvation. This language of branches connected to the vine and branches broken off is very similar to the language the Apostle Paul uses in his analogy of Israel as an olive tree in Roman’s chapter 11. Paul  pictured the Jews who believed in Jesus as branches who remained connected to the olive tree (Israel), and Jews who rejected Jesus as branches who were broken off because of their unbelief. Paul pictured the Gentiles who believed in Jesus as wild branches who are grafted in to the olive tree. The believing Gentiles are not a newly created entity replacing Israel as the people of God, they are joined to the Israel of God! As Messianic scholar Mark Kinzer put it, Gentile followers of Jesus are a “multinational extension of the people of Israel.”

What is the church?

If you were to go around and ask  people how they would define what the church is, you would probably get a variety of answers. Many think of the church as a building where Christians meet. Others realize the church is not a building, it is the people, which is a step in the right direction.

One thing we need to realize is that the word church does not appear in the Bible. Of course the word appears in our English translations of the Bible. But “church” is the word that translators have chosen to translate the Greek word ekklesia, which means “called out ones,” “congregation,” or “assembly.” What we need to remember when it comes to understanding words used in the Bible, is how the Biblical writers understood them, which may be different from the way we use and understand the same words today.

When Stephen was giving his defense before the Sanhedrin in Acts chapter 7, he referred to the Jewish people who had come out of Egypt recorded in the book of Exodus as the “church (ekklesia) in the wilderness” Acts 7:38. The church was not created at Pentecost, which is the common view of most Gentile Christians. There is not one verse of Scripture which states that the church was created at Pentecost. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Jewish followers of Jesus. The New Covenant was never made with the Gentile church, but with the nation of Israel. This is clearly stated in the book of Jeremiah:

“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘but this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law (Torah) within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'” Jeremiah 31:31-33

When Jesus told His disciples, “Upon this rock I will build My church…” (Matthew 16:18) I do not think He was saying that He was going to create something entirely new; I think His intended meaning was closer to the prophecy of Amos that James the brother of the Lord quoted in Acts 15:16-18 regarding the Gentiles:

“‘AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME, SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.'” Acts 15:16-18

The work of Jesus building His ekklesia, is one of restoration! His presence and teaching among the Jews was a gigantic “course correct.” The religious leaders had corrupted the service in the temple, and mis-represented to the people what true worship of YHVH and Torah observance looked like. Jesus, the Light of the world, shone light on all these things.

The prevalence of replacement theology in the church over the centuries has done tremendous damage to the relationship between the Jewish people and the church. Some claiming to be Christians have done violence to Jews believing that the Jews were forsaken by God and accursed. Jews who wanted to follow Jesus in Gentile churches would have to leave behind their Jewish heritage and “convert” to Christianity. That is one reason why so many Jews believe that you cannot be a Jew and believe in Jesus as Messiah; you cannot be a Jew and a Christian.

Thankfully, this is changing. There is a rising number of Jews who are believing in Jesus as their Messiah, and fully retaining their Jewish lifestyle and heritage! This is what the Apostles did, as well as the thousands of Jews who were the first disciples of Jesus.

The New Covenant is with the house of Israel and the house of Judah where God removes the guilt of sin through the sacrifice of His Son, puts His Spirit within His people enabling them to walk in His statutes, writes His word upon their hearts, and allows the Gentiles of the world the same spiritual benefit; to freely join His people, as Gentiles, no longer as “strangers and aliens” but as equal members, “fellow citizens with the saints” and members “of God’s household…” Eph. 2:19. This is Israel and the church (ekklesia). This is the gospel!

We Were Made To Eat!

Fig tree

We were born with an appetite!

When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them the tree of life to eat from, and live forever (Gen. 3:22). Food enables us to live. Before Adam and Eve fell into sin, before they were expelled from the garden, while they were still walking with God, it would be perfectly natural for them to experience  hunger, eat and get full, and grow hungry again. This was true for them both physically and spiritually.

It was in the arena of hunger and seeking to satisfy that hunger that Adam and Eve fell into sin. The danger that existed for our first parents exists for us as well!

We all know what it is like to get hungry physically; it’s when we experience spiritual hunger that we can get confused. It’s easy to think that when we are restless, unsatisfied, sensing a lack of something in our lives, that something is wrong. But this sense of need may be a sign that something is right with us–and normal–that we are experiencing spiritual hunger.

Our spiritual adversary, wants us to try to satisfy our spiritual hunger by looking at sin, desiring it, taking it and consuming it, as Adam and Eve did. If we do that, the results are always the same–death and destruction!

So how  do we satisfy our spiritual hunger? Jesus has a lot to say to His disciples about spiritual food:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” John 6:63

First we must be willing to hear!

The Greek word translated “words” in our English translations in John 6:63 is the word rhema. This word is used to designate a particular word, not, for example, referring to the whole proclamation of the gospel, but of a specific message. This is the case when God takes a particular portion of His written word and applies it to us in our situation; it is very personal. It is hearing from God. Before we can hear God in this way, we must come to a place of humility; we must become teachable! We are teachable when we come to a place where we realize that our way of doing life has not worked, and will not work! When we come to that place–and sometimes this takes decades–then we are ready to hear–to do the will of God for our lives.

“Jesus said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about…My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.'” John 4:34

Eat the same food that Jesus eats!

When Jesus spoke these words, He was speaking to His closest disciples! They were with Him, learning from Him. Yet they had not yet learned about this food. It is relatively easy to attend church, be around other disciples of Jesus, do “Christian stuff” and not be doing the will of God. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but it’s true.

So how can we tell if we’re doing the will of God in our lives? The answer is that our lives will start to resemble the life of Jesus!

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do…” John 14:12

“By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way as He walked.” 1 John 2:5b-6

We ought to periodically take inventory of our lives and what we are spending our time and energy on, and seek confirmation from the Holy Spirit and the word of God that we are following the example of Jesus in the gospels; that we are keeping His commandments, functioning as a disciple, learning as a disciple, and actively involved  in making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Are we using the spiritual gifts God has given us to serve others? If not, what are those gifts and where does God want us to use them?

Feed upon Jesus!

“I am the bread of life.” John 6:48

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…” John 6:51a

How do we partake of the Bread of Life? The short answer is: by faith! Not a purely intellectual faith that is invisible to others since it has no works, but true Biblical faith!

“Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'” John 6:28-29

Our choice of food is basically the same choice that Adam and Eve had. We have to walk past  the tree of the knowledge of good and evil–resist temptation to sin–in order to partake of the tree of life by faith, the Bread of life who is Jesus!

Are You A Christian Or A Disciple Of Jesus?

Jesus and His disciples great pic

Words get their meaning primarily by the way they are used. Sometimes the meaning of words change over time, and that is certainly true in the case of the word “Christian.” This word is found only three times in the Bible–Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and in 1 Peter 4:16. What exactly does the word “Christian” mean?

In Studies in Jewish and Christian History, Elias Joseph Bickerman wrote:“Christians are ‘those of Christ’…they belong to Christ, as his possessions, because Christians are ‘slaves of Jesus Christ’ Of course, this is why Jesus Christ is known as our ‘lord,’ literally ‘master’ (as in slave-master). Therefore the words Christianus (Latin) and Christianos (Greek) imply slavery. For this reason, these words were applied to Christians by non-Christians as a derogatory epithet, for the condition of servitude (slavery) was ignominious. However, believers in Christ cherished the epithet because it was a honor to be slaves of Christ, unlike other masters.”

The meaning of the word “Christian” has changed over time. In the 21st century, the word Christian is used of anyone who affiliates with Jesus Christ in any way. It is not uncommon for a person to identify themselves as a Christian even though they do not attend church, read the Bible regularly, pray (except when in trouble), and they do not know what Jesus’ commandments to His disciples were or study the life of Jesus to follow His example. Therefore they cannot honestly call themselves “followers” of Jesus. Their faith is merely an intellectual one. Self interest is the guiding principle in their lives, so they can hardly identify themselves as “slaves of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus called men and women to follow Him; to follow Him was to become His disciple. Jesus never referred to His followers and Christians; He referred to them as His disciples. The rabbi/disciple relationship was commonplace in the first century, so when rabbi Jesus called someone to follow Him, they understood that He was calling them to become His disciple. The word disciple means “learner,” but not in the sense of sitting in a classroom and receiving information. To be a disciple means to become a learner in the sense of being an apprentice. As a woodworking apprentice learns to do what his teacher does. The goal of the disciple is to do what their rabbi does; to become like their rabbi (Luke 6:40).

In order to understand Jesus’ call to discipleship, a definition of what a disciple is can be very helpful. Here is a definition of what the life of a disciple of Jesus looks like, with Scripture references:

A disciple of Jesus follows Jesus[i] in love by keeping His commandments[ii], learning His ways[iii], and by becoming a disciple maker[iv], in order that all may become like Jesus[v]. A disciple’s life is characterized by abiding in Christ through reading, meditating, and obeying God’s word[vi], and a daily conversation with God through prayer[vii]. A disciple of Jesus recognizes their need for inner transformation by the Holy Spirit and the word of God in order to become more like Jesus. A disciple recognizes their need for fellowship with other believers[viii], and regularly attends church[ix] with the attitude of a servant seeking to love others[x] and use their spiritual gifts to meet the spiritual and physical needs of others[xi]. A disciple cheerfully gives financially to the church to support the needs of the ministry. 

[i] Mark 1:17, Mark 6:1, Luke 14:25-33 [ii] John 14:15, 1 John 2:4-5 [iii] Matt. 11:28-30     [iv] Matt. 28:18-20 [v] 1Cor. 11:1 [vi] John 8:31, John 15:7-8 [vii] John 15:7-11 [viii] Acts 20:7 [ix] Heb. 10:25 [x] John 13:34-35, John 13:12-17 [xi] 1 Cor. 13:1-7

Jesus’ strategy for evangelism was never to “get people saved” and then make disciples out of them. He never separated the call to salvation from the call to discipleship. His message was to repent, believe in the gospel, and follow Him as one of His disciples. He told His listeners to count the cost of discipleship; that if any one wished to be His disciple, they would have to “deny themselves, take up your cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:23b-24.

We would do well to use the terminology that Jesus used to describe His followers, and to imitate His method of evangelism. If we did, this may help clear up some of the misconceptions people have of what it means to be a Christian.

 

Why Does The Gospel Need To Be Defined?

St Paul icon

If you were to ask fifty professing Christians to give you a definition of the gospel, you would probably get close to fifty different answers. It’s a term used so often in the church, many people would be embarrassed to admit that they are not quite sure how to define it.

The Apostle Paul gave us a brief definition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Now I make known to you brethren, the gospel which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (NASB) In the  mind of many evangelicals, the plan of salvation is the gospel. In other words, the gospel is what you need to believe so that when you die you will go to heaven, and not go to the other place! The plan of salvation is certainly part of the gospel, but there is much more to it than that! Why do we need to revisit and define our understanding of the gospel?

Imagine you are starting a new job; this is your first day. Your employer tells you that you need to come to work at 8am, punch the time clock when you arrive, do what your supervisor tells you to do for eight hours, and then punch out when your finished. If you do that, you will receive a paycheck each week. That’s all you are told. This is the bare minimum information you need to get your paycheck–which you need–each week.

What if instead on your first day your employer told you that at this company makes widgets, and these widgets enable people all around the world to have clean drinking water, and triple their food production. The widgets we make have the potential to end world hunger; and the company is exporting them and a fair and reasonable price! By working at this company, you play a vital role in helping our company end world hunger and save countless lives! What a difference this added information will make in your enthusiasm and sense of purpose on the job! You are now part of something big!

If our understanding of the gospel is limited to what we (and others) need to do to get to heaven, we miss the big picture of God’s plan of redemption for the human race, and our role in it! That is why we need a comprehensive definition of the gospel! Here is a definition of the gospel that the elders of Cypress Church Of Gonzales came up with after many hours of labor. It is certainly not the only correct definition, nor is it perfect. But we feel it gives our congregation a good start in understanding the gospel that Jesus and His Apostles preached!

Definition of the Gospel

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth[i] to be His dwelling place[ii]. He created mankind to be His image bearers[iii] to dwell in, and have dominion over, the good world[iv] that He had created[v]. Through disobedience, the human race fell from their position of unhindered fellowship with God, into a fallen state of spiritual death and separation from God[vi]. In order to restore mankind into a right relationship with Himself God sent His Son to die upon a cross as the perfect sin offering and through His resurrection, to restore mankind into a perfect relationship with Himself[vii], and restore the kingdom of God upon the earth[viii].

Through a series of promises beginning in the book of Genesis[ix], God promised that His Messiah would come through the descendants of one man, Abraham[x], and God chose Abraham’s descendants to be His chosen people out of all the people groups on the face of the earth[xi]. God chose Abraham’s descendants, the nation of Israel, to enter into a covenant with Him, and to reveal Himself to them, dwell among them, and give them His commandments[xii]. Israel was to be a light to the nations[xiii], bringing the knowledge of God to the nations of the world. Israel did not succeed in this mission.

Jesus the Messiah, the promised “seed” of Abraham[xiv], at the proper time[xv], was born of a virgin[xvi], conceived by the Holy Spirit[xvii], lived a sinless life[xviii], and took upon Himself the sentence of death for the sins of the world[xix] by dying upon a cross[xx]. Jesus was buried[xxi], and rose to life on the third day[xxii]. He ascended to the right hand of the Father as both Lord and Christ[xxiii], and poured out His Spirit to dwell in, and upon, all who repent of their sins and follow Him[xxiv]. His resurrection from the dead marked the beginning of the restoration of all things[xxv]; a restoration that will culminate when He returns to establish His kingdom upon earth. At that time He will usher in the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and earth, and the age to come[xxvi].

All who repent of their sins, believe in this gospel[xxvii], and follow Jesus as a disciple, will be forgiven of their sins, receive the gift of eternal life[xxviii], and will be granted entrance into His kingdom[xxix]. They will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit—to dwell in them[xxx]. They become united with Jesus in His death, and united with Him in His resurrection[xxxi].

At the end of this age, all will be resurrected and judged according to their deeds[xxxii]. Those who belong to Christ will be resurrected to eternal life, their bodies raised incorruptible, and the wicked will be raised to condemnation and eternal death[xxxiii]. In the age to come, the eternal state, there will be no more death, disease, or sorrow. All these things will be abolished, and God will dwell with His people fulfilling His original plan for the human race, ruling in the new heavens and earth forever through an obedient and restored humanity[xxxiv].

[i] Gen. 1:1 [ii] Rev. 21:3 [iii] Gen. 1:26 [iv] Gen. 1:31 [v] Gen. 1:26 [vi] Eph. 2:1 [vii]Col.1:13-14, Eph. 2:1-7 [viii] Dan. 7:13-14 [ix] Gen. 3:15, Gen. 12:1-3, [x] Gal. 3:16 [xi] Gen. 12:1-3 xii] Deut. 10:12-15 [xiii] Is. 49:1-7 [xiv] Gal. 3:16 [xv] Gal. 4:4 [xvi] Is. 7:14, Matt. 1:23[xvii] Matt. 1:20 [xviii] 2 Cor. 5:21 [xix] 1 John 2:2 [xx] Gal. 3:13 [xxi] 1 Cor. 15:4[xxii] Ibid., Acts 2:32 [xxiii] Acts 2:32-33, 36 [xxiv] Acts 2:38-39 [xxv] Luke 20:35, Phil. 3:11-12, Col. 1:13-20, 2 Pet. 3:10-13 [xxvi] Rev. ch. 19-22 [xxvii] Mark 1:14-15, 17, [xxviii] Acts 2:38[xxix] Col. 1:13 [xxx] John 14:17, Gal. 2:20, Eze. 36:27 [xxxi] Rom. 6:3-11[xxxii] John 5:25-29, Rev. 2:23 [xxxiii] Matt. 25:46, Rev. 20:11-15 [xxxiv] Rev. ch. 21

 

 

Why Be Holy?

mount-sinai-egypt

The Apostle Peter wrote: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to to the desires of your former ignorance but as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’  1 Peter 1:14-15 HCSB

We understand that God wants us to be like Him; He is in the process of re-creating us in His image from within. But it’s easy to get off track in our thinking as to why God wants us to be Holy, set apart, and pure, for Him.

The answer lies at the heart of the Pentateuch. The first five books of Moses tell the story of creation, fall, flood, and the formation of the people of God. God chooses the descendants of Abraham, forms them into a people for Himself, brings them to Mt. Sinai, where He reveals Himself to them, gives them the Torah, and enters into a covenant with them.

At the center, or “summit” of the Torah is Mt. Sinai, and the 16th chapter of the book of Leviticus–which gives the Laws concerning the Day of Atonement. It shows that God’s plan for cleansing His people from the guilt of their sins, is so that God may dwell with His people! With the completion of the sacrificial offerings, and the construction of the Tabernacle, God’s presence, His shekinah glory, comes to dwell in the very heart of the Hebrew camp! You could sum up the entire story of the Bible by saying that it reveals God’s purpose and plan for His creation; the heavens and the earth were created to be a “temple,” a “house,” in which God will dwell with His people!

It’s easy to misunderstand why God wants us to live holy lives. We have a tendency to think that personal holiness is like a scorecard that God will add up at the end of our lives and give us a grade based upon our degree of holiness. But that’s missing the point; the reason God wants us to live holy lives is so that He can dwell with us, and we can dwell with Him! To dwell with Him means that He will reveal Himself to us, and we will dwell in a loving relationship with Him–in this life, and even more so–in the age to come!

Fragrant Prayer

Temple_BurningIncense

“May my prayer be counted as incense before You; the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141:2 

When we begin to cultivate a prayer life, one of our first concerns is how we should pray, and what we should pray for. We want to pray in the right way; we want to pray correctly! And this is very important. The way we learn to pray the “right way” is to use the Bible as our prayer guide. How did Jesus pray? How did He teach us to pray? What examples do we see in scripture to help us to know how to pray? How did Paul the Apostle pray? What do the Psalms teach us about prayer? The Bible should be our guide as to how we should approach God in prayer, what we should pray for,  and the Holy Spirit will also guide us and enable us to pray.  Most important of all, we need to actually spend time praying! Like anything else in life, we learn how to do it by doing it!

But as we grow in the practice of prayer our focus will shift from praying correctly to praying in a way that brings pleasure to God. Prayer becomes a spiritual romance! As we spend time in God’s presence, He will reveal Himself to us, and transform our desires! 

In the Tanakh, (Old Testament) the incense offered in the temple represents the prayers of the saints. The same is true in the book of Revelation (Rev. 5:8). Why incense? Because incense rises and gives pleasure to those who inhale it.

It brings great pleasure to God when we come to Him in prayer! We are a “fragrance of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). Yet there are things that hinder our prayer lives. The most obvious is sin. If we want to walk with God, we must be in agreement with Him. If we have sin in our lives, we must confess and forsake it. Other distractions include feeling inadequate, unworthy, and wandering thoughts. Let me encourage you to work through these things! The truth is that “…we are a fragrance of Christ to God…” and the Father loves it when we come to Him! He welcomes us into His presence! Persevere, and linger in His presence!

 

Planting A Church

It’s been more time than I realized since I last published a post on miningthesacredpage! The Lord has called my wife Carol and I to start a church in Gonzales CA! We have been having weekly services here for about a year and a half now! For the last three years we have been on an extreme learning curve! I would like to “revive” mining the sacred page with some short teaching blogs. In the meantime, if you would like more information on Cypress Church Gonzales, you can visit our website at: cypresschurchgonzales.org. Our statement of faith and all of our Sunday sermons are available there for you to listen to.

Grace and peace,

Mark Da Vee

Following Jesus

“You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.”

Psalm 18:36

Notice the Psalmist, King David, is talking to the Lord about what God is doing for him; God is “enlarging his steps.” His focus is on what God is doing for him, not on what he is doing for God. So what did David mean by the statement, “enlarge my steps”? It can mean that as he grows spiritually, as he gains experience following the Lord, his steps, his stride, becomes larger. When we start out following Jesus, we take small steps. We start attending church, reading our Bible, praying. As we continue to follow Jesus our faith grows; we take larger and larger steps of faith: we get more and more involved in serving others, in making disciples.

I can remember when I first became a Christian at age 17, I started to carry a little pocket New Testament to school. I could keep it concealed. As my faith grew, so did the size of the Bible I carried around. By my senior year I was carrying a full-sized New American Standard Bible, which I could not conceal–everyone in school knew I carried a Bible around with me! At first, I was afraid of people finding out that I was a Christian; as the Lord made my footsteps firm, my perspective changed, and I was no longer afraid.

This passage conveys the idea of a continual, expanding motion. David, the follower of YHWH (Jesus), is travelling; he is moving, he is following God. Notice that he is above his circumstances; his steps, his path, is “under him.”

“…my feet have not slipped.” David is aware of the possibility of slipping; in fact, I think he is aware of the weakness of his feet (lit. his “ankles”).

This one verse of Scripture really gets to the heart of what is scary about following Jesus: If I give my life to Jesus, where will He lead me?

We have a natural desire to control our lives and our circumstances. We don’t want to give that up. But for the most part, it is a false sense of control. We know deep down inside that we are not fully in control of our lives, and we strive to find some place where we can feel secure, and in control. Jesus tells us the solution which is echoed in the verse above:

“If anyone wishes to come after (follow) Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

Jesus confirms for us in this passage that the key to having true spiritual life, is to give control of our lives to Him; to “lose our life” and gain “His life”. If we do that, He will take us on a journey in which He will enlarge our steps, and make our footsteps firm!

The Ledger

General ledger

Have you ever had trouble forgiving someone? I recently walked by a person who I felt had wronged me in the past and even though I thought I had forgiven them, when I saw them my gut reaction was to avoid any contact with them. When I avoided them I realized that I was still harboring resentment towards them in my heart.

It had been years since this person had wronged me, and I had prayed many times desiring to forgive them. The next morning as I was praying over this, I believe the Lord showed me something about forgiveness.

We have a sort of “ledger” in our minds, with entries in it for each person we have ever known. Some entries are good, some are bad. Some entries are put there by direct experience, some from second-hand information. We keep an account of our interactions with every single person. We form opinions and make judgments about each person based upon the sum total of our mind’s ledger entries for them.

One reason gossip and speaking negatively about others is condemned in scripture is because the one who does this is spreading negative entries on people’s ledgers. It is causing people to form negative opinions, regardless of whether the information is true or not.

Why do we do have ledgers? I think it is related to the fact that we are made in the image of God (Gen.1:27). God keeps a perfect ledger on each one of us; He makes judgments about our behavior. We do the same thing. We record, and we judge. Our problem is that we are flawed in our judgment of others. And we have forfeited our right to judge others through our own sin.

Jesus teaches us that we are to forgive others: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15). God is merciful and forgiving, and He seeks the welfare of that those who have sinned against Him. He leads them to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

So what is the solution? How can we truly forgive others? First we must realize our inability to completely forgive on our own. Then we must give over to God complete control of our ledgers through prayer. We are in the process of being renovated, of being restored to the image of God (Col. 3:10). We must let God do the work of changing us from within to become like Jesus who cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Giving up control of our ledgers to God is not a “one and done”exercise; it’s something that has to be done whenever we see signs of resentment in us. And when we give God control, and He starts to blot out negative entries in our ledgers, we experience a load being lifted from us. Forgiveness brings freedom!

Is there anyone you are avoiding?