Monday, January 12, 2015

Call For Holiness

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (NIV)

At the beginning of his letter to the Corinthian church, Apostle Paul identifies himself as the author of this pastoral letter of instruction. Apostle Paul knew the Corinthian church well because he had founded this church. Then, he spent eighteen months in Corinth during his second missionary journey to help pastor this church (Acts 18:1-18). After leaving the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian letters to correct various problems facing the church at Corinth, including jealousy, divisiveness, lawsuits, marital difficulties, sexual immorality, pride, idolatry, corruption, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

Apostle Paul took a positive approach to the church’s defilement and spiritual immaturity by reminding the believers of their high and holy position in Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Apostle Paul described the church how God sees the church – holy, sanctified, and set apart for His special use (1 Corinthians 1:2). Through faith in Jesus Christ, every believer is declared holy, righteous, and redeemed by God (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:23-25; Romans 5:17, 19; see also Leviticus 20:7-8). Apostle Paul instructed the church TO BE AND ACT LIKE what they already are through faith in Jesus Christ – holy, righteous, and redeemed (Romans 12:1-2; see also 1 John 3:7-10).

This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes. 1 Corinthians 1:1 (NLT)

Apostle Paul says he was “a called apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:1). He was called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God. Then, Apostle Paul mentions his traveling partner, Sosthenes. Sosthenes was first mentioned at Acts 18 with the creation of the Corinthian church. As the Jews were being ejected by Gallio, a Roman governor, the Jews beat Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler who lost the Jews’ case with Gallio (Acts 18:17). Many biblical scholars believe this same Sosthenes mentioned at Acts 18 was the same man who was converted to a Christian and became Apostle Paul’s traveling companion.

Apostle Paul clearly indicated he was “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1, NIV). With this statement, Apostle Paul wanted to stress that his apostleship. An apostle means “one who is sent on a mission,” “a messenger,” or “missionary.” The word apostle is a secular term with no religious meaning. But in the New Testament, the word “apostle” has a variety of meanings and includes preachers of the Gospel (e.g., see Acts 14:4, 14; Galatians 1:19; Romans 16:7). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ repeatedly spoke of Himself as having been “sent” into the world by God the Father (e.g., see Matthew 10:40; Matthew 15:24; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48; John 4:34; John 5:24, 30, 36-38; John 6:38; John 17:8). Jesus Christ’s mission was one of the dominant themes of the Gospel and is given as a pattern for His followers (see John 17:3; John 20:21). Jesus Christ is the supreme Apostle, the One from whom all other apostleship flows. “And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s Messenger (Apostle) and High Priest. For He was faithful to God, who appointed Him. . . .” (Hebrews 3:1-2, NLT).

Another definition of apostle includes “one specially commissioned by Jesus Christ” as His special agent or representative (1 Corinthians 1:1; Hebrews 3:1). Alternatively, an apostle is defined at Acts 1:21-22. According to Acts 1:21-22, an apostle personally witnessed the life of Jesus Christ. In other words, an apostle was a person who had been with Jesus Christ during His public ministry beginning from John's baptism, to the resurrection, and the time when He was taken up into heaven by the glory cloud (Acts 1:9, 21-22). In the technical sense, an apostle was defined as the “Twelve” men that followed Jesus Christ during His public ministry on earth. These Twelve men had a continuous association and intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ Himself (see Mark 3:14). While Jesus Christ was alive on earth, many men and women followed Him. So there were more than the Twelve eyewitnesses of Jesus’ public ministry. An apostle was an important and authoritative person in the early churches because an apostle was an eyewitness to Jesus Christ’s public ministry and authenticated Jesus Christ’s life, actions, and resurrection.

Apostle Paul calls himself an apostle not for personal respect or acclaim. Instead, Apostle Paul calls himself an apostle to give authority to his preaching of the Gospel (Good News) to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 11; see also Galatians 1:15-16). Apostle Paul makes it very clear in the opening statement of 1 Corinthians that he was called to be an apostle by “the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1; see also Acts 13:2; Acts 18:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15:9-11). Although he did not witness the public ministry of Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul indicated that he was called to be Jesus Christ’s messenger or apostle based solely on Jesus Christ’s appearance to him on the Damascus Road (see also Acts 9:1-16; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18). The Damascus Road experience was not a personal conversation (regeneration/salvation) of Apostle Paul but Apostle Paul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles. “Being called” is being a follower of Jesus Christ. So, Apostle Paul was an apostle because God made him an apostle. Despite this statement, many people did not accept Apostle Paul’s statement and credentials as an apostle.

In Corinthians 4, Apostle Paul stated that an apostle is nothing more than a servant or laborer for God (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). In the Greek, the word “servant” means subordinate or an under-rower of a ship. An under-rower’s job is to be faithful and obedient to follow the leader of the boat who makes all the call (1 Corinthians 4:2). If the servant is not obedient and faithful, the entire boat fails. Also, Apostle Paul notes the work of an apostle is extremely exhausting and requires effort as they work together with other fellow servants of God within the church (1 Corinthians 4:6, 8-13). Also, the Apostle Paul saw apostles as a steward or house manager.  In the first century, stewards took care of the master property. In essences, true apostles of God see themselves as stewards or servants of God that are entrusted with the ministry of God. Thus, Apostle Paul says apostles are not kings, but servants, laborers, or stewards of God (1 Corinthians 4:6-13).

Sadly, some of the Corinthians elevated the apostles and other church leaders as kings and were lining up behind various church leaders (see 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Some followed Peter, who had walked and talked with Jesus Christ on earth. Others followed Apollos with his sophistication and eloquence and cultivated style. Some followed Apostle Paul, the famous church missionary. Apostle Paul had no tolerance for that “hero worship” and stressed vigorously that the Corinthians and the church belonged only to God. Whatever gifts or other position God graciously given to the church was to bring about redemptive living and not self-importance and pride (1 Corinthians 4:14-21).

In 1 Corinthians 3, Apostle Paul presents a realistic picture of the church as a “vineyard”. Throughout the New Testament, the church has various images or titles. The church is called or described as the “temple”, the “body of Christ”, “a priesthood,” “holy nation,” the “flock”, and “family of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Ephesians 1:22-23). In the Old Testament and Judaism, Israel was called a “vineyard” (e.g., see Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:2-6; Jeremiah 2:21). A vineyard has one purpose – to produce good fruit! The church has the same purpose – to produce good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Fruit is the natural result of the tree and the natural expression of the tree’s life. One can identify a tree’s condition and health by the tree’s fruit (see Matthew 7:16-20; John 15:6). Even more, the vineyard has an owner and is dependent upon many workers to produce good fruit (see also Ephesians 5:9; Colossians 3:12-15). The church is about fruit and about God. As Christians, we are just servants of the vineyard. It is NOT ABOUT US but about GOD!  We are one and fellow workers and there is no room for division and pride.

The workers of the vineyard has varies tasks and many functions. Yet, the workers are just servants because none of the workers own the vineyard. The life of the vineyard (church) is much bigger than the workers. The Good News of Jesus Christ brings life and God has graciously given His church a place to live out this holy life (see Romans 1:16-17). Apostle Paul stresses that he, Apollos and other workers of the vineyard are just laborers, workers or fellow servants of the vineyard (1 Corinthians 3:5, 7-9). The vineyard will continue to exist upon the servants’ death. Servants or labors of the vineyard are not to be elevated. Instead, the fruit, the owner, and the vineyard are what are important.

I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be His own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as He did for all people everywhere who call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NLT)

As Apostle Paul emphasized his call to be an apostle, the church was called to be “saints” or “holy ones” by God (1 Corinthians 1:2). The church is called to be holy, set apart, and called-out people for a particular service. This does not mean that the Corinthians had some special vocation that sets them apart from other Christians. Rather, the Corinthians along with other faithful believers in Jesus Christ is set apart from a wicked and defiled world and is marked by God as God’s people through their faith in Jesus Christ – who is the Head of the church (see John 17:17, 19; Colossians 1:18). The Apostle Paul regards all believers of Jesus Christ “saints” of God, who are holy and blameless before God (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 11; Colossians 1:22-23).

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people — none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NLT)

All believers in Jesus Christ are holy or saints in that they stand in a special relationship with God as His people and are becoming increasingly holy by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Titus 3:5-8). In the Old Testament, the basic idea of “holy” meant that certain priests and vessels were set apart as holy, sanctified or sacred for God’s special purpose or use. Being “holy” is not moral perfection. Although the church at Corinth was not acting holy, Apostle Paul reminded the church they were called to be holy and saints for God’s special purpose and use (see Exodus 19:5-6; Romans 6:22). Through faith in Jesus Christ, all believers are holy, righteous and redeemed (1 Corinthians 1:30). Believers in Jesus Christ are set apart for God’s special use, enjoyment, and purposes and God calls all believers in Jesus Christ to be “morally” holy (1 Corinthians 1:2; see also Leviticus 11:44-45; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5, 9). God is holy (Leviticus 11:44; Habakkuk 1:13) and faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9) and God calls His church to intimate His holiness and faithfulness in their daily living (1 Peter 1:15-16; see also Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 20:7-8). Even more, God graciously gives believers in Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit for their sanctification (holiness) (Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:8).

Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)

Apostle Paul connected the Corinthians church with everyone who calls upon the Name of Jesus Christ as the body of Christ and the church is called to be “holy” (1 Corinthians 12-14). A sinful and unfaithful believer not only sins against God, but this unfaithful believer also sins against fellow Christians - everyone that “call upon the Name of Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Throughout the Old and New Testament, everyone who calls upon the Name of God is called to be holy and sacred for God’s use (see Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 11:44; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; Hebrews 12:14). Just as Apostle Paul was “called” to be apostle, the Corinthian church was called to be “holy” and “saints.” Apostle Paul reminded the church to become what they are in Jesus Christ – holy, righteous and redeemed people of God. The fact that God has called believers of Jesus Christ, set us apart, and enriched us ought to encourage us to live holy lives for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31; see also Romans 6:1-22; 1 John 2:28-3:3).

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! . . . Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. . . . Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:1-2, 19-23 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Due West Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2015.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary (Victor Books, 1989).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

First Dysfunctional Church

Apostle Paul:  When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I was not talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Do not even eat with such people. It is not my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NLT)

The Corinthians letters give a glimpse into an early New Testament mission church. Apostle Paul established this fledging church at Corinth during his second missionary journey around A.D. 50–52 (see Acts 15:36–18:22). However, Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian letters around A.D. 55 – 56 from Ephesus during his third missionary journey (see Acts 18:23–19:41; 1 Corinthians 16:8). Ephesus is located in the province of Asia (western Turkey) and Apostle Paul spent two to three years in this area on his third missionary journey. The Corinthian letters are Apostle Paul’s direct pastoral instructions to a young first century church.

As revealed in the Corinthian letters, not all the early churches of Jesus Christ were perfect. In fact, Corinthians gives today’s Christians a glimpse at the first dysfunctional church of the New Testament. The Corinthian letters address many problems facing the church at Corinth. In the Corinthian letters, Apostle Paul gives instructions on how Christian churches are to be “salt” and “light” in the world as called by Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:13-16; see also 1 Corinthians 10:31). In essences, the Corinthian letters discuss how to be a good and righteous church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ:  “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world. . . . In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:13-14, 16 (NLT)

Apostle Paul dealt with a wide range of problems and questions facing the young fledging church in this Corinthian letters — some of which reflect the problems of the city itself. Deviant practices of a bewildering variety characterized the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church was filled of divisions and cliques, incest, lawsuits, sexual immorality, greed, marital unfaithfulness, selfishness, lying, competitiveness, jealous, quarreling, and backbiting. Yet, the new believers at Corinth were struggling because they were surrounded by a grossly immoral and wicked environment. The church felt the pressure to adapt and confirm to the world’s standards and beliefs instead God’s ways. The ways of God are love, compassion, mercy, kindness, patience, faithfulness, truth, forgiveness, holiness and humility (1 Corinthians 13; see Exodus 33:15-18; Exodus 34:6-7; Galatians 5:22-23). The church is about expressing love to God, love for others, and doing good (righteous acts) in the world and not arrogance, self-importance and self-seeking (1 Corinthians 10:31-33see Matthew 22:34-40; John 13:34-35; Matthew 7:12; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9-21; Revelation 19:8).

The city of Corinth was a fascinating and prosperous place. The old Corinth was destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Roman army. But prior to the city’s destruction, Corinth was a prominent and elevated city. After the city’s destruction, Corinth laid dormant. Then in approximately 46 or 44 B.C., Corinth was rebuilt and became an important city in the Roman Empire because of Corinth’s location. There was no other city in the Roman Empire like Corinth. Corinth was a large, strategic, political, commercial and religious center. The city was cosmopolitan, with Romans, Greeks, Jews, and other ethnic groups from all over the Mediterranean, as well as international visitors passing through the city’s seaport. As a result, the members of the young Corinthian church were multi-ethnic. This surely contributed to the young church’s tensions and problems (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4). It was important that a strong Christian church be established in Corinth. If the Gospel could take root in Corinth, it could transplant anywhere considering Corinth’s crossroad location.

Corinth was located on a narrow isthmus (strip of land) between the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. This area became Roman’s most vital trade route. The city of Corinth was a port town that hosted many foreign visitors and traveling sailors. Ships wanting to avoid the dangerous trip around the southern tip of Greece were dragged across that isthmus. Therefore, many ships dock at Corinth. The city hosted a constant flow of people coming in and out of Corinth from around the world. Visitors and sailors went into the city of Corinth for rest, relaxation, and pleasure.

Corinth was a pleasure town like Las Vegas and full of vices. There were partying, drinking, gambling, prostitution, and carousing. These immoral activities were open and public and not private. In the city of Corinth, gross immorality and wickedness was even encouraged because the city’s mischief drove the city’s economy. Corinth has been called a “drunkard’s paradise and a virtuous woman’s hell.” The city of Corinth equaled sin. In fact, conditions of Corinth were vividly seen in the fact that the Greek term “korinthiazomai” came to mean to “to live shamelessly and immorally” or “to fornicate” due Corinth’s gross sexual immorality. The city was filled with prostitution, gambling, partying, drunkenness, and wickedness. The great temple of Aphrodite with its 1,000 temple prostitutes (male and female) was also located in Corinth. It is not surprising that some of these same problems made their way into the young Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

Yet, Corinth was an important city for Apostle Paul’s missionary purpose. Apostle Paul took seriously the command of Jesus Christ to go throughout the whole world to preach the Good News (see Matthew 28:16-20; see also Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18). The city of Corinth was a valuable city at the commercial crossroads that went to the utter most parts of the world. Many of these foreign sailors and visitors that came through Corinth responded to the Good News of Jesus Christ and returned to their original homes with the message of Jesus Christ. Thus through this city port town, the Good News was being indirectly spread throughout the world as Jesus Christ commanded. These sailors and visitors would take the Good News to their homes from the Corinthian church.

Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

Moreover, Corinth had a Greek world view (also called “Hellenism”). This view glorified the body and did not believe in moral absolutes. Hellenists believed one could live by one’s own code of ethics as long as one does not hurt another person. Essentially, the city of Corinth centered on the beauty of the human body with no moral absolute. Yet, most Greeks were religious and there was a lot of mixing of religion (syncretism). Thus, many forms of religion were located in Corinth with many temples to various gods and goddesses. Despite the various religions, there was no concept of one Lord and one body of Scriptures. Instead, people just picked and chose from various religions. Even more, the Corinthian environment saw no connection between worship of God and morality. The Corinthians did not connect God and morality or theology and ethics. The city of Corinth was filled with superficial intellectualism or surface knowledge. The Corinthians prided themselves on knowledge, various religions, and philosophy.  

Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. . . . One night the Lord (Jesus) spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Do not be afraid! Speak out! Do not be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to Me.” So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God. Acts 18:1, 9-11 (NLT)

The Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ was first taught in Corinth by the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey around A.D. 50 (see Acts 18:1-18). Consequently, Apostle Paul describes himself as having planted the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 3:6), or having laid the church’s foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10), or having “fathered” the church (1 Corinthians 4:15). While living and working with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth (Acts 18:1-2), Apostle Paul preached in the local Jewish synagogue each Sabbath day (Acts 18:4). As his custom, Apostle Paul went first to the Jews to announce that Jesus was their long awaited Messiah predicted in the Old Testament (Acts 18:4-5; see also Acts 13:14; Acts 14:1; Acts 17:1, 10, 17; Acts 18:19; Acts 19:8). The Apostle Paul preached in the local Jewish synagogue as long as the Jews would allow him to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah (Christ). Apostle Paul’s reasoning for doing so was grounded in his understanding of God’s redemptive plan of going to the Jew’s first and then the Gentiles with God’s salvation through Jesus Christ (see Acts 13:46; Romans 1:16; Romans 2:9-10; Romans chapters 9 through 11). However, opposition in the synagogue forced Apostle Paul to leave the Jewish synagogue and move next door to the house of Titius Justus, where the people accepted his teaching about Jesus (Acts 18:6-7). Eventually, Crispus, the ruler of the Jewish synagogue and an Orthodox Jew, left the synagogue and followed Apostle Paul next door to Titius Justus’s house (Acts 18:8; see also 1 Corinthians 1:14). Crispus and his family were converted and joined the Christians (Acts 18:8). Moreover, many other Corinthians heard Apostle Paul’s preaching about God and the Good News of Jesus Christ. These Corinthians believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8).

Later, some Jews brought charges against Apostle Paul (Acts 18:12). The Jews accused Apostle Paul of violating Jewish laws with Gallio, the Roman governor (Acts 18:13). But Gallio dismissed these charge (Acts 18:14-15). The Roman policy tolerated various religious groups and Romans officials were ordered not to get involved with religious disputes. Moreover, Judaism was a recognized religion under Roman law and Christianity was seen as part of Judaism. Thus, Gallio refused to hear the Jews’ case brought against Apostle Paul. Gallio said the Jews’ charges were a religious matter and Gallilo placed the Jews out of his house (Acts 18:15-16). However, as the Jews were being ejected by Gallio the Jews beat Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler who lost the Jews’ case with Gallio (Acts 18:17). Eventually, Apostle Paul leaves Corinth and sailed to Syria (Acts 18:18). A person named Sosthenes is mentioned at 1 Corinthians 1:1 by Apostle Paul. Many biblical scholars believe this same Sosthenes mentioned at Acts 18 was the same man who was converted and became Apostle Paul’s companion.

Thus, the Corinthian church was established in a situation of conflict out of the Jewish synagogue. Moreover, the Corinthian church came out of a thoroughly pagan and grossly immoral environment in the city of Corinth. So, the Corinthian church faced a hostile environment with the pagan world and a hostile environment with the Jewish church

The Corinthian church was filled with diversity – multiethnic church. The first Corinthian congregation consisted of Jews that accepted Jesus as their Jewish Messiah and they became Jewish Christians. These Jewish Christians were probably “fringed” Jews or liberal Jews. These Jews did not abandon their Judaism. Instead, these Jews saw their Judaism as complete through faith in Jesus. Also, the Corinthian church consisted of god-fearers. God-fearers were Gentiles like Cornelius and they were Orthodox Jews except they were not circumcised. These people prayed, fasted, and gave alms (money to the poor) but they were not circumcised. Moreover, the church consisted of Hellenists – Greek speaking Jews. Hellenists were circumcised but they spoke Greek language and were open to the Greek views and culture. In essence, the Hellenists were liberal minded Jews. Finally, the Corinthian church had women. Luke’s Gospel states that women were in the band that followed Jesus. Essentially from the very beginning, the Corinthian church had lines of division or conflicts – liberals and conservatives, Jews and Gentiles, men and women. So, there were contrasting worldviews in the Corinthian church and the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians deals with this church conflict. 

However, Corinth had a minimal Jewish presence because the city was a thoroughly pagan Greco-Roman that worshipped Aphrodite. More and more non-Jews became attractive to the Corinthian church. Although the church started with a Jewish core, more and more Gentiles came into the church from the city of Corinth. Eventually, the congregation was dominant by Gentiles that came from a pagan environment with gross idolatry, gross immorality, and superficial intellectualism. Although Apostle Paul had stayed in Corinth eighteen months (Acts 18:11), he did not have enough time to invest in the church so the church could flourish in that hostile and immoral environment. In the Corinthian letters, Apostle Paul was in essence visiting the Corinthian church through his letters with pastoral instruction.

Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian church a series of personal letters dealing in part with various problems of immorality and spiritual immaturity. In the first letter between Apostle Paul and the church, Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian church about staying away from immorality and wickedness that filled the city of Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:9). This letter was lost. Then, the Corinthian church wrote Apostle Paul a letter about some ethical questions and other concerns (1 Corinthians 7:1). This letter posed questions about sex within marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-40); eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-11); and spiritual gifts within the church community (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). This suggests that the Corinthians were serious and genuine about their Christian faith. By this time, the Christian church was mostly Gentiles without an elaborate knowledge of the Old Testament Law.

Then, Apostle Paul received a report from a group of people he calls “Chloe’s people” (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Chloe’s people reported to Apostle Paul all the problems occurring in the Corinthian church with division, cliques and factions (1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 11:18). The Corinthian church was rallying around various church leaders and teachers -- Peter, Paul, and Apollos. These loyalties led to intellectual pride and created a spirit of division in the church. Their report presumably included alarming information about other problems within the church:  sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-8; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20), legal disputes (1 Corinthians 6:1-11), abuses of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) and controversies about the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).

The Apostle Paul responded to the Corinthian church in a letter. This letter is First Corinthians. Whether 1 Corinthians was prompted solely by Chloe’s letter or Apostle Paul’s previous letters were unknown. But probably the First Corinthians’ letter is a response to both situations. In addition to Chloe informing Apostle Paul of the various ethical and moral problems within the church, Chloe’s people also informed Apostle Paul that his authority as an apostle was in question. Apostle Paul was criticized for his rather unpolished, non-intellectual approach to evangelism (1 Corinthians chapters 1 through 4). So the first issue of 1 Corinthians is about the division within the church as seen by 1 Corinthians chapters 1 through 4 and also the rebellion against Apostle Paul’s apostleship.

In response to these problems, Apostle Paul emphasized that only God can change a person’s heart. From beginning to end, Apostle Paul interprets every problem of the church in light of the Cross of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4-6). Fundamentally, Apostle Paul’s message to the Corinthians is the story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5), and he insisted that the church’s behavior must be shaped and patterned with reference to Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

God has defined true wisdom through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 1:30) and the true meaning of love as exemplified in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1). In reacting to the Corinthians’ overemphasis on knowledge, philosophy and wisdom, Apostle Paul affirms that love must rule over all other values, virtues, philosophies and religious options (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; 1 Corinthians 16:14). Real power does not lie in one’s persuasive intellect, rhetoric or philosophy, but in the Good News of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthian 1:18). Renewal or regeneration is not a matter of one person changing another person’s mind, but of God changing a person’s heart from within through the power of the Good News (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 Corinthians 4:14-21; see also Romans 1:16-17).

The Apostle Paul sends the First Corinthian letter from Ephesus by Timothy, one of his companions. The Apostle Paul did not go back to Corinth because of possibly hostility. Also, Apostle Paul felt his pastoral associate, Timothy, would be better suited to handle the conflicts in the Corinthian church.  Timothy’s personality was much different than Apostle Paul. Besides, Apostle Paul believed this letter with Timothy’s interpretation would answer the church’s questions and stop the growing rebellion against Apostle Paul’s authority. However, both the first letter and Timothy were rejected by the Corinthian church. The rebellion against Apostle Paul’s authority becomes worse. In the Roman Empire, the letter carried the authority of the person who wrote the letter. A letter was the same as the person being there – the person’s presence. So when the Corinthians rejected the letter, the church rejected Apostle Paul and his authority. However, this rejection or rebellion was not really about Apostle Paul but the rejection was about the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ that Apostle Paul was preaching. In essence, the integrity of the Good News (Gospel) was at stake in Corinth!

In the Corinthian letters, Apostle Paul calls all Christians to be careful not to blend in with the world and accept its values and lifestyles. Instead, Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to live Christ-centered, blameless, loving lives that make a difference for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008).
Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
New Student Bible (New York, NY: Zondervan, 1992).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Due West Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2015.
Hayes, Richard. First Corinthians (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2011). 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Putting God First!

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” Exodus 32:7-8 (NLT)

After God had made a formal covenant (contract) with Israel at Mount Sinai, Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai to receive from God instructions for building the Tabernacle (Exodus 24:18) and the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 9:7-11). Moses was on top of Mount Sinai forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18–31:18; Deuteronomy 9:11). The final chapters of Exodus are primarily devoted to the Tabernacle. Exodus chapters 25 through 31 record God's detailed directions for building the Tabernacle and Exodus chapters 35 through 39 tell how the Israelites carried out God’s instructions to build the Tabernacle. God appointed Bezalel and Oholiab with Spirit-filled abilities in artistic craftsmanship to carry out the construction of the Tabernacle and the Tabernacles’ furnishings (Exodus 31:1-11; see also Judges 6:34 and 1 Samuel 10:10). The Israelites were instructed by God to build the Tabernacle and its furnishings precisely according to the pattern He revealed to Moses on top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 25:8-9, 40; Exodus 26:30; Exodus 27:8).

The Tabernacle (also called the “Tent of Meeting”) was the sanctuary or place where God dwelt with His people on earth and was a holy place (consecrated and set-apart for God) (Exodus 25:8; Exodus 29:45-46; Leviticus 26:11; see also Ezekiel 37:27; Revelation 21:3). The portable nature of the Tabernacle revealed God's desire to continually dwell and protect His people. God is not an absentee landlord but a resident Landlord that wants to constantly dwell with His people. At the Tabernacle, the Israelites made sacrifices to God. Sacrifices were the only means the people could come to God and the only means whereby the people could be forgiven of their sins. Once a year, the high priest would enter into the Most Holy Place, the innermost room of the Tabernacle, to make a sacrifice for the sins of all the Israelites. This once-a-year ceremony was called the Day of Atonement (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:34).

“Call for your brother, Aaron, and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Set them apart from the rest of the people of Israel so they may minister to Me and be My priests.” Exodus 28:1 (NLT)

Exodus chapters 28 and 29 describe the roles of the priests. The priests were ministers that oversaw the operations of the Tabernacle, helped the people maintain their relationship with God, and read the Law of Moses to the people (Exodus 28:1; Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Malachi 2:5-9). These priests were from the tribe of Levi and descendant of Aaron, Israel's first high priest. The priests performed the daily sacrifices, maintained the Tabernacle, and directed the people on how to follow God. In essences, the priests were the people's representatives before God and thus were required to live worthy of their office. Originally, God had intended for the nation of Israel, as His chosen people, to be a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). The Israelites as a nation and individually were to deal directly with God. However, the Israelites continually sinned and rebelled against God. So, God appointed priests from the tribe of Levi and set up the system of sacrifices to help the people approach Him.

The description of the Tabernacle and offerings made at the Tabernacle take up much of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There are fifty chapters in the Holy Scriptures devoted to the Tabernacle: thirteen in Exodus; eighteen in Leviticus; thirteen in Numbers; two in Deuteronomy; and four in Hebrews. The Tabernacle was a beautiful and holy structure made of gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread; fine linen; and acacia wood (Exodus 25:3-4). These precious items were given willingly given by the Israelites to the Lord God as sacred offerings to build the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:1-7; Exodus 36:5-7). The Tabernacle represented God’s royal tent. The form and adornment of the Tabernacle was a symbolic representation of the created cosmos and similar to the Garden of Eden – Paradise (see Genesis 3:24; Revelation 21:1-22:6). At the Tabernacle, God “lived” among His people (Immanuel, “God with us”) and His people could come near to Him.

In Exodus, there is an overwhelming emphasis on the holiness of God. The priests, the clothes, the Tabernacle, and the sacrifice had to be clean and consecrated (sanctified and set apart) before meeting God (Exodus 19:14; Exodus 29:4; Exodus 30:17-21). The washing with water symbolized the removal of ceremonial uncleanness and thus signifying purity (see Matthew 28:19; Hebrews 10:22). Indeed, the almighty Creator and Sustainer of the universe deserve our holiness, reverence and repentance as we approach Him. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we have been “sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22, NLT). Cleanliness is next to godliness!  

In the Tabernacle were the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:31-35; Hebrews 9:1-5). The Holy Place and the Most Holy Place were separated by a curtain or the “shielding curtain”. The Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies, formed a perfect cube (15 feet by 15 feet by 15 feet) and was enclosed with “shielding curtain.” This curtain was embroidered with cherubim (angels). The Most Holy Place contained only the Ark of Covenant, which held the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna (miracle food), and Aaron's rod (Hebrews 9:4). The Ark of the Covenant represented the throne of God, the Most Holy Place was God’s throne room, and the Holy Place represented God’s royal guest chamber. The priest entered the Holy Place each day to commune with God and to tend to the altar of incense, the lampstand, and the table with the bread of the Presence. The Most Holy Place was where God Himself dwelt, His presence resting on the atonement cover, which covered the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 26:31-33). Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement to make atonement for the sins of all the people.

When Jesus Christ died on the Cross, the shielding curtain in the Temple (which had replaced the Tabernacle) was torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). This tearing of the curtain symbolized our free (direct) access to God because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death (Hebrews 6:19-20; Hebrews 10:19-22). Jesus Christ has entered heaven itself for us so that we too may now enter God’s presence (see Hebrews 9:8-10, 12; Hebrews 10:19-20). No longer are people required to approach the true and living God through priests and sacrifices. In Hebrews 10:1-18, Jesus Christ is portrayed as the ultimate and final sacrifice for humanities’ sins. The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ came to offer His body on the Cross as a living and final sacrifice for sin. Jesus Christ shed His innocent blood as a final sacrifice and an atonement to God (see Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:12; 1 John 2:2). Because of Jesus Christ, sacrifices are no longer needed (Hebrews 10:11-12). Jesus Christ's sacrificial death effectively cleansed us from all sins through faith and obedience to Him. Therefore, daily sacrifices are no longer required because Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself on the Cross as the final sin offering. Essentially, the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 by the Romans ended the Jewish sacrificial system.

Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make His people holy by means of His own blood. . . .  Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His Name. And do not forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. Hebrews 13:11-12, 15-16 (NLT)

Today, the only sacrifice required is faith, love, and obedience to God (see Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:6, 14; Hebrews 10:5-10; Hebrews 13:15-16). Faith is not merely an intellectual but a living trust and devotion to God that expresses itself in acts of love, goodness and kindness to others (see 1 Thessalonians 1:3; James 1:27; James 2:18-19). Doing to others what you would have them do to you expresses the spirit and intent of the “Law and the Prophets” (see Matthew 5:14-17; Matthew 7:12; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:8-10). Previously, the Israelites offered sacrifices to God according to the Law found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. However, the Israelites’ sacrifices to God became empty, meaningless, and half-hearted (see Isaiah 1:11-17). Although the Israelites made many sacrifices to God, they failed to obey God from their hearts and obey His moral ways (see Psalm 40:6-8; Micah 6:6-8; Hosea 6:6; Isaiah 1:11-15; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7; Mark 12:33). Sacrifice apart from faithfulness and wholehearted obedience to God’s will (e.g., mercy, truth, forgiveness, love, goodness, justice and humility) is wholly unacceptable to Him (see also 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24). The moral character and conduct of the worshipers are far more important to God than the number of their religious activities and sacrifices (see Isaiah 1:16-17; Jeremiah 7:22-23). As we humbly and wholehearted live like Jesus Christ (God’s Son), we obey God’s moral laws. God's new and living way for us to please Him is by coming to His Son Jesus Christ in faith and following Him in loving obedience (Psalm 23:3; John 10:11, 27). Through Jesus Christ, we fulfill God’s moral law as we let Him live within our hearts by His Spirit. 

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is described is Tabernacle. In describing the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Gospel writer John uses the word for dwelt, which has the idea of Tabernacle or Tent (John 1:14). Also, the book of Hebrews recognizes Jesus Christ’s connection to the Tabernacle (see Hebrews 9:1–24). Just as God dwelt with the Israelites in the Tabernacle, so Jesus Christ also dwelt in a human body as the New Testament “Tabernacle.” Jesus Christ is the perfect approach to God, who “tabernacled” or “dwelt” among people (John 1:14; Hebrews 10:19-20). Moreover, Jesus Christ is described as the Great High Priest and He has made the old sacrificial system obsolete (see Hebrews 9:11-28, particularly verses 11 and 26). Having finished the work as the Great High Priest once and for all, Jesus Christ sat down at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 10:11-14).

So he (Moses) stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him. . . . The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness (to make atonement) for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. But now, if You will only forgive their sin — but if not, erase my name from the record You have written!” But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against Me. Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about. Look! My angel will lead the way before you. And when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.” Exodus 32:26, 30-34 (NLT)

While Moses was receiving instructions from God on building the Tabernacle (Exodus 24:18–32:15), the Israelites were at the foot of the mount growing restless and impatient (Exodus 32:1). The Israelites thought God and Moses had abandoned them in the wilderness to die even though they had visible seen God and His glory in action (Exodus 32:2). So, the people decided to forsake the true and living God and build their own gods in their personal liking to worship. The Egyptians and the Canaanites worshipped a bull and a heifer. So, the Israelites created a golden calf to represent their god (Exodus 32:3-4; see also 1 Kings 12:28-29). The gold probably came from part of the plunder brought from Egypt (see Exodus 3:21-22; Exodus 11:2-3; Exodus 12:35-36).

However, the people quickly forgot God’s gracious actions of delivering them from slavery and bondage (Exodus 20:2). Despite God’s grace and faithfulness, Israel broke their promise and wholehearted commitment to Him (see Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:7). God had warned the people repeatedly to worship and serve Him alone as Israel’s only true God (see Exodus 20:5; Exodus 23:13, 24). Yet, the Israelites did not live by faith in God. Instead, the people violated God’s specific commandments recently given them:

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but Me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a Jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” Exodus 20:2-5 (NLT)

The people persuaded Aaron, Moses’ brother and second in command, to make an unholy image and Aaron sinfully submitted to the people’s demands (Exodus 32:2-4; see also Exodus 6:20; Exodus 24:14). Aaron was a great communicator, public speaker and Moses’ mouthpiece (Exodus 4:14). Although Aaron was a great communicator, he was not as effective leader as Moses. Aaron’s major failure was his weakness of yielding to public pressure (Exodus 32:2-4). Instead of standing firm for God while Moses spoke with God on top of Mount Sinai, Aaron yield to the people’s desire for an idol. In essence, Aaron had no backbone to stand against the people’s blatant betrayal and idolatry! Even worse, Aaron took the rebellion a step further by proposing a syncretistic worship of the golden calf and God (Exodus 32:5). After building the calf, the next morning the people sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings (Exodus 32:6) and celebrated with feasting, drinking, and pagan partying (Exodus 32:6; see also 1 Corinthians 10:7). The people were running wild and completely out of control (Exodus 32:25). Disorder and chaos reign among people who refuse to obey and worship God.

God saw the evil and corruption committed by the people and told Moses to quickly return to the people at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 32:7-8; see also Genesis 6:11-13). As an all-knowing and all seeing God, He witnessed the stubbornness, rebellion and idolatry of the people and wanted to destroy the Israelites and make Moses into a great nation (Exodus 32:7-10). God witnessed the Israelites’ blatant disobedience and rebellion from heaven and He wanted to transfer to Moses the pledge originally given to Abraham (see Genesis 12:2). The Israelites had violated God’s commandments in their actions and hearts.

However, Moses interceded for the Israelites. Moses pleaded for God’s mercy and forgiveness toward Israel (Exodus 32:11-13, 30; see also Luke 23:34; Romans 9:1–4). Moses asked God to remember His great promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel with whom He had promised to multiply their seed as the stars of heaven (Exodus 32:13; see also Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:16-17). So, God graciously relented and changed His mind about the terrible disaster He had threatened to bring on His people (Exodus 32:14). Although God is merciful but He is also just (fair) and will not allow sin to go unpunished. The people had been repeatedly warned against idolatry and yet they willfully disobeyed God. “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35).

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Hope

Since the people were hoping for the Christ to come, they wondered if John might be the One. Luke 3:15 (NCV)

Before Jesus’ birth, everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, particularly the Jews (see Luke 2:25-32; 38). The people were in a state of great expectation waiting trustfully for the Messiah. The Hebrew word “Messiah” is the equivalent of the Greek word “Christ,” which means “Anointed One.” After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the name Christ became the proper name of Jesus, the Person whom Christians recognize as the God’s Redeemer and the church’s Lord.

In the first century, many Jews eagerly looked for a deliverer who would defeat Israel’s enemies and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. With the decline and subsequent downfall of Israel, the Old Testament prophets predicted the coming of the Messiah to save Israel (see Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-5; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 33:15-16; Ezekiel 37:24-25). There was great hope that a Messiah from David’s ancestral line would reestablish David’s dynasty and reign forever in righteousness and justice on David’s throne in Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 7:11-16). The Jewish people believed the Messiah would be a Warrior-Prince to restore Israel’s glory, expel the hated Romans from Israel, and bring in a kingdom in which the Jews would be promoted to power.

Yet, the Jews often ignored the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of the Messiah's salvation, grace, and light to the world – worldwide salvation (e.g., see Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). Before the Messiah’s arrival to earth in the Baby Jesus, God had chosen Him to bring salvation to all people of the world (Luke 1:32-33, Luke 69-70; Luke 2:30-32; Luke 3:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; see also Matthew 28:18-20). The Messiah’s salvation was coming and has now come to all peoples (Gentiles and Jews) to bring God’s salvation (Joel 2:28-32; Amos 9:11-12; Micah 5:2; Acts 2:17-21; Acts 13:47; Acts 15:16-18; 1 Timothy 1:15). Messiah is of God (1 Corinthians 3:23). In fact, the Magi (wise men from Babylon) were awaiting the Messiah’s arrival (see Matthew 2:1-12). Some scholars believe these Magi, who were non-Jews, represented the entire world’s hope for the Messiah - the “Desire of All Nations” (see Haggai 2:7-9). These Magi traveled thousands of miles searching for the Messiah and followed His great star (Matthew 2:2; see also Numbers 24:17).   

Before the Messiah’s arrival, the people wondered and debated in their minds if John the Baptist was the long awaited and hoped for Messiah (Luke 3:15). John the Baptist was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth and a distant relative of Jesus (Luke 1:36; Luke 3:2). However, John the Baptist clearly stated that he was not the Messiah, but only the Messiah’s forerunner (see John 1:19–29, especially verse 20). John the Baptist was the voice “crying in the wilderness” preparing the way for the Messiah’s arrival (Luke 3:4; John 1:23; see also Isaiah 40:1-5). He announced the royal arrival of the Messiah (see Luke 1:16-17, 76-77; John 1:6-8, 15-34).

John spoke his message with particular urgency because he was preparing the people for the coming Messiah (Luke 3:4-6; see also Isaiah 40:3-5). The people responded to John’s message by the hundreds. But even as people crowded to John the Baptist, he pointed beyond himself and pointed the people to the coming Messiah. John knew the Messiah would bring God’s light, life and salvation into the world (see Matthew 1:21, 23; Luke 2:30-32; John 1:1-5, 14). John baptized people and preached repentance of sins (Matthew 3:1-2). While baptizing and preaching, John said, “I baptize you with water; but Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am — so much greater that I am not even worthy to be His slave and untie the straps of His sandals” (Luke 3:16, NLT). Acts 19:1-5 explains that John's baptism looked forward to the coming Messiah, while Christian baptism looks backward to the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah (see also Matthew 3:11, 15; Mark 1:4). 

Since the Prophet Malachi, there had not been a prophet in Israel for more than 400 years. The Jews (also called Israelites) widely believed that when the Messiah came, God’s message through prophecy would reappear (see Joel 2:28-29; Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5). So when John the Baptist began preaching baptism and repentance, the people were excited. The Jewish people knew John the Baptist was unique and a prophet of God, and they believed that the eagerly awaited age of the Messiah had come. John the Baptist spoke like the prophets of the Old Testament. As a humble Jewish prophet, John proclaimed that the people must wholeheartedly obey God, turn from their sins, and turn to God to experience His mercy and approval (Luke 3:3). John challenged the people to repent (turn from their sins) and then he baptized the people as a symbol of their repentance. He encouraged the people to genuinely change their hearts and lives and bear good fruit as proof of their repentance (Luke 3:8-9; see also John 15:16; Galatians 5:22-23; James 2:14-26). True repentance has three sides — (1) turning away from sins, (2) turning toward God, and (3) producing good fruit and deeds. Following God means more than saying the right words; true repentance means obeying and doing what God says to enter His spiritual kingdom.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then He asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:13-16 (NLT)

Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) predicted by the Old Testament prophets, the Chosen One and the Son of God (see Matthew 16:13-16; Mark 1:1; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 1:35; Luke 9:18-20, 35; John 4:5, 29; Romans 9:5). However, the Old Testament promises of the Messiah came in a surprising way in the life of Jesus (Luke 9:22). Instead of coming as a Conqueror as hoped by the Jews, Jesus came as a Suffering Servant that would be rejected and crucified to bring God’s great salvation to the world (see Mark 8:31-38; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33-34; Luke 22:66-71; see also Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The Old Testament predicted the Messiah’s great suffering and resurrection from complete death (see Psalm 22; Isaiah 53). During His public ministry, Jesus was crucified and mocked as “King of the Jews” (Luke 23:1-3) and “God’s Messiah” (Luke 23:35). Yet, Jesus was the long awaited Son of David, King and Messiah predicted by the Old Testament (see Luke 18:38-39; Luke 19:38; Luke 24:45-49; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16). During His appearances to the disciples, He revealed that the Holy Scriptures predicted all along that “the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering His glory” (Luke 24:26). Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection confirm that He is truly God’s long awaited Messiah and that His sacrificial death and ascension brings restoration and forgiveness of sins to all people who believe (Luke 24:47; Hebrews 2:3). Even better, Jesus the Messiah brings justice and hope to the nations (Isaiah 42:1-4; Matthew 12:18-21).

As predicted in the Old Testament, Jesus the Messiah is the Seed of Eve that defeated evil (Genesis 3:15); the Passover lamb and Lamb of God (Exodus 12:2–13; compare John 1:29); the Star of Jacob and the Scepter of Israel (Numbers 24:17); the Great Prophet predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22-23); the Commander of the Army of the Lord (Joshua 5:13-15); Job’s living Redeemer (Job 19:25); the Lord predicted by King David (Psalms 110:1); “Root out of dry ground ” and the Man of Sorrows who has “borne our guilt and shame” (Isaiah 53:2–4); the Branch of Righteousness and the “Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5–6; Jeremiah 33:15-16); the fourth Man in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25) and the “One like the Son of Man” seen by the Prophet Daniel in a dream (Daniel 7:13); our Redeemer (Hosea 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:55–57); the Author of Salvation (Joel 2:28–32; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9); the Judge (Micah 4:1–5; 2 Timothy 4:1); the “Desire of All Nations” (Haggai 2:7); the “Man whose name is BRANCH,” the “glory” bearer and Ruler (Zechariah 6:12–13) and the “Sun of Righteousness . . . with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:1–3). Other Old Testament prophecies predicting Jesus includes Psalms 16:10; Psalms 40:6-10; Psalms 118:22; Isaiah 11:1; Zechariah 9:9-11; and Zechariah 12:10.

Jesus is the “Son of David” (e.g. see Matthew 1:1, 20; Matthew 9:27; Luke 1:32,69; Luke 2:4,11; Acts 2:29-36; Acts 13:22-23), the “Son of God” (Romans 1:3-4) and the perfect Revealer and Mediator of God’s grace to the world (Hebrews 1:1-4). He is the Messiah by divine appointment (Acts 2:36). The prophecies and promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Covenant (or New Testament), of which Jesus is the Mediator (see Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24). From the Old Testament itself, Jesus is shown to be greater than all the prophets, to angels, to Moses (the mediator of the Old Covenant) and to Aaron and the priests descending from him.

Jesus the Messiah is our Savior (Luke 2:11; Acts 13:23; Titus 1:4; Titus 3:6), Life-giver (John 6:35), and the Rock on which hope is built (1 Peter 2:4-7). One day, Jesus the Messiah will return as the Holy Scriptures has promise (e.g. see Mark 8:38; Mark 14:62; John 14:1-4; Acts 1:11; Hebrews 9:28; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 22:20). Indeed, Jesus is our Blessed Hope (Colossians 1:27; 1 Timothy 1:1; Titus 2:13).

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancĂ©, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the Child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a Son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a Child! She will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her Son was born. And Joseph named Him Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (NLT)

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Life Application Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
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Word in Life Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
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Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Pub., 2003.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Jubilee

Jesus Christ:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor (grace) has come.” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at Him intently. Then He began to speak to them. “The Scripture you have just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” Luke 4:18-21 (NLT)
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year! But why is Christmas so wonderful? With the arrival of Jesus Christ to earth, humans saw a full vision of God grace in the light of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ began the Messianic age of grace. Using Isaiah 61:1–2 as His text, Jesus Christ announced that He was the One anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to preach the Good News (Gospel). The Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18). The Holy Spirit had come upon Jesus Christ to empower Him to accomplish God’s good work on earth (Acts 10:38).

God the Father sent Jesus Christ into the world to usher in the “the time of the Lord’s favor.” Some translation says Jesus Christ came to proclaim the “acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19). With Jesus Christ’s coming, He preached the Good News (Gospel) of God’s grace to the poor, and He healed the brokenhearted, released the captives, gave sight to the blind, and ended oppression (Luke 4:18; see also Matthew 20:28). Jesus Christ came into the world to bring God’s grace, comfort, and blessings to those all people who were downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity. God graciously pours out His blessings and salvation to all who come to His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (Luke 4:19; Acts 15:11). Jesus of Nazareth is God's Son and the Messiah (Christ) God sent into the world fulfill God’s promises.

In the Holy Scriptures, “grace,” “favor,” and “mercy” are often used interchangeably (e.g. see Genesis 6:8; Genesis 39:21; Exodus 3:21; Exodus 11:3; Exodus 12:36; Exodus 33:12-19; Judges 6:17; Psalm 25:16; Psalm 86:3, 16; Jeremiah 31:2; Zechariah 12:10). Most notably, grace, mercy and favor are combined to describe the one merciful, loving, gracious God (Exodus. 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).
God announced His grace with the promise of a Savior at Genesis 3:15. The full vision of God’s grace is revealed in the light of Jesus Christ. For believers in Jesus Christ, the word “grace” is virtually synonymous with the Good News of God’s gift of unmerited salvation in Jesus Christ. God’s gracious gift of salvation and blessings are given freely to all through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; see also1 Corinthian 1:4; Ephesians 1:6-7; 2 Timothy 1:9). Grace brings salvation (Ephesians 2:5, 8) and eternal life (Romans 5:21; Titus 3:7). God’s grace is so bound up with Jesus Christ that the Apostle Paul could speak of the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Timothy 2:1).

At Luke 4:18-19, Jesus Christ quoted from the Prophet Isaiah’s messianic Scripture found at Isaiah 61:1-2 and included a phrase from Isaiah 58:6. As Jesus Christ read to the people in the synagogue, He stopped in the middle of Isaiah 61:2 after the words, “to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor.” Jesus Christ read the portion of Isaiah’s messianic Scripture that dealt directly with the earthly ministry of the Messiah (such as preaching, healing, and salvation). However, Jesus Christ stopped just before the passage went on to describe His coming judgment in the end times.

As the God’s appointed Messiah (the Appointed One), Jesus read in the synagogue only that which applied to His ministry during His first coming (Luke 4:18-19). At Jesus Christ’s second coming, He will bring “the day of vengeance of our God” on all unbelievers and the unfaithful (Isaiah 61:2b). Unfortunately, many people then and now do not accept Jesus Christ’s gracious message. Instead of believing Jesus Christ and receiving the goodness of God’s grace, many people are outraged and turn from His free offer of God’s grace (favor) and blessings (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). All people who reject Jesus Christ and reject His grace (favor) will one day face “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2). This day will come true when Jesus Christ returns to earth again at His second coming (advent). Long-suffering and the Cross are associated with Jesus Christ’s first coming; however, judgment and a crown, with His second coming. We are now under God's favor (grace) (Luke 4:19). However, God’s wrath and judgment is yet to come.

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on Me because God anointed Me. He sent Me to preach Good News to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. God sent Me to announce the year of His grace — a celebration of God's destruction of our enemies— and to comfort all who mourn, to care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid (low) spirit. Rename them "Oaks of Righteousness" planted by God to display His glory. Isaiah 61:1-3 (MSG)

At Luke 4:18-19, Jesus Christ calls attention to “the acceptable year of the Lord” which compares the blessings of His ministry to the ancient Year of Jubilee. The Prophet Isaiah envisioned at Isaiah 61:1-2 the deliverance of Israel from Babylonian exile as a Year of Jubilee when all debts are cancelled, all slaves are freed, and all property is returned to original owners (Leviticus 25). Jesus Christ announced at Luke 4 that the “acceptable year of the Lord” had come (Luke 4:19), a reference to the Old Testament concept of the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25:8-55). Every seventh year was a “Sabbatical year,” when the land was allowed to rest; and every fiftieth year (after seven Sabbaticals) was set apart as the “Year of Jubilee.” The main purpose of this special year was the balancing of the economic system. Once every 50 years, slaves were freed, all debts were canceled, and ancestral property was returned to the original family. The land lay uncultivated as humanity and animal rested and rejoiced in God.

But Israel’s release from Babylonian exile did not bring the fulfillment the Prophet Isaiah envisioned. At the time of Jesus Christ’s public ministry, the Israelites (also called Jews) were still a conquered and oppressed people. So, the Prophet Isaiah must have been referring to a future Messianic age. Jesus Christ boldly announced, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus Christ was proclaiming Himself as the One to bring liberation. Jesus Christ applied Isaiah 61:1-2 to His own public ministry, not in a political or economic sense, but in a physical and spiritual sense. The first arrival of Jesus Christ brought God’s salvation and God’s grace (favor) to all people. Through faith in Jesus Christ, He delivers all people from bondages, sin, blindness, selfishness, demons, disease and eternal death (see Matthew 4:23–25; Matthew 8:16-17; Matthew 11:4–6; Mark 1:32–39; Luke 4:40-44). Indeed, Jesus Christ’s first arrival was a spiritual “Year of Jubilee” not only for the nation of Israel but to all people. God’s grace and liberation (salvation) comes to all people who have faith in His Son, irrespective of class, sexuality or race (e.g., see Luke 4:24-27). Jesus Christ brings God’s Good News to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives (or prisoners), the blind, and the oppressed. Yet, the Kingdom of God is also in the future because Jesus Christ will return to reign over a perfect Kingdom where sin and evil no longer exist. Jesus Christ is truly our Redeemer, Liberator and Savior!

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:8-14 (NKJV)

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