Saturday, June 28, 2014

Paul’s Thanksgiving (Prayer)

Let me (Paul) say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in Him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about His Son. One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News. Romans 1:8-15 (NLT)

Paul begins his Roman letter with thanksgiving (Romans 1:8-15) as with his other letters (e.g. see 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3-4; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2). All access to God, whether through prayer (John 15:16) or thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17), is through Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul was eager to visit Rome. One of the burdens of Paul's prayer was that God would allow him to visit Rome. Paul would have visited Rome sooner, but his missionary work in the eastern churches had kept him busy (Romans 15:15-33). Paul did not establish the church in Rome and had never visited Rome. So the Roman letter is Paul’s letter of introduction to the Roman church and his preparation to visit. Paul’s eagerness to visit Rome was not of a sightseer, but the eagerness of a soul-winner of the Gospel (Good News). As God's missionary, Paul wanted to share with the Roman church the true meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:10-13). After his experience with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9; see also Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18), Paul’s entire life was consumed with spreading the Good News of Christ's resurrection and salvation to all people — both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 1:16-17). Actually, the book of Romans is Paul’s explanation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Roman church.

The Roman church was at the world's political power center and highly visible. In Paul’s day, Rome was the center of the world in every way: law, culture, power, and learning. “All roads led to Rome.” Fortunately, the Roman church had a good reputation and a strong faith (or faithfulness) and the “whole world” knew of the faith of the Christians at Rome (Romans 1:8; Romans 15:20-22). So strong was the faith of these Romans that Paul speaks of them in worldwide terms. Paul wanted to visit the church at Rome so he could teach the Christians there (Romans 1:9-10). Moreover, Paul longed to encourage and also to receive encouragement from the Roman church (Romans 1:11-12). He was looking forward to a time of mutual blessing in the love of Jesus Christ.  

Before Paul could visit the Roman church, he had to complete his work in Corinth, the city from which he most likely wrote this Roman letter. Paul believed that he had finished what God wanted him to do in the eastern Mediterranean and was looking forward to taking the Gospel ("spiritual blessings") to the new lands of Rome and onto Spain (Romans 15:23-24). The need to plant and nourish churches in the eastern Mediterranean had occupied Paul. Paul's future plan was to spread the Gospel message into western Mediterranean – Rome and onto Spain. Before Paul could visit the Romans church, he first needed to return to Jerusalem to deliver a gift of money collected from the Gentile churches for the needy Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (Romans 15:23-29). After leaving Jerusalem to deliver the gift, Paul hoped to be able to travel from Jerusalem to Rome, and then on to Spain. Paul had a desire to preach the Gospel in Spain where no man had laid a Christian foundation. Rome was to be a stopover for that journey as he proceeded to Spain. Paul wanted to use the Roman church as a base of operation for a mission to Spain (Romans 15:24, 28).

But before coming to Rome, Paul had to return to Jerusalem to make a certain contribution for the poor Jewish Christians at Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-29). One of the most important missions Paul had during his third journey was the gathering of a special offering for the poor believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-31; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 2 Corinthians 9:1). The Jewish church in Jerusalem has fallen on hard time. The period of A.D.50s had significant time for Palestine with droughts and storms that destroyed the crops. So, the Jerusalem church had fallen into dire poverty. During his third missionary journey, Paul had collected money for the poor believers in Jerusalem. Details about this collection are recorded in 2 Corinthians 8-9. The churches in Macedonia—Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea—had given money sacrificially even though they too were poor (2 Corinthians 8:2-5). Paul wanted to personally present the gift to the Jerusalem Christians as an act of Christian love (Romans 15:25-26). More importantly, Paul intended to accompany the offering from these Gentile Christians to the Jewish Christians in hopes of uniting or reconciling in fellowship the Jewish and Gentile Christians (see also Psalms 133). Paul hoped the material gifts of Gentile love would help to build some bridges between the churches. The gift represented the love and concern of the Gentile churches for their Jewish brothers and sister in Christ living in Jerusalem. Sadly in the first century, there was fraction or division among the Gentile and Jewish Christian churches. Unfortunately, there were still Jews Christians who opposed the message of God’s grace to the Gentiles preached by Paul and who wanted the Gentiles to become Jews and accept the Jewish Law. Yet, the power of the Gospel was to reconcile a holy God to an unholy people (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) and also to reconcile the Jews and Gentiles (Romans 13:8-10). Paul saw the division in the church as a direct denial of the power of the Gospel.

Even more, the Gentile contributions also recognized the moral debt they owed to the Jerusalem church which had first spread the Gospel. The Gentiles Christians had received spiritual wealth from the Jews Christians. Paul considered the Gentile Christians debtors to the Jews, for it was the Jews who gave to the Gentiles the Jesus Christ – the Word of God and the Son of God (John 1:1-14). Thus, Paul believed the Gentile Christians ought to feel an obligation to Israel, and to pay that debt by praying for Israel, sharing the Gospel, and helping in a material way.

Yet, Paul’s visit to Jerusalem with the love offering did not bring the reconciliation and did not solve the problem of Jews and Gentiles. In Acts 21, Luke indicated the hostility against Paul in Jerusalem and James, who is the head of the Jerusalem church, did not even want to talk to Paul. Eventually, Paul was stoned to death and arrested by the Romans. Then, there was a series futile of trials until Paul appealed his case to Caesar as a Roman citizens and Paul ends up in Rome as a prisoner! The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest, teaching and preaching freely awaiting a court date. So, Paul gets to Roman as a prisoner.

When Paul wrote this Roman letter, he had no idea that he would go through imprisonment and even shipwreck before arriving in Rome! Yet, Paul’s imprisonment in Rome became a blessing in the fact that Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians letters were all written from Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment. Church traditions say that Paul was eventually released for a time, and that he used this opportunity to go to Spain to preach the Good News. However, this fourth missionary journey is never mentioned in the book of Acts.

KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Columbia Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2014.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Beginning of the Book of Romans

This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach His Good News. God promised this Good News long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The Good News is about His Son, Jesus. In His earthly life He (Jesus Christ) was born into King David’s family line, and He was shown to be (designated) the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority (grace) as apostles to tell Gentiles (non-Jews) everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey Him, bringing glory to His Name. And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be His own holy people. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Romans 1:1-7 (NLT)

The New Testament Book of Romans has been called Paul’s masterpiece and one of the greatest of Christian writings! No other book of the Holy Bible so completely sets forth the great doctrines of the Christian faith and the great truths of God. This book is fundamentally about God and Paul’s preoccupation with God. God is the most important word in Romans. Everything Paul touches in this book relates to God. The Book of Romans has rightly been called “the Constitution of Christianity,” “the Christian Manifesto,” “the Cathedral of the Christian Faith.” Even more, this great book provides teaching on justification, sanctification, divine election, condemnation, the perseverance of the saints, total depravity of humanity, the last judgment, the fall of humans, the revelation of God in nature, the final restoration of the Jews, and much more. Martin Luther called Romans “the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest Gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it (the Book of Romans) word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.” Martin Luther (1522) in Luther’s Works (1960), vol. 35, p. 365.

The author of the book of Romans is Paul. The apostle Paul was smart, well-spoken, and dedicated to His calling to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He enthusiastically presented his case for the Gospel in his letter to the church in Rome. Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire and this Empire had spread over most of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. Paul had heard of the Roman church, but he had never been there, nor had any of the other apostles. The church in Rome was not founded by Paul. Neither Paul nor the other church leaders, James and Peter, had yet been to Rome. Thus, Paul had never met most of the believers there. Nevertheless, the people must have known Paul personally, since Paul personally greets them in the final chapter, Romans 16. Paul planned to visit and preach in Rome and hoped to continue to take the Gospel message of Jesus Christ farther west -- even to Spain. In fact, Paul was anxious to go to Spain with the message of Christ (Romans 15:28).

We do not know how or when the church began in Rome. Most likely, the Roman church had been begun by Jews who had come to faith in Jerusalem during Pentecost (Acts 2:10). These faithful Jewish believers spread their faith on their return to Rome and established the assemblies in Rome. There were probably several assemblies of believers in Roman houses and not just one church. In Romans 16, Paul greets a number of house churches as small groups of believers met all over the city (Romans 16:5, 10-11, 14). In the Roman church, there were both Jews and Gentiles because Paul addresses both groups in his Roman letter (see Romans 1:13; Romans 2:17-29; Romans 4:1; Romans 7:1; Romans 11:13-24; Romans 15:15-21).

The apostle Paul wrote the Roman letter about the year A.D. 56. This letter was written during Paul’s ministry in Corinth at the end of his third missionary journey just before his return to Jerusalem (Acts 20:3, 22; Romans 15:25). In Romans 15:25, 30–32, Paul anticipated his departure for Jerusalem. Following his trip to Jerusalem to deliver the collection for the Jerusalem saints, Paul enthusiastically planned to make a fourth missionary journey to the western extremity of the Roman Empire – Spain (Romans 15:24). Paul wanted the Roman church to help him with making that journey and wrote this letter to the Roman church to establish contact in preparation for the anticipated visit.

This letter was written by Paul to both Jewish and Gentiles believers to encourage them in the Christian faith and to express his desire to visit. Although many barriers separated Paul and the Roman church, Paul felt a bond with these Romans and he longed to see them face to face. The letter was probably carried to the Christians at Rome by one of the deaconesses of the church at Cenchrea, Sister Phoebe (Romans 16:1).

In the opening verses of the letter, Paul introduces himself to the believers in Rome. First of all, Paul calls himself a “servant of Christ Jesus” or more accurately a slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1; see also Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1). As Christians used the term “servant” conveys the idea of complete and utter devotion and total loyalty. The Greek word for servant is “doulos”. In his mind, Paul was not just a servant to the Lord but a slave that completely belonged to his Master (see also I Corinthians 4:1–4). In loving devotion, Paul had enslaved himself to Jesus Christ and chose to be completely dependent on and obedient to God as his beloved Master. In other words, Paul is affirming that he belongs to Christ without reservation. The term is applied to Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Joshua 1:2), and to the prophets from the time of Amos (Amos 3:7; Isaiah 20:3).  

Second, Paul calls himself an apostle (Romans 1:1). In fact, Paul opened his New Testament letters by introducing himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:1). Paul’s apostleship was a calling (Romans 1:1). Paul was “not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ Himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead” (Galatians 1:1, NLT). Thus, human authority had nothing to do with Paul’s apostleship, for his commission came through Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1), through the “commandment of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 1:1). Paul presented his credentials at the very outset of Romans because some people in the Roman church may have questioned his authority as an apostle.

An apostle means “one who is sent by authority with a commission” or “one who is sent with a commission.” Essentially, an apostle means messenger, missionary, or ambassador. While Jesus Christ ministered on earth, He had many disciples (“learners” or “followers”), and from these He selected twelve apostles, called “the Twelve” (Mark 3:13-19; see also Matthew 10:2-4; Luke 14-16; Acts 1:13). One of the requirements for an apostle in the early church was the experience of seeing the risen or resurrected Jesus Christ – the Resurrection (Acts 1:21-22; Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15). According to the book of Acts, an apostle was one who had witnessed Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry “from the time He was baptized by John until the day He was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22, NLT). Thus, qualifications for an apostle were clear: participation in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry beginning with His baptism and an official witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). The resurrection is the central affirmation of the Christian faith (Acts 17:18; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Peter 1:3).

Paul was neither a disciple nor an apostle during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Thus, Paul’s enemies said that he was not a true apostle for this reason. But, Paul said he had seen the risen Christ and been specifically commissioned by Him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-18; 1 Corinthians 9:1). Paul claimed his apostleship on at least four grounds: (1) he was a chosen vessel of God (Acts 9:15); (2) he was personally commissioned by Jesus Christ (Acts 9:6); (3) he had visible seen the risen Christ (I Corinthians 9:1–2); and (4) he was the recipient of divine revelation (Galatians 1:10–12, 16–17). Paul's personal encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus revolutionized his entire way of thinking and living and established him as an apostle. He saw that God has been active in Jesus Christ and that through Christ’s death He had brought salvation to humankind. Indeed, Paul had seen the risen Christ and the writer of Acts mentioned Paul’s personal encounter with the risen Christ on three different occasions (Acts 9:1-9; see also Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18). After seeing the resurrected Christ, Jesus Christ personally called Paul to be His apostle to the Gentiles. Thus, Paul was careful to point out that he had been made an apostle by Jesus Christ just as much as the original Twelve. His apostleship was not from human selection and approval, but by Jesus Christ’s appointment. Therefore, he had the authority to teach and preach in the Gospel of Jesus Christ because he had seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:22; Acts 2:32; 1 Corinthians 15:8). Paul has been “sent,” “called” and manifested the signs “that mark an apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12).

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me (Paul). Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NLT)

Moreover, Paul was a preacher of the Gospel (Acts 9:15) and specially “set apart for the Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1, NIV). He was set apart for the ministry of the Gospel long before his Damascus road experience (Galatians 1:15). Paul was very religious person and trained under Gamaliel, a famous first century Jewish teacher (Acts 22:3). Paul has been brought up an orthodox Jew, a loyal Pharisee, a fanatical to the point of persecuting the Christians before his conversion. Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians 3:5–6). Even more, Paul was a good Pharisee and he knew the Bible. When Paul was a Jewish rabbi, Paul was separated as a Pharisee to the laws and traditions of the Jews. But when he yielded his life to Jesus Christ, Paul was separated to the Gospel and its ministry. By quoting sixty-one times from the Old Testament, Paul revealed to both the Jews and the Gentiles that the Holy Scriptures were really speaking of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul’s ministry bridged the gap between the Jews and Gentiles of the first-century church

At Romans 1:3-4, Paul summarizes the Good News about Jesus Christ. The Good News means “Gospel” (Greek euangelion). The central figure of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, in and through whom the history and the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled. Some of the Old Testament prophecies predicting the Good News regarding Jesus Christ are Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3; Psalms 16:10; Psalms 40:6-10; Psalms 118:22; Isaiah 11:1; Zechariah 9:9-11; Zechariah 12:10; Malachi 4:1-6. The Good News is the message that Jesus Christ (1) came as a real human by natural origin, (2) conceived by the Holy Spirit, (3) was part of the Jewish royal line through King David, (4) lived and walked the earth reflecting God’s glory – e.g., God’s love, goodness, mercy, light, compassion, etc. (5) wrongly accused, crucified (died), and was raised from complete death, (6) opened the door to God's grace and kindness to all people – both Jews and Gentiles, and (7) Jesus Christ is able to save all who trust and believe in Him (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; see also John 1:1-18; Romans 1:9, 16; Philippians 2:5-8). Essentially, the Good News states everyone (Jews and Gentiles) can be forgiven and go to heaven because of what Jesus Christ did on the Calvary’s Cross. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul dedicated his adult life spreading the Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the most important message in the world.

Jesus gave His life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Galatians 1:4-5 (NLT)

Moreover, Paul stated that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah (Christ), and the resurrected Lord as well as a descendant of King David (Romans 1:3-4). That the Messiah would be a descendant of David is taught in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-24, etc.) As a descendant (seed) of King David, this emphasizes the humanity of Jesus Christ and His human lineage (see 2 Samuel 7:13; Jeremiah 33:17). With this statement of faith, Paul declares his agreement with the teaching of all Scripture and of the apostles. Paul declared that those who became wholehearted followers of Jesus Christ are invited by Him to become part of God's family, and be holy people (“to be saints,” set apart, dedicated for Christ’s service) (Romans 1:6-7). Paul wanted to bring all people, both Jew and Gentile, into obedience to the faith of Jesus Christ and the book of Romans helps Paul accomplish this mission.

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991.
Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Pub., 2012.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

God Is Glory

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around Him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. Ezekiel 1:28 (NIV)

To the prophet Ezekiel, God’s glory appeared like fire and brilliant light (Ezekiel 1:27-28). Ezekiel saw God’s bright light around the cloud and an enclosing fire within the cloud. Both were reminders of God’s holiness and power for “our God is a consuming fire” (Exodus 3:1-5; Exodus 19:16, 18; Deuteronomy 4:24; Acts 2:3; Hebrews 12:29). With Ezekiel’s vision, Ezekiel realized that he was beholding the glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 1:28). The glory of the Lord is one of the key themes in the Old Testament book Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:12, 23; Ezekiel 8:4; Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10:4, 18-19; Ezekiel 11:22-23; Ezekiel 39:21; Ezekiel 43:2, 4-5; Ezekiel 44:4). Overwhelmed by God's holy presence and his own sinfulness and insignificance, Ezekiel could not help but fall down and worship God out of reverence and awe (Ezekiel 1:28). This same experience of reverence and worship also occurred with the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-7). The prophet Isaiah also saw the Lord God in all His holy glory (Isaiah 6:1-4) and resulted in Isaiah’s responsive worship, praise, and adoration of God (Isaiah 6:5-7). The prophet Isaiah’s vision of God (Isaiah 6:1-7) included both the awareness of God’s practical features and the nature of God, particularly God’s holiness (see also John 12:41).

The prophet Ezekiel was inducted into his prophetic mission (Ezekiel 1:1) with an overwhelming vision of God’s glory – much as the prophet Isaiah was granted a glorious vision of God enthroned high and lifted up. When God’s glory was symbolically revealed to both the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah, the glory took the form of brilliant light (Exodus 40:34; Isaiah 6:3). What is remarkable about the prophet Ezekiel’s experience is that God’s glory had for centuries been associated with the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:11; Psalms 26:8). Yet, the prophet Ezekiel witnessed God's glory leave the Jerusalem Temple and go over the Mount of Olives. Because of Israel's sins, God’s glory left the Temple. But God promised Ezekiel that one day the city of Jerusalem and the Temple will be blessed by the glorious presence of the Lord. The city will be called "Jehovah Shammah—THE LORD IS THERE" (Ezekiel 48:35).

And the Lord went before them (the Israelites) by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He (the Lord God) did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. Exodus 13:21-22 (NKJV)

In the Holy Scriptures, visible appearances of God’s glory came with God’s magnificent and brilliant light covered by a cloud. God’s cloud enclosed “the glory of the Lord” which otherwise would blind those who saw God’s glorious presence (see Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 16:10; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 24:15-17; Exodus 34:5; Exodus 40:34-35, 38; Numbers 9:15-16; Numbers 16:42; Deuteronomy 5:23; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Psalms 26:8; Psalms 68:4; Ezekiel 10:3-4; Haggai 2:7; Matthew 17:5; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 9:7; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Luke 9:34-35; Luke 21:27; Acts 1:9; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 14:14-16). Whether with the lighting flash or in the blinding splendor and brightness, a light and a cloud often accompanied God’s powerful and majestic appearance (Theophany) (e.g. see Exodus 24:16-18). Moreover, God often spoke to the people from the cloud (see Numbers 12:5-6; Deuteronomy 31:15-16; Psalms 99:6-7). Even more, the presence of God’s glory signaled the presence of God Himself among His people (Exodus 24:16; Exodus 33:22; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3; Ezekiel 1:1-28).

God’s glory dwelling in the Tabernacle (see Exodus 40:34) and later the Temple (1 Kings 8:11) assured the ancient Israelites of God’s holy, yet gracious presence among them. At the dedication of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35) and Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:11), God’s glory filled those structures, indicating God’s approval of them and that His presence would now reside there. With that proclamation came an awe-inspiring physical manifestation of God, the Shekinah, a bright shining cloud that could look like fire, white-hot (see also Exodus 24:17). The Shekinah was itself called the glory of God and appeared at significant moments in the Holy Scriptures as visible signs of God's active presence on earth (see also Exodus 33:22; Leviticus 9:23-24; Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 8:4; Luke 2:9; Acts 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). God is called “Glory” (see 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 106:20; Jeremiah 2:11; Hosea 4:7; Hebrews 9:5).

Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys. Exodus 40:34-38 (NLT)

A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night guided and protected the ancient Israelites as they traveled across the wilderness (Exodus 13:21; Numbers 9:15-22). For forty years, God had graciously led Israel by His fiery cloud. The cloud and the fire were not just natural phenomena but were the vehicle of God's presence and direction for His people. God’s glory was also revealed in nature, such as in a thunderstorm (Exodus 19:16; Job 37:2-5; Psalm 29:3, 7). Glory’s glory can also be a unique manifestation, such His revelation on Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 5:23-24). Similarly, the glory of God sent the fire that kindled the first sacrifices of the sanctuary (Leviticus 9:22-24). Such revelation did not reveal all of God for no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:18-23; see also Isaiah 6:5). The greatness of God’s glory is something that we can never fully comprehend, but before which we can only stand in awe and worship.

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him (Moses) and proclaimed His Name, the Lord. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished . . .” Exodus 34:5-7 (NIV)

When Moses requested to see God’s glory, “Show me Your glory” (Exodus 33:18), God answered Moses' plea by revealing to Moses His goodness, moral beauty, and holy character (see Exodus 33:18-34:7). In other words, God’s revelation of Himself to Moses was the visible manifestation of His moral character and holiness (see also Isaiah 6:1-7). God's glory is revealed in His mercy, grace, compassion, faithfulness, forgiveness, and justice (Exodus 34:6-7). We too can respond and give glory to God when our lives and character resemble God’s glory (see Micah 6:6-8). To “give glory to God” means to speak or act in a way that acknowledges God’s glory (Joshua 7:19; Psalms 22:23; Psalms 86:12; Isaiah 6:1-7; Isaiah 24:15). “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NLT).  

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, He has spoken to us through His Son (Jesus Christ). God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son He created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NLT)

In the New Testament, God now reveals the glory of His nature, character, power, and purpose in the person and role of His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18; Luke 9:32; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Hebrews 1:1-3). The Gospel writer John spoke of the glory of Jesus and made no distinction between the two, attesting to Jesus’ oneness with God (see also John 17:1-5). God is called the glorious Father (Ephesians 1:17) and Jesus Christ is the full glory and image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the Light of the world (John 1:4; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5). As John testifies, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14). The aged Simeon saw the baby Jesus brought to the Temple and described Him as “a Light to reveal God to the nations, and . . . the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

God’s glory was mentioned with the announcement of Jesus Christ’s birth to the shepherds:  “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them (shepherds), and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them” (Luke 2:9, NLT). Also, God’s glory was evident at the Mount of Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:2-5) and later manifestations included the revelation to the apostle Paul at the time of his conversion (Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18) and to apostle John on the Isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:12-20). Most importantly, God’s glory was revealed in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (John 17:1-5). The display of God’s power in raising His Son from the dead is labeled glory (Romans 6:4). The apostle Paul declared that the presence of Jesus Christ in the lives of believers provides assurance that we will shares in that glory (Romans 5:2; Romans 8:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Colossians 1:27). When Jesus Christ returns again, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man (Jesus) will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30 (NIV); see also Matthew 26:64). Jesus Christ will further manifest God’s glory in His restored kingdom (Revelation 21:11, 23). The heavenly city yet to come will a city that has “no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light” (Revelation 21:23, NLT)

Jesus Christ:  “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)

Today, the church and believing Christians is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:10-23; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:20-22). God today does not live in buildings but in His people (Acts 7:48-50; see also 1 Kings 8:7). Our responsibility is to glorify God individually (1 Corinthians 6:20) and collectively as the church (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). Quite amazingly, God made humans to reflect His glory – light, moral character, and holiness (see also Leviticus 11:45; Leviticus 19:2; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:16). God wants to share His presence with His people. If we live for Jesus Christ, we will shine like lights and reflect God’s glory. The apostle Paul teaches believing Christians are being “changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18; see also Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15). Though we do not now find ourselves surrounded by a visible light, there is a brightness, a splendor, or light all believing Christians should reflect in their daily lives.

Our sins and wickedness can cause God’s glory to depart (see Ezekiel chapters 8 through 11). In other words, our sins can drive God’s glory away from our lives and churches. When you read Jewish history, God’s glory that once dwelt in the Tabernacle departed when the priests and the people sinned against God (see 1 Samuel 4:21-22). When Solomon dedicated the Temple, God's glory once again came to dwell with His people (1 Kings 8:10-11), but departed again as Israel’s sins drove God's glory away (Ezekiel 8:4; Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10:4, 18; Ezekiel 11:23).

God expects everyone, particular His followers, to carry on His Light through good deeds (e.g., mercy, kindness, goodness, compassion, forgiveness etc.) (Matthew 5:14; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; Philippians 2:12-15). Our good deeds and works in the world brings honor and glory to God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Besides, the ultimate purposes of all our actions are to bring God glory (see Psalms 29:1-2; Psalms 86:9, 12; Psalms 96:7-8; Psalms 115:1; Luke 2:14; Romans 11:36; Romans 16:27; Ephesians 1:12, 14; Revelation 5:13; Revelation 7:12; Revelation 15:4; Revelation 19:1, 7).

Certainly, God wants to be loved, respected, and exalted for His greatness and goodness. The to-and-fro of seeing God’s glory and giving God glory is the true fulfillment of human nature at its heart (Isaiah 43:7; Zephaniah 3:14-17). Human praise to God can be false or half-hearted. Glory is also humans’ recognition of God’s holiness, greatness and might with a response of confession, worship, and praise. (Compare Isa. 58:8; 60:1.) All of life’s daily activities, too, must be pursued with the aim of giving God love, allegiance, and pleasure, which is glory-giving on the practical level (1 Corinthians 10:31; see also Jeremiah 3). Most important, God will NOT share His glory with another. This is why Reformation theology was so insistent on the principle, "Glory to God alone" (soli Deo gloria), and why we need to maintain that principle today with equal eagerness. God's glory-showing requires our glory-giving!

Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, invincible in battle. Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter. Who is the King of glory? The Lord of Heaven’s Armies— He is the King of glory. Psalms 24:7-10 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.
Packer, J.I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Carol Stream, IL:  Tyndale House Pub., 1993.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Monday, June 9, 2014

God Is All-Powerful (Omnipotent)

 Prophet Jeremiah:  “O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by Your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for You! You show unfailing love to thousands . . . . You are the great and powerful God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. You have all wisdom and do great and mighty miracles. You see the conduct of all people, and You give them what they deserve. You performed miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt—things still remembered to this day! And You have continued to do great miracles in Israel and all around the world. You have made Your Name famous to this day. You brought Israel out of Egypt with mighty signs and wonders, with a strong hand and powerful arm.” Jeremiah 32:17-21 (NLT)

All power belongs to the true and living God (Psalms 147:5). God is Creator (Jeremiah 32:17), the wise Judge (Jeremiah 32:19), and Redeemer (Jeremiah 32:21). He reveals His power in creating and sustaining the universe (Psalms 65:6; Jeremiah 32:17; Hebrews 1:3), in delivering Israel from the evil Egyptian’s forces (Exodus 15:1-18), empowering Joshua to conquer Canaan (the Promised Land) (Joshua 6:1-27), in the birth of Jesus Christ (the incarnation) (Luke 1:35-37), in Jesus Christ’s death on Calvary’s Cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23-24), and in the ongoing ministry of the church (1 Corinthians 2:5; Ephesians 3:20). Because God is so powerful, all things are possible with Him (Luke 1:37; Luke 19:26; Mark 14:36), and nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:17, 27). As God told the prophet Jeremiah, “I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27, NLT). “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit” (Psalms 147:5, NIV). Nothing within God’s will, including creation (Jeremiah 32:17) and redemption (Mark 10:26-27) is impossible for God. Apart from God’s power and grace, we can do nothing that is eternal and lasting (Mark 10:27).

David:  I love you, Lord; You are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and He saved me from my enemies. Psalms 18:1-3 (NLT)

God is present everywhere with all power and great strength (Psalm 139:3-6, 7-10). Because of God’s omnipotence, the all-powerful God always stands ready to help and answer our prayers in times of trouble and need (Psalm 18:3; Psalm 46:1). As the psalmist declared: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalms 46:1, NLT). Truly, God's protection of His people is never-ending and can take many miraculous forms. The Holy Scriptures confirm that God will never fail to rescue those who wholeheartedly love and trust Him. In the face of utter destruction, we can express our quiet confidence in God's ability to save us. The Holy Scriptures are clear – God is our continuous protection even in the face of trouble and can provide strength in any circumstance.

Job testified to the power God: “I'm convinced You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans” (Job 42:2, the Message). In Psalm 18, David characterized God's power with five military symbols. God is like (1) a rock that cannot be moved, (2) a fortress or place of safety, (3) a shield that protects from harm, (4) a horn of deliverance, a symbol of might and power, and (5) a stronghold high above our enemies. Truly, God is worthy of our complete obedience because He is always faithful in fulfilling His promises and providing our every needs (Jeremiah 32:22).

The Lord God is “strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle” (Psalms 24:8, HCSB). Noting is too hard for God (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:27). In fact, the prophet Jeremiah says to God, “nothing is too hard for You” (Jeremiah 32:17). The apostle Paul says that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Furthermore, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “With God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37), and Jesus Christ says, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The Lord God is truly “Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8).

Moses:  The Lord your God is God of all gods and Lord of all lords. He is the great God, who is strong and wonderful. He does not take sides, and He will not be talked into doing evil. Deuteronomy 10:17 (NCV)

God’s great power does not mean that God can do literally everything. In other words, God cannot sin, lie, change His nature, or deny the requirements of holiness (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18; James 1:13, 17). God cannot do anything contrary to His holy character and love (Jeremiah 32:19). The all-powerful God can only do things that are consistent with His character as God is “compassionate and gracious . . .  slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7, NIV). As believing Christians, we too must use our will and freedom to make choices that are pleasing to God and reflect God’s very character to bring Him glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The ultimate purposes of all our actions are to bring God glory (see Psalms 29:1-2; Psalms 86:9, 12; Psalms 96:7-8; Psalms 115:1; Luke 2:14; Romans 11:36; Romans 16:27; Ephesians 1:12, 14; Revelation 5:13; Revelation 7:12; Revelation 15:4; Revelation 19:1, 7). God graciously gives His people power for His purposes and plans with a singleness of heart and for His glory (Jeremiah 32:38-41; see also Matthew 6:33).

Apostle Paul:  When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.
Packer, J.I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Carol Stream, IL:  Tyndale House Pub., 1993.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

God Is Faithful and True

The Rock—His work is perfect; all His ways are entirely just. A faithful God, without prejudice, He is righteous and true. Deuteronomy 32:4 (HCSB)

God is faithful and true. This means God is reliable and can always be trusted (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 31:5). In fact, God will never prove unfaithful to those who wholeheartedly trust in Him and what He has promised (Hebrews 10:23). The true and living God is faithful to His promises and everything God does is just and fair (Jeremiah 10:10; Lamentations 3:22-25). Indeed, the essence of true faith is taking God at His Word and relying upon Him to do as He has promised in His Holy Scriptures. God is not a human, so He does not lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Because God is true and faithful, we can be safe and secure in His biblical promises (Numbers 23:19).

Be imitators (followers) of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us . . . For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth). Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-9 (NIV)

In a society that is increasingly careless with truthfulness, believing Christians are to imitate God and take great care to assure that our words are always truthful (Colossians 3:9-10). In others words, honesty and uprightness must be our daily goal as believing Christians. Like God, we should love truth and hate falsehood (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20). Moreover, believing Christians are to be people who are genuine, loyal, and filled with integrity because God is truth, and we are to strive walk in truth (Ephesians 6:14). As noted by the apostle Paul, good character and not brute force wins all battles against evil and wickedness. In this own ministry, the apostle Paul sought to practice absolute truthfulness and faithfulness (2 Corinthians 4:2).

All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be My children. But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Revelation 21:7-8 (NLT)

Lying can be so destructive and disruptive as it hurts relationships and lead to serious conflict (Ephesians 4:25). Thus, the Holy Scriptures encourages everyone to be committed to telling the truth. In fact, God is pleased when His people put away lies, falsehood, and deception (Proverbs 4:24; Proverbs 13:5) and speak the whole truth from our hearts (Psalm 15:2; Psalm 19:14). Only truth is acceptable to God. When we pray, sing, speak, or serve, nothing closes the door of God's approval more than hypocrisy, lying, or deception. To draw close to God, always be genuine and truthful with Him. God commanded His people through the prophet Zechariah: “Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this, declares the Lord” (Zechariah 8:16-17, NIV). These commands by God are given because God loves truth and hates falsehood (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 12:22; Isaiah 59:3-4). Therefore, “fear (honor) the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:24, NKJV) as we all seek to “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NLT).

So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. Ephesians 4:25 (NLT)

Falsehood and lying come not from God but from the evil one. Evil always delights in falsehood, deception, murder, hatred, and lies. “He (the evil one) was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, NLT). Evil fights with lies, and sometimes his lies sound like truth. Truth is far from those who follow evil. A person’s hatred of truth, fraudulent actions, and their murderous intentions reveal one’s alliance to evil and not a holy God. Thus, our attitudes and actions clearly identify a person either as a follower of God or evil.

Do not lie to each other. You have left your old sinful life and the things you did before. You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One (God) who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. Colossians 3:9-10 (NCV)

God is truth and God is characterized by truth (John 4:24; see also Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16). In John’s Gospel, we are called to worship God in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Even more, truth is associated with Jesus Christ (John 1:14). Jesus Christ is called “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6) and He is filled with “grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Holy Spirit is also associated with truth and is called the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13). Everyone on the side of truth listens to God (John 18:37; 1 John 4:6) and walks according to His truth (1 John 1:6-7). Besides, “truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed” (Proverbs 12:19, NLT). Because truth is connected with God's unchanging character, truth is also changeless.

The truth of God is reflected not only in God but also His Holy Word (the Bible) (Psalm 119:160). In fact, God’s Word (the Holy Bible) is true and faithful (2 Samuel 7:28; 2 Timothy 3:16). The standards for honesty and truth come from God and His Word, not society. “God’s Word is true, and everything He does is right” (Psalms 33:4, NCV). All God's Word can be trusted because the Holy Scriptures contain the words of a holy, trustworthy, and unchangeable God. The Holy Scriptures teaches that lying is wrong not only because of the great harm that comes from lies, but when we tell lies and other tales we dishonor God and His glory. Lying acts in a way that is contrary to God’s character as God is the source of all truth and can never lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18-19).

Teach me Your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to Your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor You. Psalms 86:11 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. Indianapolis, IN: B.B. Kirkbride Bible, 1993.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991.