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Stepping Up in Discipleship

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A few weeks ago, I preached a 20,000-foot view sermon on 2 Timothy, in which I spent a lot of time reading and a little time highlighting main themes.  The brethren here seemed pleased with that, so this evening, I’d like to return to the concept.  Let’s see what Philippians can teach us about stepping up in discipleship.

Let’s begin by reading PHILIPPIANS 1.  Here, Paul teaches us to see the world through Christ’s eyes.  Paul could have been depressed about his situation.  He was imprisoned, and his enemies were cynically using the gospel to make him look bad.  However, because he had learned Jesus’ perspective, he was able to see good in both of those things and even rejoice in them.

Next up is PHILIPPIANS 2.  This text calls us to show Christ’s humility in the way we treat one another.  It’s so easy for worldliness and selfishness to slip into the thinking of even mature Christians.  Let’s say, for instance, that the coming auditorium remodel doesn’t turn out exactly to our taste.  Are we going to be upset that we didn’t get our way, or are we going to rejoice because others in the church got theirs? 

PHILIPPIANS 3 offers us another valuable spiritual lesson.  It tells us to be willing to sacrifice anything for Jesus.  As a Jew, Paul had it all, and he gave it all up for Christ.  What’s more, it was a trade he was glad to make.  All of us are called to give up things in our lives too.  Usually, these things are minor in comparison to what Paul gave up.  Do we cling jealously to them anyway, or, like Paul, do we gladly forfeit them for Christ’s sake?

The epistle concludes with PHILIPPIANS 4.  This chapter calls us to find the solution to our problems in Christ.  If we are anxious, we can find peace in Christ.  If we are tempted, we can find strength by meditating on the things of Christ.  If we are suffering, we can find contentment in Christ.  If our hearts are set on Him, there is nothing we cannot overcome!

Summaries, Psalms 136-140

Monday, December 16, 2019

Psalm 136 is famous for being the most repetitive psalm in the entire book.  It is built around the phrase “for [God’s] steadfast love endures forever.”  “Steadfast love” (also translated as “lovingkindness”, “mercy”, and “faithful love”) is a translation of the Hebrew hesed, a word which has no English equivalent.  It combines the concepts of love and faithfulness to a covenant.  For instance, a husband who displays hesed loves his wife because of the mingling of affection and commitment.

Psalm 136 explains the work of God as the expression of His everlasting hesed.  All that He has ever done in time and space is the result of His love for and His promises to His people.  This includes His work in creation, in delivering the Israelites from bondage, in giving them the land, and in protecting them in the land.  Because He is constant in His love, He is worthy of praise.

Psalm 137 comes from the time of the Babylonian Captivity.  It describes the misery of the captives in Babylon.  The Babylonians are forcing them to sing the songs of Jerusalem even though the Jews are miserable because of Jerusalem’s destruction.  The psalm concludes with a famously raw plea to God to take vengeance on the Edomites, who cooperated with the Babylonians in destroying Jerusalem.  It expresses the wish that someone might do to the children of the Edomites as the Edomites had done to the children of the Jews—cruelly bashing their heads against rocks to kill them. 

Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving to God.  It praises His love and faithfulness because He answered the prayers of the psalmist.  The psalmist predicts that even the kings of the nations will praise Him because of what they have seen of His works.  Even though the psalmist’s life is troubled, God continues to protect him from his enemies.  The psalm concludes with a prayer to God to sustain His protection.

Psalm 139 praises the omniscience and omnipresence of God.  The psalmist states that God knows not only his actions, but also his thoughts.  He knows what the psalmist is going to say before the psalmist does!  Everywhere the psalmist might go, God is there with him, and nothing can conceal him from God’s eyes.  Indeed, God even knew him in his mother’s womb and watched as he was being formed there.

As a result, the psalmist values God and thinks about him all the time.  He asks God to protect him from his enemies and justifies this by pointing out his own faithfulness.  He concludes the psalm by asking God to search his heart and lead him in the paths of eternity.

Psalm 140 is another plea for God’s help in trouble.  The psalmist’s enemies are causing trouble and setting traps for him.  In such a time, the psalmist asks God to hear his prayers while not giving the wicked what they want.  In fact, he asks God to punish them instead.  He concludes the psalm by expressing confidence in God’s justice.

Rend Your Hearts and not Your Garments

Friday, December 13, 2019

Rend your hearts and not your garments;
Now return to God the Lord;
In His grace and His compassion,
All your loss will be restored.
Hear His voice before His army;
Quickly do as you have heard;
For His day is great and awesome;
He will carry out His word.

Rend your hearts and not your garments,
Every soul that dared depart;
Come with fasting, weeping, mourning;
Come to Him with all your heart.
Slow to anger, great in mercy,
He will hear you and relent;
He will leave you with His blessing
If you only will repent.

Rend your hearts and not your garments;
Call the people to your side;
Gather elders, children, infants;
Bring the bridegroom and the bride.
Weep between the porch and altar;
“Spare Your people!” let them say;
Lest the nations mock His power,
He will answer when you pray.

Baptism and Hebrews 10:22

Thursday, December 12, 2019

When a Scriptural subject is as hotly debated as the necessity of baptism for salvation is, we might assume that the Scriptural witness is somehow unclear.  With baptism, though, this is hardly the case.  From beginning to end of the New Testament, many texts inform us that baptism leads to forgiveness of sins, washes away sins, gives new life, clothes with Christ, and saves.  Without the “help” of false teachers, any reasonable person would read those passages and properly understand the importance of baptism.

This teaching appears not only in passages that explicitly mention baptism, but also in some that do not.  Many Christians cite John 3:5 and its context as an example of this, but few pay similar attention to Hebrews 10:19-22.  Here, the writer says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

In this Scripture, the writer urges us to confidently draw near to God.  All told, he enumerates five things that ought to give us the assurance to do so:  three heavenly things that are present, and two earthly things that must be present.  The three heavenly things are the blood of Jesus, the way that He opened through the veil into God’s presence, and His priesthood over the house of God. 

As necessary as these things are, they are not sufficient.  Otherwise, even the idolater and the atheist would be able to come into God’s presence without changing anything about themselves.  Certainly, the unbelieving Jews of the Hebrews writer’s day would have been able to, which would have nullified the whole point of the book! 

Instead, only a limited class is able to take advantage of the way that has been opened.  If we want to draw near, our hearts must have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies must have been washed with pure water.  Note that the conjunction here is “and”, not “or”.  Just as the work of Jesus is not enough by itself, so only one of these things is not enough by itself either.  We can’t just think that we have been saved to form a relationship with God.  We must have been baptized too.

Indeed, this text even indicates what mode of baptism is appropriate.  Sprinkling as it is practiced today is nothing like a washing of the body, nor is pouring (typically, the baptizer only pours water on the head of the baptizee).  Only immersion resembles a bodily washing. 

The point for us is plain.  Either we are in God’s presence, both now and eternally, or we will be outside God’s presence, both now and eternally.  If the former is what we want, we have to submit to God’s will to get there, a will that ordains both faith and baptism.

Great to Save

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Give ear to God on high
Because His word alone
Can bring renewal to the dry
And life to lifeless bone.

Your flesh shall be restored
And covered with new skin,
That all may know He is the Lord
Because you live again.

From the four winds, O breath,
Come breathe upon the slain,
Delivering the dead from death
To make His mercy plain.

Your God, O Israel,
Will raise you from the grave
And bring you to His land to dwell
For He is great to save.

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