One of the profound questions coming out of the movie The Passion of the Christ is who crucified Jesus? Who is responsible for it? How did this happen in time? The Bible is very clear about who crucified Jesus. You find it in the tremendous prophecy of Isaiah in the 53rd chapter.
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4)
Where our natural side wants to start blaming others things — Do we want to blame the Romans or do we want to blame the Jews who lived at that time?– even Isaiah says we esteemed Him stricken and we think He was smitten by God.
But the real message is in Isaiah 53:5:
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
There is not a limitation here. If you are a sinner, you belong in that group of “our,” every one of us.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
When you look to the question who crucified Jesus? Well, I did. Every one of my sins cried out, ‘Crucify Him!’ Without Jesus, there is no forgiveness. There is no hope for me. With Him, there is. But I have got to recognize and I have to own that every one of my sins is responsible for the Crucifixion. I can’t lay the blame on Pilate. I can’t lay the blame on the Sanhedrin. I have got to own it. That’s what it is all about when we come to the Cross is acknowledgment that it is our sin that put Jesus there. It was His love that drove Him to do that. He didn’t have to do it. He could have escaped it. He could have said, ‘I am not going to do this. I am not going to sacrifice Myself.’ His love compelled Him; my sins made Him. It is me who is responsible.
So when we look at this controversial verse that Mel Gibson has agreed to take out of the film because of complaints from modern-day Jews, — and if I were a modern-day Jew, I wouldn’t trust Christians, either — it is for the historical fact that whenever passion plays were performed in Europe, there was, following those performances, extreme violence against the Jewish community and this was responsible for anti-Semitism that then spread throughout Europe and led to the Holocaust in Germany. But, I think as Christians, we need to look at this verse and realize it is not limited to the Jews of the day because it says all the people.
And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’ (Matt. 27:25).
I think it is a mistake to view that as a blood curse. It is actually the source of blessing because it is echoing back to the Passover Lamb, where the blood was over the lentil and on the doorpost, and because of the blood, the Angel of Death passed over that dwelling. It is the same today; because of the blood of Jesus, God does not see my sin. And so I want to join in and say, ‘His blood be on me and on my children.’ Without that blood covering, there is no forgiveness of sin. That’s what John the Baptist proclaimed when He first saw Jesus: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!‘
Also, as Christians, we need to realize that because every sin cries out, ‘Crucify!’ we need to keep the Cross in remembrance. That’s the whole purpose of Communion. ‘This is My body which was broken for you.’ We don’t want to add to that burden.
That’s why Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’ (John 14:15). Don’t walk around saying I have a license to sin. I get to do whatever I want because I am forgiven. No, if you love Jesus, keep His commandments. Don’t walk in sin. And His commandment is this: ‘This is my commandment that you love one another.’
Why don’t you make this year your year where you recognize what was done for you on the Cross? It’s available to anyone. All you have to do is acknowledge that it was your sin that put the Son of God there and let His blood cover you. Then you have forgiveness. But it is more than that. It is I will then covenant to walk in accordance with my loving Jesus. He first loved me. I am going to love Him. Because I love Him, I am going to obey His commandments. If I love Jesus, I need to obey His commandments. Let that be your pledge.
Summary: The tearing of the Temple curtain when Jesus died holds positive meaning for Christians, the opening of access to God and his forgiveness through Jesus’ atoning death. But there is more significance to the sign than many realize.
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. – Luke 23:44-45 (ESV)
The Rending of the Temple Curtain at the Death of Jesus
Each Good Friday Christians remember the death of Jesus, with the accompanying darkness, earthquake, the rending of the Temple curtain from top to bottom, and more (Matthew 27:51-53; Mark 15:33-38; Luke 23:44-45). The darkness cannot have been a solar eclipse, because the full Passover moon is always on the wrong side of the earth for that to be possible. The darkness may have come from a khamsin dust storm. Both the darkness and the earthquake were widespread. The tearing of the curtain was localized at the holiest place on earth.
New Testament scholars point out that there were curtains in numerous places (18) in the Temple. But the Gospels surely mean the curtain most notable, most impressive, and most significant of them all. This was the curtain that separated the holiest place within the Temple proper (the naos) from the rest of the naos, and the surrounding structures of the Temple precincts. For it to be seen, the 30-foot–tall naos doors would have to be open, as we might expect them to be when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in front of them, and the court of Israel was filled with men in three consecutive waves. These Israelites would have been able to look up and see that the Temple curtain toward the back of the naos had been torn.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. – Matthew 27:51 (ESV)
The Magnificent Temple Tapestry
The curtain contributed to the splendor of the Temple. From Josephus and rabbinic texts we can gain some idea of its appearance. Within that central structure of the Temple, the curtain covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies which was 40 by 20 cubits, or 60’ high by 30’ feet wide.
The curtain is described in Mishnah Shekalim 8:3. (The Mishnah is the oral tradition of Jewish Law, first put in writing about the end of the Second Century AD. It is the foundation of the Talmud.) Some interpret this to mean the curtain had 72 squares joined together. Perhaps the tear happened at the central seam.
Josephus, who had seen the curtain, wrote:
“It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures.” – The Jewish Wars 5:2, Whiston translation
The embroidered heavens on the curtain will surprise some, but this curtain represented the boundary between this world and the heavens. It was as though crossing that boundary brought the High Priest into the presence of God. It was “as though,” because the presence of God was never acknowledged to be in Herod’s Second Temple as it had been in Solomon’s Temple. The Holy of Holies no longer contained the Ark of the Covenant. Still, this was the holiest place from of old, and it was treated as such.
Aftermath of Destruction in Jerusalem, 70 A.D.
This magnificent Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., some 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. That event brought changes to Israel of a magnitude unsurpassed in all its previous history. Before Jerusalem’s destruction the Temple had already become a place of murder, then hunger. When the Roman legions breached the city wall they slaughtered virtually everyone they saw, pretending not to hear calls for restraint from their commanders.
Fire consumed the Temple. Those left alive were made slaves and taken to other parts of the world. Judaism was necessarily re-invented by surviving rabbis at Tiberius. Another failed revolt followed sixty years later bringing more destruction. Not until 1948 would Israel again become a recognized nation living in its own land. (See the magnificent flooring used in the Second Temple.)
Searching for an Answer
The torn Temple curtain brings to our attention two parallel lines of thought, one from Judaism and one from Christianity, each interpreting the ruin of the nation and its Temple theologically. On this much both agree: God had brought about this devastation, not the Romans. Such a thing had already happened some six centuries earlier when Solomon’s Temple was razed by the Babylonians. The prophets said God had brought that about for the nation’s grievous, continuing sin, despite warnings.
But what were the reasons this current Temple had fallen?
From the rabbinic perspective:
“It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed.” – Gemara to Yoma 9b
From the Christian perspective: Israel’s leaders had crucified the Messiah. Soon the people followed other leaders instead who incited a war that was not ordained by God. The consequence was this devastation they had brought upon themselves.
We Were Warned
Ancient people took their portents very seriously—Romans had their augurs, Mesopotamians had their sky omens, Greeks had their horoscopes.
Jewish people said God sent warnings about their Temple that went unheeded. Josephus wrote a fascinating passage about this, describing the divine portents that were witnessed at the Temple and in Jerusalem before the end (TheJewish Wars 6:5:3).
Here is a brief summary of Josephus’ Portents List:
A new star and comet visible for a year
Light shining around the Temple altar
Heifer giving birth to lamb in Temple
Massive eastern Temple door opens by itself
Shining soldiers seen in the sky, moving through the clouds
Priests hearing voices in the Temple, “Let us go away from here.”
Jesus son of Ananus incessantly proclaiming the city’s approaching devastation
These seem to be fantastic legends without basis in fact. But a nova (new star) appears in Chinese lists for the year 70 A.D. That may be part of the explanation for the first portent.
Portent three may have involved a malformed, stillborn calf.
The fifth portent is the most incredible of the entire list. Josephus gives the calendar date for it, and the time of day, sunset. About a week away from Josephus’ calendar date a solar eclipse of 77% obscuration occurred at sunset in the year 67. Given the clouds present, and the phenomenon of shadow waves that accompany eclipses, plus the consequences of staring at the sun, the shining soldiers in the sky may be grounded in that eclipse.
Portent 6 brings to mind Ezekiel in the Old Testament. He beheld a vision of the Glory of the Lord departing the First Temple, leaving it desolate prior to its destruction (Ezekiel 10).
Portent four bears some similarity to the tearing of the Temple curtain. Both include a Temple doorway. No Jewish list includes the tearing of the curtain, but might that silence be explained by its coinciding with Jesus’ death? (Second Temple stones discovered beneath the Western Wall)
More Portents from the Talmud
“Forty years before the Temple was destroyed the chosen lot was not picked with the right hand, nor did the crimson stripe turn white, nor did the westernmost light burn; and the doors of the Temple’s Holy Place swung open by themselves, until Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai spoke saying: ‘O most Holy Place, why have you become disturbed? I know full well that your destiny will be destruction, for the prophet Zechariah ben Iddo has already spoken regarding you saying: ‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour the cedars’ (Zech. 11:1).’ – Yoma 39b
The crimson stripe referred to above was tied to the scapegoat sent away into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:21–22). It now retained its red color and never faded as before, suggesting that the nation’s sin was no longer being atoned.
Jesus’ Own Warnings
Jesus himself had foretold Jerusalem’s destruction: “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:43-44).” He wept over the city saying, “Behold, your house is forsaken” (Luke 13:32-35). He warned, when you see soldiers coming, run (Luke 21:20-22)!
And Jesus did still more. In the biblical prophetic tradition he enacted a message in the Temple. Before the first Temple fell, Ezekiel had publicly displayed Jerusalem drawn on a brick, besieged by an army. Jeremiah had publicly smashed an earthen jar representing the future of the nation, the city, and the Temple. Now Jesus “cleansed” the Temple of money changers and sacrificial animals for sale (Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45–48, John 2:13-16).
Many New Testament scholars understand this event to include a prophetic warning, a micro-destruction pointing to a macro-destruction if no repentance followed. While not a supernatural portent like those found in Josephus and the Talmud, Jesus’ Temple action included a warning of devastation to come.
Was the tearing of the Temple curtain a portent of coming, world-changing disaster upon a nation whose leaders had killed their Messiah? Those who experienced the events of Good Friday seem to have understood it just that way (Matthew 27:51-54, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47-48).
The tearing of the Temple curtain will remain for Christians a symbol of direct access to God, accomplished through Jesus’ death that takes away sin. But there is more to its message when placed in the context of portents. The torn curtain also tells us that failure to repent brings consequences. This is something that should prompt us to keep thinking.
TOP PHOTO: A model of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem with curtain location inside the naos. (credit: Fred Baltz)
I want to welcome you to our continued study of the epistle of James. So you can take your bible and open up to James. We have much ahead of us in this great epistle, but we are going to stop tonight for just a brief look at verse 18. Normally, we would be taking another section starting in verse 19, since we did mention verse 18 in our last study. But I want to stop for a moment and expand our understanding of James 1:18, because it is such a great, great verse. This is a verse that really articulates in a very simple way the meaning of the new birth, the meaning of salvation.
I was interested this morning in the reception for our first time guests to meet a lovely young lady from Japan who understands some English, conversational English and confessed this morning that she found it very difficult to follow what I was saying in the message. And it alerted me not so much to the fact that the words that I say are not intelligible as such, but the fact that the longer you are a Christian and the more you get involved in Christianity and in the word of God, the more sort of evangelical lingo you probably develop and somebody coming in who knows conversational English is going to have a very hard time plugging into what you are saying. It’s a good reminder also, that every once in a while, we need to go back to the simple reality of what the gospel really is and that’s what we want to do tonight. Let’s look together at verse 18 of James chapter 1.
It says this, of his own will, speaking of the father, God the father mentioned in verse 17, “Of his own will begot he us, with the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. A simple verse, but on in which is bound up all the richness of the new birth. The Old Testament said, be holy for I the Lord am holy. Peter says in his epistle, be holy, for I the Lord am holy. In order to enter into the presence of God, man must be holy. Set apart from sin unto righteousness. Now men are not holy. That’s obvious. They are not righteous, that is, they are sinful. They do not think right, speak right, act right, do right. They to not rightly perceive God. They do not rightly perceive themselves. They do not rightly perceive God’s truth, God’s revelation or God’s law or God’s will.
But even though men are not holy and they are not right with God, for the most part they do not perceive that they are not holy. They do not understand that they are not righteous, they do not willingly agree with the diagnosis of scripture that they are sinful. Men are not holy, and worse, they do not recognize either the need for holiness or in many cases, the absence of it. And if they do recognize that they are not holy, they usually blame someone else for that reality.
And that’s what we were discussing in our last look at this tremendous chapter. In directly, men push the responsibility for their sinfulness off on God, typically. And as we looked at verses 13 through 18, we saw that we have no one to blame but ourselves for our own sinfulness. Certainly, we cannot blame God by saying, well, God created us. God made laws that are impossible to keep. God has allowed me to become the way I am by my environment. God put me into circumstances that put such constraints on me I can’t control my behavior, et cetera, et cetera. But what James says to us is, God cannot have any part in our sinfulness either directly or indirectly.
So men have to be holy in order to have a relationship with God. They are not holy. For the most part, they don’t even recognize that they are not holy and if they do recognize that they sin, they will usually blame someone else’s and that someone in a very vague sense is the God who put them in the circumstances they are in and gave them the impulses he gave them and they want to shirk the responsibility. So James says in verse 13 to 18, you cannot blame anyone but yourself for your sin. In verse 13 he says, the nature of evil demonstrates that. No man can say, when he is tempted, I am tempted by God, for God can’t be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man. You can’t blame God for evil because God and evil are mutually exclusive. And then in verse 14, the nature of man. He says, man has his own problem. Man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. The problem is in man, it is in his sinfulness, his fallenness. Then he talks about the nature of lust in verses 15 and 16.
Lust when it conceives brings forth sin, sin when it finally comes forth produces nothing but death, and don’t you be wrong about that. In other words, understand that that is the reality of sin, so it isn’t God, because God and evil are incompatible. The problem is in the nature of man and in the nature of man the problem is his evil desire, his lust, his passion for that which is wrong. Then in verse 17, he goes back to discussing the nature of God and says, from God comes every good gift and every perfect gift and that never varies and there is never any shadow cast on that, so you can’t blame God because his nature is to give only good things. Only good comes from God. So, he says, we can’t blame God for our sin because of the nature of evil, the nature of man, the nature of lust and the nature of God Then in verse 18 he sort of sums up his argument by saying, the nature of regeneration itself or conversion or salvation or the new birth shows us that God does not lead us into sin. Verse 18 says, of his own will in other words, it was his will to beget us to become like him. A kind of first fruits of his own creation. So the purpose of regeneration was to give birth into life. To create us to do good not evil. To give us power over sin as a part of a new creation.
So God is in no way involved in our sinfulness. He cannot be mixed with evil. The problem is in man. In man, the problem is bound up with his lust. The nature of God is such that he only gives good gifts and when God touches your life, it is to produce life, not death, to produce righteousness not sin. To make a new creation, not exercise the old one.
So all of those things we looked at last time, point to the fact that God cannot directly or indirectly be the source of sin. God is not and cannot be tempting men to sin. And so we looked at verse 18 in that light. But the verse is so rich because it discusses this matter of the new birth of begetting a person, of regenerating a person and it demands a closer and longer look and we want to do that tonight. He introduces us to the subject of regeneration in verse 18 in connection with a point in his context. And the point is what I have just said to you, he is using regeneration as a way to show you that God doesn’t lead people into sin, he leads them to be creations of a new kind, like him. He leads them out of sin into new life. And that would be inconsistent with any thought that he would lead us into sin. He is recreating us away from sin, not into sin, but apart from the context itself, as we look at the verse, I want you to just examine it in and of itself, because it says so much about regeneration, and the whole teaching of regeneration and new birth is worthy of our careful attention. Now keep in mind what I said earlier and what we noted in the text that man is filled with lust and lust produces sin and sin begets death. It is true that without holiness no one will ever have a relationship with God, no one will ever fully know God. No one will ever enter into God’s eternal presence without holiness. And yet man is unholy and he is sinful and everything in his nature produces lust and evil. To give you a clearer understanding of that, look at Romans with me, chapter 3.
A very familiar portion of scripture to bible students but one that needs examination, in the light of this particular point. At the end of verse 9 he says, Jews and Greeks, they are all under sin. They are literally under the mastery of sin. They are all subject to the control of sin. And then he goes on to show this in extent by quoting from some Old Testament passages and he says, “As it is written, There is none righteous no not one.” There is not one human being created in this world since the fall of Adam that is righteous and that means that is right with God, that does righteously, that obeys the will of God in and of himself.
There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that understands. That is, there is none that fully comprehends that which God requires and is fully able to understand it and carry it out. There is none that even seeks after God. The bent of man is to seek sin. Men love what? Darkness, John 3 says, rather than light because their deeds are evil. They are all gone out of the way. They have all diverted themselves from the path that God ordained for righteousness. They are altogether become unprofitable. The Greek word has to do with sour milk. It is good for nothing. They are absolutely useless. And there is none that does good, not even one. And then he describes the nature of their evil. Their throat is an open sepulcher. It stinks like a dead corpse whose scent comes oozing out of a tomb. With their tongues, they have used deceit. The poison of asps or snakes is under their lips. A man is basically revealed in his conversation and in his mouth, and the ugly, evil, defiled, deadness of his sinful nature comes out through his mouth. The mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are in a hurry to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways. The way of peace have they not known and there is absolutely no reverence of God before their eyes. Here is a definition of sinful man, man without God. And the whole world comes under this in verse 18. Every mouth is stopped and all the world stands guilty before God. And there is no way he says, in verse 20, that through their flesh, they can be justified by God, by keeping some rules by obeying law, even though it be the law of God. The law simply produces the knowledge of sin, it doesn’t produce righteousness. So there is the definition of man from Romans 3. Man in his sinful state, look at Ephesians 2.
In Ephesians 2 it says, verse 1, “And you who were dead in trespasses and sins.” And here we find that man is characterized again as being dead, the stench of a corpse and the characteristic of his deadness is a deadness in trespasses and sins. Just using two words to show kind of the breadth and the extent of his sinfulness. He walks, it says, according to the course of this world. In other words, he daily conduct is dictated by the evil system. The one who is in charge of his life is the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience, those are titles for Satan. He functions, verse 3, in the lust of the flesh. He fulfills the desire of the flesh and the mind and he is by nature a child of wrath. That means, he is a target of judgment, he is the object of God’s judgment.
Now all this is very basic, man in order to have a right relationship to God, needs to be holy. Man is not holy. Man doesn’t recognize that he is not holy and sometimes if he does recognize that he is not holy and sinful he tends to blame God for his circumstances, pass off the responsibility which keeps him confined under the subjection of sin and therefore cut off from God. Now the question comes up, what are you going to do to help this man? What are you going to do to change the situation? What does this man need? External changes are not enough. He cannot by some resolution in his own mind determine that he is going to obey the law of God and work his way out of this deadness. He cannot give himself new life.
What he needs is to be recreated. He needs is a new heart, a new inner person, a new life principle. He needs to be born again. He needs to start all over and come out different. As if in the words of Nicodemus, he could crawl back into his mother’s womb and start all over again with a different nature. Since holiness is the absolute condition for acceptance into fellowship with God, sinful man in his fallen dead condition can’t ever have that fellowship and God won’t accept his corrupt self, so he needs a new life. He needs a brand new life. So when we talk about the gospel or the new birth, we are not talking about adding something. We are not talking about tacking something on. We are not talking about putting a ribbon on a sow. We are not talking about putting a new suit of clothes on an old man. We are talking about a total transformation. To enter into a right relationship with God, demands a total new person. You have to go back and start all over again and be born all over again into a new life.
Now scripture affirms this. It isn’t even new, in the New Testament, this was part of the promise in anticipation of the Old Testament. Jerimiah for example, says the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked and Jeremiah says, can the Ethiopian change his skin? Can he by willingly and by being willing rather and wishing can he change the color of his dark skin? And then Jeremiah says, can the leopard change his spots? And the answer is of course not, then, may you also do good that are accustomed to do evil.
You can’t change your life either, so you need a transformation. That’s Jeremiah 13:23 and over in chapter 31, comes the wonderful promise of that transformation, Jeremiah 31:31, “Behold the days come, says the Lord, I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the hand of Egypt, and so forth.” He says, “I’ll make a new covenant,” verse 33, “I will put my law in their inward parts. I will write it in their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. I am going to get inside and change their inside.” They can’t do it on their own so it has to be done for them. Man has to have a change at the very core of his being.
The natural man, that is the unregenerate man, the man that doesn’t know God. The sinful man, the unredeemed man, the unsaved man, does not, 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “Receive the things of the spirit of God.” He can’t receive them. He’s dead. And a corpse doesn’t respond to anything. And so what does he need? He needs new birth. He needs new life. I just read you Ephesians 2:1 to 3, how that men are dead in trespasses and sin following the lust of the flesh, the lust of the mind, the desires of the flesh, being subject to the leadership of Satan, the prince of the power of the air, they are children of wrath, but it says, even when we were dead in sins in the same chapter verse 5, Christ has made us alive and raised us up. And here is the idea of a resurrection from the dead, of new life, of a new birth. In Romans 6, it says, when you put your faith in Christ, you die and you rise to walk in and it uses this wonderful phrase, newness of what? Of life. Now that’s what every person has to have, newness of life. The old life has to be totally done away and a new life has to come. In Ephesians 4:24, you have put on the new man, which, listen to this, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. When you come to salvation, you put on a new man, a new person, not new clothes. A new person.
It’s a recreation. The best and most graphic illustration of this is found in the wonderful encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus so turn to John 3 and let’s look at it briefly and remind ourselves of this wonderful, wonderful story. There was a man of the Pharisees, that was, he was a religious leader of great esteem. He may have well been as prominent as any teacher because in verse 10 Jesus says, are you and uses the definite article, the teacher of Israel and don’t know these things.
So here is one man who is recognized perhaps publicly as the teacher in Israel of some great stature, a Pharisee well versed in the law. He approaches Jesus and says we know you are a teacher from God. Here is a man of great esteem. Here is a man who recognizes his own calling, but recognizes one who is even significantly above himself in understanding, so he comes to Jesus and he says in verse 2, we know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do the miracles that you do except God be with him. And he never says what’s in his heart. He doesn’t ask a question, but Jesus reads his heart. And Jesus answered, that’s an interesting statement because he didn’t ask anything. He just said, you are a teacher, and went on to say, you come from God, we know that, but Jesus answered the question in his heart and said, Truly, truly I say to you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God and he knew that what was in the heart of Nicodemus was how do I get into the kingdom.
Here was a man who was the teacher in Israel. A Pharisee, had it all going religiously, but knew he had not entered into truly to the kingdom of God. How did he know he hadn’t? Because there was nothing inside of him confirming that. So he comes to Jesus and the question of his heart is, what do I do to get into the kingdom and the implication would be, I’m very religious, I study the law, I try to live by the code of the Old Testament. I’m an ethical man. I’m a trusted man. I’m a respected man. What do I need to add to my life to get into the kingdom and Jesus said, you don’t add anything, you start all over again.
You just kill the whole thing and start with birth. You have to be born again. And Nicodemus said to him, how can a man be born when he’s old. Now he’s not asking the physical thing. Give him a break. He’s not saying, physically, how can I go back and be born? He knows what Jesus is talking about. He is simply picking up on the same use of veiled language, of parabolic talk of the meshal, the kind of speech that they use. And he’s picking up on the same metaphor, the same descriptive terms that Jesus is using and he’s saying how does someone so many years in one religion, so many years following one code, so many years to be now a Pharisee and a rabbi and a teacher of the law, ever go back and undo all of that and start all over again.
That’s what he’s saying. And if you have ever witnessed to an orthodox Jew, of any years, you will understand this mindset. How can I ever unravel all this lifelong pursuit of religion and start all over again, that’s what was in the mind of Nicodemus. Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born and he’s tongue in cheek at that point. He’s saying that again, consistent with the analogy that Jesus was using. How can I be born again spiritually? He knows Jesus speaks spiritually. How can I do it? How can it happen? And Jesus says to him, basically, you can’t do it.
You can’t do it Nicodemus, truly, truly, I say to you, except a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot what? Enter the kingdom of God. He says, you can’t do it. It has to be done by water and the spirit. It has to be done by a power and a resource outside yourself, outside of you. And that power is the water and the spirit. Now what does that refer too? That’s the water of salvation, I believe if you go back for a brief moment to Ezekiel 36, you will see Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus in very familiar terms, he knew the Old Testament. He knew the promise of Ezekiel 36 verse 25, I will sprinkle clean water upon you.
Who is I? God. This is a sovereign act. And you will be clean from your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleans you, what he is saying to Nicodemus is this, number one, you must have a sovereign cleansing by God. Secondly, it comes through the Holy Spirit. You need a sovereign salvation that comes from outside yourself. Just like Ezekiel prophesied, clean water, cleansing your filthiness. Paul writing to Titus talks about the washing of water through the word. The water of regeneration, verse 26, a new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, take away the stony heart out of your flesh, I will give you a heart of flesh, then this, I will put my spirit within you and cause you from the inside to walk in my statues. You shall keep my ordinances and you shall do them.
So when Jesus says to Nicodemus you must be born of the water and the spirit to enter the kingdom, he’s taking Nicodemus right back to Ezekiel 36 and saying, you know what the prophet said, you need a sovereign cleansing that comes from God outside yourself and the planting of his holy spirit in your heart to give you a new life and a new heart and a new motivation. Why? Verse 6, if you try to do it on your own, that which is born of the flesh is what? All you are going to do is reproduce what? Yourself. More of you. But that which is born of the spirit is what? Spirit. So don’t be surprised that I said you must be born again. Don’t be surprised. Then he says, the wind blows where it wants and you hear the sound and you can’t tell from where it comes and where it goes and so is everyone that is born of the spirit. You know what he’s saying there? He’s saying, I can’t tell you how or when the Holy Spirit does this, but this is a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit. It can’t be charted. You can’t even see it coming or going, but the spirit of God moves in where he wills and gives new birth to whom he wills as sovereign God by the agency of the spirit, through the washing of the water of the word in regeneration, cleanses the heart and plants that spirit within a man. What you need Nicodemus is a new life and that is a sovereign act of God. Just what Jerimiah 24 said in verse 7 where God said, I will give them a heart to know me.
A new nature, a new heart, a new life. If any man be in Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:17, he is a new creature, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. So what I’m saying here is a new birth is essential. That’s what salvation is. It is God sovereignly coming down to a sinner and by his grace cleansing that sinner and planting his spirit in that sinner so that the cleansing of that sinner takes care of his relationship to God and the planting of the spirit takes care of his power to live in the will of God. And that’s the purpose or regeneration.
Now I want to ask four questions in our verse, James 1:18, let’s go back. That was introduction. James 1:18, I want to ask you four questions about regeneration. Very simple questions and it won’t take us but a brief time to answer the four. First question, what is it? You’ve just said that man cannot know God without holiness. Man is not holy. Man doesn’t recognize his unholiness and when he does, he tends to blame God. How is he ever going to get out of the dilemma. Here is he blaming God for it, or not recognizing it. How is he every going to change. Well, you say somebody brings him so higher standards, some better ethics, a law that he is supposed to keep and he does it on his own. No, that which the flesh produces is more what? More flesh, so what has to happen is, he needs the divine intervention of a sovereign God, who by his spirit comes in, washes away his sin, plants a new life in him. Gives him his spirit to energize that new life unto obedience, that is a sovereign act. That’s really regeneration. But let’s get into this verse and look at the four questions, question number one. What is is? What is the nature of regeneration? And I have already alluded to it, in fact already covered a great portion, but just this phrase, of his own will be begat us. That’s the nature of regeneration.
It is God brining us forth, giving birth to us as new beings. You are not the same. You are a whole new creating. Its’ the same verb, by the way, exactly the same one used back in verse 15. God, when he conceives brings forth regeneration. Brings forth new life, it’s the very same verb. It’s in Eros tense so it looks back to the event of salvation when we were born by the divine parent and given new life as children of God. Now if you want a technical definition for he begat us, here is one that I think is excellent. It’s given by the theologian Berkhoff many years ago, but really says it. Regeneration is, that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man and the governing disposition of his soul is made holy. That is a great definition. Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man and the governing disposition of his soul is made holy. That is a total transformation. That doesn’t sound anything like Romans 3, does it or anything like Ephesians 2:1 to 3. In fact, Peter says, we become partakers of the divine nature. God gives us his own life, his own self, his own righteous character, his own holiness is implanted in us, just a tremendous thought. As a Christian, you and possess the very nature of God, 2 Peter 1:4. We are partakers of this divine nature. Now, in its fullness, we are yet to receive all that that implies, but already that new life principle is planted in us. This is completed in a moment of time. It is not a process. It is an event. It is an act by which God creates you new. It is a secret work. It cannot be perceived. That’s why we can’t, in the words of Jesus, tell the wheat from the tares, because this particular act is imperceptible. It is known only through its effect. We can’t see God recreate someone. That is a divine miracle unseen by any human eye.
But it plants in the person a new life principle and a new disposition that is enabled and driven to keep the law of God. Marvelous. It overcomes the deadness of sin. And the deadliness of sin. No longer are we subject to sin, Paul says in Romans chapter 6, sin no longer has dominion over us. We now follow a new master willingly and eagerly.
Jesus said in John 10, I am come that they might have what? Life. What do dead men need most? Life. And so, he comes to give us new life. So what is regeneration? What is it? He begot us. What does that mean? He gave us new life. Total transformation of the inner person. Second question, who does it? Well, I have already told you that from John chapter 3, who does it? Look back at verse 18 again, of his own will, he begot us. He being God the father mentioned in verse 17 as the source of every good and every perfect gift, of his own will is first in the Greek in the verse, which put is it in the emphatic position showing that the sovereign will of God is the root of this new life. It couldn’t be any other way, because how is a dead person going to give himself life? Impossible. The source of new life is God. God. It is the grace of the giver, not the desire of the receiver. That desire of the receiver is prompted by the grace of the giver. So it is wholly the choice and the work of almighty God.
If I am saved, and you are saved, who gets all the credit? God does. We praise him. Go back to John 1:12 and I want to just draw a little more on this thought. You say, but wait a minute, didn’t I receive Christ, didn’t I believe, of course, you did. You reached out and received him and believed. Look at verse 12 of John 1, “As many as received him to them gave he the right or the authority to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.” You say that’s right. I believed and I received. Didn’t I do that? Didn’t I initiate that? Look at verse 13, who were born, not of the blood, not talking about a human birth, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,” but of what? “God.” You believed and you received because it was the will of whom? Of God. It is a sovereign thing. Yes, you believed. Yes, you received. Behind it, all was the sovereign, determinative, gracious will of God.
No, child has ever been born into the world humanly speaking because he or she wanted to be born. Fair enough? The birth of a child is strictly the decision of parents, not of unborn children. Spiritual birth is analogous to that. It is the decision of the sovereign divine parent. No man comes unto me Jesus said, except the father what? Draws him. Except the father draws him and even the very faith we exercise, is granted graciously by God. So our conscious experience of conversion, our conscious experience of committing our life to Jesus Christ of believing in his death and resurrection, of opening our hearts to receive him, of believing the gospel, all is a consequence of his sovereign will.
Beloved when you stop to think that you are saved because he predetermined in eternity past to save you, that is a marvelous thing. God in his grace and love predetermined to have an eternally intimate love relationship with you just because that’s what he wanted, marvelous. John put it this way, we love him because he first loved us. A child gives love to a human parent as a response to parental love and care and the life they gave that child. And because God has willed to save us, because God has willed to give us new life and a holy nature, it is absolutely impossible, James says that he could ever lead us into sin. You see how absolutely incongruous that is? What a thrilling thought. He predestinated us to set his love on us.
To give us new life that we might have eternal fellowship with him and he longs for us to be in his presence and when we go into his presence he will make us like his own son and he will pour out eternal blessing on us forever and ever and ever. No wonder John says in 1 John 3, “Behold what manner of love the father hath bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God.” He can’t even think of an adjective. It’s absolutely indescribable. He just says, what manner of love, he couldn’t even come up with an adjective to describe that kind of predetermined sovereign free choice to love.
Now looking back at James 1:18, just one other thought about that particular point, when it says of his own will, it uses the word boultheis, aorist participle. It is not just a wish, but it is an active will of accomplishment. It isn’t God just wishing it. He wishes us to be saved, it is he wills it to the extent that it actually happens. May I say something to you that’s very profound theologically? This is what we would say is God’s productive will. That is when he wills this, it happens. It is not a wish. You can wish something, oh, I wish, oh, how I wish this will happen and it may be remotely unrelated to what will happen. Or you can say, I will that to happen because it’s within your power to make it happen. That’s the intent of the word here, God’s desire produces the end of that desire. So what is regeneration? It is God recreating us. Who does it? God does it by his sovereign power and we respond to that sovereign grace. Third question, okay, we have asked what and who here is the third on, how does it happen? How does it happen?
You say, well, does God just reach down and bang you are saved, does God just zap you? How does it happen? Well, let’s look back at the verse, verse 18, “Of his own will he begot us,” here it comes, “With the word of truth. With the word of truth.” Or literally, by truth’s word. By truth’s word. That means the word of God, the scripture. You see, God regenerates us and washes us and cleanses us and gives us a new inner person and plants a spirit in us through the power of his what? Of his word. Of his word. Men are born again by the power of the word. If you don’t hear the word, you don’t hear the message that saves, in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul is commending the Thessalonians for how they responded to the preaching of God’s word. He says, “For this cause we thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God,” listen to this, “which effectually is working also in you that believe. It is the word that works with a believing heart. God Sovereignly moves to redeem. A person responds to the exposure to the word with faith and salvation takes place. God’s will then of salvation is brought to the heart of a person through an understanding of the word mixed with faith and regeneration takes place. How does it happen? It happens through the word of God. And again, I remind you of Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done.” We don’t get salvation and new life by doing things, by trying to obey God in the flesh, but according to his mercy, he saved us, watch this, “by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” There are the same two things, the washing of the water of the word and the planting of the Holy Spirit. That’s the sovereign work of God. SO, the word of truth is the issue.
Now let me just take that phrase a little bit further, the word of truth or truth’s word. That particular designation is used several times in the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 6:7, you don’t need to look these up, I’ll just mention them to you. It says, by the word of truth, by the power of God and it goes on. In Colossians 1:5, it says, “Of which you heard before,” listen to this, “in the word of the truth of the gospel. The word of the truth of the gospel.” And there the word of the truth is specifically linked to the gospel. By the way, 2 Timothy 2:15 also mentions the word of truth, rightly dividing the word of truth. So the word of truth in general is the word of God.
It is that which God brings to us to unfold an understanding to us of his revelation of himself. In specific, on the basis of Colossians 1:5 we could call it the word of the truth of the gospel. Now with that in mind, we go back to James and we can just simply say that we wouldn’t be out of line to say, that we are born again with the word of truth, not only God’s general revelation, but as in Colossians 1:5, his specific revelation of the gospel. And you say what’s the gospel? The good news that Jesus came, died and rose again, so people are saved then when God sovereignly sets out to give them new birth, to give them a new nature to wash away their sin, to plant his spirit in them. He brings them an understanding of that through the knowledge that comes in the gospel that is preached or that is given to them. That mixed with faith results in the new birth. In Romans 10:17, and I’m just picking up some scriptures that come to mind that I think are related to this as we kind of wind down. But in Romans 10:17, do you remember this, how then shall they call on him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him in whom they have not heard? How shall they hear without a preacher? And then it says, and how shall they preach unless they be sent and so forth and so on. It’s talking about we have to have preachers. How are people going to hear if they don’t have a preacher? How can we send anybody if there is no one to send? People have to have a preacher, how beautiful, quoting from Isaiah, are the feet of them that preach the gospel. How important it is to preach it, why? Because of verse 17, faith comes by hearing, a speech about Christ. That’s the proper Greek rending of 10:17, faith comes by hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, Romans 10:17. So, God sovereignly saves by moving into a life and recreating that life, but that takes place when a person comes to hear and understand the gospel and it is mixed with faith and that brings about the new birth. What is it? It is total transformation. Who does it? God does it by his own sovereign will. How does it happen? By hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ that he died on the cross and rose again, that comes through the reveled word of God. One other scripture on this regard is 1 Peter 1. Being born again, it says, and here is the definition of the means. Being born again, not of corruptible seed, he’s not talking about human birth, but of incorruptible, here it comes, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever.
By the word of God which lives and abides forever. For flesh, you can’t have a new birth in the flesh, it’s just like the grass and the glory of man is like the flower of grass, the grass withers and the flower falls away. The flesh can’t produce anything lasting, but the word of the Lord endures forever. Now listen, and this is the word, which by the gospel is preached unto you. And again he says, you are born again by the word and the word that you are born again by is the gospel and the gospel is the story of Jesus death and resurrection.
So God sovereignly chooses to redeem, comes down, cleanses the heart, plants his spirit, but in order to do that, the heart must be comprehend the gospel as clearly preached and that comprehension mixed with faith brings about new life, new life. Now, if anything is to change in us, God must do it, but we must respond as well, to the gospel. Now that leaves us with one question, one question. Why is it done? Why? Why does God bother. We know what, we know who, we know how, but why? What is the purpose of making us new? The end of verse 18, this is marvelous. In order that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creation. Boy, what a statement. We could really go to town on this one. The ramifications of this are just tremendous, that we should be, that’s an ace with the verb to be, that’s a purpose cause, with the purpose of producing a new kind of creation, that’s what God wants. He wants a new kind of creation and we are the first fruits of that.
That’s great. What are first fruits? Well, if we had time and we won’t take the time, we could study the Old Testament, mark down Exodus 23:19, Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy chapter 18, Deuteronomy chapter 26, that tells about first fruits. When you planted a crop, God said, I want your first fruits. First fruits meant two things, I want the first in order and I want the best.
When you harvest that crop, bring an offering to me and I want the first that you harvest and that will show that you live by faith, because if you take your first, the tendency for a farmer is to take the first thing that he harvest and he hordes it incase nothing else comes through. So you bring me the first and you bring me the best, that’s the first fruits. The first of a full crop that’s coming later and that’s exactly what it means here.
He says, I want you to, this is thrilling, to be the first and the best indicative of a whole crop that’s coming later. That’s marvelous. Now listen to me carefully, do you realize people that the world will not continue the way it is right now? Do you know that? Do you know that we are headed to a total transformation of the world as we know it? Do you know that this entire operation on the earth will burn up and the bible tells us that the Lord will recreate this earth, to his own liking? He will make a new creation, everything will be born again, everything. Men and women and dirt and hills and valleys and water and grass and plants and animals and everything, in fact, he will make a new heaven and a new earth, there is coming a whole new creation and we are just the first evidence of it.
As Paul says in Romans 8, the world doesn’t even know what we are going to be yet, because we are still veiled in our flesh and waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God when it becomes clear to everybody what we really are. That’s kind of exciting to know what I am in that regard. I’m a sample as a Christian and so are you, of what’s coming. We’re just the first look at the new creation. Incredible. We are his. And he recreates us as symbols, as examples, as illustrations, of his coming new creation. You want to know what the future is going to be like. I’ll tell you what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be like us all new on the inside. It’s going to be like us after we get all new on the outside too, but we are just the first fruits. What is that? The first fruits is the promise of the full crop. The promise of the full crop. And we are the first fruits. What a thought. God says, I want to take you to be my special possession. I want to take you to belong to me. To be symbols of the full new creation yet to come.
Do you realize that here we are in little Grace Community Church in this little pocket of bricks here tonight and the world has no idea what we are, but we are just first fruits of an incredible new creation when God recreates the whole heaven and the whole earth? We are just the first fruits. Creation, it says in Romans 8 is groaning waiting for its recreation. And we also are crying out for the recreation, not of our soul, we have had that, but of our what? Of our bodies where the flesh hangs on.
This new life we have in Christ is a taste of future glory when the whole universe will be recreated. So, what a marvelous privilege is ours. What is regeneration? It’s recreation. Making us all new from the inside. Who does it? God does it sovereignly. When does it happen or how does it happen? It happens when we hear with believing hearts the word of the gospel and then God mixes his faith with his sovereign power, transforms us and why does he do it? Because we are to stand out in the world as living examples of where this world is headed when he recreates is.
Now to put this thing back in James context, try to tell me now that God wants us to sin and I’ll tell you you got a screw loss. There is no way that God wants you to sin. No way he is pleased with your sin. He created you to be a model of a sinless society. That’s what he wants. So when you sin, don’t blame him. Put the blame where it out to be on your flesh and long for the day when your flesh is redeemed.
That’s what it means to be born again and we have much to praise God for. Let’s bow in prayer. Our father, we titled our message tonight, Born to Holiness. And we indeed are committed to that. That we have been made new in order that we who were unholy might be holy. What a tremendous truth that is. Father we thank you so much for making us the symbols of your new creation. And father, we pray that we might shine as lights in the world.
That we might, who have been redeemed be so grateful that we might live in such a way as to properly represent that whole new creation of which we are but the first fruits. Forgive us for those times when we have blamed you for our sin and help us to realize that it is your desire to recreate us unto holiness.
And help us to pursue that with all our might and the power of the spirit. And father, if there are some in our fellowship tonight who have never come to Christ who have never been born again, who have not yet received the life principle. Who have not been changed on the inside. Who have not been washed from all their sin. Who have not received a new spirit and a new inner person. A new life principle. Who have not received the Holy Spirit to live in them. Who are not your special beloved and intimate possession, your first fruits and a promise of a whole new universe. Oh Lord, may this be the night when they embrace Jesus Christ. May they believe in the one who died on the cross for them, shed his blood to pay the penalty for their sin. Rose again the third day for their salvation.
May they put their faith in the living Jesus Christ and may they experience that glorious sovereign mercy and grace and the joy of being first fruits, living examples of the coming recreation. Oh God, help us who know you to live up to who we are. And rightly represent to this world what is coming in the future. We pray in Christ’s name, amen.
Let’s open to the Word of God, the fourth chapter of Acts, and we’re looking at a chapter that essentially is built around one single theme, the predominant part of this chapter running down through verse 31 looks at the persecution that came against the early church, the persecution that came against the early church.
The Book of Acts, as you know, is the history of the first church. It gives us something about the inception of that church, its birth on the Day of Pentecost, born in a miraculous display of Holy Spirit power. We then looked at the very early weeks and months of the church when thousands of people were being converted. By the time we get into chapter 4, the number may well have exceeded 20,000 people who, in a flurry of Holy Spirit regeneration, were added to the newly born church.
But soon into chapter 4, in fact, at the very outset of chapter 4 where we begin to get an idea of how many believers there are, we also find the first persecution. If I can take you back to the beginning of the fourth chapter, let me read the opening verse. They were speaking to the people: “As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. And many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about 5, 000.” Men, there, meaning males. Add females, add to the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost, and those being saved daily, the Lord adding to the church as we learned at the end of chapter 2, and it’s pretty easy to get to a number like 20,000 believers.
They don’t have an organization. They don’t have structure. They don’t have a building. So they’re still collecting in the temple. They pose an imminent threat to the system of Judaism, which has already been assaulted by the Lord Jesus Himself whose name they all proclaim. It was that Jesus that the system and the establishment rejected and had the Romans execute. They had been preaching that He is alive from the dead, and it is by His power that the church has come to life and continue to grow, and it is by His power and in His name as one who is alive that they healed the man at the beginning of chapter 3. This healing of a man that everybody knew was a beggar, a beggar who had sat for a long time. Later in this chapter, it tells us that he was in his 40s, and much of that time, no doubt, had been a beggar and a very familiar site by the gate called Beautiful, sitting there every day, begging. This was a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb, so no doubt started early as a beggar.
The miracle, literally, was known by everyone in Jerusalem, added to the credibility that Jesus was alive, because when Jesus was alive, He was a healer. He was a miracle worker. Now, He was still alive, and He was transmitting His power through the apostles. The threat, then, to Judaism and the threat to the leaders of Israel was very, very serious. They saw it as a religious threat. They also saw it as a political threat. They saw that the impact of this movement exploding in their city, contrary to what they expected; they expected we kill the leader, cut off its head, and the rest dies.
Well, that didn’t happen. He did rise from the dead. The leaders knew that. They bribed the soldiers to lie about it, and now they’re threatened by the reality that not only is He alive, but He’s continued to unleash His power to draw followers, and even to do miracles.
So in chapter 4, we have the beginning of the persecution of the church, which is still going on today. I told you last time that current figures would indicate that there are about 100 million Christians in the world, right now, in this year, that are under persecution. And I’m not talking about those that are socially abused, or alienated. I’m talking about those that are actually under the threat of bodily harm and death. As many as 100 million. Well, all of that persecution which will continue to go on until our Lord comes, and even after the rapture of the church, there will continue to be an antichrist world in which Christians will be slaughtered far and wide. This persecution, all is launched here, and it is launched initially because it is a threat. The growth of the church is a threat to apostate Judaism.
Now, we’ve all known, I think, those of us who are believers who’ve lived in the world at all, we’ve all known a measure of alienation, being ostracized. We’ve all understood that to one degree or another. We know what it is to have to forfeit friends, family. We know what it is to be under pressure not to speak for Christ, or it might threaten our position in the world in some social structure, be it a job, or a school, or whatever. We all understand that. That’s part of the persecution. But the kind of persecution we’re going to see here threatened life and limb.
Now, to start with, I want to just kind of back up from this, as I often like to do to maybe give you a larger perspective on persecution. And by the way, those of you who are under persecution, I trust that the Lord will encourage you by the things that we’re saying in this series. Now, we have to understand that persecution is a trial, all right? Persecution is a trial, and trials are for our benefit. I know that is perhaps not the way we think of persecution. There are people, well-intentioned I assume, who are busy lobbying to get our government and other governments around the world to bring a halt to persecution, to stop the persecution. And while it’s certainly noble to call nations that are killing people to stop killing them, and nations that are threatening people to stop threatening them, imprisoning them, harming them; at the same time, it must be noted that none of this happens outside the purposes of God. This does not lessen the culpability of those who do it. But we need to be reminded that persecution is a trial, and trials have a positive impact. They’re designed by God to that end.
Listen to James 1. James 1 verse 2. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” There is unmistakable revelation that trials produce a tested faith that yields endurance and causes a believer to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
In verse 12, James then adds, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, having stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” So there is a promise that trials produce a perfected faith, and an eternal reward. They have benefit in this life, and they have benefit in the life to come.
Peter understood that. Listen to 1 Peter chapter 4. First Peter chapter 4. “Beloved,” verse 12, “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. But to the degree that you shared the sufferings of Christ, that would be unjust persecution and suffering. Keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exaltation, for if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” There again, a fiery ordeal. What is this fiery ordeal? Well, Peter is writing a letter to persecuted believers, aliens, chapter 1 verse 1, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, who were chosen. These aliens to the world system are under persecution. Verse 5 says they’re being protected by the power of God through faith. They are to rejoice, because now, for a little while, you have been distressed by various trials so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found or result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. There’s nothing more precious in this life than a tested faith. Nothing worth than wondering if you’re saved. Worrying if you might not be a true believer.
How can you be sure? You can be sure if you’ve gone through a fiery ordeal. You can be sure if you’ve gone through an extreme trial, you’ve gone through a great test. You can certainly be sure if you’ve gone through dire circumstances of persecution and your faith is rock solid, and it survives, and it endures, and it grows, and it is perfected. And then, you rest secure in the confidence of that assured faith.
Trials produce that, as well as we see in all of those, an eternal reward. So here are the writers of the New Testament telling us that we should, in the midst of trials, rejoice, that we should, in the midst of trials, welcome their product, their fruit their result, and that we should look forward to our heavenly reward. The apostle Paul talks about a terrible trial he was experiencing in 2 Corinthians 12. He says, “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. He said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” Paul’s response, “If power is perfected in weakness, if faith is perfected in trials, then I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Then he says this: “Therefore I am well-content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with difficulties, and with persecutions for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
He knew that persecutions brought about spiritual strength. Persecutions brought about a tested faith. Persecutions brought a tested faith. Persecutions produced a greater eternal reward. He also knew that persecution was inevitable in preaching the gospel. Philippians 2:17. “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” If I lose my life getting the gospel to you, I rejoice.
Similarly in Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake. What sufferings is he talking about? It was all persecution. Beaten with rods, whipped by the Jews, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger from robbers, rivers, everywhere he went. Natural disasters, natural and supernatural enemies, demons. He found joy in all of that, in all of it, because in his weakness, he became strong. And as he became strong, his faith was perfected, and his joy came out of the confidence of a perfected or assured faith. He also had great hope for his eternal reward.
Listen, the world hated Jesus. He said that. They hated Him, really, with an insatiable hate that could only be satisfied when they had Him dead, and then He rose from the dead and continued to live through the apostles and through His church. And so, as Paul said, believers who follow after Christ receive in their bodies the wounds intended for Christ. We take the blows meant for Him. It isn’t that they hate us; it’s that they hate Him, and He’s not here, so they attack us. But it is in this sense that all believers who suffer persecution must view their persecution. It is designed by God to produce a perfected faith. It is designed by God to produce maturity, assurance, joy, and eternal reward.
In Mark 13:13, we read, “You shall be hated of all men for my sake.” In 2 Corinthians 1:5, the afflictions of Christ overflowed toward us. To the Corinthians, Paul says he was always bearing in his body the dying of Jesus Christ. He says to the Galatians, “I bear in my body the marks of Christ.” He even prayed for more, that I may know Him, and fellowship of His sufferings. Philippians 3:10. For the Christian then, persecution is a noble expectation. It produces growth and glory, and maturity, and assurance, and blessing, and encouragement, and reward, and is part of who we are. It is one of the privileges of our union with Christ.
Some of you may be saying, I never thought of persecution that way, but that is the Bible’s way to think about it. That is how the church learned to think about it, through the very revelations of Scripture that I’ve just recited for you.
Now, as we come to chapter 4 of the Book of Acts, the church is going to learn this. The church is going to learn the blessing and benefit of persecution. Those who were persecuted in the past have all entered into the eternal reward, and if they were here, they could give testimony of the glory of that reward. The sufferings of this world, they have learned, are not worthy to be compared with the joy that will be ours in the presence of the Lord. We have a far greater weight of glory awaiting us.
Well, the early church is beginning to learn this. And as chapter 4 unfolds, there are some principles that arise as we watch how they handle persecution. I’ve identified seven of them, and I gave you three last time. We’ll work on giving you the rest this time. One could simply ask the question: how did the early apostles and the early church handle persecution? By what means? The answer is here. First of all, we started in verse 5 to look at the response, and the first thing I told you last time was, this is the first principle of facing persecution: be submissive to it. Be submissive to it. That is precisely how they responded. When everybody gathered together against them and confronted them, they saw it as an opportunity to preach the gospel to the Sanhedrin. They wound up sitting in the middle of the gathered rules and elders and scribes of Jerusalem, with Annas, the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, two other of the elite blue bloods related to the high priestly family. All of them from that descent. They took Peter and John, placed them in the middle of the encircled Sanhedrin, and began to ask them questions. This is the first necessary response that the Lord providentially has brought me to this place and this is going to give an opportunity that probably couldn’t be gained any other way.
There was no resistance. That’s what we see here. It’s really an argument from silence. There’s no struggle here. They knew that even as new believers, that God had allowed this. They were content with that. They waited for God’s purpose to be unfolded. This is God plan. Everything they’ve seen has been God’s plan. From the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and then it was all explained that this is the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies, and they understood all of that for the first time. We see them pour out references to the Old Testament. For the first time, the apostles do that in the Book of Acts because they understand it.
So it’s all coming clear to them, the whole unfolding plan of God, and they submit to it. The second thing we saw last time, the second principle that rises out of this persecution is they were filled with the Spirit, verse 8. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. They were beyond their own strength, like Paul. They were in the midst of weakness. They had no human resources. They had no one who would get them out of this situation. They didn’t know what they were to say, but they remembered the words of Jesus who said, “Take no thought in what you’ll say. I’ll put the words in your mouth.” That, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So there, we find Peter yielding up fully control to the Holy Spirit.
Now, that’s not just some kind of nebulous expression. What it means is peter didn’t try to operate in his own strength, in his own wisdom. In fact, it parallels James 1. You remember in the next verse, after we read that trials have a perfecting work, producing endurance in a completed faith, we read immediately after that, these very familiar words from James. Remember them? “If any of you lacks,” what? Wisdom. Let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it’ll be given to him, but he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind, for that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
In other words, throw yourself completely, trustingly on the power of God, which means: yield to the Holy Spirit, in the midst of the trial, in the midst of the struggle. So, we saw that last time, the necessity of calling on God, and crying out to the Holy Spirit to take over and fill your life, and give you the words and the understanding and the wisdom to deal with it. This is triumphant.
The third thing and last point that we looked at last time was, in the midst of persecution, boldly use it as an opportunity to present the gospel. Boldly use it as an opportunity to present the gospel. Verse 8, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. And this is bold: “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man as to how this man is has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all of the people of Israel that buy the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name, this man stands here before you in good health. He, that is, Jesus Christ, is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” This is really so powerful.
How emboldened are these disciples? You say they’re essentially just in the church for weeks. The church is newly born. They’ve just been literally given the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. They received the indwelling Spirit. They’re filled with the Spirit. How in the world could they have such assurance and confidence and boldness? The answer? They knew all that the Old Testament had said but didn’t understand its meaning. They knew all that Christ had said but were shaky and foggy about its meaning. But when Christ rose from the dead, met them in the upper room, and for 40 days explained the meaning of everything, all of it came together in completion. Now, their theology is full, and rich, and historic.
Jewish people who are converted to Christ are the only converts who can drag their former religion into the new one. If you’re a converted Buddhist, you can’t bring anything with you. If you’re a converted Hindu, you can’t bring anything. But if you’re a converted Jew, you bring everything and you understand it, and that’s what was happening to them. They were new in the sense of New Covenant converts, but they had such a vast education that now all had become clear. They understood the plan, the purpose. There is Peter there in verse 11, rattling off Psalm 118 verse 22 to show again this experience of now for the first time understanding even isolated portions of the Old Testament. They preached the exclusivity of the gospel.
What did they do in persecution? Soften the message? No. Broaden the message to be inclusive, so no one is offended? No. They preached the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ and in no one else. Now listen, they start throwing around Old Testament verses, and they do this with confidence, and this shakes the rulers in the Sanhedrin. Verse 13. Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
Now understand, they, like the rest of the Jews, had been raised on the Old Testament. They knew the content without knowing the meaning. But now, all of a sudden, with their teacher after His resurrection explaining it all to them for 40 days, with the Holy Spirit becoming an internal resident truth teacher, they are profoundly educated in an understanding of Scripture. And so, they speak with confidence about salvation in Christ and Christ alone. And this shocks the Jewish Ph.D.’s who are supposed to be the only ones who can speak with certainty. They’re astounded that these uneducated Galilean fishermen say what they say with such boldness, such confidence, and who talk like they knew what they were talking about. They’re really stunned by this. They obviously know that this is beyond what they should expect, and they began, end of verse 13, to recognize them as having been with Jesus. They were like Jesus. Confident, assured, authoritative.
Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, what shocked the crowd as He spoke as one having what? Authority. They saw the same boldness in the apostles they had seen in Jesus. They saw the same forthright fearlessness they had seen with Jesus. And neither Jesus nor these men had ever set their foot in any rabbinical, authorized school. And yet, they taught as if they had authority. Certainly, none of them, not Peter or John, or any other apostles, in one sense, could handle the Old Testament the way Jesus did, but this is what they were used to from Jesus. None of them could be as assured and as bold and confident as the omniscient Son of God, but it was very much the same.
That leads to a fourth principle. Be obedient to God no matter the cost. Be obedient to God no matter the cost. The leaders have a problem on their hands. They are looking at the man who had been healed standing with Peter and John. He’s still there. Remember? That’s how the scene started, right? Well, when Peter and John came to the Sanhedrin, they brought the man, the living illustration. They didn’t know what to say in reply. They were in no position to deny the miracle. There’s the man. Can’t deny that. They’re not in any position to question the disciples’ understanding of the Old Testament. They could’ve repented. They could’ve said, “We were wrong. Obviously, Christ is alive because His power is at work.” They didn’t. They have to figure out a way to deal with this.
So, in verse 15, they ordered them to leave the council, and then they began to confer with one another. They take them out of the room. They don’t set them free. They just get them out of there so they don’t hear the deliberations. And they say, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” Does that tell you about unbelief? How stubborn is unbelief?
All right. The miracle happened. It’s a notable miracle. The whole city knows it’s a miracle. We can’t attempt to deny the miracle. What are we going to do with these men. This is a tough problem. Oh, by the way, there’s no law against healing people. There didn’t need to be a law against it ‘cause nobody could do it. There’s no rule against a good deed. And furthermore, Peter and John were popular with the people. How popular were they? 20,000 people by now or about that make up the church which, as far as they’re concerned, doesn’t appear as a church, but a mass movement against them by the populous. They can’t kill these men or they’re going to have a revolution on their hands. That’s not good. They can’t let them go, and at least they can’t let them go doing this, teaching and healing. They’ve got to come up with something, and this is the brain trust now of Judaism. So, they come up with a solution, verse 17, “‘But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.’ And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
That is the inevitable moment in persecution. Is it not? Every martyr came to that moment in the past. Every martyr comes to that moment in the present. We read it in the papers all the time. ISIS finds Christians, they bring them in, they say “denounce Christianity, embrace Islam or we’ll chop your head off.” That moment comes in persecution. Will you deny Christ? Will you deny Christ? You read the history of the persecution of the church, and that moment comes back again and again and again. They brought them in, commanded them never to mention the name of Jesus again.
Kind of an interesting little turn. The early believers had to be commanded to be quiet about Jesus; modern believers have to be commanded to say something about Him. We’ve come a long way from the fire of the early church, I fear. They still despise His name. They still hate Him, and they can’t get rid of His name, they can’t get rid of Him. So, they warn them. The warning implies some kind of threat, some kind of response if they fail to obey, to speak no longer to any man that name. What they mean there of course is public speaking. The verb is used to refer to actual public speech. No more preaching. So they put a ban on preaching. There are bans on preaching all over the world today. There always have been in the life of the church. So they threatened them with some unnamed retribution if they don’t stop preaching. A ban on preaching. I wonder how far away that is, even in our own country.
So how do they respond? Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge.” Boy, that is well-crafted, isn’t it? They might’ve been fishermen, but they were pretty shrewd. You need to make another judgment, gentlemen. Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you or to God. That’s it. You say, well, wait a minute. The Bible says that we are to be subject to the powers that be for they are ordained of God. Romans 13. The Bible says that we are to be subject to the king and all rulers, and to submit to them and be good citizens. First Peter chapter 2. We are to come under authority. God is ordained government. They don’t bear the sword for nothing, and we’re to be model citizens and not revolutionaries. And so, this would’ve been the time for them to say okay, we will submit because the Bible tells us to submit. We are to honor the king, and the governor, and those that are in authority over us. God has ordained all authorities for the preservation of life.
But that has limits, folks, when what men tell you to do is contrary to what God tells you to do. Then, who do you obey? You be the judge. Whether it’s right in the sight of God to give heed to you, rather than to God, you judge that. How did Daniel face that? Daniel was told: do not pray. Daniel answered that question, “I have a higher authority.” Daniel, by nature, was a submissive young man. He had demonstrated that in his training in Babylon. He was a well-rounded noble, accommodating man, and rose to a prime ministership in an alien country. But when it came to being told not to do what God commanded him to do, that’s where he had to obey the higher authority.
So what does someone do in persecution? First, you boldly proclaim the message that brought about the persecution, and secondly, with holy courage and boldness, you take your stand. You have, really, no choice. When the culture tells you you cannot proclaim the gospel, when the culture tells you you cannot read the Scripture, when society forbids you to name the name of Jesus Christ, or when society demands that you do something God forbids like allow homosexual marriage. That is an oxymoron. You have a higher authority.
Listen, they knew that they had a responsibility to government. It was Peter who wrote those words: submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. He wrote that. He understood that. But when obeying that government makes you a violator of Christ’s command, you cannot be obedient. You must not be obedient. You will not be obedient. Chapter 5 verse 29, it comes up again. Further persecution. Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” We must obey God rather than men. I say this not only to you, but to persecuted Christians around the world who may hear this message. When they command you to stop speaking the name of Christ, you cannot obey them. When they command you to stop preaching the gospel, you cannot obey them. When they command you to accept something immoral, something unjust, or something unrighteous, you cannot obey them.
Here we are in America, and some professing Christians have so little courage that the voice of their neighbors sound louder in their ears than the voice of God. The real secret here is the tribute once paid to John Knox. He feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man. Well, that was Peter and John. They obeyed in faith, leading the results to God. That’s boldness.
A couple of other things come out of this. Little dialogue here. It shows how opposite Judaism was from God, because they were put in a dilemma where doing what the leaders of Judaism told them to do would be absolutely contrary to God. Again, another way to demonstrate how ungodly Judaism was. It also let them know that their superficial self-designed authority was meaningless in God’s kingdom.
So, verse 20, they say it as clearly as you can say it: “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That’s how John described his experience with Christ. First John 1:1. You remember how he begins that epistle? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” Christ. We saw Him. We heard Him. We touched Him. We handled Him. The Word of Life. We cannot speaking about Him. This, of course, is where persecuted people have to take their stand. And if it means off with the head, burned at the stake, whatever it means, there’s no choice. Paul put it this way, 1 Corinthians 9:16: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” I bring judgment down on my own head. I’d rather be judged by man than by God. I’d rather have the condemnation of an earthly tribunal than to have the condemnation of the heavenly one.
We can’t. We can’t stop speaking about what we’ve seen and heard. We can’t. When they had then, verse 21, “threatened them further, they let them go.” Why did they let them go? Finding no basis on which to punish them, “on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened.” There is a mass movement going on. There are the people who have become true believers and are now making up the church, but the whole city, the whole area is electrified by this incredible miracle, and they’re all glorifying God for what happened. Doesn’t mean they were all believers, but they all knew it was a work of God because they knew the man, verse 22, the man was more than 40 years old on whom the miracle of healing had been performed. That means for decades, they had seen this beggar in his lame condition. So they threatened him, but we don’t know what the teeth in the threat might be, but they didn’t put any. They didn’t say we’re going to do this, or we’re going to do that, because they were afraid of this mass movement, this populace.
So, they just released them. If you look over at 40, it’s a similar situation. Only this time, they put some teeth in their demands. They called the apostles in, and they flogged them. They whipped them, and then ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So, the first time, they think the warning might scare them. The warning doesn’t scare them. The next time, they whip them and give them the same command.
That doesn’t stop anything. Then, as you know, eventually they began to kill them. But at this point, they do nothing. Verse 23. When they had been released, they went to their own, their own friends and family, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. They just gave a report. They had stood their ground. They had been bold. No threats could’ve deterred them. This is an appropriate response to being brought to the brink in persecution when your life is threatened.
Wonderful story of John Chrysostom, summoned before the Roman emperor Arcadius, threatened with banishment if he didn’t stop preaching Christ. He is said to have said this: “You cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.” The emperor said, “Then I will slay you.” “Nay. You cannot slay me, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” “Then, your treasures will be confiscated.” “That can’t be. My treasures are all in heaven, where no one can break in and steal.” “Then I will drive you from men, and you will have no friends.” “You cannot do that either. I have a friend in heaven who said I will never leave you or forsake you.” Ultimately, Chrysostom was banished to a remote place on the edge of Armenia. And all he did when he got there was preach. All the time. So they determined they had to banish him further into a terribly obscure place, and he died on the journey. No threat could break his spirit, and no threat could take him away from obedience. Boldly obey Christ in the face of persecution. Boldly obey Christ in the face of persecution.
So what did we learn? Be submissive, be Spirit filled, boldly use it as an opportunity, and be boldly obedient, no matter what the cost.
There’s a fifth principle, a fifth principle. Bind closer to other believers, verse 23. “When they had been released, they went to their own companions,” friends, “and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” You know, persecution produces unity. Go over to verse 32. As this persecution accelerates, the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul. Not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own. All things were common property to them. With great power, the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and abundant grace was on them. There was not a needy person among them. All who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sale and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. This is an incredible coming together. Persecution does that. It produces unity. They clung tightly to one another, dependent. The persecuted church is the united church because it draws its strengths in that corporate fellowship. Persecution inevitably produces unity. It forces believers to circle the wagons, to cling to each other, to hold on tightly.
Persecuted church, then, because expressive of its love. It becomes stronger in its union. Persecution then makes the church collectively strong. So, the fifth principle, just in that one little verse: “Bind yourselves closely together with other believers.”
Two more. Number 6, thank the Lord. Thank the Lord. When the message was given and they heard it, verse 24, they lifted up their voices to God with one accord. There’s the unity. And they said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David your servant said,” Psalm 2, “‘Why did the nations rage and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”
What was their response? Just immediate praise to God. Immediate praise. They pour out true worship. They address God as Lord, not the usual Kurios, Lord, but despot. It becomes the English word, “despot,” referring to one who is the absolute ruler of slaves, the absolute master of all. They see themselves as slaves, and they praise their master. They praise their God with one accord, who is the creator of the entire universe, the God who has all of the rulers of the world and nations of the earth in the palm of His hand, the God who allowed them to gather against His Christ. And in their gathering, they accomplished His purpose, which was predestined. This is where theologians get the invisible hand to describe the providence of God, verse 28, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to accomplish.
This is praise. This is blessing God. Their response to the report then, is to praise the Lord, to lift up their praise. They recognize the guilt of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, the people of Israel. But behind it all is the invisible hand of God, affecting His predestined purpose.
This is so critical in persecution, to see that this is part of a scheme, a plan, a purpose unfolding, that God ordained before the world began. Listen. This is where your comfort comes from. This is not outside the plan. This is inside the plan. This is not outside the power of God. This is inside the power of God. This is His purpose, it is His plan, it is by His power and His will. The Old Testaments prophesied that the world would gather against the Messiah, that the kings of the earth would take their stand and the rulers would gather together, and they did, and who are those rulers who gathered against Jesus? Herod, the Idumean; Pilate, the Roman; the Romans and the Jews. The world gathered against Him, just what is prophesied in Psalm 2, and raged, the Gentiles raged, the Jews raged. But all they did in their rage was what God had predestined to occur. This is where the one in persecution finds final, ultimate comfort. This is in the plan of God. That’s how the Book of Genesis ends, in the story of Joseph. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for God. Psalm 76:10 puts it this way: He causes the wrath of men to praise Him.
So, how do you handle persecution? Be submissive, be Spirit filled, boldly use it as an opportunity, be obedient at all costs, bind yourselves together with other believers, and praise the Lord for His purpose and providence in it all.
And then, the final note. Amazing. Pray for greater boldness. Pray for greater boldness. Verse 29. “And now, Lord, take note of their threats,” after all the praise and affirmation, then comes the request. What’s your request? Get us out of this.
No. Here’s their request: “Grant that Your slaves,” your douloi, “may speak Your word with all confidence. Give us greater boldness.” That’s the prayer of a persecuted believer. Give us greater boldness, greater boldness. Amazing. You are despots. You are the absolute ruler. We are douloi. We are slaves. We are committed to whatever Your Word says. We will speak Your Word with all boldness and confidence. And Lord, undergird that speaking. Extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant, Jesus. Undergird our preaching with more miracles, more wonders. Keep it up. And you know that that is what was happening.
If you go back to the end of chapter 2, we know that there were wonders going on. Verse 43. “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” Scripture wasn’t written yet. They needed to be validated. They were validated by the miracles, and so they cry out to God: do more miracles to undergird our preaching. Give us greater boldness, and do more miracles.
Their prayer was answered fast. Verse 31. This is heaven’s response. “When they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the Word of God with boldness.” Verse 32. “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul.” Powerful. Too many to number, now. Bold, fearless, undaunted, confident, courageous, trusting in the purpose of God. They are triumphant.
This is how to face persecution. The church, throughout its history, has demonstrated a similar triumphant character. We rejoice in the faithfulness of the saints because we’re here today because of that faithfulness. Faithful saints preserve the Scripture. Faithful saints preserve the credibility of our Christian faith. Faithful saints wrote the books illuminated by the Holy Spirit that explain the Scripture so that it could come to life through the centuries and be brought down to us. We look backwards and see many faithful persecuted believers, but we need to realize that there are many today living. There will continue to be many more in the future. Maybe some of you, who knows.
I was glancing through a book that just came out in the last couple of days called “The Upper Room,” which gives an account that I wrote of John 13 to 16. I was reminded of a little story I put in there about a young man in our church here who used to like to go down to Los Angeles and tell people the gospel. He was in the middle of Los Angeles, and he was at 7th and Broadway, and he was giving the gospel and passing out gospel tracts and sharing the gospel. And somebody came along and bashed him in the back of the head, fractured his skull, and killed him. Tried to save him by drilling holes in his skull, but they couldn’t. That’s a few years back. That’s how it is for some people right now in our world, and it could be our legacy in the not too distant future. But we can rest on the truth of the testimony of the early church in the fourth chapter of Acts, can’t we? What a great gift this is.
Father, thank You again for Your Word. We always say that, and we always mean that from the bottom of our hearts. Thank You for its glorious insights, revelation, truth. Be with persecuted believers. Use this message wherever it can be a help and encouragement to bring glory and honor to You through the faithfulness of Your persecuted saints, and give us courage and strength when we face the hostility that comes against Your glorious name. We ask these things for the sake of Christ. Amen.
BY JEFFREY P. TOMKINS, PH.D. * | SEPTEMBER 10, 2019
Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world and a top predator on the remote Indonesian islands they inhabit. Their sensory system allows them to detect large prey, such as deer, over seven miles away. Although Komodo dragons are cold-blooded reptiles, they can rapidly increase their metabolism to near-mammalian levels for amazing bursts of speed and even long strenuous runs. Because of their highly venomous bites, all they need is one good chomp on their victim’s leg or foot and the poisoned prey will soon be the lizard’s lunch.
The Komodo dragon’s unusual traits have made scientists eager to sequence its DNA to see what sorts of genes it contains and how it compares to other creatures. This sequencing was discussed in a recent scientific publication.1
When the researchers compared the newly sequenced Komodo dragon genes that were common among reptiles, they found many startling traits specific to the Komodo dragon and many of these genetic novelties were associated with its remarkable mammal-like ability to exhibit high levels of sustained physical activity. Because the gene variations are unique to the Komodo dragon and very different from other reptiles, the genes were deemed to be the result of “positive selection”—a magic evolutionary phrase.2
A creature’s environment has no God-like ability to create new useful genetic information for complex multi-genic traits like those associated with complex metabolic functions. Evolutionists basically substitute the magic words “positive selection” or “natural selection” for something only an omnipotent God can do.
The researchers also used other magic words to explain their non-evolutionary findings as noted in this comment from a press interview in which they stated, “Our analysis showed that in Komodo dragons, many of the genes involved in how cells make and use energy had changed rapidly in ways that increase the lizard’s aerobic capacity.”2 In this case, the term “changed rapidly” means the genes were so different and unique that the idea of random mutational processes combined with the mystical paradigm of nature supposedly “selecting” for them could not account for the great differences observed.
It’s also highly noteworthy that the researchers reported actually throwing out data in their selection analysis where the variation was deemed “unreasonably high.”1 The data was actually manipulated to show less variability and, therefore, more in line with the evolutionary model. The stark reality is that these genes—specific to the Komodo dragon—were engineered to produce their unique God-given traits. No sign of evolution existed in the data even though the researchers cherry-picked it to favor evolution.
The bigger evolutionary (phylogenetic) analysis the researchers did comparing the Komodo dragon DNA to other reptiles, birds, and mammals also made no evolutionary sense—the patterns and groupings were totally different than predicted by standard evolutionary models. By all accounts, the data showed that Komodo dragons were created uniquely with their own specific God-given engineering.
1. Lind, A. L. et al. 2019. Genome of the Komodo dragon reveals adaptations in the cardiovascular and chemosensory systems of monitor lizards. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 3: 1241-1252. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-019-0945-8.
2. Guliuzza, R. 2010. Unmasking Evolution’s Magic Words.Acts & Facts. 39 (3): 10-11.
3. Gladstone Institutes. 2019. Komodo dragon genome reveals clues about its evolution. Phys.org Posted July 29, 2019. Accessed August 15, 2019.
Over the years, I’ve come across many Bible misconceptions. Some of these are due to rampant biblical illiteracy, and others to simple misunderstandings about how the Bible was copied and transmitted over the years. Many Bible misconceptions can be cleared up simply by learning how to interpret the Bible, but some require a more detailed response, especially from the church pulpit.
8 Bible Misconceptions Your Church Can Address
1. “You can’t trust the Bible because it’s been translated so many times.”
This misconception assumes that we don’t have an abundance of manuscript evidence in languages such as Greek and Hebrew supporting the Bible. As a result, it makes the added assumption that the Bible may have started out in some original ancient languages a long time ago, but has since been translated and retranslated over and over again into so many different languages that we can’t trust it anymore.
This is simply not true. We have access to literally thousands of manuscripts and fragments that are used in translating the Bible, not a long chain of degraded translations.
2. “The Bible is full of mistakes and contradictions.”
This misconception is usually just thrown out without any supporting evidence.
Always ask for a specific example when you encounter this misconception. But be prepared, because some people may have specifics or even several examples, and you’ll want to know how to respond.
In reality, though, to say the Bible is full of mistakes and contradictions usually stems from a lack of understanding of the principles of biblical interpretation. Many capable scholars have addressed questions about Bible difficulties.
3. “You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say.”
This only applies if one takes a relaxed view of Scripture, such as a relativistic attitude that rejects that the author had real intent and meaning.
I once heard a seminary professor say that the Golden Rule of interpretation is, “Seek to interpret a text just as you would like others to interpret your words, whether written or spoken.”
4. “The Bible says … ”
This misconception claims the Bible says something specific, when it really doesn’t.
As an example, some will state that the Bible says, “God helps those who helps themselves.” Sorry, that was Ben Franklin, not the Bible. Some will claim the Bible supports the abuse of women, that it encourages slavery or some other major allegation. There’s a long list of things people say the Bible supports when, in reality, it doesn’t.
5. “Power-hungry church councils decided what to include in the Bible.”
The idea is that at some point, usually much later than the time of the New Testament, church councils met and included whatever books and ideas in the Bible would best help consolidate their own power. This is simply false.
Church councils formalized and officially recognized writings that God’s people had already accepted and used as inspired Scripture for hundreds of years, in the case of the New Testament, and thousands of years in the case of the Old Testament. Some of these councils include the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 363); the Council of Hippo (A.D. 393); and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397). Church councils simply acknowledged the Scriptures that were already known and trusted by Christians everywhere.
6. “The New Testament was written hundreds of years after the time of Jesus.”
The implication of this misconception is that so much time passed between the writing of the Bible and the actual events it records that there’s no way it could be accurate. Supposedly, the gap between the reality and the writing allowed ample time for corruption, legends and even myths to develop.
In actuality, the time between the New Testament events and when they were recorded is very short, especially when compared with other ancient documents. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, for instance, within about 25 years of Jesus’ life. That’s not enough time for myth or legend to develop, because eye-witnesses were still living and would have objected to what Paul wrote and the church taught if it was historically inaccurate.
The earliest surviving manuscript fragment of the New Testament, from the Gospel of John, dates to about A.D. 130. That’s very close to when John actually wrote his Gospel, between A.D. 70–100. And although it’s still being verified, New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace reports that a fragment from Mark may very well be dated to the first century, making it an even earlier fragment than the one from John.
7. “The Bible is an old, outdated list of rules that no longer apply.”
While the Bible is old, it is definitely not outdated.
Not only is it filled with practical wisdom, but it lays out God’s plan of redemption for humanity. Its insights are timeless, relevant and useful in everyday life.
A quick reading of Proverbs, for example, will yield much wisdom and timeless advice.
8. “The Bible excluded other, more accurate, manuscripts.”
Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code popularized the idea that there were originally numerous competing “gospels,” and church leaders chose their favorites.
Supposedly, the four Gospels in the New Testament are biased, and in reality there were dozens or maybe even hundreds of other gospels to choose from. You’ll hear about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Barnabas, the Gospel of Philip or even the Gospel of Judas. Occasionally, these “other gospels” get a burst of media attention, as though they somehow seal the doom of the New Testament.
There are three lines of evidence that argue against the reliability of these other “gospels.”
First, the manuscript evidence for them is terrible, especially compared to the manuscript evidence for the New Testament Gospels.
Second, all of these other writings were written down much later than the New Testament.
Third, the ideas they present are often completely foreign to what the New Testament Gospels are about, sometimes offering up advice that is just plain bizarre.
In the case of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, it’s not even in the style of the New Testament Gospels, instead serving as a sort of collection of sayings. Some of the material is orthodox, while other parts are strange and outlandish. For example, in Saying 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, Peter supposedly says, “Women are not worthy of life.” Jesus responds not by clearing up Peter’s mistake, but by saying he, Jesus, will make the woman into a man so she can then enter the kingdom of heaven. That hardly sounds like the gospel we see throughout the rest of Scripture.
When it is rightly understood and wisely interpreted, we can be confident that the Bible is accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
The Bible is uniquely and solely God’s completely trustworthy revelation to us today.
Would it not be great if God would install a mega-sized neon sign in the sky giving us specific instructions on how to live our lives? I know I have wished that I could automatically know what God wants.
Better yet what if God audibly spoke to us from heaven with a specific plan for our lives. Or He could even just mail a to-do list to our home address. But unfortunately, this is just not the way God works.
We all know that we aren’t suppose to murder anyone or rob a bank. But we all struggle with knowing what God wants us to choose as a career or a multitude of other decisions that we all have to make.
Decisions that are not specifically prescribed in detail in the Bible for us personally. So How can we really know What God wants us to do in our life right now?
God may not blast out our instructions from a heaven-sized microphone but He has provided a pathway to knowing the path He has for us. No matter who we are God has provided a bread crumb trail of sorts that will lead us to the treasure of the great plan He has for all of us.
ASK GOD WHAT HE WANTS
Often we do not know where to start. And lucky for you and me, God is way ahead of us. All we have to do is start the conversation and you will be amazed at the ways in which God responds. Through prayer God will open the doors that He wants you and me to go through and close the ones He wants us to stay away from.
Besides if we want to know what someone wants us to do it’s kind of a good idea to ask them. So why would it be any different with the God of the universe? I think that sometimes we want a much more mysterious and complicated procedure than the simple beauty of laying our hearts bare before our savior.
WHAT GOD WANTS AND WHAT YOU WANT
A golf club in Tiger Woods hands is a winning golf game. A golf club in my hands is pretty much just a heavy piece of worthless iron. A basketball in Michael Jordan’s hands is a winning shot. In my hands, it is simply an inflated piece of rubber.
Often we wonder what is God’s will for our life. When God is saying to us simply take a look at the you I have created. God creates within us passions , interests, and jobs that we are very competent at. So when we are considering if something has Gods seal of approval it would do us good to ask one question.
Is this a desire or task that we have a natural affinity to succeed with? If the answer is yes then this can be the first checkpoint on whether we are on the right track.
THE NEIGHBORS SEE WHAT GOD WANTS FOR YOU
After you and I become aware of the areas that God has naturally gifted us in it is vital to pause. There have been many times when I jumped in full force only to discover that I had only listened to part of God’s will. The result of this choice is very similar to the result of eating an uncooked hamburger. It just simply isn’t appetizing. After looking at ourselves, we then run the plan by people of integrity, Godliness, and friends at our church.
Notice what sort of people that I described. We can short circuit God’s will for our lives by getting bad advice from the wrong people. If we listen to a fool we will become a fool. if our idea of what we think God is trying to tell us is in line with ourselves and other wise people it is time to run it through the most important checkpoint.
THE BIBLE REVEALS WHAT GOD WANTS
The final litmus test on whether we are in tune with what God wants us to do is the Bible. We may first look at the desires/talents God has given us. We next get the advice of what the Godly people around us think. But at this point we take our final thought and decision to the foundation of Gods word.
If what we are choosing to do is in line with what God has inspired through holy men in scripture then we know for sure that we are on the right track. But this is not the end of the road. We have to actually follow through with what God has revealed to us. Not doing so is like having a Christmas present under the tree and refusing to open a gift made just for us.
GOD WANTS A FEW FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS
God is a fan of giving us one step at a time. I like quick answers and seeing the reward before I receive the reward of what God has in store. But over the few decades that I have been around, I have discovered as will you that God really does have a great plan in store for each of us.
All we have to do is follow these checkpoints and not jump ship when we feel like we are not getting answers quickly enough. And then one day we will look back from the euphoric mountaintop of God’s fulfilled plan for our lives. Saying wow it was worth it.
So in the meantime let’s all put one foot in front of the other and commit to the next step that God is giving us. Knowing that our day of glory is coming through fully trusting in a Wonderfully good God one step at a time.
Think about the most beautiful places you’ve seen on earth. Maybe you’ve had the opportunity to visit a palm-fringed island in the South Pacific, or ski the Alps of Switzerland, or wander through the stark beauty of the Grand Canyon.
But even the most beautiful things on earth pale to what we’ll experience when we first see Jesus and the beauty of heaven. He’s been preparing heaven for you and me, for all who believe.
Can you imagine how wonderful, how beautiful it’s going to be?
The apostle John described the beauty of heaven in the Book of Revelation, and chapters 21 and 22 provide a virtual tour of the new heaven and the new earth. You might ask whether these scriptures describing streets of gold, gates of pearl, and a crystal sea are literal or figurative.
The answer is yes—they are both.
Every image in Revelation illustrates something even more real than we can know or understand. Heaven is beyond our comprehension and imagining, but it should not be beyond our contemplation.
And that is what John shows us in Revelation 21:1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away, and the sea was no more.”
Of course, some will say, “Well, I like the ocean.” But this description is actually about separation.
John was in exile. He was a prisoner placed among the insane and the criminals on an island separated from the world by the Aegean Sea. He was alone. And when he saw heaven, he saw a place where he’d never be separated again.
In heaven, we will be with other believers and our loved ones in Christ forever and ever. No more sea… no more separation!
Heaven is going to be more wonderful than anything you can imagine on earth. May the expectation of eternity there give you hope and peace in Jesus Christ today!
Toward the end of his life, the apostle Paul foresaw the abandonment of truth, even in the church, and gave his young protégé Timothy this antidote: “Preach the word!” (2 Timothy 4:2). Paul then offered three directives to help us sharpen our spiritual vision and anchor ourselves in God’s Word:
1. Be concerned about knowing the truth. Spiritual blindness is a metaphor for the unwillingness or inability to see spiritual truth. Over time, things we once saw clearly can become hazy, whether that’s because of life experiences or our own sin. This happens easily in a culture in crisis, where the cynical regularly question truth, as Pilate did (see John 18:38). Lines can become blurred in the church, too. That’s not a new development; Satan has always used non-truth as a tactic (see Genesis 3:1).
But we sharpen our spiritual vision when we concern ourselves with knowing spiritual truth. Paul mentioned truth eleven times throughout 1 and 2 Timothy. In 2 Timothy 4 alone, he talked about “the word” (v. 2), “teaching” (v. 2), “sound doctrine” (v. 3), and “the truth” (v. 4). Truth is tied to doctrine, which in its simplest form means strong biblical teaching. Christians are to be people of the truth, because Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6). That means we are accountable for our knowledge of biblical truth (see Hosea 4:6; Acts 2:42; 1 Timothy 4:13; Titus 2:1).
2. Be cautious about neglecting the truth. Our culture has largely rejected truth, mainly because sensationalism has become more important than facts and truth is considered personal, which means it can shift depending on the situation. But think about it: if someone says, “There is no absolute truth,” they are making an absolute statement, which is a self-contradictory and self-defeating declaration.
Now, we might expect that sort of thinking from our culture, but keep in mind that Paul wrote 2 Timothy as a warning not for unbelievers but for believers who were turning from the truth. Christianity is always one generation from extinction. It starts in the pulpit when pastors who don’t believe the Bible is the literal Word of God don’t preach the full truth of it. This problem leads to “itching ears” (v. 3), as preachers feed the desire for novelty over a need for truth. God’s people starve when pastors pander to what people want to hear rather than what they need to hear.
3. Be careful about nurturing the truth. Paul warned Timothy, “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (v. 5). Paul was calling Timothy to hold to truth and sound doctrine, feeding on it for himself and then sharing it. The Greek word for sound is related to our word hygienic; in other words, preaching good, true doctrine promotes healing and health.
And preaching carries the idea of an imperial messenger making a proclamation with authority. Timothy’s mission was to preach the truth of the true King—Jesus. As Christians, this is our calling, too: to believe the truth, love the truth, speak the truth, teach the truth, and live the truth, always pointing others to the one true King.
“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Scripture needn’t be lengthy to be powerful, and here in Job’s three-fold declaration is inspired proof.
He knows. What does God know? He knows the beginning from the end and everything in-between (Isaiah 46:10). From first breath to dying day, He knows the storms that buffet and situations that vex. He knows how frail we are (Genesis 3:19) and moves in our lives accordingly. God’s knowledge is intimate and exhaustive (Psalm 139), and He wisely chooses our paths.
He tests. We naturally shy away from discomfort, which leads me to believe that not many Christians venture to pray, “Dear Lord, please test me.” But if we pondered the potential in testing, and trusted the motivation behind it, perhaps we would.
I shall. When testing does come and things are dark, there is a flame of biblical truth to light our way – God’s testing is never for naught. Trials work for us, not against us, and when handled rightly, the outcome is as pure gold. Such knowledge opens wide a sanctuary of courage and strength to every saint.
Believer, live boldly! Our confidence in every challenge circles back to and rests upon the assurance that He, God Almighty, knows.
– Pastor Jack
What We Know For Sure
Today’s message from Ezekiel 38, delivers the promise of things to come, with great confidence and peace to the followers of Jesus. The overwhelming indicators in our current global news of the return of Jesus Christ, our blessed Hope. Get ready. Be prepared.