This World is Not my Home

“O Paradise! O Paradise! I greatly long to see, the special place my dearest Lord in love prepared for me.”  Frederick W. Faber.

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell

The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

The Holy catholic Church;

The communion of saints;

The forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body;

And the life everlasting.

 “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”  2 Corinthians 5:1

 When I was a little girl, I heard a minister preach about eternity – and it terrified me.  I remember laying in my bed, trying to wrap my childish mind around the concept of eternity – of something that would never end.  My heart began to race with panic, and I cried myself to sleep that night.  I am far removed from that little girl, and God has graciously taught me many wonderful truths from His Word.  I still cannot wrap my gray-haired mind around the concept of eternity – but I am no longer afraid.

In this final phrase of The Apostles’ Creed, we are going to see what God’s Word has to tell us about heaven and about everlasting life.

Psalm 103:19 tells us the significance of this place called heaven. “The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.”  Heaven is the dwelling place of God, the place where He rules over all of His creation.  Heaven is so much more that the image that we have drawn in our minds.  Heaven is not sitting around on fluffy clouds, strumming harps, bored out of our minds.  It is a place of wonder and amazement, everything will be glorified because of the awesome presence of God. The colors of heaven will be more brilliant that anything we have seen on earth.  Plants more beautiful, food more flavorful, music more glorious (the angels will be singing after all).

Revelation gives us the most description of heaven.  In Revelation 3:12 Jesus speaks of the city of God, “the New Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from God.”  In this New Jerusalem we will drink “from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6). The Holy City will shine “with the glory of God,” with the “brilliance of a very precious jewel” (Rev. 21:11) Try to picture with me the descriptions in Revelation 21 and 22:  The city is made of pure gold  (the purest gold on earth is 24K, but the gold of heaven is “as pure as glass’) with walls of jasper, the foundations are twelve precious stones, the gates of the city are made of giant single pearls  The gold that our world revolves around – that’s just pavement in heaven, where the streets are made of pure, transparent gold.  There is no sun or moon, “for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”  The city’s water source flows from the throne of God, as clear as crystal.  And the tree of life will be a source of nourishment, healing and life to all.

But here is the most beautiful sight of all: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him.  They will see His face…” (Rev. 22:3-4, emphasis added).  We will see the face of God, the face of our Savior!  As a writer, here I fall silent.  What words could I offer to describe the glory of beholding the face of Jesus?

And we will have to privilege of looking into His face – forever.  For we will have life everlasting!  As hard as it is to comprehend, it is one of the foundations of our faith – eternal, everlasting life.

Life everlasting is the promise that has kept the heart of the Christian faith beating steadily through trial, persecution, and oppression.  It has been the song on the lips of the martyrs down through history.  Life everlasting is not just about existence that never ends.  It is about LIFE that never ends.  It is about our heavenly home and the uninterrupted presence of God.  It was purchased for us by the blood of Jesus, and secured at His resurrection, and when you accepted Christ, He “put His Spirit in [your} heart as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:22).

What are some of these “everlasting blessings?”  Glad you asked!  How about everlasting love (Ps. 103:17); everlasting righteousness (Ps. 119:142); an everlasting kingdom (Ps. 145:113); everlasting joy (Is. 35:10); everlasting salvation (Is. 47:17); everlasting kindness (Is. 54:8); everlasting light (Is 60:19 & 20); an everlasting name (Is. 56:5); and an everlasting Father (Is 9:6)?  Do you see now, why eternity doesn’t frighten me anymore?  It will be an everlasting paradise (Rev. 2:7)!

Holy Father, Sometimes life is so hard here, and I cannot find a reason to carry on.  Fill my heart with this hope and assurance: this world is not my home, my “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).  Someday, I’m going home to walk on streets of gold!  Amen.

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A Perfect Body at Last! (Part 10 in the Apostle’s Creed)

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  1 Peter 1:3

 THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell

The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

The Holy catholic Church;

The communion of saints;

The forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body;

Continuing to focus on the Apostle’s Creed, we come to “the resurrection of the body.”  This was a “hot potato” even in Jesus’ day – as one faction of the religious leaders, the Sadducees, did not believe in the resurrection, while the Pharisees did.  The debates over this subject still divide people, but the Scripture is very clear, and that is where we will be focusing in this devotional.

Before His own resurrection, there are three separate accounts in the Scriptures of Jesus’ raising people from the dead:  the widow’s son in Nain (Luke 7:11-17; Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; and Lazarus (John 11:1-45).  But these all still eventually died, theirs was not an eternal life.

It was only at the resurrection of Jesus that a bodily resurrection unto eternal life became a reality for believers.  So critical to the Christian faith, the writers of all four gospels, under the divine leading of the Holy Spirit, were inspired to record Christ’s resurrection.  (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16; Luke 24; and John 20.) Jesus’ resurrection lead the way for all who will follow Him into eternal life. Paul said, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).  This was His promise in John 11:25-26 as He spoke to Martha – “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”

Jesus proved His bodily resurrection to His disciples in Luke 24: 37-43, when He told them “Look at my hands and my feet.  It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (v. 39).  He even ate before them, as further evidence that death has no hold on the Author of life.

Jesus declared that ours will be a bodily resurrection, just as His was.   The most important Scriptural evidence came when He addressed the Sadducees in Matthew 22, He said “But about the resurrection of the dead – have you know read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (vs. 31-32).  Dr. R. C. Sproul says “Our Lord’s argument seems to be based partly on the use of the present tense; God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ not ‘I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’”[i]  He is the God of life, and will raise to life all who believe in Him.

Philippians 3:21 is another confirmation of the resurrection of the body: “Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”  In this body we will enjoy everlasting, or eternal life, as Jesus Himself promised: “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life” (John 6:47).

Paul gives us an excellent source of information for the resurrection of the body in 1 Corinthians 15: 35-57.   He says that we will have imperishable, glorious bodies, raised in power and in the Spirit (v. 42-44); we will “bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (v. 49); we “will be raised imperishable and immortal” (v. 53).

John writes “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life” (1 John 5:11-12).

What does this all mean to you and me?   No more death, no more tears, no more crying or mourning or pain.  The Lord said, “I am making everything new” (Rev. 21:4-5).  That includes you and me and every person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, the salvation of all mankind. He will bring us, with transformed bodies, into everlasting life.  That is the greatest news the world has ever known.

Lord Jesus, when I think of the resurrection of the body, I always think that I will have hands, to hold the hand of my Savior; arms to throw around You in a loving embrace, and lips to sing Your wonderful praises with the angels of heaven.  Oh what glory that will be!  Amen.


 

[i] Sproul, R. C. “Tabletalk Devotional with RC Sproul.” Bible Gateway. September 24, 2013. http://www.biblegateway.com/devotionals/tabletalk/2013/09/24 (accessed September 24, 2013).

 

Please Forgive Me (Part 9 in the Apostle’s Creed series)

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”  Luke 23:34

 

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell, The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand

of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; The Holy catholic Church;

The communion of saints; The forgiveness of sins;

 

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.  I am grateful to the depth of my soul for the forgiveness of my sins.  Let’s take a closer look at this part of the Apostle’s Creed.

Why do we need forgiveness?  Because we are creatures given to sin.  The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, committed what is known as the “original sin,” and mankind has born the burden of that sin ever since.  But surely, we don’t consider ourselves as “sinful.”  We are making “life-style choices,” living as the “free people” we are.  This is a new age, and the concept of “sin” is terribly outdated.  Our society has tried to deny the truth of sin, to call it less than what it is- a personal offense against God’s holiness.  It is the true story of the history of man.  Paul expressed it like this: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23). The penalty of sin?  “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

Well sure, we are all going to die, right?  But this is an eternal death that is best described in Revelation 21:8: “The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murder, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This will be the second death.” I tried to find a nicer way to say it, but the Bible is very clear about the result of man’s sin.  If I water it down, I am not being faithful to the Word of God.  It’s not popular or “politically correct,” but hear Paul’s words: “For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:8).

I hear you saying, “This is so depressing, I thought this was going to be about forgiveness.”  And it is, but we cannot understand and appreciate forgiveness until we understand the truth about sin.  When we are faced with the darkness of our sin, the glory of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ shines like stars in the night sky.

Paul recognized the blackness of his sin in Romans 7:24 when he cried out: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death?” It is a question that has only one answer, and Paul followed his lament with a blessed proclamation: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

Jesus Christ is the answer to man’s sin problem.  He gave His perfect life as the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin.  He bought our forgiveness with His blood.  There was nothing you or I could do to gain forgiveness. Jesus did everything necessary for us to be forgiven and made right with God.  Romans 4:25 says “He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  To be justified means that we are declared innocent in God’s sight – “Just-if-I’d never sinned”  Paul goes on with this thought in Romans 5:9 – “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!”   Do you see now why we needed a Savior? Forgiveness is possible only through Jesus Christ.

If Jesus did it all, what, then, is our part?  Peter tells us the most precious truth you and I will ever hear, “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” (Acts 10:43).  Simply believe.   Believe that you are a sinner, helpless against God’s wrath.  Believe that Jesus Christ paid your sin-debt and His sacrifice on the cross is all you need to be forgiven and made right with God.  1 John 1:9 makes this promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Sweet, glorious forgiveness from the merciful and loving heart of God, made possible by the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ.  It can be yours right now, by praying this simple prayer:

God, I know that I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself.  Thank you for sending Jesus to take away all my sins. I accept Your gift of forgiveness today.  Thank you for giving me a new life in Christ.  Amen.

Unity (Part 9 in The Apostles’ Creed Series)

“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me.” John 17:23

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell. The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; The Holy catholic Church;

The communion of saints;

In this post we look into the Apostle’s Creed and consider the “communion of saints.”  We must first establish what we mean by “communion.”  Many have considered this to be the act of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, as it is indeed one of the Holy Sacraments of the church.  Jesus Christ established this Sacrament during the Last Supper, just prior to His death.  He commanded the taking of wine (or juice as modern churches do) to remind us of His blood that was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.  The breaking of the bread is also a reminder of the cruel breaking of our Savior’s body as He bled and died for you and me.  The observance of this Remembrance is a sacred privilege, and one that we should follow with solemnness and gratitude.

But in the context of the Apostle’s Creed, the “communion of saints” is speaking about the fellowship we share as the Body of Christ, and the unity that Jesus prayed we might have.  John 17 is the recording of Jesus’ prayer just prior to His arrest and the countdown to His death, in this passage Jesus prays for Himself as He faces the cross and for His disciples who will both endure much persecution and carry the Gospel of Christ to the world. And He also prays for “those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20-26).  Friend, that is you and me.  Jesus’ prayer is for a very specific thing: Unity.   He prays “that all of them may be one” (v. 21), and that our oneness will be a reflection of the oneness that he enjoys with the Father.  Why is this oneness, or unity so important?  Look at His words in verse 23: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me.”  Couple that with His words in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you much love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Emphasis added)

Jesus is expressing what should be the character of the church: mutual love and unity – for only these will reveal to the world that Jesus is our Lord.

A lot is being said these days about “unity.”  We are told we must be in harmony with one another, all in agreement over the issues we face.  We lock arms and sing songs of unity, hold rallies and offer compromises – all in the name of “unity.” And unity is a wonderful concept, but as long as there is both chocolate and vanilla ice cream, we will always have differences of opinion.

Jesus’ desire was that we would be in harmony and agreement with one another. He said the world will believe in Him because His followers are united. So then, should we be in unity in humanitarian relief?  These good works are going on all around the world, in the poorest places, but they are not always done in the name of Jesus. Are we to be united around social causes?  Not as long as we so strongly disagree on the issues of the day.  The deep schisms between people who call themselves Christians does more harm to the name of Christ that it does any good.

The original Greek word for unity means to be one, single, alike, the same. I don’t see a lot of this kind of unity in the Christian community.  We are so fractured and fragmented over our issues, interpretations, worship styles and what is right or wrong.

The question comes then, what is to be the unifying focus of those who call themselves “children of God.”

The answer is found in the words of the Old Testament prophet, “I will give them singleness of heart…so that they will always fear me.” (Jeremiah 32:39) The one unifying focus for all Christians is awe and reverence – fear – of the Lord.

When God’s people walked in reverence, they were united under His banner.  (Exodus 17:15) No enemy could defeat them.  No challenge threatened them.  And all the nations around them knew “the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:11)  That is what we are to be about; making the most of God, so the world will know and believe.

And that is why Satan, the enemy of God and of God’s people, keeps the focus on the issues that divide us.  When we are in disagreement about those minor issues, we take the focus off the greatness of God, and all the world sees is our squabbling.   Let’s drop our petty weapons of preference and join our hands in nothing less than honoring God before the world.  All the other things will disappear in the brilliance of His glory.

Holy Father, we want to tell the world that You are God, that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and that there is hope for everlasting life – but Father, we cannot even agree on the color of the carpet in our sanctuaries.  Lord, please take the blinders off our eyes and let us see that the only thing that truly matters is You.  Then, and only then, will the world know and believe.  Amen

The Body and The Bride (Part 8 in the Apostles’ Creed)

 

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven,

and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; The Holy catholic Church;

“God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” 

Ephesians 1:22

In the beautiful text of the Apostles’ Creed we come to the church; not a clapboard steeple, new multi-purpose building, or a towering cathedral.  We are talking about the living, breathing Body of Christ Jesus our Lord.  We do not actually go to church.  We are the church. If you are Christian – a follower of Christ – then you and I together make up the “holy catholic Church.”

In the original Greek language, “holy” means that which has been consecrated, or set apart, and declared acceptable to God.  Look around you on Sunday morning.  These are holy people.  Not because they wear the right clothes or say the right things, not even because they serve or usher to teach or sing.  They are holy because as Hebrews 13:12 says, “Jesus… [made] the people holy through His own blood.” His blood alone has the cleansing power that makes us acceptable to God – that makes us holy.  A congregation of people who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ makes up a holy church.

And why are we claiming to believe in the Roman Catholic Church when we are not Catholics?  This is not speaking of denomination, but of universality.  The “catholic” church is the universal church – the world-wide body of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Believers in Florida, believers in China, believers in Australia, believers in North Dakota, and believers in Haiti – all make up the universal catholic Church.

We have already established that the church is not the buildings, but the people.  The church is defined in two distinct ways: as the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ.  The church is the Body of Christ in the world today.  As Jesus walked on earth, He reached out His hands to bless and heal.  Now He reaches out to the world through the hands of His church.  In His words to the disciples Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:11).  How is that possible?  Jesus could only be in one place at a time, but when He returned to His Father in heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to fill every believer and to enable us to do as He did.  Now, with Spirit-filled believers scattered all around the globe, the work of Jesus is multiplied thousands of times over.

When we say that the church is the Bride of Christ, we can look to a couple of specific Scriptures for support.  Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Paul’s promise still stands as we wait for that glorious day when our bridegroom will come and take us home.  A little Bible lesson here may help.  In John 14:2-3, Jesus tells his disciples that He is going back to the Father to prepare a place for them, that they may be with Him.  The disciples would have understood that Jesus was referring to the Jewish traditions for betrothal and marriage.  The prospective groom’s father would approach the father of a young woman and make the arrangements for their children to be married.  The groom would then return home and begin building an addition onto his father’s home for him and his bride.  Meanwhile, the bride is busy with her own preparations, making her bridal clothes and other necessary things for setting up her own home.  Only when the groom’s father was satisfied with the finished work would he allow his son to go get his bride.  The groom and his friends would make a noisy party through the streets as they went to the home of the bride.  She had no advance warning, so she had to be ready at all times to be swept away to her own wedding and her new home.  This is the picture behind Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.”  Do you see the beauty in the church being called the Bride of Christ?  He has gone to prepare a place for His bride, and when His Father deems the home ready, Jesus will come back for His beloved and we will be whisked away to heaven.

The church is to be making preparations for that glorious day when the bride comes face-to-face with her adoring Bridegroom.  Listen to John’s description of her: “[She] shone with the glory of God, and [her] brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel.” (Revelation 21:11) Oh, how we need to be ready for the Bridegroom’s return!

Jesus loves the church, because she is his hands and feet in this world, and because she is the bride that He longs to bring home.  You and I are the church.  We are the Body and the Bride.  If the church is to be ready for her glorious wedding day – it is up to you and me.  Are you anticipating the return of your Bridegroom?

Father in heaven, as my Jesus prepares a place for His bride, help me to work with a heart full of love, and my eyes on the skies, watching for His return.  Amen.

The Holy Spirit (part 7 of The Apostles’ Creed)

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell; The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

 

“For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him?  In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”  1 Corinthians 2:11

The greatest life pursuit of the Christian is to know God.  To know God, we must have the Holy Spirit.  To have the Holy Spirit we must know Jesus Christ.  Here you have the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, uniquely three in one.  It is one of the great mysteries of the faith, pondered by great minds for thousands of years. No one has been able to fully explain this Holy Oneness.  I am no great theological scholar – I simply take the Trinity on faith.

First let’s establish that the Holy Spirit is a person – not an “it,” and He is equal in power, sovereignty, divinity and all other attributes of God the Father and God the Son.  We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as a New Testament entity, but the Bible tells us that the He was an active participant in the Creation.  Genesis 1:2 says “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (emphasis added). The Holy Spirit was the power that generated all creation into being.

The Holy Spirit is seen in the Old Testament imparting power, strength and wisdom to men and women used by God to accomplish His sovereign purposes.  However in that time, the Spirit’s activity within man was only for the task, leaving man when God’s work was fulfilled.  Today, since Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12), the Holy Spirit dwells within men and women who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, not coming and going as before, but literally “taking up residence” in the heart of the believer.  Perhaps that should serve to remind us that the work of God is on-going, and we should always be about the Father’s business.

What effect does the Holy Spirit have on the believer?  Let’s see what Scripture tells us.

  • The Holy Spirit enables us to know the truth about God.  Jesus said in John’s gospel, “The world cannot accept Him [the Spirit of Truth], because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17) Jesus said we cannot accept Truth without His Holy Spirit.  1 John 5:6 says, “It is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.”  The Holy Spirit opens our hearts and minds to the truth and enables us to receive and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the only way to salvation and eternal life with the Father.
  • The Holy Spirit enables us to do the good works of God.  “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord works all of them in all men.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7) The Holy Spirit gives gifts to believers, then equips us to use those gifts for the good of the Church and for the Glory of God.  The good works we do for God are initiated by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, and brought to completion by the Spirit.  God gives us the awesome privilege of being His physical hands, feet, arms and lips in this world, but it is the Spirit who does the work.
  • The Holy Spirit is the evidence that we belong to Christ.  Romans 8:9 says: “You, however are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”  The Apostle John declared, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” (1 John 4:2, 15). The Spirit enables, even urges us, to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  The Holy Spirit also produces fruit in our lives that is further evidence that we belong to Christ.  Galatians 5: 22-23 describes those fruits as: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  These fruits reflect the character of God and are only possible when we are surrendered to Christ and filled with His Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit is our Teacher, as Jesus said in John’s gospel:  “These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)  “When He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all true.” (John 16:13) This is a fulfillment of God’s incredible promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And  I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees.”

There is so much more that we can say about the Holy Spirit:

  • He prays for us when we cannot pray for ourselves: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,” (Romans 8:26)
  •  He brings conviction of sin: “He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment,” (John 16:8)
  • The  Spirit reveals the thoughts and plans of the Father: “He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come  He will bring glory to me by taking form what is mine and making it known to you,” (John 16:13-14). “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God…no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God…we have received the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand…” (1 Corinthians 2:10, 11, 12).

As you see, the Holy Spirit is vital for the Christian.  He equips, empowers and enables us to do all that God desires to accomplish through us. Though we cannot fully comprehend the concept of the Trinity, we are blessed to be loved by the Father, saved through the Son, and filled with the Spirit.

 

Holy God, You are so much bigger than I can comprehend.  Please fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may be a vessel fit and ready to do Your will. Amen

The King is Coming!

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell

The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

 

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”               Acts 1:11

From heaven to earth, to death, life and back to heaven; we have looked at Jesus, God’s Son.  We have one last perspective from which to consider Him, that of the returning King.  Have no doubt: Jesus will come again!  The prophets of old foretold it, Jesus Himself proclaimed it and generations of God’s people have kept their eye on the eastern sky, watching for His glorious return.

In the days following Christ ascension to heaven, the Holy Spirit came and anointed Jesus’ followers, filling them with extraordinary power and boldness to proclaim the Gospel.  And proclaim it they did!  Acts 2:41 says “About three thousand were added to their number that day,” and verse 47 says “The Lord added to their number daily.”  As the number of believers grew, both the Roman government and the Jews began to see these Christians as threats to their positions, and so began the great persecution.  Christians were being oppressed, tormented, tortured and put to death.  They began to run for their lives, and, providentially, spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they traveled.  No matter where they went, persecution, oppression and hatred followed at their heels.  Jesus sought out great men of the Christian faith to encourage His followers, men like Peter, James and the writer of much of our Christian Doctrine – Paul.  Oddly, Paul, at one time vehemently hated the Christians, but an encounter with Christ changed his life and his mission, now he was the Lord’s “chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15).

In his first letter to the church he established in Thessalonica, Paul wrote extensively about the second coming of Jesus Christ.  Listen to the passion in his words as he wrote: “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This was great news to the weary and oppressed Christians – and it is good news for you and me.  We may not have enemies literally chasing us from our homes and threatening our lives – though in many non-Christian nations, this is a real threat – but we do have an enemy who is harassing and threatening us, oppressing us and condemning us.  Satan is as real an enemy to you and me as the Romans and Jews were to the early Christians.  The day is very likely coming soon when government and societal oppression and persecution will be a real-life threat for Christians in this nation.

How will we persevere?  The same way they did.  By reminding ourselves of Christ’s promised return.  Paul closed his commentary about the Lord’s coming by saying, “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thess. 1:18) Jesus has promised to come again, to raise the dead in Christ to life and to call the living to Himself.   He will bring judgment against those who have oppressed and persecuted His people.  He will bestow His glory on those who received Him as Lord and Savior.  This is what Paul meant when he said, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).  

When Jesus came in His first Advent, He came as a helpless baby, lived as a humble servant, and died as the suffering Savior.  But when He returns He will come with power and authority, and there will be no doubt that Jesus Christ is LORD.

Hear the words of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah – “The day of the Lord is coming… On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west.  The Lord will be king over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name” (Zech. 14:1, 4, 9-emphasis mine).

Hear the glorious words of Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (emphasis mine). This is the hope of the early Christian, and this is our hope today. 

Oh I pray that you know Him as your Lord and Savior.  I pray that the promise of His return fills you with hope and joy and the strength to persevere in this life.  I pray that when the King of kings and Lord of lords returns in all of His great glory, that you will join me in proclaiming,

“My King has come! Oh, praise the name of Jesus! My King is here!”

God of my heart, You have promised to return for me, and Your word is as sure as Your name.  Be my hope and my vision as I wait for that glorious day!  Amen

At God’s Right Hand (Part 5 of the Apostles’ Creed)

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell

The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From the Apostles’ Creed

“The Lord said to my Lord; ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”  Acts 2:34

Through the Apostles’ Creed, we have considered God, who is the Creator of heaven and earth, and we have seen Jesus Christ, the Son of God; from birth, suffering, death and resurrection.  What happened after Jesus’ resurrection?  Where is Jesus now and what is He doing?  And why does this matter to my faith?  As always, we look to the Word of God to answer these questions.

The Gospel writer, Luke, tells us of Jesus being taken into heaven in front of the very eyes of those that walked with Him and would passionately carry His story into faraway lands.  He writes, “While [Jesus] was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Luke 24:51)  Luke continues this testimony in Acts 1:9 when he says, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.” In another Gospel account, Mark writes, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19) So how can we know that He truly is there?  We have the testimony of Saul (who became Paul) who heard a voice from heaven clearly identify Himself as “Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5) We also have the account of Stephen, one of the newly appointed disciples, who gave an eyewitness report from the site of His own death by stoning.  Take in the beauty of his words; “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  ‘Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” (Acts 7:55-56) As he drew his final breaths, Stephen was given a glimpse of His Savior in heaven, at the right hand of His Father.  This was not the ramblings of a delirious man, but a bold declaration made under the power of the Holy Spirit.  Ever the faithful witness, Stephen proclaimed aloud the majesty of what he saw.  The writer of Hebrews confirms his vision in Hebrews 8:1 which says, “We have a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” As an interesting aside, note that Jesus is “standing at the right hand of God.”  in Stephen’s testimony.  Why standing? Look at Acts 8: 59: “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Though Scripture does not give us details, I believe Jesus stood to receive Stephen into glory, to embrace this servant who died declaring the truth of the Gospel, and to welcome him home.

Is Jesus just sitting around on His throne waiting for us to die?  Not at all.  Romans 8:34 tells us that “Jesus is at the right hand of God, interceding for us.”  Looking at the root definitions for the word “interceding,” we understand that Jesus is with the Father, and “reminding” Him (as if God could forget) that we have taken part in His death through our faith, and that He, Jesus, has provided the perfect sacrifice for all of our sins.  Jesus reminded the Father that your angry outburst yesterday has been covered by His blood and sacrifice.  He interceded for you when you let your mind wander into sinful thoughts and for me when jealous envy overtook my heart when I saw my co-worker’s new car.  He died to provide atonement for every sin you and I have committed and will commit before our lives are done.  He lives now to intercede for us, pouring His precious blood over every stain that our sin creates.

Jesus is also at work, preparing a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  He made this promise in John 14:2-3: “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  Jesus is fixing up your room in His Father’s house.  Just the right colors and furnishings, everything will be perfect for you when you arrive.  Do you suppose His portrait will be hanging on the wall?  No, for we will not need pictures, we will see Him face to face, in all of His glory.  Imagine, all of the great men and women of the Bible, the martyrs, missionaries, servants, those who preached to great audiences of people, and those who lovingly wiped feverish brows in the name of Jesus all together in the great halls of God’s house.  And oh, what wonderful reunions with those who made it home before us!  My mom will be there, and dear and precious friends that I miss so much.  We will all share in the joy of God’s house, for Jesus has been working all this time to make everything ready.  No wonder He “apprenticed” as a carpenter for thirty years here on earth.

Faith in Jesus Christ is incomplete unless we know and believe that He waits for us in heaven, sitting at the right hand of our Father, interceding on our behalf.  Faith must believe that Jesus is preparing our eternal home, and He will stand to receive us when we come to this life’s end.  Is your faith in this life alone, or is it a faith that will carry you into eternity?

Eternal Savior, I am in awe of You.  You gave your life to ransom me from death, and You live in eternity waiting for me to come home.  I will see you face to face – Oh what a glorious day that will be!  Amen.

From Hell to Heaven

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell

The third day He rose from the dead;

From “The Apostles’ Creed”

 “Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Romans 8:34

We are continuing our walk through The Apostles’ Creed, as we search the Scriptures for the evidences and foundations for our faith.  Our journey finds us in a place of terror – hell – a concept that has been argued for and against for hundreds of years.  Even some Christians contend that the Bible doesn’t really support the theory of hell, citing terminology and translations they claim have turned hell into something it is not.  But Jesus was very clear on the subject, teaching about this place of torment and “darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)  As much as we don’t want to confront it, hell is the place for Satan and His demons – and it is the place reserved for those who reject Jesus Christ as their Savior.  God does not condemn anyone to hell, but by choosing to disregard God’s perfect sacrifice on our behalf, unbelievers condemn themselves.  Good as they may be, without Jesus Christ, they are cast into hell by their own pride.  Man rejects the truth of hell because hell denotes punishment, punishment denotes sin, and sin denotes the truth of “right and wrong.”  Sin is the symptom of a greater problem, that of denying the authority of Holy God to set standards of right and wrong.  . Hell is a very real place, as is heaven; one is reserved for those who accept Christ and the other for those who reject Him.  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”(John 3:36)

Of all the foundations of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is likely the most important, for it undeniably reveals Him as God.  He performed great miracles throughout His earthly life, healing the sick, casting out demons, feeding the multitudes and even raising the dead back to life, but it is His resurrection that becomes the irrefutable evidence of His Deity.  Great men of the faith have done great things in God’s name, but they have died, and did not see the light of life again.  Even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from death to life eventually died his final death.  But Jesus – Jesus rose from death to life and ascended from earthly life to heavenly life everlasting.  Death could not hold on to Him because He was and is eternal.

In His bold address to the Jews, Peter said simply “God raised Him [Jesus] from the dead…because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.” (Acts 2:24)  It was not a rumor nor an exaggeration, for Peter followed by saying, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (v. 32) Paul confirmed Peter’s words in Acts 13:30-31 when he proclaimed, “God raised Him [Jesus] from the dead, and for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him,”   Luke, the writer of Acts wrote, “After His suffering, He showed Himself to [His apostles] and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive.   He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) Paul adds yet another proof in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 (sel.) “He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time.  Then He appeared to James…and last of all He appeared to me also.”

Paul calls the Doctrine of the Resurrection “as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  It is of first importance because without Jesus’ resurrection, He is just another dead religious teacher.   And a dead man cannot save anyone.  Paul said “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) Jesus Christ had to die – there is no other way for you and me to be forgiven and cleansed from our sins.  Christ had to be resurrected – there was no other way for you and me to obtain eternal life.

The Apostle Peter gives us the blessed benediction to our look at the Doctrines of Hell and The Resurrection:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

 In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and  into an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.

1 Peter 1:3-4

 Merciful Father, by Your great love and power, You have opened the way for us to turn from death to life and from hell to heaven.  We give you thanks and praise Your name for Your tender mercies.  Amen.

The Suffering Savior (part 3 of the Apostles’ Creed)

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

From The Apostles’ Creed

 

“Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.”  Hebrews 13:12

We continue our study of The Apostles’ Creed, based on the foundational truths of the Christian Faith, by looking at the next portion which deals with the sufferings of Jesus Christ.  As difficult as it may be to consider; without the suffering Savior, we have no salvation.  Without the death of Jesus, we would still be dead in our sins.  Before we can know eternal life, we have to know the death of Christ – a death He suffered willingly for you and me.

To understand the significance of Jesus’ death, we must know a little about the Old Testament system of animal sacrifice.  From the earliest days of creation, a sacrifice was necessary to cover man’s sin.  The first such sacrifice occurred in the Garden, when “the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife Eve.” (Genesis 3:21)  The first animal sacrifice was performed to cover, not the naked bodies of Adam and Eve, but the shame of their sin. As the nation of Israel formed, God gave the people a complicated system of animal sacrifices that had to be performed to cleanse them from their sin.  Yes, it is horrible, but it was intended to be an unpleasant and sobering reality – that sin is offensive to Holy God.  In the giving of the Law, the Lord said: “The life of a creature is in the blood…it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11) Hebrews 9:22 says “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” A study of the Old Testament sacrificial system will show that these sacrifices were meant to point the way to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor over the province of Judea and was well known for his cruelty, for taking bribes and for antagonizing the Jews.  The gospel writers point out that Pilate wanted to release Jesus, finding no basis for a charge against Him (Luke 23:20, John 19:12).  However, Mark 15:15 revels his true character, “wanting to satisfy the crowd,” Pilate turned Jesus over to the Jewish rulers, with his authorization to crucify the innocent man.  Under his approval, Jesus was subjected to humiliation and insults, and was physically persecuted prior to His crucifixion.

Jesus was first scourged.  Stripped, with His hands tied to a post above His head, the flagellum (a whip with small balls of lead attached to heavy, leather thongs) was brought down, digging deep into the flesh and underlying muscles.  The floggings stopped just short of the relief of death.  Following this, the soldiers crafted a “crown” of vines with sharp, viscous thorns which they pressed deep into Jesus’ skull and put a robe around Him, pressing it into the torn, ragged flesh of His back.  They mocked, and beat Him, then ripped the robe away from His back, tearing the wounds open again with excruciating agony.

Being led away to the place of His crucifixion, Jesus stumbled under the weight of the heavy, wooden cross.  At the site, Jesus was forced to the ground, laid on His raw and bloody back and His arms were secured to the crosspiece, with huge spikes, approximately 4-6 inches long.  These spikes were driven between the bones in His wrist, and then He was lifted up onto the main beam, where the crosspiece is secured and more nails were driven into His feet.  Most crucified victims died from asphyxia, as their weakened legs could no longer push up against their feet to draw breath.  Jesus, however, did not suffocate, but “called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit!’  When He had said this, He breathed His last.”(Luke 23:46)  One of His followers, Joseph of Arimathea, emerged from the shadows of His secret discipleship, claimed the body of Jesus, and lovingly wrapped and placed His body in a tomb.

Why would Jesus suffer so great a death when He was an innocent man?  Love.  I’ve heard it said that “It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the cross, it was love.”  I believe that is true. Jesus’ love was so great it led Him to give His life to save yours and mine.  His life was not taken, it was willingly given.  It was a sacrifice of suffering that He endured because He knew that without His death, we could not have life.  Only the blood of Jesus the perfect Lamb of God could forever cleanse us from our sin. 1 Peter 4:8 tells us that “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  The love of Christ compelled Him to shed His blood to cover over the multitude of your sins and mine.

Holy Savior, “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?”*  How I praise You for your sacrifice of love. Amen.

* At­trib­ut­ed to Al­ex­an­der Means