The Promiser of the Promises

Introduction

            I was captured by God as a young believer in Jesus.  I know what it is to be powerfully rescued out of the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus (Col 1:13-14).  The experience of my sins being forgiven was overwhelming.  My encounter with the Saviour was completely life-changing.  I had no religious upbringing so everything I learned was like smelling fresh bread every morning.  I breathed deeply of God’s love. 

            I fell in love with Jesus and was taught early on about salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:4-10).  This salvation experience was followed by life-long-learning of how to consecrate my life and become like Jesus and ready for his Second Coming.  This is easily compared to God delivering the children of Israel out of Egypt and to bring them into the Promised Land; this is an Old Testament analogy to our New Testament experience of salvation. 

Getting out of Egypt

            God knows everything that happens!  He prophesied to Abraham (Gen 15:13) – “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.”  Two major predictions help explain this 400 plus year waiting period.  Firstly, as a result of their suffering they would come out with great possessions (Gen 15:14) and that is literally what happened.  When the Israelites left Egypt following the death of all the first-born of Egypt, they were told to ask the Egyptians for items of value for their journey. “The people of Israel . . . asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus, they plundered the Egyptians” (ESV - Ex 12:35-36).  Secondly, God waited before giving the Promised Land to Israel because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” The Amorites worshiped false gods and practiced all sorts of evil.  It was God’s desire to remove them from the land of Canaan where Israel would one day live.  Once the Israelites did return to the land promised to them, the Amorites were destroyed as the Lord predicted. 

            The 400-year stay in Egypt included many examples of God’s wisdom and might. Joseph’s preservation of the Israelites during a famine, Moses’ rise to leadership, and God’s great miracles such as the crossing of the Red Sea were all part of Israel’s time in Egypt.  There ‘exodus’ is a type of salvation, Moses a type of saviour, passing through the Red Sea a type of baptism and deliverance from our enemies. 

Getting Egypt out of You

            The events we read of in Exodus 13–19 demonstrate all too clearly that Israel was not yet a holy people, and not yet ready to respond to God.  They were delivered from Egypt but found themselves wanting to return to Egypt; they grumbled and complained and rebelled because their promises were not being fulfilled according to their own perspectives.  Three months after leaving Egypt the Israelites entered the Wilderness of Sinai where God speaks to them at Mount Sinai.  “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites” (Ex 19:4-6).  The people’s response was unanimous – “everything God says, we will do.”  At Mount Sinai, Moses gave instructions for the Israelites to consecrate themselves and then three days later all would encounter God.  During this time Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Law for an extended period of time.  The people grow restless and Aaron creates a golden calf.  Exodus 32 paints this story for us.  One of the main take-a-ways is this.  They created a golden calf, similar to the idols of Egypt which were familiar to them.  Aaron “took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Ex 32:4).  The word for gods is the Hebrew “Elohim” which is used over 2000 times to refer to God and around 250 times in reference to a false god, as is noted in this passage.  The real challenge is found in Ex 32:5 – “When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”  The Hebrew word for Lord is Jehovah or Yahweh.  It is clear to see that Egypt was still in their hearts and they believed that this golden calf – a mixture of Elohim (false god) and Yahweh – brought them deliverance. 

            The story does not end there.  Both God and Moses and Joshua are disturbed by what is going on at the foot of the mountain.  God is ready to destroy them.  Moses intercedes on their behalf.  Joshua hears what he thinks are the sounds of war.  Moses hears the sounds of a celebration.  When Moses sees what is really going on and he breaks the Ten Commandments.  Aaron’s response is disturbing - “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (Ex 32:22-24).           What was supposed to be a consecrated time of meeting the Promiser of the Promised Land turned into an unholy and inappropriate celebration of the way things were in Egypt.

Reconciled to God

            In 2 Cor 5, the Apostle Paul speaks to the Church in Corinth about being reconciled with God.  In other words, becoming equally joined together to God and each other; equally yoked. 

·      For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  (2 Cor 5:14-15)

·      Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17)

·      God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)

 

Don’t be Unequally Yoked

            In light of the Old Testament story we considered a few moments ago, there is a passage of Scripture that relates and is found in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1.  Now, the Apostle Paul speaks to them about being consecrated to the Lord.  This was the same desire of Moses for the children of God.  Aaron combined a false god, the golden calf, to a celebration to Yahweh, unequally yoked.  Paul tells them not to be unequally yoked; Believers and unbelievers, righteousness and wickedness, light verse darkness, Christ and Belial (lawless, worthless, wicked) or the Temple of God and idols.  “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Cor 6:16b).  These four promises of Scripture can be seen in both Old and New Testaments.  It is the desire of God to be in relationship with his children.  He desires this relationship to be one of consecration and intimacy.  In the same way God and Moses were seeking to lead the people into consecration, Paul is saying, that if you want to know and experience these promises of God, we need to learn how to be separate and clean.  This is being equally yoked to God.  Not compromising.  Not creating God in the image of our culture (like Aaron and Egypt).  Not offering a mixture of worship… 

            Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Cor 7:1).  One of the means of receiving the promises of God into our lives is consecration; this can be described as sanctification, separating from something unholy and joining oneself to the Holy One.  With such encouraging promises to urge us on, let’s make a clean break with anything and everything that contaminates, defiles or distracts us within and without, spirit or body.  Let’s make our entire lives, thoughts, feelings and actions, complete with perfection, holiness and maturity because we fear, honour and respect God.

In conclusion

            The Israelites left Egypt with plunder and the Promised Land in their minds.  There were going to meet the Promiser of the Promised Land and enter into a land flowing with milk and honey.  However, they struggled in the wilderness.  They grumbled and complained.  And when it came time to cleanse themselves and three days later encounter God, they went astray, and made a golden calf.  In one sense, Aaron fashioned or conformed to the image of the religious world that he was familiar with.  They seemed to have good intentions but were unable to follow through in true consecration and commitment.  The question is why.  Even though their intentions were good, the underlying desires of their hearts were corrupt.  We are told that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).  We all have good intentions, but we mess it up when our lusts / desires lead us astray.  If we truly want to receive the fulness of God’s promises in our lives:

·      We must learn how to put to death the desires of our sinful nature (Gal 5:24)

 

·      We must learn how to separate ourselves from compromise in relation to our culture.

 

·      We must learn how to join ourselves to God the Promiser, not just the promises.

 

 

The main difference between Moses (Joshua and Caleb too) and the people of Israel was inner motivation.  Moses and his crew wanted the Presence and Promiser, God himself, while the children of God wanted what was best for them.  This is a huge warning for us today.  We must go after God himself and not just what he promises to us.  If we take hold of the Promiser with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then he will take hold of us with his great and precious promises.  Let’s love God for who he is and not just for what he can do for us…

Keys for receiving the Promises of God

Introduction

This morning I want to give us some keys in order for us to possess the Promises of God in our lives.  One of my favourite games growing up as a kid was “hide-n-seek.”  My friends would spend hours playing this cat and mouse game.  We would come up with variations that we keep us going into the night.  The art of hiding well was something to be admired.  It was always so exciting to find the missing friend.  Sometimes I think God likes “hide-n-seek” too.  The Scriptures often tell us to seek the Lord.  In both the Old and New Testaments we are exhorted to seek after God in various ways; to seek his face, his strength, seek the Lord while he may be found, seek and you will find, seek me with all your heart, seek him and live, seek his kingdom and so on.  The fact is simple, God is looking for those whose hearts seek after him.  The seeking, in and of itself, is not the goal any more than religious activities are to replace of relationship with God.  The joy of seeking is in the finding.  And God can’t wait to be found.  It is the Father’s heart to welcome us into his family and presence on a moment by moment basis.   The Parable of the Lost Son is remarkable and teaches us many lessons.  One of the main points is this – the father is looking and waiting for his son to return home. 

·      But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20)

·      But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.  (Luke 15:32)

Possess Your Promises

            There a are times in one’s life when it is time to arise and shine.  Abraham, Moses to Joshua, King David down to the person of Jesus Christ – each individual has those defining moments of life.  I believe it is time for us to possess the Promises of God for our lives!  If you need direction or wisdom God has a promise for you.  If you need healing God has a promise for you.  If you are in need of financial breakthrough the Promises of God are found in the Scriptures and are there waiting for us to discover them.  The opportunity is always before us to acquire the Promises of God.  There are times that we simply need a strong exhortation to engage in the process of taking hold of God at his Word.  God is not trying to keep his promises from you and I, in fact, it is quite the opposite.  God is ready and waiting to be found by those hungry God chasers.  There are many keys that we could take note of in this study.  I have given us some of my personal favourites both spiritually and practically.

Study and Obey the Scriptures

            We are told in Proverbs 2:1-5 - My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.   

The Bible is unique compared to any other piece of literature ever written.  “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Tim 3:16 – The Message).  If we truly want to possess the Promises of God, we must be students of God Word.  We must become followers of Jesus who learn to accept and store the words of God in our hearts.  This is a call for obedience according to God’s Word. 

Seek and Find

            My first sermon in this series was about discovering the Promises of God.  God’ Word is full of promises.  It is our job to find as many Scriptures as possible and begin to study and meditate and pray over them with regards to our circumstances.  We are told that God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and powerful when applied to our life and circumstances.  There are times when I have people ask me to pray for them about this or that situation.  I usually ask them what Scripture they are standing on.  Sometimes the response is positive and thoughtful.  Other times they look at me wondering what I am talking about.  It is important to study and obey God’s Word, as well as, to seek out the promises of God for our individual circumstances.  Then and only then can we begin to gain the promises we hope for.

Learn to Speak the Word

We must not only learn to obey God at this Word, but also to speak out the truth of God’s Word so that our lives and circumstances come into agreement with God.      A key verse is Romans 4:17b“God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”    Abraham was promised an heir but both he and Sarah were well beyond their prime in regard to conceiving and bearing children.  This Scripture simply means that we speak the truth of God’s Word before we speak about our circumstances.  This is a challenge to our minds, because we often focus on our difficult circumstances first.  Abraham fell short in this area as well and had Ishmael through Sarah’s servant Hagar.  Even when we blow it, God remains true to his promise. 

·      If you are believing God’s promise for wisdom in the midst of confusing circumstances, speak out and apply James 1:5 – “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

·      If you are believing for God’s promise of healing according to 1 Peter 2:24, “by whose stripes you were healed,” then let your confession first be that “I am healed in Jesus,” even in the midst of the sickness. 

 

In other words, we have to learn how to NOT speak the situation but learn to speak the truth of God’s Word.  This is just like Abraham speaking and believing and calling things that be are not as though they were.  However, we don’t want to deny the fact that we are in a place of confusion or not feeling well by saying, “I am not sick.”  We don’t deny the reality of our situation; we need to renew our thinking and begin speaking the truth of God’s Word first.

Overcome double-mindedness

            One of my challenges, and I am sure many others, is this – double-mindedness.  This word is found also in the book of James, 1:8 and 4:8.  It means to have two minds or souls.  In other words, there is a tossing too and fro, like a ship in the waves.  Struggling between the truth and a lie, or faith and unbelief.  There is a restlessness and unsettledness which produces and inability to possess God’s promises. 

            I have had to learn how to take captive my thoughts (2 Cor 10:5).  Several years ago, my mind was a mess.  I was two-minded in my ways.  I took the time to evaluate how I was thinking.  I attended a conference by Dr. Caroline Leaf and bought her book and put into practice her five points of renewing your mind.

1.     Gather

2.     Focused Reflection

3.     Journal

4.     Revisit

5.     Active Reach

 

As I put into practice this simple plan, I found my thoughts changing and I was becoming more and more focused on the Promises of God’s Word.  I took about ten minutes a day to intentionally engage in the process, and then to apply it throughout the day when negative thoughts came against me. 

In conclusion

            I have mentioned a few positive ways to make sure we can attain God’s promises in our lives.  Get into the Bible and get the Bible into you…  The more we read and study the Scriptures, the more enlightened we become, “your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).  The Scriptures help us to discern between good and evil and to put righteous obedience into practice.  I am so blessed that all the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus (2 Cor 1:20).  The high-n-seek message of today is this, the Scriptures are full of promises, hiding so to speak, and waiting for you to find them.  And then when we find the great and precious promises, we learn to speak them over our circumstances rather than simply speaking of our circumstances, which oftentimes can be negative.  This kind of negativity can be dangerous and lead to doubleminded stinking thinking.  I am grateful that God remains faithful and true to fulfilling his promises in our lives even when we struggle. 

            It is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to obtain them personally in our lives. Maybe this is the day that you step into your Promised Land so to speak.  Don’t give up.  Don’t grow weary in doing good.  Don’t be afraid of giants in the land.  Don’t doubt God. 

            God has filled his Scriptures with all the promises we need in order to live in this broken world.  God is Good and Faithful and more than able to move us forward in life…

 

Let’s pray together as we put God’s promises into action… 

    

Biblical Promises to Overcome Fear

Review

            Last week we looked at how faith and patience are needed to help us inherit those promises of God that have become personalized to us individually.  The writer of Hebrews identified six elementary teachings for Christians to understand, found in Hebrews 6:1-2.  

I am sure that we all have questions related to these points just as I do in my own walk with Jesus.  What about sin that I struggle with?  When I sin does God still love me?  What happens when I repent over and over?  Can I lose my faith in God?  Why was I born with sickness?  Can I get baptized again and again in the Holy Spirit? (yes please).  What is heaven going to be like? 

The exhortation from the Scriptures last week was not to become lazy in putting these foundational truths into practice, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherited their promises (Hebrews 6:12).

As a young believer, I was full of questions just like a young child growing up in life.  I began to realize that one of the main struggles that I grew up with was fear.  I was afraid of getting sick and dying.  I was afraid of what people thought of me.  I was afraid of conflict.  I was afraid of losing my salvation.  Maybe you can relate to some of these or even have a few of your own fears that you identify with.  Here are some common fears; spiders, snakes, heights, dogs, speaking in public, fear of germs, flying, clowns, death, fear of the unknown…  The world we live in is full of fears and phobias and with all the instant access we have to world events – fear is on the rise.  This morning I want to share with you some key Scriptures and promises that God has used in my life to help me overcome fear. 

Introduction

One of the most comforting thoughts of Scripture is that God loves us.  I was captured by this love when I first became a Christian in 1980.  I found myself in a brand-new world where I saw everything filled with the Presence of God.  His love, mercy and forgiveness burst into my spirit and soul with such power that I was forever changed.  I was a spiritual babe, wrapped and covered in the grace of God, and for several years found myself overjoyed with my new-found faith in Jesus.  As I grew in my faith, I began to realize that I had areas of my life that I needed answers to, struggles in my life that I needed victory over.  Let me begin by saying “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:16-18).  The primary way of overcoming fear is to know and experience God’s love daily.  I still have fears in my life that I wrestle with, however, this is simply an opportunity to be made perfect in love. 

When I think about the root cause of so many mistakes or spiritual pitfalls in our lives, fear is lurking in the shadows.  Fear can cause us to collapse and settle for less than God’s best. It can rob us of our trust in God.  It can damage relationships.  We can lose sleep and even our health.  Here are some Promises of Scriptures that God has used in helping me overcome fear.

 

Overcoming Common Fears of Life

            One of the first promises of Scripture that God used in my life is found in Isaiah 43:1-7.  This passage helped me to overcome the identity of fear that had become common to me.  All too often we let fears and anxieties shape the way we think and feel and act.  I found great strength in knowing that God had created and formed me as his son (verse 1).  I was truly fearfully and wonderfully made by God.  I needed to hear “fear not” for I have redeemed you (verse 1), my salvation was and is secure, even “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (verse 2).

Knowing that God was and is with me helped me to, by faith and patience, overcome.  God goes onto say that that you are precious and honoured in my sight because I love you (verse 4). 

Whatever you are fearing - a health crisis, family problem, financial struggle - focus on the power of a God who calls you by name, and commands fear to flee from you heart.  This was the beginning of my journey to freedom from fear.

Three points to overcoming fear

More than any other command in Scripture, God tells us not to fear.  God never promises us a trouble-free life, but He does promise us His presence and the strength (spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional) we require to get through our troubles.  Some have said they are 364 passages of Scripture about “do not fear” in the Bible. One for each day of the year... 

2 Timothy 1:7 states, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (self-control, sound mind).”  Another lesson to learn is this, there are times that fear has a negative, demonic nature to it, a spirit of fear.  We need to learn to discern between our own fears and anxieties and what is an actual attack of the enemy.  When the enemy rises us with fear, the Spirit of God rises up with power, love and self-discipline.  I like to order of these words that Paul uses, power then love, not the love of power.  We can truly experience the soundness of mind, the freedom from fear, when the Power and Love of God touches our lives. 

Let’s ask God for the Holy Spirit to empower of lives with these three truths: Power, Love and the ability to control our thoughts. 

Overcoming the fear of conflict

Psalm 18 is the song King David sang when he was delivered from the conflict of all his enemies including Saul.  There are many situations in life, hopefully not as serious as King David, where relational conflicts abound.  This can be in the home and family life, at work and even in the church.  Sometimes these conflicts paralyze people with fear.  This was and is one of my struggles in life.  Psalm 18 is one of my favourite passages of Scripture because I see so many promises of God take pray and inherit. 

·      I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies (verse 3).

·      In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.  From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears (verse 6).  Then God acted…

·      He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.  18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.  19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me (verses 17-19).

 

Speak these words over the source of your fear.  God is our hiding place.  For David, this meant sitting in a cave praying trained warriors did not discover him.  For us, it’s identifying the root cause of our fear and inviting God into our distressing thoughts and feelings.  Practically, this involves taking time in the Scriptures, sitting in your car on lunch break with worship music playing, or going for a walk praying and praising God and resisting fear.  We weren’t saved by Jesus only to be scared out of our wits.  God is the Rock of our Salvation only if we let him.  We need to learn to trust him to deliver us from every fear coming against us!

Psalm 18 ends with these very encouraging words.  “The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Saviour! 47 He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, 48 who saves me from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from violent men you rescued me. 49 Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O Lord; I will sing praises to your name. 50 He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.”

In Conclusion

Life is full of challenges and sometimes fear can get the best of us.  There are times when fear has led me into sin.  It is in those moments that I find the mercy of God to help me in my time of need.  He is so gracious to forgive. We need to remind ourselves that God is in control of every struggle whether we pass through water and rivers or the fire.  He so loves us that his Holy Spirit makes power and love and right thinking available to us when confronted by a spirt of fear.  It is never too late for God to help us overcome the mess fear makes in our lives.  He is our Rock and Fortress and comforter who brings his peace into our troubled situations.

 

CAN YOU SLEEP WHILE THE WIND BLOWS?

During a recent hurricane storm, the following story circulated on the Internet:

A farmer on the Atlantic seacoast constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic because of the awful storms that wreaked havoc on the buildings and crops. One applicant for the job was a short, thin man, well past middle age.

“Are you a good farm hand?” the farmer asked him.

“Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,” answered the little man.

Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well and kept busy from dawn to dusk. The farmer felt satisfied with the man’s work.

Then one night the wind howled loudly from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!”

The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, “No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”

Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. He hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

When you’re prepared for storms, spiritually, mentally, and practically, you have nothing to fear. Can you sleep when the wind blows through your life? The hired hand in the story was able to sleep because he had secured the farm against the storm.

We secure ourselves against the storms of life by soaking ourselves with the Word of God, being obedient to it and then placing our faith and trust in God’s goodness. We don’t need to understand, we just need to hold His hand to have peace in the midst of our storms.

Today I will prepare myself practically, mentally and spiritually so that I can sleep and not fear when the storms blow in my life.

In Application

            Let’s make sure there are no loose ends in our lives.  No hidden sin or fears. 

 

Let’s make sure we have done all that we can to secure our life can survive the storms. 

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Phil 4:6-8).

 

Faith & Patience Inherit the Promises of God

Review

            Over the past few weeks we have begun to look at the Promises of God.  The journey of discovering the Promises of God is both fulfilling and challenging.  We begin to realize just how committed God is to His family.  The Scriptures lay a solid foundation of knowing God while the promises of God help us to know God more intimately.  In both the Old and New Testaments, we see the Promises of God made available to us.  On one hand, the Promises of God are unconditional, and nothing can stop the purposes of God being fulfilled, not self, sin, or Satan.  However, we know that God is not some Sugar-Daddy who grants us everything we ask for.  The Promises of God directed towards us are both personally and conditional and often begin some sort of qualification.  Ultimately the Promises of God find their fulfillment in Jesus and it is as we draw near to him, we find great satisfaction within life. 

Introduction

            One of the greatest revelations of Scripture is the unconditional Love of God.  The knowledge of God’s love begins to open the door to eternal life.  We understand that through the Love and Mercy of God our sins are forgiven, past present and future.  He promises that His presence and love will never leave us.  Foundations are extremely important and knowing by experience the love of God is one of the foundations of life.  The writer of Hebrews tells us that through the elementary truths of God’s Word we are trained to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).  He then gives us a list of foundations, elementary teachings, for right Christian thinking and living.  These basic teachings are something that we grow into thereby moving onto maturity.

1.     The foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death

2.     Faith in God

3.     Instruction about baptisms

4.     The laying on of hands

5.     The resurrection of the dead

6.     Eternal judgment

 

This is Christianity 101.  Once we have learned the basics of our Christian faith, we can then move onto the deeper rewards and challenges of bringing God’s kingdom from heaven to earth.  We are exhorted to hold onto the flavour of heaven – the Holy Spirit – and beware of “falling away” from God.  The idea of falling away speaks of stumbling, to go astray, to be mistaken; in other words, we forget the elementary teachings of Christ.  The readers are then encouraged that salvation is theirs, and that “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebr 6:10).

Imitators of God’s People

            The idea of imitating is also foundational in regard to walking in God’s kingdom.  “In the beginning” speaks of a time when Adam and Eve were to imitate or mimic God.  They were to be fruitful and reproduce and pass this onto their children.  We understand that mankind fell into sin and since that time we have reproduced or imitated a lot of things that are contrary to God’s original design.  In Hebrews 6:12 the writer tells us to imitate men and women of God.  In other words, we are to mimic those who have grown past the elementary truths of God’s Word.  The writer of Hebrews gives a fuller explanation found in Hebrews 11; the hall of fame of faith.

Inherit the Promises of God

Rightful inheritance refers to actual property or goods received after a family member's death.  Jewish inheritances were linked to family blood lines, while Greek and Roman laws provided for the disposition of family possessions through the adoption of an heir. The Scriptures transform the concept of inheritance to include the gaining of spiritual blessings and promises from God; this means to “receive an irrevocable gift” with an emphasis on a special relationship between the benefactor and the recipients.  Unlike legal inheritance, the benefactor, God, does not die, yet he provides material and spiritual blessings for His children. 

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom 8:16-17).  The Promises of God are available to us today just as they were to the fathers of our faith as seen in the Scriptures.

The question remains “How do God’s people inherit God’s promises?”  The writer of Hebrews speaks of faith and patience and a man named Abraham.

Faith and Patience

            God’s children have been graced with “salvation faith,” which is the ability to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  This saving faith is one of the elementary teachings directed towards new believers.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).  However, it is my belief that the faith spoken of in Hebrews 6:13 is the gift of faith referred to as one of the spiritual gifts.  So what does this mean for us?  If we want to inherit the Promises of God we must not only believe in God and His Son (even the demons believe and shudder - James 2:19), we must enact on the gift of grace, our salvation, by the gift of faith provided for us by the Holy Spirit.  It is through the faith provided for us that we attain the promises of God.  We are told in Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  In order to inherit God’s promises we must engage our divine gift of faith in two ways. 

·      We must also diligently and earnestly make a careful search of God through His Word and Holy Spirit.  It is said of Abraham, (our Father of Faith) “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).  What did Abram believe – God’s spoken Spirit-Word to him.

·      We must be OK with our faith being tested.  In Gen 22 Abram was challenged to sacrifice his son Isaac. 

           

            The second aspect for inheriting the Promises of God is patience.  And we all want our promises right now…  What is patience?  It is waiting, enduring, sometimes long-suffering.  Was not this the case with Abraham? “So after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Hebrews 6:15).  Patience is necessary in order to prove the genuineness and reality of faith.  The Lord generally does not accomplish his purposes at once.  He usually works by gradations.  Is not this the case in creation?  Is this not the case with Abraham and the forming of the Nation of Israel?  The same is true of men and women of faith who are years growing up to their full stature.  The same is true of the Promises of God.  Through faith and time we receive the fulfillment of God’s promises. 

            We live is a fast pace society.  Fast cars, fast food, quick fixes and so on.  There are “suddenlies” in God’s Kingdom, however they are often preceded by the patient and faithful prayers of the saints.  These prayers and petitions include asking, seeking, pleading, crying and most importantly waiting on God.  To be patient overcomes challenges, hopes in the midst of despair, trusts in God despite circumstances, looks to the light of God in dark places.  It is interesting to note that the Fruit of the Spirit begins with “love is patient” (1 Cor 13:4).  The testing of our faith increases our patience and it is the unconditional Love of God that enables us to pass through those challenging times.

In conclusion

            We all need to learn and grow in knowledge and understanding of the elementary foundations of Christian life.  Hopefully, no one wants to stay in elementary school for the rest of their life.  We are created for growth and maturity.  All of us have dreams and desires that we want to see fulfilled in our lifetime.  As believers in Jesus the promises of God are available to us to help us reach those goals.  We are to become like Jesus, and to imitate the fathers and mothers of our faith.  Therefore, there is a need of faith on the one hand, and of patience on the other, to inherit the promises.  The gift of faith is necessary as we reach out our hands into heaven to lay hold of the promises.  And patience is necessary to wait for their fulfillment.  Faith is necessary to give us possession and the abundance of the glorious realities of God's Promises.  And patience is necessary to prove to ourselves and to others that we are true partakers on our road to maturity. 

            There are many promises in the Scriptures and it is important to identify the one promise that God is highlighting to you.  This allows you to ask God for the specific faith and patience you need in order to attain your promise.  The Scriptures tell us to ask God for the wisdom we lack.  The same is true with regards to faith and patience.  The one challenge of asking for faith and patience is that they both come with testing.  So we don’t want to lose heart is doing good so the sake of God’s Kingdom.

            …Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him… Psalm 37:7a

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

The Promise of His Presence

 

Introduction

            We are continuing our study of the Promises of God.  One of the joys of following Jesus is discovering who he is in light of the Scriptures.  On Sunday’s I often preach a message out of the Scriptures and hope that it encourages and inspires you to grow in your relationship with God.  In other words, my first-hand revelation becomes your second-hand revelation.  You have to take time to think about what I am saying making sure it is valid; just like the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  In light of the promises of God – this is the where the Scriptures take on a personal nature.  My promises are personal and relate to the challenges and joys of my walk with Jesus.  As we study through the Promises of God – it is so important for you to take the Word of God and the promises found within and make them your own. 

I want to begin this morning with a question.  Are God’s promises conditional or unconditional?  A careful Bible reader notices that they are usually a mixture of both.  In one sense, God’s promises are unconditional, and our sin or disobedience will not prevent God from ultimately fulfilling his purposes on earth.  On the other hand, there are references in the Scriptures that state, “IF” which relates to the importance of the obedience of God’s people. 

This tension is finally resolved when Jesus comes and fulfills the Law and Prophets.  Now through Jesus’ obedient life and sacrificial death, all of the promises of God can finally be released to men and women.  “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor 1:20-22).  Jesus’ obedience to the point of death on the cross releases brand new favour and grace to us as followers of Jesus.  The promises of Scripture now come into focus in Jesus.  God now “makes” us (establishes us, causes us to stand firm, makes us dependable, makes us steadfast, causes us to believe) his own by the promises of God and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.  Hallelujah.

The Presence of God

            Throughout the Old Testament God reveals himself to us in various forms of his Presence.  One amazing passage of Scripture is found in Exodus 33:7-23.  Previously, Moses had received the two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God only to have the Israelites grow impatient with God and Moses.  In the meantime, they created a golden calf to worship, similar to those in Egypt.  Needless to say, there was a great commotion when Moses confronts the people and smashes the Ten Commandments.  God calls the Israelites “a stiff-necked people” and refuses to go with them into the Promised Land.  My Presence will not go with you… 

            This leads us to the key passage for this morning; Ex 33:7-11.  I hope to help us to see the growing interaction between Moses and God and how we to can grow in grace and favour with God as we apply God’s Promises to our lives, especially the Promise of His Presence. 

Moses set up a Tent of Meeting where he (and Joshua) met with God – His Presence.  “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex 33:11a), using metaphors for intimacy and accessibility to God.  In the ancient Near East it was dishonourable to look a superior in the face.  And yet that is exactly what God and Moses engage in.  Very personal…

            The story carries on from there; Ex 33:12-23.  The storyteller returns back to the main narrative found in Ex 33:1–6 where the people learned that God will not go with them to the Promised Land and how they mourned in response.  Now Moses intercedes on their behalf and convinces God not only to go with them, but also to reveal more of Himself to Moses.  Moses states to God – “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you” (Ex 33:13).  Moses was seeing God face to face and now he asks to know God’s ways so that he can lead God’s people.  God responds by saying, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex 33:14).  In the Scriptures God often states – “if”; if you do this then I will do that or if you don’t do this then I won’t do that (conditional promises).  Now Moses uses “IF” back to God.  “Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Ex 33:15).  This reveals to us the depth of personal relationship between Moses and God.  And once again God responds favourably to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name” (Ex 33:17).  The very personal is now becoming very practical for Moses leadership over the Israelites.

            Moses takes his pursuit of God a step further.  He has known God face to face, metaphorically speaking, and grown in intimacy.  He has asked to know the ways of God and continue to find favour in order to lead God’s people.  Now Moses asks of God – “Now show me your glory” (Ex 33:18); the boldness of Moses is inspiring.  God responds by saying – “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence” (Ex 33:19).  Goodness is a fulfilling word speaking of the state of moral goodness with absolutely no evil, prosperity, wealth, abundance, beauty, fairness, attractiveness, joy, gladness, goodness of heart…  Previously, God said to Moses I know you by name, now God chooses to reveal his goodness and name to Moses.  The very personal Presence of God led to the very practical Ways of God’s Presence and now the glory and goodness of God’s Presence passes in front of Moses. Moses was growing in deepening levels of God’s Presence.  Hallelujah.

The Promise of His Presence

In the New Testament Jesus “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebr 1:3).  All of the expressions of God within the Scriptures are nothing compared to Jesus Christ, just like all the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus.  He is the light and radiance of the glory of God who “perfectly mirrors God and is stamped with God’s nature.  He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words”! (The Message).

Jesus tells us in the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  He is Emmanuel, God with us, who has given us “the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:13-14).  The favour and goodness that Moses experienced are now available to us in Jesus Christ through the Promised Holy Spirit – God’s Presence.  Wherever we go, God’s Presence goes.  In other words, there is no escaping God’s favour, grace and goodness towards our lives. 

Do you remember Moses saying, “If you are pleased with me”?  I can tell you that if you have accepted Jesus into your life, God is pleased with you because of that decision.  We may not be perfect in obedience, but we have acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Saviour and God now sees us through the life, death and sacrifice of Jesus.  God has made His Presence available to us through Jesus Christ and the empowering of Holy Spirit.  And just as Moses sought to grow in knowing God’s Presence, so can we put these truths into action. 

In Conclusion

            The Promise of His Presence is available to us daily.  It is through God’s favour and grace that we are strengthened to grow in God.  We can know him intimately, we can know his ways and the right path to righteousness, and we can discover the glory of His Presence, just like Moses.  Even if it looks like the odds are against you.  If you are feeling overwhelmed with struggles or temptations.  The Promise of His Presence is sure.  We may feel guilty or ashamed, but the love and grace of God welcomes us back immediately into His Presence.  Don’t let the troubles of our minds or the weight of anxiety get us down, God has promised never to leave or forsake us.  At other times, maybe the devil is lying to you trying to get your thoughts off of God’s Promises.  You’re a failure.  You are never going to make it.  What about these sins?  God is not really with you.  Whatever the attack of the enemy is, whatever the sin we may be struggling with – God’s Promises are bigger and better and able to carry us through into victory. 

Corrie Ten Boom states, “Let God’s Promises shine on your problems.”

 

Discovering the Promises of God

Introduction

            Have you ever tried to walk in someone else’s shoes?  I remember trying to walk in my dad’s rubber boots as a kid, even tried one my mom’s high heeled stilettos.  I remember my childhood experiences trying to follow my dad through knee-high snow, carefully trying to walk in his exact footsteps.  Sometimes I could do it and other times I failed because my legs were too short, and my dad's strides were too long.  I would fall over into the snow and we would laugh.  Each of us in life have followed in someone’s path, sometimes good and sometime bad.  I am sure you have heard the phrase – “before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”  In essence, this expression means you must grow in understanding regarding a person; their experiences, challenges, their thoughts and feelings before you judge someone.  It is not easy to follow exactly in another's footsteps, especially when we are trying to find our own way through the twists and turns of life.

The same is true in our spiritual life, we need someone to go ahead of us.  This concept is used by the writer of Hebrews to describe Jesus as seen in Hebrews 12:1-3 – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins (Message).”  Jesus is not only the author and perfecter of our faith, he is the Trailblazer among trailblazers.  He is the first and the last – no one can replace him.  Only Jesus knows how to get us to where we are trying to go.  The question is how does he do this?

The Word of God

            We understand from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man.  He was born of a virgin, he lived a sinless perfect life proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God, he suffered and died on the cross only to be resurrected three days later.  He came from heaven to earth to show the way…  From the earth to the cross our debts to pay… From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky… Lord we lift your name on high…  This is Jesus our trailblazer and he knew this from a young age as we see in the passage of Scripture found in Luke 2:40-52

Imagine you’re a parent and you unknowingly drive off without your child.  In the scramble to get on the road, perhaps you forgot to count heads.  A day later you realize someone is missing; panic, fear, a roller coaster of emotions.  You rush back and spend three days trying to find your son in the big city.  But imagine returning only to find that your youngster had intentionally stayed behind—and showed absolutely no remorse for giving you the scare of a lifetime. How would you react?  What were Mary and Joseph thinking and feeling when they finally found Jesus sitting with the teachers, asking questions and amazing everyone with his answer.  Even more surprising is Jesus’ response – “Didn’t you know I have to be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:44).  There are two Scriptures that book end this passage.

·      And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him (Luke 2:40).

·      And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men (Luke 2:52).

 

Spiritually speaking, how does one grow up or mature in following Jesus? 

·      By learning the Word of God.  “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, 3 and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov 2:1-6).

·      By encountering grace.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)

·      By knowing the promises of God and maturing spiritually with God and relationally with people.  The foundation of this maturity is grace and favour which are used interchangeably in Luke 2:40, 52

The Promises of God

            It is one thing to know and grow in understanding God’s Scriptures.  It is another thing to encounter and experience a personal relationship with God founded upon the Promises of God.  Jesus says, “Follow me.”  But it is not necessarily easy to follow Jesus.  Some days I do not feel like following Jesus.  Some days the challenges of life seem too big; financial worries, health concerns whether physical or emotional, relational breakdowns.  Have you heard the saying, “Promises are made to be broken.”  One of the struggles in life is broken promises, Unfortunately, we’ve all had friends, family members, and loved ones who made promises they were not able to keep.  Most likely we ourselves have broken promises to others and even God himself.  With each broken promise we experience disappointment. 

            While we or others may make promises and break them, God never does.  I hope that as we discover the Promises of God found in God’s Word that we will learn to trust him more – as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps.  God promises to be with us through the challenges of life, to guide us, to help and comfort us, to sustain us and to make us more than conquerors in Christ.  Because God is holy, he keeps his promises and it is our privilege to discover his promises.  Our hope is in Jesus and the promises he has made to us.  No matter what we are facing, we know that through the Promises of God’s Word that we are not facing it alone. God is with us.

            Here are a few keys verses to help us begin this journey of discovering God’s promises.

·      “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4). 

The promises of God are fueled by his divine power, glory and goodness.  As we take hold of Jesus, as we follow in his footsteps of growing in wisdom and grace – the promises of God begin to shape our lives and not the circumstances around us.  Jesus changes us from the inside out as we “walk by faith not by sight” and allow the grace and promises of God to form us into the divine nature of God, leading us away from the corruption of the world. 

·      “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).  Walking in someone else’s shoes or following in the path of Jesus can come with tests and trials.  There is a promise of life as we overcome the challenges and embrace our love for God. 

·      Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all (Rom 4:16).  In the same way that salvation comes by grace through faith, so it is with the Promises of God.  We must learn to rest in grace and surrender to God allowing his promises to change and shape our lives for his glory. 

In Conclusion

            Our journey in the footsteps of Jesus is a long adventure of grace and love and wonder.  As we follow Jesus, we often ask questions of God, especially during times of challenge.  What’s happening?  Did I do something wrong? Do you still love me? Am I really important to you God?  What should I be doing?  It is in the midst of these questioning times that the Word of God is an anchor to our soul.  It is within God’s Word that his promises come to life.  He truly is our comforter Saviour, Healer, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit and Soon Coming King. 

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God (2 Cor 1:20).  It is in Jesus Christ that the Promises of God come into focus.  Discovering the Promises of God is an ongoing encounter of friendship with Jesus.            

An Invitation to Intimacy and Partnership

John 2:1-12

It was Tuesday, a good day for Jesus to be in Cana. It was probably autumn. The harvest would most likely have been completed so that the people’s hearts and minds could at long last be at peace. And, it was a Tuesday - glorious Tuesday, a most common day for weddings as it gave the guests time to make the preparations needed after the Sabbath, and travel by foot, camel or mule, to the location of the wedding. And then have 4 more days to celebrate before the Sabbath rolled around again. And Jesus, His disciples, His mother, possibly his family, had probably walked at least 6 kilometres to get to this very special wedding, all dressed up in their wedding clothes.

The groom, after a long betrothal, had gone around midnight to get his bride, dressed so splendidly with a crown on his head. And what a procession it was! They brought the bride out in a litter and in a procession. She, likewise, was dressed so beautifully, and the songs were so beautiful, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant?”. Attended by her 10 bridesmaids, they girls gave the ceremonial shouts of joy letting all the village know that the wedding had begun. And so, the guests rushed to join the procession of mules and men, bride and bride attendants, as they carried her belongings and house decor into the special house or rooms that the bridegroom had prepared for her and the family that was to come.

Oh, how they’d hurry and scurry from then on as the guests scrambled to join the procession! The bridegroom would be the last one to enter the house and after that, well, the door was locked and no one else was allowed in! And so, the festivities begin!

Once the procession reached the bridegrooms home, his parents gave their traditional blessing to the couple which they drew from the holy scriptures, and some other sources. After the prayers, the bridegroom would join the evening’s festivities while the bride would go into the room reserved for her with her attendants. After decorating a bit, setting up house so to speak, they would eat their meals separate from the men and a drowsiness would settle over the festivities until the next evening when the vows were spoken. The bride would then sit under a canopy surrounded by her attendants, again beautifully dressed, but this time in white, and heavily veiled, Songs and blessings would be spoken over her and gifts given, until at last the bridegroom would come in.

The wedding dialogue would go something like this: The bride says, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you! Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers (Song 1:2-4).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1seXH9kVEuA

And the groom responds, Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me. My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely (Song 2:13-14).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1seXH9kVEuA

Now that the couple was together, all the other men and women also came together, and the real feasting began. At some point during this evening the bride and groom would indeed vanish into the chamber prepared for them while the festivities went on for several more days. The couple would remain with the guests however for the remainder of the time, sharing in the feast, merriment, the songs and games and the dancing under the star-lit sky.

 

Now maybe it was one of Jesus brother’s or sisters, or perhaps a cousin — it was someone close. For Mary, his mother, was right in there, helping with the details instead of leaving it to the servants as another guest would. It seemed she was a co-host of some sort, either by responsibility or relationship. In any case, at this particular wedding, early in on the festivities, the wine was gone! Each guest had probably had two or three glasses already, and so were satiated. But what were they going to do the rest of the time?

This would be an embarrassment to the young couple and their families and seen as a type of bad omen. It could reflect very badly on them indeed. Whether it would be viewed as the result of poor planning or a poor harvest we do not know. Perhaps the people would have speculated that something unchaste had happened, thus a hurried betrothal period. Or maybe somebody dropped the ball and invited too many guests! All we know for sure is that it would have been a breach in hospitality, and although it was customary to serve the new, tastiest wine first, and the less tasty or old wine last, it was not customary to just serve water!

Mary, who knew her son at that time better than anyone, immediately goes to Jesus for help. She is not willing for this family to be humiliated, for there to be even one dark cloud over this special couple and their families and their very special event. So, she suggests to Jesus that He do something. She doesn’t tell him what to do, but she probably gives him that special look that only a mother can give to her child.

 

From the Greek the translation Jesus response would have gone something like this, “Dear One, what does that have in common with us?” This was a well-known Aramaic saying. In other words, this is not my problem! And it’s not going to do me any favours to do this either, for this simply isn’t the right time for my kingdom and power to be unveiled.

This is consistent with what we know of Jesus. All through the Scripture, Jesus tried rather unsuccessfully to keep His power hidden. Why would He do that?

1.         It meant his life would no longer be private.......He would be a modern version of a pop star or of royalty in the eyes of the people who would become like his paparazzi. He would not be able to come and go as freely and anonymously as would suit Him.

2.         It could mean a sidetrack of his mission which was to proclaim the kingdom of God but also to DIE. Jesus never shrank bank from that purpose by hiding behind His miracles. He never allowed the people to set him up as a king......the cross was first.

To step in and rescue this situation would seemingly conflict with Jesus agenda. It would at the very least be a huge inconvenience for Jesus. Mary would not have understood this like Jesus, for she did not yet grasp the big picture of what Jesus coming meant, at least not like he did. She may have known what she was asking, not really.

So, Mary, the one we know of as so submissive and devoted to God, who has already suffered for her obedience, who has such a deep relationship with Jesus and knows him like no other has, or ever will, simply turns her eyes and looks at Jesus. And full of faith that He’s gonna do something - she doesn’t know what although I’m sure she had an idea of how she would like it to go - she says confidently, “Do whatever He asks you to do”.

Now granted, she was his mother, and perhaps she was exercising her authority as a mom in this situation. Something was going on between these two. A mutual submission. She didn’t place demands on Him the way some moms would at a wedding, barking orders, borderline hysterical (interesting to note that “ran out of” is the Greek word, hysteresantos, but she placed a demand on him, nonetheless).

And Jesus, looking into those eyes that had loved and somewhat understood him from birth, could not resist her. Now Jesus wasn’t a pushover who couldn’t say no to Mary. There are at least two other places in Scripture where we see Jesus in conflict with his mom. One was at the tender age of 12 when he stayed behind in Jerusalem to teach in the temple, “about my Father’s business”, and later when His mother and brothers came to fetch Jesus from His ministry thinking he was out of his mind.

No, Jesus knew who He was, what He was about, and He wasn’t afraid to get into conflict with even His family members if what they were asking of him was in conflict with his mission.

Yet in this instance, Jesus weighs the pros and cons. He knows this is going to create difficulties for Him. Yet somehow between His inner dialogue with the heavenly Father and that look that Mary gave him, he decides to go ahead and honour her request, and He performs a miracle so extraordinary, that it truly proves Him to be on par with the Creator. Essentially, Jesus creates something out of nothing. In the beginning there was water and rock. Here, we see water and rock, these were not clay pots but made of stone. There is nothing in the water or the rock to cause fermentation, no plant life, no sugar. And Jesus instantly creates something that could only happen with living organisms present from a plant.

Symbolically Speaking

If you are into symbolism, there’s some great symbolism here. On day 3 of creation, when God had made the plant life, he finally says, “that’s good”. On the third day of the Passion, Jesus would be Resurrected.

Jesus puts the wine into ceremonial bins - each of which would have held about 250 pounds of water. He doesn’t put it into something unclean, but something set apart. Wine can speak of the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from sin, but

in this case, it would seem like the wine symbolizes His Spirit. The number of 6 is the number of man. Thus, the Spirit goes into the man, and there is a need for man to be continuously filled with the Spirit. To be filled continuously means there is a need for us to live set apart lives, blessed are the poor for they shall see God. And best of all, the best wine is saved for last, which is reminiscent of the prophet Joel’s words, “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” Acts 2:7.

Partnership and Response

But perhaps what impacted me the most, is that Jesus performed His first known miracle as a response, not as something He initiated. Our mission statement is to “Apprehend God’s heart and fulfill His dreams”. This is all about leaning in close to the heart of God to hear what His dream is for our lives, our families, our communities, church, nation, the world. It’s about getting His strategy for the part we play in that dream and then moving forward in obedience to walk it out. This could very well be the posture of a servant.

But, His first miracle, it is not God initiated idea, it is human initiated.

It’s interesting to me that in Ephesians 5, we see the type of relationship God wanted to use as model to the church. In the OT it is often father and child relationship emphasis that we get. And that model is definitely carried into the NT as Jesus comes to reconcile us to the Father. Paul talks about our relationship with the Father as being that of Abba or Daddy. But there’s a different relationship that Jesus seems to want with us - that is the relationship of a bride.

In biblical times, an arranged marriage didn’t require the bride and groom to be in love. And so, Paul writes.... husbands LOVE your wives and to serve her. And the poor wife who is given as property to the groom is told to respect and submit (not love) her husband. What we see here is a mutual, reciprocal thing happening, with the greater responsibility put on the male to lay down his life for his wife daily. To love such a man would not be hard! But Jesus is looking for that relationship - a reciprocal relationship not based on authority, but based on a mutual submission - for what is serving but also submission?

This is incredible, because all the sudden it is a partnership that Jesus is looking for. A mature bride - no longer a child to be bossed around and just told what to do. Instead, it is a couple, helping one another, finding out the other’s dream and getting in line to help. And the wife just doesn’t do it for the husband. The husband goes above and beyond and serves her like Jesus did when he washed the disciple’s feet, when he died on the cross.

It would seem that Mary and Jesus had already crossed over into this type of mutual submission, for again, she is not the picture of a controlling mom, but is very respectful of Jesus and His process.

And so, Jesus, responding rather than initiating, essentially repeats, on a small scale, the miracle of creation, and turns water into wine.

(Just so you know, although there is some discussion of whether or not the wine was alcoholic, the alcoholic content would not have been like that of strong drink - think whiskey, etc., because the ingredients would not have been at an ancient person’s disposal. Also, in that time period, the Greeks diluted their wine with water because it tasted better - again, the fermentation process was different. I only bring this up to say that Jesus didn’t make wine to make people drunk. He made wine to keep the party merry for a 4 - 7-day feast and evidently there were very many guests, perhaps more than had been planned for. The word methua means to have drank freely or to have had enough to be satisfied. Jesus would not have been inconsistent with His character and the word of God in the matter of drunkenness.... but He did give people the choice of behaving responsibly or not - which is also consistent with His character. The point of the story is that Jesus cared enough about Mary, who cared about the host and the bride and groom, to provide something lacking, rescuing them from a potentially socially damaging situation.)

Isn’t it interesting that sometimes it’s our lack, our mistakes that serve as an invitation for God to act and do something beautiful? If you’ve ever felt ashamed for something that created a mess, today is your day! You can invite God in to create something from nothing!

Dreams in Courts of Praise Practically speaking, what have been some of the God dreams of COP? Stephen’s Backpacks Women’s Retreat Story Club Men’s Breakfasts and Retreats Relationships Worship - songs, movement, extended times Multiethnic groups

What are some of the new dreams on God’s heart for 2019?

Examples of Man initiating

Two Restaurant Encounters

 

 

Take Aways

1.     Today Jesus is inviting us to live a set apart life unto Him. He wants to fill us with His Spirit continually. And so, He is asking us to live in ways that do not grieve the Spirit, but that cause that beautiful dove to want to sit upon our shoulders.

2.     Jesus is looking for partnership. He doesn’t just want us to apprehend His heart, He wants to apprehend your heart. Ps 37:4 Says delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”. The word delight is anon which means to be soft, delicate and dainty. It reminds me of the Scripture, “turn your eyes away. Desires is mishalah which means your requests, petitions. Heart is leb which means the inner man.

3.     Jesus is so smitten with us, that when we give him that look, the look of a twitterpaited lover who has developed a relationship of trust and mutual love and respect and daintiness - guarding and protecting each other’s hearts and desires, He longs to do it, and even if it’s in a bit of conflict (notice bit of, something that may inconvenience greatly but not thwart) with his own interests, He will do it! And He’s longing for those kinds of relationships!

In conclusion

It’s not about our dreams and desires. It’s about His desire for us, and our desire for Him. And out of that daintiness, that desire to serve one another, like the married couple, Jesus wanted to use as a prototype, God’s dreams and our dreams come into alignment with each other.

By Pastor Becky Thomas 

New Year’s – Communion and Commission

Introduction:

            Another year has come and gone.  I am always amazed when the New Year comes around.  Some are excited 2018 is done and over with and are hoping for a better year; too many challenges and conflicts.  Others look back and have unanswered questions and are looking forward to possible solutions.  Others make New Year’s Resolutions looking for a fresh start.  Another aspect of the New Year is all the predictions, whether political or economic and local or global.  Even us Christians jump on the bandwagon of prophesying what the New Year will bring.  One of the challenges is the many different prophetic voices that seem to contradict each other.  The voices range from the a great apostacy to a great harvest.  Of course we have those who will predict the return of Jesus or the end of the world.  So here we are at the start of 2019 and I wondering what the Lord is saying to us here at Courts of Praise.  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches…”

Communion

            In my years of following Jesus I have learned the importance of relationship in God’s Kingdom.  Nothing is more important to God than his family.  Jesus died for mankind with the offer of personal friendship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Every day grace and mercy and peace are available to God’s children.  God wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives; family, work, play, church, mission.  In other words – our heavenly Father desires to communicate and connect with us.  This is where I believe God is saying “communion” is a key word for us to consider and engage with.  I love this verse from the Old Testament – “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him (2 Chron 16:9). 

            Communion has some wonderful synonyms to consider; Closeness, Compassion, Community, Intimacy, Relationship and Unity.  When we put communion together with “In Remembrance of Jesus” we discover a foundational value of the Kingdom of God – relationships.  We are the family of God and communion with God and each other is a fine goal to pursue in 2019.  “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:5-6).  What a beautiful picture of communion on earth as it is in heaven.

Let me ask you a couple of questions?  Are you interested in communion with God?   Or are you captivated by relationship with God?  On a scale of 1 – 10… where are you at?  We live in a world that provides too many distractions.  There are too many competing voices clamoring for our attention here and there.  What can we do?  I believe that 2019 is a year of opportunity for us to become not merely interested in God but fascinated by who he is and all that he has planned for us.  By fascinated I mean intentionally hungering and thirsting after God and seeking to fulfill his dreams on earth.  In other words, getting to know him and his Kingdom ways more than all that the world has to offer.  Apprehending God’s Heart and Fulfilling His Dreams is still the cry of my heart for Courts of Praise. 

So what does this “communion” look like in practice?  Firstly, Worship and the Word.  He is looking for true worshippers of Spirit and truth (John 4:34), for people who will devour his Word (Psalm 119).   Secondly, God has his ear on those who pray; not just simple religious or bless me prayers but prayers that thirst and pant for God as the deer pants for water (Psalm 42), prayers that are desperate and full of faith, prayers that long to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10).  God is not looking for a good song service, casual or brief reading of his Holy Scriptures or mechanical prayers.  In some ways we are genuine and growing in our communion with God and each other, and yet at other times we fall short of God’s glory.  One of the main reasons that the Great Commission is a struggle for many is that the life of Communion is lacking. 

Our Father in Heaven is looking for fascination, awe, amazement, and wonder to fill the hearts of his children once again.  He is also looking for a “communion” of the saints where there is love and care for each other.  “We are becoming a grace-full, loving, accepting and forgiving community of believers from all nations that celebrate each other and who are committed to bringing souls into God’s kingdom.”  Communion is both vertical with God and horizontal with each other and I am believing and praying for both in 2019.  But I must say that communion in and of itself is not complete unless there is a plan – a commission.

Commission

            Fulfilling His Dreams is part of the motto here at Courts of Praise.  This is all about the Great Commission.  The co-mission we are involved is the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Matt 28:18-20 is one of the foundational Scriptures of Foursquare Churches around the world – “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Over the past ten years or so we have put this verse into practice in a variety of ways.

·      Personal one on one evangelism, many of us sharing our testimonies of Jesus changing our lives. 

·      We done BBQ’s in the park.

·      PJ parties for the girls in Pleasant Hill School.

·      Outdoor concerts.

·      Mission trips to India and the Philippines.

·      Stephen’s Backpacks.

·      Mission trips within Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

·      Partnering with Foursquare churches and missions.

·      Prairie Light Christian Fellowship

 

Randy Barnetson who pastors the Street Church, a Foursquare work in downtown Vancouver was recently asked, “What is the Word for 2019?” I said “pretty much the same as He was saying in 2018.... “Visit the prisoners, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”  I was blessed and challenged by Randy’s response.  He did not give some super-duper-spiritual-God-prophecy.  He kept it plain and simple and Biblical. 

I am not interested in “church as usual”.  Could the answer be as simple as making the transition from being fascinated with God once again (Communion) to intentional acts of Good News (Commission).  What does this look like?  During the Christmas season of 2018 we once again joined with Stephen’s Backpacks.  We shared the message with the congregation, engaged in fundraising and promotion.  However, one major difference was this – we packed backpacks together on a Sunday morning as part of our church service.  This service was a lot of work for many, set up, packing backpacks, clean up and then the delivery.  But over-all was one of the most productive services we have had at Courts of Praise in a long time.

What happened?  There was a convergence of Communion and Commission.  We worshipped together, shared the Word, prayed, had guest speakers from Pleasant Hill School and then we packed backpacks together – Fulfilling His Dreams and our too. 

In conclusion

            It is my hope and prayer that this 2019 will be a year of Communion and Commission meeting together for us.  A year of awe and fascination towards God.  Let’s draw near to God and in turn he will draw near to us (James 4:4).  The more we seek God the more he desires to share himself with us.  Let’s taste and see that the Lord is Good (Psalm 34:7).  Let’s be like the Bereans who “were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  Let’s walk in fellowship and unity with each other – this is true communion. 

But we are not going to stop there.  In the months ahead we are going to discover how we can be practically involved with sharing the Great Commission here is Saskatoon and beyond.  The Commission will involve our time, energy and money.  There is something wonderful when the family of God comes together fulfilling the plans and purposes of God. 

In application

We have a week of Prayer & Fasting in conjunction with our Foursquare Church Family.

           

We are planning for Feb 10/19 Mission’s Sunday – Lighthouse gifts bags for Feb 14th.

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Story

December 25th is just around the corner and there's no doubt we're all aware, it's the Christmas Season. We see the signs everywhere. Houses, streets and shopping malls are deck out with color and lights. Christmas music plays, and most everyone seems to be in a joyful spirit. People searching for the perfect gift and making sure it's wrapped and under the tree for their loved ones. When the big day arrives there's an excitement, the gifts are opened, paper is scattered about but, it is not long before life returns to normal and maybe even a disappointment or two set in, because what they were seeking was not found in a gift-wrapped package. Please don't misunderstand, giving and receiving gifts are wonderful. A way we express our love for one another, but there is only one gift that can truly satisfy.

Imagine for a moment the shepherds tending flocks of sheep on the hills outside of Bethlehem. Throughout the day the shepherds watched as the people grew in number. Some had journeyed from far away because Augustus decreed a census should be taken. As day turned into evening, maybe some of the shepherd noticed a donkey carrying a woman who was with child, being led by a man. They might have even wondered where the couple would stay as now there was no more room in Bethlehem. The stillness of the night settled in and there seemed to be an anticipation in the air, could it be just because of the gathering of the people for the census, or was there some more about to take place.

Before we talk about the birth of Jesus. Here is little history concerning the date, December 25, some may already know this. December 25th was a pagan Roman holiday before the birth of Christ. It was celebrated as the birthday of the sun god Mithra. Most ancient religions had a sun god of some sort. Around 350 AD, December 25 was Christianize by the Roman Catholic Church. Even though we did not know the exact date of Jesus Birth. There is nothing wrong in our celebrating Jesus Birthday on the December 25, but as believers in Christ we should remember to celebrate in a way that brings glory and honor to Him.

The Birth of Jesus is one of the most significant events in the history of mankind. The Old Testament prophesied Jesus would be born of a virgin. He would a restorer of Israel, and light to the gentiles (meaning us). Most of all he would bring Salvation to the world

·      Is. 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel

·      Is 49:6 He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

 

In Matthew and Luke, we find the genealogy of Jesus. About 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Micah prophesied the place Jesus’ would be born Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. These scriptures and many more were known to the Jewish people. They had been handed down by word of mouth for generations. The people were in anticipation of the Messiah coming.

Luke 2: 1:7 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. While reading the passage from Luke there were couple of things that caught my attention. First, are the cloths, mentioned in Luke 2:7. Some translation say, "strips of cloth", like the NLT. Where the AKJV reads clothes, which seems to indicate a complete garment. These were more likely strips of cloth Mary used to wrapped Jesus in. This will be made clear as we processed. Scripture mentions the swaddling or wrapping snuggly two times. Once with Mary and then when the angel speaks to the shepherds.

I recently read a book on the cultural insights of First Century Jewish Life. The strips of cloth were fresh in my thoughts when Larry asked if I would read the Christmas story. In "Understanding Jesus" by Joe Amaral. He shares about a Jewish cultural practice during the First century where if you’re going on a long journey you would take strips of cloth in case one was to die. The strip was then used to wrap the dead body in to prepare for burial. He says these strips of cloth were what Mary wrapped Jesus, giving us a glimpse of God's future plan for salvation and foreshadowing the death of Jesus.

It was becoming clear the strip of cloth was written in scripture for a reason, especially when we read they are mentioned again where the shepherds are concerned. When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem and discovered there was no rooms available they were provided lodging in the caves were the sheep were born. It is possible if there were rooms available in the inn Mary would have had help in delivering Jesus and he would have been swaddled in something else. But God have a different plan for the birth of his Son. So, Mary wrapped Jesus in the only available resource they had, which spoke volumes to the Jewish community then, and to us today. Luke 2:8-14 8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

As I read from other sources, having to do the "strip of cloth" information concerning the shepherds came to light. It was not normal for shepherds to tend large flock close to where people lived, because the odor from the flocks made it hard for people to breath. Therefore, the flocks were normally confined far from where people resided. The question then is, why were there shepherds in Bethlehem?

 

Bethlehem was the exception.

 

Those sheep that grazed on the hillsides of Bethlehem, belonged to the High Priest and his family. For centuries lambs were raised in Bethlehem, which is located about 6 miles from Jerusalem. Each lamb was declared to be unblemished by the priests and they were separated to be sacrificed in the Temple or eaten as Passover lamb in Jerusalem. The flock of lambs required a great host of shepherds that worked in shifts. Some watched the sheep while the others slept. It is no coincidence that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was also born in the same town as the sacrificial lambs were raised. John the Baptist said of Jesus, behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The angel told the Shepherds they would recognized the baby by the "sign of being wrapped in strips of cloth." Luke 2: 12. My first though was, why did these shepherds who looked after the sheep, need the sign of "strips of cloth" to recognize the baby. Then I read the following quote by a Jewish Rabbi from New Jersey Rabbi Sobel offers a fascinating view of Jesus and the swaddling clothes. He says, "the so called "Levitical Shepherds" would wrap the lambs in swaddling clothes to protect them, thereby offering lambs without blemish for the Passover lamb."

Another source reads: "The Shepherds had been designated from the time they were very young and assigned the task of "keeping watch” over the Temple’s flocks. One of their tasks was to make certain that none of these lambs were blemished while being birthed. The lambs were immediately wrapped in "swaddling cloths" after their births to protect them from injury. Baby lambs tend to thrash about and harm themselves in their first couple of hours of their lives. The shepherds who attended these lambs, were under special rabbinical care, and were required to keep their birthing caves ritually clean."

It is in one of these caves, it is believed Jesus was born. Rabbi Sobel also says. "What did the shepherd see as they as they arrived where Jesus was born. A baby born in the same place the Passover lambs were born, swaddled like a Passover lamb, pointing to the fact, the Baby Jesus, the Messiah was the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world." Those Levitical Shepherds on the hillside of Bethlehem, who raised, nurtured and cared for the Passover Lambs, also knew the prophesies concerning the coming of the Messiah. When they witnessed Jesus wrapped snuggly in strips of cloth, I believe their eyes were opened and they understood this little baby was the Lamb of God. After witnessing this they went and spread the Good News to everyone.

Luke 2: 15-20 15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Jesus the only begotten Son of God, willing gave up all the Glory of Heaven, left his Father's throne and stepped from eternity into time to become the Lamb of God, shedding his blood for our sin. It is because of His great love for us, he freely gave the Gift of himself. The only gift that truly satisfies completely. As we celebrate with family and friends this Christmas I hope we all stop and ponder the cost of the Gift Jesus gave, and offer back to him the living sacrifices of our hearts completely without reservation.

Is 9:6-7 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace. There will be no end.

By Bette Bechal

 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins 

Introduction 

One of the most exciting themes of the Scriptures is that of Biblical Prophecy.  The Old Testament often speaks of what will happen in the future relating to the Kingdom of God.  There are over 400 appearances, foreshadowings and prophecies that relate to the person of Jesus Christ as the Messiah in the Old Testament.  We know that King Jesus has come in the Kingdom of God and yet there are still questions regarding the prophetic and futuristic nature of this kingdom.  In Matthew 24:1-3 the disciples and Jesus get into a discussion about the temple leading to a question about the future.  “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  This is the beginning of a discourse where Jesus teaches about the signs of the end of the age.  There will be deception, false Christs, wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes, birth pains, persecution, many will be led into sin, love growing cold, the abomination that causes desolation, fleeing to the mountains, great distress, the sun will be darkened, lightning from the east to the west and the Son of Man will appear.  Wow, what a list.  Christians do differ on how to interpret the Bible’s prophetic portions, but in Matthew 24-25 we have several clues.  Firstly, these are the very words of Jesus.  He tells us, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt 24:36).  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42).  Once again Jesus’ teaching is followed by several parables.  Today, we will be looking at the Parable of the Ten Virgins. 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins 

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.  

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’  

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’  

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’  

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.  

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’  

12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’  

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.  

 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins has brought up much debate as to the meaning of the words of Jesus.  This is because of the futuristic nature of Jesus’ teaching in Matt 24 followed by him telling this parable and two more, the Parable of the Talents and the Sheep and Goats.  Several things can be confirmed as truth, the bridegroom is Jesus Christ, this parable describes Jesus’ return and that not everyone makes it to the wedding. 

On the other hand, the historical setting can be known with a fair amount of certainty.  Jesus is describing a first-century Jewish wedding which differs greatly from our contemporary wedding ceremonies.  In an ancient Jewish wedding there are three aspects to consider.  Firstly, the shiddukhin (mutual commitment); this is the getting to know one another and each other’s family, prior to engagement.   Secondly, the erusin (engagement); the groom would give the bride money or a valuable object such as a ring, and a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows.  This was a public ceremony where the couple entered into the betrothal period, which typically lasted for about a year.  Although they were considered married, they did not live together or engage in sexual relations.  The bridesmaids were responsible to keep the bride faithful during this year of waiting.  During the year or so of engagement, the groom would get ready a suitable place for living while the bride prepared herself and her wedding dress.  Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour.  It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for him to return to collect his bride.  For that reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night.  Lastly, there was the nissuin (marriage) which was consummated in the marriage bed, making certain that the bride was indeed a virgin.  When the groom finally arrived with some of his closest friends, there would be a processional through the street in the evening to their new home.  The bridesmaids would each carry their own torch surrounding the bride on the journey to her new home.   

Coming of the Bridegroom 

Let’s look again at the Parable of the Ten Virgins.  There are some important things to take to heart in the context of the signs of the times related to Jesus return.  First, there are various interpretations related to the Return of Jesus.  Is it his return for the rapture of the Church?  Is it his return to set up the Millennial Kingdom at the end of the Tribulation?  Is it his Second Coming ushering those into eternity?  I am not going to attempt to answer these questions here.  Regardless of which return it is, the lessons to be learned are relevant to all.  This parable’s main lesson is to be ready because the groom will return at an unexpected time. 

The Ten Virgins 

The parable focuses on the Ten Virgins, five foolish and five wise.  Why would Jesus use the number 10?  This number was significant to the Jewish people, it would capture their attention; 10 men to hold a synagogue service, 10 men were present to confirm circumcision, 10 in a house to keep the Passover, 10 present at a marriage, Boaz had 10 witnesses at his marriage (Ruth 4:2), God would spare the city for 10 righteous (Gen 18:32) and of course the 10 Commandments… 

There are also various interpretations as to who the virgins represent.  The 10 virgins all had oil.  Does this mean they were all Christians?  Five Christians who profess Jesus and live it 

Five kind-of Christians who don’t possess Jesus.  Or five spirit filled Christians and five without the Holy Spirit.  These ideas have been debated throughout the years.   

The 10 ladies did have things in common; All were virgins, All had lamps, All had oil, All were waiting, and All fell asleep.  Why?  Because they were waiting for the bridegroom to come late into the night.  The foolish did not have enough oil in their lamp which was most likely carried on a large pole and was used for walking at night to light the way, not a small table lamp.  The wise virgins took extra oil in jars.  This highlights a significant difference between them.  The word for foolish in the Greek language is “moros” from which we get the English word moron; to be dull of thinking, lacking common sense or judgement.  On the other hand, there were five wise virgins who were exercising good judgement, insight and prudence as seen in Prov 22:3 – “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”  The wise virgins were thinking ahead.  We don’t know when the groom is coming?  We should have extra oil just in case.   

What is the lesson Jesus is trying to teach?  In the Last Days (it has been the Last Days for every generations since the Day of Pentecost) it is IMPORTANT to have EXTRA OIL, not just the oil in the lamp...  What does it mean to have extra oil?  What does the oil represent?  At times we are excited about our relationship with God, and the Second Coming and are filled with passion.  Or maybe in other moments we are tired and weary with life and busyness and waiting.  When I think of “extra oil” I think of a Christian life filled with the fulness of God.  This speaks to me of an over flowing of the Holy Spirit who gives us the character and capabilities we need to live an overcoming life – to the end.   

Sobering Truth 

I find the idea of five foolish virgins not making it to the wedding a sobering thought.  In the context of the Coming of Jesus Christ, Jesus is saying that not everyone will endure to the end and make it to his Wedding Supper.  When the five foolish virgins ask for oil from the wise, the answer is to “go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”  Of course, it is too late, and the result is not making it into the wedding, which implies not making it into heaven.  They ask for the door to the wedding to be opened but the bridegroom says, “I don’t know you.”  The warning to the church “throughout the ages” has been – beware of the dangers of catnapping, comfort, compromise or convenience; these will produce foolish living.  Five virgins left behind is a terrible thing…  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matt 25:13). 

In Conclusion 

The punch line of the parable is that Christ will return at an unknown hour and that his people must be ready.  Being ready means preparing for those difficult situations that arise in our lives by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus at all times.  It is important to keep our lamps burning with passion so to speak.  There are times when life is hard and challenging but we must trust in the Lord to help us endure through those circumstances.   Whatever we may be doing, whether working, eating, sleeping, going to school or enjoying holidays.  We must be doing life in such a way that we don’t have to “make things right” (get more oil) when the Bridegroom comes.   

We don’t want to be the five virgins without enough oil present to make it to the wedding.  They were enjoying the benefits of the wedding community but were without true love for the groom.  Sometimes there are “foolish Christians” who think that their association with true believers will bring them into the kingdom at the end.  They make think, I go to church… so everything is OK.  “I have prophesied in Jesus Name,” “I have cast out demons in Jesus Name, and performed miracles” (Matt 7:21-23).   

Undoubtedly, we must make sure we have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  We must understand and experience what it means to be born again through the saving faith of Jesus Christ; his virgin birth, sinless life, his death and burial and resurrection from the dead.  This parable is a strong reminder to make sure our lamps are full and that we have extra oil, no matter the circumstances of life and no matter how long we wait.  The wise virgins were more interested in the coming of the Bridegroom than the wedding itself.  This must be our desire as well, to know Jesus and to be fully known by Jesus. 

The one thing the bridegroom longs for is relationship and intimacy.  One person’s faith in Jesus cannot save another.  Our faith in Jesus must be personal and corporate, obedient, loving, and surrendered.  At times, we may feel like we are missing some of the “fire in our hearts” for Jesus.  That’s ok, as long as we recognize our lack of passion and take measures to fill our lamp with oil and take extra along.   

In Application 

Three important lessons come to my mind for application. 

We don’t know the day or time therefore keep praying, waiting and watching with joy and anticipation.  Think about the return of Jesus.  Take time to meditate on the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Get excited for Jesus’ return. 

Fill up your lamps with oil.  “I pray that you fill me with the Father, the Son and the holy Ghost, no, not the Holy Ghost – the Holy Spirit” … Ask the Lord for his character to fill your lives; the fruit of the Spirit.  This is the grace-ability to live each and every day for the glory of God.  This does not mean we are always going to be perfect, but that we are agreeing to be true followers of Jesus.   

Fill up your jars with EXTRA oil.  I believe this is a combination of hope and expectation and faith in action.  Nothing is too difficult for God.  But there are circumstances that can be beyond our comfort zones.  This is where we need EXTRA oil to last through the long night.   

 

Let’s Pray…