I Wish You A Taste Of Hell!

December 30, 2016

Image result for photo hellRevelation 21:8

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

I Wish You A Taste Of Hell!  That’s a terrible title for a blog to start the new year, just two days away!  And yet, as they say, “There’s a method to my madness!”  You see, if we have a realistic view of hell, it will be an impetus for at least three things:

•      To be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ for salvation!  As Paul wrote in Romans 3:32, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And because of being sinners, the apostle further says in Ephesians 4:17 and 18, that unbelievers live “…in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the hardening of their heart….”  And in Colossians 1:21, 2:13, and 3:6:  They are “…enemies in…[their] mind by wicked works…dead in trespasses and….[living under] the wrath of God…[which is] upon the sons of disobedience.”  According to the Bible, we need to be reconciled to God!  We need to escape His wrath, which finally lands us in hell if the sin problem is not resolved!

But God has made the way through His Son paying the full price for our sins! (See II John 1:16, 17; Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:13; I John 1:7).  All we have to do is receive Him as our Savior, believing He died for me, paying for my sins! (See John 1:12; Acts 2:28; 10:43;16:30, 31).  So, if we have an understanding of hell, we look to God’s way of salvation – the only way (see John 14:6) – to escape hell!

•      For giving us…so great a salvation…” (Hebrews 2:3), we will want to live our lives in a godly way to say,Thank you, Lord!

•      In the same way that we would not stand idly by if we could physically help someone escape a fiery death, so, if we have a biblical knowledge of the unbeliever’s eternal destination, we will want to share with them the way of escape – that they must personally put their faith in Jesus Christ!

There is the true story (although I cannot recall the details of who, when, and where) of a seminary professor who faithfully taught his students during their years under his tutelage.  Just before their graduation, in their last class with him, he told them:

      I wish I could do one more thing before you go out into the world from this
      seminary.  I wish I could dangle you on a thin string over the open pits of
      hell for just three seconds – and then turn you loose to go tell a lost world
      of God’s salvation!

Oh, what powerful witnesses for the Lord they would then be!

Perhaps the next best thing to that would be a serious study of what the Bible tells us about hell!  And now, we finally get to our featured Scripture, Revelation 21:8:

      But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral,
      sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which
      burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

I have heard it said more than once by one who is not a Christian and is warned of going to hell:  “It’s fine with me!  All my friends will be there, and we will have one big party!”  But look again at the list of those inhabiting hell in our this Scripture:  “…the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars….Plus there will be there “…the devil…the beast and the false prophet…” (Revelation 20:10).  It sure does not sound like company to eternally keep!

There are other Scriptures also that can add to our knowledge of hell.

•      Hell is an eternal experience of torture!  Revelation 14:11 – “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night…” (see also Revelation 20:10).

•      Those in hell are fully conscious!  In Luke 16:22 through 24 (King James Version) it is written:

      The rich man…died and was buried.  And in hell he lift up his eyes, being
      in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  And
      he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,
      that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am
      tormented in this flame.

•      Hell is likened to the Valley of Gehenna in Mark 9, verses 44, 46, and 48.  What is the Valley of Gehenna?   Located just south of Jerusalem…

      …this place [is where] human sacrifices were offered to Molech; these altars
      were destroyed by Josiah (2 Kings 23:10).  The valley was later declared to be
      ‘the valley of slaughter’ by Jeremiah (Jer. 7:30-33).  The valley was used as a
      burial place for criminals and for burning garbage.  (William Crockett, Four
      Views of Hell, p. 58).

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I remember taking garbage to the Amenia dump.  It was a large dump where people had been disposing of garbage for years, throwing it over the steep hill, into smoldering fires at the bottom.  After heaving our load over the side, my friend and I walked over to an older part of the dump.  It was getting dark and we couldn’t see much down the dark slope.  But we could hear the constant gnawing and moving about of rats, worms, and other creatures.  I picked up a rock and tossed it down on the dark surface of the hill – and the dump surface started to move – up toward us!  It was covered with rats!  And they were coming up the hill to attack their attackers!  Needless to say, we ran to the car and got out of there as fast as we could!

This incident reminds me of what Jesus said three times in Mark 9, as mentioned above:

      …if your hand (foot, eye) makes you sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to
      enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire
      which shall never be quenched — where their worm does not die and the
      fire is not quenched.

So avoid hell at all costs!  But realize, the cost has been paid already by Jesus Christ!  Put your faith in Him!  And with that lingering Taste Of Hell, tell others also how they can be saved!

Praying God’s Word

December 28, 2016

Image result for photo prayingPsalm 141:1-4 (Contemporary English Version)

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

The Apostle Paul wrote an insightful statement in Romans 8:26 and 27:

      …the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we
      should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession
      for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  Now He who searches
      the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes inter-
      cession for the saints according to the will of God.

Peter tells us in II Peter 1:21, “…prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  Now, putting these two Scriptural ideas together – the Holy Spirit wrote the Word, that Word being exactly what God wants to be said.  And also He helps us pray, interpreting our prayers before the Father exactly as they should be worded.  So it stands to reason that if we use Scripture – applying it to needful areas in our lives, and praying it back to God concerning those areas, it will be just what He wants to hear!

I will give an illustration from my own experience.  I sometimes say things without thinking of the consequences, of how the meaning will be perceived by the hearer.  I also define my thinking by this lighthearted (but too often true) quip – “I have a warped mind!”  And sometimes when I think something might be funny or cute, it turns out to be offensive to those listening!  So I came across this Scripture from Psalm 141:1 through 4 – especially concentrating on verse 3 – and I am making this a prayer to be repeated as I begin each day.  Here is what David wrote in these verses (Contemporary English Version):

      I pray to you, LORD!  Please listen when I pray and hurry to help me. 
      Think of my prayer as sweet-smelling incense, and think of my lifted
      hands as an evening sacrifice.  Help me to guard my words whenever
      I say something.  Don’t let me want to do evil or waste my time doing
      wrong with wicked people.  Don’t let me even taste the good things they

Verse 3 I will often repeat:  “Help me to guard my words whenever I say something.”  Now that is practical praying!  Did David get into trouble at times by saying wrong things?  I think his most besetting problems occurred after he sent word via messengers to Bathsheba to join him for intimate dalliance! (See II Samuel 11:1-5).  The message sent by a king, though spoken by someone else, was as if the king was speaking himself.  And Bathsheba became pregnant!  David’s words got him into increasing trouble as he sent for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, and schemed to induce intimacy between the two to cover up his own adulterous sin! (See II Samuel 11:6-13).  When that didn’t work according to his plan, David finally wrote (said) to his general Joab,Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.” (II Samuel 11:15).  There are other times his tongue got him into trouble, but this is the most egregious example!

Is it any wonder that James writes in James 3:5 through 8:

      …the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.  See how great
      a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. 
      The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body,
      and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.  For
      every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed
      and has been tamed by mankind.  But no man can tame the tongue.  It
      is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

No, no man can tame the tongue!  But God can!  And so David prayed – and I pray – “Help me to guard my words whenever I say something.

Is it a difficult matter to tame the tongue – even when we ask God to intervene and accomplish it?  I believe it can be.  It is much like seeking help with any habitual or addicting problem.  This is why David began this Psalm with his plea in verse 1:  “I pray to you, LORD!  Please listen when I pray and hurry to help me.”  But we today (in this New Testament age) have more encouragement than did David:

•      Mark 10:27 – “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.

•      Luke 11:9 and 10 – “I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

•      John 8:32 and 36 – “…you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free….if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

•      Philippians 2:12 and 13 – “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

•      Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

•      I Corinthians 6:12 – “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

So search the Bible, and pick out Scriptures that apply to you, and to that in your life with which you are struggling!  Then use those passages and pray them back to God!  The results can be amazing!

II Corinthians 4:6; 3:18

December 26, 2016

Image result for photo unwrapping christmas presents

Unwrapping The Best Present

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

We have given up fancy wrappings for Christmas presents!  With six grandboys (ages two to ten) and two great grandchildren (ages five and newborn), wrapping paper on Christmas morning seems to fly in every direction – ripped to shreds!  The kids are much more interested in what’s inside the wrapping (no matter how pretty the wrapping paper, bows, and ribbons are) than what surrounds the gifts!

But when it comes to Unwrapping The Best Present, we need to carefully pay attention to all the beautiful layers surrounding that core Present.  This is what our two featured Scriptures for today infer.  And I will quote them in the order listed – II Corinthians 4:6 and 3:18:

      For it is…God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has
      shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
      in the face of Jesus Christ….But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as
      in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into that same
      image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

The Best Present is, of course, Jesus Christ!  And God, in all His magnificent fulness, is revealed in Him! (See John 14:9; Colossians 2:9).  This is what Paul is saying in II Corinthians 4:6:  “…the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [is revealed] in the face of Jesus Christ.”  So if we are going to know God, then we must carefully examine the many layers of His Son!

This careful examination – and the process that will take place in us to transform us into His image as we examine Him – is what the II Corinthians 3:18 is all about.  Let’s look closely at this verse as we are Unwrapping The Best Present – the Lord Jesus Christ!

•      “But we all….” – When the apostle says we all, he is implying that the task of examining God’s gift to the world (see John 3:16), is not reserved for just a few Bible scholars!  It is for everyone – as implied in II Timothy 2:15 (King James Version); and II Peter 3:18:

      Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to
      be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth….But grow in the grace
      and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

All of us are given this challenge!

•      “…with unveiled face…” is a reference to what Paul was referring in the verses just before II Corinthians 3:18.  In verses 7 through 16, he is writing about the fading glory of the old Jewish covenant, and the permanent much greater glory of the new covenant in Christ!  The example of the fading glory of the old is the way Moses’ face shown with the glory of God after he had spent time in Jehovah’s presence (see Exodus 33:29-35).  But this reflected glory was not permanent! It faded as time went on!

Concerning us – those who live under the new covenant of Jesus Christ – it says in I Corinthians 3:13 (Contemporary English Version), “…Moses…covered…his face to keep the people of Israel from seeing the brightness fade away.”  “But we all, with unveiled face…” refers to what Paul says in II Corinthians 3:17, “…when one turns to the Lord, the veil [of satanic-induced blindness to the things of God – see II Corinthians 4:4] is taken away.”  Once we receive Jesus as our Savior, and have the Holy Spirit residing in us, we can then see spiritual things unhindered!

•      “…beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord…” – The common mirror in Paul’s day was polished bronze.  The reflection it gave was a bit hazy at best, and it would get scratched with use.  It is by faith that we ‘see’ the Lord! (See Hebrews 11:1, 6).  But our faith is a bit, or a whole lot, hazy – like viewing Jesus in a first century mirror.  As we behold Him by faith, we…are being transformed into that same image….”  We become like what we focus upon! (See I John 3:2 for the end result…when…we see Him as He is.”).

•      But there is another dynamic at work here – the Holy Spirit! He permanently resides in every true believer (see Romans 8:11; II Corinthians 1:22; 6:19).   And He takes the living written Word of God (see Hebrews 4:12), revealing the Word of God made flesh – Jesus – and uses that Word to make us into the image of Christ!  I do not fully understand how that is done, but we…behold…the glory of the Lord…by faith, and our faith is made strong by the Word of God! (See Romans 10:17).  So the more we read and study our Bibles, the more we will be…transformed into that same image…of the Son of God!

•      It is a process!  And that process is implied by the phrase, “…glory to glory….”  Little by little, or glory to glory, we become like the One whom we are called to closely follow!  It is especially this phrase that I would liken to Unwrapping The Best Present!  As we peel off one layer of wrapping, we discover another deeper one.  And as we examine eachlayerof God revealed in Jesus Christ, we become more and more like Him!

So be about the task of Unwrapping The Best Present – the Lord Jesus!  And don’t apply this challenge to just this Christmas season!  Continue it all year long – and all the years God allots you after that!

Those Who Stood At The Cradle – God The Father

December 23, 2016

Image result for photo God the FatherJohn 8:29 (International Standard Version)

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

The featured Scripture for today is not part of the traditional Christmas story.  But its truth we can apply to Those Who Stood At The Cradle, for it shows God The Father was there!  Here is what Jesus said in John 8:29 (and the International Standard Version brings it out the best):  “…the One who sent Me is with Me. He has never left He alone because I always do what pleases Him.”  (By the way, the purist might recognize that the ISV does not capitalize pronouns when using them to refer to the Godhead.  But to honor God, I always capitalize these pronouns.)

Was the Father pleased with the birth of Jesus?  It is written in Hebrews 10:5 (Lexham English Bible, quoting Psalm 40:6 – The Septuagint Version):  “Therefore, when He [Jesus] came into the world, He said, ‘Sacrifice and offering You [the Father] did not want, but a body You prepared for Me….”  If the Father, through the Holy Spirit prepared the human body of Jesus for God the Son to inhabit (see Luke 1:35), then surely God the Father was pleased with the incarnation of His Son!

Was the incarnation according to the will of God?  Paul writes in Philippians 2:5 through 8 (American Standard Version):

      …Christ Jesus…existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an
      equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the
      form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found
      in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto
      death, yea, the death of the cross.  Wherefore also God highly exalted
      Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name….

The apostle also wrote in Colossians 2:9, “…in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

So was God the Father pleased to be at the Cradle?  Yes – as any proud father would be at the birth of his son or daughter!  And I can almost hear Him saying what He said on two other occasions:

•      At the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:17, “[the] voice [of the Father] came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

•      When Jesus was transfigured (see Matthew 17:1-8), it says in verse 5, “[the] voice [of the Father] came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear Him!

On Thanksgiving day, at 11:05 AM, our great granddaughter was born.  The whole family, including grandparents and great grandparents were there.  And baby Annabelle’s father?  He was right by her and her mom’s side – pleased as pleased could be!

Yes, there are many emotions that go through a father’s mind as he looks upon his newborn child.  And God the Father would also have a variety of emotions!  I imagine that God the Father (who, according to certain Scriptures can and does feel emotions – see Genesis 6:6; Psalm 7:11; Zephaniah 3:17; I Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 1:19; Hebrews 13:16) rejoiced to see His Son born into the world!  But would He not also feel sadness at the pain and suffering Jesus was destined to experience?  (See John 12:27; I Peter 1:18-20; Revelation 13:8).  But the Father could also look past the suffering of the Son to see Him raised victorious over death, sin, the devil, and hell! (See Isaiah 53:3-12; I Corinthians 15:57; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 2:8, 9; Colossians 1:20; I John 3:8).  And what about the righteous anger the Father directed upon the Son as He was…made sin for us…? (II Corinthians 5:21 – see Messianic Psalm 88:14-16).

We now have completed the series, Those Who Stood At The Cradle.  But the question is this:  Have you stood before this One born to be your Savior and Lord?  And have you bowed before Him, accepting Jesus Christ into your heart and life?  And are you letting Him lead you as your Lord?  Christmas is a wonderful holiday.  But that very word ‘holiday’ comes from Old English haligdæg, meaning “holy day, consecrated day, religious anniversary; Sabbath” (Online Etymology Dictionary).  Is this season holy to you?  Why not make it so!

Those Who Stood At The Cradle – Angels

December 21, 2016

Image result for photo Christmas angelsLuke 2:9-11, 13, 14

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Luke 2:9 through 11, and verses 13 & 14 focus on the Angels of Christmas:

      And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of
      the Lord shone around the…[shepherds]….Then the angel said to them,
      “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which
      shall be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of Da-
      vid a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  And suddenly there was with the
      angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory
      to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The Scriptural record never says the Angels were among Those Who Stood At The Cradle.  But since they were very much a part of this unfolding drama, we can assume the Angels were At The Cradle when Jesus was born!  Let’s look at this miraculous event, and the part which the Angels played:

•      The angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias to announce the birth of John the Baptist (see Luke 1:11-20), the forerunner of the Messiah (see Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1, 2).

•      Gabriel also came to Mary to announce to her that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah! (See Luke 1:26-38).

•      Jesus was “…the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21 – see Matthew 1:21, 25; Luke 1:31).

•      “…an angel of the Lord appeared to…Joseph…in a dream, saying, ‘…do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:20).  Although it does not say, this angel was probably Gabriel, for Gabriel is God’s messenger angel!

•      Again, the angel delivering the message to the shepherds in our featured Scripture above, we can assume to be Gabriel.

After the most blessed event in all of history, angels played a part in the life and protection of the Child Jesus!

•      The wise men were “…divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, [so] they departed for their own country another way.” (Luke 2:12).  Although it does not say that an angel was involved, the usual way for God to communicate, in dreams or otherwise, was to send an angel to do His bidding – probably Gabriel!

•      After the visit of the wise men, “…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt…for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’ ” (Matthew 2:13).  Again, this could have been the messenger angel, Gabriel.

•      Later, “…an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel.’ ” (Matthew 2:19, 20).

•      Once in Israel, Joseph was “…warned by God in a dream, [and] he turned aside into…Galilee…and dwelt in a city called Nazareth….” (Matthew 2:22, 23).

Angels played a great part in the three-and-a-half year ministry of the Lord! (See Matthew 26:53; 28:2, 5; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:10, 22:43; 24:23; John 20:12).

Even at the end of the age, during thegreat tribulation” (Matthew 24:21), angels will be involved in the severe final judgments! (See Matthew 13:41; Revelation chapters 6, 8, 9, 11, 14, -16).  And when Christ shall return asKING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16), Jesus tell us in Matthew 16:27, “…the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels….

So it would make perfect sense that Angels Stood At The Cradle!

Now, this is but a short end-note to this study, but think of just three of the ways angels interact with us as believers:

•      They protect us as our guardian angels! (see II Kings 6:15-17; Psalm 91:11, 12; Acts 12:1-11).

•      “Are…not [angels] all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who inherit salvation? ” (Hebrews 1:14).

•      Luke 16:22 tells us that when “…the beggar Lazarus…died, [he] was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.”  Abraham’s bosom was a Jewish term for paradise.  We will be escorted to heaven by angels – to be welcomed by Jesus Christ Himself! (See Acts 7:55Jesus was standing to welcome Stephen home!)

Thank God for angels!  It would be a protracted study to discover all that the Bible reveals about them!

Those Who Stood At The Cradle – Shepherds

December 19, 2016

Image result for photo Bible shepherdsLuke 2:8-11

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Our featured Scripture is Luke 2:8-11:

      Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the field,
      keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, behold, an angel of the
      Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
      and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be
      afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be
      to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a
      Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

We know the Shepherds Stood At The Cradle because the angel told them in Luke 2:12, “You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  And they immediately went and found the Christ child!  But what significance do the shepherds bring to the Christmas story?

•      The shepherds give us a more accurate time of Jesus’ birth – and it was not on December 25th!  December is a cold and rainy month in Palestine, and shepherds would not have had their flocks in the field at this time.

So what time of year was Jesus born?  Two evidences of one major view is as follows:

      ✞      John the Baptist’s father, the priest Zacharias, who was of the priestly “…division of Abijah…” (Luke 1:5), was serving in the temple at Jerusalem (see Luke 1:8).  It was then that the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son (see Luke 1:13, 19).  Historic calculation shows that this time of service was in the middle of June.  If Elizabeth became pregnant around the end of June (a distinct possibility), then John would have been born at the end of March.  According to Luke 1:26 and 27, “…in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel]…was sent to a virgin…whose …name was Mary…” to announce the coming birth of Jesus.  So Jesus would have been born toward the end of September!

      ✞      John 1:14 (Literal Translation of the Holy Bible) tells us “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”  Some Bible scholars say it makes sense that Jesus’ birth would coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23:34).  That would be in late September by our calendar.

•      Levera Levi in Together In Christ, Form 2, Teacher’s Guide, page 19, writes, “The shepherds were despised by the orthodox good people of the day.  Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they could not observe all the meticulous hand washings and rules and regulations.  Their flocks made far too constant demands on them; and so the orthodox looked down on them as very common people.”

So it was that to these lowly (and often despised) shepherds the privilege of the great angelic announcement came giving the invitation to come and behold the new-born King!  But isn’t that what Jesus tells us in Mark 2:17?  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Paul adds this in I Corinthians 1:26 through 29:

      For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the
      flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chos-
      en the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has
      chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are
      mighty; and the base things of the world, and the things which are des-
      pised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing
      the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

•      But shepherds were the logical choice in another way also.  Is not Jesus described as the good shepherd in John 10:11-16?  And, of course we have Psalm 23 – “The LORD is my shepherd…” (verse 1).

•      The shepherds are a good example for obeying God’s leading!  It says in Luke 2:15 and 16, after “…the angels had gone…the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this…which the Lord has made known to us.’  And they came with haste….”  Do we obey now and with haste?

•      They also show us how to be dynamic witnesses for Christ!  Luke 2:17 tells us, “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying with was told them concerning this Child.”  We, who have Jesus as our Savior, have ‘seen’ Him!  Do we tell others what we have experienced, what He has done for us – saving us from our sins, and giving us life eternal and abundant ? (See John 10:10).

Yes, the shepherds may have been lowly, but they can teach us high and mighty truths!

Those Who Stood At The Cradle – Joseph

December 16, 2016

Related imageLuke 2:18-21, 24

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

There are many Scriptures we could use for Joseph, but I present this one from Luke 2:18 through 21 and 24:

      When…Mary was betrothed to Joseph…she was found with child of the
      Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph…being a just man, and not wanting to make
      her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  But while
      he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared
      to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to
      take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the
      Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name
      JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”  …Then Joseph,
      being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him,
      and took to him his wife….

I find it interesting that of the 17 times that Joseph is mentioned in the gospels, not once do we read of him uttering a word!  But the one thing that stands out to me is Joseph’s obedience!  I believe this is what marks the step father of Jesus as a great man.

•      Matthew 1:19 – In this first mention of Joseph, it says in verse 19 that he was “…a just man….”  According to Strong’s Greek Dictionary, just means:  “equitable (in character or act); by implication innocent, holy (absolutely or relatively)….”  In other words, Joseph was a man who lived a holy life before God!  He was righteous because he trusted in the promises the Lord had revealed in His Scriptures!

This is exactly the same way God has declared men and women righteous ever since the beginning when sin entered into creation!  Back in Joseph’s day, people only had the Old Testament, and promises that God would send His Messiah to redeem His people! (See for instance Isaiah 9:6, 7; 53:1-12; Zechariah 9:9, 10).  Adam and Eve just had Genesis 3:15 to believe.  God told the serpent, “…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”  Today, we have both a multitude of Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment in the New Testament!  But it is still the same way God redeems people – by believing what He has revealed!  As Paul wrote in Romans 4:22, 24 and 25:

      …righteousness…shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised
      up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our
      offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

•      Matthew 1:18, 19 – Joseph was a kind-hearted man!  These verses tell us that “…Mary was found with child…[and] Mary was betrothed to Joseph….”  Betrothal (engagement) was such a binding contract in those days that it could only be broken by divorce!  The normal way to deal with such a scandal was to publicly proclaim the woman’s unfaithfulness, and then to have her stoned to death! (See Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-24; John 8:5).  But Joseph, it says in verse 19, “…not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately.”  Even though he believed Mary to be unfaithful to him and to God, he wanted to spare her public embarrassment and death!

Are we kind-hearted as was Joseph?  Such a characteristic is to be a mark of a true Christian!

      ✞      Psalm 117:2 shows us being kind is one of God’s attributes:  “…His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the LORD endures forever.

      ✞      Godly (agape) love in I Corinthians 13:4 and 5 (English Standard Version):  “
is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.

      ✞      Kindness is the fifth manifestation listed of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23 (New King James Version).

      ✞      Ephesians 4:22 tells us, “…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.

      ✞      In II Peter 1:5 through 7, Peter tells us to add certain characteristics to our Christian life:  “…add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.

•      What about Joseph’s obedience?

      ✞      Matthew 1:20 through 24 – After “…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…,” telling him to accept Mary as his wife – baby Jesus and all – we are told in verse 24, “Then Joseph, being roused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him….

      ✞      Matthew 2:13 and 14 – Again, “…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream…telling him to flee with his family to Egypt to escape King Herod’s murderous intent! (See Matthew 2:14, 16).  It simply says in verse 15, “When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt.

      ✞      Matthew 2:19 it is recorded, “When Herod was dead…an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt…,”and told him to go back to Israel.  We read no word of argument or question from Joseph.  But in verse 21 it simply says, “Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.

      ✞      Matthew 2:22 – “…he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father Herod….And being warned of God in a dream, [Joseph obeyed and]…turned aside into the region of Galilee.
      ✞      Joseph obeyed the “…decree…from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” (Luke 2:1-5); even though it meant a 90 mile trip to Bethlehem with a very pregnant wife!

      ✞      He also obeyed the Jewish law to circumcise Jesus on the eighth day (see Leviticus 12:3; Luke 2:21), and to dedicate Him at the Jerusalem temple 40 days after His birth (see Leviticus 12:4-8, Luke 2:22).

      ✞      Joseph was obedient to what is written in Deuteronomy 11:18 and 19, “…teaching [all the Godly laws]…to your children….”  For it says in Luke 2:51 and 52 that Jesus…went down with [His parents]…and was subject to them….And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

We are told in Mark 12:30, “…you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  But Jesus tells us in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”  Or, “If you love Me, obey Me!”  Do you love Jesus?  Do you obey Him?

Those Who Stood At The Cradle – Mary

December 14, 2016

Image result for photo MaryLuke 1:30-33, 38

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Our featured Scripture is Luke 1:30 through 33, and verse 38:

      Then the angel [Gabriel] said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you
      have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb
      and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.  He will be great,
      and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give Him
      the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob
      forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”  …Then Mary said, “Be-
      hold the maidservant of the Lord!  Let it be to me according to your word.”

Thus begins the Christmas story in our Bible.  But actually, it began long before.  The whole Word of God is centered on Jesus Christ!  After all, “…His name is called the Word of God.” (Revelation 19:13 – see also John 1:1, 14).  The first promise of His coming is just 71 verses into Genesis! (See Genesis 3:15).

But we are emphasizing Mary.  She was young. Many scholars believe she may have been only 12 to 15 years of age!  It was the Jewish custom of those New Testament days for girls to marry very young.  She must have been fearfully astonished when the angel appeared to her.  It tells us in Luke 1:28 and 29, “…the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’  But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying….”  Troubled, in Strong’s Greek Dictionary, means “to disturb wholly, that is, agitate (with alarm).”  There were several things she would be facing that would disturb her and cause her alarm:

•      She was an unmarried virgin! (See Luke 1:27).  This, by the way, perfectly fulfilled Isaiah 7:14:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  In Matthew 1:23 it says, “…Immanuel [means]…‘God with us.’ ”  What would people think of her being pregnant?

•      She was the daughter of Joachim and Anna, according to The Proto-Evangelion of James, an apocryphal writing from about 150 A.D.  They were a godly couple who raised their daughter to be a righteous young lady.  What would her parents’ reaction be?

•      Also, we are told in Luke 1:27, “…Mary…was…betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph…” (see also Matthew 1:18).  Joseph was a godly man who dearly loved Mary.  And so binding was a betrothal in those days that it was considered a union to be broken only by divorce!  Joseph, at the time of this betrothal, is even called her husband in Matthew 1:28!  What would he think?  What would he do?

•      Mary was facing a possible death sentence!  The strict Jewish Old Testament law reads thus in Leviticus 20:10:  “…the adulterer and the adulteress…shall surely be put to death.

Facing misunderstanding, ostracism, heartbreak, and even death – Mary humbly acquiesced.

We now come to The Cradle, the time of Jesus’ birth.  We don’t know about Mary’s parents, or the town folk of Nazareth, but Joseph had come to believe his betrothed – even though it took an angelic visit to do it! (See Matthew 1:19-25).  And Mary knew this child was special!  The angel had told her:

      He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord
      God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over
      the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
      (Luke 1:32 and 33).

I’m sure Joseph had also told his betrothed what Gabriel had said to him:  “...that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20 and 21).

What can we learn from Mary?

•      First of all, those of non-Catholic faith do not emphasize and honor her enough!  Mary was an amazing woman!  According to the Scriptures, she never doubted God or lost her faith! (The possible exception is recorded in Mark 3:21, and 31 through 33).  She maintained constant faith in her Son!  And since (according to Romans 10:17) “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God…,Mary must have been a woman who was constantly in the Scriptures! (see Deuteronomy 6:7-9; 11:18-21; Psalm 1:2; Colossians 3:16).  Are you such a person of the Word and of faith?

•      She should not be held so high as to be worshiped!  The last mention of Mary is in Acts 1:14, where she and many others “…continued with one accord in prayer and supplication…” in the upper room.  She is not mentioned once in the New Testament outside of the gospels and this one reference in Acts!

We need to heed what the writer of Hebrews records in Hebrews 1:6:  “Let all the angels of God worship [Jesus]….”  If all angels are to worship Him, should not we?  And what is worship?  It is described in Psalm 95:6 through 8:

      O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our
      Maker.  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the
      sheep of His hand.  Today if you will hear His voice:  Do not harden your

To worship Jesus is to totally acknowledge Him as Lord – to fully obey Him!

•      Mary is the woman who most closely fits the description of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31:16 through 31.  Women – as well as men – ought to emulate the characteristics so described!

There is much more that could be said about Mary, but this is enough for today.

Following The Star – II

December 12, 2016

Image result for photo wise menMatthew 2:1, 2

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

We learned last Friday the reasons why the wise men could not have come to the stable when Jesus was born.  But they arrived at a house in Bethlehem up to two years later.  Now let’s examine what led them to the One born King of the Jews.  Here again is Matthew 2:1 and 2:

      Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod
      the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
      “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen
      His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

It says they had seen His star in the East and followed its leading light.  But why did the wise men follow the star in the first place?  We have to consider what is written in some of the Old Testament Scriptures:

•      Six hundred years before Christ, Daniel was taken captive and deported to Babylon in the first deportation of the Babylonian captivity.  Although only a teenager of about 15, Daniel was a godly young man, steeped in Jewish religion, culture, and history.  He, and other godly Jews brought with them the Hebrew Scriptures.  These Scriptures included the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses 800 years before – plus the early Jewish written history (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I and II Kings) and the writings of the prophets up to 605 B.C. (in chronological order – Jonah, Joel, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah).  So from that time of Daniel, the Hebrew Scriptures were available in Babylonia and Persia for hundreds of years thereafter!

•      Within those Scriptures was the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17:

      I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come
      out of Jacob; a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of
      Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.

A Scepter refers to a king.  And this One will be a very powerful King because He will conquer Moab (a militarily powerful enemy of Israel for centuries) and any other nation or tribe that causes tumult!  In other words, this King would be a potent world Ruler!

•      The birth of a king, especially one destined to be a great king, was often associated with astronomical/astrological signs!  And the wise men (also called magi – from which we get our words magic and magician) were astronomers/astrologers who observed the heavens for signs and portents.  By the way, Daniel was a magi!

So now we come to the wise men of Matthew chapter 2.  They had studied the stars and were drawn to the bright heavenly phenomenon called the star of Bethlehem.  Believing this to be a sign of a significant happening, they searched the ancient writings of many cultures in their extensive libraries.  And then they found it – the centuries-old Hebrew Scripture recording the prophetic utterance of Balaam:  “…a Star shall come out of Jacob; a scepter shall rise out of Israel….”  So they took their finding to their king, convincing him of the star heralding a very significant happening, and received permission and funding for a long trip to Palestine to discover who it was to whom the Judean scepter belonged!

The wise men logically first came to Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah.  But the king they found on Judah’s throne – King Herod – certainly could not be the ruler prophesied in Numbers 24!  So they queried, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? ”  And the Jewish scribes, who knew all the Old Testament Scriptures, gleaned this further information from Micah 5:2:

      But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thou-
      sands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler
      in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

And so the wise men followed “…the star which they had seen in the East…till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” (Matthew 2:9).

What lesson does this have for us today?

•      The wise men closely followed the star until they found the One born King of the Jews!  In the prophecy from Numbers 24:17, the Star is a Person, obviously the Lord Jesus Christ!  How closely are you following Him?

•      Matthew 2:11 – “…they…fell down and worshiped Him.”  How often do you “…worship the Lord your God…” (Matthew 4:10)?  We attend Sunday morning service (if, indeed, we do!) and we call it worship.  But do we really worship our Lord?  See Psalm 108:1-5 and Revelation 7:9-12 for ideas of what it means to truly worship God!

•      Matthew 2:11 – “…they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  These were perhaps the most rare and expensive gifts that could have been offered at that time in history!  And they were given both freely and gladly!  What is it that the Lord wants from you and me?  The answer is found in Mark 12:30:  “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength….”  He wants you!  This is the best gift you can give Him – your heart and life!

So take new meaning from Following The Star, and follow closely Jesus Christ!

Following The Star – I

December 9, 2016

Image result for photo wise menMatthew 2:1, 2

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Part of the first Christmas story always includes the wise men from the East. The record of their visit to Bethlehem is found in Matthew 2:1 through 13. Our featured Scripture is the first two verses, Matthew 2:1 and 2:

      Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod
      the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
      “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen
      His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

We don’t know when the visit of the wise men took place, but it was not at the stable when Jesus was born. There are at least three reasons why this incident took place later – up to two years later!

•      In Matthew 2:11 it says, “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child….It was not the stable where they found Him, but a house in Bethlehem! So, obviously, it was not at Jesus birth!

•      Also in Matthew 2:11 it is written: “And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” But in Luke 2:22 through 24 we read:

      Now when the days of her [Mary’s] purification according to the law of
      Moses were completed, they brought Him [Jesus] to Jerusalem to present
      Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who
      opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” – see Exodus 13:2, 12, 13),
      and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A
      pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

According to Leviticus 12:2 through 4, a Jewish woman who bore a son would be considered unclean for forty days! After the forty days were passed, the baby’s parents were to present him at the temple in Jerusalem, dedicating him to God. They would then offer a sacrifice to the Lord as described in Leviticus 12:6 through 8: The normal sacrifice was “…a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering…” (Leviticus 12:6). But if they were too poor to afford a lamb, they could…bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons — one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering.” (Leviticus 12:8).

If the wise men had presented their gifts at the stable when Jesus was born – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – Joseph and Mary would have certainly been able to afford the more expensive sacrifice!

•      Finally, in Luke 2:16 this recorded:

      Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was ex-
      ceedingly angry; and…put to death all the male childern…in Bethlehem
      and in all its districts, from two years old and under according to the time
      which he had determined from the wise men.”

Herod was trying to protect his throne! He felt threatened by the One “…born King of the Jews…” (Luke 2:2). For Herod’s title was King of the Jews!

Why did he murder all the male children…two years old and under? Apparently, the time…he had determined from the wise men was that the star had appeared about two years before, signaling the birth of Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews!

But it is traditional to place the wise men at the stable in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. I do not get upset when I see a manger scene so displayed.

How is it that the wise men associated the appearance of the star of Bethlehem with the One born King of the Jews? We must put together certain events in the Old Testament with some of the early Scripture writings. That we will do in the next blog.

By the way, I wrote four previous blogs that cover some or all of what we are examining here. See the blogs from December 18 and 21, 2015 – Home Another Way – I and II; and December 27 and 29, 2013 – The Timeline of Christmas – XI and XII.