The Green-Eyed Monster

Last week, Pastor Zane went over the characteristics of the early church. We saw some incredible signs and wonders being accomplished through the apostles. The people had such faith that they would carry the sick into the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow would pass over them which led to others bringing their sick and afflicted to the apostles so that they could be healed and people flocked to get closer. God was using the apostles to do incredible things, and He wants to use us to transform the world. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people in authority get jealous.

I encourage you to take the time and real our passage for today found in Acts 5:17-32.

We start with a very important word: but. Signs and wonders were taking place by the power of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Sick people were healed; the afflicted were made unafflicted. The popularity of the apostles was growing and as people heard the message of the Gospel, they responded with decisions to follow Christ. The church was growing to the point that the number of people became multitudes, there were too many to count.

And then we see something that can plague any ministry leader. “The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealously.” And there it is. Jealousy is not always a bad thing. Divine jealousy is a single-minded pursuit of things that are holy. Ex. 20:5 speaks of God as a jealous God in the exclusivity of our worship. 2 Cor. 11:2 refers to jealousy in the exclusivity of the marriage relationship because you need that to make the marriage permanent. Not jealous because your spouse was talking to someone else or because they have a job. It’s jealousy over the importance of the marriage covenant. In modern English, jealousy is defined as a feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. In this context, jealousy is not good. In fact, I think I’ll paint with a broad brush and say that jealousy in ministry is rarely good. When we start looking at what others are doing for the Kingdom, or how many people they have, or how many salvations they experience, it can lead us to feel inadequate or somehow that we’re missing the mark. I’ve been there and it’s not a good place to visit. Your pastors regularly pray for other churches and pastors in our area. We must be Kingdom minded and not inwardly focused and that takes effort.

The high priest and all his associates were jealous of the apostles because of what was going on. They were filled with or consumed by jealousy. So, the high priest orders the apostles taken into custody and they were physically dragged to jail – again. Remember they were thrown in jail in 4:3. The next day, there was an inquisition as to what and why they were doing the things they were doing. Remember after the last encounter with the Council, they were, “commanded not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18) Don’t forget the important conclusion from that story: the Sanhedrin that Pastor Mike spoke about: the Pharisees and the Sadducees found no fault in them and let them go – they didn’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. We don’t know the exact time frame between that day and the day we’re talking about now, but it couldn’t be long. The Council was jealous of the success experienced by the apostles. Success is very difficult to define, especially in church. I’ve experienced this myself when I was seeking a job in ministry. Search committees wanted measurable means of success that they determined. The Sadducees were envious that people were responding in droves to the truth that the apostles were teaching and demonstrating in their lives and in the lives of countless individuals that responded to the message.

So, into jail they go with the intention of being tried the following day just like in Chapter 4. The Lord had something else in mind. The Spirit of God is moving mightily and things are happening that are inexplicable – they are by definition miracles: people healed, demons cast out, people selling stuff and giving to those in need. These miracles could only be attributed to the power of God. And He shows up again in the form of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord, “Opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” This isn’t just a great escape, this is miraculous! They were let out and were told something very specific: “Tell the whole message of life.” Keep doing what you’ve been doing; tell people about the resurrection, tell people about the transforming power of God, tell people how He dragged you from the miry clay, tell people how you’re a new creation, tell people how you’ve been redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Don’t miss this! The apostles, “entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” No prayer service, no consideration if they should do it again and risk being thrown in jail again – it’s already happened twice, they simply obeyed. The high priest sent his minions to get the apostles out of jail, but those guys find the apostles gone and the jail locked up tight as a drum with the guards in place totally unaware that the prisoners had been set free. The officers report back to the Council and tell them what they found inside the jail – nothing.

“Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.” They didn’t understand how those guys weren’t still locked up. As they’re scratching their heads, someone comes in and says, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” The Sanhedrin are not the kind of people that take too kindly to having their orders ignored. Back to the temple the captain and his officers go to do over what they did yesterday. Remember the captain is second in line after the high priest and is responsible for what happens in and around the temple. If you want something done right, do it yourself, right? Something different happens from the previous day, the captain and officers brought them back to the Council, “without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” Normally, the punishment for disobedience would be stoning and the captain probably wanted to make that happen, but the apostles were so popular that if they were harmed, the captain and his officers feared retribution from the crowd. Remember the Council was filled with jealously over these men of God.

Here comes the stand-off. The stand-off includes one of the most often misquoted and misused phrases in Scripture. The apostles are brought before the Council again to be questioned by the high priest. The high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Remember in Peter’s first and second sermons, he placed responsibility for the death of Jesus on those he is standing in front of. Of course, the Council is responsible for Jesus’ death just as we are in the sense that we needed atonement for our sin. The difference is the Council thought their religiosity would save them. Their message was not received by the people. The message of the apostles was received by many people and the Council sought to shut that down once and for all.

After the high priest’s accusation, Peter and the apostles respond by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” I want to spend some time here to clear up this phrase. I have heard this used as justification for civil disobedience, for not submitting to a husband, for trying to dominate a wife, and for beating children. I’ve heard it used to justify witnessing for Christ on the job and not working. I heard it used as a legalistic proof text for anything and everything church related. What Peter says has nothing to do with any of that. If we are to take 2 Tim. 2:15 to heart, and we should, then we must understand what is happening in the context of the verse you’re looking at. I think we often get interpretation and application mixed up when studying scripture. Just to set the record straight, there are some things in Scripture you can read and understand the meaning in the context in which it was written. But there is great danger in carelessly handling the Word of God. It must be studied with the understanding of the human author, the intended audience, the time in history, the culture at the time, the language, and a host of other important aspects. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, that sounds a lot like work; I thought we’re supposed to sit back and enjoy so great a salvation! Let me put it in perspective. The average American spends just over 8 hours a day at work. That same guy spends almost 9 hours a day in personal care which includes sleeping, 2.5 hours a day in leisure pursuits, and just over an hour eating. The average American spends about 7.5 minutes a day in pursuit of religious activity. Hold on now, I’m not an average American, I am a Christian! How you spend your time reveals your priorities. When Jude says to, “Earnestly contend for the faith” in Jude 3, he means it. I cannot comprehend how people will work so hard at things of this world and casually pursue the things of eternity or perhaps even ignore them all together. If you find yourself without time to study God’s Word, to spend time with God, to pray, to fellowship with believers, to go to church, or to pursue God, you need to reevaluate your time.

“We must obey God rather than men.” Do you think God would tell us to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” (Heb. 13:17) yet not really mean it? Do think He would tell us, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God,” (Rom. 13:1) and not really mean every person? If you’re at work and your boss says you cannot witness on the job, consider what he is saying. Are you witnessing when you should be working? Do you have an attitude that you’re going to do whatever you want regardless of the authority? Do you think that God would have you sin no matter what you do? Obey God and sin against the authority. Obey the authority and sin against God. No win situation. If your boss really, really says you cannot mention God or Jesus at all, ever at work, find a different job. There are breaks that legally cannot restrict your conversation, but when your boss expects you to work, then be the very best worker you can be. Be a model employee. If you’re going to use the obey God card, you better know what God says and many, many times, people use that to justify their own desires.

Peter concludes his defense before the Council in vs. 30-32. He reiterates what he said the last time he was before these men. God had given these men the privilege and responsibility to carry the Gospel message to the people. The Council was attempting to stifle the message of hope the apostles carried to the people. What the apostles were doing was not illegal, but teaching about Christ did not line up with the goals of the Council. The message of hope carried people from the burden of religion to the freedom found in Christ.

I do not believe that God will put you in a situation where you must sin to honor Him. Believers absolutely should obey God, but it’s rarely an either-or situation. If you want to use the obedience card, you better play it consistently in every avenue of life. So, what happens next? What will become of the apostles? Will they be able to escape the clutches of the Sanhedrin? We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens to these heroes of the faith.

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Sharing is Caring

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Last week, the disciples were ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and they responded in prayer. They established a pattern for prayer that we should follow in our lives: pray first, pray together, pray with confidence, pray biblically, and pray expectantly. As we continue our journey through Acts, we’ll see how vital prayer is in accomplishing the mission God has set before us. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people are truly transformed by God.

Acts 4:32-35 says, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”

Let’s be clear on something. The disciples have just prayed and God answered by shaking the place where they were and they were, “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” This is not a contradiction to 2:4. They were empowered again by the Holy Spirit which leads to v. 32. Luke tells us, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” The word congregation is better translated multitude. At this point in the young church, there are at least 8120 men. There had to be lots of women and children that aren’t numbered so it’s reasonable to conclude that the number of believers far exceeds 8120. Don’t use this as an excuse to justify the attendance at a particular church as a measure of success. The point Luke is making here is that of those people that made up the assembly that believed in the finished work of Jesus Christ, those that made a profession of faith and lived like Jesus, those people, “Were of one heart and soul.” You’ve heard that phrase heart and soul before. It should be obvious that Luke is not talking about a physical heart or soul, but a spirit of oneness, a spirit of togetherness, a spirit of community. This passage is very similar to 2:42-47, but one theme stands out in this passage compared to the previous passage at the end of chapter 2.

The overarching premise here is that of unity. This spirit of unity led them to do something very contrary to our way of thinking. “And not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t own anything themselves. This isn’t some justification for socialism or a misguided notion of fairness. The idea of fairness is running rampant through our society. We think it’s not fair that someone has a better car than we do. It’s not fair that my kid doesn’t get a trophy. It’s not fair that they got promoted and I didn’t. The idea of fairness has spread to the church too. It’s not fair that they get to teach and I don’t. It’s not fair they get to sing and I don’t. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced those kinds of things at 3RC.

The defining point where selfishness gives way to selflessness is found in that word, “believed.” Jesus always transforms the heart. Show me someone that remains the same after salvation, and I’ll show you someone that is not genuinely saved. Only in the modern church do we deemphasize the power of God and accept simple profession of faith without corresponding transformation. The murderer Saul was radically transformed into the Apostle Paul. The greedy tax collector Zaccheus was transformed to the point that he gave away half his wealth and if he cheated someone he paid back four times the amount. Peter was an uneducated fisherman and forsook all he knew to follow Christ and was transformed into the leader of the Apostles. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t have the power to transform lives today. The same power that transformed those Bible guys, transformed me. Paul told us, “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

These believers were so radically transformed, they had all things in common. We tend to think of things as our own. I earned it; it’s my money; it’s my room; it’s my toy; it’s my guitar. This selfish nature is destroyed by Christ. Our attitude should be, what’s mine is yours. If you need it, I have it. “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” The apostles continued telling people about what they saw after Jesus died. The resurrection of Christ is a pivotal event in the history of the world. I don’t have the time to go through all the reasons why it’s so important, but the short answer is that Jesus’ resurrection confirms the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah and it validates who He said He was.

At this point, Luke focuses on one particular aspect in the life of the new believers and that is sharing. This idea of sharing is nothing new to these people. Luke mentioned the idea of common property in v. 32. This goes back to the ideals of Greek society attributed to Pythagorean and Plato that there is no private ownership of anything. That ideal likely never materialized, but the concept would not be foreign to the people that the Apostles are now teaching. This idea of sharing is more in keeping with the Old Testament promises of God. Deut. 15:4-5 says, “However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.” These believers were experiencing the power of God and, “abundant grace was upon them all.” Peter referenced the last days in 2:17 and they are experiencing God’s blessing in 4:33, and now they are working toward the ideal that there should be no poor people among them.

Is this an ideal or is it something that can actually be achieved? Again, we can point to society today where we have so called experts saying it’s not fair that executives make so much money. We have government programs for people that fall below a certain income level. We have government grants that are available for some people to go to college. We have Obama phones because everyone needs a cell phone. These are all programs designed to even the playing field of society. But did these first century believers seek to even the playing field? I can answer that with one emphatic word: no.

So how did it work? Look at vs. 34-35. There were believers that had property. They voluntarily and willingly sold property when there was a need. There is no evidence to suggest this was mandatory, but when a need arose, they sacrificed some of what they owned and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Before you go and put your house on the market, this is what they used to do. Now if the Lord is leading you to do this, by all means go ahead and do it. In reality, we have to go back to the first century context of what a need is. A need is to require something because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable.

Over the years, I have become very jaded over the subject of needs. The vast majority of people that have come across my path wanting help from the church are not affiliated with any church and are not affiliated with Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way, the church has become the go to place to make ends meet. From car repairs to cable bills, from rent to utilities, from gas to medical bills, I have seen a lot. Strangers coming to the church expecting to get what they want. They want the church to help them because they think that’s the way it should be. Before you get all judgmental on me and say we should help our folks, most people that come to the church wanting money are not in need; they are in want. I have watched people spend foolishly then come to the church and expect to be bailed out. If you have ever been involved with church finances, you will quickly agree. We will help our members in one way or another. It might be with money, but it also might be with biblical, financial counsel, and accountability. Sometimes we talk about giving up that Starbucks or passing on a new outfit, or you’ll be encouraged to eat at home instead of eating out and then we can give to a good church cause, but these early believers were selling property and land to meet the needs of other believers.

We have such abundance in the church. We fill our homes with stuff and when it overflows, we put stuff in the attic, then is spills into the garage, then we build a shed, and that overflows so we put our stuff in a storage unit. We end up paying money to store stuff we don’t use and likely won’t use. Why? Because we’ve bought into the idea of the American dream. I’ve never heard of the Honduran dream or the Brazilian dream, or the Paraguayan dream. The American Dream was publicly defined in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams. He coined the phrase in his book, Epic of America. In the book, he says, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” He goes on to say the American Dream is not, “. . . a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

The America Dream seems contrary to the example of the early church. Maybe you’ll point out that what the early church did was descriptive and not prescriptive. You might say, “We don’t have to sell our houses and land to meet people’s needs,” and I would agree. I think it would be appropriate to look at an Old Testament passage from a book few people have read let alone studied. Take the time to turn to Haggai 1. To quickly set the context, a remnant had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. There is economic hardship in the land of Judah. Look at the five things Haggai says is going on in vs. 5-6. Even though they’ve planted a bunch of crops, they’re not getting much in the way of harvest. Since the harvest isn’t so good, there’s not much food to satisfy their hunger. There’s not enough to drink to quench their thirst – the word drunk here means satisfy fully. They just can’t keep warm with the clothes they have. For the people that do work, it seems like they just put their money into a pocket full of holes where it disappears. The people have got to be thinking, “How in the world can we afford to rebuild the temple when we can’t even afford to take care of our families?” Many today would ask the same question, “How can I afford to sow into the work of the Lord, when I’m having trouble making ends meet?” I cannot afford to tithe or give.

In v. 7, the Lord says, “Consider your ways.” Haggai doesn’t stop there. Look at vs. 8-11. The real call is to evaluate your priorities. Have you ever thought that perhaps your current economic situation is a result of misplaced priorities? The people of Haggai’s time sure didn’t. They were content to hang out in their paneled houses all the while neglecting God’s house. In other words, they were more concerned about how their own houses looked. Their priorities were messed up. These early believers Luke is talking about are way different than the remnant that returned to Jerusalem. I think it’s fair to ask, is your attitude more like those exiles that returned to Jerusalem or these early believers? The early believers sold their stuff when there was a need and brought the proceeds to the Apostles. In the church today, we operate a little differently. We receive tithes and offerings as a way to support the mission of the church God established in Scripture and to fulfill the vision of your pastors. That financial support typically comes in through giving a portion of the wages people earn through their vocation. The attitude of these first century believers demonstrates an attitude of sharing. We are grateful for all the Lord provides for us at 3RC and I don’t take for granted the blessings He has poured out on me. But sometimes, we focus more on what we don’t have than on what we do have and on what God can do. These believers used what God had blessed them with to meet the needs of others in the church.

What’s mine is yours. If you have a need, we must be willing to see those needs met. There is no reason anyone in the church should walk around naked or hungry, but if you have Netflix and the fastest interned available and can’t pay the electric bill, there’s some issues. As Paul said in Phil. 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritual Persecution

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Today we observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted church or IDOP. 100 million of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Why does God allow persecution? Why is the church growing fastest in countries where persecution is most severe?

The book of Acts opens with the very last moments of Christ’s physical presence on earth. Jesus gave His apostles one last instruction to witness to the city of Jerusalem, the area of Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth and then Jesus was, “lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9) And so the apostles did just that. The early church was growing by huge numbers. Peter preached his very first message at Pentecost where 3000 souls recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Those 3000 people didn’t know any better and so they began, “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Over the next couple of chapters in Acts we see something extraordinary take place. Opposition began to grow against this loving bunch of guys that walked and lived by faith in a passionate, authentic way. Peter had just healed the lame man and he, the lame man, and the apostles went together to Herod’s temple and find themselves inundated by the people in the portico of Solomon. Peter gives his second message where 5000 men were saved. The priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees were, “greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2) As a result, these religious leaders toss Peter and his colleagues into jail. They hold a trial and question Peter as to what authority he had to speak of such things. Peter lays it on them by answering the question of the ages by concluding that, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given my men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The apostles were released with the warning that they would not preach in the name of Jesus again.

A short while later, perhaps the next day or two, we find Peter and the apostles back at the portico of Solomon teaching in the name of Jesus, the very thing they were told not to do. Back to jail they go for the night, but this night would be different. An angel of the Lord opens the gates of the prison and tells them to go back to the temple and teach the whole message of this life. They arrived back at the temple about daybreak and began to teach. That brings us to our passage in Acts 5:27-42. I hope you’ll take the time to read this great passage.

To be sure, biblical persecution results because of our position in Christ. For those of us that follow Jesus, can we expect persecution? 2 Tim. 3:12 says, “Indeed all who desire to live godly will be persecuted.” While we may not suffer the same type of persecution here as in those top 50 countries, I think our persecution may take a different form. Satan is our enemy, our adversary and he knows and understands how things work. Our enemy can use most anything as a trip wire to get our focus away from God. Satan is not so concerned with lost people. He seeks to destroy you, to deceive you, to discourage you. Why? When people watch us, we serve as an example of Jesus Christ in the flesh. We are not Christ, but we have His DNA. While I believe the tortuous persecution will come to these United States, for now religious persecution is not tolerated . . . unless you’re a Christian. The church has taken a defensive position and has fallen back on her heals under cultural screams of intolerance and judgment. In America I believe we are spiritually persecuted. We’re told by society how we’re supposed to act and many Christians have become introverted in their faith. We become unwitting pawns in Satan’s plan.

The enemy of Jesus Christ is real. I think one of the top attacks of the enemy is confusing us with things that aren’t bad in themselves, but they misprioritze life even if for a moment. How does he do this? He attacks us. He is on the offensive. He attacks our marriages, one of the principle foundations of society. He attacks relationships pitting friends against friends. He leads us to think about ourselves rather than others. We are deceived about the truth because we form opinions of  the Bible without ever looking at the Bible. When C4 first started in 2007, our leadership was committed to keeping things simple. Some of us were particularly weary of church busyness so we committed to not have activities and things every day or night of the week. Christians were so busy with church activities that there wasn’t an abundance of time to do actual ministry. Now it seems that we’re too busy for church. We have the freedom to worship the One and only true God and yet we fall in the trap of our enemy. We’ve bought the lie that we can have casual, shallow associations with believers. We’ve bought the lie that we don’t need the fellowship the early believers had. They were together continuously and we find it nearly impossible to spend an hour or two a week with believers.

I think we’re persecuted with the mind games of the devil. At least our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world can see the tools Satan uses against them. Those that oppress and persecute are visible. The enemy can be seen. Christians are fighting among themselves and attacking one another when Satan is the enemy! The world desperately needs to see the power of God that was evident in Peter’s life in us. The world needs to see that we’re confident in Christ, that we’re bold in Christ, and most of all that we’re loving in Christ. After the disciples were flogged in Acts 5:40, we come to vs. 41-42:

“So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

In their time of greatest need, they continued in what they knew; they were not deterred. The time we’re supposed to draw close to Christ, we actually withdraw and blame God for abandoning us in our time of need. The principles of prayer, trust, hope that once grounded us in faith are cast aside and traded for doubt, anxiety, and fear.

These all fall right into our enemy’s plan. Shifting the focus from God to ourselves and we’re lost in a sea of despair with no way out. Will you allow your circumstances to control your faith? Or will you allow the power of Christ to shine in your life regardless of what’s going on? We often ask the question, if faced with adversity, would you deny Christ? That’s a difficult question to answer and probably the wrong one to ask. Maybe a better question is, if faced with life, would you deny Christ? Isn’t that, in essence, what we do when we abandon the fundamental principles of the faith?

Dear Christian

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Last week we closed out Peter’s second letter. He challenged us to be on guard so we don’t get carried away by the nonsense of the false teachers and mockers. We are to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ – it’s not an option. This morning, we shift over to the short letter of Jude. Some have called this brief letter the most neglected in the New Testament with 2 and 3 John being close behind. There is a reason we are following Peter’s letters with Jude.

Jude is sometimes overlooked because it is so short, just 25 verses. It’s found just before Revelation and maybe people come to this letter and see Revelation next to it and simply skip it. Since it’s in the Bible, it stands to reason that God wants us to read it, learn from it, and apply the truths that are found therein. Like Peter, the message of the coming judgment have led many to conclude the letter is intolerant and contrary to the love of God taught extensively throughout the Scriptures. So why does this letter exist? Are there any applications to be made? What truths does it contain that help us glorify Christ? We’ll answer these questions and more as we dig into the epistle of Jude.

Jude 1-2 says, “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.”

Here’s some history about the human author. Verse 1 indicates the author to be none other than Jude. Who was he? We know a lot about Peter, James and John. We have tons of information about Paul and Timothy. In N.T. writings, no human author seems to be more mysterious than Jude. Little information is found in Scripture so let’s concentrate on what we do know. He calls himself, “A bond servant of Jesus Christ.” This is significant because of what the word means. It comes from the Greek word doulos meaning slave. It means pertaining to a state of being completely controlled by someone or something. Slavery played a divisive yet important role in America’s history. This is not the same thing. Jude willingly placed himself under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Jude identified himself as the, “Brother of James.” Jude’s readers must know who James is because no other identifier is used. Who was James? Identifying him is a little tricky because surnames were not prevalent in those days. People were typically identified by their home region, occupation, or whose son they were. Of course the best example is Jesus of Nazareth. Don’t forget Saul of Tarsus. The famous Mary Magdalene from Magdala. Simon bar Jonah – son of John. Remember Alexander the coppersmith that did Paul such harm. So in answering who is James, we need to use the Bible to interpret itself.

I encourage you to study this for yourself and when you do you’ll see James is a fairly common name in Scripture. James is mentioned in numerous places in Acts as a prominent leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul called him one of the pillars of the church in Galatians. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to James in 1 Cor. 15:7 and according to Matt. 13:55, he was the brother of the Son of the carpenter. Who was the Son of the carpenter? Jesus. So James is the brother of Jesus and Jude is the brother of James so Jude is also the brother of Jesus. So it’s interesting that Jude prefers to call himself a slave of Jesus and brother of James rather than identifying himself as the Lord’s brother. It’s also important to note that even though we know that Jude spent his life with Jesus the Messiah, Mark 3 and John 7:5 says that while Jesus was engaged in His earthly ministry, “Not even His brothers were believing in Him.” So when Jesus was alive, his brothers did not accept Him as Savior. It was at some point after His death that they believed. Jude writes with the authority of being a slave to Christ and a brother to James.

Who does Jude write to? We have seen in other studies where the author writes to a specific people. We studied Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, his letters to the Thessalonians. He also wrote to other local churches. Peter wrote to Christians that were scattered due to severe persecution. Jude doesn’t identify a church, but simply writes to, Those who are the called, the beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” We need to break this verse into three parts to see just who Jude writes to because if we miss that, the purpose of the letter is lost. First is, “Those who are the called.” Some have used this phrase to prove that God will only save certain people He predetermined or predestined to save. I would conclude that saying that is a gross mishandling of Scripture. “Called” here is an adjective that describes the pronoun, “those”. Remember back just 6 weeks ago, Peter told us, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9) God’s desire is for everyone to respond to the Gospel and choose to accept the forgiveness for sin Christ offered on the cross. That’s His desire, but that’s not what actually happens.

Second is the phrase, “The beloved in God.” While we recognize that God loved the world and gave His Son (Jo. 3:16), this phrase describes, “those who are the called.”  The reason believers are called is because God first loved us. (1 Jo. 4:19) God loves us even if we don’t love Him back.

Finally, Jude writes to those that are, “Kept for Jesus Christ.” Peter said Christians, “Are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Pet. 1:5) Peter and Jude are conveying the same meaning. Let’s put together who Jude is writing to. Called. Beloved. Kept. This trifecta indicates that Jude is writing to Christians in general – the universal church. He finishes his introduction with another trifecta: “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” Don’t overlook this simple greeting. God’s mercy means He doesn’t give us what we deserve – death. Mercy affords us the opportunity to receive salvation through accepting the forgiveness offered by Christ. That leads to peace with God because we have been reconciled through Christ. That reconciliation is manifested by love in the spirit of 1 Jo. 4:7-8 that says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

I’ve set it up this way to ensure you understand this brief letter. The things Jude is getting ready to say are not particular to a local assembly of believers like in other Bible books.  This message is for us and we need to pay close attention in the coming weeks. I guarantee this letter is going to knock your socks off.

Guard and Grow

GrowYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week Peter reminded us of a couple of things that Paul wrote. We are to be, “found at peace in Him, blameless and spotless,” and we are to, “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” We are diligently pursuing (present tense) a life of holiness because the power of God resides within us giving us not just a desire to be blameless and spotless, but the power to be blameless and spotless. It’s easy to say, but not as easy to do. We’re to be careful of those that twist or distort the Scriptures to make God something He is not. This morning, Peter closes his letter with a very important conclusion that includes one of Peter’s favorite tools . . . a contrast.

2 Peter 3:17-18 says, You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

We get to Peter’s conclusion in this first verse. We’ve been on this journey through Peter for a while and it’s interesting that he can package everything up so neatly. He reminds his readers of what they know. They know the second coming of Jesus Christ is still to occur and that should motivate them to live lives that exemplify the power of God. They know that mockers and false teachers are in their midst. These people are intentionally trying to deceive believers and push them off of, “The way of truth” Peter mentioned in 2 Pet. 2:2. Since Peter’s readers know these things, he tells them to, “Be on your guard.” This is a very serious warning. It’s a verb in the imperative mood meaning it is a command. 2 Thes. 3:3 says, “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” These are not contradictory verses. This is along the same lines when Jesus said, Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) If we heed the warnings Peter has given us throughout this letter, we’ll be okay. If you ignore the warnings, trouble will likely come. When you get in your car, you buckle up. It doesn’t guarantee no one will crash into you, but the damage probably won’t be as bad. Peter’s warning is far more serious. If we are not on guard, are not vigilant, are not watchful we’ll be, “Carried away by the error of unprincipled men.” When you think of the phrase carried away, think about being swept down a river. The longer you’re in it, the farther away you get. So how do we be on guard? When we’re in the car, we look ahead. We wear our seat belts, we use our mirrors; we don’t text. In our walk with Christ, we maintain our alert status by keeping up with what the holy prophets and apostles wrote. We keep alert by diligently pursuing our faith. Peter tells us to heed this warning so we won’t, “fall from our own steadfastness.” Remember Peter is combating the notion of the false teachers and mockers who are intentionally deceiving believers by saying that Jesus is not coming back and since He’s not, it doesn’t matter how you live. Peter has consistently argued that how we live does matter. It matters to Christ, it matters to the church, it matters to our community; it matters to our families. It should be difficult to knock us off of our beliefs. When we allow ourselves to be deceived by those unprincipled men, it’s not a testament of how deceptive they are, but of how ungrounded we are.

Now Peter turns from guarding to growing in his last verse. He begins it with a contrast to v. 17. When we heed the warnings, we aren’t going to be carried away by unprincipled men and we aren’t going to fall from our steadfastness. Instead of falling, we’re going to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We don’t just ward off the onslaught of false teaching and false doctrine out there. In the midst of all that we’re supposed to grow, specifically grow in grace. When we look at the complete letter, Peter opened it by saying that grace was instrumental in our saving faith through the righteousness of God. He prayed that grace would be multiplied in our lives. He said that God’s grace granted us everything we need to live a life of godliness. Grace is the foundation of our lives in Christ, it is given as a gift of God through unmerited favor yet we are commanded to grow in grace. Grace is not static; it is a dynamic force that should be growing from the moment of salvation until the day we die. Peter’s expectation is not just growing in grace, but we grow in knowledge of Jesus. Growing in knowledge is essential for living the Christian life. (2 Pet. 1:5-7) Authenticity as a Christian means we are progressing in the godly virtues Peter says we have and should be increasing. Those virtues indicate our relationship with Christ is fruitful according to 2 Pet. 1:8. Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is not an elective of an authentic relationship with Jesus. It’s not an offering on the spiritual buffet that you can pass by because you don’t like it, you don’t think it applies to you, or you have wrongly concluded you’re too busy. It is essential for eternal life and that’s why Peter puts it as a concluding exhortation of the letter.

Peter assumes that we will follow the principles, guidance, and direction provided in the Bible and the end result is, “To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity.” Whatever good things happen in our life is because of God. When eternity is impacted because of our life, God gets the glory. When we boldly share the Gospel in love, God gets the glory. When we unashamedly live our life as an example of the power of God in our lives, God gets the glory. When people are drawn to God because of us, God gets the glory. When we choose to allow God to use us in His unfolding plan, He gets the glory.

Paul said we are to, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. 1:10) May our goal be to walk with Christ today and bear fruit that glorifies Him.

Expected Intentionality

Expect ResultsYou can listen to this message here.

Last week Peter looked to new things. He instructed us to be excited about the coming of the Lord as the heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire allowing God to usher in a new heaven and a new earth. It is a place of righteousness where authentic believers can be wholeheartedly sold out for Jesus without the negative influence of the false teachers and the mocking of the mockers. This morning, Peter draws a conclusion.

2 Pet. 3:14 says, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.”

Conclusions are sometimes easy to spot in Scripture. Peter is on his initial approach to land this letter by saying, “Therefore, beloved.” The conclusion is based on what he has said in v. 1113. The new heavens and the new earth are what we are hastening to. Remember from last week, “looking for and hastening” means an eager anticipation, a hope to move quickly. We eagerly anticipate our new home, but we can’t sit around looking at the sky. We must zealously be about the work of the Lord and that means telling others about the hope we have. We ought to be known for our holy conduct and our godliness. Since we look for these things, God tells us through Peter, “Be diligent.” It means careful and conscientious. Be intentional about what we are doing as it relates to Christ. Paul gave us the mandate that in, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for man.” (Col. 3:23) In context Paul was talking about the relationship between slaves and their masters, but the application for us is still there. Employee/employer. Student/teacher. Child/parent. Athlete/coach. You can make many applications for this, but the truth remains we do things to please the Lord, not other people.

We sometimes forget that God is concerned with what happens in our daily lives. How we react to circumstances reflect the power of the Holy Spirit that we claim has taken residence in our lives. In his book Forgotten God, Frances Chan says on pages 32-33, 

Rom. 8:9 says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” According to this verse, if I am a believer, the Spirit of God dwells in me. Paul reiterates that truth in 1 Cor. 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (NIV). Our bodies are the Spirit’s temple. Later we will delve more into what that means for us; but essentially, it’s that the Holy Spirit makes His home in our bodies. We are His place of dwelling. And this is the question I just can’t get around: If it’s true that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temple, then shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Spirit of God living inside of him or her and the person who does not? This may be a silly illustration, but if I told you I had an encounter with God where He entered my body and gave me a supernatural ability to play basketball, wouldn’t you expect to see an amazing improvement in my jump shot, my defense, and my speed on the court? After all, this is God we’re talking about. And if you saw no change in my athleticism, wouldn’t you question the validity of my “encounter”? Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again and say that they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?”

We have bought the lie that profession without transformation is okay. Since someone may claim to be a Christian, that’s seems to be good enough. Even though there may be no evidence of Christ, no fruit, no desire to be like Christ; they’ve said it, so that settles it. I acknowledge that we’re all at different places. Instead of engaging in real discipleship as a matter of pursuing Christ, it seems like it’s not even welcomed in the lives of many professing believers. Everything is cool as long as we agree, but don’t rock the boat. Everything is awesome as long as we don’t have any expectations of anyone. But the second that changes, we’re outta here. We have Christians that are zealously pursuing the American dream of safety and security here; laying up treasures here, participating in activities that have no bearing on eternity because we’ve taken the gift we’ve been given for granted, we’ve taken our destination for granted. Our attitude has become, “Well, I know I’m going there.” Many people in the church have forgotten the important truth Paul gave us in Phil. 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We’re to be intentional in our walk with Christ. We’re intentional in so many areas of our lives. We make sure to check the tide chart before going fishing. We get our cooler ready for the beach. We lay our kid’s school clothes out the night before. We study all the material so we can pass the test with the best possible grade. Unfortunately, many of us don’t practice that same intentionality with Jesus. We find it difficult to find the time to read our Bible. Since it’s hard to find time to read, we certainly can’t find the time to study it. We’re so busy with our lives during the week, that Sunday has become catch up day. We have become a people with little to no time management skills and misguided prioritization. We have fallen into Satan’s trap with frightening ease.

We’re to, “be diligent.” Diligent means conscientious in one’s work or duties; it means to hurry. People all over are on the grace bus that preaches it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’ve made a profession. Grace covers it all! NO! Peter says be diligent. What are we to be diligent about? We’re to hurry up; make every effort, “To be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” Peter already said we’re to be holy and godly in our conduct in v. 11. Keep in mind the false teaching that Peter is refuting. The false teachers denied the second coming of Christ and therefore lived a life of liberty following after their own lusts and sensuality. That liberty presented a huge stumbling block to other believers because they intentionally led others astray from the truth of God’s Word and the Way of Truth through salvation. Peter continues to hammer the coming of Christ in an effort to show his readers that living in a certain manner today is reflective of the glory of God that exists within each authentic believer. This due diligence here hinges on the foundation Peter established in 2 Pet. 1:5-7 where he said, Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.” His incredible conclusion to that is found in v. 10, Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” The key is in the verb tense. Practice is present tense and never stumble is future. It is conditional based on what we do.

Believers are, “To be found in peace, spotless and blameless.” Found is a judicial term that indicates a judgment – we find the defendant not guilty. We see this in other Scripture as well. In 1 Cor. 4:2 Paul says as stewards, we are to found trustworthy. John wept when no one was found worthy to open the book in Rev. 5:4. Peace here means completeness or well being. Don’t miss the significance; the only way to have true peace is to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. When that reconciliation is accomplished, it is not just possible; it is expected for us to be, “blameless and spotless.” This expectation is a contrast to the false teachers that were described in 2 Pet. 2:13 as, “stains and blemishes.” Again, we see this idea throughout Scripture. This doesn’t mean we are morally perfect or sinless. We should be progressing to look and act more and more like Christ because of the work He is doing on our lives. The expectation is that we live lives of holiness and godliness because of God’s influence in our lives. When you put it all together Peter is saying Christians will be found to be at peace with God because we’ve trusted in the finished work of Christ. As a result, we are righteous because He is righteous.

1 Thes. 5:23 says, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”We are at peace because of Christ’s sacrifice and we enter into His presence with joy. This joy in Christ motivates us to share the unfathomable gift of grace through Jesus Christ. Let’s quit talking about it and do it.

 

 

New Expectations

NewYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Peter told us what was going to happen when Jesus returned on the Day of Judgment. He doesn’t waiver from the fact that Jesus’ return is going to happen despite what the false teachers and the mockers say. Mass destruction will occur and it will affect the heavens and the earth. This destruction is for the ungodly; as Christians, we will be protected. The best way to offer protection from the impending destruction is to tell people about Jesus so they can make a decision to follow Christ. This morning, Peter looks to new things.

2 Pet. 3:11-13 says, Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

Before he gets going, Peter offers a quick recap. Peter is very methodical in his arguments and would have made a great lawyer. In vs. 5-7, he presented three arguments against the mockers and why they’re incorrect in their conclusions. In vs. 8-9 he gave us the key to understanding the timeline of Jesus’ return. In v. 10 he explained what would happen to the heavens and the earth. After presenting all that evidence, he arrives at a conclusion in vs. 11-12. Since all these things are going to pass, Peter reiterates his expectations from 1:5-7. The delay in the return of Christ gives us more opportunities to live the life that is expected of us in order for the Holy Spirit to draw more people to God through Jesus Christ.

Peter says we ought to be a certain way. We ought to have holiness and godliness as a routine essence of our lives. There are too many people that profess a relationship with Christ that do not have any attributes of Christ. Over and over Peter, as well as others in Scripture, says it does matter how we act and what we look like and what we engage in and what we spend our time and money on. Notice in this verse Peter is referring to our conduct. Our conduct is a barometer of our spiritual lives. If we act ungodly, the reasonable conclusion is we are ungodly. 1 Tim. 6:11, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” The only way we can truly be godly is because of what Christ has done and what He does in our lives. The only way we can be holy is because God is holy. 1 Pet. 1:15, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” Holy means being dedicated to God; morally and spiritually excellent. Our standard is not the world or our friends. It’s not even others in the church; our standard is God; it is Jesus and we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to live a life that glorifies God in all we think, say, and do. This is not some unattainable, lofty, pie in the sky idea. Every Christian must be pursuing godliness and holiness.

There’s something else we need to be doing so what’s next? Peter continues looking at the future by telling us what to do right now. In verse 12 Peter says, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!We must be looking to the future coming of the Lord, but it should affect us in the days that we live. Since Jesus is coming back and since we don’t know exactly when, we don’t have the luxury to sit on a mountain top somewhere staring at the clouds. The Thessalonians were confused about the second coming and Paul took some time in his letters to explain it. They thought they missed it and it affected their thinking and as a result, their behavior. We need to be, “Looking for and hastening for the day of God.” To help you understand what he saying, think about something you’re looking forward to. It could be the end of the work day, the arrival of a loved one, an upcoming birth, Christmas, something you’re anticipating. It affects your behavior: you look at the clock, you look out the window, you look at your watch. You just can’t wait and maybe you get butterflies in your stomach; you may not be able to sleep; there’s an excited nervousness because you just can’t wait. That’s the way we should be about the Lord’s return. Since we’re so excited and eagerly anticipating His return, our excitement should be infectious. The gravity of the second coming should push us to tell others about Christ and our lives should exemplify His transforming power so that others would be drawn to us and listen to us when we open our mouths and be engaged in true discipleship in the spirit of Matt. 28:19 as a church and 1 Pet. 3:15 as individuals.

Why be excited? Peter tells us in v. 13, But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” This is the new heavens and the new earth. These will be uncorrupted by a sinful humanity. Is. 65:17, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” We won’t long for our old earth. In Rev. 21:1 John said, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.” What an incredible sight to behold. All the anticipation of eternity coming to pass in this moment. The awesomeness is found in Rev. 21:27, “And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” This is a perfect place reserved for those that have made a decision for Christ.

We get so excited when our children make the honor roll or our team wins. We put such high emphasis on these things that are so temporary, but we are so blasé about the opportunity to spend eternity in heaven with the Trinity. We need to stop taking God for granted in all that He does for us and in us and through us. It’s time to take back the world.