Ex. 1-2: On hardship and never knowing what surprise God has

What Christians want out of Christ vs. what He did for us.

Exodus 1-2

Israelites in Hardship. When the Hicsos retreat from Egypt, the new Pharaoh has no sympathies for the hated conqueror overlord and begins to oppress the Israelites. He makes them slaves. But all he achieves is strengthen them. Hard circumstances make for strong believers. God will not give us only good and blessed times. If He did, we would never grow up.

Moses is raised in the House of Pharaoh. Satan figured a savior was about to be born, so he inspired Pharaoh to kill all the Israelite boys. So where does God protect baby Moses? In the very house of Pharaoh. Satan can never outwit God, and we can never guess what surprise He has up His sleeve. As a matter of fact, the more desperate the circumstances, the more hopeless, the more mind-boggling what He will do. John 3 says the Spirit is like a wind; we never know where it comes from or where it’s going. So too, we cannot foretell, explain or anticipate how God will orchestrate the worst case scenario into His very plan.

Background comments: Exodus is perhaps the most compelling telling of Gospel outside of Isaiah and the Psalms. As the phrase goes:

The Old Testament is the New Testament CONCEALED. The New Testament is the Old Testament REVEALED.

The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch and were all written by Moses (thanks, Pharaoh, for the great education! Mo put it to good use writing the Bible!). They are (likely) the first books of the Bible and therefore foundational.

Gen 14 Small is not weak

Abraham defeats an unbeaten army. The Aram military for comprises five king’s batallions. They had just defeated a Canaanite rebellion against their hegemony.

No matter. With only 312 fighters, Abraham handily defeats them.

I. Small is not weak.

Our churches in the Christian Fellowship Ministries tend to not be the largest. This is the secret to our success, not the accumulation of massive amounts of church attenders in one massive building directed by Mr. Super Charisma. No, it is the ordination of massive amounts of workers to “pioneer” many churches all over the face of the Earth. Our strategy hasn’t caught anyone’s attention; people are largely fixated on large (which they assume wrongly means strong).

Abraham proves our business model. So does Noah. So does Jesus and 11 unimpressive cohorts. So does Paul. So does David, beating Goliath. Small can be incredibly strong.

Never underestimate your impact. You are just one. At your work or at school or in your family. You alone serve God. You will be surprised by what God will do with you if you serve Him faithfully through the years.

II. The value of one soul.

Abraham risked his neck and his entire household to save one man, Lot. Easily, he could have written off on the reckless nephew, who willfully endangered himself by moving into the City of Sin, Sodom. But he valued a guy who’s value is hard to discern from the biblical stories.

All that work, the risk, the fight shows the value of one soul.

There’s more rejoicing in the Heaven for one person who repents. The good shepherd locks up the 99 to find the one wayward sheep.

How hard do you go for one soul? How much prayer? How much outreach? How many times do you visit? How many texts do you send? How much love do you squander on one person to bring them to Jesus?

One soul represents 100s. One person saved can save 1000s. You can count the seeds in an apple but never the apples in a seed.

III. Purity of motives.

Abraham refused the king of Sodom’s generous offer to cede him all of Sodom’s riches. He wasn’t motivated by money. He did what he did for God.

For his part, the kind of Sodom, a type of Satan, shows that Satan knows better than we what is truly important. He’s not interested in riches. He’s interested in people — in taking them to Hell. People are the true riches of life.

The Johns and love

Author: John, the “beloved disciple” of Jesus. It is likely he was the youngest of disciples. At the time of this writing, it appears he is old.

Date: Scholars agree that these are among the last writings in the New Testament. John makes reference to the emerging Gnostics sect with their denial of Jesus coming in the flesh (4:2-3).

Nature of the epistles:  1st, 2nd and 3rd John are unlike anything else written in the New Testament. They ooze love. John’s emphasis on love is unique. It is John who declares, “God is love” (4:8). As important as this phrase is for Christian theology and evangelism, it is only mentioned here. John’s emphasis on following the commandments direct followers to specifically Jesus’ commandments: to love God and your neighbor (3:23-24). The measure of Christianity, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 13, is not miracles or self-denial but love.

We must love one another in the church, as difficult as that can be sometimes (2:9-11). We must love sinners enough to go out and evangelize, to pray. We must love God enough to leave behind the entanglements of sin and self-centeredness.

John deals with the contradiction of the Christian aim and the Christian reality: sinlessness vs. sinfulness. John says in 1:6, “If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live in the truth.” Then in v. 8-9, he says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This tension between ideal and struggling reality will remain with us as long as we are mortal.

Why I believe in the resurrection (Mark 16)

PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION

Paradoxically, the claim of the resurrection is the most outlandish and the most prove-able. Many a skeptic, wanting to expose the “fraud of faith” by scrutinizing the Bible, has stumbled over the resurrection and turned into Christians (Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel).

Atheist attack: Doubters of the Bible say that the disciples made up the story of the resurrection. They point to beliefs of resurrection prior to Jesus’s. They say the disciples stole his body from the tomb.

The importance of primary documents: In all of history, primary accounts — whether they be from George Washington or Christopher Columbus — have outsized importance. They represent eye-witnesses. It is true that an eye-witness may see wrong, color with prejudice or even invent a lie. If a historian suspects a primary source with supplying lies, the historian must show a motive for such a lie.

Various eyewitnesses: The gospels represent four separate and distinct eye-witness accounts (Luke is a journalist who did not see the resurrection but interviewed many who did).  There were other eye-witnesses. This contrasts with the book of Mormon and the Koran — which were “witnessed” by only one person (Joseph Smith for Mormons and Mohammed for Islam). The need to find a motive for a lie is amplified by the fact that there are many eyewitnesses.

The complete lack of a motive to lie: Usually, criminals are motivated for money, passion or revenge. But the disciples of Jesus didn’t accomplish any such. Instead, they lost their possessions, ran from the law and were killed for their beliefs. There is an utter lack of motive to “make up” a story. By contrast, Mohammed fueled his military conquests with his visions, and Joseph Smith acquired a huge following and women (though with persecution).

The improbability of perpetuating a lie unto death: Despite the startling lack of a discernible motive to lie about the resurrection, let’s suppose that the disciples fabricated the story to become famous. But it is difficult to believe that IF THEY KNEW THEY WERE LYING that they would continue to do so through persecution and martyrdom. It was common Roman practice to allow “heretics” to recant and pour a wine offering to a statue of Zeus. Doing this, he walked free. Would the disciples die for a lie? It’s not very probable. The only imaginable scenario is they their prior motive to lie would eclipsed by the motive to preserve his life. Maybe one person might carry a lie to martyrdom. It is highly doubtful that 12 would do it — and even more as more than the apostles were martyred.

No prior concept of the resurrection: Our primary documents — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — all agree that not one of the disicples understood Jesus when he foretold his death and resurrection. Peter said he would defend Jesus to the death. The disciples appear to be under the prevailing belief of the time that the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom. So when Jesus died, their hopes were shot. They give up and go home.

Skeptics would have you believe that all of sudden the 12 disciples seized upon the idea of “resurrecting” Jesus right in the moment when they are discouraged. All of sudden when Plan A collapses, they invent Plan B: Let’s resurrect Him and now talk about a spiritual kingdom instead of an earthly one. Certainly this is remotely possible but contradicts the primary sources for history.  It doesn’t work well with the historical accounting of no hope among the disciples. It’s hard to think they could suddenly think up the abstract concept of a spiritual kingdom after his discouraging defeat in death, especially if we consider they couldn’t wrap their head around it before when He was alive.

The mysterious transformation from fearful to fearless: The primary documents portray the disciples as fearful. When Jesus gets arrested, they flee. Peter denies knowing Christ three times. They hide in the upper room.

Then all of sudden, they are incredible bold. Peter declares to the same Jewish court that condemned Christ that He is Lord and resurrected Savior. Where did the courage come from? It came from the resurrection. Suddenly, the disciples had no fear of death because they saw Christ’s triumph over death. They realized death was not final.

Skeptics lack an explanation for the emotional state change in the disciples.

The first witnesses were women: If the disciples fabricated Jesus resurrection, it is improbable that they would credit women, which were looked down in societal standing, with being the first witnesses to His resurrection. Even the Catholic church refused to credit the cleaning lady with being the first to see Pope John Paul II as dead. If the Catholic Church decided to lie, how much more so in the ancient times. The best explanation of women being the first witnesses is the simple fact that it was true. God chose to reveal to women, and the authors of the gospels attest to the truth of the story despite their prejudices.

Creative genius? To credit the fishermen and laborers who surrounded Jesus with the creative genius necessary to concoct the “lie of the resurrection” is too much. None of the apostles was a Homer or a James Michener. They were simple men. They couldn’t have thought up such a tale.

Collective delusion? For sure, there have been many who come under a delusion of grandeur. There are people who believe they are a god, for example. But these are self-serving and self-aggrandizing all. The “delusion” of the resurrection did not serve or aggrandize the disciples; it exposed them to persecution. This option is even more difficult because only individuals have these delusion. There is no such thing as a collective delusion. There are collective deceptions, but that is different. The theory of the collective delusion shows the extremes that skeptics go to prop up a flimsy theory.

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESURRECTION

Having spent the majority of this study showing the many proofs of the resurrection and the dismaying lack of evidence for skeptics of the resurrection, I will now show its importance.

Part of salvation: Rom 10:9-10 says that belief in the resurrection is part of our very salvation.

First fruits: The term is used in agriculture: the “first fruits” signified that many more were to come. The New Testament says Jesus is a first fruit resurrection, signifying that all Christians will follow suit. Heaven is real.

Christ’s deity: When Jesus rose from the dead, He proved He was God, who cannot be subjected by immortality.

It’s hope: As a consequence of the resurrection, like the apostles, have no fear of death. We have hope throughout this life regardless of whatever miserable circumstances we may be passing through, that the next life will be worth whatever suffering here.

 

 

 

James

Author: James, the brother of Jesus, who becomes one of the three pillars in the early church. This could not be written by James, the disciples of Jesus, as he died too early (Acts 12:2).

Audience: From 1:1, we deduce that James is writing to Jews who have converted to Christianity, probably from the first Day of Pentecost. Acts records 22 different languages in which the Holy Spirit-filled apostles spoke in, and Jews who had pilgrimaged from their native lands to Jerusalem heard them.

Date written: From the fact that it was written to Jews, it sounds like it was written BEFORE Gentiles got converted in mass numbers.

Rivalry between James and Paul: Liberal theologians deduce from 2:17-26 that James argued directly against Paul’s assertion we are saved by grace alone, not by works (Eph 2:8). The naming of Abraham in v. 21 certainly sounds like a direct counter-argument to Gal. 3:8-11.  There is more to this argument. From what Paul tells us in Gal. 2:12, it appears that James is the patron of the group of the circumcision that Paul steadfastly resists.

We are going to argue that there is no rivalry between James and Paul, and that James’ argument of faith and works is complementary, not contradictory, to Paul’s discussions.

First, it appears that James wrote before Paul wrote or even started ministry, maybe before Paul even got saved. It would be impossible for James to address written material from Paul that hadn’t yet been written.

Secondly, the supposed rivalry is a case of building a few pieces of circumstantial evidence into a mountain. Paul respects James as his leader (Gal. 1:19, 2:9). James sides with Paul’s interpretation of grace (Acts 15:13 ff). Other evidence points not to rivalry, but to mutual respect and trust.

Thirdly, if a reasonable explanation to how James 2:17-26 might not be counter-argument, the rivalry theory continues to crumble. Specifically, James names a kind of faith that is more of an intellectual assent than real faith (2:19). Paul would oppose an only intellectual faith too. Next, James says that real faith produces “works.” Paul would call them “fruit.” A fruit tree does not have to “work” to produce fruit; simply under optimum conditions, fruit happens. This is Paul’s argument. He worked so hard striving to please God and wound up God’s enemy (persecuting the church) that he repudiates this approach to God. As a persecutor, he tried to earn God’s favor. When he gets God’s favors through no merits of his own, he gets God’s grace in spite of his conduct, he gushes gratitude and now produces fruit by the Spirit out of thankfulness. James would argue that a truly saved person shows it by his works (Paul would say fruit).

Fourthly, the polar opposition continues to erode when we look at 1:25, 2:8 and 2:12. Here James markedly contrasts the Jewish law with the Christian law, which he calls the “law of liberty” (sounds a lot like Paul) and the “royal law,” the law of King Christ (Matt. 5:43 ff). His labeling “the law” thus distances himself from the supposed Pharisaical positions (Acts 15:5) that James is assumedly leader of.

For these four reason, we argue that there is no bad blood between Paul and James, that they take different tracks and address differing problems but agree in essence on the gospel.

Organizational divisions of the book:

Made in the Image of God

Text: Gen. 1

Introduction: When the Bible says that human beings are made in the image of God, this does NOT mean that God has a physical body. He does NOT have a nose with god-sized boogers. He does NOT have armpits requiring divine deodorant. No, John 4:24 clarifies, “God is Spirit.” The descriptions of God’s body parts are figurative language to help us humans conceptualize God (a figurative language is saying “the sun rises and sets” when in fact this is not correct; it is the earth that orbits).

Being made in the image of God then means emotionally and spiritually. What are the attributes that humans have/should have that mimic God?

God establishes order. In our text, God takes complete chaos and sets apart the waters from the firmament, darkness from light, etc.

Before we came to Christ, our lives were a chaos. We admitted no rule of conduct. Our families were a disorder, our finances a chaos and our mental life a riot of wild thoughts. We only wanted to sin, not caring for consequences.

When we come to Christ, we begin to order things one by one. It took years to destroy our lives; it will take years to rebuild them. This is why we come to church to receive instruction and to order our lives. We should not be afraid of order since chaos made us miserable. We should not cling to sin fearing to relinquish it to God, because order brings beauty and happiness.

God brings light. In our text, God makes light, which overcomes the darkness. As humans, we like light. Would you drive your car on a country road on a cloudy night if your lights were out? You would crash. Because we have driven our lives in the darkness, we have crashed so many times. Bringing light is good and helps us. John 3:19-20 says people don’t come to the light to NOT have their deeds of darkness exposed. Don’t be afraid of the light. Every sermon you hear brings light to an area of darkness.

God creates. In our text, God creates. This shows us that we have the creative impulse. Whatever our giftings, we should use our artistic or scientific abilities to creates for the glory of God. I was not given musical talent. I was given writing talent. I must use my gift for God. He who neglects is gift is in danger of “burying his talent” (Mt. 25:18,20-21,24-30). You’d better use your gift for God.

(sermon Ap. 23, 2017 Pastor Mike Ashcraft)

Hebrews

Author: Hebrews, contrary to popular opinion, was probably NOT written by Paul. It lacks his signature introduction and salutation. Plus, Heb. 2:4 seems to be written by a subsequent generation.

Audience: It sounds like Jews who had become Christians but were now wavering and thinking about returning to Judaism. The author explains deep into the Old Testament why Jesus is superior to Moses, Abraham, the Sabbath rest, the priesthood and the tabernacle. He exhorts his audience to NOT turn back from following the Jewish Messiah.

Main Idea: Jesus is superior.

Central Verses: Heb. 8:6-12

Overview:

  1. Jesus is superior to angels (Heb. 1:1)
  2. Jesus is superior to Moses (Heb. 3:3)
  3. Jesus is the superior Sabbath rest (Heb. 3:18)
  4. Jesus is superior to the high priests (Heb. 4:14)
  5. Jesus is superior to Abraham (Heb. 6:13)
  6. Jesus offers a superior covenant, the New Testament (Heb. 8:7)
  7. Jesus’s temple is superior to Old Testament temple (Heb. 9:1)
  8. A celebration of the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:1)
  9. Practical applications (Heb. 12:1)

Please note these demarcations are not absolute separations of subject matter, as the author weaves concepts and people in his closely-reasoned argument.

Cyclical style: The author explains doctrine and then exhorts to behavior. This pattern basically repeats over and over again through the major divisions. Some of these exhortations are the hardest hitting of the New Testament. The strong warnings are NOT intended to make you feel like there’s no hope for you. They ARE intended to strongly urge you to stay faithful to the things of God. If, however, you are fallen, by all means, stand back up and start serving God again.

Gems:

  • Heb. 4:12
  • Heb. 6:10
  • All of Heb. 11
  • Heb 12:1-3
  • Heb. 13:8

Special explanations:

Melchizedek was the high priest who came out to Abraham, when Abraham had rescued Lot from attackers. Abraham gave him a tithe (first mention of the tithe in the Bible), and Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The extraordinary thing is the lack of genealogy. The Old Testament is full of genealogies, and all the heroes can be found in them — minus Melchizedek. The point for the author of Hebrews is that Jesus has the right to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. He is countering arguments that Jesus, not being from the line of Levi, would have no right to the claim. The author cites Old Testament prophecy about the line of Melchizedek to claim that right.

The rest is specified as the Promised Land, the place flowing milk and honey. By contrast, the land of work, or being worked, is the desert. Christianity is not miserable, like the desert. It is a place of blessing, abundant provision and well-being. Once you rest from religious strivings, you can sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary and live by the Spirit, not by a set of rules.

Priest vs. prophet While both try to get man into relationship with God, their function is basically opposite. The prophet represents God to man. The priest represents man to God. The prophet warns man on behalf of God. The priest pleads to God for mercy on behalf of man. It is incredibly encouraging to note that Jesus is our “high priest,” not our “high prophet.” In other words, He’s got our back. And He is pleading on our behalf. The author of Hebrews expressly says He knows our weakness, our failings, our humanity because He took human form.

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