Archives

Happiness vs. Joy?

What’s the Difference?
Happiness and joy seem at first glance to be very similar emotions, but upon further examination are actually very different.  Happiness is often related to the superficial and is an outward expression of the circumstances around us.  Happiness is temporal and only exists when everything seems to be going right in our lives.  We are happy when we receive a gift, go on a trip, eat a nice meal and find ourselves healthy.  But joy on the other hand is an internal emotion, that is not based on any superficial experience.  Joy is a continual deep peace in a person’s inner being that all is well regardless of difficult circumstances.  Joy can be experienced by those who never receive gifts, never get to go on trips, don’t have enough food to eat, or even find themselves sick and in much pain.  The Apostle Paul illustrates this point clearly when he was imprisoned and chained between two soldiers awaiting execution.  He was able to say, “Rejoice, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). 

Joy is a Gift from God
The most significant difference however between happiness and joy is how they are acquired.  Joy is not discovered in a textbook, found on a beach, or saved in a bank account.  At the very root, joy is a supernatural gift from God granting a person peace that his or her life is right with God.  While every person will experience happiness in the world at some time and at some level, only those who are right with God can truly experience real joy.  Sadly, many in the world will never experience what the Bible calls true joy.  Many will plod through a difficult life and be forever miserable.  But there is an invitation to everyone to come to the true source of joy, Jesus Christ.  The Bible teaches that when a person forsakes their sin, and puts their trust in Jesus Christ they are “born again” (Jn 3:1-16).  This new birth is a radical transformation of a person when the life of God enters into the soul of man.  To say it explicitly, the third member of the God-head, the Holy Spirit, enters into a believer.  With that radical divine takeover of a person’s life, comes inevitable blessings.  Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit gives “gifts” to the one who is born again.  And those gifts are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22, Rom 15:13).  Notice that “joy” is one of the gifts among many others.  While happiness may be learned or even purchased, notice that joy must be received.  The Scripture teaches that joy is a gift from God and is a strength to those who have it (Neh 8:10). 

How Can I Have More Joy?
Once God has given you this supernatural joy, can this joy increase?  The answer is absolutely!  Jesus said that He came so that His joy could be “in us” and that our “joy would be made full” (Jn 15:11). 

The Bible gives many ways, but here are three fundamental ways the Bible teaches believers to increase joy in their heart.  And we shouldn’t be surprised that they all revolve around how we relate to God and His Word.  First, stay away from evil.  The very first and foundational Psalm tells us, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1).  The word “blessed” is actually a plural in the Hebrew and stresses the fact that those who do what is stated will experience the “blessednesses” or blessings of God.  The Psalmist calls God’s people to follow Him wholeheartedly and avoid relationships that leave God out of their lives. Three plans of action are presented:  1) guard your mind by not listening to worldly wisdom rather than God’s wisdom, 2) don’t participate in sinful behavior, and 3) don’t make deep friendships with those who disbelieve and scoff at God’s Word.  Joy can be increased by avoiding evil through a growing knowledge of God, and application of His Word to our lives. 

Second, simply obeying the commands of God bring more joy.  The Psalmist says, “the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” (Ps 19:8).  God tells us “blessed are those who keep my ways” (Prov 8:32).  Disobedience to God will certainly rob a believer of the joy of the Lord, but on the other hand obedience to God can bring about rejoicing!  We should never view God’s commands as a burden, but rather we should realize that His Word is given to us for “our good” (Deut 10:12-13).  God wants us to be full of joy and His Word is a road map to the fullness of joy.  While our salvation is secure, our disobedience grieves the Holy Spirit within us (Eph 4:30).  King David understood this clearly after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  Once he repented of his sin, he diligently prayed to the Lord, “restore to me the joy of my salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps 51:12).  When we are tempted to disobey God, we must remember that Satan’s promises are lies!  It is God’s commands that are designed to give us greatest rejoicing. 

Third, more joy comes by trusting in the Lord.  Jeremiah 17:7 says, “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Prov 16:20).  From experience we know that anxiety strips us of joy and unbelief can paralyze us.  The measure of our joy can be determined by where we place our trust.  Paul tells us clearly to rejoice, but then tells us that we can rejoice because we put our trust in God.  He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:4-7).  Instead of worrying, we must go to the sovereign King of the universe and make our requests known.  Knowing that He is in control, He promises to give us peace which will guard our hearts and minds.  This is the only way we can “consider it all joy” when we experience all kinds of trials (James 1:2).  We can willfully choose joy in any circumstance because we know that God is in control and working out the details of our lives.   

God Our Savior

Every year, our Easter celebrations rightfully focus on Jesus, God the Son who died on the cross on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Sunday.  We will inevitably sing great songs of praise like “Halleluiah what a Savior.”  But I don’t want us to forget that Good Friday and Easter were a Trinitarian effort.  We must remember that both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus were events planned by God the Father in eternity past, so that we can also say that God the Father is our Savior.  We rightfully think of Jesus as being our Savior, but six times in the New Testament, God the Father is also called “our Savior” (1 Tim 1:1, 2:3, 4:10, Titus 1:3, 2:10, 3:4).  This shouldn’t surprise us since God is known as Israel’s Savior over thirty times in the Old Testament (Ps 106:21).  This is the nature of God.  He is a saving God!  And the Easter story reveals the Father’s saving work in orchestrating all the details so that both Good Friday and Easter happened. 

Good Friday: God Put Forward
In Romans 3:24-25 the Apostle Paul says that sinners are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood.”  Don’t miss the fact that it was God who made the cross happen.  Yes, it is true that Jesus was crucified by evil men.  But it was God the Father who “put forward” His Son.  This is also confirmed by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:23, when he says that Jesus was  “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”  Understand that Good Friday was God’s plan for making sure there was a sacrifice worthy to satisfy His own wrath against sin.  This is seen in the word “propitiation.”  This word means to satisfy, like one whose debt has been fully paid.  Why did God put forth His Son to be killed and have His blood spilled?  God knew that it was only the blood of His spotless Son who could “propitiate” or satisfy His own wrath toward sinners.  God the Father, sent His own Son into the world (Jn 3:16), to pay the debt that sin had created and to satisfy His own holy wrath against sin.  Oh, what a Savior!

Easter:  God Raised Up
But not only was the cross on Good Friday orchestrated by God the Father, the resurrection on Easter Sunday was as well.  Who raised up Jesus who had been in the grave for “three days and three nights” (Matt 12:40)?  The Apostle Peter answers this question clearly in Acts 2:24 when he says, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (See also Acts 3:15, 1 Cor 6:14, Eph 1:20, Romans 8:11, 2 Cor 4:14).  The resurrection of Jesus was God’s doing.  It was God’s way of putting His stamp of approval on the sacrifice that Jesus had made.  It was God’s way of telling the world that truly He was a Savior, a Savior from sin, death, and Satan.  The resurrection of Jesus proves that death had been destroyed, Satan had been conquered, and sin’s penalty had been fully paid (Heb 2:14, 1 Cor 15:55, Col 2:15).   

So this year when we reflect on Good Friday and celebrate on Easter, let’s not forget this fundamental truth that while Jesus is our Savior, so is God the Father.  It was God the Father who planned our salvation and acted to ensure that Jesus was put forward and raised from the dead. 

As we close, we would be amiss if we forgot the Holy Spirit who is also active in our salvation.  While it was the Father who planned it all, and the Son who accomplished it on the cross, it is God the Holy Spirit who applies salvation to our hearts.  The Apostle Paul gloriously reveals this Trinitarian effort in our salvation clearly in Ephesians 1:3-14.  Our salvation was a Trinitarian effort, so that we can say emphatically that the entire God-head is our Savior! Oh, what a Savior!

Palm Sunday: “Who Is This Man?”

Who is Jesus?  This is one of the most important questions of all time.  It was the very question that the whole city of Jerusalem was asking on that first Palm Sunday when Jesus entered into the city riding on a donkey.  As Jesus entered the city, thousands of Jews were spreading their cloaks on the road and waving palm branches.  Matthew records this story of Christ’s final entry, His “Triumphant Entry” into the city of Jerusalem.  While many through the ages have wrongly understood who Jesus really is, this story makes it very clear, giving us five glorious truths teaching us who Jesus really is (Matthew 21:1-11). 

Willing Servant
First, Jesus is the willing servant who went up to Jerusalem.  Palm Sunday was the first day of the last week of Jesus’ life.  After completing an amazing ministry of healing, and miracles and teaching, Jesus willingly “drew near to Jerusalem.”  It was the time of the Passover, and multitudes of Jews were in the city ready to make their yearly sacrifice to fulfill the Mosaic requirement (Ex 12:2-6).  It is possible that the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem, Jews took lambs into their own homes in preparation.  And now Jesus, the one true Lamb of God enters the city.  Jesus had already told His disciples what the ultimate plan was.  He told them no less than three times, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.  And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matt 20:18-19, see also 16:21, 17:22-23).  Jesus knew exactly that when He entered the city, He was entering it for the sole purpose of becoming a sacrificial lamb.  No one forced Jesus, but He willingly went as God’s suffering servant (Is 53). 

Sovereign Lord
Second, Jesus is the sovereign and all-knowing Lord who fulfilled prophecy.  The story that Matthew gives reveals that Jesus was not a victim but rather in total control.  Jesus doesn’t fall into the hands of an angry mob, nor does he fall prey to a political or religious fiasco.  But rather He controls all of the details of His entrance into Jerusalem for the purpose of going to the cross.  He tells His disciples exactly where to go to find a donkey for Him to ride thereby fulfilling the Scriptural prediction made 500 years earlier (Zech 9:9).  This was the sovereign plan of God that Jesus would reveal Himself as a gentle servant.  Nothing could have been more appropriate than the bearer of the world’s sin burden to ride into Jerusalem on a lowly beast of burden.  When Jesus returns a second time He will not be riding a gentle donkey, but rather a white stallion to bring judgment (Rev 19:11-16). 

Worthy Master
Third, Jesus is the worthy Master who is obeyed by those who love Him.  When Jesus instructed the disciples, they were quick to obey.  What we learn is that all who truly follow Jesus know Him as a worthy master and that attitude is evidenced by obedience.  When Jesus gave instructions, the disciples “went and did as Jesus had directed them” (v. 6-7).  Jesus had proven that He was worthy to be obeyed.  The crowds didn’t know who Jesus was, but the disciples knew!  And they expressed that knowledge in practical obedience.  It is repulsive to think that we would be asked to obey an unworthy master, who is harsh and unrighteous.  But disciples of Jesus have no problem obeying Him, because they know that He is the only worthy one (Rev 5).  This should be the true heart of every disciple (Jn 14:15, 21, 24). 

Blessed Savior
Fourth, Jesus is the blessed Savior who deserves all praise.  The crowds rightly gave Jesus the praise that He was due.  When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, the crowds began to spread their garments on the ground.  This was an ancient custom which symbolized respect and submission to authority (2 Kings 9:13). The crowds also waved palm branches (Jn 12:13), which was symbolic of salvation and joy.  Furthermore, the crowds seemingly with one voice cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  This was a salvation chant filled with expectation.  Hosanna is an exclamatory plea which means “save now.”  It is clear that the crowds thought of Jesus as a messiah or deliverer from the physical hands of the wicked Romans.  But they clearly misunderstood like so many today.  The mission of Jesus was not to deliver man from his physical problems!  Jesus came to deliver His people from spiritual oppression and the consequences of sin.   As a result, He is truly the one who deserves all our praise. 

Heavenly King
Last, Jesus is the heavenly King who many will never recognize.  After Jesus entered into the city, the whole city was stirred up and they were saying “Who is this?”  Many of them simply said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (v. 10-11).  They totally ignored what was being chanted about Him, that He was the “Son of David,” that is the messiah that God had sent (Is 11:1).  They only thought of Jesus as a prophet or a messenger.  While they heard the message and saw the miracles of Jesus, they refused to believe and ultimately rejected Jesus as Savior and Lord. Jesus was more than an earthly King.  He was the heavenly King sent to earth by God to conquer sin and death. 

“Who is this man?”  That is the ultimate question that every person has to answer.  It is not a question to be ignored!  How someone answers this question will determine their eternal destiny.  Jesus is not merely a good and wise teacher, who loved well and ultimately experienced a tragic unfortunate death.  No, rather He is the sovereign King of the universe who came to earth to willingly go to Jerusalem and be killed as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world and establish a heavenly Kingdom.  Our hope at Ebenezer BFC is that every person who comes through our doors will come find the answer to this question and be able to declare that Jesus is both Lord and Savior!

Discerning God’s Will

One of the most profound statements that Jesus Christ ever made was in the Garden of Gethsemane when death on the cross was immediately before Him. He prayed to His heavenly Father, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 12:42). Jesus determined to always do His Father’s will (Jn 6:38) and set an example for all who would follow Him. As followers of Jesus, we also should determine to do God’s will. Having no desire to do God’s will is the mark of an unbeliever (Rom 8:5-8). But herein lies the problem. Sometimes God’s will is difficult to determine. How do we discover God’s will in order to do it?

Discerning God's Will

First and foremost, there are clear instructions or decrees in God’s Word revealing God’s clear will. This will of God is evidenced in His Law, commands, and exhortations. And to make it even more clear there are several places in Scripture where the phrase, “this is the will of God” is stated emphatically (Eph 5:17-18, 1 Thess 4:3, 5:18, 1 Pet 4:19). We call these commands the decreed will of God. From these
passages we can determine that being saved, being sexual pure, suffering for Christ, and
being thankful for all things, are some of the clear examples of God’s will for our lives.
Failing to obey these commands is evidence that we are clearly outside of God’s will.

But there are other times when knowing God’s will is not as clear. How should we proceed? What would be the process that one would take in order to determine God’s will concerning less clear & subjective decisions, like which job to take, or where to go, or who to date? Acts 11:1-18 serves as a great case study on divine guidance. In this particular passage the Apostle Peter explains how God’s will was made known to him, that he was to preach the Gospel to a family of Gentiles (Acts 10). God provided divine guidance to help Peter readjust his thinking to understand that salvation was not just for Jews but also for Gentiles. He explained to those who criticized him for preaching to Gentiles, the exact “order” in which God revealed His will to him (11:4). Looking closely at Peter’s explanation, we can discover six principles in determining God’s will.

LORD, don't let my desires blind me to your will - give me peace with whatever your plan is.

First, Peter engaged in prayer (v. 5). Peter did not assume to know God’s perfect will, but humbly sought-after God. This must be the beginning point for every believer. We must have a desire to not only discover but obey God’s will. Why would God reveal His will to someone who has no desire to obey it? Prayer displays the hungry heart of a true believer desiring to hear clear directions from God.

Second, God gave Peter His word, in this case through a vision (v. 5b-10). This vision clearly explained the heart of God, changing Peter’s mind and gave him clarity as to God’s will. It should be noted that visions are not normative for today in the Church age, and we should not expect God to speak to us in visions. However, what is clear is the Word of God given to sufficiently and clearly guide God’s people. The Bible provides multitudes of both direct and indirect teaching that provides principles for living a life that honors and pleases the Lord.

And we know that for those who love God, ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD, for those who are called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28

Third, Peter recognized God’s providential workings (v. 11-12). Immediately following the vision, three men showed up at his doorstep confirming what God had said in the vision. Timing like that only proves that God rules this world so that nothing is accidental. When discerning the will of God, it is important to note how God is providentially working out details in our lives. We must remember that God is working “all things together for good” for those who love Him (Rom 8:28). It is this providential working of God that may confirm what we have already discovered in our prayer and bible study times in how God is leading.

Fourth, the details of Peter’s situation were confirmed by several other witnesses (v. 12). Confirmation by others is a valuable thing when we are talking about discerning the subjective will of God (not the decreed will of God as described above). It is important for believers to seek godly counsel. While thoughts and desires are often subjective, it is best if they can be wisely affirmed by godly counsel (Prov 12:15, 19:20).

Fifth, Peter saw that God prepared circumstances to fall into place, the ground had been tilled (v. 13-14). This is similar to the third principle, but should be noted again. If it is God’s will to do something, He will have provided the necessary things for it to happen. God’s purpose for your life will be accompanied with “open doors.” Caution must also be warned here as well. Difficulty is not always an indication that something is not God’s will. It is clear from Scripture that God’s will is not always accompanied with smooth roads.

Sixth, Peter saw the fruitfulness of his decisions (v. 15-16). God blessed His word and confirmed that Peter had discerned rightly. When we follow God’s will obediently we can expect God to bless. We must remember however, that what we deem as blessing and what God deems as blessing may be two different things. Furthermore, God doesn’t always promise that obeying Him will result in prosperity, but may indeed result in suffering.

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.

The most important principles of this process are certainly the first two Christian disciplines of prayer and bible study. All of the other principles can be applied only after the follower of Christ has saturated his life with the Word of God (Colossians 3:16) and faithfully sought the Lord in prayer. And when a believer has devoted himself to living a life of full obedience to the clear decrees of God’s Word, then the Holy Spirit will have free reign to guide his heart (Prov 16:3, Ps 37:4).

Does the Bible Teach a Rapture?

Some have argued that the Bible never speaks about a “rapture.” That is a reasonable concern considering that the word rapture is not found in the Bible. So where does this concept then come from, and is this a real teaching or simply the product of someone’s imagination? (It should be noted that the word Trinity is not found in the Bible and yet it is very clear from Scripture that there is only one God who manifests Himself in three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.). Let’s answer several important questions about this concept known as the rapture.

The RAPTURE - Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 1 Thes 4:17

Where is the rapture found in the Bible?
Does the Bible teach that the Church is going to be raptured out? There are three main rapture passages that describe the “catching away” of the church: John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In John 14:3, Jesus only briefly introduced the concept telling his troubled disciples that He was leaving them, but also promised, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” The Apostle Paul explains the mystery of this rapture more fully in Corinthians and Thessalonians. A mystery is not a puzzle or something difficult to figure out, but rather truth that was not made known in previous generations but has now been revealed (Eph 3:9). In Corinthians, Paul says, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” In the Thessalonian passage, Paul teaches us that believers who are alive before the coming of the Lord will be “caught up” together with the dead in Christ who will be raised, and we will all go immediately to be “with the Lord in the air.”

What actually is the rapture?
In the fourth century Jerome translated the Greek New Testament into Latin, consequently, translating the Greek word harpazo in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 into the word raeptius. The Latin word rapio means “to seize, snatch or seize away or to take suddenly and vehemently.” This word made its way into the English language as “rapture.” This word appears 13 times in the New Testament (Matt 11:12, 13:19, Jn 6:15, 10:12, 28, 29, Acts 8:39, 23:10, 2 Cor 12:2, 4, 1 Thess 4:17, Jude 1:23, Rev 12:5). A brief survey of these verses reveal that this word is often used to describe the “snatching up” or “catching up” of people to different places. In Acts 8, Philip was “snatched” away and carried from one place to another. In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul was “caught up” into heaven. Revelation 12:5 speaks of Jesus being caught up to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). So then, the rapture is a description of the Church being “caught up or snatched away” from this world and carried to another location, namely heaven, with Jesus in the air.

Is the rapture the same thing as the second coming of Christ?
At this point a distinction has to be made between the rapture and the second coming of Christ. When the two events are closely analyzed, there are clear evidences in Scripture that teach that the rapture and the second coming of Christ are two separate events. Consider the following chart and analysis.

Some have concluded that the second coming of Christ comes in two stages. The first stage of Christ’s coming is the rapture where Christ doesn’t come to the earth, but in the air to snatch His bride, the Church, from the world. The second stage of Christ’s coming comes at the end of the Tribulation when Jesus comes directly to the earth with His bride to bring judgment on the earth, defeating the Antichrist at Armageddon to set up His millennial kingdom on the earth.

Who will participate in the rapture?
Only believers in Christ who lived during the Church age will participate in the rapture. Thessalonians is clear that the dead “in Christ” will be raised first and then those who are alive will be caught up together with them in the air. The “dead in Christ” are Believers who have already died.  In this sentence, the assumption is that the reference to “those who are alive” means, “those who are alive in Christ,” meaning believers who are still living. To be “in Christ” is a description of New Covenant believers, or the Church. No one prior to Pentecost was considered to be “in Christ” or baptized “in Christ.” Therefore, the participants of the rapture will only be people known as church-age believers (both dead and alive), consisting of both Jew and Gentile believers. The logical conclusion then is that the rapture will end this particular church age, and be the start of the Tribulation.

So, what happens to Old Testament believers, or those who were saved prior to Jesus coming? There are two passages in the Old Testament that indicate that Old Covenant saints will be raised in conjunction with the actual second coming of Christ to the earth (Isaiah 26:16-19, Daniel 12:1-3, Rev 20:4-6). Unlike church-age believers who will receive glorified bodies at the rapture prior to the Tribulation, Old Testament believers and Tribulation believers who died (or martyred) will not receive their glorified bodies until their resurrection at the end of the Great Tribulation before the Millennial Kingdom is established on the earth by Christ Himself.

How long will the rapture take?
According to 1 Corinthians 15:52, the rapture will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” The word “moment” is the word atomos in the Greek. It is the word from which we get the word atom, the smallest unit of matter which is indivisible. The word implies the smallest unit of time. In other words, this rapture will take place in an indivisible moment, or “in an instant” or “in a split second.” Furthermore, Paul says this will happen in the “twinkling of an eye.” The rapture will be something that takes place instantaneously, or in a flash. It will not be observable by the human eye. Immediately the dead in Christ will be raised and we who are in Christ and alive will instantaneously be caught up with Jesus and carried into heaven.

When will the rapture take place?
This is one of the most debatable discussions in current day prophecy. There are three major views (some minor views as well) about when the rapture will take place: a pre-tribulation rapture, a mid-tribulation rapture, and a post-tribulation rapture. The pre-Trib position believes that the Church will be raptured out prior to the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation. The mid-Trib position believes that the church will be raptured out at the midway point of the Tribulation, prior to the great wrath that will come during the second half of the Tribulation. The post-Trib position believes that the rapture and the second coming of Christ are one event that happens at the end of the Tribulation, with the consequence that the Church will go through the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth.

While each of these positions have their strengths and weaknesses, the pre-tribulation rapture position seems to have the most compelling and Scripture support. Following are nine reasons for believing that the pre-Trib rapture position is the most supported by Scripture.

1. The Tribulation period concerns the nation of Israel (Jer 30:7, Daniel 9:24, 12:7). Three significant passages in the Old Testament give strong evidence that the Tribulation is a time for Israel. Jeremiah states that a day is coming that is greater than any before, and that “it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it.” Jacob is the Father of Israel and his name was actually changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28); thus, this time of distress is for Israel, but they will be saved out of it (Romans 11:26). Furthermore, Daniel the prophet writes about the 70 weeks of prophecy, stating that these seventy weeks are “decreed about your people and your holy city…” (9:24). Daniel’s people were the Israelites and none other. At the end of Daniel’s prophecy, he writes another astonishing statement. Daniel says that the “time, times and half a time” will be for “the shattering of the power of the holy people” (12:7). All of this makes sense when the promise of Revelation 3:10 reveals that the “hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” is for the purpose “to try those who dwell on the earth.” The “earth dwellers” in the book of Revelation are clearly unbelievers. This description is found eleven times in nine verses in Revelation (3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10 [twice]; 13:8, 12, 14 [twice] 17:2, 8). A close examination of these passages reveals that “earth dwellers” are unsaved people who, during the Tribulation, stubbornly and steadfastly continue in their rejection of God. The Tribulation will serve the purpose of trying the world, and the nation of Israel who will believe and be saved out of the Tribulation. Since the Church already believes in Jesus, there is no purpose for the Church to go through the Tribulation.

2. There is no biblical reference to the church on the earth in Revelation chapters 4-19. The Church is glaringly missing in the main section of Revelation that teaches the details of the Tribulation. It shouldn’t surprise us that the term ecclesia (church) is used 19 times in chapters 1-3, while it is never used in the following chapters. There are also other indications scattered throughout the book. For example, Chapter 4 describes a vision before the throne of God which is clearly in heaven, and not on the earth. John sees around the throne twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. He also sees “before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God…” These are certainly references to the redeemed who are singing the song of redemption (Rev 5:8-10), the overcomers who have their crowns and live in the place prepared for them. Since at that point Israel hadn’t been saved, this is certainly a description of the Church who is in heaven being rewarded (see Rev 1:20). In chapter 13:9, John uses a phrase “if anyone has an ear, let him hear.” That phrase is used in chapters 1-3 repeatedly to each of the seven churches with an additional qualification, “…what the Spirit says to the churches.” But in chapter 13:9, this phrase is blatantly missing most likely because the Church is nowhere to be found in chapter 13. The omission of the Church throughout Revelation 4-19 is a compelling argument that the Church will have been raptured prior to the Tribulation.

3. The Church is promised exemption from divine wrath (1 Thess 1:9-10, 5:9, Romans 5:9, Rev 3:10, 6:16-17, Eph 2:3-5). The Church is promised to be spared from God’s wrath. It is clear that the Tribulation is actually the very wrath of God (see Rev 6:16-17, 11:18, 15:1, 7, 16:19). For sure the Church will not be spared from trials (Jn 16:33), man’s wrath (2 Tim 3:12), Satan’s wrath (Eph 6:11-12), and the world’s wrath (Jn 15:18-19). But Christ has already taken God’s wrath for believers. The wrath of the Tribulation will be poured out on unbelievers (Rev 3:10).

4. The doctrine of Imminency requires a pre-Trib rapture.  The Rapture could happen at any moment (1 Cor 1:7, 16:22, Phil 3:20, 4:5, 1 Thess 1:10, Titus 2:13, Heb 9:28, James 5:7-9, 1 Peter 1:13, Jud 1:21, Rev 3:11, 22:7, 12, 20, Rev 22:17, 20). It is important to remember that the rapture is a sign-less and imminent event that cannot be discerned, whereas the second coming of Christ to the earth is preceded by many signs that are very observable (Matt 24). All other views (mid-Trib, & post-Trib) fall short on this point. Only the pre-Trib view can fittingly say that the return of Jesus is imminent.

5. The Rapture is designed to be a comfort for the believing Church (1 Thess 4:18). The introduction of the rapture by Jesus in John 14:1-3, was intended to be a comfort for the troubling hearts of His disciples. Further Paul says that his teaching of the rapture in 1 Thess 4:18 was to be a “comfort.” It would definitely not be a comfort to the Church to know that the rapture would come after many would experience having their heads cut off by the antichrist, or firsthand experience of the wrath of God. Having the rapture appear after all of the trouble that comes on the earth would not be a comfort to anyone! Only the pre-Trib rapture view provides the comfort for the Church that it was intended to do.

6. The Antichrist cannot come to power until the church’s restraining influence is removed (2 Thess 2:6-7). The Apostle Paul tells us something very important, namely that the Antichrist is being restrained from appearing on the earth. Paul says, “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed.” The Tribulation will be initiated not by the rapture, but by a peace treaty that the Antichrist signs with unbelieving Israel (Daniel 9:27). Once that treaty is signed the countdown begins. Paul says that the lawless one (the Antichrist) cannot be revealed until the restrainer is “out of the way.” Since the Antichrist has the very power of Satan (2:9), this restrainer has to be the omnipotent God. No one else would be powerful enough to restrain Satan. For this reason, it is believed that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is omnipresent and working in the world (Jn 16:8). But since the Holy Spirit mainly indwells true believers (Jn 14:16, Rom 8:9), the removal of this restrainer may very well include the removal of the Church. God is holding back the coming of the Antichrist because the Church is still present in the world. Once the Church is removed at the beginning of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will then be “able” to come on the scene. Being Satan incarnate, the Antichrist will then be able to fulfill his lawless acts of hate and violence on the earth.

7. There are clear differences between the rapture of the Church and the return of Christ. At the rapture, Christ will return in the air and come for His church to escort her to the Father’s house (1 Thess 4:16, Jn 14:1-3), while at His second coming He will come to the earth with His saints when He descends from heaven to judge His enemies and establish His glorious one-thousand-year Kingdom on Earth (Zech 14:4-5, 1 Thess 3:13). See the above chart for many other differences making it clear that the coming of Christ for His church (rapture) is a different event from the return of Christ to the earth.

8. Time Gap between the Rapture and the Second Coming. The Rapture and Second Coming must be two separate events and cannot be simultaneous, but must have a gap between them in order to fulfill 4 specific prophecies that must also take place. Each of the following prophecies of necessity require time to which the Pre-Trib rapture position seems to provide. 1) The Judgment seat of Christ must take place where all church-age believers must appear (2 Cor 5:9). Interestingly, the detailed accounts of the second coming of Christ in Rev 19:11-21 don’t mention this judgment. The implication is that this bema (transliterated word for judgment seat) seat judgment for believers will happen in heaven and be completed before the second coming of Christ to the earth when Jesus brings His people with Him. 2) The preparation of Christ’s bride must take place in heaven prior to returning to earth with Christ (Rev 19:7-18). 3) There will clearly be mortal bodied people living on the earth during the Millennial Kingdom (Is 65:20-25) who will carry on normal activities such as farming, building houses, and bearing children. Since this is true, tribulation saints (those who become believers in Christ during the tribulation) must maintain those bodies and not be raptured out after the Tribulation. If every person who became a believer during the Tribulation was raptured out at the end of the Tribulation, there would be no “mortal” bodied people living on the earth to necessarily populate the earth during the Millennial Kingdom. 4) The Post-Tribulation judgment of both Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:31-46) infers that there will be both believers and unbelievers alive on the earth at Christ’s second coming. This is important, because if the rapture is a post-tribulation rapture, then, of necessity, all Tribulation saints would have been raptured and there would be no “tribulation sheep” left to appear before this judgment. All of these prophecies give strong evidence that the rapture must be a pre-Trib rapture in order to give time for the prophecies to be fulfilled.

9. Symbolic parallels demand that the rapture must take place before the tribulation. Jesus’ teaching on His second coming to the earth is taught in Luke 17:26-30. The paradigm that Jesus draws upon are two events that include judgment, namely Noah and the flood, and Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone. These two events have one significant thing in common. In each case the righteous man was first removed from harm’s way before God poured out His wrath and judgment. In the case of righteous Lot (Gen 19:22, 2 Pet 2:5-8), the angel told Lot that he could do “nothing” until Lot was safely away in a city called Zoar. In the same way, God did not begin to bring rain down on the earth until Noah and his family were safely (1 Peter 3:20) in the ark. Enoch was also raptured out or taken out of the earth before the flood (Gen 5:24). God is very good at rescuing the righteous and keeping the ungodly under judgment. God has a history of taking his people out of harm’s way. The pre-Trib rapture certainly fits God’s paradigm perfectly. Certainly, there have been many believers who have experienced horrible deaths throughout history. But it doesn’t seem logical that God would allow the entire bride of Christ to experience the wrath of God alongside unbelievers on the earth during the Great Tribulation.

References:
Mark Hitchcock, The End (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2012), 145-176.
John MacArthur, Revelation, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999)
Dr. Andy Woods, 7 Reasons to Trust the Pre-Trib Rapture, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZBoSaG4-KY

Does Revelation 3:10 Support a Pre-Tribulation Rapture View?

Revelation 3:10 contains a promise to the church at Philadelphia, and not only to that specific church, but it is a promise that has a sweeping nature extending to all faithful churches throughout history. Jesus says directly, “because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”

What is this promise that Jesus is making to the Church? This passage has been considered a key promise of Jesus used to support the view that the Church going to be spared from the very specific seven-year Tribulation that is yet coming upon the earth through a rapturing of the Church (1 Thess 4:13-17, John 14:1-4, 1 Cor 15:51-54). There are mainly three views concerning the coming rapture of the Church. Some believe that this rapture will come at the end of the Tribulation (post-tribulation view), or in the middle of the Tribulation (mid-tribulation view), or prior to the Tribulation (pre-tribulation view). When we understand this promise of Jesus in Revelation 3:10, it appears that the Pre-Tribulation view is the view which is most strongly supported. Let’s look at the details of this Revelation 3:10 promise more closely.

I will keep you from…
The first thing we must note is that Jesus promises to keep believers from something. The Greek construction is important to note: “κἀγώ σε τηρήσω ἐκ τῆς ὥρας τοῦ πειρασμοῦ, which is literally translated “I also, you, will keep out of the hour of the trial.” The key phrase that we need to look at more intently is the phrase “τηρήσω ἐκ, keep out of.” What does this phrase mean? Does it mean to sustain through or literally keep out of or keep from? There has been much debate about the meaning of this phrase. The post-tribulation view argues that the Church is going to go through the Tribulation judgments and that God is going to preserve the church in the midst of His wrath. However, the word ἐκ clearly carries the idea of “out of, or from.” It would have been easy for Jesus to use the Greek word ἐν (“in or through”) like other passages in the New Testament which describe a process of preserving something through or in with a view to continuing in (Acts 12:5, 1 Peter 1:4, Jude 21, these passages use the same word tereo but with en). However, Jesus clearly emphasizes the fact that the Church is not going to be preserved through, but rather kept from this hour of testing which is in the future.

The argument is strengthened further when we look at the only other passage where the same construction is used. The phrase “kept from” is also used in the High Priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17:15. In that passage, Jesus prays for His people, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” The same Greek phrase is used, “τηρήσῃς …ἐκ.” It is clear that Jesus is not praying that His children be preserved within Satan’s power but rather kept from it. Believers have clearly been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:13). Jesus understands that the whole world is under the sway of the wicked one (1 Jn 5:19) and He is praying that believers be kept from Satan all together. Since John wrote both of the passages under consideration, and both are quotes from Jesus Himself, it makes sense to interpret them similarly, enforcing the idea that Revelation 3:10 means to literally “keep from” rather than to preserve through. The promise of Jesus is to keep the Church from this horrible trial that is still coming in the future.

The hour of trial that is coming on the whole world
There are several things to note about this phrase. The fact that Jesus calls this future period as an “hour” of trial implies that this time of testing is for a definite, limited time. Jesus is not speaking of a general time of tribulation that all believers are guaranteed to go through (Jn 16:33). Jesus speaks authoritatively of a definite time of testing. Furthermore, this hour of testing is still yet to come upon the “whole world.” The scope of this testing is not limited to Jerusalem, or Israel in general. Rather this definite time of testing will be a testing over the whole world. The Greek word for world used by Jesus is οἰκουμένης, which is a word typically used to describe the inhabited earth (Lk 4:5, Rom 10:18, Rev 16:14) not the cosmos. The whole world has yet to see the tribulation that God is going to bring.

To try those who dwell on the earth
Now this is a most significant phrase. The purpose of this trial, that is coming upon the whole earth, is to “try those who dwell on the earth.” This phrase happens to be a phrase that is used eleven times in the book of Revelation (3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10 [twice], 13:8, 12, 14 [twice], 17:2, 8). When this group of people are examined, it is clear that these “earth dwellers” are against God and His people. In chapter 6:10, these earth dwellers are identified as those who are persecuting and killing believers who come to faith during the Tribulation. In chapter 11:10, they are those who rejoice and send gifts to one another when the two witnesses of God are killed in Jerusalem during the middle of the Tribulation. In chapter 13:8, 12, these “earth dwellers” worship the Antichrist. Clearly, as Mark Hitchcock states, these are “unsaved people who during the Tribulation, stubbornly and steadfastly continue in their rejection of God. They are those on earth who are totally given up to evil and the hatred of God and His people. The entire horizon of their lives is earthbound” (Mark Hitchcock, 101 Answers to Questions about the Book of Revelation, page 93). This hour of trial which is yet to come has no purpose for the Church, but rather is a testing for unbelievers and an hour of trouble for Jacob or Israel (Jer 30:7). It makes sense to believe that God will spare His Church from the wrath of God to come (1 Thess 1:10).

Conclusion
After looking at the details, the picture becomes much clearer. The promise that Jesus makes is for the Church, particularly that He is going to keep them from, not keep them through, a specific trial that is yet to come upon the whole earth, for the purpose of trying unbelievers. While the world has seen many kinds of trials, it is clear that the trial which is spoken of in Revelation has not yet come and is yet in the future. All of these details definitely give much support for the pre-tribulation rapture position rather than a post or mid-tribulation rapture view.

Christmas: God’s Gift to the World

Christmas was declared a national holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870. It is interesting that Alabama was the first state to make Christmas a state holiday in 1838. And Oklahoma was the last state to officially declare it in 1907 when it became a state. We celebrate Christmas on December 25, but it is very unlikely that Jesus was actually born on that day. The appearance of the shepherds strongly suggest that Jesus was born sometime in early fall. Apparently, the early Christians did not emphasize the birth of Jesus as much as they did His death celebrated on Easter. However, tradition has it that Christmas began to be emphasized around 336 A. D. when it first appeared on the Roman calendar. The date may have been chosen because it was close to the celebration of the arrival of the Magi after Jesus’ birth, known as Epiphany on January 6.

For many in the world, Christmas is just a holiday for the gathering of family and friends. But for Christians, it is a sacred holiday which celebrates the birth of the God-man who left heaven and took on human flesh in order to be the savior of the world. He came to offer Himself as a sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God and allow forgiveness of sin to be a reality. The baby born in the manger was no ordinary baby. The Angel of the Lord told the virgin Mary that she would be giving birth to none other than the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). The Angel told Joseph to name this child “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Jesus, as both fully God and fully man, was the only one who could offer a satisfactory sacrifice to save mankind from their worst enemy, namely sin and the judgment of God.

We must remember that Christmas was preplanned by God Himself before the foundation of the world. And in fact, Christmas with all its meaning finds its roots not in the manger, but in the garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden they immediately died spiritually in their relationship with God, and also began to die physically. God had warned them that the consequences of sinning against Him was death (Gen 2:17). When this happened, God in His holiness and justice had a right to kill both of them immediately. And yet we see that God was merciful to them. Adam and Eve unsuccessfully tried to cover their shame through their own efforts by sewing fig leaves together (Gen 3:7). But God in His infinite grace toward them found a substitute to pour his justice and wrath upon instead of the first couple. Sin had to be dealt with, so in the garden God took a substitute animal and killed it instead. He then took the skins of the animal and clothed Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21). This act was a foreshadowing of the great sacrifice of His own Son which would come in God’s perfect timing (Gal 4:4-7) and provide the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

God’s plan for a future substitute and the first Christmas was then revealed to Adam and Eve and to the rest of us in what is known as the protoevangelium, or the “first” (proto) “good news” (evangelium). Genesis 3:16 is the first record of the good news of God’s salvation for sinners. God spoke the curse to Satan saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God was telling Satan, that there was going to come a human offspring that would have his heal bruised by Satan, but that this offspring would bring a death blow to the head of Satan. This was God’s way of promising Christmas! The offspring of Mary particularly was the fulfillment of this prophecy. It was Jesus who destroyed the devil and the works of the devil.

Christmas and the sending of Jesus into the world is God’s gift to the world (John 3:16). And this gift was not an afterthought, but rather God’s plan from the beginning. God, being all-knowing, knew that humanity would rebelliously sin against Him. But God wanted to display His love, grace and mercy to a world of sinners and offer them forgiveness. It was only in this plan that mankind could fully understand the glorious nature of an eternally good, gracious and forgiving God.

Sadly, many in the world today will not accept this Christmas gift of God in Jesus Christ (Rom 6:23). God gave Jesus, His only Son, as a substitute just like He did in the Garden of Eden. Just like God killed the animal as a substitute, God poured His own wrath on His own son and made Him bear the sins of His people (1 Peter 2:24, Is 53:4-5). Instead of receiving the provision of God, many will try to cover their shame with the leaves of their own self doing. The worst thing anyone can do is to reject the free gift of salvation which is in Jesus Christ alone and try to sew fig leaves together in their own efforts. All of our good works are no good! All of our works ultimately fall short and are insufficient to reconcile us to a holy and just God. There is only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). I hope that you have received God’s Christmas gift for you. There is no greater gift than the forgiveness of your sin. This gift is received by repenting (turning from) of your sin and putting your faith or trust in Jesus Christ. The Bible is clear. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9). For all who realize sinfulness and need of saving, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be freely given eternal life. This is God’s Christmas gift to the world. Merry Christmas to you all! I would love to hear from you, especially if you need to talk about spiritual issues. You can contact me at [email protected]

Who is Jesus?

When Peter preached his second sermon to Israel in Acts 3:11-26, one of his main goals was to clarify the identity of Jesus. Fifty days prior to this sermon, the Jewish religious leaders crucified Jesus as a blasphemer. In ignorance, the crowds followed their leaders and demanded that a murderer named Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified. As Peter addressed the crowds, potentially several thousand, he tells them exactly who Jesus is. Peter’s understanding of Jesus is important because it rightly identifies not only the titles, but the function of Jesus in the world. Understanding the seven titles Peter uses is not only important for sharing the Gospel rightly, but having a deep love for our Savior.

Jesus: The first title Peter uses is the word “Jesus.” Peter had just healed a man who had been lame for 40 years (Acts 3:1-10, 4:22). He told the man that he had no silver or gold, but he commanded the man to rise and walk in the name of “Jesus of Nazareth.”  “Jesus” is the name that the angel told Joseph to name the child who was coming into the world who was the Son of God. The angel said to Joseph, “You shall name him Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21) The name Jesus comes from the root word “Joshua” which means “Yahweh saves.” What an appropriate name! Jesus came to be a savior to those who put their trust in him. There is no greater name and there is no other name under heaven by which men are saved (Acts 4:12).

Servant: Secondly, Peter says to Israel that the Lord glorified his “servant” (v. 13). This title speaks about the specific role of Jesus given to Him by His heavenly Father before time began. Jesus came to earth to be a servant to none other than His heavenly Father. The Prophet Isaiah wrote approximately 700 years prior that God would send His servant and that the servant would suffer (Is 52:13-53:11). Particularly, the service that Jesus came to do was to do His Father’s will alone (Jn 6:38). And it was the will of the Father that Jesus die on the cross for sinners, so that God would be just in justifying them by faith in His son (Rom 3:21-26). So, Jesus was a servant to God to fulfill His plan, namely that God the Father might be glorified in the forgiveness of sinners secured by the work of the cross.

Holy & Righteous One: Third, Peter calls Jesus the “holy and righteous one.” These titles speak to the character of Jesus. Uniquely like God himself who alone is holy, Peter says that Jesus is both holy and righteous. Peter is affirming that Jesus was sinless which is confirmed throughout the New Testament (Heb 4:15, 2 Cor 5:17, 1 Peter 2:22). Even God says of His own Son, that He wouldn’t allow His “Holy One to see corruption” (Ps 16:10). Unlike fallen humanity, even the demons recognize that Jesus is the Holy One of God (Luke 4:34). Jesus was perfectly obedient and holy in all of his thoughts and actions. And as a result Jesus alone was fit to be the Holy Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29).

Author of Life: Fourth, in spite of the fact that the Jews had Jesus killed by the Romans, Peter says it is Jesus who is the “Author of life.” This word “author” means “originator.” It is the same word that is used in Hebrews 12:2 where it says that Jesus is the “founder and perfecter of our faith.” Peter is telling us that Jesus is the originator of life. Life originates in Jesus, both physically as creator (1:16) and spiritually with the gift of eternal life (Jn 5:26, 14:6).

Christ: Fifth, Peter calls Jesus the “Christ” (v. 18), which is the honorable Old Testament title meaning “anointed one” or “messiah.” Jesus is no self-appointed messiah, but the one whom God the Father anointed and sent into the world (Mt 16:16, 26:63). Even the demons recognized that Jesus was the Christ (Lk 4:41).

Prophet: Sixth, Jesus is the prophet that was anticipated and spoken of by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. Moses said that “the Lord will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers….every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed.” Similar to Moses, this prophet will also be a deliverer who will deliver God’s people from spiritual bondage and the penalty of sin, which is death (Rom 6:23). As the prophet (Jn 1:21,25) sent by God, Jesus spoke the very words of God and the message of life. Jesus was the prophet that was predicted by all the other prophets (2 Sam 7:12).

Seed of Abraham: The last title that Peter attributes to Jesus is that he was “offspring [from which] all the families of the earth [will] be blessed” (Acts 3:25). Jesus was the promised seed from the very beginning when God made a covenant with Abraham that both Israel and all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). God raised up this offspring through the ages, through the line of Abraham. Jesus was God’s ultimate plan to save the world from the very beginning. All of history was orchestrated by God in order that Jesus might be born at just the right time, under the law, from a woman to redeem mankind (Galatians 4:4-7).

Know Jesus/Share Jesus
As believers we are called to know our Savior, but also to share Him with the world. These seven titles are a great discipleship tool to teach every new believer so that we fully understand and know who Jesus truly is. But these titles also give us tools to make us bold witnesses as we tell the world that Jesus alone is the Savior (Jesus), who was sent by God (Christ) to be the spokesman (prophet) for God and to go to the cross (Servant) to die for sinners. Because Jesus was holy and righteous, and the author of life, He alone can provide salvation for the world. May we truly know our Jesus. And may we truly tell the world about Him!

Breaking Bread in Our Homes

One of the most descriptive passages of a healthy church is found in Acts 2:42-47. In this passage Luke describes the priorities of this first group of new covenant believers. The Holy Spirit not only sovereignly saved 3000 souls on the Day of Pentecost, but He also divinely guided these new believers giving them a devotion to God, a devotion to each other and devotion to the mission of spreading of the Gospel. It shouldn’t surprise us that these three priorities are still the priorities of every healthy church today: To worship God, build believers, and reach the lost.

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Their devotion to God was evident in their commitment to study the Word of God (“Apostle’s teaching”), their desire to remember Jesus by celebrating the Lord’s Table, and having hearts of praise. Their devotion to the spreading of the Gospel was evident in their evangelization and the growth of the Church. But they also had a devotion to one another. This devotion to each other is the focus of this article. When you read the paragraph above, there are a few things that jump out as evidence of their devotion to one another:

  • They were continually fellowshipping together. (v. 42)
  • They had all things in common (spiritually unified). (v. 44)
  • They were selling their material possessions to help one another. (v. 45)
  • They were together worshiping in the Temple. (v. 46a)
  • They were daily meeting in homes breaking bread together. (v. 46b)
  • They were continually eating together. (v. 46c)
  • They were worshiping together. (v. 47)

Togetherness
The one word that stands out is the word “together.” These new believers in Jesus Christ could not help but to be with one another. They worshiped together, fellowshipped together, and even ate with one another in each others’ homes. This togetherness was not manufactured but a Spirit-induced longing in their hearts to truly love one another and be with like-minded people. This togetherness created a warmth and compassion for one another. Every healthy church should be marked by a togetherness.

Excuses
If we are all honest with ourselves, we all have made excuses (some good and some bad) for not getting together with others in our church. We find it difficult to make time for others as we are busy with our lives, with work, kids, etc. Maybe for some we are hesitant to invite others to our house because it isn’t as nice as we’d like or as clean as we’d like, or there doesn’t seem to be enough room.  But we must put all of these things aside. And we must not be judgmental of each other or prideful in our hearts. We must work hard at getting together with one another and put all of these excuses aside.

As a kid, I remember families getting together after church for lunch and all the kids would play together. Those were such sweet times, as I remember singing together and having prayer together. We made lifelong friendships during those times. And after all of these years I couldn’t tell you if the house was nice, or whether the food was good. All I remember is great friendships and sweet times of being together.

One of the greatest excuses people make is simply “I don’t need kinship.” I have heard this argument over and over through the years. Our western affluent culture has created independent spirits in us all. We love our luxury and comforts. We love our privacy fences. But the Scripture commands that we gather! The Christian community cannot afford being independent and isolated from one another. We must pray that the Lord would rid us of our self-centered, ego-centric attitudes. This is going to be extremely hard for many. Healthy churches break out of those attitudes and create an atmosphere of sharing and caring in all of life. Just as the Holy Spirit created a desire for fellowship in the early Church, we must all seek the revival of our own hearts in this generation.

Kinship Groups
In order to try to foster togetherness most churches have put together some kind of small group ministry. At Ebenezer we have about 20 “Kinship Groups” that meet all around the Lehigh Valley in order to try to encourage togetherness. Ideally every person in the congregation should want to attend one of these groups. These groups provide a consistent opportunity for togetherness for prayer, praise, and accountability. You can sign up for a Kinship group here.

Make a Plan
Zig Ziglar has said, “You can’t hit a target you cannot see, and you cannot see a target you do not have.” Simply stated, if you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time. For most of us, having others into our homes for fellowship is not on our radar; it simply is not a target in our lives. If change is going to occur, we are going to have to be purposeful. Change can be overwhelming, so it is best to start small. Get out your calendar and determine a few dates that are open for fellowship. Start small with dessert rather than dinner. I know of one family who has simply designated one Sunday night a month as fellowship night in their home. Over the years, people have gathered there to watch football, eat, fellowship, pray, play and so much more. Deep relationships have been made through simply gathering. This was accomplished because they set a target. If you are anxious pray that the Lord will help you and He will.

The Church is not a building, but rather, the Church is people of God. We are healthy when we are “encouraging one another” as we see the Day of Christ approaching (Heb 10:25). We need one another. Instead of complaining about not having friends and close connections in the church, we can foster relationships by simply breaking bread in each other’s homes. My prayer is that the Church will become healthier by getting into one another’s lives. Make it your goal to be a better Church!

Why Do We Preach?

One of the greatest disappointments of the church in our century is that preaching no longer takes central stage. In efforts to appeal to people’s interest many different programs, methods and approaches have been used to make things more “culturally relevant.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say, “No one wants to listen to preaching anymore. It just isn’t relevant.” When the Church takes its cues from the culture rather than from the Bible it definitely starts to look more like the world than the Church.

A mark of a faithful church, not necessarily one that appeals to the masses, is that it takes its cues from the Bible, and its methodology from Christ Himself. In order to be faithful, the Church must not adopt the adage that teaches that the “end justifies the means.” In other words, this adage ascribes that pragmatism that grows the church must be godly and effective or otherwise God wouldn’t be blessing it. I have heard that argument all my life, but it simply doesn’t hold true. Some of the most heretical “churches” across our country are the largest in the nation.

Argumentation for Preaching
To be a faithful healthy Church, we must go to the ministry of Jesus and the apostles and the example of the early church to take our cues and develop our ministry philosophy. When these ministries and exhortations are examined, it is clear that the ordained method of the Church must be preaching, and preaching must be central.

First consider Jesus and His ministry. When Jesus first entered His ministry, he entered Nazareth and quoted Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Three times Jesus says He was anointed to “proclaim” the good news. It is clear that this was His method, as He said, “I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Second consider the instruction of Jesus to His disciples. When Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, He sent them to preach the good news of the Gospel. Jesus sent out the twelve apostles telling them to preach as they went, saying “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt 10:7). Furthermore, the last thing he said to them before he ascended into heaven was “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

Third consider the apostles in the early Church. The very first thing that Peter did after Pentecost was to preach a sermon. He stood in front of literally thousands and he delivered the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His death, burial and resurrection (Acts 2:17-36). A simple survey through the book of Acts reveals that preaching was the main method of the early Church (Acts 4:2, 5:42, 8:4, 25, 35, 9:20,11:20, 28:31). The Apostles and Church were simply obeying what Jesus commanded them to do when He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach” (Mark 16:15, Matt 10:7).

Fourth consider the argumentation of the Apostle Paul concerning preaching. In his letter to the Romans and Corinthians he clearly taught that preaching was God’s ordained method for saving souls. In Romans 10:13-17 Paul says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So, faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”

In Corinthians 1:17-25, Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Fifth, consider the exhortations to the Church. Paul exhorts Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:1-5).

Al Mohler is right when he says, “Preaching did not emerge from the church’s experimentation with communication techniques. The church does not preach because preaching is thought to be a good idea or an effective technique. The sermon has not earned its place in Christian worship by proving its utility in comparison with other means of communication or aspects of worship. Rather, we preach because we have been commanded to preach.”  I highly recommend Mohler’s four articles on preaching.

The Church should expect sound biblical preaching. Every healthy church consists of members who long for the Word of God to be explained to them (1 Peter 2:2, Neh 8:1-18). Mark Dever in his book on the 9 marks of a healthy church states, “The first mark of a healthy church is expository preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow. This is the crucial mark.” (Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, page 39).

So how should the congregation respond? Here are a few applications:

  1. Come ready to hear the Word of God expounded. Prepare your heart the night before and be rested up so that you can be attentive.
  2. Ask God to speak to you through His word as it is preached. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, illumination will not occur. (1 Cor 2:6-16).
  3. Pray for your pastor/preacher that he will adequately prepare during the week to give clear explanation of a particular text of Scripture. Pray against distractions that will not allow him to have adequate time for study.
  4. Demand faithful exposition of Scripture. Topical messages are good periodically, but faithful exposition of the Scripture is going to prove to be the best way to grow spiritually and to get a clear grasp of Scripture.
  5. Listen with a discerning mind, not necessarily critical but thoughtful. Make sure that what the preacher is saying can be backed up with Scripture and is pertinent to the particular passage at hand.
  6. Pray over what you have heard and ask God to help you apply it to your life and heart.
  7. Pray for the lost that God might call them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.