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Category Archives: Exegetical Studies

James Montgomery Boice on “The Return of Jesus Christ”

An Exposition of Matthew 24:29–35

TTOTK Matthew 18-28 Boice

“Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

I do not think there is any great difficulty understanding what Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse up to verse 28 of chapter 24. He has warned the disciples about disruptive world events that will not be signs of his return, and he has predicted the fall of Jerusalem, which, though an exceptionally traumatic event, would be merely another example of the kind of tragedies that will occur throughout history. But the easy part is over. Now we come to the part of the discourse that has given the most trouble to Bible students and commentators.

Was Jesus Mistaken?

The difficulties mostly have to do with timing. Jesus has spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in a.d. 70 by the Roman armies under the command of Titus. But then he continues, “Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken’ ” (v. 29). This could refer to something in the future, but if that is the case, why did Jesus use the word immediately, as in “immediately after the distress of those days”? Immediately should mean close in time to the destruction of Jerusalem. But if these portents are tied to the destruction of Jerusalem, we must admit candidly that they do not seem to have happened.

Nor is that all. The next verses begin “at that time” and go on to describe how the Son of Man will come in the clouds, with power and great glory, accompanied by the blast of a trumpet and the appearance of angels to gather the elect from the far corners of the earth. Again, that could be future. Most people have assumed it is. But if that is the case, why does Jesus say, “at that time”? And if he meant what he said, that he would return at the time of or soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, what he predicted did not happen.

We have a nearly identical problem in verse 33, where Jesus says, “When you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.” His second coming cannot be the sign of itself. “These things” must refer to things that will precede his return. But what can they be? If they are the tragedies leading up to the fall of Jerusalem, the second coming of the Lord did not follow those events, and Jesus would seem to have been mistaken.

The most apparent and (for some) the worst problem of all is Jesus’ solemn affirmation: “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (v. 34). What can “this generation” be but the generation then living? Yet if that is what the words mean, Jesus must have been wrong, since many generations have come and gone since that time and Jesus has still not returned. The acclaimed English philosopher and social critic Bertrand Russell said Jesus’ teaching about his return was one reason why he could not be a Christian. “He certainly thought that his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time,” wrote Russell. But he added, “In that respect, clearly he was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.”  (Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, ed. Paul Edwards [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957], 16–17).

Attempts at a Solution

There are two easy ways to solve these problems, but they have not been accepted by all commentators.

First, we can place all these events together at one point in time and locate that point at the end of history. One advantage of this view is that we can take the time references literally. The fall of Jerusalem, the signs in the sky, and the return of Jesus occur in tight chronological sequence. All are yet future, and the fall of Jerusalem fits events outlined in other biblical books such as Revelation. This is an understanding common among dispensationalists, for whom the distress of Jerusalem is linked to the great tribulation and precedes the battle of Armageddon and the subsequent reign of Jesus Christ on earth for a thousand years, the millennium. In this view, “this generation” refers to the generation living at the time of the final attack on Jerusalem or is understood to mean “this race,” meaning that the Jews will not cease to exist as a race until this happens.

The main reason many people have not been persuaded by this handling of the details of Matthew 24 is that they believe verses 15–22 describe the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in a.d. 70. But they also have a problem with “this generation.” Most commentators believe this can hardly mean anything other than the generation living at the time Jesus spoke these words.

The other easy way to solve the problem of the time references in Matthew 24 is to put these events together but to place them in the first Christian century in connection with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans. In this view, the coming of Christ mentioned in verses 30 and 31 refers to his return in judgment on Jerusalem, and the signs of his coming are understood as Old Testament images of historical but earthshaking events. The “end of the age” (v. 3) means the end of the Jewish age, which is followed by the age of the church. This means that nearly everything in Matthew 24 and 25 is about God’s judgment on Jerusalem, even Jesus’ strong, reiterated warnings to watch and be ready for his return. The same is true for nearly the whole of the Book of Revelation. This view is known as preterism, which means “what has already taken place.” Preterism has been affirmed recently in a guarded way by R. C. Sproul, but it has a history of defenders going back quite a few years. One early proponent is J. Stuart Russell, on whose work Sproul largely depends (R. C. Sproul, The Last Days according to Jesus [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998]; J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Study of the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983]).

Why hasn’t everyone accepted this view? One obvious reason is that it is difficult to see how Christ’s coming on the clouds, with power and great glory, with the angels gathering his elect from the far corners of the earth, was fulfilled at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem.

There is this problem too—probably the most significant of all. If everything (or nearly everything) in these chapters is about the fall of Jerusalem, then the disciples’ question about the end of the age is not really answered, at least not as almost anyone, including the disciples, would have understood it. The chapters most Christians have always looked to for assurance of the Lord’s return and encouragement to be ready and watch for it are not about the Lord’s future return at all. In fact, Jesus has virtually nothing to say about his second coming. Nor do any of the other biblical writers, including the author of Revelation.

The Flow of the Chapter

How do we solve these difficulties? History suggests that we probably cannot, at least not to everyone’s satisfaction, since disagreements about this chapter have existed throughout church history. But let me try anyway, starting with the flow of thought in the chapter.

Verse 3. As I pointed out in the last study, Matthew 24 begins with the disciples’ two important questions: (1) “When will this happen?” and (2) “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v. 3). The first question was about the destruction of Jerusalem, which Jesus had predicted, and the second was about his glorious return, which he had also predicted—two events, though the disciples probably held them together in their minds. Jesus began by answering the second: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Verses 4–14. The first thing he told them is that there will be many earth-shaking events that might be thought of as signs, but they will not be. The disciples were not to be troubled by them. They will include false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, persecutions, apostasy, and false prophets. These are “the beginnings of birth pains” (v. 8), but they are not signs of his return. This is because the gospel of the kingdom must be preached in the whole world before the end will come.

Verses 15–22. The next point Jesus makes is that there is going to be one particularly dreadful event, the destruction of Jerusalem, but even this will not be a sign of his return. The disciples should flee the city when they see these things beginning to happen, but this is still not the end.

Verses 23–28. At this point Jesus makes clear that the destruction of Jerusalem is only one example of the bad things that will happen to people in the course of world history. He does so by returning to what he said earlier about false messiahs. They will appear at this time, as at other times. They will not be true messiahs, and the disciples are not to be taken in by them. How will the disciples know that these pretenders are not the true Messiah? By the fact that they will appear in secret (“in the desert” or “in the inner rooms”), while Jesus’ appearance will be sudden, unannounced, and immediately visible to all, just like lightning that flashes suddenly and is seen at once by everyone.

Verses 29–35. This leads to Jesus’ specific teaching about the second coming. There will be signs in the sky, including “the sign of the Son of Man” (whatever that may be), a loud trumpet call, and the work of angels in gathering the elect from the far reaches of the earth. But the point of these “signs” is not that they will precede Jesus’ coming, as if they will be given to enable people to see them and get ready. On the contrary, they will coincide with Christ’s coming and will be sudden. If a person is not ready beforehand, there will be nothing he or she will be able to do when Jesus actually returns. Such a person will be lost.

Verses 36–51. In the last section of the chapter, Jesus stresses the suddenness of his return by a historical reference and several images. His coming will be like the flood in the days of Noah, or like a thief that enters a house at an unexpected time, or a master who suddenly returns home. Jesus’ servants must be ready since “the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of” (v. 50).

The Difficult Time References

So far so good. But what about the time references, the problem that has led some commentators to the dispensational or preterist positions? I would argue that these must be fitted to the other statements, namely, that distressful times are not signs of Christ’s second coming and that his coming will be so unexpected that no one, not even the angels in heaven nor Jesus himself, can say when it will be. Let’s take the references one at a time.

1. What do we do with the words “immediately after the distress of those days” (v. 29)? The answer is that “the distress of those days” must refer to all the many distressful times throughout history, though perhaps culminating in a time of unusual distress just prior to the Lord’s return. Certainly the earlier statements about false Christs, false prophets, and apostasy support what other Bible writers have to say about the end of history. In fact, when we read passages such as 2 Peter 3:3–13, we hear deliberate echoes of what Jesus taught in Matthew. And why not? It was from Jesus that Peter and the other writers learned it.

What about the sun being darkened, the moon failing to give light, and the stars falling from heaven? Although preterists rightly point out that this is common Old Testament imagery for any cataclysmic historical event—drawn from texts such as Isaiah 13:9–10; Ezekiel 32:7–8; Joel 2:30, 31; 3:15; Amos 8:9—it is also the case that words such as these occur in New Testament passages where they are clearly associated with Christ’s coming at the end of the age. D. A. Carson cites as examples texts such as Matthew 13:40–41; 16:27; 25:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14–17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2:1–8; 2 Peter 3:10–12; Revelation 1:7 (D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Matthew, Mark, Luke [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], 493).

Moreover, in the parallel passage in Luke 21, the reference to the sun, moon, and stars is prefaced by the prediction that “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (v. 24). That must refer to the Gentile domination of Jerusalem from the time of its fall until at least the present age. But it is only after this that Jesus says he will appear the second time. Paul expresses similar ideas about the Gentile age in Romans 11:11–25.

2. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky” (v. 30). I haven’t the faintest idea what the sign of the Son of Man is, nor should I. That is something only those who actually see it will know. But if what I have said about the word immediately is correct, this particular time reference is not difficult. It simply links the actual appearance of Jesus to the astronomical irregularities described in verse 29. At the end of the times of distress, which is all of human history, the sun, moon, and stars will be darkened, and at that time Jesus will appear in heaven with his holy angels. That is when the angels will gather the elect.

3. “When you see all these things” and “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (vv. 33–34). These two references go together because they are part of the same paragraph and occur one right after the other. There is a slight change of tone with verse 32. Jesus has spoken of his sudden return in glory, but now he is giving a lesson for those who will be living in the period between his first coming and his second. They are to learn from the fig tree, which signals summer by developing tender twigs and by putting out leaves. “All these things” are compared to those tender twigs and leaves, which means that the distressful things of verses 2–28 show that the Lord’s return is imminent, which it always is!

What about “this generation”? In this view it really is the generation living at the time Christ spoke these words, because that generation actually did see “all these things.”

(NOTE: There are three ways to understand “this generation.”

(1) It can be the generation then living, which is what I maintain.

(2) It might refer to the Jews or to “this kind of people,” the view of most dispensationalists.

(3) Or it can refer to the generation living at the end of history. John Broadus, like most modern commentators, argues that it must refer to the people living in Jesus’ day, though he still regards verses 29–31 as referring to the final, second coming of Christ. “All the things predicted in vv. 4–31 would occur before or in immediate connection with the destruction of Jerusalem. But like events might again occur in connection with another and greater coming of the Lord, and such seems evidently to be his meaning” (John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990], 492).

William Hendriksen regards “this generation” as the Jews, and one reason he gives is that “things that will take place” are things spread out over the centuries, such as the preaching of the gospel throughout the whole world. The following section, which clearly describes the final return of Jesus, picks up on the coming in verses 29–31; hence, Jesus must be talking about a generation living at least at that time (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985], 868–69).

They knew of many false Christs, heard of wars and rumors of wars, experienced famines and earthquakes, witnessed apostasy, and heard of false prophets. So has every generation since. Therefore, we have all seen everything we need to see or can see prior to Jesus’ return. We have nothing to look forward to except the second coming. The bottom line of this is that we need to be ready, because “no one knows about that day or hour” when the Lord will come (v. 36).

The Lessons to Be Drawn

Let me go back and review the lessons we should draw from the first thirty-five verses of Matthew 24. The coming of Christ and the end of the world are imminent, meaning that they can occur at any moment. Therefore, our present responsibilities must be:

1. To watch out that no one deceives us (vv. 4, 26). Jesus has a great deal to say about deception in this discourse. In fact, having warned against false Christs at the very beginning of the chapter, he returns to this same point after speaking of the fall of Jerusalem, saying, “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (vv. 23–24). He repeats this again in verse 26, where he warns against expecting to find the Christ “out in the desert” or “in the inner rooms.”

It would be possible to write a history of the church in terms of the errors that have been foisted upon it, sometimes from without but more often from within, and of how believers have either resisted such errors or have been taken in by them. We have deceivers today, but we are warned here not to be fooled by them.

2. To be settled even in times of war or threats of war (v. 6). This warning includes all political and historical events and is a reminder that the city of God is distinct from man’s city and will survive regardless of what happens in the world. We are not to be unduly encouraged by political events, nor unduly frightened by them. Charles Colson once wisely reminded the delegates to one of the Christian Booksellers conventions after the president of the United States had spoken and they were cheering wildly, “We must remember that the kingdom of God does not arrive on Air Force One.”

3. To stand firm to the end (v. 13). We speak of the perseverance of the saints, meaning that God perseveres with his people so that none of those he has elected to salvation will be lost. Jesus taught this clearly in John 10, saying, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (vv. 27–28). But while it is true that God perseveres with us, it is also true that we must persevere. That is what Jesus is speaking of here. He is encouraging us to keep on keeping on, since there is no promise of salvation for those who abandon the faith or deny Christ.

The apostle Paul certainly believed in and taught the security of every genuine believer, but he also wrote, “If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us” (2 Tim. 2:12). Those words seem to have been based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10:32–33.

4. To preach the gospel throughout the world (v. 14). This is the chief task of the church in the present age. The followers of Christ will be persecuted, and the love of many will grow cold. But throughout the ages of church history, however long they may be, Christians must be strong, faithful, and determined in the task of carrying the gospel to the lost. In fact, this is the note on which the Gospel ends. Jesus’ last words to his disciples were, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20).

As we read this chapter, rather than wondering about the specific moment when Jesus will return, we should be asking ourselves if we are ready for it, whenever it might be. The next section of the chapter warns us to be ready precisely because we do not know the time of Jesus’ return.

About the Author

Boice JM in pulpit

James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. He was one of only a handful of reformed pastor/theologians that was premillennial in his eschatology (Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Erwin W. Lutzer, S. Lewis Johnson, Rodney Stordtz, John Hannah and John Piper also come to mind). The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 56 in The Gospel of Matthew: The Triumph of the King, Matthew 18-28. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

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James Montgomery Boice on the Distinction Between the Rapture and the Lord’s Day

Two Great Days: The Day of the Lord and the Day of Christ

What The Bible Has To Say About The Future: Part 3 in a Series of 9 – By Dr. James M. Boice

To the people of the ancient east the stars had great significance. They were the means by which people determined the hours of the night and the seasons of the year. The morning star was particularly important for it heralded the rising of the sun and the coming of a new day. The Lord Jesus Christ is our morning star, according to the book of Revelation (Revelation 22:16). He is coming. The dark night of human history may be long and filled with grim terrors, but the Daystar is coming and with Him the dawning of a new age.

We will consider the importance of this theme in biblical prophecy, to distinguish between two important aspects of Christ’s coming under the descriptive phrases “the day of the Lord” and “the day of Jesus Christ,” and to develop the relevance of the theme of the Lord’s return.

A Prominent Doctrine

It is unfortunate that in our day the second coming of Jesus Christ has faded to a remote and sometimes irrelevant doctrine in the opinion of many persons, even, it seems, within large segments of the evangelical church. That may be true in part because many extravagant, foolish, and utterly unscriptural  teachings have been linked to the doctrine of the Lord’s return. But that has been true of all biblical doctrines at some point of history, and that alone should not deter us from seeking to appreciate a theme which is prominent in the Word of God.

How prominent is this doctrine? In the New Testament 1 verse in 25 deals with the Lord’s return. It is mentioned 318 times in the 260 chapters of the New Testament. It occupies a prominent place in the Old Testament, inasmuch as the greater part of the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ in the Old Testament deal, not with His first advent in which He died as our sin-bearer, but with His second advent in which He is to rule as King. The return of Jesus Christ is mentioned in every one of the New Testament books except Galatians (which deals with a particular problem that had emerged within the churches of Galatia) and the very short books of the New Testament such as 2 and 3 John and Philemon.

The various New Testament writers obviously believed in the Lord’s return. Mark traced the origins  of his belief to the very words of Jesus. The first reference to the return of Jesus in Mark occurs in chapter 8. There is recorded Peter’s great confession of faith – “You are the Christ” – which was in turn the occasion of a greater revelation by Christ of the most important events that were to come in His ministry. First, He foretold His death and resurrection. He spoke of discipleship. Then, at the very end of the chapter, He spoke of His coming again.   Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 13, where Jesus outlined what would come in the last days, is also full of this doctrine. Jesus spoke of the horror of the days immediately preceding His return, then added, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” At this point the discourse moved on to teach that the disciples should be watching for this return; Jesus emphasized the point by an illustration: “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning– lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (34-36).

Finally, this doctrine is mentioned in the account of Christ’s trial before the Jewish high priest (Mark 14). Jesus answered a question about whether or not He was the Messiah by saying, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Here are three expressions of the truth of Christ’s return in a book which most scholars consider to be the oldest of the four gospels.

In the other three gospels the same doctrine is prominent. Matthew and Luke repeated most of the sayings about the second coming given by Mark, sometimes with additions and variations, and John added others. For instance, John recorded a number of lengthy farewell discourses given by Jesus just before His crucifixion. In one of these Jesus declared, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Christ’s return is also referred to in the last chapter of John’s gospel, in the record of Jesus’ conversation with Peter after His resurrection. The reference is incidental to Jesus’ point, but is all the more authentic on that account. Jesus had been encouraging Peter to faithfulness in discipleship, but Peter with his usual impetuosness turned and saw John. He asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:21-22). John himself then points out that although many of the Christians of his day had interpreted that to mean that John would not die until Christ came back, that was not what Jesus had said. He had said only that even if that were the case, it should not affect Peter’s call to faithful service.

In all four gospels, then, there are unmistakable quotations from Jesus Christ to the effect that He would return to this earth a second time in glory, and these are quoted in such a way that we cannot doubt that the early church believed that these promises were to be fulfilled literally and in detail, possibly within its lifetime.

Paul’s letters are also full of this doctrine. To the church at Thessalonica he wrote, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). To the Philippians Paul wrote: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:2–21).

Peter called the return of Jesus Christ our “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3). Paul called it our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), John declared with conviction: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7a). The same author ended the New Testament with the words, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

In these verses and in many others the early Christians expressed their belief in a personal return of Jesus Christ, a return  which would be the first of the unfolding events prophesied in the end time. The return of Jesus would be associated with a time of great wickedness on earth, the resurrection and transformation of their own bodies, an earthly rule of Jesus, and a final concluding judgment upon all men and nations. They comforted themselves with these truths in the midst of persecution or some while attempting to live their lives on a moral plane that would be honoring to the returning One.

The Day of the Lord

In the picture I have just presented, however, two important ideas have been merged. Therefore, to paint the prophetic picture for the end times in clearer detail and to have a basis for understanding some of the most important New Testament prophesies we must distinguish between them.

The first idea is associated with the phrase “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is quite prominent in the Old Testament, but it occurs frequently in the New Testament too, even in the context of some of the passages I have been quoting. This phrase is a technical phrase used initially by the Old Testament prophets to designate a future period of catastrophic judgment. Literally, it the day of Jehovah, the day in which Jehovah will break silence and intervene in history to judge Israel and the Gentile nations. The characteristics of this day can be seen in the following quotations:

“For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up–and it shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:12).

“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!…Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light” (Isaiah 13:6, 9-10).

“Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”  (Amos 5:18-20).

It is obvious from the reference to the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars that this is the event referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24, where Jesus taught that He would exercise judgment. It is also the event of which Peter spoke when he wrote,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).

In the liturgy of the church this is expressed by the Dies Irae, which means the day of the wrath of God. From an examination of these and other texts (Jer. 46:10; Lam. 2:22; Ezek. 30:3ff.; Joel 1:15; 2:1-11; 3:14-16; Zeph. 1:7-2:3; Zech. 14:1-7; Mal. 4:5) several things are clear.

  • First, the day of the Lord is the day of God’s judgment.
  • Second, the day is still future.
  • Third, it is preceded by a time of great trouble on earth.
  • Fourth, it is followed by the earthly rule of the Messiah.
  • Fifth, it has nothing to do with the church of Jesus Christ, for the church is not in these prophecies and was, in fact, completely unknown to the Old Testament writers who compiled them.

To be sure, as Kenneth S. Wuest, who summarized much of the data in his collection of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, observed, “Some of the references to the day of the Lord in the Old Testament have a fulfillment in the past, and are precursors of the day of the Lord to follow (Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament, vol. 3 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966, p. 35]). But that does not alter the fact that the strict fulfillment of most of these prophecies awaits a future day.

That day is coming. The disasters of this life — pestilence, famine, wars, natural catastrophes — are only little judgments which come in the most part from man’s activities. When the day of God’s wrath is revealed, these things will pale by comparison, and no one who is not united to Christ by faith will be able to stand against Him.

No one can be sure of defending himself even from man-made destruction. For instance, there is an extensive military radar network called DEW line (Distant Early Waning), which stretches across the North American Continent. This line of defense has cost the United States billions of dollars. It was designed to limit to a minimum  the breakthrough of Soviet long-range bombers coming to wreak nuclear destruction on the United States; but today it is outmoded by missiles. Man can never defend himself adequately against the possibility of future destruction.

Thus, too, does he stand before God. Man has run away from God, and God has pursued him. God came to die for him in Jesus Christ. God has warned us of judgment — distant warnings and near warnings, early warnings, and late warnings — and He has warned us that He can penetrate any defense which we may try to throw up against Him. Man stands naked before God. The day of judgment is near. If you are not yet a believer, let me encourage you to turn to Christ. Martin Luther looked at this day and wrote for those of his time:

Great God, what do I see and hear!

The end of things created!

The Judge of mankind doth appear

On clouds of glory seated!

The trumpet sounds, the graves restore

The dead which they contained before:

Prepare, my soul, to meet him.

If you are a believer in Christ, let me encourage you to look up and be faithful to Him.

The Day of Christ (The Rapture)

The second major idea is associated with the phrase “the day of Jesus Christ.” That is not the same as “The day of the Lord.” The day of Jesus Christ is a happy day rather than a day of judgment. Moreover, far from warning men to fear it, the New Testament actually speaks of it as an event to be warmly anticipated. Christians are to be ready and watching, and they are to encourage one another because of it.

What is the nature of this day? The clearest answer to this question is in the verses already quoted from Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica. They were in sorrow over certain of their number who had died, and Paul wrote to them to comfort them with the thought that they would see their departed friends once again at the day of Jesus Christ. He describes it thus:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Quite obviously, this day does not concern Christ’s earthly rule. It is an aspect of His coming to draw believers out of this world to Himself. He will come in the air and gather His church up to meet Him, first those who have died and then — almost in the same instant — those who are living.

Jesus described this event, also stressing its unexpected and selective nature:

“Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:40-42).

In biblical theology this event is generally called the rapture. It is the first in the whole series of events prophesied for the end times. It is possible that at this point some of this teaching has become confusing. So let me elaborate upon the distinction between the day of Jesus Christ and the day of the Lord by looking at the way the Apostle Paul dealt with a similar confusion in his day.

Wherever he went, Paul apparently preached the full body of Christian doctrine as it had been revealed to him. And that included, quite naturally, the doctrine of the Lord’s imminent return to be followed, after certain events, by God’s judgment. These events  included persecution and great tribulation. We know that this doctrine had been accepted by the church at Thessalonica, for Paul alluded to it in his first letter, reminding the Christians there that they were to be comforted by the doctrine of the Lord’s return in face of the death of their friends. Some time after he had written this letter, however, a time of persecution broke out in the church at Thessalonica. Because the persecution seemed terrible and intense, someone began to teach that the persecutions were those leading to the day of the Lord, with its ultimate judgements, and that the Christians in Thessalonica, therefore, had missed the rapture. The Thessalonians may actually have received a letter purporting to be from Paul which affirmed this idea (2 Thessalonians 2:2).

News of their distress reached Paul, and he immediately wrote to the Thessalonians again, attempting to explain the meaning of their present persecution assuring them that they had not missed the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ for those who believe in Him. First, he dealt with the meaning of present persecution. This occupies the first chapter. Then, in the second chapter, he begins to deal with the view that Christians might already be going through days of tribulation.

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”  (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5).

Paul’s main points clearly were that the present suffering of the Christians at Thessalonica was not the tribulation prophesied  in the Old Testament and taught by himself, that the final tribulation would not come until after the Christians were caught up to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the air, therefore, that the coming of Christ rather than the final judgment should be uppermost in the minds of believers.

(Note: There is a view in prophetic theology known at “posttribulationism.” According to this view, the church of Jesus Christ will go through the great tribulation, after which Jesus will return for those believers who are remaining. In reply, it is enough to note that, although the church has gone through periods of great persecution in the past and undoubtedly may go through intense persecutions before Christ’s return, nevertheless, the view of a posttribulation rapture is impossible for the simple reason that it makes meaningless the very argument that Paul was presenting in the Thessalonian letters. Paul was arguing for the imminence of Christ’s return. That is to be a major source of comfort for suffering believers. If Christ will not come until after the great tribulation [that is, a specific time of unusual and intense suffering still in the future], then the return of the Lord is not imminent and tribulation rather than deliverance is what we must anticipate. In view of the Bible’s message we must be careful not to adopt any view which turns our minds from Christ. If anything must occur before we see Christ personally, then the anticipation of that event will turn our eyes from Him to it. We may even guess that Satan will try to turn the believers’ eyes from Christ to events or signs that are supposed to precede Him and we should be warned accordingly).

All these themes will be treated in later articles, but even at this point we need to note the importance of the two events which Paul says must take place before the day of God’s judgment. The second event is the appearance of one whom he calls “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3). This person will attempt to centralize all human worship in himself, and will actually sit in the temple at Jerusalem, claiming that he is God. Since that has not happened, says Paul, the day of the Lord is yet future.

The first event that must take place before the day of the Lord comes is called “the falling away” in the Authorized Version of the Bible (2 Thess. 2:3). This is an unfortunate translation. The basis for this translation lies in the fact that elsewhere in the Bible a time of great apostasy or “falling away” from true Christian doctrine is prophesied for the time preceding the Lord’s return. Although this is true in itself, however, it is not the meaning of the Greek word here. The word apostasia, preceded by the definite article. Apostasia has given us our word “apostasy,” but the word itself simply means “a departure.” In a context where the truth or falsity of doctrine is in view, the word would naturally mean, “a departure from true doctrine” or “apostasy.” But here, where the issue is the past or future coming of Jesus Christ for his saints and where a particular event is specified by the use of the article, the word can mean equally well “the departure of believers to be with Jesus” or “the rapture.”

In Kenneth S. Wuest’s study, referred to earlier, these following additional facts are elaborated. Apostasia occurs in the New Testament only twice. But it is based on the verb aphistemi which occurs fifteen times. Eleven times it is translated “depart,” never “a falling away.” Unfortunately, most of the English versions follow the leading of the Authorized text (The ESV translates apostasia as “rebellion”). But it is significant that in the versions that precede the publication of the King James Bible — those of Tyndale (1534), Coverdale (1535), Cranmer (1539), and the Geneva Bible (1560) — apostasia was translated as “departure,” and the reference was obviously to the much-anticipated rapture of God’s saints.

It is worth pointing out that precisely the same order of events is presented in 1 Thessalonians. Once again the two different days — the day of the Lord and the day of Jesus Christ — are in view, as well as two distinct classes of people. The day of the Lord is a day that should concern unbelievers. Paul speaks of this group as “they” and “them.” The day of Jesus Christ is for believers only. Paul speaks of this class as “us” and “you.”

“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief…So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 6, 9).

Paul’s teaching clearly indicates that the rapture, “the day of Jesus Christ,” must come first. Then will come the unfolding of the other events of prophecy, beginning with a period of great tribulation and continuing though Christ’s return to earth to judge Israel and the nations, the millennium, the final judgment, and a complete transition from the life of this world to the life of eternity.

These are the two greatest days of future world history — the day of Jesus Christ and the day of the Lord. Every man who has ever lived must stand before the Lord Jesus Christ on one of these two days. Which will it be in your case? Will it be the day of the Lord with its judgments? Or will it be the day of Jesus Christ with the joy of seeing Him and the glorification and rewarding of believers? Believers wait only for the coming of Jesus Christ, and they rejoice, knowing that this the next event in the unfolding of God’s prophetic timetable.

A Practical Doctrine

Thus far in our study of the return of Jesus Christ we have dealt with the importance of the doctrine of the New Testament books and with the precise meaning of His return as it is related to the catching away of believers first and to God’s judgment. It would be wrong to stop at this point, however, for we must go on to see that the doctrine of the Lord’s return is practical. In other words, it should have a bearing on our lives.

(1) First of all, the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be an incentive to godly living. That is the point Jesus Himself made when talking about His return in Matthew 24. The chapter is filled with imperatives: “See that no one leads you astray” (v. 4); “See that you are not alarmed” (v. 6), “flee to the mountains” (v. 16); “pray” (v. 20); “do not believe it” (vv. 23, 26); “learn” (v. 32); “know” (v. 33). Jesus concluded with the warning, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). The apostle John, who undoubtedly heard the Lord on this occasion, later made the identical point in one of his letters, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who this hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

This thought should affect every aspect of your personal life — your prayer life, your choices in the area of ethics and morals, even your social concerns. Lord Shaftesbury, the great English social reformer and a mature Christian, said near the end of his life, “I do not think that in the last forty years I have ever lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return.” In his case, the expectation of meeting Jesus was undoubtedly one of the strongest motives behind his social programs.

Are you looking for Christ’s return? In an earlier study of this same subject I once wrote:

If you are motivated by prejudice against other Christians or others in general, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, cultured or culturally naive, or whatever they may be–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If you are contemplating some sin, perhaps a dishonest act in business, perhaps trifling with sex outside marriage, perhaps cheating on your income tax return–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If your life is marked by a contentious, divisive spirit in which you seek to tear down the work of another person instead of building it up–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If you first protect your own interests and neglect to give food, water, or nothing to the needy as we are instructed to do in Christ’s name–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you (James Montgomery Boice, Philippians: An Expositional Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971], p. 249).

(2) The second result of a belief in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be an effort on our part to comfort Christians who are suffering, particularly those who are suffering the close loss of a friend or relative. We have already seen how the Apostle Paul did this in the case of his friends at Thessalonica. They suffered persecution. They had lost friends through death. Paul wrote to them, reminding them of the blessed hope of Christians. He then observed, “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Dr. R.A. Torrey, a former president of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) and a great Bible teacher, wrote along the same line: “Time and again in writing those who have lost for a time those whom they love, I have obeyed God’s commandment and used the truth of our Lord’s return to comfort them, and many have told me afterwards how full of comfort this truth has proven when everything else has failed” (R.A. Torrey, The Return of the Lord Jesus [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966], p. 15). The return of the Lord Jesus Christ is the one doctrine with which God commands us to comfort suffering saints.

(3) Finally, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ should make us more and more energetic in evangelism. If it is true that the Lord is coming, then it is not true, as scoffers say, that all things will “continue as they were from the beginning” (2 Peter 3:4). The end is in sight. The days for evangelism are numbered. Is it not a lesson for our own time that, when the disciples began to ask Jesus Christ for specific details of the time of His coming after His resurrection and before His ascension, He brushed their requests aside and instead reiterated the church’s great commission to evangelize throughout the duration of this age? They were not to look for a precise timetable. They were to go into the world with the Gospel.

He said to them “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

These were Jesus’ last words on earth. The next words we hear may well be the question: “How well have you carried out my commission?”

James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. He was one of only a handful of reformed theologians that was premillennial in his eschatology (Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Erwin W. Lutzer, S. Lewis Johnson, Rodney Stordtz, John Hannah and John Piper also come to mind). However, what makes him really unique is that he was not Historic Premillennial – but leaned Dispensational (Held to a pre-tribulation rapture) as well. This article was adapted from Chapter Three in one of the first of James Boice’s plethora of books, and is entitled: The Last and Future World, Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1974 (currently out of print). This book is based on 9 sermons that Dr. Boice preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1972. Though this book was written almost 40 years ago – it is just as relevant as when it was first written since many of the prophecies taught in the Scriptures and addressed by Dr. Boice in this book have yet to be fulfilled. Scripture verses are quoted from the more modern English Standard Version – DPC.

 

 
 

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The 7 Major Bodily Resurrections in the Bible

Jesus' empty tomb and resurrection image

(1) The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” (Matt. 28:1–7)

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:1–7)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words (Luke 24:1–8)

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; (John 20:1–8)

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses… And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all… but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear…explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:33; 10:40; 17:3)

and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord… who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification… because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 1:4; 4:25; 10:9)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Cor. 15:3-9)

That he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:20)

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thess. 4:14)

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18).

(2) The token resurrection of some saints at the time of the resurrection of Christ

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:50–54).

(3) The resurrection at the rapture

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. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

 

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:51–58)

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:14–17).

(4) The resurrection of the two witnesses

And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed.They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Rev. 11:3–13).

(5) The resurrection of the Old Testament saints

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain. (Isa. 26:19–21)

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezek. 37:12–14)

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Dan. 12:1–3).

(6) The resurrection of the tribulation saints

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4–6).

(7) The resurrection of the wicked dead

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:11–15).

Scriptures taken from ESV. Major Headings adapted from: Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (p. 452). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

 

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Why the Incarnation of Jesus Was Necessary by Dr. Gordon Wenham

Christmas Incarnation

 

The Blood of the Lamb of God by Gordon Wenham

 

“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,” says the epistle to the Hebrews (9:22). Most of that epistle is taken up with showing how Christ fulfilled the hopes and aspirations of the Old Testament, especially in regard to the sacrificial system of ancient Israel. But for modern readers who have never seen a sacrifice and do not think in Old Testament categories, this is all double Dutch: What has the killing of animals to do with the forgiveness of sins?

It is explained at length in the book of Leviticus, which begins with a long section setting out just how to offer the different kinds of sacrifice and what each achieves (chap. 1–7). However, we need to start further back than this to understand Leviticus and the basic notion of sacrifice.

Genesis 18 tells how Abraham was visited one day by three men. He had no idea who they were, but being a very hospitable man, Abraham laid on a splendid feast for them. His wife Sarah made a pile of fresh bread, while he offered a tender young calf, which his servants killed and cooked for the visitors. We are not told that he gave them wine, but, doubtless where that was available, it too would be served to important guests. Subsequently Abraham discovered who his visitors were — the Lord and two angels!

Though this episode is not seen as a sacrifice, it does give us an insight into the basic dynamics of sacrifice. At a sacrifice, God is the most important guest: His presence is honored by offering Him those items — meat, bread, and wine — that were served only on very special occasions. Meat eating was a rare luxury in Old Testament times, and doubtless wine was reserved for big occasions too.

Israel’s ancient neighbors saw sacrifices as meals for the gods, but the Old Testament indignantly rejects this idea. It is God who provides food for man (Gen. 1:29), not the other way around. Psalm 50:10, 12 puts it well:

Every beast of the forest is mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills… .

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and its fullness are mine.

So what was the point of these massive feasts in front of the tabernacle and later in the temple precincts? The first sacrifices in the Bible are those offered by Cain and Abel. These are mentioned straight after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, where they had enjoyed walking with God in the cool of the day. Excluded from the garden, they were deprived of this privilege of intimacy with God. So one motive for sacrifice suggested by this story is that sacrifice allows man to renew fellowship with God.

But it must be offered in the right spirit. Cain offered only some of the fruit of the ground, whereas Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock and their fat portions” (Gen. 4:4), that is, the very best bits of his most valued animals. God accepted the latter but not the former. Here we realize one of the most important features of sacrifice: the animals must be young and healthy, not decrepit and elderly. The Passover lamb had to be without blemish and one year old. Repeatedly, the sacrificial laws in Leviticus insist that the animals involved must be “without blemish.” The Cain and Abel story shows what will happen if this is ignored: “they will not be accepted” (Lev. 22:25; see also 19:7; 22:20).

After the fall, an avalanche of sin, especially murder and violence, engulfed the world. God complains that sin is built into man: “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (6:11). So God sent the flood to wipe out sinful humanity and start afresh with Noah, the one man “who was righteous, blameless in his generation” (6:9).

When Noah eventually emerged from the ark, his first act was to build an altar and offer sacrifice. One might suppose that this was just an act of thanksgiving for being saved from destruction himself, but the text indicates it achieved much more. “When the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth’” (8:21). In other words, though man’s evil character has not been changed (see 6:9), God’s attitude to human sin has: He will never again punish the world with a flood. Why? Because of the pleasing aroma of the sacrifices offered by Noah (8:21). Sacrifice according to Genesis 8 thus cools God’s anger at human sin. That animal sacrifices produce a pleasing aroma for God is a frequent refrain in Leviticus 1–7.

But why is animal sacrifice so effective in appeasing God’s wrath? The account of Abraham’s offering of Isaac gives some insight into this. Genesis 22 tells how God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his most precious possession, namely, his only son Isaac. Abraham did not know that this was a test — for him it was deadly earnest. So at the last minute, just as Abraham was about to cut Isaac’s throat, the angel of the Lord told him to stop: “for now I know that you fear God” (22:12). Then Abraham looked up, saw a ram, and offered it up instead of Isaac.

This story shows that if someone is ready to obey God totally, God will accept an animal instead of the worshiper. Isaac was Abraham’s future, and Abraham was willing to give him to God, yet God was satisfied with a ram. Here the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is illustrated for us. It is even clearer in the laws in Leviticus, where an essential feature of every sacrifice is the placing of the worshiper’s hand on the animal’s head. This action declares that the animal is taking the place of the worshiper. The worshiper is giving himself entirely to God by identifying himself with the animal; the animal is dying instead of the worshiper.

In Leviticus 1–7, four different types of animal sacrifice are discussed. The emphasis in these chapters is on how to carry out the different types of sacrifice. We must now focus on the features that distinguish one type of sacrifice from another. The burnt offering (Lev. 1) was unique in that it was the only sacrifice in which the entire animal was burnt on the altar. In this, the total consecration of the worshiper to the service of God was represented. At the same time, it made atonement (Lev. 1:4) for the worshiper. “Make atonement” is more exactly “pay a ransom,” a phrase used elsewhere in the Law, where an offender who might otherwise face the death penalty was let off by the payment of damages (for example, Ex. 21:30).

The peace offering (Lev. 3) was probably the most popular of Old Testament sacrifices, as it was the only one in which the worshiper who donated the animal had a share of the meat (usually, only the priests ate the sacrificial meat). The peace offering could be offered spontaneously as an act of thanksgiving to God, but it might be offered when you made a vow asking for God to do something for you, or when that prayer was answered.

The sin offering (Lev. 4) was peculiar in that some of the animal’s blood was smeared on the altar or sprinkled inside the tabernacle or temple. This blood cleansed the tabernacle from the pollution of sin. Sin does not just make one guilty before God or make Him angry, it also makes places and people unclean and thus unfit for God to dwell in. By smearing blood on the altar or sprinkling the interior of the temple with blood, these objects were cleansed of pollution. At the same time, the sinner who had caused the pollution by his misdeeds was forgiven his sins and cleansed from its pollution. This cleansing made it possible for God to re-enter the temple and indwell the believer.

Finally, there was the guilt offering (Lev. 5:14–6:7), which expressed the idea that certain deeds put us in God’s debt. These sins can only be atoned for by the sacrifice of an expensive ram. Though discussed relatively briefly in Leviticus, the sacrifice is of great importance in Isaiah 53, where the suffering servant is called the guilt offering (v. 10; see the ESV, “offering for sin”), who suffers for our transgressions (vv. 5–6). As this chapter describes most fully the atoning role of Christ, it is central to the New Testament’s understanding of Christ’s death.

The imagery of sacrifice in general pervades the New Testament’s interpretation of the cross. When John the Baptist said “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), he was most likely seeing Christ as the perfect Passover lamb, an image that Paul also uses when he speaks of “Christ, our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). He is also seen as the supreme burnt offering, a sacrifice superior to Isaac, an idea alluded to in such well-known passages as John 3:16 and Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” Mark 10:45 describes the Son of Man as the ultimate servant, who gave “his life as a ransom for many.” 1 John 1:7 takes up the imagery of the sin offering when he says that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” For the epistle to the Hebrews Jesus is the supreme High Priest, who through His death achieves all the goals to which the Old Testament sacrificial system pointed (see Heb. 9:1–14).

Finally, we should note that the death of Christ does not exhaust the significance of the sacrificial system for the Christian. We too are expected to walk in Christ’s footsteps and share His suffering (1 Peter 2:21–24). So we too are encouraged “to present our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). Paul, anticipating his own death, compared it to being “poured out as a drink offering,” that is, like the wine that was poured over the altar with every animal sacrifice (see also Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6). In this way the old modes of worship should still inspire our consecration today.

 

About the Author: Dr. Gordon Wenham is senior professor of Old Testament at the University of Gloucestershire, England, and he served on the translation oversight committee for the English Standard Version Bible.

Article Information: From Tabletalk Magazine, September 1, 2005. © Tabletalk magazine 
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

 

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“The Sinfulness of Sin” on “Cosmic Treason” by R.C. Sproul

TTOTC Sproul

“The sinfulness of sin” sounds like a vacuous redundancy that adds no information to the subject under discussion. However, the necessity of speaking of the sinfulness of sin has been thrust upon us by a culture and even a church that has diminished the significance of sin itself. Sin is communicated in our day in terms of making mistakes or of making poor choices. When I take an examination or a spelling test, if I make a mistake, I miss a particular word. It is one thing to make a mistake. It is another to look at my neighbor’s paper and copy his answers in order to make a good grade. In this case, my mistake has risen to the level of a moral transgression. Though sin may be involved in making mistakes as a result of slothfulness in preparation, nevertheless, the act of cheating takes the exercise to a more serious level. Calling sin “making poor choices” is true, but it is also a euphemism that can discount the severity of the action. The decision to sin is indeed a poor one, but once again, it is more than a mistake. It is an act of moral transgression.

In my book The Truth of the Cross I spend an entire chapter discussing this notion of the sinfulness of sin. I begin that chapter by using the anecdote of my utter incredulity when I received a recent edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Though I was happy to receive this free issue, I was puzzled as to why anyone would send it to me. As I leafed through the pages of quotations that included statements from Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and others, to my complete astonishment I came upon a quotation from me. That I was quoted in such a learned collection definitely surprised me. I was puzzled by what I could have said that merited inclusion in such an anthology, and the answer was found in a simple statement attributed to me: “Sin is cosmic treason.” What I meant by that statement was that even the slightest sin that a creature commits against his Creator does violence to the Creator’s holiness, His glory, and His righteousness. Every sin, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is an act of rebellion against the sovereign God who reigns and rules over us and as such is an act of treason against the cosmic King.

Cosmic treason is one way to characterize the notion of sin, but when we look at the ways in which the Scriptures describe sin, we see three that stand out in importance. First, sin is a debt; second, it is an expression of enmity; third, it is depicted as a crime. In the first instance, we who are sinners are described by Scripture as debtors who cannot pay their debts. In this sense, we are talking not about financial indebtedness but a moral indebtedness. God has the sovereign right to impose obligations upon His creatures. When we fail to keep these obligations, we are debtors to our Lord. This debt represents a failure to keep a moral obligation.

The second way in which sin is described biblically is as an expression of enmity. In this regard, sin is not restricted merely to an external action that transgresses a divine law. Rather, it represents an internal motive, a motive that is driven by an inherent hostility toward the God of the universe. It is rarely discussed in the church or in the world that the biblical description of human fallenness includes an indictment that we are by nature enemies of God. In our enmity toward Him, we do not want to have Him even in our thinking, and this attitude is one of hostility toward the very fact that God commands us to obey His will. It is because of this concept of enmity that the New Testament so often describes our redemption in terms of reconciliation. One of the necessary conditions for reconciliation is that there must be some previous enmity between at least two parties. This enmity is what is presupposed by the redeeming work of our Mediator, Jesus Christ, who overcomes this dimension of enmity.

The third way in which the Bible speaks of sin is in terms of transgression of law. The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers the fourteenth question, “What is sin?” by the response, “Sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God.” Here we see sin described both in terms of passive and active disobedience. We speak of sins of commission and sins of omission. When we fail to do what God requires, we see this lack of conformity to His will. But not only are we guilty of failing to do what God requires, we also actively do what God prohibits. Thus, sin is a transgression against the law of God.

When people violate the laws of men in a serious way, we speak of their actions not merely as misdemeanors but, in the final analysis, as crimes. In the same regard, our actions of rebellion and transgression of the law of God are not seen by Him as mere misdemeanors; rather, they are felonious. They are criminal in their impact. If we take the reality of sin seriously in our lives, we see that we commit crimes against a holy God and against His kingdom. Our crimes are not virtues; they are vices, and any transgression of a holy God is vicious by definition. It is not until we understand who God is that we gain any real understanding of the seriousness of our sin. Because we live in the midst of sinful people where the standards of human behavior are set by the patterns of the culture around us, we are not moved by the seriousness of our transgressions. We are indeed at ease in Zion. But when God’s character is made clear to us and we are able to measure our actions not in relative terms with respect to other humans but in absolute terms with respect to God, His character, and His law, then we begin to be awakened to the egregious character of our rebellion.

Not until we take God seriously will we ever take sin seriously. But if we acknowledge the righteous character of God, then we, like the saints of old, will cover our mouths with our hands and repent in dust and ashes before Him.

© Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk. Article from May 1, 2008 – Tabletalk Magazine Online.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

 

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David R. Helm: A Biblical Exposition on Sharing in Christ’s Sufferings From 1 Peter 4:1-6

“Embrace Your Calling to Suffer in the World”

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:1-6).

Some would say that those who suffer most often suffer first from blind naiveté. Albert Schweitzer thought as much about Jesus, claiming that his cruel death on the cross was nothing more than the unfortunate result of naiveté. According to Schweitzer, Jesus, the misguided visionary, never saw the sufferings of the cross coming until it was too late:

There is silence all around. The Baptist appears, and cries: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn, and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. New York: Macmillan, 1968, pp. 370, 371).

Peter, however, has been telling a different story. Jesus was vindicated in death. He rose victorious in the spirit and now reigns eternally as the Ascended Son at God’s right hand. According to Peter, naiveté is set aside. Jesus’ suffering was not the unfortunate result of an impoverished itinerant’s idealistic fervor. Instead, his suffering was by divine initiative. Persecution was the predetermined pathway for God’s Son.

All the Gospel writers concur. The Jesus they present to the world is well aware that his unique work required suffering and service. Jesus believed it on the strength of the Hebrew Scriptures. And Jesus embraced it every step along the way of his earthly ministry. Repeatedly he told his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed” (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). When Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin on the night of his betrayal, never once did he defend himself in hopes of avoiding the cross. In fact, when he did speak, he intentionally said what he knew would seal his fate (Mark 14:62).

Clearly, Jesus fully embraced his calling to suffer out of his desire to save us. As Peter argued in 3:18: Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.

Now, with the opening phrase of our text, Peter again returns to Christ’s sufferings, but this time with different intentions — he feels no need to further encourage us with Christ’s triumphant vindication. He accomplished that in 3:18-22. Rather, he writes about Christ’s suffering in this particular text to call us to embrace it as well. In 4:1 he says: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”

“Arm yourselves.” Emulate Jesus. It is as if Peter has finally come to the place in the letter where he rises up to unashamedly proclaim, “Followers of Jesus, be prepared to embrace not only submission but suffering as an aspect of your calling! Get yourselves ready for suffering!” (It is interesting that until this time suffering appears in the letter to be “if necessary.” But now he speaks with definitive force, preparing the church for the inevitable).

The question of course is, how? How do we go about getting ready? What does a person need to know and do to prepare to embrace his or her calling in the world?

Fortunately for us, the structure of our text unfolds the answers to these questions with clarity and simplicity. If we intend to embrace this aspect of our calling, there are three gospel commitments we must be willing to make (4:1-3), two personal costs we should be ready to endure (4:4), and one encouraging reminder that a final accounting awaits all humanity (4:5, 6).

THREE GOSPEL COMMITMENTS (vv. 1-3)

Become a Person of Resolve

How do we go about embracing our calling? First, by becoming persons of resolve. Take another look at verse 1. Peter writes, “arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” Notice, to embrace our calling in Christ initially requires the attention of our mind. We begin by thinking clearly. And for that we need to develop the mental disposition of Jesus.

Today, in the West at least, it is the church that suffers from a naiveté of the mind. It is difficult for Christians here to understand and embrace God’s intentions in suffering. We prefer a gospel in which God gives us healthy bodies and bulging wallets. And we too readily think that material blessing is the entitled reward of the gospel. To put it bluntly, the democratized West expects in Jesus, comfort, ease, and acceptance from the world.

Yet, in actual fact the life of Christ challenges all of this. Jesus resolved to live as a stranger in the world. He expected hardship. And when he read his own Hebrew Scriptures, they taught him that union with God culminates in mixed reviews here on earth.

In one sense, when Peter calls us to arm ourselves with “the same way of thinking,” he is saying, “Beloved, grow up! Get the mind of Christ. Become a person of resolve. Be prepared. If you have been united with him by faith, you will need to identify with him in suffering.”

The first gospel commitment Peter calls us to embrace closes with a phrase that needs some explanation. Look at the latter part of 4:1:

“Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

The natural question this phrase raises is, what does it mean to “cease from sin”? Is the suffering person a sinless person? We ask this even though we know that such a wooden interpretation of the verse goes against all of Scripture and life experience. So what is Peter saying?

He is simply affirming that those who suffer for the gospel do, by their very willingness, demonstrate that they are done with sin. To put it as clearly as I can, everyone who suffers for Jesus first resolved, somewhere along the line, to cease from sinning. After all, the suffering they experience is a result of leaving off with sin. Thus, Peter says, “For whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

Live for the Will of God

In the next verse Peter puts forward the second and third gospel commitments that followers of Christ make as they embrace their calling in the world: “…so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (v. 2).

The two commitments we are to make are spelled out by way of contrast: “…no longer for human passions” with “but for the will of God.” Since the following verse is going to highlight the kinds of behavior the Christian leaves behind, let’s look first at what we are to be about. Peter says we are to live “for the will of God.” What does Peter mean by the phrase “the will of God”? And how are we to start living for his will? Fortunately we have already seen in 1 Peter the kinds of godly pursuits he wants us to pursue. And in fact, in each of those places he contrasted the
things that God wills for us with the same phase he uses here — “human passions.”

So by looking back in the letter for “passions” we will run headlong into what Peter means when he wants us to make a commitment to “the will of God.” Look at 1 Peter 1:14,15: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”

If the will of God is found by way of contrast to human passions, then we can know for sure that we prepare our minds for suffering by giving ourselves wholly over to the pursuit of holiness. God wants us to make a commitment to holiness, to sanctification, to putting on the new man. This is how we prepare to embrace our calling.

Another text in 1 Peter that teaches us what the will of God is can be found in 2:11,12: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

We do the will of God when we “keep [our] conduct . . . honorable” by doing “good deeds.” This, of course, will require us to be countercultural. We will always be swimming against the current of today’s moral tide. We are to be known for doing good. And as we have seen in this letter, the supreme mark of goodness is our submission to difficult and ungodly people in authority.

Leave Human Passions Behind

I love the opening phrase in verse 3: “The time that is past suffices.” It is as if Peter barks out, “Enough already. Put sin in your rearview mirror.” And then he goes on to list the kinds of things that Christians are to put away. Look at how the verse finishes: “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.”

Be done. Enough. The past is sufficient. Life as an ongoing fraternity party is a major problem in the church today. If we are not there in person, we are all too often present through what we watch on television, see in the theaters, or watch on the Internet. For men, sensuality is an especially prevalent issue. Sex is the elephant in the room. Peter says that in this matter it is time to clean house. Until we wake up and tackle this area head-on and out in the open, we will only continue debilitating a generation and will keep them from being grounded in their faith, unable to fly unencumbered toward Heaven’s delights.

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard tells a parable of the disastrous effects of not putting to death the desires of the flesh, of failing to leave a way of life behind. One springtime a duck was flying with his friends northward across Europe. During the flight he came down in a barnyard where there were tame ducks. He enjoyed some of their corn. He stayed for an hour, and then for a day. One week passed, and before he knew it a month had gone by. He loved the good food, so he stayed all summer long.

One autumn day, when the same wild ducks were winging their way southward again, they passed overhead, and the duck on the ground heard their cries. He was filled with a strange thrill and joy, and he desired to fly with them once again. With a great flapping of wings he rose in the air to rejoin his old comrades in flight.

But he found that his good fare had made him so soft and heavy that he could rise no higher than the eaves of the barn. He dropped back again into the barnyard and said to himself, “Oh well, my life is safe here, and the food is good.” Every spring and autumn when he heard the wild ducks honking, his eyes would gleam for a moment, and he would begin flapping his wings. But finally the day came when the wild ducks flew overhead uttering their cries, but he paid no attention. In fact, he failed to hear them at all.

What an apt parable for the church in our time. As Christians, too many of us have feasted for too long on the pleasant fare this world has to offer. We too easily forget that the time past was enough. We forget that we are still far from home — we haven’t arrived at our destination yet. Sadly, many go on day by day unfazed by the gospel thought that as we feed on the husks of this world we demonstrate that we think too little of the delights that await us in Heaven. Peter says to us, “Enough. Rise up, O men of God. Have done with lesser things” (From the hymn “Rise Up, O Men of God,” lyrics by William P. Merrill; http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/r/i/riseupom.htm; accessed July 31, 2007).

C. S. Lewis struggled with his own inability to grasp the gravity of his sin in light of God’s clear teaching on the subject. He wrote:

Indeed the only way in which I can make real to myself what theology teaches about the heinousness of sin is to remember that every sin is the distortion of an energy breathed into us — an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts whereof “God did it” and “I did it” are both true descriptions. We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege (C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 13, as quoted in Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, The Quotable Lewis. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1989, p. 547).

God has plans for your body, and they are plans for purity and for good. Don’t cheapen life. Don’t settle for distortion. Don’t poison the wine God decants into you. Be done with “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.”

Make three gospel commitments that tell the world you are prepared to embrace this aspect of your calling in Christ.

  • Become a person of resolve.
  • Live for the will of God.
  • Leave human passions behind.

TWO PERSONAL COSTS (v. 4)

But as you do, know this: your newfound commitments come with a twofold cost. Consider verse 4: With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.

They Are Surprised at You

First, your friends and family will be surprised. You will be misunderstood. Remember, there are no categories for them to understand why you no longer grab all that you can in this life without regard for the next. “Come on,” they will say. “What happened? Loosen up. Look out for your own happiness. Pursue some pleasure. Live a little!” Malcolm Muggeridge articulates well how your new life in Christ will affect your relationship with former friends who are still pursuing only happiness and pleasure:

Anyone who suggests that the pursuit of happiness — that disastrous phrase written almost by chance into the American Declaration of Independence, and usually signifying in practice the pursuit of pleasure as expressed in the contemporary cult of eroticism — runs directly contrary to the Christian way of life as conveyed in the New Testament is sure to be condemned as a life-hater (Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered. London: Collins, 1969, pp. 101,102).

Over time their surprise will turn to ridicule.

They Malign You

Surprise evokes misunderstanding, and misunderstanding evokes a sense of being judged. And when the world feels that it has been judged by your way of life, those who are of it will condemn you as “a life-hater.” They will malign you. Take a look again at the progression of behavior embedded in verse 4. “Surprised” gives way to the word “malign”:

With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.

R. C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God, tells of a time when Billy Graham was invited to play golf with President Ford and two PGA tour professionals. He writes:

After the round of golf was finished, one of the other pros came up to the golfer and asked, “Hey, what was it like playing with the President and with Billy Graham?” The pro unleashed a torrent of cursing, and in a disgusted manner said, “I don’t need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat.” With that he turned on his heel and stormed off, heading for the practice tee. His friend followed. . . . His friend said nothing. He sat on the bench and watched. After a few minutes the anger of the pro was spent. He settled down. His friend said quietly, “Was Billy a little rough on you out there?” The pro heaved an embarrassed sigh and said, “No, he didn’t even mention religion. I just had a bad round.”

About the incident Sproul concludes:

Astonishing. . . . Billy Graham is so identified with religion, so associated with the things of God, that his very presence is enough to smother the wicked man who flees when no man pursues. Luther was right, the pagan does tremble at the rustling of a leaf. He feels the hound of heaven breathing down his neck. He feels crowded by holiness even if it is only made present by an imperfect, partially sanctified human vessel (R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1985, pp. 91-93).

ONE FINAL ACCOUNTING (vv. 5, 6)

Peter closes our text with a reminder on the final judgment. It is meant as an encouragement to his readers. In verse 5 it appears that he is especially thinking of the judgment that awaits those unbelievers who choose to malign us. But they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. In one sense you and I do not need to judge the world. It already stands condemned. Entrust yourself to God, and wait for Jesus to set all things straight. The closing verse in our text is tricky to get hold of at first glance. It is especially hard to see how it functions as an encouraging word to

Christians who await the final judgment. “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (v. 6).

What we need to remember is that the early church had many questions about their family members and friends who had died after coming to faith in Christ. They wondered what happened to believers after death. There was a concern for those who had already undergone the penalty of death. Peter wants to reassure his readers here with news that although believers are “judged in the flesh the way all people are,” they need not worry about their future with God. He says they will still “live in the spirit the way God does.”

We have nothing to fear in Christ! We have nothing to fear in embracing suffering in this life. Peter wants us to grasp this as part of our calling. To do so, we need to make three gospel commitments: become a person of resolve, live for the will of God, and leave human passions behind. We must be ready to incur two costs: the surprise of those with whom we once lived in sin and the inevitable maligning and slander that is sure to follow. In all this, though, Peter reassures us with one encouraging reminder: there will be a final accounting for everyone. As those who are in Christ, we shall live on in the Spirit forever.

Dear Lord, help us to truly embrace our calling to suffer in Christ. May we receive it with open arms. We know that everything we bear for you in this life will be nothing to compare with the glory we will share in with you in Heaven. Make us people of resolve. In your precious name we pray, Amen.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (4:7-11)

The Sermon/Article above was adapted from the sermon based on 1 Peter 4:1-6 in David R. Helm’s terrific book of sermons on 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings in the Christo-centric Series of expositions published by Crossway books in Wheaton, IL. – The Preaching the Word Series edited by the faithful expositional preacher R. Kent Hughes.

About the Preacher:

David Helm, along with Arthur Jackson, serves as Lead Pastor of our Hyde Park Congregation, and is the Director of Ministry Training at HTC. After ten and a half years as founding Sr. Pastor of Holy Trinity Church, David handed off the Senior Pastor role to Jon Dennis on November 23, 2008. In addition to serving our South Side congregation, David is Chairman of The Charles Simeon Trust, a ministry devoted to equipping men in expository preaching.

A graduate of Wheaton College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, David is ordained in the PCA and serves on the council of The Gospel Coalition. He authored I, II Peter and Jude in Crossway’s Preaching the Word series, and contributed to Preach the Word:Essays in Expository Preaching in Honor of Kent Hughes. In addition, David has written The Big Picture Story Bible and The Genesis Factor (the latter with Jon Dennis).

David and his wife, Lisa, have five children (Noah, Joanna, Baxter, Silas and Mariah) and reside in the Hyde Park neighborhood. In his spare time, he generally roots for the Chicago White Sox and enjoys Johnny Cash.

 

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Pastor Geoff Thomas On Why We Should Give Thanks To God for Everything

GIVING THANKS TO GOD FOR EVERYTHING

Ephesians 5:19-21 Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

We often hear that the Bible is a gloomy book, and we’re regularly told that a religion based on it, and worship that comes out of it is bound to be gloomy and sorrowful. So the Puritans are normally portrayed as melancholic, severe people, and Calvinism is especially targeted as a faith that tends to depression. Yet we come across this exhortation in this extraordinary letter with its immense theology. It is an exhortation to Christians, Sing!” and, Make music in your heart to the Lord.” The apostle tells us that our lives are to be characterised by constant doxology – always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

These exhortations are not rare in the Bible. In the heart of the Old Testament the Psalter is full of psalms of rejoicing, psalms of hopefulness, and psalms of abundant joyfulness. They are concerned with people singing to God, possessing an inward serenity, knowing a profound joy and peace. We are faithful to biblical religion not only if we knows its truths and live by its immensely stringent ethic but if we also reflect its praise.

Here is a Christian church in Ephesus, the first generation out of paganism, in a city dominated by the temple of Diana, and the congregation hear this mighty letter read to them explaining the glorious grace of God. They are urged to live in a vitally new way unheard of in Greek or Roman circles before – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21) – and they are being told to sing to one another in their homes and churches and places of work and to make constant melody in their hearts to God. That is the impression they are to make on their neighbours of sustained happiness. This is one of the ways they triumphed over Rome; they out-sang Roman philosophy and religion. They were singing because as they saw things, they had good reason to sing. In the great objective universe around them there were facts and entities, and there had been events; there were great concrete promises unfolding in their own experience day by day, and it was upon the basis of these realities that there was in their hearts music to God and songs of praise to one another.

You will find in the entire Bible this emphasis that this is the heart response of authentic Christianity. If you read this letter you will discover the rational for these emotions. We’re not only told to rejoice and sing but we’re shown why we should. We’re not simply told to exert feelings of delight and contentment; we’re pointed to certain great reasons why we must be gripped by them. In other words, the exhortations to a different kind of life in chapters 4, 5 and 6 are built on the glorious truths of chapters 1, 2 and 3, and within these chapters Paul is presenting us with the glories of God’s love and then exhorting our behaviour to reflect that love.

 1. HOLY SPIRIT FILLS US.

Here we are told of the third person of the Godhead, God the Holy Spirit, and that he doesn’t just touch our lives, but that he fills every part of our beings, and that we under an obligation to ensure that he does, more and more. God stands pledged to be within his people, to make them his abode; the church is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and as long as we continue as an authentic Christian church, so long as this particular congregation remains faithful to its divine mandate, just as long as it continues in its testimony to the glory of God’s salvation then we will continue to know the Spirit glorifying Jesus Christ in our midst.

We may go beyond that fact; we will know in the depths of our hearts, in the profoundest realities of our own personal experience, that the mighty Creator of the universe is our God. He is the one who is supplying all our need. He has committed himself not only to the cause in general, not only to particular churches, but to us as individual Christians so that we can say from hearts as Paul said, He loved me and gave himself for me.”

We sing and make melody in our hearts because God has come to us in his eternal and unconditional sovereign love. He has sent his Son into the world to bear my sin. He has sent his Spirit as the Spirit of consolation and courage into my soul. He is totally determined to present me faultless in the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. My God is a committed God. All his resources, and all his attributes, and all his grace and power he has dedicated to my salvation. There is a love that will never let me go. I am caught up, not in something visible and physical, and not in something temporal and terrestrial, but I am caught up in something eternal, something invincible, and something infinite. I am saying that in my heart there is music going out to the Lord, and on my lips are psalms and hymns and spiritual songs because the mighty God is not simply committed to his cause in the world, or in Wales, or even to this congregation’s testimony, but God is committed to each believer in particular. God is committed personally by his Spirit who indwells us so that we can know “He is my God; he is love; he has given himself for me; he has filled me with his Spirit.” I know that Almighty God is totally committed to my salvation, and that the work that he has begun is a work from which he will never desist until we are presented without spot or wrinkle before the throne. The Spirit of God fills his people. “Make sure you go on being filled with him,” Paul says, “and sing and make music in your heart to God.”

 2. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS WITH US TODAY.

Where can I go from your Spirit?” asks the psalmist (Psa. 139:7) because of the sheer naked fact of his omnipresence. He is everywhere in this universe and beyond. I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the ocean but when I arrive there the first thing I discover is that the Spirit of God is already there. Paul and Silas were thrown into the darkest deepest dungeon in the jail of Philippi, but the first discovery they made in that stinking blackness was that the Holy Spirit was there. So they could sing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and all the other prisoners listened to them. It is his presence in us in grace, in all the consolations of his personal love, in all his enabling resourcefulness that make us songsters. He is in us to help, and sustain, and guide, and encourage, and bless. It is not his universal cosmic presence that makes us sing so much as his presence in redeeming pity and encouragement.

You remember how the Spirit is with us, in every challenging phase of our lives. God has sent us individually on a mission. We leave this church today and enter our own mission field. We are to go and teach the nations. We are to hold fast to our confession, and we are to point men to the glory of God in Christ. And for us to fulfil this task God provides us with the indwelling Spirit. In every congregation which today is pointing men to that Lamb who bears away the sin of the world the Spirit is present and working. In every pulpit which declares the truths of the gospel – that we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus because he loved us died for us – in every such pulpit the Holy Spirit is present steadfastly and consistently and unadornedly. In the life of every single believer who is holding fast to his confession then there is this great reality, the presence of God the Spirit, and as you go and stammer and speak and serve, and as you maintain the integrity of your own Christian witness then this is your privilege, the Holy Spirit’s presence in and with you.

I can put it like this, where two or three are gathered together in the Lord’s name then the Spirit is present, not only in our evangelism and outreach and our witness and testimony but as we meet at a prayer meeting for our own comfort and edification. Then we show forth the glory of our God and Saviour and we have the assurance that the Spirit is there, indeed that the Spirit is here now. He is blessing this sort of gathering right now; he is applying his word to every need of our souls; he is alongside us as we write that difficult letter, or as we turn the other cheek, or as Paul says here, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21). We must know that we are indwelt by God’s Spirit permanently and irreversibly, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is the greatest reality of this Christian life that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we have been baptized by one Spirit into one body. We cannot be, without the vitality of the Spirit coursing through our hearts and souls and spirits. We cannot be, and not be temples. We cannot be, and not have the presence of the Spirit. No matter what we are relating to, and no matter what we are confronting, and no matter what we are experiencing, and no matter what we are doing, we are doing it as those energised and motivated by the indwelling Spirit of God. I am saying that God the Spirit is present with us not only in the great evangelistic movements, and not only in the large worshipping congregations with their meetings every night of the week and their huge staffs, but the Spirit is in the heart of each individual believer. He is there with her private sorrows; he is there with her individual stresses; he is there with her personal temptations. The Spirit is there.

Yet, you remember this truth that you never take the Spirit for granted. “Go on being filled with the Spirit,” says Paul. His presence is, in some respects, an irreversible reality, and yet we know from the church of Laodicea something was missing. There was a curious and peculiar relationship to the Lord which they professed. He was very near that church, but he was only near it in so far as he was at the door. It is true that he was knocking; he was claiming admission and begging entry, but none of that alters the fact that he was outside. That church had no right to claim that is was a Spirit-filled congregation. She had the name of a church; she had all the machinery of a church; maybe she had the authentic message of a church, and yet the Lord was outside.

There may be moments in our own individual lives when we have given such offence to the Spirit that we have grieved him, and he has turned away and hidden his face from us. Though his preservation is not withdrawn yet his saving and comforting works are not present. There are Christians today – there may be even some at this meeting – and the Spirit is not filling them. Certainly God will never let them go; they will not fall utterly. Yet they do not know his consolation. They do not know his help. They do not know his guidance because for one reason or another they have grieved him. They are not singing and making melody in their hearts to God.

There is this whole emphasis on the presence of the Spirit with the Christian. It is a reminder to us of how accessible God is to us. He is within such easy reach. Let’s imagine for a moment that we are in trouble and need help. Where do we get it? We have illimitable access to the indwelling Spirit. Paul is saying, “You don’t have to go miles to look for him. You don’t need some special code. You don’t need outriders and guides to take you to him. He is in you and you talk to him.” Or to put it better, using Paul’s words in Romans, you just send him a message by means of a groan that cannot be uttered. He is so near that he hears that. We sometimes cannot sing a hymn with our voices; we sometimes cannot shout; we cannot send eloquent prayers or beautiful petitions to the Lord, and yet he is so near that if only we mutter a few words he can hear us. Just a wordless groan and the Spirit is so near he understands and cares.

3. WE RESPOND IN SINGING GOD’S PRAISE TO ONE ANOTHER.

We enjoy the blessings of God each day. Success in our exams, the joy of our families, food in our refrigerators, long life, happy relationships, all such temporal mercies from God call for songs of loudest praise. There are also the blessings that the gospel brings in this life and the life to come, justification, full forgiveness, adoption into the family of God, the end of the reign of sin, union with Christ and glorification. How do we respond to all God’s goodness? The world celebrates everything with its drinking, but in our hearts there rings a melody of love, and on our lips there is a song of doxology:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise him all people here below.

Praise him above ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

We respond to all that the Spirit of God applies to our lives by great praise. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. We have to make sure that each one of us praises God. “I am going to sing to him.” We are not going to leave it to others. We are not going to say, “Let all the world praise God.” I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve got breath. I will do it. My old, cracked, weak voice that is tone-deaf will sing to him, with my own powers and initiative, because I am not standing before the Force, or an abstraction, or a memory, but I am standing before the Jehovah Jesus who is “My God.” I will praise my God for myself.

Have you ever been struck by the opening words of the 108th psalm. It says this. “A song. A psalm of David. My heart is steadfast, O God.” A psalm of David . . . my heart is steadfast O God. There seems to me such irony in those words. This is David writing these words, the man who once could babble away outside the gates of a city of the Philistines to give them the impression that he was mad. This is David who could walk on the roof of his palace and spot Bathsheba washing and then draw himself and her family into evil tragedy. Think also of David as he begins Psalm 69, Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God (Psa. 69:1-3). We say, “That’s David, so like me!” and we are glad to know someone as wobbly as David was in the kingdom; then there is hope for me too.  If ever there was a man who was not steadfast it was David, and yet he begins Psalm 108, My heart is steadfast O God.” He has enjoying a day of gospel assurance; he is expressing his highest confidence in God; he has grown in grace; through all his great falls he has kept coming back to God; a new maturity has come into his life. David’s heart is steadfast, and how does he show it? See what he goes on to say in that psalm, I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psa. 108 2-5). David is steadfast in praising God. This is what must characterise the Christian.

Aren’t we in many ways a strange gathering? We are a company of men and women who say that for them to live is Christ. So the challenge comes to us that if that’s our profession and privilege then are we determined to sing our God’s praises? “I for myself will make melody in my heart and on my lips to my Lord.” It is simply marvellous that in this universe there are two such different existences. There is the unsearchable God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and there is puny man, a mere speck. Yet these two can come so close together, “I . . .  and  . . . Thee.” I may sing to Thee; Thou art pleased with my singing. There is this amazing proximity of us and him. My soul can be totally involved with God. I can sing, and he is listening. I can be making music in my heart with no one around able to hear my praise, but to God my heart-song of thankfulness sounds like a huge cathedral organ with all the stops pulled out.

The great challenge is to be doing it for ever and ever. We will praise him on special occasions when we are members of a vast congregation when every seat in the church is taken. We will praise him when the preacher happens to choose our favourite hymn on a Sunday. We will praise him, on every good day we have; at every gathering of the Lord’s people we will sing to him. “Always giving thanks to God the Father.”

Then there is something else, that it is to one another that we sing our psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Often we are told of the existence of a ‘generation gap,’ but we cannot allow a generation gap in the church because in the church there is neither young nor old, but all are one in Christ Jesus. And this is one way that the gap between old Christians and young Christians is crossed; the old praise God’s works to the young. The old commend God’s works of creation and providence and also God’s works of redemption to the young. They do it in the words of their hymns. We have to be sure that we don’t compartmentalise the age groups of the church so that the young never hear the old, never hear them speaking of God’s faithfulness, and shepherding and love. The trend today is for larger churches to have two kinds of services. There is the so-called ‘contemporary service’ and all the young people go to that, and there is the so-called ‘traditional service’ and all the old folks go to that. What a tragedy. What a tearing apart of the body of Christ. The older generation has to praise his works to the younger and declare his mighty acts. We do this by demonstrating their reality in our lives. We believe these things.  We commend these things. We praise God for these things, and of course, best of all, we live them. We live them out. As we grow older and become more feeble, death coming nearer, then God’s works are our theme. His mighty acts are the theme of our psalms and hymns and songs.

4. FOR EVERYTHING WE WILL GIVE THANKS TO GOD.

You notice Paul’s insistence on this, Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Not all days are holy days; not all days are good days, but whatever its character, and whatever my circumstances may be I’m to be Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Some days are simply dreadful; there are great dark weeks which come into the lives of some of God’s people, and for some of you, today, it may be one of these times. You ask your best friend how things are going, and she says, “Not a good day today.” There is darkness and no light; the waters are rising and going over my soul; deep is calling unto deep. Yet on these days too I am to be giving thanks to God the Father for everything, whatever the storms, whatever the pain and privations, however desolate I may feel, whatever burden is crushing my spirit, thanks . . . always . . . for everything.

Matthew Henry was once robbed; how can you possibly give thanks to God the Father for a robbery in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? That night Matthew Henry wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, because I was never robbed before. Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life. Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

Let our minds for a moment contemplate the grandeur of such a spirit. We can recall, I’m sure, some homes and some hospital beds where a word about thanksgiving has a special poignancy – “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Men and women suffer intensely, and suffer helplessly, and suffer hopelessly, and suffer pathetically with their grieving families gathered around them; they are men and women of faith, but they have no hope of healing or of their lives being prolonged. These are the last months of their lives. What does this “always giving thanks” mean to them? What kind of day is it to them? It is a day the Lord has made. It is his workmanship and from their hearts they can affirm, “We will be glad and rejoice in it.” The Lord has made everything in it and suited grace for this day. You existentialists and atheists – none of you can say that!

Think of the despair of the unbelieving world. Its greatest hope is that men will be annihilated and cease to exist. They don’t want an eternal sleep with nightmares of memories of their lives eternally haunting them. They prefer non-existence, and they dread non-existence. What a life – a life without loving the living God! What a journey into darkness! Think of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the character called Lucky (!) Pozzo’s slave, as he makes his final, long, anguished, monologue. In spite of philosophy, invention and progress what is his life without God(ot)? We “shrink and dwindle, waste and pine,” Lucky intones. Ours is the generation who put its faith in Caesar, that is, in the power of the state to regulate and control and provide for our lives from cradle to grave. This generation is now realising that Caesar’s promises to comprehensively help them are vain. This is the generation who have lived through the political confidence of their twenties but are now sandwiched between young children and ageing parents, burdened with mortgages and fears of dirty bombs and Islamic terrorism. The trust their parents had in the institutions of Caesar they themselves have lost, but there is no other object for their trust. The local maternity unit is so overstretched that new mothers have been turned away to have their babies on the kitchen floor. The neighbouring streets are clubbing together for private security to replace the non-existent police. The Old Age Pension seems to be shrinking as they approach pay day – like the pot at the rainbow’s end. What do they have to praise and worship?

There are those who think that being a Christian is something instinctive, simple and automatic. Now they ought to contemplate the glory of the notes of praise which run through a mere Christian’s life. You know how you can recognise someone who is full of the Spirit. It is not by glossolalia; it is that when he is in the depths and his heart is breaking he is still able to give thanks to God the Father for everything. Whatever kind of day it is he won’t be quarreling with God; he won’t be questioning the will of God he will be humbly praising giving God.

It is a description of the Spirit-filled life, and it is a commandment, and so by the grace of God it becomes our experience for whatever God commands to do he enables us to perform. We can give him thanks always for everything not because we force ourselves but because on every day there are subjects of new praise and fresh gratitude. Morning by morning new mercies I see. There are times when faith must concentrate; it must focus its attention; it must screw up its eyes; it must scan the horizon; it must look to the short distance, to the middle distance and to the distant horizons. Look every which way and consider every sign of God’s blessing. The apostle says that there will be a cause for thanksgiving always. Every day will I bless thee! Where is today’s reason to be grateful? I ask you.

Some of us have come out of comfortable, affluent, marvellously benign providences. I’ve come from such a background. I often think that I’ve had the easiest and most trouble-free life of anyone. Yet how often do we come to God with complaints? We have a sense of deprivation instead of this great alertness to the marvelous goodness of Almighty God. We grumble and complain; our spirits are hard, and I am saying that at such times, in the midst of so much human grief, could I suggest that you and I might have the discipline and self-possession by the grace of God to look all around and say to ourselves, “Well, God has said that there would be blessing every day, so where is today’s cause of thanksgiving? There must be blessings today because God said there would be. Then when I see it I think, “How good God is in providing this for me,” and I praise him, and bless him for today’s blessing – always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.

“Always”! I will never stop being grateful, even on the darkest days. You know how on many a dark day your prayers had stopped, but Paul tells us that we should never stop being thankful. Paul knows, as you and I know, that one day soon this poor lisping stammering tongue will lie silent in the grave, but when that happens the voice of thanksgiving will not be silent.  I shall see the once crucified Saviour; he will bear the marks of my redemption and he now has all authority in heaven and on earth. That day will be the day of the fierce indignation of God, for the great day of his wrath is come and who shall be able to stand? Men will cry to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from his face.

We shall bow before him – we Christians, lost in wonder love and praise, for through the blood of Christ a sinner is justified, the Father is reconciled and all our sins are pardoned. Doesn’t that give us much to be thankful for? Then in a nobler sweeter song won’t I be grateful for God’s power to save? When I stand before Thy throne, dressed in beauty not my own, then I’ll be so grateful for the robes of righteousness. When I see the Lamb and his fair army standing on Mount Zion then I’ll praise him who loved me and washed me from my sins in his own blood. For ever and ever – “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”

 5. WE WILL NEVER CEASE GIVING THANKS TO GOD.

Now, you see it’s a sad world; it’s a very empty world; it’s full of bitterness and resentment. “What have I got to give thanks to God for?” people say. I want to say to you that out there, objectively, really, sovereignly, there is the only God there is. You might think that he is tremendously august, and wholly other, a God of majesty and righteousness and unimaginable power to have made this whole universe. He is a God who speaks with such awesome holiness in his law and to our consciences, and all of that is true. But out there, I tell you, there is a heart so tender and loyal and generous and forgiving that the man or woman who is reading this and whose life is in the biggest shambles conceivable may go to this God, and ask him to forgive it. He or she may go to God and ask him to bless it with his own generosity. He may go and expect God to be true to every promise he has made.

I have a great problem and that is this, that I speak to such ordinary people, and I have the impression sometimes that so many are trying to make themselves different. You are trying to make yourselves special, and if you achieve that then you think perhaps you may be converted. There are some very odd people and they’re afraid of being saved. They are afraid of some outburst of emotion and embarrassment. They don’t want to make fools of themselves. They are more afraid of missing a dance because they imagine being converted means missing a dance. That worries them far more than losing out on the love of God and experiencing a lost eternity. So you are doing all you can to avoid being converted.

There are others of you and I believe that you are very anxious to be converted, but you want to make yourself special first. You don’t want to come to God ordinary; you want to come to God standing. But everyone I’ve known who’s come to God has come kneeling. He has come to God ordinary, feeling unqualified and unprepared, wishing he was more sincere and with more conviction, hungering and thirsting for that. Some of us try to come breaking our hearts from guilt, but in spite of all this when we come to God we feel terribly unprepared. Yet many of you are playing with your souls because you are trying to prepare first, and you won’t come ordinary. I am saying, let’s come just as we are, with many a conflict and many a doubt.

That’s not a bad thing, as all of us can testify, to come to God saying, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” That’s not a bad way to come, and all who come that way say, “God met all my desires.” Why shouldn’t Christians go and tell people that? The world thinks of all that it will have to give up, and the difficulties it would face and how narrow the road would be. Well, let us go and tell the world we are so thankful to God for all he has given us every day. We are abundantly satisfied with him. What glory it has been to have Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and what hopes we have of eternal life.

Where is your music? Why is your heart silent? Where have your convictions gone? If the Lord is your salvation, and if you feel convinced by the great gospel themes of our preaching then where is the melody? Bring your heart under the control of your theology. My heart is steadfast O God.I will sing and make music with all my soul”(Psa. 108:1&2).

You are seeing the enormous pressures coming on the Christian church. There is militant Islam and militant humanism. Two mighty threats. And yet throughout human history the church has faced such challenges. In the Old Testament there was Egypt and Assyria and Babylon. In the New Testament there were terrible attacks on the church of Jesus Christ, and where are those enemies now? Some of them seemed so mighty that they were the occasion for the writing of New Testament epistles. Yet where are they now? We don’t even know what Gnosticism was, and yet at one time it threatened to destroy the Christian church. Where is it now – Gnosticism? Where has it gone? All those enemies that emerged for a while, look what the Lord did to them. Today where is Hume? Where is Rousseau? Where is Voltaire? Where is Bertrand Russell? They are all dead, but the church lives on, as Christ lives.

In other words the gates of hell have not prevailed against the church. Is that not cause for praise? Time and again men have written the church’s epitaph; they have described the world as ‘post-Christian’; they have said that the influence of the church is gone never to return, and yet the men who wrote those epithets are forgotten and the church lives. In the 1950’s I remember the fuss George Orwell’s book and play called ‘1984’ made. What a bleak world it portrayed. No singing; no music in the heart; no church and no gospel would exist in 1984. There were the common prophesies of science fiction, that life in the 21st century would be a bleak dictatorship. We boys in school asked ourselves, “Is that what it will be like in 30 years’ time?” But the year 1984 has come and gone and another twenty years have passed, and the church is, and the gospel is, and there is still melody in our hearts. “Come, behold the works of the Lord!” The very facts are saying to us that our labour in the Lord is not in vain. We are not whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. We are singing and making melody in our hearts to the living God. Of course we would be facing enormous difficulties even if we gathered here in Aberystwyth all the Christians of mid-Wales with all their gifts and resources. Even then it would still be a huge battle, but is it an impossible one? Does any Christian here today hold to the principle that labour in the Lord is in vain? Not one. How can we possibly hold to such despairing ideas if the living God is our Shepherd, and Rock, and Teacher, and the Sovereign Ruler of earth and heaven? Then we will sing our praises to him and to one another. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.

About the Preacher of this Sermon:

Geoffrey was born in Merthyr Tydfil and became a Christian in Tabernacle Baptist Church in Hengoed. He went to University in Cardiff to study Biblical Studies as did his wife Lola one year behind him. Geoff then went to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. In 1965 he was called to pastor the Baptist Church in Alfred Place, Aberystwyth where he has been ever since. Geoff and Lola have three daughters, eight grandsons and one granddaughter. His activities include maintaining the Banner of Truth website.

Geoffrey’s books include Daniel, Servant of God under Four Kings (Bryntirion), The Life of Ernest Reisinger (Banner of Truth), Philip and the Great Revival in Samaria (Banner of Truth), Preaching: the Man, the Method and the Message (Reformed Academic Press), and The Sure Word of God (Bryntirion). The full text of 550 of Geoff’s sermons has been published on the Alfred Place website @ http://www.alfredplacechurch.org.uk/ The sermon above depicts the original Welsh/English spelling of the preacher. It was delivered on August 29th in 2005.

 

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