Why All the Rejoicing?

“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city” (Acts 8:6-8).

Because of Saul’s violent outburst against the Jerusalem church, Philip went to Samaria and proclaimed Christ. The Holy Spirit authenticated his message with signs, such as healing the sick and casting out demons. The miracles were not the manufactured manipulations such as are common on television today. They were verifiable miracles granted by God.

While some today will focus on the miracles, the Scriptures uniformly center on Christ and His gospel of grace. Notice that “the crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.” The crowds did not give attention to the signs, but to the message. The signs drove them to the gospel as they were designed to do.

To be sure, the signs were captivating, people who’d been oppressed by evil spirits were set free. Those who’d been paralyzed and lame were made whole again. The release from guilt and shame, plus the unknown causes were wiped clean. No wonder “there was much rejoicing in that city.”
Still, the greater joy was knowing why they were cleansed and healed – Jesus had saved them. The removal of the consequences of sin is incidental to the destruction of sin itself. Sin demands God’s wrath. Loss and illness are just reminders of that fact. To stand before Holy God in one’s sins is most terrifying. To have that guilt and shame buried in the righteousness of Christ is most liberating and joyful.

Rejoicing is to be joyous, not simply pleased or content, but enthusiastic with the news. The Samaritans had lived in idolatrous darkness for ages. Now, the light of gospel grace had come to them in the name of Jesus with evidence to prove that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Of course, they were glad to be healed, but Luke is clear to point out why they rejoiced – because of the gospel Philip proclaimed.

Today, many hold to the idea that the gospel is only a stepping stone to reuniting them with loved ones or to gaining marvelous treasures to whet their appetites. Such people are still steeped in the darkness of their idolatry. They trample underfoot the precious name of Jesus while clinging to the hope of reliving some dream lost in this fallen life.

Churches need, whether they know it or not, pastors – men who are saturated with the Word of God, who will proclaim the pure gospel of God’s grace to save sinners by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Churches need shepherds who hold to the reforming principles of Scripture alone and Scripture interpreting Scripture. These are the men who will build churches for the glory of God alone.

Far too long and too often, churches today are held hostage by false teachers, hirelings who’ve jumped the fence to make a name for themselves among Christ’s sheep. Many have filled the pews with unredeemed and unregenerate religious hypocrites just to say, “Look how many we’ve baptized.” Those goats fight against everything Christ’s church stands for. They think they have a better way because they have a secular business experience. Often, the Christians left in the church will simply let the bullies take over. The church’s carcass has already begun to decay.

Sometimes, God allows a man to step into such a situation and, by grace, begin to turn things around. It’s never easy and there are no short cuts. In such instances, it’s a cause for great rejoicing indeed as people are released from their idolatrous traditions and autonomy. There are a number of success stories across our nation where some of the least likely shepherds were called to churches because the power brokers thought they had a lamb they could control, but God revealed a lion who was strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10).

God grant us men like Philip, who will proclaim Christ in the most unlikely places, where there will be much rejoicing in Your grace.

By grace,

Chris

“Scattered”

“But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:3–4).

“Scattered” describes the manner in which the Christians departed Jerusalem. They were dispersed randomly, sown like seeds, without thought or care for their safety or well-being. The image of the sower in Jesus’ parable comes to mind who reached into his bag and scattered seeds indiscriminately on the road, over the stones, and among the thorns, as well as in the good soil.

The word Luke used for “scattered” relates their going out directly to Saul’s persecution. As he ravaged the church, the Christians who escaped his systematic and exhaustive search to extinguish the name of Jesus didn’t go into witness protection programs to hide out in security for the rest of their lives. They “went about preaching the word.”

To all appearances, the Christians fled Jerusalem aimlessly. In reality, God sent them out purposefully. God does nothing without purpose. Jesus foretold them that His church would proclaim His gospel around the world: “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Events take place in the world that, to us, seem pointless. Just as children, who often don’t understand what their parents’ do, we seldom comprehend all that God has in store.

Luke’s word for “preaching” gives us the word “evangelize.” They went about – without a plan, strategy, organization, or support – scattering the good news, the glad tidings of God’s grace through Jesus Christ to save sinners.

We often think of preaching as a style of speaking (in loud, stained-glass tones), that’s done by a certain person (a duly ordained preacher), in a particular location (behind a pulpit, in a steepled church), at a certain time (Sunday morning), while wearing a manner of dress (suit and tie).

Luke, though, had in mind something very different. First, “they were all scattered… except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). Untrained men and women, singles and families, young and old – everyone in the church – except the apostles – went out proclaiming Christ. Second, they didn’t preach in pulpits or wear suits and ties or speak in artificial manners. They made much of Christ, using their own words and communicating in ordinary speech as they went – wherever, whenever.

Saul’s attempt to annihilate the church became the catalyst by which the church began to fulfill the Lord Jesus’ promise. The church had been growing numerically at a phenomenal rate, but no one had yet gone beyond the local community. A growing complacency had begun to creep into the church. Had it been allowed to continue, the extraordinary gospel growth may well have stalled and given way to the spiritual lethargy that’s so common today. So, God used Saul to stir the pot, so to speak and send His people out.

Today, a kind of religious apathy has captured many churches. The Great Commission to “go and tell” has morphed into “come and stay.” Instead of making disciples, we prefer to entertain spectators. Pastoral success is measured by the number of people who fill the pews every week rather than those who go out to share Christ, gather believers, and start new churches and other ministries.

Unlike the early church, which emphasized preaching, praying, and fellowship, many churches today seem content to focus on performances and entertainment. Discipleship is a class that people attend. Worship is a performance that people watch. Preaching is a self-help pep speech to which people listen. Prayer is a brief professionally-rehearsed statement made to begin or end a meeting. Regrettably, many people are content with such fanfare.

Perhaps, God will bring another widespread persecution against His church in our generation in order to wake His dispirited disciples out of our cozy slumber. When it comes, the religious hypocrites that swell the congregations will likely depart. The redeemed will gather together as our spiritual forebears did for teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer (Acts 2:42).

Then, we’ll make a profound difference in the world for the glory of God.

By grace,

Chris

A Taste for Death

“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (Acts 8:1-3).

Knowing the work of grace the Spirit of Christ would later do in Saul’s life, we might be tempted to think that the young Pharisee didn’t really mean to kill Stephen. After all, he didn’t actually participate in the stoning. He only consented to it. Even then, he was just caught up in heat of the moment. Scripture, however, is very clear.

The word translated “hearty agreement” (NAS), “consenting” (KJV), “approved” (ESV) is a double-compounded term. Two prefixes attach to the root, focusing its meaning. The root word means to suppose, seem good, or please. It’s what we mean when we say, “okay,” or give a thumbs-up sign. It conveys agreement. Saul favored the manner and extent of Stephen’s penalty.

The primary prefix adds the nuanced feeling of “well,” as in “well-pleased.” When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, everyone heard God the Father say about Jesus, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt. 3:17). The prefix elevates the sense from simply nodding approval to taking real pleasure in a thing. It makes the thing a delight, which is why the NAS adds the description “hearty.” It’s not a matter of joviality, but of real pleasure. Saul genuinely enjoyed watching Stephen’s execution.

The secondary prefix means “with,” and links the verb to the following noun, “putting him to death,” which means to murder, kill, put out of the way, or destroy. So, Saul took great delight, not only in silencing Stephen, but in brutally and viciously murdering him.

If anyone ever opposed Jesus Christ so thoroughly, it was Saul of Tarsus. He embraced a personal satisfaction in disposing of anyone associated with the name of Jesus. Stephen’s death only whet his appetite for more. He ravaged (“made havoc of,” KJV) the church; that is, he assaulted Christians with the cruelest contempt possible, attempting to obliterate the name of Jesus entirely.

The kind of hatred that Saul felt for those who loved the Lord Jesus in his day is alive and well in ours. Hatred seems to be the defining quality of humanity. One group gets media attention for demonstrating their hatred. Then, the internet rings with the hatred of those who hate the haters. Pride fuels our hate. We (all of us) justify our brand of hate as those ours is of a higher, purer, or nobler quality than that of those we hate. All the while, Satan laughs in our faces as we dance to his tune.

The hate of mankind will never accomplish the will of God. When we hate, we dishonor God – whoever we are and whomever we hate. What are we to do when we someone doing hateful things? Should we turn a blind eye? That would make us an accessory to their hate. Should we applaud them? That would make us their accomplices. Christ gave another answer:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:43-48).

How would the world look today, if, instead of hating the haters, we learned to love our enemies, really love them and to pray for those who persecute us? We might not end the atrocities people commit, but we would change ourselves. Instead of becoming haters ourselves, delighting in a taste for death with the rest, we would rejoice in Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Wouldn’t that be glorious?

By grace,
Chris

Grace in the Torrent

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:54-60).

“Now when they heard this,” that is, the whole of Stephen’s defense of Christ and God’s judgment against the people, “they were cut to the quick.” Literally, “they were sawn asunder to the heart,” just as they were in Acts 5:33. Absent the grace of God, they were agitated, stirred to anger and boiled with animosity. Only this time, there was no one to restrain them. They carried out the murder that was in their hearts according to their natures.

We like to think that we are free, but we are only free within the limits of our nature. Even the good we do is tainted by our sin. Thus, Jesus taught that the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14:17). Likewise, Paul wrote, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1Cor. 2:14). So, in the darkness of their hearts, they lunged for Stephen, as jackals on the prey. “They began gnashing their teeth at him,” growling with hellish hatred.

The Spirit filled Stephen, showing him God’s glory and Jesus standing (the royal position of judgment) at His right hand. God gives His people grace to withstand great anguish. The world labors in vain to understand the gift of grace that often attends God’s children as they stand in the torrent of hell’s abuse. His peace certainly passes all human understanding. Even Christ’s disciples are often mystified by God’s overwhelming grace when they should cave before the flood of hostility heaped against them. And yet, Stephen “said,” that is, he spoke in an ordinary voice, not screaming hysterically as his plaintiffs did, and continued to make much of Christ: “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Stephen’s accusers could bear no more of his love for Christ. Their hatred for Jesus drove them over the edge like the demon-possessed Gadarene pigs. Even though he used the more obscure term that Jesus favored for Himself, “Son of Man,” they all knew of Whom he meant. In a single, murderous reflex, propelled by bestial rage, they pounced on him and drove him out of the city gate where they began to stone him. The stones they cast weren’t little pebbles intended to irritate him. They were large enough to inflict serious damage, even to be fatal.

As an aside, Luke mentioned, without comment, a young man named Saul, whom readers would get to know later. Saul stood by, approving the slaughter of an innocent man, solely because of his faith in, love for, and witness to Christ.

The stoning of Stephen was no simple or sanitary procedure. Without delving into the gory details of stoning, suffice it to say that it was an inefficient form of execution – bloody and cruel, it took a good while to accomplish.

Even as his life ebbed away, Stephen displayed God’s grace in the torrent. He committed himself to the Lord Jesus as Christ had committed Himself to the Father. Then, he prayed for his murderers as Jesus had prayed for His.

Our natural tendency is to ask God to remove the hardship. The popular notion is that we should have all the treats and sweets we want and none of the bitters. If we just have enough faith, God will give us all the cookies we ask for. The Bible teaches us, though, that God is eternal, wise, and holy. He operates in a different economy than we do, He keeps a different timeline, and He pursues a different agenda than ours.

Perhaps, instead of seeking the removal of the trial, we should seek the grace to see God’s glory through the hurt. I’m daily more convinced that there’s coming another persecution in the life of the church. It might even be the final chapter in our history. I pray we’ll be ready.

By grace,
Chris

Defending Christ, 6

“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).

Stephen dropped the gavel of God’s judgment against his hearers – and the rest of us – saying, in essence, “Like father, like son.” He accurately assessed the condition of the human heart outside the grace of God. To appreciate the necessity and agency of God’s overcoming grace, we have to recognize the depth of our depravity. We’ll always opt for sin. We’ll always choose the pleasures of the flesh. It’s what we do.

Spanish fighting bulls have a distinct athletic profile with a massive neck that enhances their prowess in the fight. When a bull first enters the arena, he thrashes about wildly, displaying his power and agility. He’s a fierce animal. In a well-choreographed series of events, banderilleros pierce the bull’s neck with a pair of short sticks with iron barbs. The picadors enter on horseback with long lances they use to cut the animal’s spine at a precise point. The purpose is to bleed out the animal and limit his mobility. By the time the matador (literally, the “killer”) enters the ring, the bull is half-dead. Always color-blind, he’s now unable to see anything but movement a few feet directly in front of him, nor can he move his head side to side. It’s now (comparatively) safer for the matador to approach the bull, drop his cape and thrust his estoque (a slender rapier) through the bull’s neck, into its chest, with the intent to kill the animal. In essence, the bull is blind and stiff-necked.

Scripture is replete with censorious descriptions of the human condition as having a heart of stone (Eze. 36:26), flint (Zec. 7:12), or a forehead like emery (Eze. 3:9). Paul called the unregenerate heart darkened (Rom. 1:21) and given over to impurity, degrading passions, and a depraved mind (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). The idea is a portrait of obstinance and rebellion, really a kind of insanity. More than a childish temper tantrum, it conveys a resolute hardness that refuses to listen, learn, or yield, even to pure love.

Once we see how desperate our natural condition is – that we are wholly and willingly given over to our sins – only then can we begin to appreciate the wondrous majesty of God’s redeeming grace in Christ Jesus.

We really do deserve all that hell holds for us. We really have no claim on God for mercy. Yet, God, in purest mercy makes hell-deserving enemies alive in Christ Jesus. In a marvelous display of utter grace, Christ bore the just wrath of holy God in the place of those who deserved His wrath and imputes to them His perfect righteousness.

The very news of Jesus Christ, broken and risen again, redeeming hell-bound children of wrath divides humanity in the starkest terms imaginable. Those who love the Lord Jesus delight in absolute ecstasy to know the joy of the Lord and to sing His praises for His redeeming grace. Meanwhile, those who love their sins, mock and scoff at the name of Jesus, “always resisting the Holy Spirit.”

They are the ones who openly despise the name of Jesus, using it as a cussword. They bear no tolerance for those who dare to love the Name above every name. They long to eradicate the world of the pestilence they believe the church to be. They may even pretend to be religious simply because the appearance is good for business or serves a social function, but they unashamedly oppose the name of Jesus.

They will never, of their own accord, bow the knee to Jesus and proclaim Him Lord. Only by the redeeming work of God’s grace will any of us every acknowledge Christ as Lord in humble submission and worship.

Understanding that reality drives the believer’s worship to an even greater depth. In 1758, Robert Robinson penned the words:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for They courts above.

May we join in the chorus of praise to our great Redeemer.

By grace,
Chris

Defending Christ, 5

“Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is the footstool of My feet; What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘Or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?’” (Acts 7:44-50).

Stephen offered Abraham and Moses as living witnesses of God’s work of grace to redeem a people for His own possession. God appeared to Abraham, called him to Himself and promised to make a nation peculiar to God through Abraham. Then, God appeared to Moses, called him to Himself and sent him to deliver Israel into the land He’d promised to Abraham.

Here, Stephen called attention to the tabernacle and the temple, in which God dwelt among the whole nation of Israel. Since He is omnipresent, “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands.” The purpose for the two meeting places – one portable, as Israel traveled in the desert and one permanent, when Israel settled in Canaan – was not for God’s benefit, but for Israel’s. God condescended to a specific place in time so that His people could meet with Him.

God not only commanded Moses to erect a tabernacle, He gave him detailed instructions to build it exactly as God desired: “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it” (Ex. 25:9). The writer of Hebrews informs us that Moses’ tabernacle was a copy of the real tabernacle in heaven (Heb. 8:5).

It’s ironic that God commanded Moses to build a tent according to a specific design, and yet, God denied David the opportunity to build a permanent structure for God, when the king came up with the idea on his own. David never did build a temple for God, but God let Solomon do it.

It shouldn’t surprise us though. Ever since the fall, humanity has tried to improve on God’s creation and to better God’s ways. Unfortunately, not even churches can often escape the temptation to add to or trim off some of God’s Word. The so-called worship wars are little more than our asserting our own preferences and prejudices over against someone else’s. If God truly had a particular musical style in mind, He would’ve preserved it right along with the texts of Scripture and He would’ve commanded us to make His music.

How often do we try to make something for God that He doesn’t require? Should we expect God to be pleased because we thought of something that He hasn’t. Scripture has enough examples of the consequences of such inventions that we should lose all temptation to introduce strange fire into our worship assemblies. Every time we do, we get into trouble, and yet, churches build their calendars around Hallmark holidays, as if God delights to see us applauding different segments of the population instead of worshiping Him.

The point of all this is that God will not be worshiped as a mere idol, with the trappings of fallen humanity, but as God alone. We cannot recreate Him in our own image. We must approach Him as He is – infinitely holy, perfect in all His attributes, and sovereign over His creation. We come to Him on His terms, not ours, nor do we negotiate with Him. He is Lord.

Some people bristle at the idea of God’s sovereignty and holiness because they doubt His trustworthiness, but God is truly good because He is perfectly holy, and He is able to save completely because He is sovereign. He demonstrated His sovereignty and holiness when He appeared to Abraham and Moses and when He dwelt with Israel and when He became flesh and dwelt among us and whenever He redeems someone from bondage to sin.

By grace,

Chris

Defending Christ, 4

“This Moses whom they disowned, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.’ This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you. Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us; for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt – we do not know what happened to him.’ At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? ‘You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon’” (Acts 7:35-43).

God rarely uses a superstar to accomplish His purposes, ordaining, rather, to demonstrate the sufficiency of His grace by revealing His strength in the weakness of the vessels He chooses (2 Cor. 12:9). While He does use people of unusual talents and abilities, God often uses the foolish and the weak (by the world’s standards) to eliminate our tendency to boast (1 Cor. 1:26-29). He does so, “So that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5).

Isaiah lamented his own depravity when confronted with the absolute holiness of God (Isa. 6:5). Jeremiah protested God’s call to proclaim His Word, on the ground of his youth and inexperience (Jer. 1:6). Amos confessed that he was a simple shepherd and fig dresser (Amos 7:14).

In Moses’ case, God chose someone who was not a man of words, but was slow (lit. “heavy”) of speech and tongue (Ex. 4:10). He wasn’t witless, just not very articulate. He had no facility of elocution. Some writers have suggested that he may have spoken with a lisp or stuttered. Regardless, he wasn’t a strong oral communicator. So intimidated was he that God granted Aaron to speak on Moses’ behalf.

The pattern of choosing the least likely runs throughout the Scriptures. Prophets and apostles alike answered God’s call by reciting their many disqualifications. Each time, though, God reassured His chosen servants that He was able and would go with them. Their success in ministry resulted from God’s grace.

At every turn, the pattern emerges. God calls someone to Himself. His calling and closeness bring the weight of His glory on His elect, which devastates any pride in self in the presence and power of the infinitely holy God. Yet, God changes the hearts of His servants and equips them to carry out His purpose. All the while, God is glorified through their words – His words.

The fact that God calls certain ones to serve Him in special ways, doesn’t guarantee success, as people count success. Stephen stated, “Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.” Moses stood against a constant onslaught of rebellion and rejection from the people he’d led out of Egypt. They chose, according to their fallen nature, to return to slavery.

Despite the daily opposition that Moses faced, God worked to redeem a people for Himself – and He did. Even today, God works relentlessly to call people to Himself. By grace, Christ continues to build His church – and He is creating His perfect masterpiece using imperfect men and women – young and old, rich and poor, educated and unlearned, from every people and language and social group.

I pray that those who long to see the finished product – when Christ calls His people ultimately and finally into the kingdom of God’s glory – will be satisfied with the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose.

By grace,

Chris

Defending Christ, 3

“But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt, until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive. It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? ‘You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’ At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. But the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. ‘I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them; come now, and I will send you to Egypt.’” (Acts 7:17-34).

God patiently and consistently works to redeem His people. He ordained Egypt to enslave Israel precisely to reveal His power to save them by His grace alone. He led Israel into a desert where He showed them His power to supply their every need every day by His grace alone. Then, He gave them His law to teach them who He is and why salvation is by His grace alone.

Much is often made about Moses acting in his own strength when he killed the Egyptian and then tried to break up two fighting Jews. True, we shouldn’t seek to fulfill God’s will in our strength and wisdom, but the point here is that God was setting Moses apart unto Himself for His purpose long before Moses knew the Lord.

Has your heart ever stirred with an agitation that you couldn’t quite reach? It may have been your own conscience, or even a chili dog, but God moves and motivates His people in ways we often can’t see or comprehend. When God calls someone to Himself, there’s often an internal disquiet and an external tension from others who can’t understand. Not everyone shares the same discernment as the one God calls. Pharaoh’s injustice toward the Jews – and the Jews’ toward each other – troubled Moses greatly. No one knew what God was working into his heart, and he had to wait 40 more years for clarity to come – but it did come.

I used to work with people who were considering serving in international missions. Often, people would sense an indescribable anxiety. In time, clarity would come as they understood more of God’s providence. Finally, they’d have a definite sense of God’s purpose and go after Him.

In my own life, I’ve known the tension between the affirmation of those who recognized God’s leadership and the apathy, or even opposition, of those who didn’t get it. It’s an uncomfortable place to be in, but if God’s calling, clarity will come.

Minding His own business on the backside of the Midian desert, Moses met God, heard God, and understood God’s calling. God revealed Himself (“I AM”), His purpose (“I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them”), and His plan for Moses (“and I will send you to Egypt”).

Moses questioned God’s call, confessing his own limitations: “Who am I?” (Ex. 3:11). God answered Moses by confessing His own sufficiency: “Certainly I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12).

God depends on no one but Himself to accomplish His purpose. That reality should take the pressure off when God calls us to do something we’ve never done and are unqualified to do. The task may be difficult, even impossible for us, but God is able to do mighty things that we could never do on our own. Moses went, but God worked. Paul confessed, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6).

Faith works in God’s grace. Faith rests in God’s sufficiency. Faith is content in God’s supply.

By grace,

Chris

Defending Christ, 2

“The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household. Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all. And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem” (Acts 7:9-16).

The patriarchs were Jacob’s 11 sons, Joseph’s brothers, who sold him as a slave because they were jealous of him (Gen. 37, 39-47). Rather than recount the hardships and injustices that Joseph endured, Stephen emphasized God’s work through Joseph. God blessed him with Pharaoh’s favor and wisdom to govern. God used him to feed countless peoples through a devastating famine, especially Joseph’s own family.

At a time, and in a manner of Joseph’s choosing, he revealed himself to his brothers. Much the way God does in salvation. None of us recognize Christ as Lord until He reveals Himself to us:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27).

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:10-11).

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:25-26).

Many people say that God’s unfair not to save everyone. They ask, “Why doesn’t Christ just reveal Himself to everyone?” Underlying those sentiments are two presumptions: 1) Sin’s more of a weakness, a flaw, or a blemish, than an offense against holy God. People can’t really help themselves. After all, we’re only human. Sin isn’t an affront to God; it’s a mistake, a gaffe, a boo-boo. We shouldn’t have to pay for our sins against God, After all, we’re victims, not perpetrators. 2) God’s really unjust not to give everyone the same outcome all the time. He has no right to judge sins as He does. Never mind the fact that most people don’t believe, that is, they don’t love God and have no desire to worship or honor Him as God. God, somehow, owes them saving grace, even if they don’t want it. At most, God should only feel sorry us and want to help us out of the plight.

It’s a mistake to think that God owes us blessings. Scripture is very clear about what we deserve:

“The soul who sins will die” (Eze. 18:4).

“Although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32).

“The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

The bitterness of sin should make us recoil from it, but we don’t. We love our sin and are addicted to it. It’s only by God’s grace that any of us ever turn from the sin we love to love the God we hated. And yet, that’s precisely what Jesus accomplished. Like Joseph, He reveals Himself to His family, the church. He not only provides for our redemption, He redeems us. He not only makes our salvation possible, He saves us outright and utterly.

Joseph cast a shadow long ago of God’s redeeming grace that was later revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ. Today, we can look by faith into the light of His grace. Oh, for the day when we’ll see Him as He is.

By grace,

Chris

Defending Christ, 1

“The high priest said, ‘Are these things so?’ And he said, ‘Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, “Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.” Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his descendants after him. But God spoke to this effect, that his descendants would be aliens in a foreign land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. “And whatever nation to which they will be in bondage I Myself will judge,” said God, “and after that they will come out and serve Me in this place.” And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.” (Acts 7:1-8).

After bringing false witnesses to testify against Stephen, the high priest challenged him to answer the charges. Instead, Stephen answered by defending the Person and work of Christ. In his defense, Stephen recounted the work of God in Israel’s history, beginning with Abraham, the truth of which facts every Jew would acknowledge.

Stephen appealed to God’s glory, that is, His goodness. The root of Stephen’s word, translated as glory, is found in Luke’s explanation to Theophilus for writing his Gospel: “It seemed good” (KJV, ESV), or “fitting” (NAS), “to write an orderly account for you” (ESV). So, the God of glory is infinitely good.

God could have appeared to anyone, but in His perfect goodness, He appeared to Abraham. His appearance was based, not on any merit in Abraham, but solely on God’s own purpose. The point is not to belittle Abraham, but to confess God’s goodness and to give cause for gratitude to the people of God.

When God appeared, He called Abraham to leave his familiars “and come into the land that I will show you.” Turns out that Abraham’s father, Terah, had planned to go to Canaan (Israel), but settled in Haran (southern Turkey) (Gen. 11:31), which was precisely where God planned to take Abraham all along.

After Terah died, Abraham followed the Lord into Canaan, but God didn’t allow him to take possession of the land. Instead, He sent him into Egypt and blessed him there. God even gave Abraham circumcision as a sign of His covenant promise to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan.

Over time, though, Abraham’s descendants were enslaved. Four centuries are a long time to wait for God’s promise, but God is eternal and His purposes are perfect. None of the abuses that Israel endured in Egypt could undo God’s promise.

We tend to think that bad things discount God’s promises toward us, but they don’t. God keeps His words to His children. Satan would have us think, every time we’re caught at a long traffic light, that God’s dropped the ball, neglected His promises, and isn’t to be trusted. Yet, God goes right on, working His plan, fulfilling His promises, and keeping His word. Abraham and Sarah, that childless old couple, became the parents of Isaac, the grandparents of Jacob, and the great-grandparents of the twelve boys who would be called the patriarchs of Israel.

Stephen carefully began to weave an oral tapestry of God’s faithfulness to keep His promise to

Abraham. One can almost hear the High Council pause in their accusations and nod: “Well, okay. There’s no argument with Stephen’s presentation so far, but where’s he going with this? Why’s he bringing this up?

Stay tuned…

By grace,

Chris