His Hour Had Come

Embedded in the text of John’s gospel is a statement that is repeated to move the narrative forward to the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Sometimes it is spoken by Jesus, and sometimes by the apostle as he writes about Jesus. Several times the phrase “his hour had not yet come” (John 8:30) appears, until the time of his death, when he prayed, “Father, the hour has come” (John 17:1).

When, at a wedding feast, his mother hinted strongly that he do something when the wine ran out, Jesus replied, “Woman, why do you involve me?” His relationship to her had now changed. He had been publicly anointed for the work the Father had commissioned him to do and the hour of this death and glorification had “not yet come” (John 2:4). When he did respond to her request, it was because her appeal was less as a mother than as a believer. His answer showed her that their natural human relationship was subordinate to the will of God for him.

The same thing governed his answer to his brothers who suggested that he “leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret” (John 7:4). He refused to go as they suggested, seeking notoriety, because “My time is not yet here” (John 7:6, 8). When he did go to Jerusalem for the festival, it was for different reasons, and it was according to God’s timetable

When his religious detractors wanted to seize him by force and have him arrested for blasphemy, “no one laid a hand on him because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30, 8:20). They were powerless against him until the time came for him to give up his life.

When he went up to Jerusalem for the Passover at the beginning of the week he died, he predicted his death by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds” (John 12:23-24). This brings us to the final stage of John’s gospel and the mission of Jesus. “The hour” is filled with significance: Jesus’ death will lead to his glorification (Philippians 2:6-11)!

Then we hear the Lord Jesus praying with a troubled heart, reminding us of his prayers in the garden of Gethsemane. John  recalls the Lord asking, “What shall I say? Father save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name”  (John 12:27-28). What was it that prompted this prayer? No doubt it had to do with the weight of the world’s sin which would be laid upon him at Calvary (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When the Lord gathered his disciples in the upper room just before the observance of Passover festival, “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father” (John 13:1). The repetition of this theme in John’s gospel has been building to this climactic moment. Jesus now will prepare his disciples for life after he is gone from them. In John 13-16 he teaches them to serve one another, to love one another, and to rely on the coming Holy Spirit.

In the gospels there are twenty-one recorded prayers of Jesus. There is none more precious and beautiful  than the prayer he prayed for his disciples in John 17. In all of them but one (Matthew 27:46), he addresses God as his “Father” and he does so here: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1-2). His deepest concern is for the Father’s will to be done and that God may be glorified (“hallowed be thy name”). In saying “the hour has come” he is yielding to the will of the Father by dying on the cross for the sins of the world.

This key phrase, repeated in the gospel of John, is a foretelling of the purpose for which Jesus came: to fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation by dying and rising from the dead. Paul’s words prove true: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

Pierced for Our Transgressions

During these weeks before Good Friday and Easter I am asking readers to ponder the fulfillment of biblical prophecies related to the death of Jesus on the cross. John the apostle draws our attention to several Old Testament scriptures as he describes the crucifixion.

In John 19:34 he wrote, “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” In verse 37, John says this was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah which said, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John also referenced this prophecy when he described his vision of the risen and victorious Jesus in Revelation 1:7.)

If you study Zechariah 12:10 closely, you learn that the prophet foresaw Israel’s national deliverance in the last days. The physical restoration of his nation is dependent upon their spiritual renewal. He depicts the nation mourning in repentance over their sins. This is accompanied by a spiritual cleansing from sin (Zechariah 13:1).

In this remarkable prophecy the Messiah says, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced.” Messiah has been speaking throughout Zechariah’s prophecy. The New Testament teaches us that this is none other than the Lord Jesus. He is the one who will accomplish Israel’s final restoration as he ushers in his glorious earthly kingdom.

Charles Ryrie wrote, “At the second coming of Christ, Israel will recognize Jesus as her Messiah, acknowledging with deep contrition that He is the One whom their forefathers pierced.” This is what John had in mind when he recognized the partial fulfillment of Zechariah’s words in the sufferings of Jesus.

Jesus’ body was also pieced by nails. This too was prophesied. Psalm 22:16 says “They pierce my hands and my feet.” This graphic depiction of what happened at a crucifixion was written hundreds of years before crucifixion was invented as an instrument of execution.

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the Roman practice of crucifixion. In 1968 they discovered a heel bone pierced with an iron spike. It is the bone of a crucified man found in a Jerusalem ossuary, dating from the first century. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the Romans executed thousands of victims. It was an agonizing, torturous way to die.

One of the Lord’s disciples, Thomas, did not at first believe in Jesus’ resurrection. He said to the other disciples, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). A week later the Lord came among the disciples and gave Thomas an opportunity to do that very thing. When the skeptical Thomas saw the risen Lord he bowed in worship exclaiming, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This is how it will be at the second coming when Israel recognizes and worships King Jesus.

It is doubtful that Zechariah the prophet grasped the full significance of his words, or the use that a disciple of Messiah would make of them 500 years later (1 Peter 1:10-11). But he knew that he was being motivated and guided by a burden from God as he wrote.  He was prophesying the death of Jesus as Isaiah had done years before.

Isaiah’s words provoke reverence and gratitude. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). It was for our sins that Jesus died. He took our place and suffered the penalty we deserved to have to pay. We can only worship and love him for that.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Not a Bone Was Broken

“These things happened so that scripture would be fulfilled” (John 19:36).

Recently I was reading the story of a young astronomer, David Block, who was drawn to the idea of a personal Creator by the elegance, beauty and immensity of the universe. He became a Christian through the influence of friends who encouraged him to read the New Testament. He was intrigued by the fact that “Jesus had fulfilled all the messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures (where the Messiah would be born, how he was to die, and much else besides). . . . I knew that I had found him and that all I had to do was respond to his free offer of grace.”

Fulfilled prophecy is one of the convincing evidences that the Bible is God’s word. The predictions about Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, are remarkably precise. The New Testament frequently refers to prophecies written five hundred to a thousand years before the time of Jesus. He fulfilled them in detail.

Paul Little wrote, “One cannot deny the force of fulfilled prophecy as evidence of divine guidance. Furthermore, there are prophecies which could not possibly have been schemed and written after the events predicted.”

The apostle John was an eyewitness to fulfilled prophecy. He knew his Bible and he knew what was taking place before his eyes (John 19:35). He brought the two together when he wrote his gospel. In his account of our Lord’s crucifixion, he called attention to four details which he says were predicted in the Hebrew Bible: the soldiers gambling for Jesus’ clothes, the wine vinegar they gave him, the fact that his bones were not broken, and the fact that his body was pierced by nails and a spear.

In John 19:31-34 we may read how the executioners wanted to hasten the deaths of those who were being crucified with Jesus. They broke their legs so that they could not put their weight on them as they hung dying. In Jesus’ case, however, they found him already dead. To make sure, one of the soldiers thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, from which flowed blood and water. They did not break the bones in his legs! This fulfilled a prophecy found in Psalm 34:20, “He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” John quotes this in John 19:36.

This is significant because the lamb in the Hebrew Passover ritual was to be roasted, eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and the people were commanded not to break any of its bones (Numbers 9:12, Exodus 12:46). John the Baptist had declared that Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Paul wrote that Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). In his death on the cross, Jesus fulfilled the deeper meaning of the Jewish Passover sacrifice in exquisite detail.

John said he was writing these details of prophecy and fulfillment to help us believe in Jesus (John 19:35). These facts of history and scripture support and validate the claims of the Christian gospel. Read the gospel of John as if for the first time. John wrote, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

Another Prophecy Fulfilled

“Fulfilled” is a key word in John chapter 19. John the apostle repeats it several times to show his belief that the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) pointed forward to the sacrificial death of Jesus. In John 19 we have John’s eyewitness report of our Lord’s crucifixion. He takes pains to show that it fulfilled prophesies written hundreds of years before.

The Christian message is that the death of the Son of God removed the barrier of sin that separates us from a holy God. This makes possible our reconciliation with our Creator. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Peter wrote, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

John had in mind the writings of the ancient prophets as he reported the death and resurrection of Jesus. For example, Psalm 69:21 says, “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” John recalled this text when he wrote, “A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips” (John 19:29). He said this happened “so that scripture would be fulfilled” (John 19:28).

This was in response to Jesus’ plaintive cry, “I am thirsty.” The soldiers who had crucified the Lord gave him some of the cheap sour wine they had been drinking. Some historians believe this may have had an astringent effect that could contract the throat of the victim. Luke 23:36-37 indicates this drink was offered in mockery.

His intense thirst was predicted in the prophecies of the Bible. His anguished suffering is described in Psalm 22:15, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). “Finished” was a word used in biblical times to refer to the paying of a debt. The phrase “It is finished” means “paid in full.” The debt we owe to God for our sins has been fully paid by his beloved Son on behalf of those who believe in him.

The fact that Jesus “gave up his spirit” is consistent with his earlier word that he, as the Good Shepherd, would lay down his life for his sheep. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again,” Jesus said (John 10:18).

This should elicit a response of reverent awe. Even if the prophets did not fully grasp the implications of all that they wrote (1 Peter 1:10-12), their prophesies came true in minute detail, as we see here. God planned the sacrifice of his Son who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). Fulfilled prophecy means God keeps his word.

This should elicit a response of faith in Jesus as Savior, and obedience to him as Lord and Master. He suffered and died that we might live with him eternally. Shall we not live for him now? The One who said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37) suffered thirst on the cross as he died for our sins.

This should elicit a response of thankfulness. How long has it been since you thanked the Lord Jesus for what he endured in death so that you might receive the gracious gift of life eternal?

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Gambling for a Seamless Tunic

During these weeks leading up to Good Friday, I am writing about the apostle John’s references to fulfilled prophecy. John points to several details about our Lord’s crucifixion which were prophesied in the Old Testament.

Of course anti-Christian antagonists deny this. I remember the publication of a controversial book by Hugh Schonfield in the mid-1960s. In The Passover Plot the author claimed that Jesus was a fanatical genius who thought himself to be the Jews’ Messiah. He brilliantly and subtly organized his ministry to make it appear that everything he did was a fulfillment of biblical prophecies.

According to Schonfield, this involved a plot to fake his own death. He included his disciples in this audacious strategy. They conspired with him to try to make it appear that he had died on the cross and to contrive an artificial “resurrection.” According to Schonfield, Jesus did not claim to be the divine Son of God, and he did not rise from the dead. He was merely a mortal man who believed himself to be the Messiah. His supposed death and resurrection were to bring about the launch of his reign as king of the Jews.

There are too many problems with this far-fetched theory to answer them all. One of the most obvious is how a group of uneducated Galileans could have persuaded Jesus’ enemies to go along with such an elaborate scheme. The powerful religious leaders of Israel were the very ones who wanted him dead and who turned him over to the Roman authorities!

John, in fact, was writing as an eyewitness to the events he described in his gospel. He was present at the crucifixion of Jesus, along with the Lord’s mother and a few other faithful women. What he wrote has the ring of truth. He recognized that these events fulfilled what the ancient Hebrew scriptures had prophesied.

He personally witnessed what he described in John 19:23-24: “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.'”

Then John adds this telling word: “This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, ‘They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’ So this is what the soldiers did.”

Are we to believe that the dying Jesus would have contrived in advance for his Roman torturers to gamble for his clothing? These were people who had no knowledge of the prediction of this event in Psalm 22:18. They had no idea they were fulfilling a prophecy written hundreds of years before. Their actions showed contempt for the dying prisoner, not cooperation with his followers.

Psalm 22 is one of several Messianic psalms. It is the psalm which is quoted the most in the New Testament. It’s author is probably King David who was a prophet as well as a poet. The psalm begins with words Jesus spoke from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 1, Matthew 27:46). Surely one cannot read the opening words of Psalm 22 without thinking of Jesus.

This psalm, in verses 14-16, prophetically describes crucifixion. This was unknown as a method of execution at the time it was written. It graphically pictures a dying man who is being shamed by mocking, tortured by thirst and asphyxiation, an object of horror to all who look on his emaciated frame and nail-pierced hands and feet. Yet unlike other psalms, this one contains no prayer for retribution or confession of sins by its speaker, facts which align with the Lord’s righteous character and forgiving spirit.

Three spiritual lessons have been advanced based upon John’s citation of Psalm 22:18. First, fulfilled prophecy is evidence for the truth-claims of Christianity. No false pretender could have devised a plot which involved controlling other people’s reactions. The betrayal, false accusations, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus were all prophesied in scripture and were carried out by hostile actors, not co-conspirators. This includes the precise detail about his clothing being taken by the executioners. This happened as prophesied in Psalm 22:18, according to the apostle John.

Second, in dying on the cross for the salvation of sinners, Jesus endured public humiliation. E.A. Blum has written, “That Jesus died naked was part of the shame which he bore for our sins. At the same time He is the last Adam who provides clothes of righteousness for sinners.”

Third, The seamless tunic which the soldiers valued may have been the type of garment worn by the high priests of Israel. If this is true it suggests the priestly ministry of our Lord on behalf of his people as he now prays for us continually as our defender, advocate and friend at the Father’s right hand (1 John 2:1-2; John 17:20).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Jesus Predicted his Death

We have entered the season of the year when Christians worldwide call special attention to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We make preparations to observe Good Friday and Easter. In keeping with this tradition, for the next several weeks I intend to write on the apostle John’s use of the word “fulfilled,” in chapters 18 and 19. John wants his readers to remember that Jesus’ death was planned and purposeful.

For example, John 18:32 says, “This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.” What had Jesus said about his death? John records several statements of our Lord in which he explicitly predicted the purpose and manner of his impending death.

In his famous dialogue with the Jewish scholar Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14). “Son of Man” was Jesus favorite term for himself. It denotes both his humanity (Numbers 23:19) and his messiahship (Daniel 7:13-14). “Lifted up,” in this context, signifies hoisting up on a stake, or a pole, or, as John intends for us to conclude, on a cross. The snake incident was an Old Testament event which Jesus used to illustrate  and foretell the death by which he would die (Numbers 21).

Jesus went further in John 8:28. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” Jesus was not merely hinting about his death, he was explaining the manner of his death. He would be “lifted up,” a term that could also mean “exalted.” Not only was his death an agonizing public execution, but it was the first stage of his ultimate exaltation and return to the Father’s glory (Philippians 2:9).

In addition, Jesus foretold his crucifixion in John 12:32-34. “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” The lifting up of Jesus was his crucifixion. He is saying that his death will be for all kinds of people, without regard to nationality, race, social or economic status. It is significant that when Jesus said this he was in the presence of Gentiles (v. 20).

It was with these words, and others, that our Lord indicated the kind of death that he was going to die. These words were fulfilled in exacting detail. What does this mean?

For one thing, this is a demonstration of his divine nature. He foretold and fulfilled, the future, his own future, as only the Son of God would be able to do. In the same passage (John 10) where he claimed “I and the Father are one,” (v. 30), he also foretold his own death (v. 15) and resurrection (v. 17). “This command I received from my Father” (v. 18). For this, his opponents resolved to try to do away with him, because he was claiming to be God (vv. 31-33).

Also, his “lifting up” was necessary in order for him to fulfill his purpose in coming to earth. This term fulfills the prophecy of Psalm 22, an Old Testament description of crucifixion. But, going deeper, it means that he would die the death of an accursed one. Jesus did not die by the normal Jewish method of execution, stoning. He died as he had said he would, by being “lifted up.” In this way, “Christ delivered us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole'” (Galatians 3:13, Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Jesus died on the cross as an innocent sacrifice to bear the curse of the law in the place of sinful people. This was the plan of God  to provide salvation for those who will believe.

A final thing, people cannot understand the message of the cross without the convincing ministry of the Spirit of God. The very idea of one who claimed to be the Jews’ Messiah, being lifted up to be crucified as a criminal, was utter foolishness to Gentiles. It was a massive stumbling block to Jews. People whose reliance is on the mere wisdom of the world, will not be able, Paul said, to perceive the higher wisdom of the cross.

He wrote, “For since in the wisdom  of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” ( 1 Corinthians 1:21). What seems like foolishness to unaided human wisdom is really the powerful logic of God’s salvation! “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Saved! It is possible to be saved from eternal judgment! This is the message of the cross. This is why Jesus was lifted up on the cross and why he talked so much about it. He wants us to be saved. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Yes, you. My appeal is to you. Believe in him.

It is for this reason that the cross is to be the main theme of Christian preaching and worship. “For I resolved to know nothing among you . . . except Jesus Christ and him crucified” ( 1 Corinthians 2:2). This is why we rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to make this message plain to people. “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

This is the reason Jesus repeatedly called attention to the kind of death he was going to die. And he kept his word. He was lifted up on the cross. It was for sinners like us.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Is Sleep Over-rated?

From my boyhood I fondly remember hearing Bing Crosby sing over the radio: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep/ I count my blessings instead of sheep/ And I fall asleep counting my blessings./ When my bankroll is getting small/ I think of when I had none at all/ And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment and advice worth following. We should always remember where our blessings come from and thank God for them. But is that a sure cure for insomnia?

Medical professionals remind us of the importance of sleep to our health. We are told that good sleep improves brain power, concentration, blood pressure, heart health, the immune system, weight control, and athletic performance, among other benefits. That’s great. But what if we have trouble sleeping?

I was reading the psalms recently when I was reminded of a theme that is repeated several times. Some of the writers of psalms apparently had trouble sleeping. But instead of complaining or looking for a remedy, they used insomnia as a call to prayer.

I am not the first to notice this biblical trend. If you do an internet search of insomnia and prayer you will find plenty of folks who have discovered that sometimes God calls us to fellowship with him in the silent, solitary hours of the night. They are learning from David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, and other anonymous writers that there are times when sleep may be over-rated.

Instead of expressing frustration, these inspired hymnwriters yielded themselves to God in prayer. And it does not seem that they were thinking of prayer as a solution to the problem of sleeplessness. In fact, they did not seem to think of it as a problem at all. It was rather, an invitation.

I made a list of references. Here are some things I have been learning about meeting with God when sleep is elusive.

1. God invites us to think about him and to praise him. “On my bed I remember you and think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6). “In the night I remember your name O Lord.” . . . “I rise to give you thanks” (Psalm 119:55, 62).

2. God invites us to examine ourselves and to open our hearts to him. “When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent” (Psalm 4:4). “Even at night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7). “You probe my heart and examine me at night” (Psalm 17:3).

3. God invites us to call out to him when we are saddened by troubles. “My tears have been my food day and night” (Psalm 42:3). “All night long I flood my bed with weeping.” . . .  “The Lord has heard my weeping” (Psalm 6: 6, 8). “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

4. God invites us to sing to him (maybe silently, in our minds, remembering hymns and songs of praise). “I remembered my songs in the night” (Psalm 77:6). “Let the saints sing for joy upon their beds” (Psalm 149:5).

5. God invites us to review his promises we have memorized. “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night that I may meditate on your promises” (Psalm 119:148).

All this is not to discount the value of a good night’s sleep. The Lord knows we need it. An afternoon nap is appealing as well. (This is one of the things I enjoy about retirement!) Sleep aids are sometimes the only way for us to get the refreshing sleep we need. Personally, I am thankful for Melatonin.

But there is a spiritual dimension to this issue too. It seems there are times and seasons when our heavenly Father is calling us to pray instead of sleep. Did not our Lord Jesus give us an example when he sought solitude to pray all night? Occasionally, or more often,  this may be God’s invitation to draw closer to him.

Then, in God’s mercy, there will also be those delicious times when we can say with King David, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Prayer and Providence

The twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis is the beautiful story of Abraham sending his servant to his homeland to find a bride for his son Isaac. It is full of fascinating cultural allusions, unique to the ancient near east, such features as a solemn vow, a caravan of camels, a town well, gifts of gold and a beautiful maiden.

The story is rich in spiritual symbolism. For a long time preachers have noticed the similarity of the events described here with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whom God the Father sends forth to find a bride (the church) for his Son.

There are also practical lessons for Christian young people about the sanctity of marriage. It is a holy institution, important to God. There is much here to inform our understanding about preparation for marriage. But I am not writing today about marriage, or the church, or ancient history. I want to focus on the theme of Divine Providence and the believer’s dependence on the guidance of God.

I encourage you to pause now and read Genesis 24 in its entirety. Read it slowly and prayerfully because “everything that was written in the past (the Old Testament) was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15;4).

Abraham had prospered in his new land but he did not want his son to take a bride from the among the Canaanites. They did not worship the living “God of heaven and earth” (v.3). So he appointed his trusted servant to go to the Aramean town of Nahor where Abraham’s relatives lived. When the servant arrived, with his caravan of ten camels, he stopped at the town well.

He boldly prayed for a sign from God. There were several young women from the town coming to draw water from the well. How was he to know which of them might be the one God had singled out for Isaac? If you read the passage you know the answer. He prayed that when he asked a maiden for a drink of water, she would volunteer to water his camels also! That would be the sign that she was the one God had chosen.

Throughout the journey, the servant had been praying (v.12). He had surely embraced the faith of Abraham who had promised that God’s angel would guide him on his journey (v.7). May we pray for success and guidance from God? Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Before he finished praying (v.45), Rebekah appeared. Her actions and responses matched exactly his requests for a sign. He told her his story and the purpose of his journey. He gave her gifts of gold and asked for hospitality at her father’s home, the very family home he was seeking. This is Providence, not coincidence. There he received elaborate eastern hospitality.

The servant would not join the feast until he had explained everything to Rebekah’s family. He quoted Abraham’s promise to him: “The Lord, before whom I have walked . . . will make your journey a success” (v.40). He told how God had led him “on the right road” (v.48), to the right family, at exactly the right time. Rebekah’s father and brother could not deny that “this is from the Lord” and “the Lord has directed” (vv. 50-51). Abraham’s servant bowed prostrate before the Lord in worship, grateful for answered prayer.

After receiving more gifts from the servant, the family asked Rebekah if she was willing to go and marry Isaac. “I will go,” she said (v. 58). She evidently recognized the leading of God in this matter, as her family had done. Here is one more attractive characteristic of the young woman. In addition to her courtesy and energetic work for the stranger, she gave evidence of faith in God. If God was in this, she was prepared to agree with his will. It has been said that this response to God’s leading puts her directly in the line of Abraham, the father of the faithful.

This story speaks to me about trusting God for daily guidance. I need to “commit to the Lord whatever I do” and trust him for the right outcomes. It speaks to me about prayer. I may pray silently (v. 45) and privately, or in the presence of others (v.52). But for sure, my days should be punctuated by prayer, just as each step of the servant’s journey was saturated in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer brings our plans in line with God’s Providence.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

“What is Truth?”

It has been said that we live in a post-truth world. If so, it represents the influence of postmodernism, a cultural shift away from reason, certainty, and absolute truth. Postmodernism sees truth-claims as tools used by those in power to control other people. This mood is expressed in statements like, “I cannot say with certainty that something is true. All I can claim is that this is my point of view. What is true for me may or may not be true for you.”

This denies the validity of any universal story or narrative that claims to explain the meaning of life. History is meaningless except for the meaning individuals impose upon it. In religion, all truth claims are said to be equally valid. The only belief that is not tolerated is intolerance.

In politics,  misinformation and propaganda get spread around through social media until they become the “truth” that consumers choose to believe. These “alternative facts” reinforce fear, prejudice and outright hatred toward political opponents. As we have seen recently in our nation’s capitol, this sometimes leads to political violence and domestic terrorism.

Another expression of the postmodern view is, “You  create your own truth.” It is like going to an art gallery. People see in the art what they want to see. “That’s just your interpretation” is another favorite cliche. It is often trotted out whenever the Bible’s standards of morality are presented to challenge people’s conduct. This can become an easy diversion from having to face the implications of belief.

A skeptic said to his Christian friend, “What you Christians say about Jesus being the only way to God, well, that’s just your interpretation.” His friend opened the Bible to Acts 4:12 and asked him to read it aloud:
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The Christian said, “I understand that to mean that Jesus is the one by whom we must be saved. How do you understand it?” His friend squirmed a bit. Realizing the weakness of his “interpretation” argument, he got up and walked away without a word.

It was in a world like ours that the apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy. Timothy lived in Ephesus, a marketplace of competing religious ideas and philosophies. It is refreshing to read Paul’s straightforward comments about truth. Truth is absolute, knowable, and trustworthy. It is centered in Jesus. It is to be safeguarded and proclaimed by the church.

“I am writing you these instructions so that if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He (Jesus) appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:14-16).

Among other things, Paul was describing the church as a family. Believers in Jesus are children of God, and the church is said to be his household on earth. The church will be at its best when it looks and feels less like an institution and more like a family, This adds to its credibility in proclaiming truth in a postmodern environment.

The philosophical ambiguity of postmodernism leads to instability. Uncertainty prevails. Institutions are unreliable, leaders cannot be trusted, marriages are impermanent, morality is negotiable and God is whoever or whatever we make of him or her. Paul flatly contradicts this. “The church of the living God” he says, is to be like a supportive pillar and foundation for the truth. These metaphors imply strength and certainty.

Then Paul composed or quoted a hymn to Jesus which is a wonderful creedal statement. “Beyond all question” is another way of saying that these truths are beyond dispute, universally acknowledged by all believers. The gospel is “great,” of sublime importance. These transcendent truths about Jesus are the common confession of the universal church.

“He appeared in the flesh” means that Jesus lived and died in a physical body. In his flesh he suffered on a cross to pay for our sins. He “was vindicated by the Spirit” most likely refers to his bodily resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).

He “was seen by angels” is possibly a reference to our Lord’s ascension and exaltation in the heavenly realm where he now ministers to the church as our great high priest and intercessor (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1-2).

He is being “preached among the nations” and believed on throughout the world. This means that his gospel is universally relevant in all cultures and nationalities. This contradicts the denials of postmodernism which say there is no such thing as an over-arching meta-narrative which is an absolute and final explanation of reality.

The Bible says that there is such an explanation of reality. It is not truth as I personally interpret it, or as I wish it to be. It is not one truth among many equally valid options. It is what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth,” the “truth that is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).

This takes us out of the realm of propaganda and philosophy and lifts us to the higher realm of God’s eternal truth. Consider the following implications.

First, truth may be known and experienced. Truth was “revealed in the flesh.” Pilate may ask, “What is truth?” Truth was standing right in front of him! Pilate may crucify truth, but truth will be vindicated when Jesus rises from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. These historical facts validate Jesus’ claim, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).

Second, truth is universal. It is not a mere sociological construct. It is equally valid for East and West, South and North. The gospel has the same power to save in Asia as it does in Africa. It is proclaimed throughout all nations of the world.

Third, the truth is to be believed. Jesus said that God’s word is truth (John 17:17). It is God’s grand narrative, the story of his mighty interventions in human history and his plan to claim a people for himself. It reveals the undeniable divine wisdom in the man Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus told Pilate at his trial, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

Paul’s great hymn is an invitation to you to enjoy the stability and clarity of God’s truth as you live in the uncertainty of postmodern times.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Who’s Behind It All?

Distressing images of last week’s riots in Washington are still appearing in the news media. Investigators are seeking those involved in the violence, destruction of property and desecration of the halls of congress. News analysts are studying the effects of these events on preparations for next week’s presidential inauguration.

If your reaction was like mine, you possibly felt some combination of shock, dismay, anger, embarrassment and profound concern for our nation. How could this happen? Who or what is behind the mayhem, hate-filled rhetoric, criminal sedition and murder we witnessed in our nation’s capitol?

Without excusing politicians, terrorists or social media platforms, all of whom bear some responsibility, I want to call to your attention the role of what the New Testament calls “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The Bible teaches explicitly that there are sinister supernatural powers at work. They influence events in the material world. Jesus and his apostles, as well as the prophets of the Old Testament taught that these powers are real, not imaginary.

It is these spiritual powers who influence nations to go to war. They instigate genocide, terrorism, assassinations, as well as the spreading of disinformation, racial hatred and all kinds of moral confusion. Where you see these things, you see the work of the father of lies and his evil minions (John 8:40-44, 2 Chronicles 18:21).

The world’s problems are mainly spiritual, not political. God has ordained good governments as human institutions for the protection of citizens and retribution against evildoers (Romans 13::1). But when the leaders of those governments are not subject to the will of God, they leave themselves vulnerable to the dangerous influence of the powers of darkness.

That is why, over and over, scripture tells believers that our ultimate hope for security is not in our economic prosperity (Psalm 49:5-7), not in military might (Psalms 33:16-17, 44:6, 147:10), or in human rulers (Psalm 118:8-9,  146:3).

The prophet Daniel illustrates this. He had been mourning and praying for his nation for three weeks (Daniel 10:2-3). The Lord sent a radiant heavenly messenger (angel) to give him insight as to what was to come in the future. Without trying to discuss everything in this amazing passage, let me highlight just one fact: the angel had been engaged in combat with another spiritual power in the heavens for three weeks! This apparent spiritual warfare was going on in the invisible world. Even though he did not know it, Daniel’s prayers had something to do with the outcome. The angel told him, “Your words were heard and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12).

Then the angel told Daniel, “But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” (Daniel 10:13-14).

“Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come. … No one supports me against them except Michael your prince” (Daniel 10:20-21). Biblical scholars agree that the “princes” referred to here are supernatural beings, not humans. They seem to hold sway over human rulers who submit to the lust for raw power and conquest. Michael is said to engage them in warfare, defending God’s people and advancing God’s purposes.

Michael is the archangel who protects the people of God (Daniel 12:1).  Jude 9  and Revelation 12:7 say Michael engages in conflict with the devil. Daniel 10:13 indicates that Michael is “one of the chief princes.” The New Testament says this high-ranking archangel will accompany Jesus when he comes again (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The unseen powers of evil also exist in ranks of greater and lesser authority under “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (1 Corinthians 2:6,8, Ephesians 2;2). There are other terms for them: rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, spiritual forces of evil, thrones and dominions (Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 1:16).

Many Bible scholars believe these powers, under the leadership of “the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the world astray” (Revelation 12:9) seek to influence human rulers and governments in the various geographical regions of the world. (If you care to read more on this subject, consult the writings of Mark Bubeck, Merrill F. Unger, and Michael S. Heiser.)

The clear message of the Bible is that our main strategy in this spiritual warfare is not reliance upon mere human power and political influence, but on the power of prayer. We are called to pray in the name of the One who has, by his death on the cross and his victorious resurrection “disarmed the powers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15). He is now seated at God’s right hand “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked” (Ephesians 1:20-21).

Daniel modeled this for us. We would do well to follow his example of  humble prayer for our nation, as Daniel prayed for his. It is comforting to read that God gave Daniel the assurance that his prayer was heard. God gave him courage to face the international disruptions of his time. God gave him spiritual strength. God gave him peace to replace his anguish of mind. God assured him of his love. Imagine, having God’s angel tell you that you are “highly esteemed” in heaven (Daniel 10:12-19)!

In addition, God gave him understanding of his time, and of what would happen to his people in the future (Daniel 10:14).  God has done the same for us. The prophetic scriptures assure us that our sovereign God holds the future in his hand. The day will come when he will deal in judgment with “the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below” (Isaiah 24:21).

Pastor Randy Faulkner