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Saturday, June 21, 2014

When Is Jesus Christ Coming Again?

When Is Jesus Christ Coming Again?

Matthew 24



A few days before the religious leaders arrested Jesus and put Him to death, Jesus gathered his disciples together on the Mount of Olives to tell them again (He had already tried to tell them) that he would soon have to die.  There were so many things Jesus wanted to share with his disciples but these men weren’t always able to hear what Jesus was trying to say.  And even though Jesus tried to tell them that He would be put to death and then rise from the dead, these followers of Jesus just didn’t understand.  I wonder if we aren’t like that too.  But Jesus kept trying to get through to them.  And He promised that He would send his Holy Spirit to continue helping us understand.


As Jesus was sharing and talking with his disciples, they asked Him to tell them when the end of the age would come and what would be the sign of His coming?  They knew that Jesus had promised that He would come again, so they wanted to know when it would be. 


Jesus answered them: “Both of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, or the Son, but only the Father.  Take heed, watch and pray: for you do not know when the time is.”  (Mark 13:32-33)  How many times have we heard various religious leaders say that they know the very day that the end will come?  Jesus clearly tells us that nobody can say when that day will be or exactly when Jesus will come again.


 We can see certain signs or hints that His coming is getting near, Jesus tells them.  (Matthew 13:32)  Before He comes again there will be wars and rumors of wars, and widespread famine, and disease and earthquakes in many different places.  (Matt. 24:6 and 7)  Jesus also predicted that before his return there would be an apostasy, or a falling away of believers from the Christian faith.  Many believers will grow cold in their faith and also in their love.  (Matt. 24:12)  And faithful Christians will be persecuted.


While they were discussing what would happen in the future, Jesus pointed to the beautiful temple in Jerusalem.  The Jewish temple was a magnificent building with huge limestone blocks adorned with golden ornamentation.  Every Jewish person was very proud of their temple.  But Jesus told his disciples that their temple would be destroyed.  He said: “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”  (Matthew 24:2)  Just as Jesus prophesied, the temple in Jerusalem was indeed destroyed in 70 A.D. and the Jewish people were led away into captivity and scattered into every nation!  And the nation of Israel disappeared from off the earth for nearly 2,000 years!   


Jesus uses the tragic events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem as a picture of conditions preceding His own return.  Many prophecies can be found in Scripture promising that the nation of Israel would eventually be restored before Jesus comes again.  But after nearly 2,000 years of wandering the earth many Jewish people had given up hoping that they would ever have a nation again.  An impossible dream!  But then amazingly, in 1948 the new state of Israel was established!


 Only God could have gathered many of the Jewish people back to their land and put them together again as a nation!  The miraculous restoration of the Jewish people back into their own country after nearly 2,000 years of wandering throughout the whole world had been foretold in Scripture and is a sign that the end of the Gentile world power is near.  (Luke 21:24) 


Jesus continues talking about what will happen before He comes back.  He tells his disciples: “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark.  And they did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”  (Matthew 24:37-42)


Jesus says that the time when He comes back again will be like the days when Noah was living.  The days of Noah closed an era with judgment, and Christ’s return will also close an era in judgment. Noah’s day before the flood was a time of great wickedness. (Genesis 6)  And the days before Christ’s return will also be a time of great wickedness.  In Noah’s day the flood took away all of the wicked people so that only the righteous were left to inherit the earth.  And likewise when Jesus returns the wicked people will again be taken away and only the righteous will be left to inherit the kingdom of God.   


Jesus went on to tell the disciples that before He comes again little false christs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders and deceive a lot of people into thinking that they are the real Christ.  But Jesus said that when He returns everyone will know that He has come and they won’t have to guess.  “As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”  (Matthew 24:27) 


Jesus describes his coming this way: “… the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light: the stars will fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heavens, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  (Matthew 24:29b-31) 


Jesus tells the disciples that the gospel will be preached to every group of people and every country in the world before He returns again.  (Matthew 24:14)  Even though during the end time there will be religious deception and social evils, political problems and natural calamities, disloyalties and persecution, still Jesus’ followers are to keep on loving one another and spreading the Christian faith and giving to the poor.  It won’t be easy.  Jesus links the worldwide witness of the gospel to His Second Coming. 


In a time of indifference and carelessness the Lord will appear with startling suddenness.  Jesus said that some will be taken to meet Him, while others will be left.  Jesus told his disciples: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”  (Matthew 24:42)  While we wait for our Lord’s return, let us remain honest and truthful and loving and faithful.  And let’s continue spreading the gospel.  He is there for us so let us be there for Him. 



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jesus Came unto His Own but His Own did not Receive Him


He Came unto His Own but His Own did not Receive Him

Matthew 21:28-22:14




A few days before Jesus died on the cross He told the people more stories and parables.  And this time Jesus told stories that were not mainly about God’s love and blessing towards his people but stories that were about God’s anger and judgment and about God taking away his blessings from his people.  These are difficult stories to read and I didn’t want to include them in my blog, but of course I have to.  There are some preachers today who only tell the nice happy stories in the Bible and leave these dark mysterious stories alone. 


But we must read all of God’s Word!  The words of love and grace and the words of warning and judgment.  The words we understand and the words we don’t.  Take in the whole counsel of God.  And the same Bible that tells us that our God is a God of love and mercy also tells us that our God is a God of justice and judgment. 


God loves everyone and wants to forgive every person on earth.  God wants all of his wandering children to come home to Him.  But God doesn’t make everyone come to Him or force everyone to love Him!  Never!  God’s children can refuse to accept His gift of forgiveness and love.  We can reject God and refuse to speak to Him.  And when we cut Him off long enough our actions will have consequences!


In speaking about Jesus Christ the Scriptures say: “He came unto his own, and his own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the children of God, to those who believe in his name.”  (John 1:11-12)  Jesus came first to his own people, the Jewish people.  Scripture says: “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)         


Once during Jesus’ ministry a non-Jewish woman comes to Jesus and begs him to heal her sick child.  But when she first asks, Jesus ignores her request!  Finally He explains to her why He had ignored her.  He tells her that the food should be given to the children and not to the dogs – meaning that Jesus’ gift of salvation and his healing miracles (the food) were meant first for the “children” (the Jewish people) who believed in God and not for the “dogs” (the non-Jewish people who were idol worshippers).


  But then the Gentile (non-Jewish) woman keeps begging Jesus and finally she tells Jesus that even the dogs eat the scraps that are dropped under the table by the children while they are eating.  At this Jesus is so moved by this humble woman that He heals her daughter and commends her for her faith.  This story illustrates how Jesus’ gifts were meant to be given to the Jewish people first before any non-Jew at that time.  The time for the Gentiles to be included in salvation and blessings had not come then, and that is why Jesus put the non-Jewish woman off at first.  These things are God’s mysteries that we can only wonder about.   


When Jesus’ gift of salvation was not received by the Jewish religious leaders of his generation and also with many of the Jewish people, it was finally time for this precious gift of salvation that Jesus brought to be shared with non-Jews as well. And Jesus’ parables that He tells to the religious leaders gets this point across.


 Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast begins with the king inviting his very closest friends and relatives (the Jewish people) to this special wedding feast for his son.  Many fine dinner preparations are made but the relatives and friends of the king make fun of the king’s invitation and don’t bother to answer him as to whether they will be attending.  Several of the king’s relatives harm the king’s servants who come with the invitations and others even kill some of the servants delivering the invitations. 


The king is angry and hurt that his own loved ones and family have treated him badly and he sends out his armies to destroy some of them.  Then he tells his servants to go out into the highways and invite as many people as they can find both bad and good so that the wedding halls will be filled with guests feasting and celebrating his son’s wedding.  The story ends with the king arriving and looking around at all of the guests enjoying his lavish wedding party.  The king is pleased; however one man is not wearing a wedding garment.  (The king had given each guest a special garment to wear to the wedding.)  So Jesus’ story ends with this man who is not wearing the correct attire being thrown out of the wedding party.  (Matthew 22:1-14) 


Of course the king’s beloved relatives who were given their invitations first and refused  were the children of Israel, God’s people.  In antiquity the nation of Israel had learned to worship God alone while all of the other nations were heathens sacrificing to idols.  So the king in the story (God) invites his people (Israel) to the wedding for his son – (offers them salvation through his Son, Jesus and eternal life in his kingdom) .But many of the king’s relatives and close friends ignore his invitation and the king is angry and deeply hurt.


 A lavish dinner (spiritual blessings) has been prepared and a gala party is to be given but there are no guests to come and enjoy.  The upset king sends his servants into the highways (Matt.21:8-9) to invite everyone- the rich and the poor, the good and the bad -to receive his gift of salvation.  (Evangelization of the Gentiles or non-Jews)  But when a wedding guest tries to slip into the wedding but does not bother to wear the proper clothing, he is thrown out. (Jesus takes away our sins and clothes us with his righteousness.  We cannot enter heaven on our own strength – wearing our own dirty clothes. We must be clothed in the righteousness of our Savior.  Our own righteousness (our dirty clothes) is not appropriate for the kingdom wedding and not good enough!    


The second parable Jesus tells is similar to this first one and has a similar meaning I believe. - The Parable of the Wicked Vinedresser. (Matthew 21:33-41)  The story goes that the owner of a vineyard goes on a long trip and leaves his vineyard in the care of renters who are supposed to care for the vineyard and live off of it.  Each year the owner will send his servants to the vineyard to see how it is doing and to collect the owner’s share of the yearly crop. (or the rent)  But each year when the owners’ servants travel back to the vineyard to collect his share of the fruits from the yearly crop they are beaten up by the renters and the owner of the vineyard never receives his share of the grapes that were grown on his land.


 Finally the owner sends his son to collect the rent.  “Surely, my renters will respect my son and give him my part of the fruit from the crop,” he thinks.  But instead, when the renters see the son coming down the road they decide to kill him!  They reason that since the son will inherit the vineyard from the owner that if they kill him they can take over the vineyard.  So the scheming renters ambush the son and kill him!  When word gets back to the owner he is terribly grieved and angry and sends his soldiers to throw the murdering renters out of his property.  And then the owner rents his vineyard out to new people. Jesus was saying that the new tenants (everyone who accepts Christ) would enjoy the king’s lush vineyard now ands the original tenants (the Jewish nation) would lose their favored spot in the vineyard because they rejected the son.   


Jesus tells another story about the “Cornerstone”.(Matthew 21:42-44)   He starts out by reading this Scripture: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” (Psalm 118:22)   And concerning this “stone” Jesus says: “Whoever falls on this stone will be broken: but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”  (Matthew 21:44)  Jesus is the Cornerstone in the story.  (Ephesians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 3:11 and Acts. 4:11)  He was talking about Himself.  Jesus, the Cornerstone holds up everything and his church is built upon Him.  We believers are called “living stones”.  Jesus is telling the religious leaders that they have rejected the very stone that is the chief cornerstone.  And then Jesus warns that rejecting this stone that holds everything in place (rejecting Jesus) has consequences.  Smaller stones can be broken or ground to powder if the builder disregards the Cornerstone by not putting these stones in their right place.


These stories of Jesus teach that after He was rejected by his own people, the Gentiles – and many Jews too, were to have their time where they were to become the Church through Jesus Christ.  (Romans 11 and 12)  The Jewish nation had their special time and now it seems to be the Gentile’s turn. 


But Scripture also teaches that the whole nation of Israel will once again be brought to Jesus and will acknowledge him as their Messiah and Savior at the close of the time of the Gentile prominence. (Romans 11:25)  We cannot understand these mysteries of God, but God would not be God if we could understand everything He does.  But we can trust that God who knows the beginning from the end and has created everything and is just and all knowing and merciful and loving knows what He is doing.  And His plans for all of his children are past finding out.    





















Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jesus Enters Jerusalem as a King and Cleanses the Temple

Jesus Enters Jerusalem as a King and Cleanses the Temple

Matthew 21




One of the many prophecies in the Bible concerning Israel’s promised Messiah is a passage foretelling that the Messiah would come into Jerusalem as a king bringing salvation and humbly riding on a donkey.  This prophecy was given by the prophet Zechariah in around 520 B.C.  And it reads: “Rejoice greatly, O daughters of Jerusalem!  Behold, your King is coming to you.  He is just and bringing salvation.  Lowly and riding on a donkey.  A colt, the foal of a donkey.”  (Zechariah 9:9)


 In this verse we see how much God’s ways differ from human ways.  The Jewish people   were looking for their Messiah to be a conquering king.  They might have pictured him as a pompous warring king charging in on his white horse with his army of mighty men and flashing swords ready to fight and conquer their Roman oppressors.  But instead of a proud warring Messiah, the Jewish people were told by their prophets that their conquering Messiah would be a lowly Servant Messiah riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt.  


 The Jewish religious leaders may have overlooked this prophecy in Zechariah since it did not fit with their expectations of what they wanted their Messiah to do for them.  They wanted their Messiah to deliver them from the hated Roman rule.  But it might have been difficult for them to grasp that their Messiah – Jesus - was coming to do so much more!  Do we make the same mistake and try to make Jesus fit into our expectations?  We decide what we think He should do and then have trouble believing that He is doing so much more?  Can we let God be God?  Or do we try to put God in a box? 


Soon after Jesus triumphantly entered into Jerusalem on a donkey with crowds praising him as their Messiah; He was arrested, judged and crucified.  And after He spent three days in the grave He rose from the dead.  So our humble Servant Messiah – Jesus -  conquered death and hell and saved us from our sins.  He was and is indeed a Conqueror!    


During the last week of Jesus’ ministry, just before He was arrested and crucified, He fulfilled this prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.  In this dramatic way – by riding into Jerusalem as a king to the praise and cheers of the people - Jesus was proclaiming that He was and is the Messiah.  Scripture tells us that Jesus told two disciples to go to a certain place where they would find a donkey tied there with her colt.  Jesus told the disciples to untie the donkey and bring both the donkey and the colt to him.  The disciples were to tell the donkey’s owner, “The Lord has need of them.” And Jesus assured them that the owner would let them take both the donkey and her colt.  Jesus as Son of God is able to see and know these things.  Both animals were brought to Jesus and since He rode the colt, the mother donkey was needed there to quiet the little colt that had never been ridden before.


Scripture describes what happened when Jesus rode the colt with the donkey following  it into Jerusalem.  “A very large crowd gathered to greet Jesus as their king and to spread their clothes over the roadway before him.  And others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road to honor Jesus.” (In those days a king’s subjects paid homage to him by providing a carpet for him to walk or ride on.)   Thousands of people ran ahead of Jesus and shouted out: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!’”  (Matthew 21:8-9)


 Biblical prophecies foretold that the Messiah would come from David’s line, so when the crowds greeted Jesus by calling him the “Son of David” they were publically acknowledging Jesus as their long awaited Messiah.  And the Hebrew word “Hosanna” means “Save now.” The shouts of Hosanna from the crowd in Jerusalem were recognition that Jesus is the Lord who will save – He is God.  Scripture says that after Jesus had ridden the donkey into Jerusalem the whole city was moved!  (Matthew 21:10) 


Right after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem He went into the temple and became angry at what He saw there.  Scripture says: “Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And He said to them: ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’”.  (Matthew 21:12-13)


Tradition has it that the outer court of the temple had stalls where animals were sold and foreign money was exchanged for Jewish shekels.  This large money making market was controlled by the high priest Annas and was a source of extortion.


 The priests were supposed to be humble men of God and shepherds of God’s people, helping people come to their God.  Instead the priests set themselves up as a higher status than others, proudly considering themselves to be more pious and better that the rest.  God had not intended this.  They prayed long pompous prayers in the center of the streets so that everyone could see how righteous they were.  Elevating themselves above their people while becoming rich by cheating their people, and all the while using God’s Name!  


No wonder Jesus was angry with these men of God gone wrong!  They were not bringing  people to God but keeping them away from God.  Jesus said that they lay heavy burdens on the people, keeping them from God. (Luke 11:46)  These wealthy self righteous priests had turned the temple, which was supposed to be a house of prayer, into what Jesus called a “den of thieves.”  Temple costs were unreasonably high and worshippers were being taken advantage of financially each time they came to God’s house to pray.  And these fraudulent money making practices were protected by the priests who were misusing their God given power  


Would Jesus find any of the same problems He found in the Jewish temple so long ago if He were to physically walk into any of our churches today?  Would He turn over any of our money tables?  Would He need to cleanse our churches like He cleansed the temple?  Or would He find our churches to be houses of prayer as He said they should be?


What is a Christian church today supposed to be?  Scripture says that we believers in Christ are the Church – that the Church is the humble body of Christ.  But some of our churches have moved from modeling themselves to be the humble body of Christ and instead are trying to follow the models that the popular culture uses.  The culture today admires elegance, money, opulence and success.


 People today must be constantly entertained.  We must have big expensive fast moving productions with lots of action. Rock stars, fast games, flashing lights, loud music and movers and shakers for our leaders.  And some churches have retrofitted themselves to add these things.  Is that always good or not?  Mega churches and huge event centers have arisen sometimes with stages and theater lighting instead of altars.  If the church doesn’t provide entertainment then they are told that the people will be bored and not show up.  Does the church have to change being the humble body of Christ and compete with the world in order to survive?


So many churches try to play the game and follow the models that are popular in the world today.  Is that good or bad?  Some folks think they must “do” something outwardly to gain salvation - work their way to heaven.  Give more money, go on a mission, say more prayers.  We are an action oriented generation.  So we must do something to win salvation, work to earn righteousness, or so some think! 


But Jesus tells us that He is the only One who can give us salvation.  We can never add anything to that or work our way to heaven or do anything.  Jesus has done it all and He alone offers us the one and only free gift of salvation.  All we need to do is accept it.  Believe it inwardly. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  It all seems too simple, too easy because it is.  If there is anything we have to “do” it is just to believe.  Have faith.  Jesus said: “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”  (John 6:29)   


And we need churches that help us believe in Jesus and churches that try to be what they are supposed to be – the body of Christ!  Churches that provide fellowship and love and spread God’s Word and minister to the sick and the poor.  We need church leaders and pastors who are humble shepherds and who help the people come to God.  Would Jesus find these qualities in our churches if He were to physically walk in and visit today?  Would He be pleased with what He would find in your church?