AFFLICTION OR JUDGMENT? Is there a difference?


Study in AMOS 9:1-15

In my recent studies in Amos, I’ve seen how God used His prophet to warn the people of Israel.  Israel was going through an almost unprecedented period of prosperity and in the process, had forgotten God.

They certainly hadn’t forgotten about religion.  They were still a very religious society.  They still went to worship in their places of worship.  They still offered all their sacrifices, and they still tithed their money.  As a matter of fact, they went over and above what the Law required.

Today, we would say that churches with these qualities and directives would be a successful church.

But like so many times throughout their history, Israel still didn’t get it.  They thought they were OK.  They felt perfectly at ease and comfortable in Zion.

So God Promised A Horrible Affliction On The People.

He promised all the horrible events that would occur some 30 years later.  Assyria would invade and destroy Samaria.

All the woes,  All the promises of affliction.  All the heavy prophesies and messages given by Amos builds to a crescendo in this last chapter of the book.

The Differences Between Affliction and Judgment.

The differences are well worth noting at this point.  Up to now, Amos’ prophetic messages have pointed to Assyria’s invasion of Israel.  That was an example of God afflicting His people in bringing them to repentance.  Repoentance is more than saying, “Sorry, God.”  It’s changing the direction you’ve been heading–a 180 degree turn from sin.

You see, that’s how affliction is different than judgment.

In my charge as the Bible Detective, I find that there are only two times that God has or will JUDGE mankind.

  • The first was at the flood.
  • The next will be the final judgment.
  • One concluded with destruction by water.
  • The other will conclude in the destruction by fire, and NOT by Climate Change.

Anything in between those two judgments is affliction rather than judgment.

Affliction is for the purpose of showing God’s mercy and grace!

Judgment is for the purpose of showing God’s righteousness and holiness!

Up till now, Amos has spoken of God’s promised affliction.  These promises of God were fulfilled.

Then A Change in Focus Occurs – Amos 9:1-3

Amos starts off with a simple statement:  “I SAW THE LORD.”  It’s simple, but oh, how profound!  God revealed Himself to Amos.

THE LORD IS A SEEKING GOD!

Have you ever played peek-a-boo with a small child?  My wife and I sure did when our kids were little.  It sounds funny, but little children think that when you cover their eyes, you can’t see them.  That’s about as silly as we are when we try to hide from our heavenly Father.

God told Israel through Amos that there was no place they could run to.  No place they could hide from His judgment.

It brings to mind the scene unveiling in the Book of Revelation, chapter 6, the opening of the sixth seal:

When God pours out His JUDGMENT, there’s NO PLACE TO HIDE!

If you climbed to the top of Mount Everest or dive to the bottom of the sea in a nuclear submarine, GOD IS THERE!  There’s no hide and seek with God.  Wherever you may try to run, He will SEEK and FIND you with conviction.

David’s words in Psalm 139 remind me of Amos’ words here.

After all the sin in David’s life, God sought him out.  He knew David’s innermost ways and thoughts.  He sought him and convicted him.  And after reading these verses, look at how David reacted and responded to that conviction.

He responded with REPENTANCE!

But what happens if we don’t respond?

Then instead of afflicting us to bring about conviction, God judges us.

And when it comes time for JUDGMENT, there’s no place to hide!  We can’t hide, because the Lord is a seeking God.  He either seeks in conviction or seeks in judgment.

He’s not only a seeking God, But He’s also a sovereign God –  (Amos 9:3b.-8)

Definition:  SOVEREIGN – Greek 3841, pantokrator – Almighty, Omnipotent, the all-ruler… [Bible Hub].

God is sovereign over the circumstances of life.  

God commands the serpent.

He commands the sword.

I’ve got news for you.  There’s no such thing as coincidence! 

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, ever has or ever will happen to you that hasn’t passed through God’s hands.

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People”

This was a best-seller in the ’80s and still very influential in the populous.  It was authored by a Jewish Rabbi named Harold Kushner.

Several years ago, if you remember, a bridge collapsed over a  river in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Within days, the book’s author was on the radio trying to explain the tragedy to people.  He explained that bad things like a bridge collapse happened because God doesn’t control the laws of nature.  He is powerless to do anything about evil events.  Kushner, I’m sure, said these things to try to comfort the people.  What an empty comfort that is!  I just can’t imagine the God of Amos that he had seen on the ALTAR had been Kushner’s god.  A god who is powerless to stop evil, as you and I are.

My God of the Bible is a SOVEREIGN God!!!

The LORD that Amos saw is the same LORD that the apostle Paul wrote of in Colossians 1:15-18 (NIV)

[15]  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  [16] For by him all things were created:  things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  [17]  He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.  [18]  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

In Him, ALL things consist.

He is sovereign overall.

He is in control overall.

He is Lord overall.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The LORD that Amos saw is sovereign over nations.

Iraq didn’t surprise Him.

Afghanistan didn’t surprise Him.

Vietnam didn’t surprise Him.

Hitler’s Germany didn’t surprise Him.

None of those surprised any more than Assyria surprised God when they destroyed Samaria and carried the Israelites into exile.

VERSES 7-8 tell us that God isn’t surprised by the actions of nations.

The Ethiopians (Cushites), the Philistines, the Syrians. 

God is SOVEREIGN over them all!

Although this is difficult teaching, most of us, I think, see God’s sovereignty over circumstances, and nations.

But here’s one that will stretch your thinking.  God is sovereign over our rebellious behavior.  See the last part of verse 8:

God said that He wouldn’t utterly destroy Israel; that He would preserve a remnant.

Not because they deserved it, but because He promised it!  He would preserve them for His namesake–not theirs.

As rebellious as they were, God had promised to preserve a remnant.  And he would keep His PROMISE because He’s sovereign.  Even over rebellious people.

The Lord is a seeking God and He is a sovereign God.  But there’s more.

The Lord is also a SIFTING God!

Look closely at Verses 9 and 10:

What Does It Mean to “SIFT” Something?

When I first looked at this passage, I pictured the process of separating the wheat from the chaff described in the Bible (Psalm 1:4; Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17).  I thought that not one grain of ‘good stuff’ would fall to the ground,  But that’s not what it’s talking about here.

Separating the wheat from the chaff was called “winnowing.”  The “sifting” would follow the winnowing step.

During the winnowing, all the chaff was blown away.  Everything heavy fell to the ground.  That included the good grain, stones, and pebbles.  The stones and pebbles were separated from the grain using a sifter.

That’s the process this passage is talking about.

So instead of all of Israel sitting safely in the sifter of the Lord while the impurities pass from them,…ALL of Israel is the one that has to pass through the SIFTER.  They are the ones who will be sorted and sifted through affliction.

They are the ones who will pass through the affliction of God in order to be purified.  The stones and pebbles of SIN AND IMPURITY are the things left in the sifter.  And that’s a good thing…because everything that’s left in God’s sifter will be destroyed in JUDGMENT!

The SIFTER of God in Amos compares to the FIRE that Paul mentions in First Corinthians :

God purified His saints.  He sifts His saints.

Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked to sift him like wheat.  And guess what?  Jesus allowed Satan to sift Peter like wheat.  Even though Peter initially failed miserably when Jesus convicted him of his sin, he repented.  The sifting purified him.  Purified him to the point that he went from a coward to a bold witness of Christ in a few weeks time.

The promise of the New Testament says that if you’ve trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you will be SAVED.  But Paul says,  “he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.”

God sifts you so you will let go of your sin.  So that even the smallest sin in your thinking, will be separated from you.

One day all the sifting that Israel has gone through over the past 6000 years will result in only the purest grain.  The LORD is a sifting God!

Finally, the LORD is a SAVING God!  (verses 11-15)

As I’ve already mentioned, this chapter in Amos is all about future promises to the nation of Israel.  God made a PROMISE to Abraham back in Genesis 15.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation.  A nation that God would choose to call His special people.  And God also promised Abraham that He would pour out His GRACE on those people and give them a land filled to overflowing rich blessings of God.

And He sealed that promise, A Covenant, by Himself.

In Genesis 15, God had Abraham set up a traditional ceremony, where both parties would contract together for something.  The ceremonies were often SEALED by the blood of a sacrificed animal.  In those contracts, if one party or the other broke the agreement, the contract would be null and void.

God had Abraham to set up that ceremony but He didn’t allow him to participate in it.  He put him off to the side and performed the ceremony Himself.

I don’t know about you, but I see God in the grace business.  He knows we fall short.  He knew that Israel couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain with Him.  So He graciously called them out anyway.  He made them His people.  And He will graciously pour out His blessings on them as His people.  Not because of who they are or how special they are, but because of who He is!

Look at the wording in verse 11-12:

“And all the nations who are called by My name.”

THAT’S US!  All the nations in the world who aren’t Israel.

In other words, Gentiles.  THAT’S US!!

By His GRACE, God promised the same blessings to the Gentiles who are called by His name as He will give to Israel. 

HOW? 

Through the BLOOD of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

Confirmed in Galatians 3:26-28

These wonderfull promises that God made to Israel are available to us today because the Lord as a SAVING God.

The entire book of Amos has been a warning.  It was a warning that Israel didn’t pay attention to.  But it serves as a warning to us all.

  • GOD DOESN’T TOLERATE SIN.
  • GOD DOESN’T TOLERATE FALSE WORSHIP.
  • GOD DOESN’T TOLERATE HYPOCRISY.
  • He doesn’t tolerate SIN and REBELLION in His house.

Among His people, He seeks out sin.  He’s SOVEREIGN over all things.  And He will sift us.

Maybe He’s been sifting us right now!

At times God sifted Israel with trouble and ar rimes, And at times, He sifted them with prosperity.  So whether we’re having trouble or having prosperity, it doesn’t tell the story where we are in God’s eyes.

Maybe the question we should ask ourselves is, “How does the Lord see us?”  “How does the Lord see our church?”

If we don’t see Him as He has revealed Himself as a seeking, sovereign and sifting God, He will show Himself as JUDGE.  And I don’t think any of us want that.

But if we do see Him as He’s revealed Himself, He will show Himself to us as Savior.

QUESTION:  Where do we all start to see God as He’s revealed Himself?

The same way David did. 

We have to corporately HUMBLE ourselves before God.

We have to corporately CONFESS our sins before God.

AND…We have to corporately REPENT before our God!

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CREDITS:

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP); King Jmaes Bible (KJV); and other translations used in the photos/Images.

Photos/Images Used:  Google Image Search.

 

 

And I Saw God’s Glory!

SCRIPTURE STUDY:  Isaiah 6:1-3 (NIV)

[1]  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

[2]  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings:  With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

[3]  And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

It’s difficult to know when reading passages of Scripture in the Bible whether God’s GLORY refers to His actual glory or to human recognition of it.  This is true, for example, when Scripture speaks of the earth being full of the GLORY of the Lord.

In Isaiah 6, we see the call and commissioning of Isaiah, the prophet.

We don’t know for sure, but we assume that Isaiah was in the earthly temple.  However, the temple described in verse 1 is the Heavenly Temple.

In the year King Uzziah died it may be like saying the year Pearl Harbor was bombed, in the year JFK was shot, or in the year the Bomb was dropped.  This was a time in the nation of crisis and change that the prophet came face to face with the King of Kings.

HOLINESS tells us that Jesus is the exact representation or image of God.  What many have lost is the holiness of God.  God has become “the man upstairs”, or “the God next door”.  Max Lucado said it well:  “Immanuel, God with us.”

In Jesus Christ, God came near.  Something of the awesomeness and greatness– His GLORY has been forgotten.  The church culture has so allowed the culture around us to shape the way we do things.  The customer satisfaction mentality has invaded our churches we have to be sure not to offend anyone– WORSHIP is all about them.

Here in Isaiah, we see that WORSHIP is all about God.

When we see and sing the words on the Big Screen in church or out of a hymn book, we need to remember the songs are all about Him.  When you read History in the Bible, you need to remember, it’s His story.  What Isaiah got was probably more than he bargained for in a worship service.

God’s High Position (6:1) – Beholding His Glory

[1]  IN THE year that King Uzziah died, [in a vision] I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the skirts of His train filled the [most holy part of the] temple.  [John 12:41]  (Amplified Bible).

Isaiah was reminded that God is sovereign.  When God showed up, Isaiah saw God high and lifted up.  He saw God in His greatness and holiness.  With everything that was happening, God was in complete control while sitting on His throne in heaven.

Here in Isaiah 6:1, looking at several different Bible translations, you can see Lord spelled in all caps–i.e., LORD; and others, Lord.  I just had to dig deeper here.

LORD (all caps or small caps) reflects the original term “YHWH”, while Lord (standard capitalization) is the English rendition of the Hebrew Adonai, meaning “to be”; “the Lord God Almighty, the sovereign or supreme one.”  It suggests that God simply is i.e., He possesses an underived existence; He is the eternal “I AM”.  This name became a special designation–emphasized in God’s relations ship to the nation of Israel.  [“LORD and Lord – What’s the Difference? by The Christian Courier] 

John 12:37-40 clearly tells us that Isaiah was seeing Jesus on the throne!

Isaiah saw God on the throne with His hand on the throttle in complete control.

  • When it says DISEASE–God is on the throne!
  • When the boss says you’re FIRED–God is on the throne!
  • When our children DISOBEY–God is on the throne!

Isaiah saw God high and lifted up, but he also heard the Seraphim cry “Holy, Holy, Holy”

THE HOLINESS OF GOD

The Holiness of God is, His being in a class by Himself with His perfection and greatness and worth.  All His perfection and greatness and worth are distinct and separate–we’ve been taught that HOLY means separate–His in a class by Himself.

HIS HOLINESS IS WHAT HE IS AS GOD THAT NOBODY ELSE IS –

His quality of perfection can’t be improved upon, can’t be imitated, and that determines that He is all of that and nothing is determined from outside Him.

Now when Isaiah 6:3 says that angels are crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty”–the next thing they say is this:  “The whole earth is full of His”…and you might think “holiness” would be the next word.

But he doesn’t say holiness, he says GLORY!

Essentially, “holy”, essentially holy, and the whole earth is full of His GLORY.

I stab a definition here by saying the GLORY OF GOD is the manifest beauty of His holiness.  It’s the going public of His Holiness.  It’s the way He puts His holiness on display for people to apprehend.

Read the words from Leviticus 10:3:  God says He will be shown to be HOLY among those who are near Him and before all the people He will be honored.

I will be shown to be holy,” He says.  “And among ALL the people” — say it another way–“I will be glorified.”

The Worship Connection of His Holiness and Glory –

What on earth does all this have to do with our worship?

EVERYTHING!!!

If you divorce or separate God’s holiness from worship, all you have is entertainment.  Why start on time, why do things in order, why not distract others during the song service and preaching?  Because we should be focusing on the greatness of God!!!

WHY THE CROSS?

The cross was ultimately the result of God’s Holiness.  Sinful man can’t stand in the presence of a Holy God.  God took care of the ‘sin problem.’

2 Corinthians 5:21 (AMP)

[21]  For our sake He made Christ [virtually] to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and through Him we might become [endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness].

This God that’s HOLY and separate is the God we need to see in our worship–in our everyday living.

Isaiah’s Posture of Humility in God’s Glory and Holiness –

“Woe to me!  I am ruined and undone…”  (6:5)

To Isaiah’s peers, he was upright. a righteous man, a man of unmatched integrity.  AND then just one glimpse of God’s greatness changed his whole self-perception.

It took God to reveal his guilt, it took a picture of deity to reveal Isaiah’s filthiness–his sin.

Have you ever seen God in such a way that revealed who you really are?

Have you ever recognized that you are a sinner that’s separated from God without hope?

That’s what the VISION did for Isaiah.  It revealed reality to him–God sees us as we are, where we are in life right now!  He sees your heart!!

What happened when Isaiah saw this VISION of God?

CONVICTION –

“Woe is me!  I am undone and ruined.”

The Hebrew word for “undone”:  to come apart at the seams.  Isaiah was totally exposed for who he was before a holy God.

CONFESSION –

A vision of the holiness of God that brings true conviction of sin is always followed by the confession of sin.

I love Billy Ricks’ slant of this fact:  “Regardless of excuses, sin is a prison from which you can never be freed until you admit it’s your own fault that you were thrown in the slammer.”

CLEANSING –

Because Isaiah came clean he was made clean.  The cleansing power of God went to work on Isaiah’s behalf.

God is HOLY and also merciful.  When we confess our sins to Him, God goes to work.  He cleanses us with the Blood of Jesus (1 John 1:9).

What is the big deal about WORSHIP in Christian America today?

To me, it’s about seeing God in all of His manifested GLORY.  Let me break that down just a bit.  When someone says, “Look at the wind blowing outside,” and when you peer out the window you can’t actually see the wind.  What you see is the effect that the wind has on the objects it’s blowing on–the trees, a flag, a hat blown off one’s head.  So when God breathes, you can’t visibly see His breath, but you can see His GLORY manifested in your surroundings.  Just look around you!

In seeing God for who He is we can see ourselves as we truly are.  The church culture of today has so allowed the culture around us shape the way we do things.  The customer satisfaction mentality has infiltrated our churches.

Here is a heavenly worship service where Isaiah saw a fresh vision of God.  From this vision of God’s HOLINESS, Isaiah was inspired to pen words like Isaiah 40:8.

What churches and Christians in America desperately need is a fresh vision of God’s holiness and His Glory.  We don’t need a new revelation because all that God is and has for us is revealed in Christ Jesus.

We give God the GLORY!!!

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CREDITS

Commentary:  John Piper’s “What Is God’s Glory” at desiringGod.org.

Music Video:  “I SAW THE LORD” by Dallas Holmes – YouTube.

Images:  Google Image search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified (AMP); King James Version (KJV).

When Someone says “BUT,” Start Listening!

“HAVE I CROSSED THE LINE?  HAVE I COMMITTED THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN?”

I’ve heard these questions from people over the years, asking what the “unpardonable or unforgivable sin” is and there are some strange interpretations floated out there of what it is.

Today, if you look around, you’ll find groups who WORSHIP God the Father only, not believing that JESUS IS GOD.  And, some groups focus on JESUS only.

This might be the most ridiculous thing you’ve read or heard–BUT, You can’t worship the Father and not the Son and you would be right!  

But you see, we can be critical of such groups, but if we’re not careful, we might end up in the same boat.  All to often, we put little value upon the Holy Spirit who is one of God’s THREE equal persons.

WHOEVER MAY BLASPHEME AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT – Mark 3:28-30 

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Charles Spurgeon once wrote:

“Common too common, is the sin of forgetting the Holy Spirit…the Church will never prosper until more reverently it believes in the Holy Spirit.”

SO…What is the “UNPARDONABLE SIN?  Didn’t Jesus say, “All sins will be forgiven?”

Let’s put things in context by looking at what was happening at the time.

Christ Jesus was performing miracle after miracle, healing physical diseases as well as the demon possessed.

People were amazed at His teaching and the works He performed and His popularity was growing at an alarming rate.  This troubled the RELIGIOUS leaders of the day, who also witnessed what Jesus was doing.

Those who witnessed these mind-blowing events responded in one of two ways:

  • Some were amazed and saw it as proof that Christ was the “promised One,” the Messiah.  Matthew’s account reaffirms the reactions of the people, in Matthew 12:23:

“And all the [crowds of] people were stunned with bewildered wonder and said, This cannot be the Son of David, can it?”

  • Others accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of “Beelzebub”. Beelzebub may be a variant of Baal-zebub (2 Kings 1:2-3).  This is the name of an ancient Philistine idol, meaning “the god of flies”.

The “BUT” (s) in Scripture.

A wise man once said that when someone says “but,” start listening, for the part prior to the “but” is the setup.  The part after the “but” is what the person really came to say.

Let me toss this thought up in the air for a moment.  Jesus didn’t say that the RELIGIOUS leaders, the Scribes, had committed the “unforgivable sin.”  What He was saying was “BUT be careful, because you are about to cross the line.” (v. 29)

This wasn’t about what they had done, BUT what they were in danger of doing.

So far we read and see that:

  • They had rejected the witness of Jesus’ words.
  • They had rejected the witness of Jesus’ works.
  • BUT…they had NOT rejected God’s final witness, the HOLY SPIRIT, not yet anyway.

The Holy Spirit at this point in time, had not yet come.

The ONLY unforgivable sin is to REJECT the witness of the Holy Spirit and accepting Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit comes to CONVICT us of our sin and CONVINCE us that we need SALVATION.

Jesus is saying to these men, “If you treat the Holy Spirit like you do Me…If you reject Him like you do Me, you will NEVER be forgiven.”

The reality of it all is this:  IF you treat the nudging of the Spirit with a closed mind and closed heart, you’ll NEVER receive forgiveness…even though it is offered to you.  It is the SIN OF REFUSING forgiveness!

HERE’S WHAT JESUS WAS SAYING–God reached down to fallen man, in an act of LOVE, to redeem them.

In Old Testament times, God witnessed to men through His miracles and special revelations and through His prophets (Hebrews 1:1).  But man killed the prophets; stoned them and refused to listen.  We rejected them!

So then, you might say that FIRST, God came.

Then God, in a SECOND act of LOVE, sent His One and only Son (John 3:16).

During the days of Christ, He Himself was God’s witness of SALVATION to the world.

Today, the Holy Spirit is God’s WITNESS to the hearts of mankind.

  • He bears witness of Christ (John 15:26).
  • He convicts men of their lost condition (John 16:7-11).

HOLY SPIRIT IS GOD’S FINAL CALL!

Every time a person REJECTS His witness/conviction, he moves one step closer to eternal judgment and condemnation.

In study this past week, I remembered the story about the guy who was given a WARNING that a flood was coming.  The news report went out and the people of the community were told to evacuate ASAP!  This man refused to listen and leave, saying “GOD WILL RESCUE ME!”  Then a police car came and he refused it…then a boat came and he still refused…then a helicopter.

"BUT, if you won't listen, you'll drown!"
“BUT, if you won’t listen, you’ll drown!”

When he stood before God after DROWNING, he demanded to know what happened:  “God, how could you do this to me?”  God simply said, “I sent a police car, a boat and a helicopter and you refused each one.”

God Came & People Rejected Him…

JESUS came & people rejected Him…the Holy Spirit is last to come.

I recently read this pastor’s comment:  “The HOLY SPIRIT is not greater than…He’s just later than the Father and Son” [ Pastor Bill Purvis].

The “whosoever wills” and the “whosoever won’ts” 

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We live in a wonderful world of GRACE.  The BIBLE is clear on that.

Through the preaching of the Word and the WITNESS of believers, the Holy Spirit CONVINCES people their need for a personal relationship with Christ Jesus.

He calls all who will LISTEN and He SAVES all who choose to RECEIVE His offer, the GIFT OF SALVATION.

God is PATIENT “BUT”…eventually, TIME IS UP!

Here’s the terrible truth…No one knows when God will give His last invitation.

I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to write this Blog-study in the Gospel of Mark during the Christmas Season; when hearts are tender and open to the Spirit of God.  Whenever a person puts off receiving Jesus, they are in danger of rejecting God’s final invitation.  If you are struggling with the question of “the unpardonable sin,” wondering if you have “crossed the line,” you haven’t yet committed it.  The unforgivable sin occurs when a heart is so cold and hard toward God and His Spirit, that you have no feeling.  You could care less anymore.

“Crossing the Line” – A Story by Dr. Jerry Vines.

This story I’m about to tell you is about a man who crossed this line and committed the unforgivable sin.

The man told how he would sit in church every Sunday and when the invitation was given to come forward and accept Christ as Savior, he would have such a heavy sense of conviction.

One day he walked out of church with a plan.  He said “God, I hate feeling this way and I don’t ever want to feel like this again.  I will make you a deal right here and now.  If you leave me alone and never speak to me, I will never call on you.”

Around 20 years later, the man told Dr. Vines that so far he had kept his side of the deal; he had yet to call on God for anything, including SALVATION.  He told Dr. Vines that God had kept His end of the deal as well.  He never called on him since and he was happy with that arrangement.

THAT’S CROSSING THE LINE…

Maybe you’re thinking that you are 99% sure you’re SAVED…you are just not convinced.  Let me add this to your thinking if that’s you:

99% SURE IS 100% LOST!

You can be 100% sure right where you are…

In front of a Computer Screen…

On the Commuter Train with your Smartphone or Tablet…

Wherever you might be reading this.

You CAN be 100% sure right now!!

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life” ~ John 3:16 (AMP).

 


CREDITS –

Biblical Commentary, Mark 3:20-35 @ Sermon Writer.com

Harper’s Bible Dictionary “Baalzebub”, pg. 86

Photos:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations Used:  Amplified Bible (AMP), unless noted in text.

 

Preparing for Christmas by Rediscovering the Cause of Celebration

SCRIPTURE REFERENCE – Mark 1:1-8

The title I chose for this particular blog’s message, “Preparing for Christmas by Rediscovering the Cause of Celebration,” thinking, this was a great way to begin the holiday season.  You know, like going to the garage and dragging heavy boxes of decorations, putting up the tree (3 in my house), purchasing gifts for love ones, doing all the holiday cooking and baking that my wife and I do, and maybe a thousand other things that NEED to be done before Christmas.  I’m exhausted already from listing the “to do’s”!

But that’s not what I mean at all about preparation.

In addition, you may find the Scripture study an unusual choice for a Christmas message, since in the gospel of Mark, we find the only gospel account in the Bible that has nothing at all to say about the birth of Jesus.  In fact Mark mentions neither the miraculous conception nor the birth of Jesus.

Mark begins his account of the life of Jesus in this way (Living Bible – TLB):

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[1]  Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

[2]  In the book written by the prophet Isaiah, God announced that he would send his Son to earth, and that a special messenger would arrive first to prepare the world for his coming.  [3] “This messenger will live out in the barren wilderness,” Isaiah said, “and will proclaim that everyone must straighten out his life to be ready for the Lord’s arrival.”

Though Mark doesn’t give us a CLASSIC Christmas story when he opens his book, he essentially wraps up the Christmas message with just a few words.

There’s nothing wrong with Christmas trees and tinsel along with the children’s delight at the unwrapping of presents and food and laughter and the making of family memories this time of year.  I am thinking of my own memories as I write this blog.  All those things make Christmas special!

The opening line of Mark is “the beginning of the good news” [the “gospel”].

Our task at Christmas is not to chop down the tree of celebration–rather it is to rediscover the cause of CELEBRATION–“What is this GOOD NEWS?”

Mark doesn’t begin his gospel account with the birth of Christ, but instead, he tells about a rather unusual character named John the Baptist.

In my investigation, with the study of the words spoken here, I noticed THREE things about John:

First, he was an unusual messenger.

VERSE 6 states that “John wore clothing woven of camel’s-hair and had a leather girdle (belt) around his loins and ate locusts and wild honey.”

I get the impression that John. who was Jesus’ cousin, was a bit different?  There are some folks who, if invited to a social function, you would feel somewhat uncomfortable to have them around, John was like that.

John wore clothes made of camel-hair, wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locust and wild honey.  He was a man of the desert, he ate the food of the desert and he wore clothing of the desert.

Secondly, he had an unexpected message.

Mark says that John FULFILLED THE PROPHECIES both Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3-5).  The more lengthy prophecy of Isaiah says,

[3] A voice of one who cries: Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord clear away the obstacles]; make straight and smooth in the desert a highway from our God.  [4] Every valley shall be lifted and filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked and uneven shall be made straight and level, and the rough places a plain.  [5] And the glory (majesty and splendor) of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

When John the Baptist comes and acts as a Herald or an announcer that JESUS is coming, “prepare the way of the Lord,” the fulfillment of prophecy takes shape.

The word translated “prepare” is from the Greek word “kataskouazo” meaning to “make ready” or “keeping it ready.”

John wasn’t telling them to PREPARE a literal road, but rather he’s telling them to PREPARE themselves for the coming of JESUS.  He says, “GET READY!”

In our love of the CELEBRATION of the birth of Jesus, I think we sometimes get lost.

We love to prepare for Christ because it’s like preparing for a baby to be born.  We get so wrapped up in the manger scene, we forget that He is not a baby anymore!

We think that somehow he is satisfied to see us make our annual appearance at Christmas, singing a few Christmas Carols.  This One Who was born into a crude manger is now a KING!

John the Baptist was telling people, “you need to get ready because someone more powerful than I is coming.”

John the Baptist tries to get the world ready for Christ.

The world of his day was made up of religious and non-religious people, neither of which was READY for the Lord.

THE NON-RELIGIOUS of his day, like our own, liked their SIN and didn’t want Christ Jesus in their lives.

THE RELIGIOUS of that day, like our own, think they don’t need Christ.

So when Christ came, the RELIGIOUS and the NON-RELIGIOUS alike, rejected Him.  They were not ready for Christ to come in their lives.

John’s voice was one crying out in the barren places.

At this time of year people are expected to be happy, but in fact, there are more suicides than any other time of the year.  In the middle of much cluttered activity and “Ho, Ho, Ho ‘ng” in many lives, there is spiritual dryness.

The question is…”HAVE YOU PREPARED YOUR HEART TO RECEIVE JESUS?”

In verse 4, John uses the word “REPENT”:

“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a BAPTISM of REPENTANCE for the REMISSION OF SINS.”  [NOTE: capitalized words for emphasis]

John tells us that PREPARATION that we need to make is to “REPENT”.  The Greek word translated “repentance” (metanoia) is a word that means “a changed mind”; “changing your direction 180 degrees.”

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The apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV):

[10]  “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

There are TWO kinds of REPENTANCE possible when you think about it, that’s possible in human experience.

Many of us recognize the unpleasant consequences of our SIN and persuaded of the GUILT that may result in a superficial sorrow–that may lead to a temporary reformation, but not to a genuine turning to Christ for forgiveness.

“Godly sorrow” on the other hand, accompanied by CONVICTION of SIN , which is the work of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:37), comes about from the realization of offending a holy God, which in turn, leads to genuine repentance.

REPENTANCE may begin with a “sorrowful heart,” but to be GENUINE, must lead to a determined action.

The CALL to REPENT is one of the most important things we will hear among the sound of exchanges of CHRISTMAS GREETINGS, the singing of Carols, and the shouts of JOY as presents are opened.

Not only did John have an unexpected message…THIRD, he had an extraordinary ministry…

In verse 5 we read“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him, confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (NIV Bible).

“A once lonely man,” Story:

It was a bright Sunday morning in 18th century London, but Robert Robinson’s mood was anything but sunny.  All along the street there were people hurrying to church, but in the midst of the crowd, Robinson was a lonely man.

The sound of church bells reminded him of years past when his faith in God was strong and the church was an integral part of his life.  It had been years since he set foot in a church, with years of wandering, disillusionment, and gradual defection from the God he once loved.

That love for God–once fiery and passionate–had slowly burned out within him, leaving him dark and cold inside.

Robinson heard the clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse-drawn cab approaching behind him.  Turning, he lifted his hand to hail the driver.  But then he saw the cab was occupied by a young woman dressed in finery for the Lord’s Day.  He waived the driver on, but the woman in the carriage ordered the carriage to be stopped.

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“Sir, I’d be happy to share the carriage with you,” she said to Robinson.  “Are you going to church?”

Robinson was about to decline, then he paused,  “Yes,” he said at last.  “I am going to church.”

He stepped into the carriage and sat down beside the woman.  As the carriage rolled forward, Robert Robinson and the woman exchanged introductions.  There was a flash of recognition in her eyes when he stated his name.

“That’s an interesting coincidence,” she said, reaching into her purse.  She withdrew a small book of inspirational verses, opened it to a ribbon-bookmark, and handed the book to him.

“I was just reading a verse by a poet named Robert Robinson.  Could it be you?”

He took the book, nodding “Yes, I wrote these words years ago.”

“Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaimed.  “Imagine!  I’m sharing a carriage with the author of these very lines!”

maxresdefault-1But Robinson barely heard her.  He was absorbed in the words he was reading. They were words that would one day be set to music and become a great hymn of faith, familiar to generations of Christians.

He could barely read the last few lines through the tears that brimmed his eyes.

“I wrote these words–and I’ve lived these words. ‘Prone to wander…prone to leave the God I have.”

The woman suddenly understood.

“You also wrote, ‘Here’s my heart, O take and seal it!’  You can offer your heart again to God, Mr. Robinson.  It’s never too late!”

[See FOOTNOTE [i] ].

IF your greatest need had been for INFORMATION, God would have sent us an EDUCATOR.

IF our greatest need had been TECHNOLOGY, God would have sent us a SCIENTIST.

IF our greatest need had been MONEY, God would have sent us an ECONOMIST.

IF our greatest need had been PLEASURE, God would have sent us an ENTERTAINER.

BUT HE DIDN’T!

Our greatest need was FORGIVENESS…God sent us a SAVIOR.

Has your Christmas Preparation really begun yet?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

 


FOOTNOTES & CREDITS

Footnote [i]:  Ron Lee Davis, Courage to Begin Again [Harvest House, Eugene, Or. pp. 145-147] – http://www.crossroad.to/Victory/come-thou-fount-of-every-blessing.htm

PHOTOS:  Google Image Search.

VINE’S COMPLETE EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY of Old and New Testament Words.

Bible Translations:  Amplified Bible, except where noted.