Christian Privilege and Necessity

I aim to read C.H. Spurgeon’s Morning by Morning devotional every morning; and Evening by Evening devotional every night. As I was reading this morning’s edition I felt I had to share this on my blog.

because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2)

Once the truth of God has obtained an entrance into the human heart and subdued the whole man to itself, no power, human or infernal, can dislodge it. We entertain it not as a guest but as the master of the house. This is a Christian necessity, and whoever does not believe this is not a Christian. Those who feel the vital power of the Gospel and know the strength of the Holy Spirit as He opens, applies, and seals the Lord’s Word would rather be torn to pieces than be torn away from the Gospel of their salvation. A thousand mercies are wrapped up in the assurance that the truth will be with us forever, will be our living support, our dying comfort, our rising song, our eternal glory. This is Christian privilege, and without it our faith is worth little. Some truths we outgrow and leave behind, for they are but rudiments and lessons for beginners, but this is not so with divine truth, for though it is sweet food for babies, it is in the highest sense strong meat for men. The painful truth that we are sinners is with us to humble us and make us watchful; the more blessed truth that whoever believes on the Lord Jesus will be saved remains with us as our hope and joy. Experience, far from loosening our hold on the doctrines of grace, has tied us to them more and more firmly; our grounds and motives for believing are now stronger and more numerous than ever, and we have reason to expect that it will remain this way until in death we clasp the Savior in our arms. Wherever this abiding love of truth can be discovered, we are bound to share in fellowship and to exercise our love. No narrow circle can contain our gracious sympathies; our communion of heart must be as wide as the ocean of grace. Error may be found mingled with truth received; let us go to war with the error but still love the brother for the measure of truth that we see in him. Above all let us love and spread the truth ourselves.

When I read this I was thinking: how much is Jesus the master of me (my house)? How much do I feel the vital power of the Gospel and know the strength of the Holy Spirit? I want to ponder on this more and it moves me to pray deeply and earnestly that Jesus is not just a guest, but master indeed, and that thus I allow the Holy Spirit to work mightily in me and through me.

Three Aspects in the Life of a Preacher

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-8)

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 a beautiful sequence of events is started when then gospel came to Thessalonica. We see in verse 6 that they responded by becoming followers of Jesus and imitators of Paul (and thus Jesus). Then, in verse 7, the Thessalonians responded by becoming (local) examples to others around them. And lastly, in verse 8, they responded by becoming (global) examples to others who heard about them. Paul confidently grounds the election of the Thessalonians, first, on their reception of the preached gospel and, second, on their subsequent obedience. The result is a beautiful sequence of events, which I believe is much desired. It portrays discipleship of four generations. And thus it invites us to take a closer look at the starting point, which gives us more insight I think in the role of a preacher

Let’s read verse 5 again: “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

What does Paul about the gospel that came to the Thessalonians? First, Paul says that the gospel was characterized by word. I take that to mean that the preacher is giving a verbal proclamation and explanation of the good news of Jesus. Second, Paul says that the gospel was characterized by power. This could mean that preaching was combined with miraculous healing (like in Luke 10:8-9 for instance), but I would say that in any case there was a manifestation of power, in either preaching or healing or both, that was able to change minds, hearts, and lives. Third, Paul says the gospel was characterized by the Holy Spirit. I think there is a strong linkage here with his previous point that the gospel came in power, but I would say that there was some manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s approving presence. And, lastly, Paul says the gospel was characterized by full conviction, which I read as a transparent sincerity and integrity, bringing certainty to the hearer’s minds. The last part of the verse tops it off when Paul is saying that the Thessalonians knew what kind of men they proved to be among them for their sake. The coming of the gospel was reinforced by the evident of its preachers.

So, what can we say about the life of the preacher and the manner of his preaching, looking at these verses? I believe there are three aspects the preacher needs to be aware of and work into his life.

1. Be faithful students and servants of the Word
It is clear that the gospel comes by word, His Word, which is both verbally proclaimed, like a herald proclaims good news from the king, as well as explained so that everyone who hears understands the good news that has come to them. This means that as preachers we need to be able to both proclaim (herald) this good news as well as explain it. And we have to be able to do this from any passage from His Word because the whole of Scripture bears witness of Jesus (John 5:39). This takes serious study of His Word, and an understanding of hermeneutics, exegesis, and homiletics.

2. Be fully dependent on the Holy Spirit
In order to preach with full conviction and passion, a preacher has to be fully depending on the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I would say there a threefold aspect here. First, he needs to be living by the power of the Holy Spirit. Second, he needs to be praying by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is in line with Haddon W. Robinson’s definition of preaching, which says, “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical-grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, and then through him to his hearers.” For the Holy Spirit to first apply the text to the personality and experience of the preacher it requires the preacher to be living and praying by the power of the Holy Spirit. A third aspect then is that it is then applied through the preacher by the Holy Spirit to his hearers, which means that the preacher is preaching by the power of the Holy Spirit, so hearts and minds are changed.

3. Be disciplining yourself for holiness
This is obviously an aspect which applies to every follower of Jesus, who calls us to train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Peter 1:3). But I believe it is particularly important for a preacher. Again, Paul says, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” As preachers, our walk with Christ needs to be in like manner of our talking about Christ. This way our “full conviction” makes sense. This way we give the hearers examples to imitate and follow as we will be worthy to be imitated (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; 2 Timothy 3:10-11)

I believe these are admirable and honorable aspects to work into my life, and spend a lifetime on.

Who Is The Restrainer?

The key text about the Restrainer is 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8, which says, “And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.

Paul is apparently surprised that his own teaching on the end times had not stopped the Thessalonians from believing the false claim, so he rehearses that teaching. The man of lawlessness cannot be unveiled while what is restraining (Greek ‘to katechon’, neuter participle of ‘katechō’, ‘to prevent, hinder, restrain’) him now is at work. In verse 7 Paul refers to he who now restrains (Greek. ‘ho katechōn’, masculine participle of the same word). This implies that the restrainer is neuter, yet the personality is masculine, in other words the restrainer is the Holy Spirit, and He prevents the premature manifestation of the man of sin as the very embodiment of iniquity. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit assumed a special relationship to the Church as its indweller, who would be there forever (John 14:16-17). And as Jesus said in John 16:7 that if Jesus doesn’t go away the Holy Spirit doesn’t come, likewise, at the end, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t go away the man of sin doesn’t come. In other words, as the Holy Spirit and the Church are forever bound to each other (the Church is sealed in Him – Ephesians 1:13-14), the restraint can only be lifted when the restrainer removes Himself, and thus the Church removes herself, which happens at the rapture. This would imply that the people who are saved between the rapture and the final hour will experience the Holy Spirit in a similar matter as the saints before Pentecost, i.e. on a personal basis and not as a collective unified body.

Acts #2 – A Mighty Rushing Wind

Pentecost and Leaven
It is the day of Pentecost, which is not only one of the seven Feasts of Israel, it is also one of the three feasts which requires that every able-bodied Jewish male was required to in in Jerusalem. This means that Jerusalem was crowded with people from all over to celebrate this feast. Now without going into an extensive study on the feast of Pentecost, it may be a good idea to give some background to get a better picture. The first three feasts are in the spring, which are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits. The last three feasts are in the fall, which are the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. In the middle there is the Feast of Pentecost (meaning the fiftieth day), which is 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits. Each feast has a ceremonial role, a historic commemorative role, and also a prophetic role. Without going into much detail, the first three feasts were prophetic to Jesus’ First Coming (respectively, His death, His burial and His resurrection). The last three feasts are prophetic to Jesus’ Second Coming.

The Feast of Pentecost is prophetic for the birth of the Church (being the spiritual Body of Christ). It is described in Leviticus 23:15-17, which says: “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.” Now you have to be aware of Jewish customs to notice something peculiar here, namely that the breads are baked with leaven. All the other Jewish feasts and offerings are dealing with unleavened bread. In Exodus 12:15; 12:19-20; 13:7 it is actually described that leaven should be removed from the house during these feasts, except for Pentecost. The idea of leaven is always used negatively for the reason that leaven corrupts the dough by puffing up and is therefore symbolic for sin. So, the symbol for the Church is leaven. Now it is said that this is because the Church is not perfect (yet who is!), but I think it also has something to do with the fact that the Church are Gentiles, which are considered unholy from a Jewish viewpoint.

The Holy Spirit is Coming
Now all the disciples (about 120) were all gathered in one place, which is mostly likely the upper room where they were regularly met, and is most likely close to the temple grounds (for we will see that they will be baptizing 3,000 new believers soon – which would be quite hard in the upper room). Now, in John 3:8 Jesus makes reference to the Holy Spirit as wind, but it seems that this wind is much wilder. So strong that it causes attention throughout the town. When they are filled with the Holy Spirit they are speaking in tongues, but this must not be seen as a gift of the Spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 14), but must be translated as speaking in other languages as they were understood by various people present in Jerusalem. Could the fact that they could all understand each other have something to do with lifting the curse of Babel? Who knows… Now there 16 countries listed here which are present in Jerusalem, but I assume more countries are actually represented for Pentecost is one of the mandatory festivals and it mentions men “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)

Peter’s First Sermon
Peter’s sermon answers their question, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12), and it’s is a very intricate masterpiece. We also see here that the Holy Spirit is indwelling Peter. In the Gospels Peter is often speaking without thinking, but here he is being skillful and elegant. Although the sermon answers the question about what does this [the Holy Spirit] mean, it is in fact not a sermon about the Holy Spirit, but about Jesus, the Son of God. It is important to recognize that Peter is addressing the Jews here. The sermon is built on three sections of the Old Testament, namely Joel 2:28-32, Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1.

The Foretelling of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32)
Peter picks out a section of the Old Testament which is not the earliest nor the latest, but the most crisp passage on the promise of the Holy Spirit. Interesting detail maybe is that whilst in “our” Bible this section of Scripture is part of the second chapter, in the Hebrew Bible this section gets its own chapter and thus stands out quite a bit. This section of the promise of the Holy Spirit is followed by some end-time prophecy. Peter speaks of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as what was prophesied by Joel, but he also implies that not the complete prophecy has come to pass yet. The start of this section will probably shock every Jew as Peter says that God will pour His Spirit on all flesh (meaning also the Gentiles!). Furthermore, the idea of prophesying is no longer limited to the prophet (as they were used to having a prophet and a priest), but that it will be made available to everybody. Verse 19 and 20 obviously speaks about end-time prophesy as this clearly hasn’t happened yet. In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus says that “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, 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 out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” It may be that one of the reasons that Peter includes this prophecy which is still to come because he wants to get to the closing line which says that “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21), which give him the opportunity to say that “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 22-24)

Hope of Everlasting Joy (Psalm 16:8-11)
Peter then moves on by using a psalm by David to be used as a prophecy of Jesus, where it first talks about life (Psalm 16:8,9a), then death (Psalm 16:9b, 10) and then resurrection (Psalm 16:11). Peter’s point here is that this cannot apply to David for “he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” (Acts 2:29), but that Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out” (Acts 2:33). Peter’s central theme is the study of the person of Jesus Christ: His role, mission, character, and nature of the Messiah.

Sit at My Right Hand (Psalm 110:1)
Peter’s final verse is to point out that David’s body did not ascend into heaven, but that it is Jesus who ascended back into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father until He makes His enemies His footstool. Jesus Himself refers to this same verse in the Psalms. Notice that it says “until.” Christ’s enemies will definitely be made His footstool. What a great promise!

What’s the Point?!
Peter has now quoted from three portions of the Old Testament, building his sermon on Jesus Christ. The result? The Jews were cut to the heart and ask Peter what to do. Peter’s answer? “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In the subsequent verse Peter says that this call is not only for Israel, but also “for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39)

Acts #1 – Final Preparations

Some Background
Although not explicitly stated, the writer of this book is Luke, who also wrote the Gospel according to Luke. Both books are also written to the same person, Theophilus. Now there are some speculations as to who Theophilus was. His name means ‘lover of God,’ but this may have been a nickname. One speculation states that both Luke volume 1 (the Gospel) and Luke volume 2 (Acts) were written as official documentation for Paul’s appeal to Rome. As a Roman citizen Paul was allowed to hand in written documentation in defense of his arrest. Considering the title of Theophilus (most excellent – which is a title generally used for a Roman official), he could have been the official who prepared the necessary appeal documentation. In defense of this speculation it is said that the book of Acts never shows Paul as an instigator of the riots (not even with Stephen’s murder) and that also throughout the book the Romans are never portrayed as the bad guys. So, both the gospel according to Luke and the book of Acts are written by the same person, to the same person, but also with the same subject, namely Jesus Christ. Yes, the Holy Spirit is very prominent, but as is consistent with His mission He bears only testimony of the Son, Jesus Christ (John 15:26). The book of Acts is the transition between the Kingdom message and the Church. The Kingdom was offered to Israel first, but they rejected it, which opened the door to the Gentiles. The book of Acts is the continuing story of God’s plan and promise to all flesh, not just Israel or the Church. If the book of Acts is the transition between the Kingdom and the Church, then the book of Revelation is the transition between the Church and the Kingdom.

Forty Days of Ministry
The book of Acts is the only place where it mentions the exact number of days between the resurrection and the ascension, namely 40 days (Acts 1:3). In those days Jesus was talking to His disciples about the Kingdom of God. Some of these accounts are recorded in the Bible, such as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18) and the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), but I can only imagine how great it must have been to sit in on those private Bible studies where Jesus is explaining the Kingdom of God.

Jesus also told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. It is not that the Holy Spirit is making His first appearance in Acts for He is already there from the beginning in Genesis 1:2. But there are some special considerations regarding the Holy Spirit’s appearance in Acts 1:2 besides the fact that He will baptize (indwell) the Body of Christ (not just those who happen to be there!) on Pentecost. This has to do with what Jesus said to His disciples in John 16:7, where He says: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.“. Here Jesus implies that He and the Holy Spirit basically cannot be there at the same time (which has nothing to do with His omnipresence, for at Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit is there), but this is maybe a topic for another blog.

The Ascension
At the ascension the disciples ask Jesus whether He is going to restore the Kingdom to Israel, which was a natural question to ask as a lot of the Old Testament prophesies were pertaining the restoration of the Kingdom. The Jews however were thinking about a political kingdom and that Jesus would overthrow the Roman oppression and rule Israel. Yet Jesus was talking about a totally different Kingdom. The Jews did not know of His plans, nor where they really equipped for what was coming. Jesus’ answer was that it was not for them “to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8). Notice the small difference between what Jesus says here and in Matthew 24:34 or Mark 13:32 where He says: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). The verses in both Matthew and Mark say that no one knows, not even the Son (Jesus). Yet here in Acts, Jesus does not mention Himself to not know. Was Jesus informed by the Father between then and now, in the three days maybe between His death and resurrection? It could be accidental, but I don’t think that anything in God’s plan is accidental. Still, it is conjecture.

Notice also that Jesus does not cancel the Kingdom of Israel. It is about timing, not an event. In Matthew 10:5-6, Jesus sends His disciples on a small field trip with the following instruction: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This is in complete contrast to the mission He is about to send them on in Acts, which is to go not only go to Jerusalem and Judea, but then also to Samaria and to the end of the world, which are the Gentiles. The Kingdom message was first exclusively for Israel. John 1:11 says that Jesus “came to His own, and His own people did not receive him.“. Israel rejected Him, and Jesus “drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’” (Luke 19:41-44). Because of this Israel has been set aside for a time, for Romans 11:25 says that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” The Book of Acts is a transition between the Kingdom message, which is the primary thing we see in the Gospels, and that mystery which is called the Church. Then the book of Revelation is going to be a transition from the Church (chapters 2-3) back to the Kingdom.

The Two Men
Who are the two men? A topic of wide debate. Are they Moses and Elijah (like with the transfiguration)? Are they the same two men who accompanied the Lord in Genesis 18 with Abraham? Are they the two witnesses in Revelation 11? In any case they give an interesting prophecy that Jesus will come back the same way as He went, of which Zechariah 14:4-9 says, “On that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to o the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

The Upper Room
The rest of the chapter deals with the disciples going back to the upper room to pray, and to find a replacement for Judas to complete the eleven remaining apostles. After casting lots (which is a biblical principle – see Proverbs 16:33) they chose Matthias as the new twelfth apostle. There are scholars who say that choosing Matthias was a big mistake, and that Peter (like in the Gospels) was speaking to quickly here. The reason being that Paul (Saul) would be the twelfth apostle, and that’s the reason why Paul in nine of his fourteen epistles is beginning with defending his apostleship.