Sacred by Dr. Abidan Shah

SACRED by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC 

Introduction:  How many parents have told your kids not to let strangers into the house or even tell them that you are away when you’re gone? Nicole recounts a time when her parents were away, and this man knocked on their door in the evening. Her dad had helped him out sometime back at his office and he had somehow found out where he lived. Nicole told him that her parents were busy and could not come to the door. So, he went down the driveway and kept pacing up and down the sidewalk. Little while later, he came back to the door and before Nicole could get to it, her brother opened the door. The man asked for their dad again and he blurted out, “They’re not here.” Nicole quickly called a neighbor who lived around the corner and the man finally left. As you know, we are in our series on apologetics called CONTEND. In this message, we’re going to learn why it is essential to be discerning against those who come knocking on our door, claiming to be like us when they are doctrinally opposed to us. Main point: Doctrine is often looked upon as old fashioned, divisive, and boring. To the contrary, doctrine is essential to the gospel and impacts eternity. Doctrines have to be learned, defended, and reaffirmed, especially the first-rank ones. The Holy Spirit guides us in true doctrine.

2 John 7 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”

Context: Very early in the life of the church, first-rank doctrines were under attack. What are first-rank or first level doctrines? Per Mohler and Ortlund (separate works), these are the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture. Of course, there was not a full-on attack against these doctrines in the earliest days, but the attack had begun. John the apostle referred to the attackers as a “deceiver” and an “antichrist.” Then he reminded the readers – 8 “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.” In other words, the doctrines that have been worked out so carefully should not be cast aside so easily. Instead, verse 9 “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” Here we notice that the first-rank doctrines of the Trinity and Christology are being defended and reaffirmed. But wait, here comes a warning – 10 “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” What a strong indictment against those who deny these first-rank doctrines!

In this message I want to deal with 2 groups who are known for coming to our houses with their so called “gospel” – Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both claim Christianity and both claim the Bible as their book as well, but they allege that it has been corrupted. Also, both add their own literature to the Bible and claim that it is on the same level:

  • Mormon: The Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: New World Translation and their Watchtower Bible and Tract Society with their 2 magazines – “Watchtower” and “Awake.”

In the chart that I have shared with you over the past few weeks, the challenge is again to the “Authority” of the Bible, primarily on that matter of the “Canon.” By the way, both of these movements are what scholars refer to as the “New Religious Movements (Terry Muck). They have cropped up in the past 200 years. Although many smaller movements can be named, these fall into the category of the “reinterpretation” or “recovery” of true Christianity. In other words, they claim Christianity as their roots, but they also claim that they are restoring Christianity to its true roots. How do we determine whether or not they are indeed true?

I. External-Verification (Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence):

A. Bible:

Historical Accuracy

  • To begin with, we have 100% of the text of the Old Testament and New Testament. This is done through a discipline called textual criticism. I have dedicated my life to the NT text.
  • Both the OT and NT make tons of references to lands and regions, kings and rulers, cities and towns, mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, buildings and monuments, events and dates, treaties and policies, customs and traditions, etc. We can verify each of them. I’ve been to Israel many times and seen many of these places – Tel Dan in the north to Elath in the south, Joppa in the west to the Dead Sea in the east. I’ve been to Greece and stood on Mars Hill where Paul preached. I can go on and on.
  • Most important verification is the Resurrection of Jesus. Something happened that turned those fearful disciples into bold martyrs. History was divided into 2 halves!

Unity and Coherence

  • Over 40 authors from different backgrounds, places, and historical situations.
  • Nonetheless, from the first book to the last, the message is about God’s salvation of humanity through his son Jesus Christ. I have talked about this endlessly.

2. Mormon Writings:

Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence

  • Although they believe the Bible, according to their Article of Faith 8, the Latter-Day Saints “believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” Also, in their History of the Church 4:461, it is claimed that Joseph Smith called it “the most correct of any book on earth.”
  • To begin with, who was Joseph Smith? It is claimed that it all began in 1820 when a 14-year-old boy in up-state New York prayed that God would show him which church to join from among the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. As he prayed in a nearby grove, an overpowering force bound his body and tongue, and thick darkness came upon him, so that he could not speak. Just when he thought that he was going to die, a pillar of fire came down from heaven and he saw the Father and the Son as separate men but just alike, standing before him. The Son told him not to join any church but wait on further revelation. Few years later, the angel Moroni appeared to him in 1823 and promised that he would find a book of gold plates, which he claimed to find in some nearby hill in 1827. The book was supposedly in “reformed Egyptian,” which no one knows what that language is, and the book of Mormon was published in 1830.
  • The story in the book is about the coming of the Hebrews to settle in the Americas. Apparently, their life between 6th century BC and 5th century AD are described in the book. There is no historical evidence for this. Also, it is claimed that Jesus came here to preach to them after his resurrection. Those who received became the Nephites and those who rejected became the Lamanites, who are supposedly the ancestors of the Native Americans. There were battles between the two groups and the Nephites were gone, but not before the plates of the recordings were buried by Moroni, the son of Mormon, the last Nephite general. Again, there is zero historical evidence for all this.
  • Overall, it is written in a pseudo-translation pretending to be written in the style of the King James Version.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses literature:

Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence

  • Although they believe the Bible, they use their own translation, claiming that ours is corrupt. In fact, they believe that the Watchtower Society is “the one and only channel which the Lord has used in dispensing his truth continually since the beginning of the harvest period…” (April 1, 1919).
  • In the late 19th century, a young man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania named Charles Taze Russell began a class called the “Millennial Dawn Bible Study.” He was a Presbyterian, but found the doctrines of predestination, eternal damnation, and the Trinity troublesome. He got some of his ideas from the Adventists and others who taught on prophecy, and he put them together in his literature which later became part of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
  • He claimed that Christ’s invisible “second presence” had happened in 1874 and the harvesting period had ended in 1878. The “end of the Gentiles” time would take place in 1914. That year came and went, but it was claimed that the invisible occurrence had happened, and Satan was thrown out of heaven. Now Jesus had begun his heavenly rule and starting in 1918, the 144,000 were in the heavenly kingdom. Russell died in 1916 and the leadership passed on to Joseph Franklin Rutherford. He was the one who “solved” the problem of the 144,000, by claiming that they are the “anointed ones” as opposed to the “great crowd” which represents all the Jehovah’s Witnesses (name chosen in 1931).
  • The writings of Russell and Rutherford are not used anymore. Instead, it’s the materials from the Watchtower Society. Who writes them? The leadership but anonymously since 1942.

You would think that the external verification would be enough to prove that the Bible alone is the true Word of God. Unfortunately, both groups claim in one way or another the witness of the Holy Spirit. This is not a problem for us. Instead, it is a must for believers. Because of our sinful minds and hearts, the Holy Spirit has to illumine and demonstrate the truth of God’s Word:

  • Illumination – show us the truth of God’s Word.
  • Demonstration – testify to us that it is the truth.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t give new evidence. He is the cause of faith not the reason.

1 John 4      1 “Beloved do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

II. Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit:

  1. Bible: We’ve obviously seen what the Holy Spirit has to say, especially about the Trinity and Christ.
  2. Mormon Writings:
  • Trinity is denied. Their trinity is 3 persons united in purpose not being. Instead, polytheism is affirmed since they claim that there are many gods in different parts of the universe.
  • The Heavenly Father was a man at one time who was created by a god, who was also created by another god. He passed through degrees of sanctification to become God. God was once a man like we are and that humans can become like God is now (Snow).
  • Jesus was a product of Heavenly Father and mother. They deny this but Satan was a spirit brother of Jesus through another wife of the Heavenly Father.
  • His sacrifice is not sufficient. Ordinances and covenants in the temple are necessary for godhood in the Celestial Kingdom.
  • Much more.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses Literature:

  • Trinity is denied. Jehovah is the only god.
  • Jesus was created as Michael the Archangel. He became the Son at baptism. Hence, they read John 1:1 as “a god,” which is grammatically and theologically false. Also, the Holy Spirit is God’s active force.
  • Jesus died only for Adam’s sin, not for all of humanity.
  • No hell. Instead, paradise will be for a select few and the rest will be annihilated.

Invitation: Can you discern? Does doctrine matter? Is Christ your Savior and King? Is the Holy Spirit in you testifying to the truth?

Canon by Dr. Abidan Shah

CANON by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: Last month, June 2021, an Italian artist named Salvatore Garau put up a sculptor at an auction titled “lo Sono,” meaning “I am.” He set the opening bid between $6000 to $9000. Only problem was that it was an invisible piece. According to Garau, “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that nothing has a weight…Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.” People laughed about it. Some put pictures online of their invisible pieces. Believe it or not, someone bought it for $18,300! Here’s where the story takes a turn. Couple of days ago, Tom Miller, a Florida-based performance artist, claimed that Garau stole his idea. Back in 2016, he had assembled an invisible piece titled “Nothing” over 5 days. Miller has hired an attorney. How does this connect with our message in our series titled “CONTEND?” Just because you believe it, it doesn’t make it right. Main point: The Bible is not one person’s imagination of truth and reality. It is a collection of God’s words through various individuals in various times and in various ways regarding one thing – the coming of his son. Jesus is God’s son who came as a real historical person in a real historical place and time to fulfill God’s promise of salvation for all humanity.

Hebrews 1      1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Context: What a powerful declaration of the special revelation of God through the ages! If you remember the chart I have created, so far, we worked up. The Scriptures are authoritative because they were inspired by God and hence inerrant. They were inspired because they were the special revelation of God. Now, we need to work down. Because the scriptures were authoritative, they were affirmed as canonical by the church. The Old Testament canon was already set before the New Testament was written and the New Testament canon was affirmed by the church in due time. Of course, there are certain questions that have been raised regarding canonicity. Here are some questions that we received in our survey:

  • Why are there more books in certain Bibles?
  • Is there any value in the books that have not been included?
  • Isn’t the process of canonization similar to other religions?

In answering these questions, I want us to compare the biblical canon to the Buddhist canon. In other words, how do the Buddhist religious books compare to the Bible.

  1. Main Character:

A. Buddhist Religious Books

  • Buddha or Word of the Buddha
  • There was one – Siddhartha Gautama from Northern India in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. He was a prince. For various reasons, his father would not let him venture out of the palace. He did not know what suffering was. He was married and had a child. One day, at the age of 29, he asked his charioteer to take him for a ride. On the way, he was exposed to “Four Sights” – an old man, a sick man, and a funeral procession. In other words, he was exposed to suffering. The fourth sight was a Hindu sadhu who seemed very peaceful. He decided to become one and left his wife and son. This was the “Great Renunciation.” He went searching for the truth and even tried to scourge himself. Finally, at age 35, he sat under a pipal tree to meditate. All night, he fought against the evil tempter Mara. As a result, he experienced enlightenment and the path to the end of suffering.
  • This path begins with 4 Noble Truths: 1. Existence is suffering (dukkha) 2. Suffering is caused by desire (tanha). 3. Liberation (nirvana) from suffering and desire is possible. 4. The Eightfold path is the way to escape – right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Basically, they are morality, concentration, and wisdom.
  • After this he gained some disciples and began preaching his way to enlightenment.
  • Basically, his teachings were rooted in Hinduism, Jainism, and other ancient religions. There was a lot of focus on suffering, meditation, and following wise teachers. Karma was again important. The goal was to progress through the reincarnation cycles and escape to Nirvana. Unlike Hinduism, which focuses on coming back in the next life, Buddhism focuses on the continuation of pure karma from one life to another.
  • But, there were many other Buddhas. Their common teachings together are the buddhavacana or the word of the Buddha. This is the essence of the eternal Dharma or teachings.

B. Bible

  • From start to finish, the Bible is about Jesus. Listen again to Hebrews 1 2 “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power…”
  • That’s why when Jesus began his ministry, he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” After he rose from the grave, he met some of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
  1. Canon:

A. Buddhist Religious Books

  • There are 3 canons based on the three main traditions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Theravada (way of the elders) claims to be the earliest and closest to the early Buddhist community. It is found in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Kampuchea).
  • Mahayana began around the time of Christ and spread from India to China, Korea, and Japan. It claims to be superior to Theravada. Unlike the Indian focus on nirvana, the Chinese and Japanese focus was more on enlightenment.
  • The Tibetan Buddhism or Vajrayana came in the 7th century to Tibet, and it is found in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. It is more focused on Indian tantric practices. These include mudras (physical postures), mantras (magical phrases), calling on ghosts, demons, and territorial spirits. Their leader is the Dalai Lama, who is considered to be a reincarnation of the previous 13 Dalai Lamas and is believed to be connected to Buddha.
  • Based on the 3 traditions, there are 3 different canons:

#1. Theravada – Pali Canon which has the Tripitaka (3 baskets) containing Buddha’s teachings, monastic codes, and philosophical analysis. They were passed down orally and finally penned 400 years later and agreed upon 500 more years later. This is much larger than the Bible, 11 times. This is how the Ajanta and Ellora Caves came to be. They were places for monks to study, work, and meditate.

#2. Mahayana – It has the Pali canon and many more which it considers to be superior. It has about 100,000 pages in printed form. They are like libraries. This where the Lotus Sutra comes in, if you’ve heard of it.

#3. Tibetan – part of the Mahayana tradition and other texts.

  • Buddhism has also spread to the west. It is heavily influenced by Japanese Buddhism and a new kind of Buddhism is emerging. It is a buffet style Buddhism, which tinkers with Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, even Jodo (pure land) Buddhism.

B. Bible

  • Old Testament – 4 Canons (Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox)
  • Jewish – The traditional number of books is 24. Referred to as Mikra (that which is read) or Tanakh [T, N, K = Torah (instruction/law), Nevi’im (prophets), Kethuvim (writings)]
  • Protestant – The traditional number of the books is 39. It retains the order of the LXX but the text is based on the Hebrew Bible.
  • Roman Catholic – The traditional number of books is 49. It is based on the Alexandrian canon of the LXX. The order of books varies. It is based on current editions, such as the Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible. The appendix of the Latin Vulgate contains 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh.
  • Orthodox – The traditional number of the books is 53. It is based on larger versions of the LXX. “Orthodox” here refers to the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches (the Slavonic Bible being the traditional text). In Orthodox Bibles, 4 Maccabees and the Prayer of Manasseh-and in Slavonic, 3 Esdras are in an appendix.
  • The extra books found in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons are not part of the Jewish canon. According to Josephus, the 24 were it for the Jewish canon.
  • The Essenes from Qumran only cite from the Jewish canonical books and only wrote commentaries on them.
  • Philo (20BC – 40AD) the Jewish scholar only cites from the canonical books. So also, the NT authors stick to the canonical books. Jude quotes from 1 Enoch but it was not claimed to be canonical.
  • The extra books were added by the RC and Orthodox as important to certain Jewish people.
  • The New Testament canon of 27 books have remained the same throughout. The ones claimed recently are gnostic heretical books.
  1. Purpose (Adapted from Thane Hutcherson Ury)
A. Buddhist Religious Books B. Bible
1.    No personal god 1.    God wants us to know him.
2.    History is cyclical. No creation 2.    History is linear. Yes, creation
3.    Main problem is suffering 3.    Main problem is sin
4.    Salvation is from inside 4.    Salvation is from above
5.    Ultimate goal is Nirvana 5.    Ultimate goal is relationship with God
6.    It all happened under a tree 6.    It all happened on a tree
7.    No judgment 7.    Day appointed for judgment
8.    No life after death 8.    Eternal Life
9.    Be lamps to yourself 9.    Shine the light of Jesus
10.Without Buddha, still Buddhism 10.No Christianity without Christ

3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. The writer then goes on to compare Jesus to the Torah, Moses, the Promised Land, the priests, Melchizedek, the sacrifices, and the covenant.

Invitation: Who would you rather trust? Someone who imagined or someone who has been promised and who came in definite time and place and fulfilled that promise? Are you saved? Do you know Jesus as your Savior and King?

Authority by Dr. Abidan Shah

AUTHORITY by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: Howard Hughes was a very successful American businessman. He made it big in the fields of engineering, aviation, and film making in the mid-1900s. Towards the end of his life, due to physical and mental issues, he became an eccentric and reclusive. Unbeknownst to Hughes, a journalist and novelist named Clifton Irving secured a contract with a large advance from a publishing house to write his autobiography. Irving claimed that he had exclusive interviews with Hughes, which was not true. At the last moment, Hughes and his lawyers stepped forward and exposed the whole thing as a fraud. Some people think that the Bible is nothing but a well-crafted and elaborate fraud on God perpetuated by the church to fleece the masses. In fact, here are some of the questions that you sent regarding the Bible: “Doesn’t the Bible have errors?” “What about all those books that did not make it into the Bible?” “What makes the Bible more special over other religious books?” “Aren’t all the copies of the New Testament corrupt?” “Why do the various translations disagree?” “Aren’t the biblical accounts similar to ancient myths?” It may seem like these questions regarding the Bible are all over the place, but, in reality, they are all connected to the issue of the Authority of the Bible. Main Point: The Bible is unlike any book in the world. It is the word of God without any errors, and it claims authority over our individual lives, church, and world. In fact, submission to scriptures is submission to God, more specifically to Jesus Christ.

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

Context: The first assault that Satan made against human beings in their relationship with God was regarding the Authority of the Word of God – “Has God indeed said…”That question had 2 implications: first, are you sure that’s what God said; second, are you sure you have to obey him. The first implication has to do with Revelation. The second has to do with Application. Both are a challenge to the Authority of God’s Word. To understand why the Bible is Authoritative and why we have to Obey it, we need to understand some of the other terms connected to the doctrine of Scripture. If you grew up in church, especially in evangelical circles, I’m sure you have heard a lot of big words regarding the Bible: Inerrancy, Inspiration, Revelation, Authority, Canon, Interpretation, Infallibility, and Application. What do they all mean and how are they connected? To begin with, the key word in all these words is Authority. J. I. Packer (famous evangelical theologian who authored “Knowing God”) wrote, “Authority is the basic theological issue into which discussions of biblical revelation, inspiration, and interpretation finally run.” I have come up with the following chart. It’s not perfect, but it helps us to understand how all the terms connect to Authority and to each other:

  • The Bible has to be obeyed (Application) because it is Authoritative.
  • Before you can properly apply, you have to correctly interpret it (Interpretation).
  • The Authority only extends to the Canonical books because they alone were recognized by the church.
  • They alone were recognized by the church as Canonical because they alone were Inspired.
  • Because they are Inspired, they are Inerrant.
  • They are Inspired and Inerrant because they were Revealed by God through the Holy Spirit to his people.

Let’s start at the beginning:

1. Revelation: This is God making himself known to human beings. There are 2 kinds –

A. General

i. Nature – Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”

ii. History – Daniel 2:21 “And He changes the times and the seasons; he removes kings and raises up kings.”

iii. Human Nature – Romans 2:14 “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves.” This is only about right and wrong, not salvation.

 B. Special – We need more specific information in order to be saved. Acts 4:12 “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This is where the 66 books of the Bible come in. The information in them is Personal, Anthropic, and Analogical. They come as historical acts (Abraham and Isaac; Babylonian exile), divine speech (“The word of the Lord came to me…”) and the incarnation of Jesus.

2. Inspiration: This is the process by which revelation is recorded and communicated to God’s people. More specifically, “the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on selected individuals which rendered them the instruments of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will” (Charles Hodge). 2 Timothy 3 16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, (theopneustos = God-breathed) and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It is verbal (very words and not just concepts and subjects) and plenary (all is equally inspired even if certain parts are more beneficial than others). Also, it has both the human and divine elements (differences between the styles of the prophets and the writings of the gospels). 2 Peter 1:21 “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

3. Inerrancy: “[Inerrancy] is a corollary of the doctrine of full inspiration of the Bible. The view of the Bible held and taught by the writers of Scripture implies the full truthfulness of the Bible” (Millard Erickson). Here’s the best definition: “When all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” (Paul D. Feinberg)

Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Matthew 5:18 “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

Note: Infallible – usually used by those who allow for the possibility that the Bible may not be fully free from error. They limit inerrancy to matters of faith and practice, especially salvation.

4. Authority – Here’s the definition of the “authority of Scripture” by Wayne Grudem – “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.” The Bible has both bestowed and inherent authority. Because of its content that points to the living true God, it has bestowed authority. Because it is inspired and inerrant, it has inherent authority. It has authority over individual lives, church, and culture. Submission to scriptures is submission to God, more specifically Jesus Christ.

Joshua 1:8 “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

5. Canon: Here “canon” refers to the list of authoritative books. It is often falsely alleged by the skeptics of Christianity that the church picked those books that fit their socio-political agenda. This is sensational history repeated in novels like The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. That’s just not true! The canon was providentially set by the Holy Spirit and the church councils in the third century simply affirmed those books. The true evidence is seen in their use by God’s people from the first century. Very early on, they made lists of books that were deemed authoritative. Yes, there are certain Bibles that have extra books in the Old Testament. We will discuss that in the weeks ahead, but this is not so in the New Testament. Most of the extra-canonical books are Gnostic in origin.

6. Application: Ever since the end of the seventeenth century, there has been a growing shift in the western culture regarding the word authority. Prior to the coming of modernism, authority was looked upon as a benefit. Since then, it is looked upon as a hindrance to the free inquiry of truth. Authority is considered to be the opposite of truth. Obeying the Bible is seen as optional and even detrimental to freedom. We have to once again recognize that the Scriptures are not only authoritative as a top down authority, but they are very beneficial to us because they truly know us and can help us. Hebrews 4 12 “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

7. Interpretation: In order to obey, scriptures have to be properly interpreted. We have to use all the possible methods that will help us get to the heart of what God is saying and what he is expecting of us. Does the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart guarantee accurate interpretation? How can two people taught by the Holy Spirit have conflicting views on a passage? Does the Holy Spirit give us deeper meaning that cannot be reached by a normal study of a passage? In what way does the Holy Spirit guide our understanding in the study of God’s Word? Only the saved can be enabled by the Holy Spirit to truly appreciate and apply the Word (I Corinthians 2:14; I Thessalonians 1:6).

We began with Satan’s challenge to the Authority of God’s Word in the lives of Adam and Eve. I want to close with his similar challenge in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Matthew 4       3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 10   Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” 11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

Invitation: How much Authority does the Word of God have in your life? Ultimately, the Bible is God’s rescue manual to save you. Are you saved?

Family Resemblance by Dr. Abidan Shah

FAMILY RESEMBLANCE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  If you grew up in America, especially in the South, you have heard of the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, 2 families that lived on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky by the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. The two patriarchs of the families – William Anderson (Devil Anse) Hatfield and Randolph McCoy got into a dispute over the murder of Randolph’s brother sometime after the Civil War. They also had an ongoing conflict over timber. Few years later, some of the descendants fought over a pig and the star witness was killed soon after. Then, it was a romance between Hatfield’s son and McCoy’s daughter that didn’t work out and some more murders followed. Altogether, it is claimed that at least 20 men and women (some even claim 100) were killed over the family feud. Although, everything had been long forgotten since they shook hands in 1897, there was a dispute in 2000 over the access to the cemetery. So, in 2003, both the families had to sign a truce. Little did those 2 patriarchs realize the pattern they set for their descendants even 2 centuries later! It’s amazing how much we follow the trajectory of our parents, good and bad. Main point: Yes, we should honor our parents, but we should be careful about following their trajectory, especially when it comes to marriage and family. Instead, we are to choose to be daughters of Sarah and sons of Abraham. In other words, seek to be a submissive wife like Sarah and an understanding husband like Abraham.

1 Peter 3:1 “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives.”

Context: In our series on 1 Peter titled “TOGETHER FORWARD,” we come to the section that has been very controversial through the years. It has been misused and abused causing a lot of pain, mostly to women, but also to children. It was very tempting for me to skip over it, but the more I prayed about it, the more I realized that to skip over it is to skip over God’s words. I don’t have the authority to do that. So, don’t shoot the messenger. In fact, the proper understanding of this passage is actually liberating to women rather than binding. Furthermore, it is the linchpin issue that deals with the rest of the craziness that is happening in our culture with gender and race issues.

Before we dive into this section of husband-wife relationship, we need to keep in mind the section that we just came out of. Peter had just finished telling his readers to follow the example of the Servant from Isaiah 53. He wanted his readers and us to have the mindset of the one who was “wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Without that mindset, the section we are about to get into will be like fingernails on chalkboard.

Application: Do you have the Servant mindset? Are you willing to suffer for others? Do you know the Servant, Jesus Christ? Was he wounded for your transgressions? Was he bruised for your iniquities? Was the chastisement of your peace upon him? Were you healed by his stripes?

Back to our section – Even though the section on husband-wife relationship begins in 1 Peter 3:1, I would like to begin at 1 Peter 3:5 where Peter invoked the example of the marriage of Abraham and Sarah to explain how wives should be submissive and husbands should lead in marriage – 5 “For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. 7 Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” Even though Abraham’s name is not mentioned in verse 7, the implication is there: Women be a wife like Sarah and men be a husband like Abraham. In other words, those who truly exemplify what marriage is supposed to be become the true descendants of Sarah and Abraham. So, how was the marriage of Sarah and Abraham?

  1. She was a supportive wife.

Genesis 12      4 “…And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan.”

Keep in mind that Abram was originally from Ur. It’s his father Terah who led the first exodus out of Ur with his kids, livestock, and possessions and came to Haran. By the time they were there and Terah died, Abram was 75 years old. That would make Sarah 65 since she was 10 years younger than him. It’s already been one big move. When God’s call came to Abram in Haran, he left and Sarah followed her husband. The Bible doesn’t talk about it but I can imagine what a struggle that must have been for her. Archaeological evidence tells us that Ur was a large, civilized city. Being near the Persian Gulf, people from everywhere came there for business. Haran was not as prominent, but it was still a big place. There was a large temple to the moon god there. Nonetheless, Sarai followed her husband. Why? She knew that God had called her husband.

Application: Ladies, are you supportive of your husband? I understand that there will be times that you will have to put your foot down, but have you ever been supportive?

  1. He was not always an understanding husband.

Genesis 12      10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, “This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say you aremy sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”

Technically, she was his sister (Genesis 20:12), but what a horrible thing to do. Also, how cowardly can you get. Thankfully, God intervened and saved Sarah by plaguing Egypt. Unfortunately, he still didn’t learn his lesson. In Genesis 20, 25 years since the Egypt incident, he did it again and this time he was 100 years old. Again, God had to intervene. Goes to tell you that age does not always equal maturity. Stupid has no age limit!

Application: Men, have you been understanding towards your wife? I understand that none of us are perfect, but is there a mental block somewhere?

  1. They both made some big mistakes.

Genesis 16      1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.

Their mistake was not that they were helping God out. Their mistake was that they both thought that Sarah was not part of God’s plan. She was being unselfish, and he was not talking to God. Later, Sarah told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away and we wouldn’t listen to her and God had to talk to Abraham. How tragic when husbands and wives are not on the same page spiritually.

Application: Couples sometimes make bad decisions, and their marriage comes to a halt. Is that you? Has your marriage come to a standstill because of the complications of sin?

  1. Nonetheless, she submitted to his leadership.

When God came to inform Sarah that she would be with child, listen to her response –Genesis 18      10 And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. 12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” That is the passage that Peter quotes in his letter. The word she used here in Hebrew is “adoney,” which means lord, master. In spite of all his weaknesses, she laughed at the proposition but still showed him respect for his leadership.

Application: Ladies, have you stopped respecting your husband for some decision(s) he has made? How do you talk to him? How do you look at him?

  1. He, not Sarah, was called by God to do the most difficult sacrifice.

God called him, not Sarah, to sacrifice Isaac. He was the spiritual leader of the family. Just like after Adam and Eve sinned, God knew who took the fruit first, but he called, “Adam, where are you?” The most difficult thing for a wife is a husband who doesn’t lead spiritually or is inconsistent?

Application: Men, God is going to require from you, not your wife, the account of your family?

What is submission not? (From Grudem)

  1. Putting your husband in the place of God.
  2. Giving up your mind and thought.
  3. Suppressing any efforts to influence and guide your husband.
  4. Giving in to every demand of the husband.
  5. Being inferior in Christ compared to your husband.
  6. Getting spiritual and personal strength primarily through your husband.
  7. Being fearful and timid.

1 Peter 3:6 “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.”

What is leadership not?

  1. Thinking that you are closer to God.
  2. Expecting blind allegiance.
  3. Refusing to take your wife’s advice and input.
  4. Doing whatever you want.
  5. Leaving all spiritual stuff to your wife.
  6. Refusing to take the blame for where your family is headed.
  7. Being brash and authoritarian.

What is submission? The inner quality of gentleness that affirms the leadership of your husband.

What is leadership? The outward demonstration of understanding that gives your wife the honor that is due.

What is the goal? So, you can be heirs together of the grace of life and your prayers may not be hindered.

1 Peter 3:7 “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”

Invitation: Do you have family resemblance with Sarah and Abraham or with your own “Hatfields and McCoys?” Are you in the family of God? Are you saved?

Living Stone by Dr. Abidan Shah

 

LIVING STONE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  We have several families in the church who are building homes or have just finished building. It can be such a long arduous process. There are so many things to consider from the right builders, cost of the materials, weather, decision fatigue, and changes. But, in the end, it is all worth it when you can sit on the front porch or the living room and know that you are in your own house. But, it takes a lot of patience to get there. By the way, I went looking for some construction jokes online and they all said that they’re still working on it. In today’s message, Peter is going to appeal to the construction imagery to encourage his readers. Here’s what he’s saying to them: When the world and even our loved ones evict us because of our faith, we are not left homeless in this life. Instead, we are carefully chosen by God to join Jesus in building our spiritual house where God dwells. We are precious to him.

1 Peter 2      4 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Context: As you’ve heard me say it throughout this series, Peter wrote this letter to encourage believers who were facing persecution and ostracization because of their faith. It was causing some of them to turn back to their old natures and pick up those old sinful ways – “malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.” These are not sins committed in isolation, but sins committed in relationships. In other words, they were turning against each other in the church family. Peter evoked the imagery of a newborn baby to exhort them to seek the pure milk of those things that are proper for the life of a believer. If not, in fear, they will act the fool like David. But, there is another side to the Christian life. It is a life that is diametrically opposite to the innocent, helpless, single-minded life of a newborn baby. It is a life that recognizes that each of us are a small but significant building material in the house of God. It is a life that recognizes that each of us are to be a holy priest before God.

Application: How do you see yourself in the church family? Are you in the church family? Do you have this balanced view of the Christian life?

But, let’s back up because there’s more there. Why did Peter appeal to the building construction imagery? He was acknowledging their present struggles. The persecution and ostracization was having another 2-sided effect on them: On one hand, they were losing their sense of belonging; and, on the other hand, they were losing their inheritance from their old families. They may also have been barred from entering their temples where other business may have been carried out. This often happens when people become Christians in other parts of the world.

Illustration: As you’ve heard me talk about my dad many times, he grew up in a well to do and loving Muslim home. His future was set. He went to college and got his degrees. He had his career path laid out for him. He even knew who he was going to marry. The family had plenty of old money and plenty of prospects to make new money. But then, he had several life-altering moments, one in which he even came face-to-face with death. It caused him to start searching for the truth. After about a yearlong journey of searching, he came to know Christ as his Savior and King. But, when he told his father that he had become a Christian, his father was very angry and gave him the ultimatum: either renounce all this Christianity stuff or leave the house before he was up. Then he added, “If you leave just know that you cannot take anything from this house, except the clothes on your back. Your Jesus was a beggar. If you follow him, you will end up a beggar. One day you will return home and it will be up to me whether or not I will receive you back.” After that exchange, my father stepped outside and looked up at the night sky and had a conversation with God – “God, I don’t understand. I chose to follow you and the first thing that happens is that I lose my family.” God answered him, not audibly but in his heart – “Do you trust me that I can take care of you in the life to come?” He answered, “Of course. That’s why I’m following you.” God spoke to him again – “If you can trust me to take care of you in the life to come that you cannot see, why can’t you trust me to take care of you in this life?” That was it. My dad stepped out in the darkness and made his way to the local train station. He got in line to buy a ticket but he didn’t even know where he was going. The person before him asked for a ticket to Pune. When my dad stepped to the ticket window, he said, “Same place as him.” That night, my father lost his family, his inheritance, and all his earthly security. Unbeknownst to him, he had bought a ticket where the American missionary lived who would later adopt my father as his son.

So also, the believers in Asia Minor may have lost their families, their inheritance, and all their earthly homes and securities. Hence, Peter appealed to the imageries of building, stone, house, rejection, and shame. By the way, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought up the same point in Ephesians 2      19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” More than likely, Peter and Paul got this unusual imagery from the teachings of Jesus himself: Mark 12     10 Have you not even read this Scripture: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 11 This was the LORD’S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” Here, Jesus referred to himself as “the stone.” The origin of this imagery goes back to the Old Testament: Isaiah 28:16Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.” God used the imagery of foundation and cornerstone because God’s people always had to face eviction and instability in life.

Application: You may not have to face evictions for your faith, but it may cost you to follow Christ in the days ahead? How far are you willing to go? There are more times of instability and uncertainty coming in the days ahead? Are you ready for them?

Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refocused the persecuted and rejected believers on the fact that they were all involved in a massive construction project. It is the spiritual temple of God. Listen again to verse 4 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious.” Here the “Living Stone” is Christ. There are 2 things about him: He is rejected by the world, but he is selected by God. But, it’s not just him – 5 “you also, as living stones…” We are also “living stones” that will be rejected by the world but rest assured that we have been selected by God.

What is the purpose of this selection? 5 “…are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 6Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” As I read earlier from Isaiah 28:16, this was a fulfillment of prophecy.

Bottom Line: Christ is our pattern in building the spiritual house of God. There is a sense of solidarity and connection between the persecuted believers and Jesus. We are together involved in a building project. In fact, Christian community is the place of the presence of God in this world. We mistakenly overemphasize God’s presence with us individually. That may be true, but it is the community that displays God’s presence before the watching world.

7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” This is a fulfillment of Psalm 118:22. 8 and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” This is a fulfillment of Isaiah 8. They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

Application: Are you working to build the temple of God? Disobedience will cause you to stumble? Also, Christ is precious to those who know him and are obedient to him. To others, he is a stumbling block – lost as well disobedient saved.

9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

By the way, there is a judgment coming. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3      9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and thatthe Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

Invitation: Are you saved? Are you building? Are you stumbling?

Righteous Conduct by Dr. Abidan Shah

RIGHTEOUS CONDUCT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: Many of us tend to idealize or remake our past. Parents do that with their kids. It usually begins with “When I was your age…” or “When I was growing up, we had to walk 10 miles to school. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways. With my fat kid brother on my back.” Couples do that too when they argue. One will try to make his/her upbringing far better than the other. This does not mean that we need to disown our past or all our past was horrible. But, by glorifying our past, we tend to make it look better than it really was. Sometimes, we even return to our old ways, which leads to bad conduct. As we return to our series in 1 Peter, we are going to learn how to have RIGHTEOUS CONDUCT from our new story in Christ. Main point: Righteous conduct requires discarding our old and false narratives and embracing our new and true narrative as found in the Scriptures. In other words, in order to live holy lives, we have to embrace who we are in God’s narrative of redemption through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:17 “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear.”

Context: In this verse, Peter was calling his readers to conduct themselves in the here and now in light of God’s judgment to come. If you remember, Peter was writing this letter to the pilgrims of the Dispersion (Jewish and Gentile background believers in Asia Minor) who were facing rejection by their own and societal discrimination by their neighbors. Peter was calling them to holy living by discarding their old family values and embracing their new family values. Listen to verse 14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Here “former lusts” refers to the old family values and old behaviors. In contrast, they were to choose holiness as their new calling. If that’s not enough, listen again to verse 17, “And if you call on the Father…” Here “the Father” is our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. 17 “…who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear.” Now, notice carefully verse 18 “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers.” Here “your fathers” are the earthly fathers representing our past life and values. Peter was clearly drawing a distinction between the readers old family and the new family.

Principle: During trials, if we’re not careful, we will return to our default setting. Trials can cause us to revert back to our old ways, the old family values we grew up with.

Application: How did you face your trials in 2020? Were you more Christlike or more Devillike? Did you grow in holiness or did you slide towards sinfulness? Did you revert to the old lifestyle or the new life in Christ?

How do you stay in the new lifestyle? You have to embrace your new narrative of redemption through Jesus Christ. Peter gives us a new timeline between verses 13-21, that is past, present, and future (Joel Green):

  1. Before Time:

20 “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”

Before the foundation of the world: Jesus talked about this time in John 17:24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Again, Paul talked about in Ephesians 1:4 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” Also, John said in Revelation 13:8 “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

In a world of nostalgia where the old is glorified, it doesn’t get any more glorified than this. The plan of salvation was not hatched after sin came into the world. It was already part of God’s plan before time began. It is much more than foresight. It implies the sovereign plan of God. The key here is “for you.” You may not have felt wanted or appreciated under the old plan, but you are wanted and appreciated under the new plan.

Application: Did you realize that you were in the heart of God before the foundation of the world?

  1. Time of Ignorance and Emptiness:

14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.”

Ignorance = not as much about lack of knowledge but about failure to grasp the character and purpose of God. It is a failure to align our lives with the purposes of God. This period was marked by “lusts” = epithumea, which refers to self-indulgence and evil cravings.

18 “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers.”

“Aimless” = “mataios” refers to worthless, useless, empty, vain life. Of course, we appreciate scientific, medical, and technological progress, there is not much gain that is left from the past. By the way, without Christianity and Judeo-Christian foundation, Western Civilization is nothing.

Application: How much do you value your past? Have you manufactured a fake past?

  1. End of the Ages/Last Times:

20 “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

“Last Times” = “eschaton ton chronon” refers to the end times. Hebrews 1     1 “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” Acts 2:17 “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.”

Application: Did you know that we are living in the last days?

  1. Rescued and Restored Times:

18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

“Redeem” = “lutruo” meaning rescued and restored. The image is of slaves set free. It is taking us back to the Exodus event to the Passover. By participating in the Passover, the people were not only memorializing what took place on that night of the Exodus but they were also “actualizing identification with Israel’s salvation history.” Now, it is the precious blood of Christ that rescues and restores us. More importantly: we are not redeemed just from sin but also from our old behavior.

Application: Have you been rescued and restored?

  1. Exile/Temporary life:

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;

Time of your stay = “paroikias humon chronon,” which means “your exile life,” “temporary life,” or “foreigner life.” In every aspect of life – family, church, finances, work, social compassion, justice, integrity, neighborliness, etc. – we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are different. Remember, that you have to give an account to your Heavenly Father who is also your judge. Before you talk about praying, examine your life to make sure that it is approved unto God. Make sure your fear is directed in the right direction – towards God.

Application: How are you living in every aspect of life? Are you aware that God will judge you for your daily actions? Do you examine before you pray? Is your fear directed in the right direction – towards God?

  1. Revelation of Jesus Christ:

13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“Revelation” = “apocalypses,” which refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: What is your narrative? Where do you stand in God’s redemption story? Are you living in a way that he will be pleased when he returns? Trials are not an exemption to holy living. God demands holiness, especially in the midst of trials.

Are you saved?

Greater than Religion by Dr. Abidan Shah

GREATER THAN RELIGION by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Throughout the world, people have all kinds of traditions when it comes to Christmas. In Norway, they hide their brooms on Christmas Eve, because, according to tradition, witches are out on Christmas eve. In South Africa, children look forward to fried caterpillars or Christmas caterpillars on Christmas day. In India, where I grew up, we sang Christmas carols all night from door to door of every church member. To miss someone’s home was a big insult. They would wait for us with food, sweets, coffee, and tea. By the way, the same morning was Christmas day and we had church service at 9 am. It was tough because some of us were half asleep. All these traditions are good but sometimes traditions can overshadow the truth and we end up with religion and religious leaders. In our Christmas series titled GREATER, we’ve seen how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. In this message, we will see that Jesus was even greater than all the religious power brokers of the world. Find John 1:19. Main point: Jesus did not come to fit into our religious traditions. He came to bring us into a relationship with God. Jesus came to tear down the curtain in the Holy of Holies from top to bottom and make a way for us to come boldly to the throne of grace.

Matthew 2      1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Context: If you remember, last week, this was the same passage we used for the message, but our focus was on King Herod. We are using it again because it gives us the third power broker of the ancient world – the Religious Authorities. Next to Rome and Herod, they were in charge. Just like Herod was connected and subjected to Rome and Augustus Caesar, the Religious Authorities were also connected and subjected to Herod. In fact, they were also connected and subjected to Rome, as we will see later on.

In the passage, the Religious Authorities appear to be at Herod’s beck and call4“And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” They knew better than to reject his summons. After all, he was the king. He controlled the appointment of the high priests. He expanded and built the temple in Jerusalem. He maintained peace in the region. He kept a buffer between them and the Romans. Of course, they lined up on the double. Were they aware of the answer? 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Amazingly, they even gave the right answer. What was Herod’s response? 7 “Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.” Why didn’t Herod order the chief priests and scribes to go with the wise men? Why didn’t they go on their own initiative? One of 2 reasons:

  • They didn’t believe this was going to happen. It was just a myth to them.
  • They didn’t want it to happen. It was too costly and risky for them.

By their refusal to act, they were going to cancel the first Christmas! They would rather stay with their traditions and rituals than to go after the real thing.

Application: I find it very interesting how people are willing to shut down Christmas or redefine Christmas or see Christmas differently this year. What annoys me the most is when people try to use spiritual lingo to cover up their fear. How many of you have heard of the term “cancel culture”? It is when a person does or says something controversial and they are immediately cancelled. This happens on social media a lot. People turn against someone and they cancel them. 2000 years ago, people tried to cancel Christmas. They failed. They are trying it again and, unfortunately, believers are going along.

Who were these Religious authorities? In the passage it says “chief priests and the scribes of the people,” but altogether there were 4 major groups with some subgroups: Priests and Levites, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes:

  1. Who were the Priests and Levites? As you know from the Old Testament, priests belonged to the tribe of Levi and had to be descendants of Aaron. Along with the Levites, they were the “ritual specialists and mediators between God and people” (Kugler). While the priests were responsible for running the temple and carrying out the sacrifices, the Levites handled the music and the supervision and management of the temple activities. Under Moses’ supervision and Aaron’s leadership, the standards were extremely high regarding holiness. Exodus 28 36 “You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE Lord. 37 And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. 38 So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” Unfortunately, through the centuries, the priesthood in Israel had continued a downward spiral. In 174 BC, a man by the name of Jason had bribed Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid king, to become the high priest. Three years later, a man by the name of Menelaus, who was not even a Levite, also bribed his way to the position. After that, the Hasmoneans family of priests controlled the position. The Levites were no different. Does this mean that every priest and Levite was corrupt? There were a few like Zechariah and Elizabeth who were truly righteous, but, it seems that those from Jerusalem proper were corrupt. Remember, the parable of the Good Samaritan. The antagonists in the story were the priests and the Levites.
  2. Who were the Sadducees? The first time we hear about the Sadducees is under John Hyrcanus (135-104 BC). The Sadducees claimed to be the “righteous ones,” going all the way back to Zadok, the righteous high priest. In reality, the Sadducees were mostly from the aristocracy and despised by the common people. Under Alexander Jannaeus (103-76BC), 800 Pharisees were crucified by the Sadducees. Then in 37 BC, with the coming of Herod the great, the high priesthood became a political appointment under Rome’s supervision with the Sadducees in charge of all the temple activities. They were not necessarily all priests or attached to the temple. The chief priests and the high priests came from the Sadducees. This was the reason why some Jewish people actually built a temple in Leontopolis, Egypt and some left to form the Dead Sea community at Qumran. In short, the people went to the temple but inside they knew it was in corrupt hands. What did the Sadducees believe?No resurrection, angel, or spirit. They did not accept the oral law or the law of the sages, as the Pharisees. They had their own traditions regarding the Torah. They placed more emphasis on the books that focused on the temple. The came testing him with the question about the resurrection of the 7 brothers married to the same woman. Matthew 32:22 “…God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” They didn’t want Jesus. He was a threat to the establishment.
  3. Who were the Pharisees? They were mostly a lay movement of people who were trying to live a pious life. They believed in the right doctrines. They advocated a simple lifestyle. They were popular with the common people because they would help them keep the law. They focused on “Table Fellowship” – they called on all Jewish people to live according to the priestly laws, especially with regards to everyday meals. They treated their tables at home as the altar in the temple. Every household was held responsible. Hence, the meals had to be tithed, prepared, and served in a certain way. This does not mean that they rejected the priesthood or the temple. Their meals were exclusive and hierarchical because they believed that what you put inside of you matters and who you have around matters. They couldn’t get over Jesus’ eating habits and association with sinners.

Unfortunately, they constantly butted heads with Jesus. They were frustrated that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. They were frustrated that Jesus did not keep all their trivial Sabbath laws. They wanted Jesus to give them a sign. They accused him of being demon possessed. Jesus did not let up on them. He told his disciples in Matthew 5:20 “…unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” He called them “Blind Guides,” “Hypocrites,” and “White-washed tombs.”

Attached to the Pharisees was a subgroup known as the scribes. Jesus often addressed them together.

  1. Who were the Scribes? They interpreted and taught the Law to the people. They were closely connected to the temple in Jerusalem and, in the smaller villages, they held positions of authority. They were envious of Jesus’ knowledge of the bible and popularity with the people. They considered themselves to be experts in the law/Old Testament. Listen to how Jesus dealt with them in Mark 12 38 Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, 39 the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” He pronounced woes upon them along with the Pharisees – Matthew 23:29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. The Priests and the Levites were corrupt.
  2. The Sadducees were protecting the status quo.
  3. The Pharisees were about self-righteousness.
  4. The Scribes were busy showing off their knowledge.

In this world Jesus came not to fit into the religious categories and traditions but to tear down the curtain from top to bottom and make a way for us to come boldly to the throne of grace.

1 Peter 1     18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Invitation: Do you have religion or do you have a relationship with Christ? He came not to fit into our traditions. He came to clean it up. Are you saved?

Greater than Rulers by Dr. Abidan Shah

GREATER – THAN RULERS by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  How many of you have watched the old “Twilight Zone” TV show? I don’t know about you but, after a while, it starts to mess with your mind. One time, our kids were watching one episode after another and I had to tell them to stop! I felt like someone was always watching me or out to get to me. If there was one character in NT history who was always paranoid, it was King Herod. He constantly felt that he had to prove his kingship and that the world was out to get him. In our 3-week Christmas series titled “GREATER,” we are learning how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. Last week, we saw that Jesus was greater than Rome and Augustus Caesar. In this message, we will see that Jesus was greater than Herod, the paranoid king. Please find Matthew 2. Main point: Throughout history, people have tried to prove their significance and leave their legacy. Unfortunately, they’ve all failed. There is only one who is truly significant and whose legacy has no end. His name is Jesus. His coming was promised in the Scriptures, sought by the wise men, accompanied by celestial signs, and protected by the angels. He alone is the legitimate king, and he wants to bring his rule and legacy to your heart and mine.

Matthew 2     1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?’”

Context: Just like Luke 2 last week, this passage is also very familiar, especially during Christmas. Again, we usually rush past this to discuss the star or the wise men, and we miss something very important in the verses we just read. Listen again to verse 1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…” Of course, we know that Rome was in control of Palestine at the time, but it did so through local rulers. Herod was that local ruler, the client King, who ruled the region where Jesus was born. Herod’s policies made a big impact on the Christmas narrative.

A quick point here – It is vital that believers be involved in every level of government: local, state, and national.

So, who was Herod the King? Herod came from the Antipatrid family of Idumea, a region to the east and the south of the Dead Sea. Although, originally, they were descendants of Esau (brother of Jacob), now they were a mixture of Edomites, Jewish people, Arabs, Phoenicians, and Greeks. They had been forcibly converted to Judaism by a Jewish ruler named John Hyrcanus. In other words, they were a non-priestly, non-royal, and non-truly-Jewish family. That’s a lot of nons! Antipater I, Herod’s grandfather, had worked his way up and became the governor of Idumea. Herod’s father also followed in his footsteps and became even more successful. Sadly, some people were envious of his success and poisoned him. Now it was Herod’s turn. He was born with somewhat of a silver spoon in his mouth but he still had to work for every bit of what he had. He was hard working and had unending energy. As a strategos (military governor) of Galilee at the age of 25, he was not the type who just made his soldiers fight. He was unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat, a very good horseman, and even a good hunter.

How was his character? Overall, he was quite generous. When there was a drought, he used his own resources to help the people. He built up a strong military. He protected his people against bandits and tried to make his region safer and more peaceful. He was an amazing architect. He built forts, public buildings, streets, water systems, supported the Olympic games and on and on. According to Josephus, Herod’s most important achievement was the building of the temple in Jerusalem at his own expense. It took ten years to build. He doubled the foundation of Solomon’s temple and literally reshaped the layout of Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that the entire façade of the temple was covered with gold plates. When the sun rose, it was blinding to look at it! The upper parts were probably marble. He even took care to have the priests trained as masons and carpenters so that there would be no disruption of services. Furthermore, he made sure that no one family would control the priesthood. I can go on and on about the good he did. Yes, he did have a bad temper, but that’s minor compared to all the good that he did.

Did the people love him for all this? Not really. His people didn’t appreciate him. The Jewish people didn’t accept him because he wasn’t Jewish. His enemies tried to bring him to trial. The supporters of the opposition group tried to attack his family. He had to fight off the Parthians. He had to constantly keep Rome happy. He had to kill all the Hasmoneans (Jewish royalty) to ensure his rule. He even had his own brother-in-law – Aristobulus, the High Priest – killed. He had 300 of his military leaders killed. Yes, he was ruthless but it was all because he felt that they were a threat to his success.

Application: Do you know someone like that? He/she had to work hard all his/her lives. He had to deal with junk growing up. She had lowly upbringing. He didn’t have the best of family growing up. She made some bad choices. He tried to help people but he was not appreciated. Is that you? How do you handle those feelings of insignificance?

How was Herod’s love life? Herod’s family life was a mess, partly because he had ten wives and each of them wanted their son(s) to be the next king. His second wife deserves to mentioned in particular. He dismissed his first wife and son to marry Mariamme, a woman from a Hasmonean (prominent Jewish) family. Initially he did it to help his position, which it didn’t, but then he really loved her and had 5 children with her. She knew what he was like and she didn’t love him. Keep in mind that Herod had her brother killed. As Josephus the historian said, “her hatred of him was as great as was his love for her.” Then, Herod’s sister, Salome, started a rumor that Mariamme was cheating on him and he had her put on trial. He didn’t believe his sister but his sister kept pushing him with more and more lies. Finally, in a fit of rage, he had her killed. Then, he realized what he had done and began to grieve over her and even refused to believe that she was dead. He would often call for her. When he got sick, he took it as God’s judgment.

How was Herod as a father? He loved the two oldest sons he had with Mariamme and even sent them to Rome for their education, hoping to turn the kingdom over to them. When they returned they were arrogant and Herod couldn’t stand that. He even heard rumors that they wanted to avenge their mother’s death. After much back and forth, he had them strangled. Then he made a will (4th one to be exact) to give the kingdom to his son from his first wife but 5 days before he died he had him executed for plotting against him. Altogether, he changed his will 6 times before he died! By the way, I’m only dealing with the issues with his sons. I don’t have time to go into all the other family problems.

How was his end? In his final years Herod became terribly sick. Some scholars believe that he had syphilis. He had tried to get some relief in some healing baths near Jordan River but it didn’t help. When he realized that he was dying, he gave orders to his sister Salome to gather the prominent Jewish people at the hippodrome near Jericho and kill them when he died so people would actually cry when he was gone. He knew his own family wouldn’t cry for him. Thank goodness that after he died his sister did not follow the orders. I feel sorry for the guy. Don’t you?

Application: Do you know some people like that? They’ve had a bad home life. They’ve been let down in their marriage. They’ve tried to be good to their family but it never worked out. Their kids don’t appreciate them. They’ve made decisions that they can’t take back. They live in constant regret and guilt. Are you that person? You are trying to find significance in all the wrong places. You need Christ.

Did God forget Herod? No. In fact, he sent the gospel right to his doorstep. Matthew 2      1 “…behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

  1. Unlike Herod who had to prove himself constantly, Jesus was clearly promised in the Scriptures.

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

  1. Unlike Herod’s wise men who failed to prepare him, Jesus was sought by the truly wise men.

Matt. 2:9   When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

  1. Unlike Herod’s failed attempt to build his legacy, Jesus’s coming was accompanied by celestial signs.

11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

  1. Unlike Herod who constantly lived in fear of being killed, Jesus was protected by angels.

16 “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.”

This could have gone a whole different way. Herod could have found true significance. God didn’t hate Herod! He sent Jesus to be born 6 miles from where He lived. He sent magi from 430 miles to tell him about His birth. He even had all the chief and scribes at his disposal to tell him about the location of Jesus’ birth. Ultimately, it was his own wicked heart.

Application:  How is your heart this morning? Do you know Jesus as your Savior? If you know Him, are you sharing Him with others? Are you willing to step out of your hiding and follow Him boldly? Where are you seeking significance?

Greater Than Rome

GREATER – THAN ROME by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: How many of you have ever played “King of the Hill” as kids? The objective is to stay on top of the hill or pile and keep others from pushing you off. Unfortunately, people don’t stop playing that game when they grow up. They become rulers, kings, queens, and emperors. With Christmas upon us, we will be going through a 3-week series titled “GREATER.” We will learn how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. In this first message, we will see that Jesus was “GREATER THAN ROME.” Please find Luke 2. Here’s the main point: Our world has seen rulers rise and fall, and empires come and go. But, there is only one who stands greater than all, and whose kingdom has no end. It is Jesus Christ. Many have tried to overshadow him, but, as someone said, “When small men cast long shadows, it is a sign that their sun is about to set.” Jesus stands greater than all, and the sun cannot set on him because he made the sun and the moon and the stars.

Luke 2:1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

Context: The passage I just read is very familiar, especially during Christmas time. We usually rush past this to Joseph going to his hometown of Bethlehem and Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus and wrapping him in swaddling clothes because there was no room for them in the inn. Then, there were shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks by night and the angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were greatly afraid, and on and on. We miss something very important in the opening verses of Luke 2. The gospel writer Luke has given us some very important information about the world in which Jesus came. Listen again to verse 1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” The Greek word for “decree” is dogma, an imperial declaration. With just one decree, your entire world could be turned upside down.

Application: Do ya’ll understand what that means? This is why it is vital that we speak out and we know our rights. Having our voices heard and be strong in politics is not optional.

Who was Caesar Augustus? Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome when Jesus was born. His birth name was actually Octavius. He was the great nephew and the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who was the dictator of Rome until he was assassinated. Octavius ascended the throne after him, but he wasn’t much of a soldier so he linked up with 2 Roman generals and politicians – Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus – and began avenging the death of Julius Caesar. He was brutal and did not spare any who stood up to him. He even had coins minted with Julius Caesar’s image on one side with the words “the God Julius” and his image on the other side with the words “Caesar, Son of a God.” But, he was not satisfied with being one of three and so he first got rid of Lepidus. Then, he defeated Mark Anthony at the battle of Actium, who committed suicide along with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. They knew what would happen if they fell into the hands of Octavius. Now, Octavius was the only man standing. He was powerful and cruel, to say the least. He established the Pretorian Guard – private bodyguards of 5000 soldiers. The Senate was afraid of him and gave him power over the proconsuls and the armies. They even made him “Pontifex Maximus” or the chief priest of the state religion. Their own position was reduced to being just advisors.

But there’s more – there were provinces in Asia that had supported Mark Antony. Now Octavius was in power and they were going to pay for that. Very quickly delegations came from city of Pergamum and the city of Nicaea informing him that they were going to make him a god and needed his permission to build temples in his name. Of course, Octavius said, “That’s okay. You don’t have to. But, if you insist….” Two years later, the senate even gave him the title we find in Luke 2:1 – “Augustus,” which means “great” as in god. He became Caesar Augustus, not only the Emperor of Rome but also a god who had been appointed by the will of the other gods. It was in his hands to bring the “pax deorum” or the peace of the gods to the mortals on the earth. He was the incarnation of all the gods. He was the savior. The people loved him. He expanded the Roman Empire, rebuilt temples and public buildings, reorganized the Senate, and brought opportunities to the people. He was so popular that Roman men even adopted his hairstyle. For the first time there was peace in the world, as long as you didn’t oppose Octavius. One scholar noted that never before in the history of the world was a man worshipped like Octavius – Caesar Augustus.

Some of you are thinking – how come we’ve never heard of him? Have you ever looked at the calendar? The sixth month is named after the god Julius Caesar and the seventh month is named after Caesar Augustus – August. None of this was by accident. The Romans had a “complex and vibrant ideological matrix” (David Nystrom) on how to leave a Roman legacy. One scholar (Nystrom) said it this way – “He (Augustus) did not fundamentally alter it by assuming the trappings of personal supremacy, but rather magnified it by directing Roman tradition through the prism of his own story.” In other words, what did it mean to worship Augustus or to call an emperor “king”? (Nystrom)

  1. The Romans claimed that they were ordained by the gods to conquer and civilize.
  2. The Romans believed in the conviction that their rule was just.
  3. The Romans believed that their domination was not fixed by the “limits of the earth but by the limits of the sky” (Cicero).
  4. The Romans had a steep social pyramid based on wealth, class, ancestry, and location.
  5. The Roman empire was an urban phenomenon, with Rome as the ideal and the goal was to spread “Romanitas” – Roman values or Romanness.
  6. The Romans expected and practiced self-promotion, with ultimate power being in the hands of a select few.
  7. The Roman religion was not about faith. In fact, it was looked down upon as being weak. Religion was about gods, sacrifices, and duty.

Why did Augustus want the world to be registered? Taxes. More money was needed to fund the growing army – 28 legions, each legion had over 5000 soldiers. But, there’s something more – Herod the king of Judea had made Octavius mad and this was his way of proving a point to Herod that he was the boss. Amazing isn’t it? Everybody’s life is turned upside just so he can prove a point. Verse 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. In short, Augustus had turned everybody’s life upside down with one decree.

How about Jesus? 4 “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.” Augustus thinks that he has really told Herod. What he doesn’t realize is that he was just a pawn in God’s eternal plan. Eight hundred years earlier a prophet by the name of Micah had prophesied the location of the Messiah’s birth. Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”

Greatness is found when you are faithful and obedient, and God writes your legacy.

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. The word for inn is “kataluma,” which is guestroom. Joseph and Mary were probably staying with some friends and couldn’t find any privacy and had to deliver Jesus in the family room. Unlike Caesar Augustus who was living in the lap of luxury, the King of Kings had to spend his first night where the animals were tied.

Greatness is not in turning other peoples’ lives upside down. It is in laying our lives down for others.

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”  16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Greatness is when God comes to you and you know that you don’t deserve it.

Augustus had his “Res Gestae” (things done) left with the Vestal Virgins (Priestess to the goddess Vesta) to be read in the senate after his death. Only 3 copies have been found. Series of inscriptions were also written in the Forum Augusti with statutes of great men all round and Augustus in the middle riding in a chariot with the title “Father of his country.

What is the legacy of Jesus Christ? Eternity is not enough to list it!

Invitation: The world has an idea of greatness that fades away. God’s greatness never fades. Are you faithful and obedient? Are you laying your life down for others? Do you realize that you don’t deserve anything but hell? Are you saved?

Identity by Dr. Abidan Shah

IDENTITY by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Everybody wants an identity. We want to belong to a group that will include and affirm us. We see this early in life at school – the popular kids, who have the latest clothes and styles, the jocks who live for sports, the brains/nerds, who are more concerned about their grades than they needed to be, the goths, who always wear dark clothes and crazy hair; the country kids with trucks high enough to walk under; then there are the loners, the different ethnic group kids, the floaters, and the potheads, who are usually very friendly. This doesn’t change as we grow up. We still want an identity, a sense of belonging. As we begin our series on the actual text of 1 Peter, we will learn what should be the ultimate identity of every believer. Please find 1 Peter 1:1. Main point: Our identity should be ultimately rooted in God and his salvation in our lives through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:1 “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…”

Context: For the past 3 weeks, we have been focused on Peter’s character. The reason for this is because the more we understand Peter, the better we will understand his letter. Of course, the Holy Spirit was behind the letter, but he used the personality, the experiences, and the gifts of Peter. Peter begins his letter by identifying himself as an “apostle of Jesus Christ,” which means a “representative” of Jesus. This did not happen overnight! Jesus had to do a deep, painstaking, and unrelenting work in Peter’s life:

  • Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter, from being religious to rock-solid.
  • Jesus took him from being a fisherman to becoming a fisher of men.
  • Jesus took him from being the impulsive one to becoming a pillar of the church.

Is it any wonder that he stood up on the Day of Pentecost full of the Holy Spirit and preached his first message and 3000 men, not counting women and children were saved, altogether 10-15,000! Is it any wonder that even his shadow could heal people! Is it any wonder that he could go toe-to-toe with the religious leaders and chief priests and not back down! By the way, Peter was not perfect. If you remember from last weekend, Paul admonished him openly when he messed up. But, Peter was spiritually mature enough to receive the admonishment and not become bitter. Now, he was “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Here’s an interesting point: The higher you climb in your spiritual life, the more concise your identity becomes. You don’t have to list your entire resume of accolades and accomplishments. For e.g. Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.

Application: What has God done in your life? How will you identify yourself at the end of your life? The first step towards that journey is to move from a sinner to a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. Are you saved?

Let’s go further. Peter now identifies the recipients of his letter. 1 Peter 1:1 “…To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Where are these places in the world? All of them are located in modern day Turkey, a vast area of approximately 129,000 square miles. That’s as big as California or North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia combined. The history of this region goes back to thousands of years to the Hittites, the Phrygians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Goths, the Celts, the Byzantines, etc. This was a very diverse part of the world with regards to land, ethnicity, cultures, religions, and languages. There were big cities and small towns. There were Roman colonies to the South and more Celtic people to the North, generally speaking. I can go on and on.

Who were the pilgrims of the Dispersion? The word for “pilgrims” is “parepidemos,” which means someone who does not hold citizenship where he lives. They may have been born and raised there. They may dress like their neighbors. They may eat like their neighbors. They may even look like their neighbors. But, they are outsiders. Peter even qualifies their identity with “foreigners of the Dispersion.” The word “dispersion” is coming from the LXX and Jewish literature. It referred to the people of Israel who had been scattered away from their homeland of Israel. This dispersion goes back to the time of Solomon when some moved there because of trade. A major dispersion came with the Assyrian exile when the Northern kingdom of Israel was forcibly relocated by the Assyrians. Couple centuries later came the Babylonian exile when the Southern Kingdom of Judah was also temporarily exiled but some came back but many didn’t. They were foreigners and outsiders wherever they went. Even though many generations were born and raised there, dressed like their neighbors, and ate like their neighbors, they were never totally accepted. Hence, they would return to Jerusalem for their Jewish festivals. Maybe some of them were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Acts 2     5 “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia…” Peter was now writing to encourage them as they were not only Jewish people scattered abroad, but they were now Christians, which means they were also being ostracized by their own Jewish community. Peter understood how it felt since he grew up in Bethsaida, a minority Jewish town. He even understood how it felt when his own people rejected him because he was now a disciple of Jesus. I believe all this may be true, but I also believe that Peter was referring to all Christians (Jewish background and Gentile background) who were scattered as a minority all over that region. Even Gentile background believers were now like the Dispersed Jewish people. Even though they were citizens, they were now being treated as foreigners. We will see that as we go further in this letter.

Application: Have you been ostracized because you are going to church? Has your own family and friends left you out because your priorities have shifted? I think of my own dad. His own family kicked him out because he followed Jesus Christ. In fact, we were all cut off from the family tree.

How do you encourage people like that? So, Peter gave them a new identity—2 “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” There are 3 prepositional phrases here that connect to each member of the Trinity. This is deep!

  1. “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” – “Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” The culture around them may have rejected them but God had chosen them through his “prognosis” to include them in his family. That’s the first person of the Trinity.
  2. “in sanctification of the Spirit” – “Chosen by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.” Yes, they had a choice to receive Christ as their Savior, but the Holy Spirit was stirring their hearts, opening their understanding, and drawing them to salvation. He actively does that for everyone who is open to Christ. That’s the third person of the Trinity.
  3. “for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” – “Chosen for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” This was not some election to walk around flaunting your new religion. This was an election unto obedience. What is the “sprinkling of the blood” mean? This is referring back to Exodus 24  7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”Even though they said the words, they couldn’t follow through. But, we can through the blood of Jesus Christ. We have been set free from the power of sin. Sin is still present but through Christ, we can conquer. By the way, that’s the third person of the Trinity.

These people really got the message. These people reached their culture and that entire region became the cradle of Christianity. This is where we find Constantinople, Nicaea, and Chalcedon. Here were held the famous councils were the deity of Christ and the Triunity of the Godhead was affirmed! Unfortunately, these parts have been lost because Christians failed to reach the next generation and prepare them to stand strong. Just this year, the Hagia Sophia was once again declared a mosque after 90 some years of being a museum. It was one of our flagship churches!

In some ways, that’s where we are as Christians in America. We need to wake up and reach the culture around us. If we don’t, we will ultimately find ourselves driven out. That’s why how we vote in this election matters! We need to vote for that party and candidate that will make this nation pleasing to Jesus Christ.

Application: What are you doing to make sure that our nation continues to stand strong? Are you aware of what is at stake? Do you understand your new identity? You are not an accident. You are not an outsider. You have been drawn by the Holy Spirit. You have been chosen to obey.

Finally, Peter ended with “Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

Invitation: Do you have God’s grace and peace? Are you saved? Through Christ you can have grace and peace.

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