Revelation by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  What if you were to find a brown paper sack with ten thousand dollars in ten- and twenty-dollar bills in the bushes where you parked your car? What if you go to visit a rich uncle who gives you a check for ten thousand dollars? What’s the similarity? They are both leave you with ten thousand dollars. What’s the difference? One could get you shot or land in jail and the other fills your heart with love and gratefulness for your uncle. What makes the difference? How did you come across it? In our series called “CONTEND,” we are spending the next few weeks on some of your questions regarding the Bible. Some of you asked, “Is the Qur’an for the Muslims what the Bible is for the Christians?” “Aren’t all religions basically saying the same things in their holy books?” Main point: Before we can understand and evaluate the Content of any holy book, we need to understand the form of its Revelation. In other words, before we can open and decide if a holy book is God’s word, we need to understand how it came to us. Unlike other holy books, biblical revelation testifies to God’s holiness, love, and grace towards fallen sinful human beings. It is his rescue manual to save us and draw us to himself.

Jeremiah 1:9 Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.” Jeremiah 30     1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2 “Thus speaks the LORD God of Israel, saying: ‘Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you.”

Context: Last week, we learned that “Authority is the basic theological issue into which discussions of biblical revelation, inspiration, and interpretation finally run” (J.I. Packer).

  • 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.

In today’s message, our focus is on REVELATION, especially Special Revelation. If you remember, we need more than General Revelation (Nature, History, Human Nature). We also need specific instructions regarding God’s plan of salvation. I briefly touched on how the 66 books of the Bible have information in them, which is Personal, Anthropic, and Analogical. Sometimes, it is historical acts (Abraham and Isaac; Babylonian exile), other times, it is divine speech (“The word of the Lord came to me…”), and then there is the major revelation – the incarnation of Jesus. Muslim apologists challenge the biblical claim of special revelation on 2 points:

  1. They claim that how the Qur’an was revealed is far superior to how the Bible was revealed.
  2. Moreover, they claim that the Bible is no longer God’s revelation because it has been corrupted by Jewish people and Christians.

Others even try to be dismissive and claim that they’re all the same.

To answer these charges, we need to compare the Events and the Content of the 2 revelations (Taken from Ida Glaser’s works and my dad’s many sermons):

  1. Event

A. Qur’an – It is claimed that it came to one man, a prophet named Muhammad from the age of 40 until his death, 23 years later. The account is found in the Hadith. They are reports of what Muhammad said or did. The Qur’an is interpreted through the Hadith which were collected 200-300 years after his death. The Qur’an is the Wahy, the pure revelation of God. It exists in heaven and everything else, including translations, is just interpretation or rendition. Ilham is God revealing his knowledge into the mind of the person. This is like the Biblical doctrine of inspiration. Under wahy, there is no such thing as the “original message” or “context” or the “true words” of the prophet Mohammed; the Qur’an is the word of God. There are debates about the Hadiths right now. Also, there are commentaries on the Qur’an. Since, there is no context, not much is left to interpret, only application. Also, there are differences and many don’t interact with each other. Nonetheless, listen to the Hadith Sahih al-Bukhari 1:3 –

The first revelation that was granted to the Messenger of God was the true vision of sleep, so that he never saw a vision but the truth of it shone forth like the bright gleam of dawn. Then solitude became dear to him and he used to seclude himself in the cave of Hira, where he would devote himself to Divine worship for several nights before coming back to his family. He would take provisions for this purpose, then he would return to Khadijah (first wife) and get some more provisions for a similar (period), until the Truth (Gabriel) came to him while he was in the cave of Hira. The Angel came to him and said, ‘Read’. He said, ‘I am not one of those who can read.’

And he continued ‘Then he (the Angel) took hold of me and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it anymore, after which he let me go and said, ‘Read’. When I replied, ‘I am not one of those who can read’, he took hold of me and pressed me a second time so hard that I could not bear it anymore, then he let me go again and said, ‘Read’. I said,’ l am not one of those who can read’.

The Prophet continued: ‘Then he took hold of me and pressed me a third time, then he let me go and said, “Read in the name of thy Lord who creates―creates man from a clot. Read, and thy Lord is most Generous” (from Surah 96:1-3).

The Messenger of God returned with this (message), his heart trembling, and he went to Khadijah, daughter of Khuwailid and said, ‘Wrap me up, wrap me up’. So they wrapped him up until the awe had left him.

In al-Bukhari 1:2, we find more information regarding these events:

Aishah, the mother of the faithful reported that Harith ibn Hisham asked the Messenger of God, ‘O Messenger of God, how does the revelation come to thee?’ The Messenger of God said, ‘Sometimes it comes to me like the ringing of a bell, and that is the type which is the hardest on me; then he (the Angel) departs from me and I retain in memory from him what he said. At times the Angel comes to me in the likeness of a man and speaks to me and I retain in memory what he says.’ Aishah said: ‘And I saw him when revelation descended on him on a severely cold day; when it departed from him his forehead dripped with sweat.’

It is claimed that Muhammad’s illiteracy is the greatest proof of the miracle of the Qur’an, as it is the highest style of Arabic poetry. Also, only the Arabic Quran is authoritative. This is the language in which it was given, and the translations involve interpretation, which can be distorted. School kids are told to memorize the Quran in Arabic even in countries where Arabic is not the main language. Recitation of the Quran must be in Arabic. The original is in the heaven and was

B. Bible

  • The Bible was written by 40 independent writers.
  • It was written over a time span of 1500 years.
  • They wrote it in 3 different languages – Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.
  • The writers lived in 3 different continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe – Moses wrote in the desert of Sinai, Daniel from exile in Babylon, and Ezra in the ruined city of Jerusalem, Paul wrote in a prison in Rome, and John on the island of Patmos.
  • They had 20 different occupations – kings, a general, at least 2 fishermen, a musician, a priest, a tax collector, a medical doctor, a judge – Moses was a shepherd, Solomon was a king, Matthew was a tax collector, Luke was a medical doctor, and Paul was a scholar/missionary/tentmaker.
  • It has a cast of 2,930 characters in 1,551 places.
  • Its message is expressed in all literary forms – poetry, prose, speech, lists, etc.
  • There were certain qualifications for prophets in the Old Testament.
  • It was written under many different circumstances – Joshua wrote while invading the land of Canaan, David wrote during a time of war, Jeremiah wrote at the sorrowful time of Israel’s downfall, Peter wrote while Israel was under Roman domination.
  1. Content:

A. Qur’an

  • Sometimes, it is a warning (Surah 18:4). Other times, it is a reminder (Surah 81:27). Yet other times, it is a guide and a witness (Surah 46:12).
  • No organization. It is claimed that the sections can be divided into Mecca, Medina, and Mecca. It is based on information from much later that is disputed.
  • No such thing as the Fall. Man is just forgetful and must be reminded.
  • Those who disregard or reject the Qur’an will face the judgment to come.
  • Ultimately, it is God’s law for man and submission is the way.
  • No mediation or sacrifice is needed. God is merciful.
  • Many times, it makes references to events from the Old and the New Testament. In fact, it needs the bible to make sense of many of the references regarding Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Job, Jonah, Zechariah (father of John the Baptist), John the Baptist, and Jesus.
  • It even reprimands the Jewish people and the Christians for refusing to accept Muhammad as “the prophet like Moses,” “altogether lovely” from Song of Solomon, and the paraclete (another comforter). Sometimes, it refers to us as “the people of the Book” and misunderstand the Trinity! “O people of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion…so believe in Allah and His Apostles. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah:” (Surah 4:171-172) “And when God said, “O Jesus son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind, “Take me and my mother as gods apart from God?” [Jesus son of Mary] said, “Glory be to Thee! It is not for me to utter that to which I have no right.” (Surah 5:116-118)

B. Bible

  • Mainly a narrative which implies a history and encounter between God and his people. Yes, there are plenty of commands/laws, but they are in a context.
  • Prayers are a two-way relationship.
  • Wisdom and truth are to help us live with God’s guidance.
  • Much emphasis on Jesus because it is the main point!
  • Human beings were made in the image of God with the ability to have a relationship with him. In fact, that is the goal of God for us.
  • We have fallen because of sin. We cannot reach God. He must reach down to us.
  • God is holy. He will punish sin. We cannot handle sin and hence, he must punish a suitable substitute. Only his Son could qualify. The central theme of the Bible is Jesus Christ – In the OT Christ is anticipated and in the NT he is realized.
  • There is just one message – Our problem is SIN and the answer is SALVATION through Jesus Christ.
  • This drama of redemption was communicated throughout the ages – Moses wrote as he led the people to the Promsied Land, Isaiah wrote to warn the people of Israel of God’s judgment against their sins, Zechariah wrote to encourage a disheartened Israel who returned from Babylonian exile, Paul wrote addressing problems in different Asian and European churches, and Matthew wrote to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. They are all written in the context of God’s relationship with human beings.
  • One great example is the story of Cain and Abel: “But recite unto them with truth the tale of the two sons of Adam, how they offered each a sacrifice, and it was accepted from the one of them and it was not accepted from the other. (The one) said: I will surely kill thee. (The other) answered: Allah accepts only from those who ward off (evil). Even if thou stretch out thy hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against thee to kill thee, lo! I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Lo! I would rather thou should bear the punishment of the sin against me and thine own sin and become one of the owners of the fire. That is the reward of evil-doers. But (the other’s) mind imposed on him the killing of his brother, so he slew him and became one of the losers. Then Allah sent a raven scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother’s naked corpse. He said: Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother’s naked corpse? And he became repentant. For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah’s Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth.” (Surah 5:27-32)

The source of the raven scratching the ground is Jewish commentary (midrash) about how Adam and Eve wondered what to do with their dead son. The context is to warn the older brothers (Jewish people and Christians) of being jealous of the younger brother (Muslims). How about the original context? Cain disregarded God’s requirement for sacrifice. God disapproved Cain’s offering. Cain got angry. God confronted Cain. In envy, he killed his brother. God saw it all. He confronted Cain. He denied his sin. God cursed him. Cain pleaded for mercy. God put a mark on him and said to him in “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” What a world of difference!

2 Corinthians 5.     17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

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?

The Anatomy of Salvation by Dr. Abidan Shah

THE ANATOMY OF SALVATION by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  This past week, our Clearview staff was on our annual retreat in Arizona. We do this every year as a time to plan for the summer and the upcoming year. It is much more than just a time to get away. Although, in light of how extremely busy this past year and a half was, it was great to see everyone spending time with their families. Those who are close to the team and are helping out in some ministry at Clearview, you know what I mean. While there, our team produced an 8-week bible study through Nehemiah on rebuilding lives and ministry, and also filmed at some incredible locations that you will see in the CONTEND series. In today’s message, we will answer a question that was asked in various forms: “Why do some people reject the gospel?” “Can someone believe even if they have some questions?” “Recently, I have heard of many big names that have renounced their faith. Why is that?” Main point: Salvation is God’s miraculous work of grace through Jesus Christ in the life of person. Nonetheless, there are certain observable factors that lead to the decision to receive Christ and remain in him. Our upbringing and the evidences we encounter in life determine our degree of belief in Christianity.

Acts 26     12 “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, 13 at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 So I said, “Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Context: This is the conversion account of the Apostle Paul before King Agrippa. It is found 2 other times in the book of Acts (Acts 9 and 22). It is such a radical testimony! One moment, Paul was persecuting Christians, and the next moment, he was one. Listen to his own description of his pre-conversion life – Acts 26      9 “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Paul was a killer! Paul had a license to kill from the religious authorities. As he was on one of his evil missions, God knocked him to the ground with a bright light from heaven and a question, not in Greek or Aramaic, but Hebrew – “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul’s response was – “Who are You, Lord?” What would cause such a quick and radical change in him? It was much more than just a bright light and a mysterious voice. Those were simply to bring him to his senses. Paul gave us the clue in verse 4 “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. 5 They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. 7 To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. 8 Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” In other words, all the necessary ingredients for his salvation were there, Paul was going in the wrong direction. God simply had to turn his around.

The real question before us is – “What makes a person decide if they want to receive the gospel?” Often, it is believed that salvation is a mystery. God draws people by his grace and opens their eyes to the truth. It is truly a miracle. All that is absolutely true, but it is only one-sided. Lately, there has been more research in this field, especially from probability and decision theory. If you are a student of mathematics, you know what I am referring to. This is a very technical area. Although, I was a math and science teacher, I am not going to get into too much detail here. If you would like to know more, there are several important works that have been published lately that utilize Pascal’s Wager in calling people to believe in God. Pascal was scientist, mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and Catholic theologian who lived in 17th century France. He was brilliant. He was of frail health and died at the age of 39. Here’s my re-statement of the Wager, “We cannot come to the knowledge of God’s existence through reason alone. It’s wise to live as if God does exist because such a life has everything to gain and nothing to lose. If we live as if God exists, and He does indeed exist, we have gained heaven. If He doesn’t exist, we have lost nothing. To the contrary, if we live as though God does not exist and He really does exist, we have gained hell and punishment and have lost heaven. A rational person should live as though the Christian God exists and seek to believe in him.” Bottom line: it is rational to believe in God even with incomplete evidence. Although, some have criticized this wager through the centuries, several scholars (Jeff Jordan, Michael Rota, Thomas Morris, etc.) have attempted this approach, especially a Swedish mathematician, Ola Hössjer, professor at the Stockholm University, Sweden. He takes the Wager model and extends it so that the decision to become a Christian has 3 main ingredients: prior belief (a priori), evidence (a posteriori), and will. He uses Bayes’ Rule or Bayes Theorem to understand the probability of decisions. In other words, “our degree of belief in Christianity is the result of an inborn tendency to relate to God and the evidence we encounter in life.” By the way, Thomas Bayes (18th century statistician, philosopher, and non-conformist Presbyterian minister) who came up with his theorem to counter David Hume (English philosopher and skeptic) who claimed that the probability of people inaccurately claiming that they’d seen Jesus’ resurrection far outweighed the probability that the event had occurred in the first place. Jordana Cepelewicz summarizes Bayes’ simple explanation, “Consider a ball thrown onto a flat table behind your back. You can make a guess as to where it landed, but there’s no way to know for certain how accurate you were, at least not without looking. Then, he says, have a colleague throw another ball onto the table and tell you whether it landed to the right or left of the first ball. If it landed to the right, for example, the first ball is more likely to be on the left side of the table (such an assumption leaves more space to the ball’s right for the second ball to land). With each new ball your colleague throws, you can update your guess to better model the location of the original ball. In a similar fashion, Bayes thought, the various testimonials to Christ’s resurrection suggested the event couldn’t be discounted the way Hume asserted. By the way, according to Cepelewicz, Bayes theorem has been used to decode the German Enigma cipher, helped the United States Navy locate Soviet subs, enabled statisticians to determine the authorship of the Federalist Papers, and even unlock the secrets of the brain.

We don’t have time to look at all this in detail. Let’s just briefly look at the 3 main ingredients: prior belief, evidence, and will.

Prior Belief (a priori = before experience): Inborn conception of God (the desire to call on God and worship someone or something), inborn conception of first cause (the understanding that everything has a beginning/cause), inborn desire for meaning (the desire to do or be something), and inborn desire for love (we all want to love). Each of these can be encouraged or discouraged in a person, especially during the early years. That’s why we place such emphasis on children’s and youth ministries.

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Augustine – “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

Evidence (a posterior = after experience): Historical/Cultural (creativity and culture, misconduct of Christians, church history, religion and wars, other religions), Moral/Ethical (moral law, presence of evil), Scientific (design, bible and natural science, cause) Theological/Philosophical (fall of man, judgment and hell, truthfulness of the Bible, theodicy, Israel) and Personal (pain, suffering, miracles, personal testimony). When we hear about people renouncing their faith, one of these evidences is weak or faulty.

The combination of Prior Belief and Evidence leads to Rational Belief. Based on the individual, it depends on which one will be more important than others.

Will: Some need just a little rational belief; some only need some rational belief; and for some, strong rational belief is not enough.

Why was the response of the Paul immediate and heartfelt? He had plenty of prior belief and evidence. For him, the major evidence was not the light and the voice from heaven. It was the tremendous background he has in the scripture. The light and the voice simply stopped him in his tracks and turned him around.

Difference between my dad’s conversion and mine. It matters how you raise children. Current crisis is permanently marking them. How do you talk about church to them or sermons? Do you discipline and guide your kids?

Pascal said, “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”

Invitation: What is holding you back? Do you know people who are lost? What do you think is holding them back? Have you prayed for the Holy Spirit would open their eyes and yours?

Misstep by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  Have you ever been startled? I was one time when I was working late night security and the big AC unit came on behind the gym and scared me to death. When people are deathly afraid, they stop thinking. I have seen ladies climb on top of dining tables to get away from a tiny mouse! In our series through 1 Peter, we have been going through a miniseries called ONE MIND where Peter is reminding the believers to be united and not give in to fear. Main point: Healthy fear keeps us in step, but unhealthy fear causes us to misstep. When we are faced with the unfamiliar, it can drive us to isolation and even temporarily block our ability to reason. In such moments, we need those who will breathe godly courage back into our lives.

1 Peter 3:10 “For ‘he who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.’”

Context: In exhorting the persecuted Christians in Asia Minor to be of one mind and not turn against each other, Peter quoted from Psalm 34. As we have done throughout this series through 1 Peter, every time Peter quoted from the Old Testament, we went to that passage in the Old Testament and spend some time studying it. We’re going to do the same thing here. We’re going to spend some time in Psalm 34. This psalm begins with a short title that says, “A Psalm of David when he pretended madness before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.” At one time, scholars doubted these titles, but more and more now think that they are original. So, what is the context of Psalm 34? To understand the context of Psalm 34, we have to go to 1 Samuel 21    12 “Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard.” What an unflattering picture of the giant killer, the anointed king, the man after God’s own heart, and the sweet psalmist of Israel! What would cause someone like David to act like this? Short answer, FEAR. To understand the long answer, we have to dig a little deeper, starting in chapters 17 through 20. In just 4 chapters, David had gone from being the most loved man in Israel to being the most wanted man in Israel:

  • Chapter 17 – David killed Goliath with a slingshot and saved the armies of Saul. Instantly, he was a hero in Israel; but this was no big deal for him since he had already killed a lion and a bear and rescued a lamb of his flock from its mouth.
  • Chapter 18 – David gained the favor of Saul who wouldn’t let him go back home. In fact, Jonathan, Saul’s son, and David became best friends. In time, David even began to lead the armies for Saul against the Philistines with great success, and the saying was, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Unfortunately, Saul began to eye David with envy. He even tried to have him married off to his daughter so he could control him. Sadly, God had left Saul, but he was with David. Saul knew that and he even tried to kill David with a spear.
  • Chapter 19 – Jonathan tried to convince his father that David was loyal to him, which helped for a little while but not for long.
  • Chapter 20 – Saul was once again after killing David. At first, Jonathan didn’t believe David, but he realized very quickly that it was true when his father even tried to kill him. This is where that incident took place where Jonathan and David made a covenant with each other in the field. It says in 1 Samuel 20:42 “Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’ ” So he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.
  • For the first time, David must have felt truly isolated. So, he went to the man of God. 1 Samuel 21:1 “Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest.” Keep in mind that he was the great grandson of Eli the high priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, ‘Why are you alone, and no one is with you?’” The word for afraid in Hebrew is “charad,” which means to be terrified or trembling. Of course, he must have heard about the feud between Saul and David, but more is going on here. In 1 Samuel 2, God had pronounced a curse on the house of Eli because he would not discipline his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. 31 “Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. 32 And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever.” David must have looked like the grim reaper to Ahimelech.

Illustration: After my dad converted from Islam to Christianity, he went to a mainline church in his hometown and asked them to baptize him. They knew who he was. His father was the police commissioner. They asked him if it was because of a girl. When he gave his testimony, they refused to baptize him because of fear.

What was the impact on David? 1 Samuel 21:2 So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ Important principle: When you are around someone who is full of fear, unless you are strong, it will jump on you.

Let me talk about fear for a moment. What is fear? Researchers are still unsure. Suomi and Harlow – Is it an emotional state? Is it a motivational force? Can it be perceived as a stimulus? Kahoe notes that it often gets confused with anger, anxiety, and phobia, but there is a difference: “Anger incites attack against a threatening object, fear incites withdrawal. Fear relates to an identifiable object or event; anxiety is interpreted as free-floating apprehension and probably incorporates other emotions with fear. Normal fear addresses a realistic danger, phobia a relatively persistent and irrational fear.”

Some research done on rhesus monkeys has helped us understand how fear works. By the way, I don’t believe that we are descended from monkeys. I believe that we are designed by the same creator. We can see some patterns regarding how fear works. Suomi and Harlow concluded that fear is both inherited and acquired. A certain amount of fear is actually good and healthy and it bonds us to our loved ones and “enhances an existing social relationship.” On the other hand, “too much exposure to fear stimuli too often can have undesirable consequences.”

What happens when someone has intense fear? It can sabotage his/her perception, thinking, and motor processes (From Kahoe). When a person is in a state of fear, they want to comprehend and escape at the same time. Their adrenalin starts rushing. Sometimes, overprediction can lead to phobias and panic attacks. In the short run, this can help you adapt to your surroundings, but, in the long run, it can lead to dysfunctions.

While David was talking to the priest and getting some bread from him, he noticed from the corner of his eye that one of Saul’s henchman was there, an Edomite named Doeg. Now things began to spiral downwards for him. 8 And David said to Ahimelech, “Is there not here on hand a spear or a sword? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” 9 So the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, there it is, wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it. For there is no other except that one here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.” 10 Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. Now, he took the Enemy’s weapon and made the foolish choice to head to the Enemy’s territory. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?” 12 Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. This was where he began to act like he had lost his mind. His performance was so convincing that Achish said to his servants – 14 “…Look, you see the man is insane. Why have you brought him to me? 15 Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”

That’s how the Enemy works. When we allow him to infiltrate our mind, he turns the very words that once brought courage to us to bring fear into our lives. He humiliates us in the presence of all and makes us a laughing stock.

Application: Have you been infected by fear? Is the Enemy having a heyday with you?

What did David do? Like the Prodigal Son, he came to himself. 1 Samuel 22      1 “David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.” These were giant killers. One killed 300 at one time with a spear. Three of them crossed behind enemy line and brought water for David from Bethlehem. One killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. The wrong companions had to go so the right companions could come to David.

How is this connected to 1 Peter? Peter wanted the believers in Asia Minor to be of one mind with each other. Together, they would be a mighty army for God.

Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” 1 John 4     18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.

Application: How do you handle fear? Who are you surrounded by? 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?

Plunder by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  Kids love to hunt for hidden treasure, even grownups. It could be Viking treasure, Montezuma’s treasure, Blackbeard’s treasure, Confederate Gold, or the Nazi Gold Train. Just the idea of finding something that someone else had hidden hoping to come back to one day is so exiting. But, if you think about it, that treasure that was hidden was more than likely stolen from someone else. It was plundered from its rightful owner. Here’s something very interesting: What is actually criminal, dishonorable, shameful, and inexcusable is actually rightful, noble, praiseworthy, and beneficial when it comes to the gospel! Because Jesus took God’s wrath upon himself for our sins, he became the rightful major shareholder in the profits, which is us. Not only that, he has also plundered the powerbrokers and rulers of the world. In other words, the power of the demonic hordes that lie behind the power structures of the world has been broken. The title of our message today is PLUNDER.

Isaiah 53       10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; he has put Him to grief…”

Context: This is the final message in our series titled ATONEMENT. So many of you have shared with us how much this series has meant to you, how much it has strengthened your faith, and how much it has created in you a desire to study God’s Word even more. That is wonderful! As we mentioned last week, we are currently working on a program that will hopefully help you in your spiritual journey, something the whole family can benefit from.

Now, back to Isaiah 53. In each message in this series, we looked incrementally more at the background of this prophecy. We learned that Isaiah wrote it 100 years into the future to the Judeans living in exile in Babylon. Because of their sins, they had lost their land, their holy city, and their temple. They had been dragged across the desert 700 miles to a land they had never seen before, the land of Babylon. All their past glory was gone. All their future hope was lost. They were sitting by the rivers of Babylon lamenting over their present life. Now they were surrounded by Marduk, Bel, Dagon, Nergal, Timat, etc. It was as if God was saying – “Are these what you were tempting me with? Now, they are everywhere.” Sometimes, when we keep tempting God and keep going after false gods, he lets us go completely over. He wants us to experience what life with false gods is really like. When you’ve finally had enough, he brings you back. In some ways, I believe that’s where we are in America today. It is time to repent.

Application: Do you keep testing God with false idols and gods? Do you now the living and true God through Jesus Christ?

To such a hopeless and helpless people, God had sent his word through Isaiah the prophet. Keep in mind that Isaiah 40-55 was dealing with events from 605-539BC. God’s word to them was that redemption was coming through 2 agents:

I. Cyrus the Great – he would do 2 things:

  1. Free the people and return them to their homeland.

Isaiah 44       24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who makes all things, who stretches out the heavens all alone, who spreads abroad the earth by Myself…28 Who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,” and to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ’

Just the way God had promised, in 539BC, a ruler came from Persia named Cyrus who conquered Babylon overnight and made the famous edict which is found in 2 Chronicles and Ezra in the Bible, and even on the Cyrus Cylinder.

  1. Subdue nations and plunder the kings.

Isaiah 45      1 “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut:…3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel.

If you read Herodotus and Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, you will find out how much treasure he gained by plundering all the kings in his path.

II. The Servant – he would also do 2 things:

  1. Take our punishment of sins and rise from the grave.

Isaiah 53       10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; he has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin…”

We spent plenty of time looking at this throughout the series, especially 5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” He will die in the process, and, if you remember verse 8 “He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.” In other words, he would be killed and will not have any children. It was such a disgrace in that culture not to have any children. But, wait – 10 “…he shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” Who will be his seed? We! 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” All of this was a prophecy of his resurrection to follow his crucifixion.

Application: Have you received his offering for sin? Are you a spiritual legacy of Jesus Christ? Have you been justified by his sacrificial death and resurrection?

  1. Take his share and plunder the powers and principalities.

12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

What is the portion and what are the spoils? Colossians 2      14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. The powers are the dark cosmic forces behind all the power structures of this world. They were given authorities by God over his created world, but because they chose to disobey God, their authority is now broken. They have been disarmed. They are still hostile, but their power has been broken. One day, Christ will once and for all cast them into the Lake of Fire. Until then, we can win over them as long as we stand behind Christ.

Invitation: Do you truly understand what Jesus has done for you? Are you his spiritual legacy? Are you still in bondage to evil powers? Are you saved?

Vicarious by Dr. Abidan Shah

VICARIOUS by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Have you ever heard someone say, “So and so is living vicariously?” What does that mean? It means that you are living life through someone else’s experiences. It happens when parents try to live through their kids, especially with sports. The funniest thing for me is to watch that sports fanatic dad at the little league soccer game and his little boy is playing with dandelions. It can also happen when we identify too much with a character in a novel, TV show, reality TV, and even with social media, where people wish what others have. Living vicariously through others is not healthy. It can put unrealistic expectations on others, make excuses for our own inadequacies and shortcomings, and create excessive dependence on others. Here’s what’s incredible: the very things that make vicarious living bad for us in our daily life are what make them right for us when it comes to our salvation. God’s expectation of holiness is beyond us. We are totally inadequate and fall short of God’s standard. Only by completely depending on Christ’s sacrifice can we make it. He took our vicarious punishment for the penalty of sin.

Isaiah 53:5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

Context: As I mentioned last week, we’re still in our series through 1 Peter called “TOGETHER FORWARD.” Last week, we came to that section in chapter 2 where Peter reminded the persecuted church in Asia Minor to follow the example/trace the life and mission of Christ as they suffered. He even gave them a tracing sheet from Isaiah 53 where Jesus is prophesied about as a sheep led to the slaughter. But, we have to be careful here. Isaiah 53 is much more than just a model on “how to suffer.” It is the very foundation of our salvation. In other words, before we start tracing Isaiah 53, we need to understand what it is really about. With that in mind and Easter being around the corner, we started a miniseries called ATONEMENT. Last week, we focused on the historical background of Isaiah and how God promised the people in exile that he would deliver them, but that his greater desire was to deliver them from sin. In this message, I want us to understand the idea of the vicarious punishment endured by Jesus for us. Here’s the big question: “Can someone else stand in my place and take my penalty of sin?”

Application: Do you understand what it means that Jesus died for your sins? Are you saved? Are you living each day in gratitude for what was done for you?

For the next few minutes, we’re going to understand the importance of vicarious suffering in the Old Testament (In German, Stellvertretung – “Taking another’s place”):

  1. There are several hints from the very beginning:
  • Adam and Eve – After the curse, Genesis 3:21 says, “Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.”
  • Cain and Abel Genesis 4 3 “And…Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering.”
  • Noah – After over a year on the ark, Genesis 8 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.
  • Job – After his children would get together for a feast, Job 1 5 So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly.”
  • Abraham – After God tested Abraham’s faith, Genesis 22:13 “Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.”

The point is this: Right from the beginning, we see indication that God’s people knew that they had to sacrifice for their sins before God in order to have any fellowship with him. God was holy and he will punish sin, either in the individual or in the substitute.

  1. But, this was written in bold letters when the Hebrews became a nation:
  • Passover – God had sent 9 devastating plagues against Egypt and Pharaoh still hardened his heart, it was time for the tenth plague. Exodus 12 12 “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13 Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Why was this necessary? This was not only a judgment against the gods of Egypt but the children of Israel had also participated in idolatry while in Egypt. Ezekiel 20      7 Then I said to them, “Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ 8 But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me…Then I said, “I will pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.’ 9 But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” They too were under the sentence of death. They were not automatically spared.
  • Day of Atonement – God called Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the law and the covenant. The Book of Exodus relates the response of the people. As much as God explained to them through Moses to maintain holiness, they still didn’t understand. It is in the next book, Leviticus, that the sacrificial system was laid out for them. Not all the sacrifices were animal sacrifices and even those were not for the full and final atonement of sin. The goal was to allow fellowship with a holy God who will punish sin. This was all by his grace. The rituals of the Day of Atonement were clearly given for the atonement. It was based around 2 goats. One was sacrificed to God. Leviticus 16 15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil…and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. 16So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins.” The word for “atonement” is “kipper,” which means “cover.” That’s where we get “Yom Kippur” = Day of Atonement. It implies 4 things: God can forgive; 2. God will cleanse; 3. The payment for sin has been made; 4. God’s wrath has been averted/avoided/turned aside. Leviticus 17:11 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” How about the other goat? It was sent away into the desert as a “scapegoat” or “goat for Azazel.” It means a “rugged cliff.” The priest would place his hand on the goat implying a transference of sins from Israel to the living goat. It was symbolic of their sins being carried away from them to somewhere far away. Ultimately, the goat couldn’t do that. It was to teach them and prepare them for the coming of the one who would not only die for our sins but carry them away for us.

What was the point behind all this? God was preparing them for what would be prophesied in Isaiah 53 (Adapted from Spieckermann):

  1. One person will intercede for the sins of others.
  2. The one interceding will be sinless and righteous.
  3. The act must be once and for all.
  4. It will be a voluntary act.
  5. God would be the one ultimately behind the act.

Did the people understand and get the meaning behind the sacrifices? Some did and some didn’t:

1 Samuel 15:22 So Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”

Psalm 51      16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.

Amos 5      21 “I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. 22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. 24 But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream. 25 “Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings In the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? 26 You also carried Sikkuth your king And Chiun, your idols, The star of your gods, Which you made for yourselves.”

Isaiah 1      11 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats…13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting…15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. 16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil.”

Isaiah 53:5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

Invitation: Do you understand that you need someone to go between you and God? Have you received Jesus as your Savior and King?

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?

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