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?

Astray by Dr. Abidan Shah

ASTRAY by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  Some animals are smart, and some are not. Dogs are smart. Some are even smarter than humans, especially working dogs. Bees are smart. They have the classic swarm intelligence where they work together to build a nest or defend themselves. Dolphins, they say, have a larger brain that any animal, relatively speaking. But there are also dumb animals. For example: sloths. Other than being super slow, they can also mistake their own limb for a branch and fall to the ground. Another animal that I consider dumb are sheep. They are often unaware of their surroundings, and, for just another clump of grass, they are often led astray. In fact, that is the title of our message today – ASTRAY. If you have your Bibles, please find Isaiah 53. Main point: Human beings are like sheep. We are easily led astray by our sin. We are prone to wander and get lost. Jesus came to bring us into his fold by taking our punishment of sin upon himself. He became our lamb unto slaughter. By trusting in him, we can be saved.

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Context: So many of you have shared with us how much this series from Isaiah 53 titled “ATONEMENT” has meant to you. You have enjoyed the history and the geography behind these pages. You have also appreciated how the prophecies from the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New. Keep in mind that we were in our series through 1 Peter titled “TOGETHER FORWARD” that launched us back to Isaiah 53. Many of you have so many questions. Rest assured that we are in the process of getting something together that will benefit your whole family.

Listen again to Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray…” Isaiah the prophet wrote those words 100 years into the future to a people he had never met but who needed his words in their exile. Keep in mind that Isaiah, through the Holy Spirit, was writing to the Judeans who would be living in exile in Babylon. To refresh your memory – the people of Israel had divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) after Solomon’s reign. Both had sinned blatantly by going after false gods and breaking God’s commandments. God sent Assyria against the Northern Kingdom who by 722BC dispersed them, never to return. The Southern Kingdom continued for another 100 years, but they followed the way of their brothers and sisters to the North, if you remember from last week’s message. By 609BC Assyria fell to Babylon, their Akkadian brothers and sisters to the south. In 597BC, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came against Judah. Listen to 2 Kings 24       13 And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and he cut in pieces all the articles of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said. 14 Also he carried into captivity all Jerusalem: all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land. 15 And he carried Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officers, and the mighty of the land he carried into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 All the valiant men, seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths, one thousand, all who were strong and fit for war, these the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.” Before he left, he put Zedekiah, his handpicked king, on the throne and warned him to pay their taxes. Ten years later, Zedekiah rebelled, even Jeremiah the prophet warned him not to. As promised, Nebuchadnezzar returned. Listen to Jeremiah 52      13 He burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all the houses of Jerusalem, that is, all the houses of the great, he burned with fire. 14 And all the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down all the walls of Jerusalem all around. 15 Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poor people, the rest of the people who remained in the city, the defectors who had deserted to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the craftsmen. 16 But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poor of the land as vinedressers and farmers.” Sin and disobedience have consequences. It may seem that God has decided to overlook sin but he will punish sin.

Application: Are you presuming on God’s grace? Is there unrepented sin in your hearts?

How did the people feel in exile? Initially, they lamented. They felt sorry for Judah, Jerusalem, their leaders, their homes, and themselves. Listen to them:

  • Lamentations 1 1 How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces has become a slave! 2 She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears are on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies. 3 Judah has gone into captivity, under affliction and hard servitude; she dwells among the nations, she finds no rest…”
  • Lamentations 2 20 “See, O LORD, and consider! To whom have You done this? Should the women eat their offspring, the children they have cuddled? Should the priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? 21 “Young and old lie on the ground in the streets; My virgins and my young men have fallen by the sword; you have slain them in the day of Your anger, you have slaughtered and not pitied.
  • Lamentations 3 14 “I have become the ridicule of all my people—Their taunting song all the day. 15 He has filled me with bitterness, he has made me drink wormwood.16 He has also broken my teeth with gravel, and covered me with ashes. 17 You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.”
  • Psalms 137 1 “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it.”

Principle: There is a place to grieve, but prolonged grief or improper response to grief will lead to a victim mentality.

Application: Do you take your griefs to God? Are you living with a victim mentality? Do you know him as your Savior and King?

God was so gracious that he sent them word through Jeremiah that he was still with them. They were to build houses and plant gardens, take wives and have children, grow in numbers and seek the peace of the city where they were living. Listen to Jeremiah 29.    10“For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Did the people listen? Yes, the Bible doesn’t give us much information, but in the past century archaeologists discovered cuneiform tablets (wedge shaped style of writing in soft clay with a stylus which was then either baked in a kiln or under the hot sun) that give us hints that the people did quite well in Babylon. Remember, there were 2 groups of people in exile: the royals and the wealthy; the middle class. Those who were sort of commoners got land. They farmed and became successful. Those who were from the upper echelons of society also got land and other privileges. They learned Chaldean. Their children were educated in the cultures and manners of the Babylonians. They increased in affluence and wealth. Some became royal merchants and others like Daniel and Nehemiah became royal courtiers. Overall, they advanced socially, economically, and politically. In other words, yes, they did well. But how about spiritually? That’s a different matter. Not much indication in the cuneiform as to whether they were following God. If Sabbath keeping was any indication, they were not obeying God. Jeremiah 17      24 “And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the LORD, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, 25 then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever.” Now it was out of sight, out of mind. Add to that a victim mentality and a little disappointment with God.

Application: In some ways, we are in exile. Are we still seeking God? Not all of us.

To such a people, Isaiah had sent his prophecy – Isaiah 53      1 Who has believed our report? (The prophet is speaking on behalf of the people to the watching world.) And to whom has the arm of the LORD (Isaiah used that imagery repeatedly – 40:10; 48:14; 51:5; 52:10. It’s like saying “right hand man.”) been revealed?

2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. (The Servant will not be some mighty oak or some fruit tree laden with fruits. He will not be the “best of the best” like those who had been taken into exile. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”)

3 He is despised (not actively hating him but simply considering him worthless or unworthy of our attention) and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; (Have you been around someone in grief or sickness? Hair is matted; breath is bad; face is stained with tears. It is not a pleasant sight. We want to get away from there. The Judeans in Babylon were trying to climb the Babylonian ladder of success and regain their old splendor. Jesus was surrounded by sick and bereaving people when he came.) He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (We thought he was rejected and stricken “nagua” with leprosy. That’s why in the Babylonian Talmud the Messiah is described as a leper. This does not always have to be the case. To the contrary, he was representing us. We are grief stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. It is as if we are looking in a mirror and thinking it is someone else. He was not suffering because of the sins of the people but for the sins of the people. He was standing in their place and taking their spiritual punishment while they were improving their status in society and looking good and successful.)

5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised (The word is more like crushed.) for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (There is now a shift from illness to injury. This is where Isaiah started out – Isaiah 1        4 “Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers,children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. 5 Why should you be stricken again?You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.” Our sickness is because of sin. Jesus did not come to suffer with us but to suffer for us.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; (Sheep run away and scatter when they are spooked.) we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (The negative quality of the sheep are replaced by their positive quality by Jesus. Yes, they are dumb and fearful, but he was innocent and submissive.)

8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? (Those in exile wanted the best for their children and grandchildren. Hopefully, they will look back and sing our praises. He would have no such opportunity. In that society, such people were pitied. He was representing them!) For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

9 And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. He was hung between 2 thieves, but he was put in the borrowed tomb of a rich man. Joseph of Arimathea was a righteous man who was also a member of the Sanhedrin.)

Invitation: Are you gone astray? Do you need healing? Have you come to Jesus?

The Servant by Dr. Abidan Shah

THE SERVANT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: How many of you remember your mom telling you, “You can get your own drink. I’m not your servant”? How many moms have told that to your kids? How many husbands have heard their wives say that? We despise the idea of having to serve anybody. In today’s message, we’re going to learn that the “SERVANT” was one of the prophetic titles of Jesus. Main point: In a world of sin and death, Jesus became God’s Servant for us. He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. So also, as our world is in chaos and confusion, God’s way is always one of service and sacrifice. While people of the world are jockeying for power or trying to survive, choose the way of the Servant.

Isaiah 52:13 “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.”

Context: As you know, we are in our miniseries through Isaiah 53 titled ATONEMENT. The reason we chose Isaiah 53 is because Peter chose Isaiah 53 to give his readers an example to on how to suffer. Keep in mind that the main series is through 1 Peter. The reason I wanted us to go deeper in Isaiah 53 is because it is much more than just a model or a pattern for suffering. It is the very bedrock of our salvation. Here we find the precious truth of the vicarious suffering of Jesus for the penalty of our sin. Remember: God is holy and we are sinful. Sin deserves God’s judgment. We are under his wrath. Jesus took God’s punishment of sin upon himself. All we have to do is trust him as our Savior and King.

Application: Have you ever accepted Jesus as your Savior and King?

Once again, Isaiah 52:13 “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently…” Keep in mind that Isaiah was speaking prophetically to the people of Judah who were in exile in Babylon.Remember the 3-part breakdown that I gave you of the book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39; Chapters 40-55; and Chapters 56-66. The first section deals with events in Isaiah’s lifetime (739-701 BC). The second section deals with events about a hundred years after Isaiah (605-539 BC) until the coming of Jesus. Finally, the third section deals with events from 539 BC-the future restoration of Israel that is still to come. This prophecy falls under the second section, the period 100 years after Isaiah, when Judah was taken into captivity to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. To understand the meaning of the prophecy in Isaiah 53, we need to have some understanding of the historical situation at that time. If you remember, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been dispersed by the Assyrians under Shalmaneser in 722BC, never to return again. Their demise had given a sense of entitlement to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. It was a confirmation to them of God’s promises to King David and of Zion/Jerusalem as God’s chosen city. King Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was overall a good king. He was not pro-Assyria and he listened to Isaiah. It was unusual in those days for kings to listen to God’s prophets. When he was sick and near death, God even healed Hezekiah through Isaiah. But, he had to chastise Hezekiah when he turned to Egypt for help and even tried to build an alliance with Babylon. In fact, after he got better, Merodach-Baladan (king of Babylon) sent an envoy to visit him and Hezekiah showed them everything in his house. Nonetheless, when Hezekiah defied Assyria and Sennacherib came against Judah, they remained intact. Jerusalem continued as a city. Once again, it was a confirmation that God’s hand was upon them.

Unfortunately, Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh was anything but godly. He was a wicked king who did “abominable” things before God (see 2 Kings 21) – he built altars for Baal, worshipped stars, built altars in the temple, made his son pass through fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums. 2 Kings 21:9 “…Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel.” He ruled for 55 years! By the way, he was also the wicked king who had Isaiah sawed to death by a wooden saw in 681 BC. What was God’s reaction to all this? 10   And the LORD spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations (he has acted more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols), 12 therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 So I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become victims of plunder to all their enemies, 15 because they have done evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.’ ”

Just when you would think all hell would break loose, another king came to the throne named Josiah (after Amon). He was the total opposite of Manasseh! Sometimes, God delays his judgment to give us more time to repent and come to him. 2 Peter 3     7 “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Josiah began repairing the temple. In the process, God’s Word was found. 2 Kings 22      11 Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. 12Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” He tore down all the altars that Manasseh had set up, executed the prophets to the false gods, and cleansed the land. 2 Kings 23     25 Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him. Unfortunately, the people had a false sense of confidence that they were going to be okay. But, listen to 2 Kings 23     26 “Nevertheless the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. 27 And the LORD said, “I will also remove Judah from My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’”

Then, it happened, by 605BC, Babylon was in power. In 597BC, Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem. He besieged the city, replaced the king, and warned them to keep sending in the taxes. He appointed King Zedekiah to the throne. Zedekiah tried to get the help of the Egyptians against the Babylonians. He even asked Jeremiah to pray for God to deliver Judah. Jeremiah 21     9 “He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him. 10 For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the LORD. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.” Zedekiah didn’t like the answer. So he turned to other prophets. Jeremiah even came before the king with a yoke around his neck as a visual. He even warned those already in exile in Babylon to make themselves at home. This was not over. As prophesied, Nebuchadnezzar returned in 587BC, destroyed Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, destroyed the walls, and drove the people of Judah out of their homes. Zedekiah was captured and his sons were killed before his eyes. His eyes were gauged out and he was dragged away to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar forced the exiles to march 700 miles across the hot desert to a land they had never seen. They were now “servants” in a foreign land. Gone are the days of confidence in God’s promises to David and to his chosen city Zion/Jerusalem.

What do you think is the state of mind of these people in exile? Everything is in chaos. Susan Langer (“Philosophy in a New Key,” Prof at Columbia, New York University) said, “Man can adapt himself somehow to anything his imagination can cope with; but he cannot deal with Chaos. Because his characteristic function and highest asset is conception, his greatest fright is to meet what he cannot construe, the ‘uncanny,’ as it is popularly called.” How do you think they were handling all this? Their glory days were over. Maybe, some were reminiscing. Others were becoming Babylonians. Their whole thought was how to shed the life of servitude. Will God bring us back? Is our God bigger than Marduk, Nergal, and Tiamat? Was it time to switch over? We don’t want to be servants anymore.

God had sent his answer through Isaiah over a 100 years earlier. God had already given his new way. Isaiah 43.     18 “Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert.” In this way, David was not the Anointed One but Cyrus (a king who was yet to be born). The qualifications of leadership had changed. It’s not pedigree or power but humility, obedience, and righteousness. With that in mind, let’s read the section we began with – Isaiah 52:13 “Behold, My Servant (Pay attention. You are servants and hate it. I am sending someone who is also a Servant. Don’t despise your predicament. It could be God’s way of speaking to you and using you. The description of “the Servant” had already begun in Isaiah 42.) shall deal prudently; (Not just wise things but right things. The word is “sakal.”) He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.” (they describe God – Isaiah 6:1; 33:10; 57:15)

14 Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men; (their faces were disfigured in the exile. He would be worse.) 15 so shall He sprinkle many nations. (the idea is of sprinkling to make atonement or even expiation = to purify. We may think that in exile God may double down on his hatred for nations. To the contrary, God is reigniting his plan to reach the world! The people in exile thought that they had lost their identity. Instead, God was spreading them for his greater purpose to win the world). Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; (Pilate was not a king but he represented one. He was just the beginning.) for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.

Invitation: Do you know the Servant? Are you trusting in him? Are you saved? Are you a servant?

Operation Safeguard by Dr. Abidan Shah

OPERATION SAFEGUARD by Dr. Abidan and Nicole Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  As you’ve probably noticed, the stage is laid out a little differently this weekend. For the next 2 weeks, we’ll be doing a subseries from 1 Peter titled “OPERATION SAFEGUARD.” I’ll explain what it’s about in just a moment, but first, I’m going to invite my wife Nicole to join me up here. As many of you may know, Nicole and I have our date day every Monday, when we get away for a few hours. This is something we began 13 years ago after we went to a “Weekend to Remember” Conference. It’s our time to reconnect, talk about our lives, and just relax. Lately, we’ve been talking about the state of marriages in our church and society. It’s been hard to gauge where marriages are since the pandemic and the shutdowns. According to some researchers, people are not divorcing, but its more for practical reasons than anything else – “let’s stay together so we can weather this crazy time.” Maybe, something good did come out of 2020. But, there is a different problem with regards to marriage that has been emerging for a long time. The rate of marriage has been dropping. In 2019, it hit an all-time low of only 33 for every 1,000 unmarried adults. It may help if you have a reference point – it was 35 in 2010 and 86 in 1970. I would say that it has dropped even more in 2020. In this message, we will see what is happening and what are some steps that we can take even today.

1 Peter 2     11 “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Context: We’ve come to the second main section of 1 Peter. In the first section, the overall focus was on how the believers in Asia Minor saw themselves. In the second section, the focus is on how the believers should live before the watching world. In making the transition to the second section, Peter used 3 important words that lay out 3 important building blocks on behavior in verse 11:

  1. Beloved: The Greek word is “agapetoi.” It is hardly found outside the Greek New Testament. It has a tone of endearment. Peter was not talking down to them but lovingly calling them to action. So also, in the Christian life, and especially regarding marriage, we are to humbly help each other. We all have our struggles.
  2. Sojourners and Pilgrims: The Greek words are “paroikos” and “parepidemos.” The first means a resident alien and the second means temporary alien. These designations were not their civic statuses but spiritual status. In other words, they were just passing through.
  3. Spiritual Warfare: As we go through life, the world will try to conform us into their mold. We are to recognize that this will be a war. This is not some internal war but external culture war.

Once Peter laid this out, he applied this to government, workplace, and marriage. Because Valentines is here, we are skipping over to marriage, but we will be coming ack to it. How do you war against the fleshly lusts regarding marriage? Here, Nicole will explain how to safeguard our marriage:

NICOLE: Abidan and I get asked many times how we met; how our parents felt about us dating and getting married because we are from two different countries and cultures. My parents were born and raised in Georgia and except for 3 years living in Costa Rica and Chile and one month in California; that’s where I grew up. My dad was a pastor for about 25 years, so I was a PK and an MK. Abidan was born and raised in India until he came to the United States at the age of 17. As you know, his father was a pastor, as well, of the same church for almost 60 years. I know the question going through many of your minds is “How could two people from opposite sides of the world, who were raised in different cultures, make it 26 years and counting?” By the grace of God, first of all. There’s also one very important component in making a marriage work: the way you were raised. What I mean is your family’s values and convictions. What Abidan and I discovered is that our fathers had very similar beliefs and convictions. When your families are very similar in those areas, marriage works. I’m not saying that it’s easy. In fact, the first several years of our marriage was hell on earth; probably due partly to the fact that I wasn’t living as I should as a Christian.

When I say that our families have similar beliefs and convictions, the first one is that marriage is a commitment between you, your spouse, and God. Both sets of parents were married until death parted them. My parents were married for 34 years when my father died of cancer, and Abidan’s parents were married for 55 years when his father recently died. They understood what it meant to be committed to each other for life. I’m not saying that if you or your spouse comes from a broken home that your marriage is doomed. I do believe that we are shaped by our environment, especially as children, but there comes a point where you can make a choice not to let your past define you. With the help of the Lord Jesus Christ, you can have a successful marriage even if your parents did not. Both of us watching our parents’ commitment being fleshed out in front of us had a profound influence on both of us. Also, our families having the same convictions was vital: you have to be born again to be saved, the belief in baptism, the belief that the Bible is the perfect Word of God, the belief that Jesus came to earth, died on the cross for our sins and rose on the third day, the belief in eternity in heaven with God, and the belief that all human life is precious are a few of them. When there is common ground like I just listed, then the cultural differences are incidentals.

Whether we know it or not, we bring baggage from our childhood into our marriages –

  • How we were loved or not loved (even our perception of that as children)?
  • Did we feel like we belonged in the family? For example, were you the perfect child or the black sheep of the family?
  • Sometimes, this baggage could come from the parent that we are most like. For example, how do we react when we see something in someone else that is a flaw in our own personality? We don’t like it.
  • Our sense of worthiness also comes from our parents. For both girls and boys, it mainly comes from their father. So, when the father is absent, emotionally or physically, it has a profound effect on our sense of worth.

Taking all this into account, there are 10 kinds of homes that people grow up in:

  1. The healthy home – where parents model a godly marriage, not a perfect marriage. When mistakes are made or conflict happens, the children see the healthy and biblical way to deal with them.
  2. The abusive home – this one speaks for itself. This is any type of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or neglect. Results in marriage – victim mentality.
  3. The legalistic home – where there were extra rules other than what the Bible says that can be very oppressive. Also, there is usually hypocritical behavior on the part of the parents as well. Results in marriage – judgmental of spouse if not as religious.
  4. The affair home – this is usually a home where even though there was infidelity on the part of one or both spouses, the parents stay together; but there is no trust in the home. The absence of trust in our childhood home can have devastating effects. This creates adults who don’t trust their spouses.
  5. The impoverished home –the effects of this home are the children determining to never be without money or certain things that we did not have while growing up. Results in marriage – money is everything.

ABIDAN:

  1. The divorced home – this one speaks for itself, and no matter when divorce happened, when the children were young or older, divorce has a profound effect on the children. It is worse than death. If a parent dies, they didn’t want to leave their family, but in divorce they chose to leave. Divorced homes lead to feelings of guilt, abandonment, anger and depression in children. Results in marriage – divorce in either always or never on the table.
  2. The rage-filled home – the home where at least one parent could become angry at any time at anything. Results in marriage – pleaser or avoider.
  3. The abandonment home – this does not have to be as bad as it sounds. This could be being a latch key kid because both parents worked all the time to no quality or quantity of time. Results in marriage – crave connection.
  4. The perfection home – everything had to be perfect from the tidiness of the home to the behavior of the parents and the children. Results in marriage – become a pleaser, a controller, unrealistic expectations.
  5. The unemotional home – our parents showed no emotion, so therefore we could not show emotion. It was frowned upon. Results in marriage –uncomfortable with emotion from spouse or children.

How do you handle coming from such homes?

  1. We have to choose to forgive our parents. I know that this is easier said than done, but I think it’s easier when we become parents and realize how hard of a job it is. When we understand that our parents were doing the best they knew how with what they had, it is easier to forgive them. It will not be a once and done thing either. We may have to forgive them many times. Forgiveness will take much prayer and obedience to God.
  2. We also need to understand our love language and our spouse’s love language. Many times, what we lacked in childhood will become our primary love language.
  • If our primary love language is quality time, we may have come from an unemotional home, an abandonment home, a divorced home, or an affair home.
  • If our primary love language is physical touch, we may have come from an unemotional home, an abandonment home, or an abusive home.
  • If our primary love language is receiving gifts, we may have come from the impoverished home.
  • If our primary love language is words of appreciation, we may have come from a perfection home, a rage-filled home, an unemotional home, a divorced home, an ultra-religious home, or an abusive home.
  • If our primary love language is acts of service, we may have come from an abandonment home or an abusive home.

In many marriages, each spouse is expressing love in the way they want to be loved, not how their spouse wants to be loved. A great resource to understanding our love languages is the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

NICOLE:

  1. Also, a good exercise for us and our spouse is to figure out 5 values that we want our marriage to be known for. Write them down, post them somewhere in your home where they will be visible to all family members. These values will be a great legacy to pass on to your children. Think back to your childhood. What kind of legacy did your parents pass down to you? Do you want to pass that same legacy on to your children? Or a different one? I remember one thing that my dad did that left an impression on me. My dad had my name and each one of my siblings’ names inserted into the scripture verse 3 John 4. He posted these in each our rooms where we would see them. Mine said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that Nicole walks in the truth.” A few years ago, I found a photo frame with this verse imprinted on it. I have pictures of our children in it, and I hung it in the hallway between their rooms, so they will see it often.

When we begin to look at our marriages as God intended them to be: a picture of Jesus Christ and the church, an example of God’s unconditional love for a lost world; we will see how important our example of a godly marriage is. I don’t know about you, but I really have never thought that my marriage would be a witness of a loving Savior to a lost world. I want to close with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy institution through which God wishes to preserve the humanity until the end of time. In your love you see only each other in the world; in marriage you are a link in the chain of generations that God, for the sake of his glory, allows to rise and fade away, and calls into His kingdom.

We have created posters that you can purchase in the Resource Center and write your values from the list of 45 values.

Advancement Happiness Respect
Adventure Honesty Responsible
Balance Impact Security
Comforting Integrity Selflessness
Compassion Intuitive Servanthood
Content Joy Spirituality
Courageous Knowledge Stability
Creativity Laughter Steadfast
Discerning Love Success
Disciplined Loyalty Supportive
Enduring Patience Togetherness
Faith Peace Transparency
Finish Well Persistence Trust
Fun Protective Unified
Genuine Purposeful Life Wisdom

Invitation: How are you safeguarding your marriage? What are your values? Is Christ the center of your marriage? Do you know Christ as your Savior and King?

New Beginning by Dr. Abidan Shah

NEW BEGINNING by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: We’ve had quite a few babies at Clearview in 2020. Each of them is special and beautiful. In a world full of chaos and ugliness, a baby can quickly bring a smile to your face. Babies are a reminder that God is not through with our world. But, it’s not easy to have a baby. They are completely helpless and dependent on others. They cannot do anything to support their life. Someone else has to feed and change them. When Nicole’s dad was a pastor, he had a sign over their church nursery, “We shall not all asleep, but we shall all be changed” from 1 Corinthians 15:51. In our series on 1 Peter, we come to chapter 2 where Peter talks about a new beginning like a newborn baby. Main point: During times of trials, fear can cause us to take refuge in our old nature and act the fool. Instead, we should cast aside the old, take on the mind of a newborn, and be totally dependent on the gracious care of God.

1 Peter 2       1 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,

Context: Once again, we need to remember that Peter was writing to Jewish and Gentile background believers in northern Asia Minor who were facing rejection from their own and social discrimination from their neighbors because of their faith in Christ. Peter knew that times of trials and stress can bring out the best or the worst in a person. Just think about how he reacted on the night Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. First, he struck at the high priest servant and cut off his ear. Jesus had to stop and heal him. Then, he followed Jesus at a distance and ended up denying him 3 times with cursings! These believers in Asia Minor were no different. Pressure was bringing out the worst in them. Listen to the list of things that Peter told them to lay aside in verse 1—“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.” The concept of “laying aside” means “to get rid of” or “to strip away” from the Greek word “apotithemi” = apo (away from) and tithemi (set). This command is found several times in the New Testament: Romans 13:12 “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” Colossians 3:8 “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth”; James 1:21 “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls”; Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Principle: It’s alright to pray for God’s help in turning the channel of sin, but the remote is in your hands.

What is it that Peter wanted them to cast aside or get rid of specifically?

  • “kakia,” which is badness, wickedness, doing harm to others;
  • “dolos,” which is deceit, falsifying information, basically lying;
  • “hupokrisis,” which is play acting, pretending, just a show;
  • “phthonos,” which is envy = wanting what someone else has; and,
  • “katalalos,” which is evil speaking, slander, backstabbing.

Application: In your trials, have these old habits and behaviors raised their ugly heads in your life? These are the tools of the Enemy and they have no place in a believer’s life. Pray right now and ask God to give you the strength to cast them aside.

Next verse 2 “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word…” Here’s a very important principle: If you don’t replace what has been cast aside with what is good and beneficial, those old things will return and often with a vengeance. Jesus explained this best in Luke 11      24 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” It is the old Aristotelian principle from physics – “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

Application: Resolutions to stop harmful things have to be balanced with resolutions to start helpful and holy things. Have you done that?

But there’s so much more here in the next 2 verses: 2 “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord isgracious.” There are 4 things here, first 2 are easily understood but the last 2 needs some deeper study.

  1. Attitude – “as newborn babes” means helpless, completely dependent, single minded.
  2. Purpose – “that you may grow thereby” means spiritual growth and maturity.
  3. Content – “desire the pure milk of the word”
  4. Motivation – 3 “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is”

3. Content – Typically, people have interpreted the statement “desire the pure milk of the word” to be “get into the Bible,” “listen to biblical preaching,” and “join a small group bible study.” None of that is wrong but that is not what Peter had in mind. The word he used in the Greek is “logikon gala.” If he had said “gala logou” from logos, then it’s the milk of the word. The word “logikon is not “logos.” What does the word “logikon” mean? It means “rational” or “reasonable.” Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (logikein latreian). In this context, it means “to desire the appropriate milk.” In other words, Christians should seek after and desire what is proper and appropriate for them as believers. In every situation, there is a proper and an improper for us as believers – as 1 Peter 1:2 “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” We are to choose that which is proper for us as believers. If you don’t, you will behave inappropriately, especially during trials.

Application: Have you acted properly during times of trials? Did your actions match your confession?

4. Motivation – 3 “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Here, Peter is quoting from Psalm 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Someone might say that this seems like a common statement. Does it have to be from Psalm 34? In 1 Peter 3:10-12, Peter quotes a larger section from Psalm 34. In fact, according to a scholar (Bornemann), there are 7 quotations and 70 allusions to Psalm 34 in 1 Peter. I think that is a little exaggerated. Nonetheless, if we’re going to understand the depth of what Peter really meant in this letter, we have to understand Psalm 34 a little better.

Psalm 34 “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 think that they are original. What is the context of Psalm 34? This incident took place after Jonathan confirmed David’s fear that Saul wanted to kill him. If you remember, David and Jonathan made a covenant with each other, and David fled for his life. He came to Ahimelech the priest and got some bread from him, but one of Saul’s spies saw him there. Now, David was afraid. He needed some weapons. The sword of Goliath was there in the Tabernacle. The priest offered it to David and he took it! But, then he did something completely foolish. He fled to Achish, king of Gath, king of the Philistines. Of course, they recognized him – 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. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “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?”

Psalm 34        1 “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. 4 I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. 5 They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed. 6 This poor man cried out, and the LORD heardhim, and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them. 8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessedis the man who trusts in Him! 9 Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. 10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing. 11 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” The rest we will see when we come to I Peter 3.

During times of trials, fear can cause us to take refuge in our old nature and act the fool. Instead, we should cast aside the old, take on the mind of a newborn, and be totally dependent on the gracious care of God.

By the way, there is something deeper here – 3 “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord isgracious.” The word for gracious is “Chrestos,” which is just one vowel away from “Christos.” What Peter was telling those believers in Asia Minor who were going through a difficult time was not to fear and act the fool. Instead, crave Christ and his life.

Invitation: How much do you desire Christ? Have you acted the fool? Do you know Christ as your Savior and King? Are you saved?

Faithfulness by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction: If there is one refrain or chorus that we have all said or heard again and again, it is “what a crazy year 2020 has been!” None of us ever imagined in our wildest dreams or nightmares that this year would turn out this way. Although, this year was quite serious and sad in many ways, people found humor in it as well. Check out some of the memes that people sent me – “T-shirt with the year in review stars – ‘Very bad, would not recommend,’” “picture of a knight in his armor with the caption ‘me being prepared for 2020’ and the next picture with an arrow through the eye slit,” “a bunch of porta potties on fire with the caption ‘if 2020 was a scented candle,’” and this one with “Sorry folks, the world is closed.” As I was praying about what is it that God would want us to remember at the close of this crazy year, he directed my attention to Psalm 66. Here’s the main point: If we look at our trials only through the lens of our personal story, we will become fearful and hopeless. Instead, we have to look at our trials through the lens of our collective story; then we see that we have faced worse situations before and God has been faithful. The foundation of our faith is not our own experiences but the collective experience of God’s people in the Scriptures. If he was faithful then, he will be faithful now and in the future. I can pray to him in confidence and know that he will answer the prayer of the clean heart.

Psalm 66       1 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! 2 Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.”

Context: Many of us treat the psalms as second-class literature compared to the narratives, prophecies, gospels and epistles. This is false. The psalms are equally Scripture. They are theology that sings. Once we decode the symbolism and the literary structure, they have some deep theology that is not found anywhere else in Scripture.

To start with, the psalm we just read (Psalm 66) can be divided into 2 halves: Verses 1-12 and verses 13-20. The first half is focused on corporate worship and the second half is focused on personal worship. In other words, first, we hear the chorus of the whole community singing and then we hear the voice of the individual worshipper. The first half lays the foundation for the second half. Without the corporate worship, there would be no individual worship.

First half – The choir calls all believers to praise God for his wonderful works. Listen again – 1 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!” In the context, I would say that “all the earth” is referring only to the “God-fearing Israelites” or only to “all the believers of the earth.” After all, how can the lost world shout joyfully to the living God? Also, 2 “Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.” Again, how can the lost world sing out the honor of God’s name and how can they make his praise glorious? Romans 3:23 is clear, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Moving on to verse 3 “Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power your enemies shall submit themselves to You.’” Every human being is an enemy of God until he/she meets Jesus Christ.Romans 5:10 “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Also,Colossians 1      21 “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” Once we receive Christ as our Savior, we can join the throng of those who sing praises to God’s name. 4 “All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.” Selah

Application: Have you been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? Are you saved? Are you singing praises to God?

Now the choir invites all believers to take a trip down memory lane – 5 “Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; They went through the river on foot…” Here the choir of God’s people are singing about the exodus from Egypt of their ancestors, particularly the time when the people of Israel found themselves hemmed between the Red Sea before them and the chariots of Pharaoh behind them. Remember, after the final plague of the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh allowed the people to leave Egypt. As this massive crowd of 3 million began their journey, the land of Egypt was a wreck and the Egyptians were scared. The people of Israel had to walk right past the fortresses on Egypt’s eastern borders. There were soldiers and chariots in these fortresses with plenty of hatred and anger towards the people of Israel. Even though they were large in number, these former slaves (less than 24 hours) were no match for trained angry soldiers in chariots. God led the people to set up camp in a place called Pi Hahiroth, which was right in front of the Red Sea. Just then Pharaoh changed his mind and decided to pursue the people of Israel with a couple of thousand chariots with soldiers. What a horrible tactical decision!

What was the response of the children of Israel? They were very afraid and they cried to the Lord and to Moses – Exodus 14     10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, “Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” Listen to Moses’s response in Exodus 14     13 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” Then, God commanded Moses to stretch his rod over the Red Sea to divide so the people could go on dry land. God sent a strong east wind that divided the sea and made dry land for them. Now, listen carefully to what happened next – Exodus 14    19 “And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” As the children of Israel crossed over on dry ground, listen to what the Angel of the Lord did 24 “Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians.” This Angel of the Lord and pillar of the cloud was the pre-incarnate Christ who guarded God’s people until they were safely on the other side. Then God gave the command and the sea came back and drowned the entire Egyptian army.

Let’s return again to Psalm 66:6 “He turned the sea into dry land; They went through the river on foot. There we will rejoice in Him.There is a shift in the “person” from third to second. There is something very subtle here which is very substantial for our faith. The singers/congregation were not there at the Red Sea. Their ancestors were there. Nonetheless, they were there in the sense of the confessional statements (Deuteronomy 26:5-9). In theological terms, this is known as the “actualizing identification with Israel’s salvation history.” It means that by faith we are part of the whole story of God’s people. In other words, even though I wasn’t there physically, I was there spiritually and I saw the faithfulness of God in my life. We do that as Christians through the Communion – 1 Corinthians 11:26 “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”

The choir/congregation continues – 7 “He rules by His power forever; His eyes observe the nations; Do not let the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah 8 Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, 9 Who keeps our soul among the living, And does not allow our feet to be moved.” This is the key verse of this psalm. God has preserved our feet from slipping into the netherworld. This does not mean that people have not died in 2020 of various causes, but God has our times in his hands and none have left this world outside of his time. 10 For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. 11 You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. 12 You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” Everything from the exodus experience is now personal.

Application: What is your faith story? The Bible is our faith story. We have been through worse. If God brought us through fire and water, he will bring us through 2020. Can you sing that? Can you shout that? Do you understand now why we need community? We understand those who cannot be with us because of health concerns. That’s why we go above and beyond to make sure that we have the best online experience possible for those who cannot attend in person. To stop assembling is to take away our faith story. We have to remind each other of it.

Second Half – The individual proclaims his personal thanksgiving to God and promises to keep his vows. Listen – 13 I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows.” There is a shift in the “person” from second to first. The choir goes silent now and all eyes are turned towards the individual as he makes remembers the promises that he had made to God through the trials. 14 Which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble. 15 I will offer You burnt sacrifices of fat animals, with the sweet aroma of rams; I will offer bulls with goats. Selah Many different kinds of sacrifices are in view here.

Applications: What promises did you make to God in 2020? You say, “I didn’t make any promises.” So, you just asked God to get you through? Get you through for what? Why should God give you another year? If were truly honest, many of us got through but our faith disintegrated. Many have destroyed the faith of others.

Listen to the conclusion of the psalm – 16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, And I will declare what He has done for my soul. 17 I cried to Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue. 18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. 19 Butcertainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me!” There is confidence in our prayers when our heart is clean before God.

Application: Is your heart clean before God?

Conclusion:

  • We need both descriptive praise and declarative praise.
  • We need to go back and then we can talk about the now.
  • We need both the community and the individual.
  • We need both worship and thanksgiving.
  • We need hearts that are clean if we want our prayers to be heard.

Can you see God’s faithfulness in the past and the present? Are you saved?

Greater than Religion by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick summary:

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

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

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

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

Greater than Rulers by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater Than Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glorious by Dr. Abidan Shah

GLORIOUS by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  In less than a month, I have performed 3 wedding ceremonies. Every time I open Facebook or Instagram, I see a Happy Anniversary post. It is that time of the year. I remember like yesterday when Nicole and I got married. I did not sleep but an hour or two that night. I was so nervous. I remember repeating the vows but I have no idea what I said. In fact, I looked at Nicole’s dad the whole time! Bottom line: We had no clue what we were doing! To be very honest: most couples have no clue what they are doing. In our miniseries through Ephesians, we come to a very familiar passage where Paul talks about the marriage relationship. Main point: A marriage is much more than a man and a woman living together in a contractual and consensual relationship. It is a living illustration of the mystery that was conceived when Adam took Eve as his bride and it was revealed when Christ gave his life for his bride, the church. Marriage is the re-enactment of the relationship between Christ and the church. Ultimately, marriage is a display of the gospel of Christ. This message is called GLOROIOUS.

Ephesians 5    17 “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.”

Context: Some of you are wondering, “Shouldn’t we be reading from verse 22?” The most surprising thing about the marriage passage in Ephesians that begins in verse 22 is that it lacks a finite verb. The verbs are actually found in verses 17 and 18 – do not be unwise,” “understand what the will of the Lord is,” and “be filled with the Spirit.” Important Principle: “If you’re not Spirit-filled, this message on marriage will be like fingernails on a chalkboard.”

Question: Are you wise? Are you willing to understand the will of the Lord? Are you Spirit-filled?

Having laid out the 3 basic requirements, Paul proceeds to deal with situations where wise and spirit-filled living can be very challenging – personal relationships, especially family relationships. Verse 19 “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I don’t have time to deal with each of these, but listen to verse 21 “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” The source of our conflicts is selfishness. We are born this way. Something happens the moment the Holy Spirit enters our life. There is a break in that selfish spirit. Life is no longer just about one’s own self. It is also about others. It’s no longer about just my feelings, my wants, my needs but also others. Important Point: Submission is a sign of a spirit-controlled life. The word “submission” literally means “To order oneself under a leader.” In the very next verse, Paul makes it specifically about the marriage and family – Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The translation should be – “and, specifically, by wives submitting to their husbands.” Here’s the fingernails on chalkboard part of the sermon. But, it doesn’t have to be if we understand the real reason behind it. To understand this, we have to go down to verse 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” If there’s going to be genuine Spirit-controlled marriage, it will require us to understand the meaning of this mystery.

What is this “mystery?” The answer is in verse 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Here, Paul was quoting from Genesis 2:24, the last verse before the temptation from the Serpent. What happened before that verse? Genesis 2:23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Adam was praising God’s work in creating Eve! Very interestingly, the next time he talked about Eve was after the temptation when God confronted him in Genesis 3:12 “Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’” In just 12 verses, Adam went from praising his wife to blaming her. By the way, the curse that followed over the relationship is in Genesis 3:16 To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Gone was the perfect relationship of willing submission and servant leadership. Now, it was a desire and rule relationship. There was a mystery in that relationship that was supposed to reflect the future relationship between Christ and the Church. Now, it was distorted because of sin.

I don’t have time to go too deep into this. What is Paul’s point in Ephesians? Jesus came, died, buried, rose again, and is exalted on high. He did this not only to redeem us but to break the power of sin and evil. He defeated the cosmic powers that have caused every dissension in the world, especially marriage and family. Christ has inaugurated a new creation. He became the New Adam. Now, he wants to restore the pattern set in the first creation. The church is the mystery that brings Jewish believers and gentile believers in one community. But, Jesus also wants to do this for the marriage, which was the illustration of this mystery between Christ and the Church. This only happens when Spirit-filled believers understand that their marriage is much more than two people coming together in consent and contract. It reflects the mystery of Christ and the Church. By the way, God still has his covenant with his people Israel, which he will fulfill in the future.

Applications: How do you see your marriage? How do you see marriage in our culture?

What happens when Spirit filled believers allow the recreation to happen through Christ? Think about where Eve and Adam messed up. Eve was supposed to defer to Adam, her husband, to respond to the Serpent and Adam was supposed to take responsibility to protect Eve, his wife. Because of what Christ did, now there is a remaking by the Holy Spirit.Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” This does not mean that the wife is inferior or the man is superior. Again, the word “submission” literally means “To order oneself under a leader.” Now what does the word “head” mean? It means authority. Submission does not mean that a woman shuts off her brain and surrender her individuality. To the contrary, a wise husband will listen to his wife and her advice and her warnings. It means to “let the husband be the spiritual authority in the relationship.

Just when you think that Paul was biased against women, he only had 41 words for the women but 125 for the men. Ephesians 5:25 onwards: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…” In other words, a husband and wife relationship is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church.The spiritual reality is that Christ is the bridegroom and the collective body of believers are the bride. By the way, this is why any kind of sexual deviation from a biological man-woman marriage is so serious. Listen again: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word…” Individually, we are made clean when we receive Jesus as our Savior and King. His blood washes our sins away. But, collectively, we come together as the church but we still have our faults, weaknesses, and selfishness. We also need collective cleansing. This is where Christ our Bridegroom who loved us and gave himself for us is now committed to cleansing us “with the washing of water by the word.” Although the word for “word” is “rhema” (the spoken word), it still implies the Word of God. When he hear the Word regularly and allow the Holy Spirit to apply it our hearts, we are being cleansed collectively. Instead of being selfish and self-centered, proud and judgmental towards each other in the church, we learn to become selfless and self-giving, humble and encouraging towards one another. We begin to demonstrate mutual submission towards each other, mutual forgiveness for each other, and mutual encouragement to each other, and mutual caring for one another. This is the process of purification and it is all done under the leadership and authority of the Bridegroom, Christ.

Marriage is an earthly expression of a heavenly reality. In a marriage relationship, the husband and wife come together with their individual faults, weaknesses, and selfishness. Typically, we expect the other person to be perfect and we justify our imperfections. To the contrary, marriage is a relationship in which 2 imperfect people start on a journey together towards perfection. Don’t misunderstand: Perfection here does not mean faultlessness. It means learning to live daily by the grace of God and helping the other person to do the same. We are to help purify one another with the love of Christ, the truth of his Word, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is learning to apply the righteousness of Christ to each other.

What is the goal of this perfection in the Christ-Church relationship? “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Christ is cleansing the church to present her to himself before God the Father in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

What is the goal in the husband-wife relationship? We are to help one another come to perfection by the grace of God and present each other to God. That is deep!

What is the husband’s role in this purification process? Verse 28 onwards “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” The husband’s role is to lead this purification process the way Christ does for the church. Making Christ the priority of your home, going to church, obeying his Word, and serving Him as a family falls on your shoulders. In other words, the husband controls the thermostat of the marriage. By the way, unlike the Christ-church relationship where Christ is perfect, you are not. You need purification too. That’s why God has brought the wife into his life.

What is the wife’s role in this purification process? “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” The wife’s role is to encourage the husband to help lead this purification process. Help him to be the godly husband that he is called to be and, together, build your home to be a place of mutual purification by the grace of God, reflect the great mystery of Christ and the church.

Invitation: Husbands, how do you see our wife? Wives, how do you see your husbands? Believers, how do you see the mystery of the Christ-Church relationship? Do you belong to the Church? Are you saved?

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