The Anatomy of Salvation by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Furnace by Pastor Abidan Shah

FURNACE by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: I love cartoons about heaven. I don’t like jokes about hell. There’s nothing funny about hell. It is a place of eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. I didn’t say that. Jesus did. When we reject God’s plan of salvation through Jesus, we condemn ourselves to this eternal furnace. That’s the title of our message today – “FURNACE.”

Matthew 13      24Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27So the servants of the owner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28He said to them, “An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29But he said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”

Question:  There’s only 2 groups of people: the wheat and the tares. Which group do you belong to? How do you see God’s delay in judgment? Are you confusing his compassion for complacency? Are you saved?

Pray: Holy Spirit – We are talking about the dreaded subject of Hell. Satan and his hordes of evil angels know that this is their final destiny. Cover us with your protection and grace. Save those who are headed to hell today.

Context:Before we jump into the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, let me remind you once again the reason why Jesus spoke in parables. If you remember from last week’s message – Parables were much more than stories given to illustrate a point; they were stories used by the prophets to confront the people of God regarding hidden sins in their lives. You have to think of parables as a mirror. You look in a mirror to see your physical condition. You look into parables to expose your true spiritual condition. When you read a parable, your question should not be as much “I wonder what principle is behind this story” as much as “I wonder what character I am playing in this story.”

With that in mind, let’s look at the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. To start with, this is one of the most misunderstood parables of Jesus. I know what some of y’all are thinking – “Well, Pastor Shah, tell us what this parable is truly about.” I’ll do even better. I’ll let Jesus explain the true meaning of this parable. Out of the many parables of Jesus recorded in the gospels, 3 are actually included along with Jesus’ explanation. This happens to be one of them. The explanation is given in Matthew 13starting in verse36Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”The way we will tackle this is by looking at some of the common misunderstandings of this parable and compare it with Jesus’ explanation:

#1 Some people assume that this parable is about the CHURCH. They think that the wheats and the tares represent the two categories of people in the church: the wheats represent the saved and the tares represent the lost. Is this true or false? FALSE. Listen to verse 37He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world…”

#2. Some people assume that this parable is to warn us about POSERS, false Christians hiding among true Christians. They think that the similarities between the wheat and the tares was given to illustrate how false Christians look just like true Christians.Is this true or false? Well, this is PARTLY TRUE AND PARTLY FALSE. Yes, it is true that the “tare” or the “darnel” is an annoying weed that looks very much like the wheat in the early stages.But, when fully developed, the leaves of the wheat are 6-12 mm wide but the leaves of the tare are only about 3 mm wide. So, in the early stages, they are indistinguishable but later, they are different. The reason the servants came to the landowner and complained is because they noticed the tares among the wheat. In the early stages, it may be hard to distinguish a fake Christian from a true Christian but in time, it will become clear. You cannot hide forever. Your fruits will expose your true identity.Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 7   15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, norcana bad tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”Question:  Are you a wheat or a tare? Do you see yourself in the story? You cannot hide forever. Nicole got saved under this parable. In time, it will become clear what you are by your fruits. No Fruit = No salvation. Having said that, posers are NOT the main purpose of the parable.

3. Some people assume that this parable is a warning not to JUDGE but to TOLERATE false believers and even the evil around us. They quote what the master told the servants when they asked him if they could uproot the tares –29“No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.” Some people think that it meant that Jesus did not want us to judge false believers because that would do more damage to the true believers. Is that really what Jesus meant?In reality, Jesus didn’t shy away from calling people out. Repeatedly he called the Pharisees “hypocrites,” “fools,” and “blind guides!” Not just the religious leaders but even those who were trying to follow him, he called into question their lack of commitment. Matthew 10   37“He who loves father or mother more than Me isnot worthyof Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me isnot worthyof Me. 38And he who does nottake his cross and follow after Me isnot worthyof Me.” 

Is Jesus telling us not to stand up for what’s right and oppose what’s wrong in our society because it would be bad for us believers?Are we only to sit back and patiently and meekly take the beating? If anything, he told us to do just the opposite. In Matthew 5: 13-14, Jesus commanded us to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.

So, what was the real reason for the parable? The reason behind all 3 parables in Matthew 13is the question that even John the Baptist had in Matthew 11     2 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciplesand said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”How odd? Why would John ask such a question? This was the same question that was on the mind of many of Jesus’ followers. Why, if Jesus is the Messiah and the kingdom has come, is there still so much evil in the world?

  • For starters, why is John the Baptist still in prison?
  • Why are the Romans still in charge?
  • Why are many in Israel, especially the religious leaders, rejecting Jesus?
  • Why has there been no separation between the righteous and the unrighteous?
  • Why has judgment not begun?

To answer that, Jesus gave the parable and then it’s explanation in Matthew 13     37He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wickedone.39The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Nowadays, many Christians do not believe in a literal hell as a place of fire and burning. Jesus did. Listen to these verses:

Daniel 12:2“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shameandeverlasting contempt.”

Mark 9     42“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 44where‘Their worm does not dieand the fire is not quenched.’” (Quoting Isaiah 66:24)

Luke 16    23And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’”

Jude 7“suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

Revelation 20:10“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophetare.And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Why hasn’t judgment begun?

2 Peter 3     3knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue asthey werefrom the beginning of creation…7But the heavens and the earthwhichare now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 8But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one dayisas a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slack concerning Hispromise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Hebrews 9    27And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,28so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many….”

Invitation:Are you ready for the judgment that is coming? Are you saved?

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