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?

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?

Marvelous Light by Dr. Abidan Shah

MARVELOUS LIGHT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: Couple of days ago, with the snow and ice, a lot of people lost their power. We don’t realize how much we depend on electricity until it goes out. Summer time, it gets hot; winter time, it gets cold; but, the worst part for me is the darkness. For the heat, we can open the windows; for the cold, we can bundle up; but, what can we do about the darkness? We can’t see anything. We can’t do anything. We can’t go anywhere. We become completely helpless. Of course, we use flashlights and candle light, but we operate on less than half of our capacity. We wait for the day to dawn so we can do what we need to do. But, what if there were no daylight? What if darkness was all there was to life? My favorite sound when the power is out is the beep of the oven and the microwave. That is the heart of what Peter was telling his readers in our passage today. Today’s message is this: Every one of us is in darkness until God calls us into his marvelous light through Jesus Christ. Light is the realization of our new status in Christ: chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, and his own special people.

1 Peter 2      9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Context: As you’ve heard me say throughout this series, Peter wrote this letter to encourage the persecuted church of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. They were facing ostracization by their families and societal discrimination by their neighbors. Unfortunately, this persecution was having a negative effect on them as some of them were beginning to regress in their Christian growth. Peter wrote this letter not only to encourage them but also to rebuke and admonish them for picking back up those old behaviors of “malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking.” He reminded them that they were living stones in God’s house with Christ being the Chief Cornerstone. By the way, this was no ordinary house but a holy temple in which they were priests offering sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Application: How do you act in times of trouble? Do you reflect the Christian graces or the carnal vices, vestiges of your past life? Are you saved?

Now, we come to verse 9. Here, Peter gave what one scholar called “one of the most dense constellations of ecclesiological imagery in the New Testament” (Boring). Listen again to verse 9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people…” Before we dive in and look at each of these designations, we need to have a better understanding of the situation the Christians of the Anatolian peninsula were facing. There has been a lot of debate among church history scholars over the range and the extent of persecution in the early church. At one time, it was believed that the persecution began early and became intense during periods until the time of Constantine and the Edict of Milan in AD 313. Then, it was believed that the persecution was intense during the time of Nero and then later under certain emperors like Domitian, Trajan, Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian, but not throughout.

According to the latest research (Travis B. Williams), persecution began under Nero (54-68) when he changed the legal status of Christians and continued for the next 300 years. Starting with Nero, professing Christianity became illegal. It became a punishable offense if it was charged before the governor’s tribunal. The reason Christians could still function under such conditions was because of 2 reasons:

  • The judicial process in Asia Minor;
  • The relationship of Christians with their society.

In the first matter, the judicial system was not as simple – the accuser had to submit a formal allegation, then, the governors would be changing every year and you never knew who would be the judge, and the legal process was long. So, even though Christians were not daily facing capital punishment, the fear constantly loomed over the head. In the second matter, the Christians maintained involvement with society. It was not easy to go against Christians because they were connected with friends and family. Having said this, Christians always lived under the fear that one of their own would turn against them.

Here’s the point: Even though Christians were not being killed every day for their faith, their legal status in society had changed. To start with, they couldn’t join certain clubs like the “bakers of the Ephesus” and the “neighborhood group in Prusa” because to join required burning incense to the gods. Imagine how many business deals were lost because of that. Next, Christians refused to worship the Emperor. These cults were in the hands of the elites of the city or province. Again, Christians were excluded. At special town festivals and games, the emperor was honored before the start of the festival or games. Again, Christians were excluded. Finally, the worship of the traditional gods. Because, Christians did not worship these old gods, some people thought that they had become atheists. People blamed them for any natural, economic, or enemy threat.

There was yet another reason for the persecutions of the early Christians: Good Works. This may seem odd at first. How could a person, family, or a group practicing self-discipline, holiness, fear of God, righteousness, purity, sympathy, tender-heartedness, humility, love for one another, submission to government, enduring injustice, living with love in marriage (wives following their husbands and husbands giving honor to their wives), hospitality, shepherding the flock of God be a problem to society. They were looked upon as weird, different, cultish, and non-natives. Bottom line: There was persecution. Hence, Peter says in 1 Peter 4:16 “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” In other words, just the name “Christian” was illegal, reprehensible, and criminalized.

Application: Are you prepared for such a day in our lifetime? Are you preparing your children for such a day in their lifetime? How far will you go to stand for your faith and values?

By the way, in what forms did the early church and even the readers of 1 Peter face persecution? Verbal assault, physical abuse, legal actions, relationship struggles, financial hardships, and social ostracism.

Illustration: Dad was disowned by his family, beaten up for his faith, and even rejected by the nominal Christian community. When he took us to visit his family, they tried to lure mom to get him to come back home. They offered her the key to the family treasury.

Back to verse 9 – Peter reminds them of their new status since coming to Christ:

  1. Chosen Generation – genos eklekton. Here Peter is quoting from Isaiah 43:20 “The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen.” This was the promise given to the Jewish people in the Babylonian exile. The promise now applies to us as well.
  2. Royal Priesthood – In Israel, they represented 2 different offices. When King Saul tried to blend those two, Samuel cursed him. When King Uzziah tried to blend those two, he was driven out from the temple with leprosy. But, Christ was promised as the priest king in Zechariah 6:13 “Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” Now believers can come near to God as priests and they are also to rule over the hearts of the people around them in love and truth.
  3. Holy Nation – ethnos hagion. The world may ostracize us, but we already have a citizenship in another nation. This does not mean that we don’t obey the reasonable laws of this nation. 1 Peter 2 13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
  4. Special People – We have a special purpose just the way God chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for a special purpose. Again, Isaiah 43:21 “This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise.” There is still work left for ethnic Israel in the end of times. But, for now, we have been chosen for a purpose – 9 “…His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Our purpose is to share the gospel.

10 “who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” Maybe, this is an allusion to Hosea 2:23, but the point is that they are no accident of fate. God has brought them in by his mercy, as promised.

Invitation: How do you see yourself? Chosen Generation, Royal Priesthood, Holy Nation, Special People. Are you singing his praises? Are you shining his marvelous light in this dark world? Are you prepared for the persecution that may come? Are you children and grandchildren prepared? 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?

Firm Resolve by Dr. Abidan Shah

FIRM RESOLVE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  How many of you know of the “Loser’s Limp?” Zig Ziglar (in his classic book “See you at the top”) described it like this – “Characteristically, when a person falls victim to Garbage-Dump Thinking, he develops an assortment of ‘Loser’s Limps.’ You know what the Loser’s Limp is if you’ve ever attended a football game or watched one on television…The offensive player slips behind the defensive player, reaches up, pulls in a pass and heads for the end zone. The defensive man quickly recovers and takes out in hot pursuit. When the offensive player gets about 20 yards from the end zone, the defensive player realizes he’s not going to catch the man with the ball. Everybody in the stands knows it too. So, the defensive player frequently pulls up limping and the people in the stands say, ‘Well, no wonder the poor guy couldn’t catch him. Look, he’s crippled.’ Now that is his Loser’s Limp.” As we move forward in this series on 1 Peter, we’re going to learn how to avoid the Loser’s Limp during trials; and instead, make a FIRM RESOLVE (title) to press forward in the Christian life. Please find 1 Peter 1:13. Main point: When going through trials, it’s easy to become irrational, hopeless, and even revert back to our old ways. In such times, it is imperative that we make a firm resolve to be sober and look to Jesus, our source of hope. Ultimately, hopeful lives are holy lives.

1 Peter 1:13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Background: This verse marks a shift in the focus of the letter. It begins with the Greek word “dio,” which means “therefore.” If you’re a Bible student or a Sunday School teacher, I’m sure you’ve told your students that “when you see a ‘therefore’ in the Bible, ask yourself ‘what is it there for’ or ‘what is its purpose?’” “Therefore” is a call to action based on what has been said thus far. What has been said thus far? After the opening greeting in the first two verses, Peter gave a long doxology from verses 3-12. In this long Greek sentence, he reminded the pilgrims of the Dispersion (Jewish and Gentile background believers in Asia Minor who were facing rejection by their own and societal discrimination by their neighbors) that even though—

1. Their own had rejected them and their neighbors had ostracized them. 1. God had chosen them and rebirthed them into his family.
2. They were feeling hopeless. 2. They had a living hope which was based on God himself.
3. They had lost their inheritance. 3. God had an inheritance – incorruptible, undefiled, andunfading – waiting for them.
4. Their trials were causing them grief. 4. Trials were opportunities for God to test and purify their faith so that they will receive praise, honor, glory when Christ comes.
5. They felt like mourning. 5. They were to rejoice with an exultant joy, the shouting joy that opens the pressure valve through trials.
6. They hadn’t seen Christ and still couldn’t see him. 6. They had a special love and trust relationship with Jesus Christ.
7. Christ was invisible. 7. Christ become visible to them and filled their hearts with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
8. They felt unsure as to where life was headed. 8. Christ had given them the assurance of their salvation.
9. They were people with no past and no future. 9. They were part of God’s greater plan of salvation, which the prophetshad tried to search it out and the angelsstill try to figure it out.
10. They could only see suffering. 10. The salvation plan included the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. If they suffered with Christ, they will also share with him in glory. No sufferings, no glory.

 Here’s the point: God gives us plenty of reasons to overcome and press forward through our trials.

Application: What reasons do you have to overcome the trials in your life? Can you see the purpose of trials in your life? Have you been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Do you have a love and trust relationship with him? Is your life tethered to God’s greater plan of salvation? Do you know that there is no glory without suffering?

Listen again: 13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind…” “Gird up the loins” is a Semitic idiom that means “tuck your long robe into your belt so you can move freely, rapidly, and without hindrance.” We would say, “roll up your sleeves.” Peter went a step further – 13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind…” In his characteristic style, Peter mixed metaphors here. He was telling the pilgrims of the Dispersion not to let the trials and circumstances of their lives cause them to lose their mind, their focus.

Application: Are you guarding your mind? What do you allow to go into your mind? Who has the key to your mind? Here are some scriptures to remember:

  • Romans 12: 2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
  • 2 Corinthians 10:5 “…bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
  • Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Instead, “nephontes” (be sober), which was the opposite of being drunk and losing self-control.

Application: Are you sober enough to properly process information and be judicious and prudent? Do you make rash decisions?

Instead of losing your mind and indulging, 13 “…and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Rest your hope fully” is the first imperative (command) of 1 Peter. Keep in mind that in verse 3 Peter had told them that God had begotten them to a living hope, but now he told them to hope fully in the grace that is coming when Jesus comes. Also, in verse 10, Peter had told them that the prophets had prophesied of the grace that would come to them, but now he told them that grace is still on the way. The point is this: the work has begun but more is on the way; this glimpse of the fuller reality should help you live confidently today. The fact that we have lost confidence in the present is because we cannot see what lies in the future. As you see the heavenly city, it should help you live even more confidently now. This should make you fight even harder! For example: VE-Day was May 8, 1945, the war was already over on D-Day, June 6, 1944 when in “Operation Overlord” 1000 ships carrying 200,000 soldiers sailed across the English Chanel to France and landed on the shores of Normandy.

Application: Can you see what is coming for believers? Do you know that we win? As the adage goes, “we don’t fight to victory, but we fight from victory.” “If your faith cannot get you through one year, what makes you think it will get you through eternity!”

There’s more – 14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.” Because they had been born again by the Father through the resurrection of the Son, they were to be “obedient children.” They are not to be obedient slaves but obedient children. There is a sense of dignity and choice implied. God doesn’t want us to obey out of fear but out of a willing heart. We are living in a culture where people will obey every mandate of human beings but disobey the commandments of God, even Christians. Peter warned them not to revert back to their former lusts in their time of ignorance. The word for lust “epithumia” is not just about the worst sins like gluttony, lust, greed, and pride, this is about the kind of life that lives to please self and reject God. It is about self-glory, self-preservation, and self-promotion. This is from the time of “ignorance.” This does not mean “lack of knowledge” but a life that doesn’t understand the need for God and his salvation in our lives. Some of the smartest people are ignorant because they haven’t realized that they need to be saved through Jesus Christ.

Application: Are you still in your time of ignorance? Are you still living by your fleshly lusts? Do you recognize your need to be saved?

Finally, what should be our standard through trials? 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Peter points back to the Holiness Code between Leviticus 11-20 (11:44; 19:2). Nothing has changed with regards to what God expects from his people. Keep in mind that Holiness is separation from the profane.

Application: Are you taking the time to be holy, to be separate? Are you set apart for God’s purpose? Are you sober minded? Are you resting your hope fully in what is coming through Christ? Are you obedient? Are you saved?

Genuine Faith by Dr. Abidan Shah

 

GENUINE FAITH by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  When I was a school teacher and then a principal, I would go along with the students on their field trips. The ones I especially remember where the ones to New York city. They were a lot of fun, but they were also very stressful. Some of you teachers know what I am talking about. Trying to lead 40-50 middle school or high school students through Times Square and China Town was like herding cats. Then, the boys would find a bargain on a Foakley! “Do you think anyone would know?” Or, the girls would find a bargain on a genuine imitation leather jacket! “Can you tell the difference?” My answer would always be – “I can’t tell.” This was of course a lie. But, I didn’t have to tell them anything. Sometimes, those glasses would start breaking and those jackets would start flaking even before the bus ride was over. Why? They were not real. So also, some people’s faith looks real until they go through the bus rides of life and they start breaking and flaking even before the ride is over. We are in our series through 1 Peter and today we come to 1 Peter 1:6 for our message titled GENUINE FAITH. Main point: How we respond to the trials of life reveals the content and the quantity of our faith. Genuine faith makes the invisible Christ visible and fills our hearts with joy. It even reveals our true destination.

1 Peter 1:6 “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.”

Context: After saying a good word about God, “eulogetos,” Peter immediately addressed the tough situation that the believers of Asia Minor were going through because of their faith in Christ. Peter assured them that he understood that they were grieved. The Greek word is “lupeo,” which can be translated “distressed,” “sorrowful,” “deeply grieved,” and “burdened down.” Why did they feel this way? As we learned in the last message, their own family and community had ostracized them and taken away their inheritance. Some people think that they were being persecuted by the Roman government. I don’t believe that was really the case because in the next chapter, Peter instructed them to honor the king and submit to those in authority. What did happen under Nero was that he got the people to hate the Christians. Here’s the point: Societal discrimination was often the method by which Christians were persecuted. Not much has changed. If we don’t step up and take a leading role in where our nation is headed, we too will face societal discrimination as Christians and the church. In the time of the governor Pliny, the name “Christian” was criminalized. We are headed down the same path in America today where being a Christian and holding church is being criminalized.

Application: Are you being grieved by what is happening in our nation? Are you standing up for truth and integrity? What trials are grieving you? Do you realize that trials have a timeline – a beginning, middle, and end. It is for a little while.

Listen again to 1 Peter 1:6 “In this you greatly rejoice…” Was Peter stating how the believers were responding or was he telling them to rejoice? In other words, was he saying, “You are greatly rejoicing in the face of trials” or was he saying “you should greatly rejoice in the face of trials”? I believe that it was both. In some ways, Peter was complementing them for their response. At the same time, Peter was also encouraging them to rejoice in the face of trials. How can we apply that in our lives? Should we pretend to laugh through our tears? Should be pretend to stay calm in the midst of chaos? Should we pretend that nothing is wrong? To understand the proper way to rejoice, we need to understand the various words and meanings of “rejoice” and “joy” (from William Morrice):

  1. euthumein, euthumos = optimism
  2. euphrainein, euphrosune = gladness
  3. hedone, hedus, hedeos = pleasure
  4. tharsein, tharrein, tharsos = courage
  5. hilaros, hilarotes = hilarity
  6. kauchasthai, kauchema, kauchesis = boasting
  7. makarios = happy
  8. skirtan = leaping for joy
  9. chara = inward joy
  10. sunchairein = shared joy
  11. agallian, agalliasis = exultant joy

That word “agallian” comes from the Septuagint. It means to be carried away in sacred joy. It’s the kind of joy that comes through worship. The psalmists loved that word!

  • Psalm 5:11 “But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them.”
  • Psalm 92:4 “For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands.”
  • Psalm 95:1 “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.”

That word is used again and again to praise God for his goodness and for his promises waiting for those who are in Christ.

How can these believers who were going through trials rejoice with this exultant joy? Listen again to the end of verse 6 “if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” The word for trial is “peirasmos.” Sometimes that word can mean “temptation” and sometimes it can mean “test.” The grief and sorrow that was coming from ostracization and societal discrimination could become a source of temptation. They can see that Satan was behind all temptations and he was trying to make God’s people doubt God and go back to their old ways. Or, they can see that it was a test from God.

Application: What are you doing with your trials? Are you struggling with temptations? It’s time to move over to testing.

To take it a step further, this test is not to destroy them but to make them shine even brighter. Listen to verse 7 “that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Gold is tested by fire to remove the dross and impurity. It proves its genuineness. So also, when we go through trials, God is bringing all our impurities out. His purpose is not to destroy us but to purify us. Malachi 3       2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.” Instead of running from trials and dreading them, we learn to welcome them and even rejoice in them. James 1      2 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” In my personal trials, God grew me into the person I am today. This is not just a sermon for me. I believe this stuff! David understood the value of trials and he said in Psalm 139:23“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties.” Ultimately, we shall receive praise, honor, and glory when Jesus returns!

Application: How do you respond to times of testing? Do you remind yourself that God is not trying to destroy you? Instead, he is trying to purify you. Do you welcome it like David? Are you looking forward to the reward that is waiting for you when Jesus returns?

Finally, listen to 8 “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” These believers were from Asia Minor. They never got the opportunity to see Jesus when he was doing his earthly ministry. Unlike Peter, the rest of the disciples, and the multitudes, they never saw him heal the sick, feed the hungry, preach the word, teach the disciples, and then die on the cross, buried, and rise again. Nonetheless, they loved Jesus. But, there’s more. They still didn’t see him. They didn’t see him as the resurrected Messiah. They didn’t see him as seated at the righthand of God. They didn’t see him as interceding for them to the Father. They didn’t see him as present where 2 or 3 are gathered. They didn’t see him as the coming King. Nonetheless, they believed in Jesus. Without historical encounter and present interaction, these believers had a relationship with Jesus through love and faith. This spiritual relationship with Jesus filled their hearts with exultant joy because they knew that he was with them! Hence, suffering and trials do more than just prove our faith. They make the Invisible Christ visible and bring exultant joy in our hearts. That is the motto of our church – “Making Christ Visible.” Bengel – “Christ in the heart; heaven in the heart; the heart in heaven.”

9 “receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

Where is all this headed? It is headed towards the salvation of your souls. Where is your faith headed? Trials reveal where you are headed.

Application: How is your joy level this morning? Are you facing temptations or trials? Can you see Christ? Have you ever seen Christ? Are you saved? Do you love and trust him?

Impart by Dr. Abidan Shah

IMPART by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  There was a time when fathers would pass down their trade skills to their sons, like woodworking or smithing; and mothers would pass down their homemaking skills to their daughters, like knitting and craft-making. The world has changed so much in the past few hundred years. Now, we’re living in the technological and information age where our kids know far more than we do! Plus, everything is always evolving. It feels like we have nothing to pass on to our children, other than material wealth and some life hacks. Sometimes, the younger generation may even act like they don’t need anything from us, especially now where everyone in the past was wrong and outdated; but that’s not altogether true. Today’s Message: God has entrusted us with the tremendously responsibility to pass down godly values to the next generation, especially our children. They need much more from us than just material wealth and life hacks. They need us to impart to them godly principles and convictions that will help them live successfully. That’s the title of our message today – IMPART.

Joshua 24      1 “Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.”

Context: This was the second time that Joshua had gathered all the major representatives of the people of Israel. The first time was in the previous chapter in Joshua 23. There are some similarities between the first gathering and the second gathering, but there are also some distinctions. The major distinction was this—In the first gathering, Joshua talked to them as an old man, the veteran leader, giving his farewell address to his people; but, in the second gathering, Joshua talked to them as one of them, as a family man, as the head of his household. As important as the first address was, I want to focus on the second one in this message. There are 3 things he brought up in the second gathering:

  1. Don’t forget where God has brought you from.

2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.” The primogenitors of the people of Israel—Terah and his sons, Abraham, and Nahor—lived on the other side of the River. This is the area that is to the north and east of the Promised Land, across the Euphrates River. The cuneiform tablets found in this region show that the people were worshipping many gods, especially in places like Ur and Haran, which were centers of moon worship. Until God found Abraham, he and the other ancestors were just pagan people. The idea that Abraham himself was not born a Hebrew or an Israelite or a Jewish person is shocking to people! 3 “Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.” What’s the point? Joshua was reminding the people of Israel that they may be God’s special people today but their beginnings were not so illustrious.

Let’s not forget that we were no better but by the grace of God! I Corinthians 6     9 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

Application: Do you take the time to remember what God has saved you from?

Now, from verse 4 to 8, God reminded them about what he did for Isaac and Jacob, and how he brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. 9 Then Balak…king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam…to curse you. 10But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand.” In other words, God turned his cursings into blessings. Hasn’t God done that for you? What people meant for evil, God turned into good! In verses 11 and 12, God gave them victory over all the nations that attacked—Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Then, verse 13 “I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.” Don’t misunderstand: It doesn’t mean that they were freeloaders, eating the fruit of someone else’s labors. This was God’s land. He gave it to whomever he chose.

Here’s the point: The worst thing that can happen to us in the Christian life is to forget where God has brought us from. We are where we are by the grace of God.

Personal Illustration: I remember like it was yesterday, standing in that telephone booth on this one-gas-station exit, somewhere on this side of the Pennsylvania turnpike. I was all alone, waiting for a ride until 2-3am. I know where God has brought me from! I learnt that from my father who had an old tin box that he left his home with when his father kicked him out because he was a Christian.

Application: Do you take the time to remind your children how God saved you and where he has brought you from? If you don’t, they’ll never know.

  1. Don’t forget where God has brought you from.
  2. Don’t assume that God doesn’t know what you’ve been up to.

14 “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!” If you were here last weekend, you learned that the people of Israel were under the cloud by day and under the fire by night. It was the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ, who went with them from within Egypt to all the way into the Promised Land. He guarded them, guided them, and spoke to them. He provided manna from heaven, meat from quail, and water from the rock. He did not abandon them a single moment. Nonetheless, they kept their false gods secretly in their tents!

They had 3 sets of false gods with them from 3 different rivers. Why Rivers? This would have been a good time for them to lose their false gods but they didn’t.

  1. The Sumerian gods from the other side of the Euphrates River, brought by Rachel and others.
  2. The Egyptian gods from the other side of the Nile River, brought by the first generation of the slaves.
  3. The Amorite gods from this side of the Jordan River, picked up by them when they came into the Promised Land. 15 “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.”

Before you say, “I don’t have any false gods in my life,” just remember: Anything that begins to dominate your life, anything you treasure more than God, anything you refuse to let go is now a false god in your life, and anything you fear more than life itself. By the way, Abraham had been gone for 500 years. The last generation had been dead for about 40 years. The point is that the gods had been passed down from one generation to the next.

Application: What false god(s) are you passing down to your children? One more thing: it is possible to receive God’s blessing and still hide your gods. Are you assuming that your blessings are proof that God is okay with your false gods?

  1. Don’t forget where God has brought you from.
  2. Don’t assume that God doesn’t know what you’ve been up to.
  3. Don’t think that you can play neutral for long.

15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” The closer you get in your walk with God, the farther you will get from some people. This is a must if you want your household to last.

Their response was “Absolutely!” So, listen to verse 19 “But Joshua said to the people, ‘You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.’ 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD!” 22 So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses!” 23 “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.” Then Joshua made a covenant with the people at Shechem, wrote them in the Book of the Law of God, and then did something that was done about 8 other times in the book.  26 “…And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.” There are so many stones in Israel. We have no idea where this stone is now. But, on that day of judgment, that stone will be brought up as exhibit A that they broke the covenant of God.

After you and I are gone, this church building may stand as a witness to your children and grandchildren that they have broken the covenant of God. What are you imparting to your children? Do you have a faith and a godly lifestyle to pass down to your kids? If you didn’t have a godly legacy, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

2 Corinthians 6:2 “For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Are you saved? Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior and King?

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