Brightness by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction: It was on July 20, 1969, when two American astronauts Neill Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. This was part of the Space Race between the United States and USSR. After several attempts and setbacks, Apollo 11 took off from the Kennedy Space Center and travelled 240,000 miles in 76 hours as hundreds of millions of people were watching. Anybody remembers the words of Armstrong – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The whole Apollo program cost about $24 billion dollars (That’s about $100 billion in today’s money) and incredible manpower. Even recently, the Solar Dynamics Observatory has been launching semi-autonomous spacecrafts into space to capture solar variability and its impact on the earth. It takes pictures and studies Sun’s magnetic field and energy. Then there is the Solar Orbiter, the joint mission between the European Space Agency and NASA. Its goal is to figure out how the sun creates and controls the heliosphere, the outermost atmospheric layer of the sun. Finally, how many of you have heard of Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Just yesterday, 4 non-astronauts returned to earth after 3 days in space. Wow! I can go on and on. Here’s the point: Ever since the beginning of time, human beings have been fascinated by space, especially the sun, the moon, and the stars. God has made them to give us light, signs, and seasons, and time. They testify to his benevolence and mercy, even towards those who reject him. They even remind us of the glorious resurrection coming for each of us.

Genesis 1       14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.

Context: We now come to Day 4 of Creation week. So far, God has created the earth from the watery matrix followed by space (atmosphere and outer space) and light. Then, he created land and separated the seas. After this, he created the plant life. Now, he turned his attention to the expanse above. He started by making two great lights (one is greater than the other) and the stars. Let’s focus on each of these for a moment (Sarfati):

  1. Greater Light to Rule the Day – SUN

Typically, those who don’t believe in creation, they like to say that the Sun is nothing special. It is just a star in the spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Not true.

  • It is big. Its volume is over 1 million times that of the earth, which means over 1 million earths can fit inside the sun. (Compare it to the earth and then other stars.)
  • It is not too big or else it would swallow all the inner planets. By the way, it is a single star compared to the mostly multiple star systems.
  • It is bright. Its surface temperature is 10,000°F and its core temperature is 28,000,000°F. But, if it stopped shining, everything would start freezing in a few hours. The atmosphere would “condense, liquify, and freeze to entomb the entire Earth with a thirty-foot casing of solid air at the temperature of deep space, about 400 degrees Fahrenheit below zero” (Unruh).
  • It is not too bright like the blue-white supergiant Rigel which is about 120,000 brighter than the sun.
  • It is powerful. It is like a gigantic hydrogen bomb, converting 4 million tons of matter into energy every second.
  • It is an exceptionally stable star, despite the periodic flares. Some stars fluctuate between 10% to 150,000%. Also, the sunspot activity may be responsible for the climate change, if any, rather than the greenhouse gases. We will see this later.
  • It is in the right position in the Galaxy. If it were too near the inner galaxy, it would be exposed to supernovae (star explosion).
  • It is only about 6000 years old. If the earth was 4.5 billion years old, then the sun would be 25% brighter today than back then. Also, the earth would have been –3° C at that time. That was not the case.
  • It is white in color. It is all colors mixed but can be separated into a rainbow. “When the sun is low in the sky, at sunrise or sunset, it may appear red, orange, or yellow, because its outer (shorter wavelength) colors are scattered by the earth’s atmosphere and only the red, orange, or yellow get through the atmosphere for us to see” (Sarfati).
  1. Lesser Light to Rule the Night – Moon

Again, some people try to minimize the special nature of the moon by addressing the satellites of other planets as moons. That is not true. It refers to the earth’s natural satellite:

  • It has no light of its own. It is mostly because it is covered in basalt. This also helps it shine brightly.
  • Its diameter is 1/4th that of the earth. It is the perfect night light.
  • It orbits the earth once a month. Hence, we have the regular cycle of phases (new moon, first quarter, full moon, last/third quarter).
  • It keeps the oceans If you’ve been to the ocean, you know that the levels fall and rise twice a day. As the moon orbits the earth and the earth orbits the moon, the earth pulls on the moon and so does the moon pull on the earth. This is called differential force. It stretches both the earth and the moon along the imaginary line connecting the center of the two bodies. This results in high tides on both sides of the earth. It is not the moon’s gravity that is pulling the water. If that were the case, all our ponds, lakes, and bathtubs would also have water rising. Instead, the force is parallel to the surface and not very strong. But, when you multiply the force over a large body of water like the ocean, it is noticeable. The sun also causes tides but since it is far away, it is only half as powerful. Overall, tides keep the oceans shorelines clean and circulate oxygen and nutrients in shallow seas.

It is often claimed that the moon was formed by a chunk breaking off from the earth or it was captured by the earth’s gravitational pull as it was floating through the solar system or it came out of a dust cloud or it was the result of an impact on the earth. How foolish!

  1. STARS

We will go over this later in another message. Here, it will suffice to note that the estimate for the number of stars is somewhere about 1022. According to Sarfati, “the number is so vast that even using a computer that could count a trillion of these every second, it would take over 300 years to count this high.” The nearest one is 26 trillion miles away. If we go by light years, it is 4.3 light years away. Each one is unique.

Is it any wonder that human beings have been fascinated by the Sun, Moon, and Stars! Every ancient culture had some form of solar worship. The Egyptians referred to the sun as the god Khepri, Re, Atum, Aton, and Amon-Re. He was looked upon as the creator and judge who could see everything and knew everything. Among the Mesopotamians, the sun was the god Shamash, the god of justice. Similar worship is also found in the Ugaritic and Canaanite pantheons. In Sanskrit (Ancient Indian language), the Sun is referred to as “Mitra” or “Friend” to represent the warmth, the sustenance, and optimism its light brings to mankind. So also, the Aztecs, Chinese, Japanese, Persians, and Romans worshipped the sun. In fact, the Romans named each day of the week after their gods and matched them with the sun, moon, and five planets. This system was adapted by the Germanic people who substituted the Roman gods with their own. The Europeans worshipped Sól (Old Norse), which was known as Sun or Sunna in Old High German. Hence, the first day of the week is “Sunday,” literally “sun’s day.”

The Hebrews, the Children of Israel, and the Jewish people knew better. Right from Genesis, God had told his people that the sun, moon, and stars were his creation. He even did signs to prove that he was the Creator – Joshua ordered the sun and the moon to stay in the battle against the Amorites, and King Hezekiah got a sign of the sun going back ten degrees as a promise that God would heal him. Nonetheless, God’s people fell into the same trap as the pagan world. 2 Kings 23:5 Then he (Hilkiah the high priest on King Josiah’s command) removed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places all around Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven.” Because of worshipping these heavenly bodies, God’s judgment came upon them, and they were exiled. Later in the Gospels, Jesus (the Creator of the Trinity) also prophesied the future of his creation: Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Bottom Line: Each of these heavenly bodies are not only unique, but they have their unique purpose and function.

1 Corinthians 15      12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?…In the early church, there were some who were beginning to doubt whether there was going to be a resurrection. Paul wrote to encourage and reason with them why this was a must. Let’s drop down to verse 38 where something very interesting and pertinent to our message is mentioned – 38But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. For starters, the giving of a new resurrected body is because of God’s goodness. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. It is appropriate and natural to us. There is nothing odd and weird here. 40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. It is a glorious body that cannot be compared with anything down here. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. Paul appeals to the analogy from creation. Even though the sun, moon, and stars are all celestial bodies, their glory (specialty, purpose, luster) is different. So also, our glory will be different now. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. If you want to see a pattern of what is coming for us, look to Jesus.

Malachi 4       1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.

Matthew 17      1 “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.”

Revelation 1       14 “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.”

Every time we step out and see the Sun in the daytime or the moon and the stars in the nighttime, they should remind us of the glory that is coming for us through Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we feel so worthless and pale considering our struggles and weaknesses. Look to the stars and remind yourself of the glory that is coming for you.

C. S. Lewis – “Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable horror” (Mere Christianity). “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our deal- ings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours” (The Weight of Glory)

Invitation: How do you see the creation in the sky? How do you see yourself? How do you see others? How do you see Jesus?

Plunder by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Subdue nations and plunder the kings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Servant by Dr. Abidan Shah

THE SERVANT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Unlike Us by Pastor Abidan Shah

UNLIKE US by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Unlike UsIntroduction:  Do you remember that old joke? A teacher asked her kindergarteners to draw a picture of someone very important. All the kids began drawing a picture of mom, dad, or some famous person in history. After 15-20 minutes, the teacher noticed that all the kids were done except this one boy who was still working very intently in the back. Curious, she asked him, “Who are you drawing?” Without even looking up, he replied, “God!” The teacher was startled. She went up to him and asked, “How can you draw God? No one knows what he looks like.” He replied, “They will when I get through!” All of us are guilty of doing that. We try to draw God after our own image and understanding. Today’s message will teach us that “God is unlike us. Instead of trying to make him like us, we are to become like him.” The message is titled “UNLIKE US.”

Psalm 50    15 “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, 17 Seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you? 18 When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers. 19 You give your mouth to evil, And your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother’s son. 21 These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes.”

Question: “You thought that I was altogether like you.” Is that what you’re doing? Have you created God in your own image? What sin are you justifying by claiming that God does it too? Are you saved? Have you conformed to image of his Son?

Context: In my devotion time I’ve been reading through the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. As you know, the Book of Psalms was the song book of the children of Israel, later known as the Jewish people. It played a very important role in their worship and daily life. It reminded them of something very important that many Christians fail to understand – It’s not enough to know the truth, affirm the truth, clarify the truth, defend the truth, and share the truth. You also have to take the time to delight in the truth. The Psalms are meant to help us delight in the truth. C.S. Lewis in his book titled Reflections on the Psalms wrote, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” That’s beautiful!

The psalm we are looking at today (Psalm 50) begins with the heading “The Song of Asaph.” Who was Asaph? I Chronicles 6 tells us that he was a worship leader of one of the groups of temple singers established by King David. He was the worship leader when the ark was brought back to Jerusalem. He was again in charge of the music when the ark was brought to the temple built by Solomon. Later there was a musical school named after him that continued centuries after his death. What I am trying to say is that Asaph was no ordinary one hit wonder. He was a worship leader with great depth and legacy. Something else that needs to be mentioned before we look at this psalm in depth – The placement of this psalm at this place in the Book of Psalms is not by chance. It has been strategically placed here to prepare us to read Psalm 51 which is a prayer of repentance by David when Nathan the prophet confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah.

With that in mind, let’s begin – 1 “The Mighty One, God the Lord, has spoken…” If you rush past the opening words, you will miss the significance of the titles for God. In Hebrew it reads “El Elohim Yahweh.” Three different names for God are mentioned here. El – the Mighty God in whom are all the attributes and power of godhead. Elohim – the Creator God who made everything. Yahweh – the Merciful God who reveals himself to us and sets us free. He redeemed the people in Exodus and met them at Sinai.

Application: Is this the God you pray to? Is this the God you worship and sing to? The All-Powerful Creator God Who Alone is Our Redeemer.

One more important description needs to be included here – 1 “…and called the earth from the rising of the sun to its going down. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God will shine forth. 3 Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; A fire shall devour before Him, And it shall be very tempestuous all around Him. 4 He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people: 5 “Gather My saints together to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” 6 Let the heavens declare His righteousness, For God Himself is Judge. Selah (Lift up/exalt) The All-Powerful Creator God Who Alone is Our Redeemer is also the Great Judge of all the earth.

Application: Are you ready to meet this God? Are you going to lift up and exalt his right to judge or are you going to argue and defend your case?

What does this God have to say? First, he will speak to the righteous among his people – 7 “Hear, O My people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God! 8 I will not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, Which are continually before Me. 9 I will not take a bull from your house, Nor goats out of your folds. 10 For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine. 12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness. 13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? 14 Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. In other words, I don’t need you to go out there and get me meat so I won’t be hungry. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine.”

Application: We are easily swayed by favors people do for us. You cannot sway God. Remember what I said earlier that this psalm has been placed here for a reason. Listen to what David says in Psalm 51   16 “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.” And what’s the reward for those who offer to the sacrifices from a clean heart? 15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Here’s the privilege of obeying God.

But now listen to what God says to the Wicked Righteous – 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, 17 Seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you? In other words, how do you receive God’s truth when you encounter it in your devotion time, in a message, in a Sunday School lesson, on the radio, or in a Christian literature? How do you receive the Word when it is given to you by a godly friend? Do you hate it and cast it aside? How did David receive God’s Word through Nathan? 2 Samuel 12:13 So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” In other words, he repented.

What happens when you don’t repent? God goes into detail – 18 “When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers. 19 You give your mouth to evil, And your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother’s son. How many sins are mentioned here? Stealing, Adultery, Accomplice/Association, Evil Speaking, Lying, Gossip, Smear, Slander. What did God do about it? 21 These things you have done, and I kept silent…” Just because God does not immediately deal with your sin does not mean that he approves it. Silence is not approval. When we are silent, we are approving. When God is silent, he is extending mercy. But here comes the worst one – 21 “…You thought that I was altogether like you…” This is the sin of misrepresenting God because it suits your purpose and your love for your pet sin.

Application: Do you twist the Bible to justify your behavior, your sin? The worst thing you can do to any person is misrepresent him/her. Yet, people do that to God to justify their sinful action and lives.

What is the consequence? 21 “…But I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes.” If you are a child of God, the Holy Spirit will not let you off easily. He will convict you and expose to you the error of your ways. What if you still don’t change? 22 “Now consider this, you who forget God, Lest I tear you in pieces, And there be none to deliver:” Now it’s no longer private but public exposure. The old principle is true – “You cover your sin and God will uncover it. You uncover your sin and God will cover it.”

Here’s the solution – 23 “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God.” What will you do? True praise cannot come from a contaminated, sin-filled heart. Furthermore, it’s not enough to say with David Psalm 51    3 “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,” you also have to say with him 7 “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9            Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Are you ready to repent? Are you saved?

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