Fervent Love by Dr. Abidan Shah

FERVENT LOVE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  How many of y’all grew up with sibling rivalry? I typed “sibling rivalry” in the search engine and I came up with a bunch of memes: boy swinging his sister by kicking her (“What are brothers for”); sister scribbling on her sibling (“the defining moment when sibling rivalry takes root”); 2 pics of “Our Get Along T-shirt”; Family picture with favorite sports (“Sibling Rivalry – a natural part of every family”); Siblings fighting (“I smile because you’re my brother. I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it”). We had sibling rivalry in our home as well between me and my brother. We fought and I usually got beat up. But, I remember this one time when I got in trouble at school. My brother came to pick me up and a kid from the class ran up to him to tell on me. I was thinking that my brother would love this news and take it to my parents. Instead, he slapped the kid across the face and said, “Don’t you ever tell on my brother.” I learned that day that even though we fought with each other, if anyone from the outside ever tried to hurt either of us, we would fight for each other. In today’s message in our series on 1 Peter, we will learn the importance of FERVENT LOVE between Christian brothers and sisters, especially during difficult times. Main point: During trials, it is imperative that we as believers love one another fervently. True love in the family comes from being set apart and born again. The times are dark but God is sovereign.

1 Peter 1:22 “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.”

Context: As you know, Peter wrote this letter to encourage the pilgrims of the Dispersion (Jewish and Gentile background believers) who were being ostracized by their families and facing societal discrimination from their neighbors. These trials were causing them to get off course. Peter wrote this letter to get them on track, especially in 3 areas:

  1. Holiness: Times of trials can cause us to lose our moral compass and feel entitled to indulge in sin. Instead, we are to be holy because God is holy.
  2. Misguided Fear: Times of trials can cause us to become fearful of people and circumstances. Instead, we are to fear God – our Father and Judge – who will judge us without partiality.

The third area that he warned them was regarding their love for each other. In verse 22, Peter referred to the “love of the brethren.” He used the compound word “Philadelphian” = philos (love) + adelphos (brother). From that word, we get the name Philadelphia, which was the name of 2 ancient cities: the modern city of Amman in Jordan; a city in Asia Minor, which was one of the 7 cities addressed in Revelation. Of course, the modern city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania also gets its name from the same word. Peter even added the adjective “anupokritos” = an (without) + hupokritos (hypocrisy). In other words, have unhypocritical or sincere or genuine love for each other. Why did Peter say that? There’s an old principle: Times of trials can either bring us closer to each other in the family or they can tear us apart. This is especially true with regards to our spiritual family. Pressure can either bind us closer to each other as believers or it can break us into pieces. Unfortunately, we can pretend or feign unity but it will be fake and in time it will be exposed to each other and the world. This kind of love is not warm fuzzies, emotional highs, or common discontent and resentment.

Application: How much does this love of each other in the family of God (church) matter to you? Is your love real or fake? Do you remember Leo Buscaglia (Dr. Love)? He would ask: “Do I have an ulterior motive for wanting to relate to this person? Is my caring conditional? Am I trying to escape something? Am I planning to change this person? Do I need this person to help make up for a deficiency in myself?”

How can you have such sincere love for each other in the spiritual family? 2 equally necessary and connected conditions:

  1. Your life has to be set apart by obedience to the truth through the Holy Spirit.

Listen again to 22 “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit…” The word for “purification” = hegnekotes, which means consecration or being set apart. It has the idea of vessels being set apart in the temple for sacrifice and offering. In other words, by obeying the truth of the gospel through the Holy Spirit, we become set apart to love properly.

Application: Have you been set apart? Did your salvation involve obedience to the truth of the gospel? Was the Holy Spirit involved? By the way, it’s not just sincere love – 22 “…in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.”

  1. You have to be born again with an eternal nature of which love is the essence.

23 “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” We come across the notion of being born again in John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him (Nicodemus), “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus did not understand this and Jesus had to explain it to him. What does this rebirth imply, especially in 1 Peter?

  • We were born once in an earthly existence. Now we need a rebirth in heavenly existence.
  • This rebirth was thought to be at the end of time; but now, through Christ, it can happen right now in the soul.
  • This rebirth happens through faith and love. It is the “living hope” in the person of Jesus Christ. We begin to share in his attributes as children of God.
  • Those who have been reborn have to finish the course of life as foreigners but they get to live in a new community.
  • Just like we had nothing to contribute to our first birth, we cannot do anything to merit our second birth.

Application: Have you been born again? Have you received your rebirth through faith and love? How do you feel about the new community? Are you trying to earn it? It is a non-negotiable in order to have sincere and fervent love for each other in the body.

Now, there appears to be a shift in the letter. It seems as if Peter was introducing a new topic – the Word of God. Listen to verse 24 because “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, 25 But the word of the LORD endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. He went from talking about loving each other fervently to being set apart to being born again to the imperishability of the Word of God. What exactly is happening here? For starters, Peter was quoting from Isaiah 40 in the LXX. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter believed that the prophecy of Isaiah applied to his readers as well. What was the prophecy of Isaiah about? The verses that Peter quoted from Isaiah were the introduction of the promises God was making to his people who were in exile in Babylon. This is going back to the 6th century BC when the people of Judah were in Babylon wondering what had happened to God’s covenant with his people. Let’s go to Isaiah 40 for a few moments – 1 “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. 2 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.” The reason the Southern Kingdom was in exile was because they had done the same sins as the Northern Kingdom of going after false gods and trusting in foreign powers instead of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now they were repenting and returning in humility and submission. By the way, the words of comfort were not just for the future of Israel but also for the redemption of humanity. Peter’s readers were also facing exile and persecution, but they were now part of God’s covenant people and God had the same word for them as well. (By the way, we are also headed into exile now. We have also gone after false gods and trusted in things. Unless we return in repentance, there will be no comfort.)

Let’s continue – 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD;Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.” Of course, we know that this first and foremost applied to John the Baptist’s proclamation of the coming of Jesus, but it was also a preparation of all the roads for the exiles to come home. Peter was telling his readers that just as the road was prepared for the exiles to return, God will prepare a road for them as well. Keep in mind that the some of the people in exile were turning away from God, becoming closed to spiritual things, and their faith was becoming cold. So also, there was a good chance that the same thing might happen to Peter’s listeners. Isaiah wrote to comfort, encourage, and reignite the people in exile. Peter was doing the same but with the added benefit that Jesus had come, died, buried, and resurrected. Listen to verse 5 The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 6The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” Just like Isaiah’s readers, Peter’s readers are also struggling with the power of those in charge. (Some of us are struggling with the same thing as well.) Listen to verse 9 O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him. 11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young. What a wonderful imagery of God’s faithful promises! These are the promises Peter wanted his readers to cling to.

Application: These are the same promises we have to cling to now. Are you?

There is much more in Isaiah – 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as His counselor has taught Him? 14 With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of justice? Who taught Him knowledge, and showed Him the way of understanding? 15 Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales; Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing…17 All nations before Him are as nothing, And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless…21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. 23 He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless. Just like Isaiah’s readers needed to hear that in spite of how things seemed, God was much more powerful and in charge, Peter’s readers needed to hear the same thing.

We are also in a sort of exile in America right now. This is God’s Word for us. If you don’t understand, best to stay silent. Just because you have a social media platform does not mean that you have to speak. Sometimes, silence is golden. Some of you have spoken very well but others of you don’t get it and you don’t get it that you don’t get it.

What should we do in the meantime? Besides holiness and fear of God, love each other fervently because we have been set apart and born again. This is not a new subject. Matthew 24:12 “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” 2 Timothy 3     1 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving…” John 13:35 “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Invitation: Are you born again? Do you have fervently love in your heart? Do you understand that we are headed into exile? Can you see the promises of God in the exile?

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?

Uncomfortable Obedience (2020) by Dr. Shah

UNCOMFORTABLE OBEDIENCE (2020) by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

(A Christmas Eve Message, Christmas 2020)

Introduction: Once again, we want to welcome you to our Christmas Eve Service. For the past 2 Christmas Eves, we have been talking about “Uncomfortable Obedience.” There are many things that God commands us to do that we can do with a joyful and a willing heart. For example: studying his word, loving our family and children, and using our gifts in his service. But then, there are things that He commands us to do that are not as fun and exciting. They are uncomfortable. They push us past our limits. Sometimes, they are downright unbearable. How do we obey God even when it is uncomfortable? In 2018, we focused on how Joseph had to practice uncomfortable obedience in taking Mary to be his wife even though she was with a child that wasn’t his own. In 2019, we focused on how Mary had to practice uncomfortable obedience in being willing to carry a baby that she had no part in bringing into the world. Today, we will focus on how the magi had to practice uncomfortable obedience in following the star in the east and seek the king of the Jews.

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.”

Background: Let me quickly give you a CliffsNotes on the magi:

  • The magi were nothing like what we have made them out to be. For starters, they were not the “three wise men” or “the three kings.” The actual words are “magi from the east.”
  • The magi were one of the 6 tribes of Media or Ancient Persia (modern day Iran).
  • They were referred to as the “fire priests of Median.”
  • They were stargazers, astronomers, astrologers, dream interpreters and sorcerers. Our English word “magic” actually comes from the word magi.
  • They did not have the best reputation. Jewish people looked down on them with suspicion and disdain. Even the Romans did not like them and many times they were kicked out of Rome and Italy.
  • According to tradition, they came from the city of Saveh in modern day Iran, which was 430 miles northeast of Bethlehem. That’s as far as from here to Atlanta. To make this journey, they had to cross the boundary of the Parthian kingdom and enter into the Roman territory, which was very dangerous. Not only that but they had to come into Palestine where the Jewish people didn’t like them much. But these magi were relentless. They were not going to stop until they found the King of the Jews – the Messiah!
  • As the fire priests and king makers, they also brought some very special gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The big question is how did they find out about the coming of Jesus? We don’t know for sure but it could have been through Daniel. In Daniel we hear about the “magi” several times. Listen to Daniel 2     1 “Now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was so troubled that his sleep left him. 2 Then the king gave the command to call the magicians (magous in the LXX), the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams…” Again, Daniel 5:15 “Now the wise men (magoi in the LXX), the astrologers, have been brought in before me (Belshazzar), that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing.” Daniel not only distinguished himself under both the Babylonian empire but also in the Medo-Persian Empire. In fact, he was appointed the head of all the wise men of Babylon and later the Chaldeans.

In Daniel 9, the prophet Daniel actually gave a prophecy regarding the time of the coming of the Messiah. Daniel 9     24 “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. 25 ‘Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. 26 “And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself…”

Where am I going with this? More than likely the magis had converted the information in Daniel 9 to correspond with the movements of the stars. Generation after generation since Daniel they were waiting for the star to appear that would signal the birth of Jesus. At the right time when the star appeared, they left their homes in the east and set out to locate the king of the Jews!

This week everyone was talking about the Christmas Star in the planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the Southwestern horizon. The last time these two planets were this close was about 400 years ago and the last time this happened at night, when people could actually see it, was about 800 years ago! Next time it will be in 2080.

Here’s the point:

  1. The magi had to faithfully study the prophecy of Daniel.
  2. Generation after generation they had to pass down the knowledge of the prophecy to their descendants
  3. When God added the “star in the east,” they had to set out from their comfortable homes across 400 miles of rugged and dangerous lands to look for the promised one.
  4. They had to be willing to face the ridicule and threat of Herod and Jerusalem in asking where the Savior of the world was born.
  5. Once they saw him with Mary and Joseph, they had to be willing to humble themselves and worship him with their gifts.

So also, when it comes to following Christ, it’s not easy. There will be uncomfortable obedience. Even coming here this evening may not have been easy for some of you. You were willing to obey God than to fear human beings or anything else.

Not everything God tells us to do will be pleasant. Sometimes, it will be uncomfortable. But if we claim to love him unconditionally, we have to obey him joyfully.

What is God calling you to do? Maybe to make things right with someone. Maybe to give towards his work. Maybe to share the gospel with someone. Maybe to surrender to some calling he has for you. You will have to set aside your comfort, others’ opinions, and personal fears.

Has he called you to be saved? Have you responded?

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?

Greater Plan by Dr. Abidan Shah

GREATER PLAN by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: When the kids were young, sometimes they would enjoy helping me in the yard, some more than others. It would start out with a lot of excitement until they got tired, bored, or hot. Then, they would go back in the house to get a snack or a drink, and I wouldn’t see them after that. Although they would genuinely help me, I always knew that the bulk of the work was going to be on me. In the evening, we would get ice-cream to celebrate, it was not just for “my” work but “our” work. As you know, we’re in our series on 1 Peter and we now come to verse 10. Main point: When the trials of life become too distressing, you have to remember that you are simply a small part of God’s greater plan. In other words, when doubts arise as to where life is headed and what God is doing, tether yourself to God’s eternal plan of salvation through Christ. It began before you and it will continue to those after you. Here’s the best part – If you suffer with Christ, you will also share with him in glory. The title is “GREATER PLAN.”

1 Peter 1:10 “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you.”

Context: Here Peter was talking about the salvation of the pilgrims of the dispersion in Asia Minor. These were Jewish background and Gentile background believers in the Anatolian peninsula, modern day Turkey, who were facing persecution in the form of ostracization and rejection by their own families and community. This was all because they had received Jesus Christ as their Savior. Peter encouraged them to rejoice (aggalion = exultant joy, shouting joy) knowing that God was testing their faith and purifying them through their trials. He also reminded them to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ, whom they had not seen historically but they loved him and whom they could not see presently but they trusted him. As they loved and trusted Jesus through their trials, his invisible presence became visible and filled their hearts with joy inexpressible and full of glory. Not only that, but they also received the assurance that they would receive the end of their faith—the salvation of their souls.

Application: As you’re going through your trials, how is your love for Jesus? Do you take the time to think on his earthly ministry? Does your heart overflow with love for him? Are you trusting him every day? Do you take the time to reflect on his heavenly ministry right now? Does your heart take on new courage and strength knowing that he is with you? Do you have the assurance of your salvation? Are you saved?

Peter was not through. Since he brought up the subject of their salvation, he wanted them to understand how privileged they were in the whole course of salvation history, God’s greater plan. Listen again to 1 Peter 1:10 “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you.” Which prophets was Peter talking about? The Old Testament prophets. They inquired (ekzeitein) and searched carefully (eraunein). When those words are used in the context of discovering divine will, they have a very deliberate and meditative meaning. In other words, this was not just some side hobby or idle pursuit. They were very intense and intentional in their search:

  • We could start with Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people. In Genesis 20:7, God called him a prophet. Did he inquire and search carefully? Jesus said in John 8:56“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
  • How about Moses? He said in Deuteronomy 18:15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” When Jesus began his ministry, people began to make the connection with what Moses had said – John 6:14 “Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’”

By the way, their search was not about the nature of his coming but about the timing of his coming. Listen to 1 Peter 1:11 “searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” The phrase “searching what, or what manner of time” should be read as “what time or what sort of time.” They knew what the Christ would do when he came; their question was “when?”:

  • Listen to David in Psalm 22 15 “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. 16 For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet…18 They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” No confusion there about how the Christ would suffer!
  • Also, listen to Isaiah 53     5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 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.” Again, no confusion here regarding how the Christ would suffer.
  • I don’t have time to bring up the rest of the prophets. Listen to Peter in his sermon from Solomon’s porch in the temple in Acts 3:24 “Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days.” The point is that the suffering of Christ was no afterthought. It was well understood. Their question was “when?”

Who was prompting this questioning? The “Spirit of Christ” = The Holy Spirit. By the way, this timing question became even more intense as it got closer to his coming:

  • Isaiah 6:11 “Then I said, ‘Lord, how long?’”
  • Daniel 12 8 “…Then I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the end of these things?’ 9 And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.’” Illustration: Like kids asking “Are we there yet?”
  • Habakkuk 1:2 “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?” Habakkuk 2 2“Then the LORD answered me and said…3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.’”

By the way, this was not just about Christ’s suffering but as verse 11 adds, “the glories that would follow.” What are these glories? 1. Resurrection – 1 Peter 1:21 “who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory…” 2. Ascension and Authority – 1 Peter 3:22 “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”

What is the point of all this? 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven…” Throughout their existence, the people of old, especially the Old Testament prophets lived in the light of Christ’s coming suffering and glory. They faced their trials in the shadow of this greater plan of suffering and glory. More importantly, they did all this for us:

  • When Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah, he had this greater plan in mind.
  • When Joseph lay dying, he spoke to his brethren about this greater plan.
  • When Rahab the prostitute hid the spies in her house, she had this greater plan in mind.
  • When David was fleeing for his life from Saul, he wrote about this greater plan in his psalms.
  • When Jeremiah wrote to encourage the people in exile, he had this greater plan in mind.
  • When Esther resolved to stand up for her people saying “if I perish, I perish,” she had the greater plan in mind.

I can go on and on, the point is this – Those Old Testament people faced their trials with the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow with us in mind. In a way, they were partaking in Christ’s suffering that would come in the future, along with the glories that would follow. By the way, a side note here – 12 “…things which angels desire to look into.” Meaning: The angels watch in awe this entire drama throughout human history!

What is the application for us? Some people live in the microcosm of their own trials, griefs, pains, and uncertainties. They feel defeated, disillusioned, or distressed. They want God to get them through or bless them with something or teach them some great truth or principle. What if life was never meant to be lived in some personal bubble. What if my suffering or yours were part of a divine Master plan? What if our trials were meant for us to connect with the sufferings of Christ and the glories that are to follow? What if what we’re going through is not for us but for those coming after us? What if we are to rejoice and not reject the sufferings of life? Listen to 1 Peter 4:13 “but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

Here’s the principle: If you don’t tether yourself to God’s greater plan of salvation through Christ, the storms of life will carry you away or tear you to pieces or leave you bruised and wounded. And, when you get through, that’s it. There’re no glories to follow.

Invitation: Are you bogged down with the immediate? Can you see what God is doing through your storm? Can you see what God is doing through the storm of 2020? What are doing for those who are coming behind you? Are you saved?

The Restoration | Dr. Abidan Shah

THE RESTORATION by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Nicole loves to tell the story of when she was a little girl, her dad was mowing the lawn and the lawn mower ran out of gas. So, he said, “I need to get some gas.” Nicole was 3-4 years old and she heard that. When her dad returned, he found Nicole stuffing grass into the gas tank. Her intentions were noble but what a mess! So also, we make a mess out of things when instead of waiting and obeying God, we jump ahead thinking we know what’s best and we know what God wants. This was very characteristic of Simon Peter. Today, we are in the second message in our series on 1 Peter titled “Together Forward.” Before we jump into 1 Peter, we are studying the life of Peter. The more we understand him, the better we will understand 1 Peter. So, turn to John 13. Here’s the main point: God desires childlike obedience from each of us. Self-confidence causes us to disobey, which results in failure and disillusionment. But, God knows our hearts, and if we let him, he is more than willing to lead us to the path of restoration. Today’s message is titled “THE RESTORATION.

John 13     33 “Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer.”

Context: Jesus spoke these words as he celebrated the Passover Meal with his disciples. This meal was usually celebrated with the family where the father would explain to the children the reason for the meal. Jesus was like a father to the disciples and hence he addressed them as “little children,” an address that is only found here. It had a tone of endearment and tenderness. But, there was more to this. This was also his final meal with his disciples. The time had come for him to leave them. The days of being with Jesus and going from place to place watching him teach and do miracles were over. There was a tone of sadness and heartbreak in that address – little children.

33 “…You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’” Where was Jesus going? He was going to fulfill his reason for coming into this world. This reason had been anticipated since the beginning of time when it was declared that he would be the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. This reason had been prophesied by the prophets throughout the Old Testament. This was no sunshine and rainbows moment. Instead, he would be despised and rejected by men. He would be wounded for our transgression and bruised for our iniquities. He would be led as a lamb unto the slaughter. As a sheep before its shearer is silent, he will not open his mouth. Ultimately, he would be cut off from the land of the living and it would please the Lord to bruise him. But, make no mistake, this was not some mindless torture or some divine schadenfreude – pleasure from harming others. God would make his soul an offering for sin. Read Isaiah 53. Jesus had been preparing his disciples for this since the beginning. Listen to John 12    27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name…31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

Application: Do you truly understand why Jesus came into this world? Have you accepted his sacrifice for your sins?

Even though this event was all about Jesus, he also knew that it would adversely affect his disciples. Things were about to get really crazy in a matter of couple of hours. Jesus being fully God also knew that this would not bring out the best in them. They would all be made to stumble because of him. They would be scattered like sheep without their Shepherd. This was the time that they had to stick together. 33 “…so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” What is our greatest need in times of extreme crisis? Have people around us who genuinely love us and would do anything for us.

Question: How do you respond in times of extreme crisis? Do you show love and care towards those whom God has placed in your life?

But, Peter didn’t listen. 36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Peter was so concerned about being the Teacher’s Pet that he didn’t care one bit about the commandment that Jesus had just given to him. Impulsively, he questions Jesus’ objective. He wanted to be in on the plan before others. Nothing wrong with that, but he had been given his marching orders. By wanting more he was trying to join the Trinity!

Question: What is God’s marching orders for you? Do you listen to God in your marriage, parenting, work, and life? Are you the kind who is more concerned over what God is telling others than what he is telling you?

36 “…Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’” Luke gives us a little extra information in Luke 22      31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” Peter still didn’t get it – John 13    37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” How stubborn! How presumptuous! This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. 38 Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.”

Question: How good are you at listening to God? Do you stop when he tells you to stop? Do you go when he tells you to go? Are you an emotional and impulsive person?

Did Peter listen? John 18     15 And Simon Peter followed Jesus…17 Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Strike #1. 18 Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself…Peter was actually gathered with the wrong crowd! 25 Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!” Strike #2. Other gospels even add that he took an oath and even cursed. Wow! 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” 27Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed. Strike #3. Luke once again gives us a little extra info – Luke 22     61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter…” Jesus’ look was not a “Peter, how could you deny me?” Instead, it was a “Peter, I told you that this was not your fight.”

Application: Have you fallen on your face in your spiritual journey? You thought you were doing so good and then you did something so bad. Could it be that you were stepping farther than God wanted you to go? Were you trusting in your strength and power?

What was Peter’s response? 61 “…Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 62 So Peter went out and wept bitterly. Peter’s tears were tears of deep sorrow and pain. There was another disciple that day who also went out, but his going out was not to weep bitterly. It was Judas. He went out in remorse and hung himself.

Was Jesus done with Peter? Of course not. Jesus had revealed himself to Peter several times after the resurrection, but, for some reason, Peter did not have the same passion he had before. After all, he had done everything wrong so far. Maybe, some of you may be at that place right now. That’s not bad. That’s actually good, because it is an invitation for Jesus to make a personal appointment with you. John 21     15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” Some people have made a big deal out of the change in Greek words from agape to phileo and from lamb to sheep. Maybe, there’s something to it. I think that it is more about the three denials. Jesus offered Peter three affirmations.

Invitation: When you mess up, Jesus is not waiting to punish you or to chastise you. Instead, he waits for you with breakfast and affirmations. He wants to lead you to the path of restoration.

Have you messed up because of self-confidence? Has the Enemy been using this to keep you captive? Today’s the day to find restoration.

Are you saved?

Dual Citizen by Dr. Abidan Shah

DUAL CITIZEN by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  Our election is literally a month away. As you know, the atmosphere has been tense. Here are a couple of trivia to lighten the mood:

  • In ancient times, citizens of Athens could vote every year to banish any citizen from the city-state for 10 years. Can you imagine that?
  • In 1927, during the Presidential elections in Liberia, Charles D. B. King, the President won with 234,000 votes. Only problem—there were only 15,000 registered voters.
  • In the 2002 elections in Iraq, Saddam Hussein used Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as his campaign song.
  • Back in 1967, Ecuador was holding its elections when a foot powder company ran an ad saying “Vote for any candidate, but if you want well-being and hygiene, vote for Pulvapies.” To make their ad more appealing, the company passed out flyers listing all the things Pulvapies would do if elected as Mayor. By the way, the flyer looked very much like the official ballot. Guess what happened on election day in the small town of Picoazà, Ecuador?

It’s easy to be disheartened or disillusioned by the political arena of our nation today, but, in today’s message, we’re going to learn how every Christian has a dual citizenship: heavenly and earthly. Turn to 1 Timothy 2. Main point: Government and political institutions are not necessarily divine or evil. Christians should be involved in government and politics, not just for the gospel, freedom, or values sake, but, because it is a service unto God. The ultimate goal is not to control government or to impose Christianity but to positively influence government for the good of all in Christ’s world.

1 Timothy 2     1 “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, andgiving of thanks be made for all men,”

Context: Paul was laying out the order of worship for Timothy, the young pastor in Ephesus. He began by telling him to pray for all people. We fail here because we are typically only praying for our own. But, he doesn’t stop there—2 “for kings and all who are in authority…” The word “kings” could refer to the Roman Emperor or to some small-time local ruler. For us, it implies national leaders, state leaders, and local leaders. The word “authority” means “persons of consequence.” For us, it implies political leaders, judges, military, law enforcement, and various institution heads that impact our lives. Why should we pray for them? 2 “…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”“Quiet and peaceable life” refers to social, political, and financial stability. “Godliness” refers to belief in God and the impact it makes in everyday living. “Reverence” implies a special kind of life. 3 “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” “Kalos” and “Agathos” mean that this pleases God, and not just any god, but our Savior God, Jesus Christ. After all, this is his world. Paul talked about this earlier in 1 Timothy 1:17 “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” And, he talked about it again towards the end in 1 Timothy 6     13 “I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, 15 which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was Dutch pastor, theologian, journalist, educator, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands. He said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign Lord of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” I don’t agree with everything he said, but that is powerful. What is the desire of this King eternal, immortal, invisible God? What does the blessed and only “dynastes,” the King of Kings and Lord of lords desires? 4“who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”

Application: Do you understand that this world is Christ’s world? Do you understand that God wants all to be saved? Do you understand that Christ Jesus is the only way to God?

I want to switch gears here. How does all this apply to our upcoming election? Does the Bible have anything to say about politics? Sometimes, people get nervous when we talk about politics in church. Can we do that? In 1954, the IRS put a regulation that prevents pastors from supporting or opposing any candidate by name. Having said that, churches are allowed to deal with issues that are part of an election campaign.

How should we view the relationship between Christians and Government/political institutions? There are some views that I don’t find very convincing (From Wayne Grudem, “Politics According to the Bible” and Gundry and Black, “5 Views on Church and Politics”):

  • Christians or the Church cannot engage in any kind of politics.
  • Government came because of the Fall. We reluctantly need government but we need to focus on just the human heart.
  • The Church needs to be active in Government to fight for the rights of the poor and oppressed.
  • Church and Government can work hand-in-hand and make a difference for good.

There is one more view that I find most convincing with some exceptions:

  1. Government and Church are to be limited to their spheres.
  • When you look at history, it was never a good thing when the church used government to dictate the faith of a person. This is where medieval Christendom messed up. It caused terrible conflicts throughout its history and ended up in the battles between Catholics and Protestants and between the Reformed and the Anabaptists. Thousands were persecuted, killed, and burned at the stake.
  • Jesus set the boundary for us when he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Meaning:Church and Government are two separate entities. You cannot force someone to have faith in Jesus. It is a choice. Church, family, and government are separate institutions and they are not to infringe on each other.
  • We are to be “engaged but not over expecting” (James K. A. Smith).
  1. Government is part of the good order of creation.
  • Some people claim that politicians are corrupt and they have never done any good. They believe that behind every government is Satan who is busy causing wars and destruction. For e.g. behind Hitler was Satan who caused him to exterminate Jewish people and capture Europe. Here’s the question: Who was behind the Allied Forces who went to fight the Nazi army? Who was behind the troops who landed at Omaha beach?
  • Government and politics are part of the fallen world but not evil. They are legitimate and necessary vocations created in God’s image and recreated in Christ to keep order and prosperity in the world. Think about Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah.
  • There are people who use Jesus’ statement to turn the other cheek to argue that Christians should never retaliate and hence never be part of the government. When Jesus gave that command, he was talking about how we deal with individual insults. This is much different from what God expects from politicians and government. Romans 13 3 “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister (deacon) to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”
  1. Christians and Church should influence Government.
  • Yes, reaching the gospel is the primary responsibility of the church. Having said that, the whole world is Christ’s world. As Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign Lord of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” We involve ourselves in government not just because of gospel, freedom, and values sake, but because we desire to see creation become how Christ wants it to be. God has a plan for everything from arts, sciences, education, economy, technology, and recreation.
  • We don’t do this just so we can go back to the lost garden or the heavenly city coming one day. We do this to glorify Christ by making his creation as pleasing as possible to him. This is our cultural mandate. It’s part of our Statement of Faith – “All Christians have a responsibility to try to make the will of Christ first in our own lives and in the world. The ways and methods used to improve society and to create righteousness among men can be very helpful. These changes are helpful only if they come because of the rebirth of the person by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.” We put that in years ago. We are the salt and the light of the world.
  • Sometimes, it calls for fighting for the justice of those who are oppressed and for the betterment of those who are less fortunate. Christians went beyond just evangelizing people and got involved in politics so they could pass laws against infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion in the Roman Empire (in AD 374); they were able to outlaw the brutal battles-to-the-death in which thousands of gladiators had died (in 404); they were able to outlaw the cruel punishment of branding the faces of criminals (in 315); they were able to bring about prison reforms such as the segregating of male and female prisoners (by 361); they were able to stop the practice of human sacrifice among the Irish, the Prussians, and the Lithuanians as well as among other nations; they were able to outlaw pedophilia; they were able to grant property rights and other protections to women; they were able to ban polygamy in the Western world; prohibit the burning alive of women in India (in 1829); outlaw the painful and crippling practice of binding young women’s feet in China (in 1912); persuade government officials to begin a system of public schools in Germany (in the sixteenth century); and advance the idea of compulsory education for all children in a number of European countries; and outlaw slave trade and slavery. (Wayne Grudem in his book “Politics according to the Bible” writes about the work of historian Alvin Schmidt.) If this is Christ’s world, then we are to do whatever we can to make it pleasing to him. That is the motivation behind our Kindle Ministry at Clearview.
  • This involvement is more than just finding the lowest common denominator with the good citizens. Christians should speak out on moral convictions from the Bible—the sanctity of human life, sanctity of marriage, gender identity issues, medical professional assisted suicide, recreational drugs, etc.

How should you vote this election? According to what party you belong to? A better question would be “Can I still influence my party to make this world more pleasing to Christ?” According to what is at stake for us? A better question would be “Can the party I am voting for make this world more pleasing to Christ?” By the way, it is Christ’s world and he is perfectly in charge. Why are we so worried? Why are we panicking? Maybe, our theology is showing. Colossians 1     15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

Invitation: Where do you stand? With Christ in his world? How will you vote? With those who will stand with Christ in his world? Is Christ your Savior and King?

Glorious by Dr. Abidan Shah

GLORIOUS by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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