Atonement by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  Context changes everything. If I were to say, “He threw the book at me,” you would want to know who the “he” is. “‘He’ is my friend.” “Oh, I guess he was joking.” But, what if the “he” is the judge? “What trouble did you get into?” Here’s another one –  “Let’s eat, Grandma.” Hopefully, the context will make it obvious that we’re not going to sit down to eat Grandma. So also, in today’s message, the context is very important to understand the meaning, the intent, and the force of the passage. We’re still in our series through 1 Petertitled “Together Forward” and we are now in the section in chapter 2 where Peter referred to Isaiah 53. Here’s the main point: Sin not only brings God’s judgment upon us, but it also causes us to go astray. Jesus came not only to redeem us from the penalty of sin but also to provide for us a pattern to trace our life. With that in mind, we are starting a series titled “ATONEMENT” from Isaiah 53, which will take us into the Easter season.

1 Peter 2     21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

Context: As Peter began the application portion of his letter, he called on the persecuted Christians of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) to submit in the realm of government, work, and marriage. However, throughout the section, he used resistance language, reminding them to comply but qualify, to submit but also resist. In order to facilitate this message, Peter gave them an example of how to suffer. He used the Greek word “hupogramon.” By the way, this is a very interesting word that referred to a pattern of the alphabets that the children would trace over in order to learn how to write. I remember having an alphabet tracing tablet. Here’s the point: If we’re going to face the difficult days ahead, and still impact the culture and shine God’s marvelous light, it will require much more than just some passive attempt at trying to be like Jesus. We will have to trace our lives intentionally, carefully, and totally in the life and mission of Jesus. In other words, you cannot be in the pattern of Jesus today and in the pattern of your old self or the world tomorrow.

Application: Are you tracing your life in the pattern of Jesus? Are you saved?

Where did Peter turn to in order to provide for them the example/tracing sheet? Listen to 22 “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” If you grew up in church or studied the Bible, it doesn’t take long to realize that Peter was quoting from Isaiah 53, the most famous and clear prophecy of the Messiah, and his suffering and death in the Old Testament. If we’re going to understand how to trace Christ as our pattern, we need to understand what Isaiah 53 is all about. If not, we will take it out of context. Yes, Isaiah 53 does give us an example on how to suffer, but it is much much more than that! One scholar (Ivan Engnell) said that it “may without any exaggeration be called the most important text of the Old Testament.” Another scholar (William Urwick) remarked: “Here we seem to enter the holy of holies of Old Testament prophecy—that sacred chamber wherein are pictured and foretold the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow.” One more scholar (Franz Delitzsch) declared that Isaiah 53 was “the most central, the deepest, and the loftiest thing that the Old Testament prophecy, outstripping itself, has ever achieved. It looks as if it had been written beneath the cross upon Golgotha…” Martin Luther, the German reformer, said that it is so important that “we must [all] memorize it.”

In order to understand the true meaning of Isaiah 53, we need to understand the context in which it was given. What is the historical background of the book of Isaiah? Isaiah the prophet lived in the 8th century BC. By his time, the nation of Israel was divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Isaiah was primarily speaking to the people of Judah. His ministry extended over 40 years, from the time that King Uzziah (Azariah) died in 740 BC until the invasion of the Sennacherib, the Assyrian king in 701 BC.

What was Isaiah’s message to God’s people? To understand this question, we have to divide the book of Isaiah into 3 sections: Chapters 1-39; Chapters 40-55; and Chapters 56-66. The first section deals with events in Isaiah’s lifetime (739-701 BC). The second section deals with events about a hundred years after Isaiah (605-539 BC) until the coming of Jesus. Finally, the third section deals with events from 539 BC-the future restoration of Israel that is still to come. So, the first section is talking in real time for Isaiah, but the second and the third are prophecies about the future. What was Isaiah saying in real time between 739-701 BC? The Assyrian Empire was at its final period of greatness. Prior to this, Assyria had been struggling to hold on to all its territories. Hence, neighboring nations had enjoyed their prosperity, even Israel and Judah. They had become complacent, thinking that God must be blessing them. The prophets Amos and Hosea had tried to warn the people but they didn’t listen. Israel (Northern Kingdom) was really bad, but Judah (Southern Kingdom) was not far behind. What were they doing that was so bad? The prophets Hosea and Ezekiel called it “prostitution.” They had forgotten the living God and gone after false gods. Just then an Assyrian king named Tiglath-pileser III (Pul) came to throne of Assyria. He wanted to rebuild the Assyrian Empire as in the days of old. Israel was in its path and he wanted more than just the regular tributes. Judah to the south used this as an opportunity to fight against their own brothers and sisters. They became pro-Assyria. This led to a coalition between Pekah, the king of Israel, and Rezin, the king of Damascus (2 Kings 16; 2 Chronicles 28) and they attacked Judah. So also, Philistia and Edom attacked Judah. Judah reached out to Assyria, their “ally.” What was Isaiah’s word to them? Isaiah 8      5 The LORD also spoke to me again, saying: 6 “Inasmuch as these people refused the waters of Shiloah that flow softly,and rejoice in Rezin and in Remaliah’s son; 7 Now therefore, behold, the Lord brings up over them the waters of the River, strong and mighty—The king of Assyria and all his glory; He will go up over all his channels and go over all his banks. 8 He will pass through Judah, He will overflow and pass over, He will reach up to the neck; And the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel.” This prophecy was against both Israel and Judah. True to prophecy, that is exactly what happened when King Ahaz turned to Assyria for help. The Assyrian king not only defeated Syria and take Israel, but also made Judah pay heavier tributes than ever.

Application: Who do you turn to in times of difficulties? Have you tried to make a deal with the Devil? It will never work out. Don’t think the Devil will just show up in a red suit, pitchfork, and a bifurcated tail. He uses people and their worldly ideas.

Then, King Tiglath-pileser died and people everywhere were rejoicing, even King Hoshea of Israel. It was short-lived since Shalmaneser his son took charge and he put down the rebellion in Babylon and other places. Then, he came to the city of Samaria and put it under siege for 3 years. It was horrible! 2 Kings 6:26   Then, as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27   And he said, “If the LORD does not help you, where can I find help for you? From the threshing floor or from the winepress?” 28 Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, “Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” All the horrors that were prophesied by Amos and Hosea came to pass. This was the time (around 722 BC) when the northern kingdom was taken into exile. 2 Kings 17:6 “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” The south was no better under King Ahaz. 2 Kings 16:10 “Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern, according to all its workmanship.”

The Assyrian domination continued. Shalmaneser also died and another king named Sargon came to the throne. To the south, Hezekiah was the king of Judah. He was a good king who was not pro-Assyria, but he turned to Egypt for help. Isaiah 30      1 “Woe to the rebellious children,” says the LORD, “Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, That they may add sin to sin; 2 Who walk to go down to Egypt, And have not asked My advice, To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, And to trust in the shadow of Egypt! 3 Therefore the strength of Pharaoh Shall be your shame, And trust in the shadow of Egypt Shall be your humiliation.” Sargon died and another king came named Sennacherib. He once again restated his demands to Hezekiah. This time, he tried to turn to Babylon for help but Sennacherib crushed them. On his prism in the British Museum, he referred to Hezekiah as a “bird in a cage.”

Application: Is that how you feel in your life? Is that where we are as a nation?

All this was in real time, but God showed Isaiah what was still to come 100 years later.By the way, in 681 BC, he was sawed to death by a wooden saw at the hands of Manasseh, the evil king of Judah. By 605 BC, Babylon was in power. Empires come and go. We are seeing that right now. In 587 or 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem, destroyed the walls of the city, and especially destroyed the ancient temple of Solomon. Not only that but he also dragged the Jewish people 700 miles away into exile to Babylon. They had no hope of ever returning back and there was nothing left to return back to. Everything was gloomy and hopeless. They were losing all hope and were becoming more and more attracted to the Babylonian religion and culture. Isaiah gave promises of God’s faithfulness to his people in exile. He promised them that in his timing he would bring them back. In 539 BC (about 50 years later) Cyrus the king of Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire and set the people free to go back home to Jerusalem. Not only that but Cyrus even returned the items that had been taken out of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar and placed in the temple of his gods. He also provided support and commanded the people to do the same for those who were going back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. How amazing that a pagan king would do that! But God had revealed all that to Isaiah – Isaiah 44     28 Who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,” and to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ’ 1“Thus says the LORD to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—To subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut.” He even gave them the future promise of a complete restoration of Israel in the end times.

What is the point of all this?

  • We tend to think that we are the only ones living in a complex and chaotic world.
  • We turn to everyone but to God in the midst of our crisis.
  • God has the power and the deep desire to fight for us if we would turn to him.
  • He wants us to take on the servant mindset of complete trust in him
  • He offers his help to us by his grace, but he will not tolerate sin.
  • He wants to make us a light in the midst of the darkness.
  • His purposes will always be done.
  • God will rescue us, but his greater desire is to rescue us from sin.

As he is dealing with us, helping us, and working out his purposes in us and his world, he is also tracing the person and work of his son if would see it.

Isaiah 52     13 Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. 14 Just as many were astonished at you, So His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; 15 So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider. Isaiah 53     1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 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. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 9 And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, he shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Invitation: Can you see the pattern of Jesus? Are you saved? Are you tracing your life after him?

Assignment by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  Growing up, I remember my parents helping me with my assignments, my homework. Sometimes they totally misunderstood the assignment. Anyone else ever did that? That happens a lot when it’s some kind of a project. It was ironic because my dad had been a math and physics professor and my mom was a teacher (and later retired as a principal). Nonetheless, they could not understand the directions. In our series on 1 Peter, Peter gave some assignments to the first century believers in Asia Minor who were facing persecution. But, if we’re not careful, we will also misunderstand what he meant. Main point: When we are living in a culture which is becoming increasingly hostile to our values, it is imperative that we comply but also resist. Yes, we need to do good works that will lessen conflict, but we should also challenge the world by unashamedly declaring our allegiance to Christ and his word.

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

Context: If you remember from week before last, 1 Peter can be divided into 2 halves: first half is from 1:1 – 2:10 and the second half is from 2:11 – end. The first half is focused on how the believers in Asia Minor saw themselves and the second half is focused on how the believers should live before the watching world. Between those two sections are 2:11-12. They are the transitional verses helping us understand the tone of how to live out our faith. I also pointed out 3 important words in verse 11 that set the tone for the application: Beloved(We are all in this together), Sojourners and Pilgrims (We are simply passing through), and War (We are in a spiritual warfare with the culture which surrounds us). Now, in verse 12, Peter told them how to win this war – 12 “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers…” Why are they deemed evildoers? Because they are now believers and they don’t worship the old gods and goddesses. So, how do they combat such accusations? “…they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” The best ammunition against the lost world are the good works of the believers that the lost world will brag about to God when he comes again. By the way, you cannot glorify God when he comes again unless you are saved. In other words, the gentile neighbors will get saved by observing the good lifestyles of their Christian neighbors whom they hated. Once again, we don’t combat the lost world by copying their tactics of shouting matches, smear campaigns, and savage/senseless behavior. We combat the lost world with displaying a lifestyle that they admire and desire to emulate.

Now, we go a step further. What exactly are the good works of the believers? Here, it gets into the fine detail. Repeatedly, Peter employs some form of the Greek word “hupotasso,” which means “submission” with regards to government, work, and marriage:

  • With Government: 1 Peter 2 13 “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”
  • With Work: 1 Peter 2:18 “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.”
  • With Marriage: 1 Peter 3:1 “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives.”
  • The word for “submission” shows up in some form a couple of more times.

The mistake that many have made here is that they think that the “good works” means unconditional submission or compliance. In other words, just submit and do as you are told. Last year, when we were allowed to reopen, and we did, a couple of people asked me, “What do you make of 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13?” They were implying that we were not obeying the authorities. 2 things here: “first, we were allowed to reopen; second, they misunderstood the assignment that Paul and Peter had given to their readers.”

What is the correct understanding of good works or how are we to submit? In recent years, there have been 2 different opinions among scholars. Some scholars (David Balch) have taken this passage to mean that Christians should be as much like the culture as possible. By accepting the hierarchy in society and following the household code, they can appease their lost neighbors. It’s called “acculturation.” That way, the world would let up because we are all the same. Some churches, pastors, and denomination are doing that, and they have gone off the deep end. Other scholars (John Elliott) have taken this passage to mean that Christians should distance themselves from the gentile world and follow God. It’s called “distinctiveness and solidarity.”

Both these views have problems. The first one has clear problems. How can Christians go back to the old ways of life if Peter had just told them in 1 Peter 1:14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.” The second one also has problems because clearly Peter told them to submit, as in 1 Peter 2:13 “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.”

So, what is the true meaning of “good works” and “submission”? To begin with, when Peter talked about “good works,” he was appealing to a concept that the people in the Greco-Roman world were quite familiar with (following is taken from David Horrell and Travis B. Williams’ works). It meant good things and philanthropic acts done by the wealthy for the poor. It would include big banquets where everyone was invited to eat or serving the city as a leader and helping the people. It could also mean valor in battle. Bottom line: The good works had a horizontal focus. The persecuted believers in Asia Minor did not have such wealth and such influence any longer. Instead, they were to use the same term “good works” but look at it through the lens of the Old Testament and the example of Christ. Their “good works” were to have a vertical focus. It was living a life that was pleasing to God, that followed the example of Christ. 1 Peter 3:16 “having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.” In other words, same terminology but a different focus.

Important clarification: The “good works” may win some to the gospel, but they may increase the hostility. 1 Peter 2:20 “But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” 1 Peter 3    13 “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed.” 1 Peter 4:19 “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

Why would their good works increase hostility? As they were complying, they were to qualify their compliance.” In other words, comply but don’t forget to resist. Pay attention to the resistance language in the submission commands:

With Government:

  • 1 Peter 2:13 “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.”
  • 1 Peter 2:15 “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”

At Work:

  • 1 Peter 2:19 “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.”
  • 1 Peter 2:21 “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”

In Marriage:

1 Peter 3      1 “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.” There is no place for abuse. Peter would not approve of that.

There’s more resistance language in 1 Peter:

  • 1 Peter 4:3 “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles.”
  • 1 Peter 4:16 “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”
  • 1 Peter 5 8 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” The Greek word for resist is “anthistemi,” which is a combination of 2 Greek words: anti (against) and histemi (to stand).

How does all this apply to us? Taken from erlc.com – “On Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a controversial bill titled the Equality Act. This legislation, filed as H.R. 5, seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code.”

“This year the Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 2 Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) who caucus with the Democrats. If the Senate voted on the measure and Collins voted in favor while Manchin opposed, the result would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice President Kamala Harris.”

“But before the bill would even come up for a vote, the bill would have to overcome a filibuster, an attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter. The only formal procedure that Senate rules provide for breaking a filibuster is invoking Rule 22, which requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote. This Senate rule is the reason almost all partisan legislation in the Senate, with a few notable exceptions, requires 60 votes rather than a 51-vote majority.”

This bill impacts religious liberty, women and girls’ rights, prolife, and our very society and future generations.

I am for equality. We are equally made in the image of God as male and female. We are equally lost and in need of a Savior. Jesus Christ came to die equally for us. If we receive him, we can equally become sons and daughters of the King. The cross is the greatest equalizer of all! Galatians 3     26 “For you are all sons (and daughters) of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Where do we stand? Let’s speak out. Let’s stand for the truth. We comply but qualify. We are to submit but also resist. We have to follow Christ. Pray for our nation. Reach the lost. Are you saved?

Marvelous Light by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Stone by Dr. Abidan Shah

 

LIVING STONE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  We have several families in the church who are building homes or have just finished building. It can be such a long arduous process. There are so many things to consider from the right builders, cost of the materials, weather, decision fatigue, and changes. But, in the end, it is all worth it when you can sit on the front porch or the living room and know that you are in your own house. But, it takes a lot of patience to get there. By the way, I went looking for some construction jokes online and they all said that they’re still working on it. In today’s message, Peter is going to appeal to the construction imagery to encourage his readers. Here’s what he’s saying to them: When the world and even our loved ones evict us because of our faith, we are not left homeless in this life. Instead, we are carefully chosen by God to join Jesus in building our spiritual house where God dwells. We are precious to him.

1 Peter 2      4 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Context: As you’ve heard me say it throughout this series, Peter wrote this letter to encourage believers who were facing persecution and ostracization because of their faith. It was causing some of them to turn back to their old natures and pick up those old sinful ways – “malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.” These are not sins committed in isolation, but sins committed in relationships. In other words, they were turning against each other in the church family. Peter evoked the imagery of a newborn baby to exhort them to seek the pure milk of those things that are proper for the life of a believer. If not, in fear, they will act the fool like David. But, there is another side to the Christian life. It is a life that is diametrically opposite to the innocent, helpless, single-minded life of a newborn baby. It is a life that recognizes that each of us are a small but significant building material in the house of God. It is a life that recognizes that each of us are to be a holy priest before God.

Application: How do you see yourself in the church family? Are you in the church family? Do you have this balanced view of the Christian life?

But, let’s back up because there’s more there. Why did Peter appeal to the building construction imagery? He was acknowledging their present struggles. The persecution and ostracization was having another 2-sided effect on them: On one hand, they were losing their sense of belonging; and, on the other hand, they were losing their inheritance from their old families. They may also have been barred from entering their temples where other business may have been carried out. This often happens when people become Christians in other parts of the world.

Illustration: As you’ve heard me talk about my dad many times, he grew up in a well to do and loving Muslim home. His future was set. He went to college and got his degrees. He had his career path laid out for him. He even knew who he was going to marry. The family had plenty of old money and plenty of prospects to make new money. But then, he had several life-altering moments, one in which he even came face-to-face with death. It caused him to start searching for the truth. After about a yearlong journey of searching, he came to know Christ as his Savior and King. But, when he told his father that he had become a Christian, his father was very angry and gave him the ultimatum: either renounce all this Christianity stuff or leave the house before he was up. Then he added, “If you leave just know that you cannot take anything from this house, except the clothes on your back. Your Jesus was a beggar. If you follow him, you will end up a beggar. One day you will return home and it will be up to me whether or not I will receive you back.” After that exchange, my father stepped outside and looked up at the night sky and had a conversation with God – “God, I don’t understand. I chose to follow you and the first thing that happens is that I lose my family.” God answered him, not audibly but in his heart – “Do you trust me that I can take care of you in the life to come?” He answered, “Of course. That’s why I’m following you.” God spoke to him again – “If you can trust me to take care of you in the life to come that you cannot see, why can’t you trust me to take care of you in this life?” That was it. My dad stepped out in the darkness and made his way to the local train station. He got in line to buy a ticket but he didn’t even know where he was going. The person before him asked for a ticket to Pune. When my dad stepped to the ticket window, he said, “Same place as him.” That night, my father lost his family, his inheritance, and all his earthly security. Unbeknownst to him, he had bought a ticket where the American missionary lived who would later adopt my father as his son.

So also, the believers in Asia Minor may have lost their families, their inheritance, and all their earthly homes and securities. Hence, Peter appealed to the imageries of building, stone, house, rejection, and shame. By the way, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought up the same point in Ephesians 2      19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” More than likely, Peter and Paul got this unusual imagery from the teachings of Jesus himself: Mark 12     10 Have you not even read this Scripture: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 11 This was the LORD’S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” Here, Jesus referred to himself as “the stone.” The origin of this imagery goes back to the Old Testament: Isaiah 28:16Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.” God used the imagery of foundation and cornerstone because God’s people always had to face eviction and instability in life.

Application: You may not have to face evictions for your faith, but it may cost you to follow Christ in the days ahead? How far are you willing to go? There are more times of instability and uncertainty coming in the days ahead? Are you ready for them?

Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refocused the persecuted and rejected believers on the fact that they were all involved in a massive construction project. It is the spiritual temple of God. Listen again to verse 4 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious.” Here the “Living Stone” is Christ. There are 2 things about him: He is rejected by the world, but he is selected by God. But, it’s not just him – 5 “you also, as living stones…” We are also “living stones” that will be rejected by the world but rest assured that we have been selected by God.

What is the purpose of this selection? 5 “…are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 6Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” As I read earlier from Isaiah 28:16, this was a fulfillment of prophecy.

Bottom Line: Christ is our pattern in building the spiritual house of God. There is a sense of solidarity and connection between the persecuted believers and Jesus. We are together involved in a building project. In fact, Christian community is the place of the presence of God in this world. We mistakenly overemphasize God’s presence with us individually. That may be true, but it is the community that displays God’s presence before the watching world.

7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” This is a fulfillment of Psalm 118:22. 8 and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” This is a fulfillment of Isaiah 8. They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

Application: Are you working to build the temple of God? Disobedience will cause you to stumble? Also, Christ is precious to those who know him and are obedient to him. To others, he is a stumbling block – lost as well disobedient saved.

9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

By the way, there is a judgment coming. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3      9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and thatthe Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

Invitation: Are you saved? Are you building? Are you stumbling?

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?

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