Sacred by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction:  How many parents have told your kids not to let strangers into the house or even tell them that you are away when you’re gone? Nicole recounts a time when her parents were away, and this man knocked on their door in the evening. Her dad had helped him out sometime back at his office and he had somehow found out where he lived. Nicole told him that her parents were busy and could not come to the door. So, he went down the driveway and kept pacing up and down the sidewalk. Little while later, he came back to the door and before Nicole could get to it, her brother opened the door. The man asked for their dad again and he blurted out, “They’re not here.” Nicole quickly called a neighbor who lived around the corner and the man finally left. As you know, we are in our series on apologetics called CONTEND. In this message, we’re going to learn why it is essential to be discerning against those who come knocking on our door, claiming to be like us when they are doctrinally opposed to us. Main point: Doctrine is often looked upon as old fashioned, divisive, and boring. To the contrary, doctrine is essential to the gospel and impacts eternity. Doctrines have to be learned, defended, and reaffirmed, especially the first-rank ones. The Holy Spirit guides us in true doctrine.

2 John 7 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”

Context: Very early in the life of the church, first-rank doctrines were under attack. What are first-rank or first level doctrines? Per Mohler and Ortlund (separate works), these are the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture. Of course, there was not a full-on attack against these doctrines in the earliest days, but the attack had begun. John the apostle referred to the attackers as a “deceiver” and an “antichrist.” Then he reminded the readers – 8 “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.” In other words, the doctrines that have been worked out so carefully should not be cast aside so easily. Instead, verse 9 “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” Here we notice that the first-rank doctrines of the Trinity and Christology are being defended and reaffirmed. But wait, here comes a warning – 10 “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” What a strong indictment against those who deny these first-rank doctrines!

In this message I want to deal with 2 groups who are known for coming to our houses with their so called “gospel” – Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both claim Christianity and both claim the Bible as their book as well, but they allege that it has been corrupted. Also, both add their own literature to the Bible and claim that it is on the same level:

  • Mormon: The Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: New World Translation and their Watchtower Bible and Tract Society with their 2 magazines – “Watchtower” and “Awake.”

In the chart that I have shared with you over the past few weeks, the challenge is again to the “Authority” of the Bible, primarily on that matter of the “Canon.” By the way, both of these movements are what scholars refer to as the “New Religious Movements (Terry Muck). They have cropped up in the past 200 years. Although many smaller movements can be named, these fall into the category of the “reinterpretation” or “recovery” of true Christianity. In other words, they claim Christianity as their roots, but they also claim that they are restoring Christianity to its true roots. How do we determine whether or not they are indeed true?

I. External-Verification (Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence):

A. Bible:

Historical Accuracy

  • To begin with, we have 100% of the text of the Old Testament and New Testament. This is done through a discipline called textual criticism. I have dedicated my life to the NT text.
  • Both the OT and NT make tons of references to lands and regions, kings and rulers, cities and towns, mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, buildings and monuments, events and dates, treaties and policies, customs and traditions, etc. We can verify each of them. I’ve been to Israel many times and seen many of these places – Tel Dan in the north to Elath in the south, Joppa in the west to the Dead Sea in the east. I’ve been to Greece and stood on Mars Hill where Paul preached. I can go on and on.
  • Most important verification is the Resurrection of Jesus. Something happened that turned those fearful disciples into bold martyrs. History was divided into 2 halves!

Unity and Coherence

  • Over 40 authors from different backgrounds, places, and historical situations.
  • Nonetheless, from the first book to the last, the message is about God’s salvation of humanity through his son Jesus Christ. I have talked about this endlessly.

2. Mormon Writings:

Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence

  • Although they believe the Bible, according to their Article of Faith 8, the Latter-Day Saints “believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” Also, in their History of the Church 4:461, it is claimed that Joseph Smith called it “the most correct of any book on earth.”
  • To begin with, who was Joseph Smith? It is claimed that it all began in 1820 when a 14-year-old boy in up-state New York prayed that God would show him which church to join from among the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. As he prayed in a nearby grove, an overpowering force bound his body and tongue, and thick darkness came upon him, so that he could not speak. Just when he thought that he was going to die, a pillar of fire came down from heaven and he saw the Father and the Son as separate men but just alike, standing before him. The Son told him not to join any church but wait on further revelation. Few years later, the angel Moroni appeared to him in 1823 and promised that he would find a book of gold plates, which he claimed to find in some nearby hill in 1827. The book was supposedly in “reformed Egyptian,” which no one knows what that language is, and the book of Mormon was published in 1830.
  • The story in the book is about the coming of the Hebrews to settle in the Americas. Apparently, their life between 6th century BC and 5th century AD are described in the book. There is no historical evidence for this. Also, it is claimed that Jesus came here to preach to them after his resurrection. Those who received became the Nephites and those who rejected became the Lamanites, who are supposedly the ancestors of the Native Americans. There were battles between the two groups and the Nephites were gone, but not before the plates of the recordings were buried by Moroni, the son of Mormon, the last Nephite general. Again, there is zero historical evidence for all this.
  • Overall, it is written in a pseudo-translation pretending to be written in the style of the King James Version.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses literature:

Historical Accuracy & Unity and Coherence

  • Although they believe the Bible, they use their own translation, claiming that ours is corrupt. In fact, they believe that the Watchtower Society is “the one and only channel which the Lord has used in dispensing his truth continually since the beginning of the harvest period…” (April 1, 1919).
  • In the late 19th century, a young man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania named Charles Taze Russell began a class called the “Millennial Dawn Bible Study.” He was a Presbyterian, but found the doctrines of predestination, eternal damnation, and the Trinity troublesome. He got some of his ideas from the Adventists and others who taught on prophecy, and he put them together in his literature which later became part of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
  • He claimed that Christ’s invisible “second presence” had happened in 1874 and the harvesting period had ended in 1878. The “end of the Gentiles” time would take place in 1914. That year came and went, but it was claimed that the invisible occurrence had happened, and Satan was thrown out of heaven. Now Jesus had begun his heavenly rule and starting in 1918, the 144,000 were in the heavenly kingdom. Russell died in 1916 and the leadership passed on to Joseph Franklin Rutherford. He was the one who “solved” the problem of the 144,000, by claiming that they are the “anointed ones” as opposed to the “great crowd” which represents all the Jehovah’s Witnesses (name chosen in 1931).
  • The writings of Russell and Rutherford are not used anymore. Instead, it’s the materials from the Watchtower Society. Who writes them? The leadership but anonymously since 1942.

You would think that the external verification would be enough to prove that the Bible alone is the true Word of God. Unfortunately, both groups claim in one way or another the witness of the Holy Spirit. This is not a problem for us. Instead, it is a must for believers. Because of our sinful minds and hearts, the Holy Spirit has to illumine and demonstrate the truth of God’s Word:

  • Illumination – show us the truth of God’s Word.
  • Demonstration – testify to us that it is the truth.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t give new evidence. He is the cause of faith not the reason.

1 John 4      1 “Beloved do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

II. Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit:

  1. Bible: We’ve obviously seen what the Holy Spirit has to say, especially about the Trinity and Christ.
  2. Mormon Writings:
  • Trinity is denied. Their trinity is 3 persons united in purpose not being. Instead, polytheism is affirmed since they claim that there are many gods in different parts of the universe.
  • The Heavenly Father was a man at one time who was created by a god, who was also created by another god. He passed through degrees of sanctification to become God. God was once a man like we are and that humans can become like God is now (Snow).
  • Jesus was a product of Heavenly Father and mother. They deny this but Satan was a spirit brother of Jesus through another wife of the Heavenly Father.
  • His sacrifice is not sufficient. Ordinances and covenants in the temple are necessary for godhood in the Celestial Kingdom.
  • Much more.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses Literature:

  • Trinity is denied. Jehovah is the only god.
  • Jesus was created as Michael the Archangel. He became the Son at baptism. Hence, they read John 1:1 as “a god,” which is grammatically and theologically false. Also, the Holy Spirit is God’s active force.
  • Jesus died only for Adam’s sin, not for all of humanity.
  • No hell. Instead, paradise will be for a select few and the rest will be annihilated.

Invitation: Can you discern? Does doctrine matter? Is Christ your Savior and King? Is the Holy Spirit in you testifying to the truth?

Canon by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction: Last month, June 2021, an Italian artist named Salvatore Garau put up a sculptor at an auction titled “lo Sono,” meaning “I am.” He set the opening bid between $6000 to $9000. Only problem was that it was an invisible piece. According to Garau, “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that nothing has a weight…Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.” People laughed about it. Some put pictures online of their invisible pieces. Believe it or not, someone bought it for $18,300! Here’s where the story takes a turn. Couple of days ago, Tom Miller, a Florida-based performance artist, claimed that Garau stole his idea. Back in 2016, he had assembled an invisible piece titled “Nothing” over 5 days. Miller has hired an attorney. How does this connect with our message in our series titled “CONTEND?” Just because you believe it, it doesn’t make it right. Main point: The Bible is not one person’s imagination of truth and reality. It is a collection of God’s words through various individuals in various times and in various ways regarding one thing – the coming of his son. Jesus is God’s son who came as a real historical person in a real historical place and time to fulfill God’s promise of salvation for all humanity.

Hebrews 1      1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Context: What a powerful declaration of the special revelation of God through the ages! If you remember the chart I have created, so far, we worked up. The Scriptures are authoritative because they were inspired by God and hence inerrant. They were inspired because they were the special revelation of God. Now, we need to work down. Because the scriptures were authoritative, they were affirmed as canonical by the church. The Old Testament canon was already set before the New Testament was written and the New Testament canon was affirmed by the church in due time. Of course, there are certain questions that have been raised regarding canonicity. Here are some questions that we received in our survey:

  • Why are there more books in certain Bibles?
  • Is there any value in the books that have not been included?
  • Isn’t the process of canonization similar to other religions?

In answering these questions, I want us to compare the biblical canon to the Buddhist canon. In other words, how do the Buddhist religious books compare to the Bible.

  1. Main Character:

A. Buddhist Religious Books

  • Buddha or Word of the Buddha
  • There was one – Siddhartha Gautama from Northern India in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. He was a prince. For various reasons, his father would not let him venture out of the palace. He did not know what suffering was. He was married and had a child. One day, at the age of 29, he asked his charioteer to take him for a ride. On the way, he was exposed to “Four Sights” – an old man, a sick man, and a funeral procession. In other words, he was exposed to suffering. The fourth sight was a Hindu sadhu who seemed very peaceful. He decided to become one and left his wife and son. This was the “Great Renunciation.” He went searching for the truth and even tried to scourge himself. Finally, at age 35, he sat under a pipal tree to meditate. All night, he fought against the evil tempter Mara. As a result, he experienced enlightenment and the path to the end of suffering.
  • This path begins with 4 Noble Truths: 1. Existence is suffering (dukkha) 2. Suffering is caused by desire (tanha). 3. Liberation (nirvana) from suffering and desire is possible. 4. The Eightfold path is the way to escape – right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Basically, they are morality, concentration, and wisdom.
  • After this he gained some disciples and began preaching his way to enlightenment.
  • Basically, his teachings were rooted in Hinduism, Jainism, and other ancient religions. There was a lot of focus on suffering, meditation, and following wise teachers. Karma was again important. The goal was to progress through the reincarnation cycles and escape to Nirvana. Unlike Hinduism, which focuses on coming back in the next life, Buddhism focuses on the continuation of pure karma from one life to another.
  • But, there were many other Buddhas. Their common teachings together are the buddhavacana or the word of the Buddha. This is the essence of the eternal Dharma or teachings.

B. Bible

  • From start to finish, the Bible is about Jesus. Listen again to Hebrews 1 2 “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power…”
  • That’s why when Jesus began his ministry, he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” After he rose from the grave, he met some of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
  1. Canon:

A. Buddhist Religious Books

  • There are 3 canons based on the three main traditions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Theravada (way of the elders) claims to be the earliest and closest to the early Buddhist community. It is found in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Kampuchea).
  • Mahayana began around the time of Christ and spread from India to China, Korea, and Japan. It claims to be superior to Theravada. Unlike the Indian focus on nirvana, the Chinese and Japanese focus was more on enlightenment.
  • The Tibetan Buddhism or Vajrayana came in the 7th century to Tibet, and it is found in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. It is more focused on Indian tantric practices. These include mudras (physical postures), mantras (magical phrases), calling on ghosts, demons, and territorial spirits. Their leader is the Dalai Lama, who is considered to be a reincarnation of the previous 13 Dalai Lamas and is believed to be connected to Buddha.
  • Based on the 3 traditions, there are 3 different canons:

#1. Theravada – Pali Canon which has the Tripitaka (3 baskets) containing Buddha’s teachings, monastic codes, and philosophical analysis. They were passed down orally and finally penned 400 years later and agreed upon 500 more years later. This is much larger than the Bible, 11 times. This is how the Ajanta and Ellora Caves came to be. They were places for monks to study, work, and meditate.

#2. Mahayana – It has the Pali canon and many more which it considers to be superior. It has about 100,000 pages in printed form. They are like libraries. This where the Lotus Sutra comes in, if you’ve heard of it.

#3. Tibetan – part of the Mahayana tradition and other texts.

  • Buddhism has also spread to the west. It is heavily influenced by Japanese Buddhism and a new kind of Buddhism is emerging. It is a buffet style Buddhism, which tinkers with Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, even Jodo (pure land) Buddhism.

B. Bible

  • Old Testament – 4 Canons (Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox)
  • Jewish – The traditional number of books is 24. Referred to as Mikra (that which is read) or Tanakh [T, N, K = Torah (instruction/law), Nevi’im (prophets), Kethuvim (writings)]
  • Protestant – The traditional number of the books is 39. It retains the order of the LXX but the text is based on the Hebrew Bible.
  • Roman Catholic – The traditional number of books is 49. It is based on the Alexandrian canon of the LXX. The order of books varies. It is based on current editions, such as the Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible. The appendix of the Latin Vulgate contains 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh.
  • Orthodox – The traditional number of the books is 53. It is based on larger versions of the LXX. “Orthodox” here refers to the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches (the Slavonic Bible being the traditional text). In Orthodox Bibles, 4 Maccabees and the Prayer of Manasseh-and in Slavonic, 3 Esdras are in an appendix.
  • The extra books found in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons are not part of the Jewish canon. According to Josephus, the 24 were it for the Jewish canon.
  • The Essenes from Qumran only cite from the Jewish canonical books and only wrote commentaries on them.
  • Philo (20BC – 40AD) the Jewish scholar only cites from the canonical books. So also, the NT authors stick to the canonical books. Jude quotes from 1 Enoch but it was not claimed to be canonical.
  • The extra books were added by the RC and Orthodox as important to certain Jewish people.
  • The New Testament canon of 27 books have remained the same throughout. The ones claimed recently are gnostic heretical books.
  1. Purpose (Adapted from Thane Hutcherson Ury)
A. Buddhist Religious Books B. Bible
1.    No personal god 1.    God wants us to know him.
2.    History is cyclical. No creation 2.    History is linear. Yes, creation
3.    Main problem is suffering 3.    Main problem is sin
4.    Salvation is from inside 4.    Salvation is from above
5.    Ultimate goal is Nirvana 5.    Ultimate goal is relationship with God
6.    It all happened under a tree 6.    It all happened on a tree
7.    No judgment 7.    Day appointed for judgment
8.    No life after death 8.    Eternal Life
9.    Be lamps to yourself 9.    Shine the light of Jesus
10.Without Buddha, still Buddhism 10.No Christianity without Christ

3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. The writer then goes on to compare Jesus to the Torah, Moses, the Promised Land, the priests, Melchizedek, the sacrifices, and the covenant.

Invitation: Who would you rather trust? Someone who imagined or someone who has been promised and who came in definite time and place and fulfilled that promise? Are you saved? Do you know Jesus as your Savior and King?

The Anatomy of Salvation by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vicarious by Dr. Abidan Shah

VICARIOUS by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Have you ever heard someone say, “So and so is living vicariously?” What does that mean? It means that you are living life through someone else’s experiences. It happens when parents try to live through their kids, especially with sports. The funniest thing for me is to watch that sports fanatic dad at the little league soccer game and his little boy is playing with dandelions. It can also happen when we identify too much with a character in a novel, TV show, reality TV, and even with social media, where people wish what others have. Living vicariously through others is not healthy. It can put unrealistic expectations on others, make excuses for our own inadequacies and shortcomings, and create excessive dependence on others. Here’s what’s incredible: the very things that make vicarious living bad for us in our daily life are what make them right for us when it comes to our salvation. God’s expectation of holiness is beyond us. We are totally inadequate and fall short of God’s standard. Only by completely depending on Christ’s sacrifice can we make it. He took our vicarious punishment for the penalty of sin.

Isaiah 53:5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

Context: As I mentioned last week, we’re still in our series through 1 Peter called “TOGETHER FORWARD.” Last week, we came to that section in chapter 2 where Peter reminded the persecuted church in Asia Minor to follow the example/trace the life and mission of Christ as they suffered. He even gave them a tracing sheet from Isaiah 53 where Jesus is prophesied about as a sheep led to the slaughter. But, we have to be careful here. Isaiah 53 is much more than just a model on “how to suffer.” It is the very foundation of our salvation. In other words, before we start tracing Isaiah 53, we need to understand what it is really about. With that in mind and Easter being around the corner, we started a miniseries called ATONEMENT. Last week, we focused on the historical background of Isaiah and how God promised the people in exile that he would deliver them, but that his greater desire was to deliver them from sin. In this message, I want us to understand the idea of the vicarious punishment endured by Jesus for us. Here’s the big question: “Can someone else stand in my place and take my penalty of sin?”

Application: Do you understand what it means that Jesus died for your sins? Are you saved? Are you living each day in gratitude for what was done for you?

For the next few minutes, we’re going to understand the importance of vicarious suffering in the Old Testament (In German, Stellvertretung – “Taking another’s place”):

  1. There are several hints from the very beginning:
  • Adam and Eve – After the curse, Genesis 3:21 says, “Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.”
  • Cain and Abel Genesis 4 3 “And…Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering.”
  • Noah – After over a year on the ark, Genesis 8 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.
  • Job – After his children would get together for a feast, Job 1 5 So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly.”
  • Abraham – After God tested Abraham’s faith, Genesis 22:13 “Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.”

The point is this: Right from the beginning, we see indication that God’s people knew that they had to sacrifice for their sins before God in order to have any fellowship with him. God was holy and he will punish sin, either in the individual or in the substitute.

  1. But, this was written in bold letters when the Hebrews became a nation:
  • Passover – God had sent 9 devastating plagues against Egypt and Pharaoh still hardened his heart, it was time for the tenth plague. Exodus 12 12 “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13 Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Why was this necessary? This was not only a judgment against the gods of Egypt but the children of Israel had also participated in idolatry while in Egypt. Ezekiel 20      7 Then I said to them, “Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ 8 But they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me…Then I said, “I will pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.’ 9 But I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” They too were under the sentence of death. They were not automatically spared.
  • Day of Atonement – God called Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the law and the covenant. The Book of Exodus relates the response of the people. As much as God explained to them through Moses to maintain holiness, they still didn’t understand. It is in the next book, Leviticus, that the sacrificial system was laid out for them. Not all the sacrifices were animal sacrifices and even those were not for the full and final atonement of sin. The goal was to allow fellowship with a holy God who will punish sin. This was all by his grace. The rituals of the Day of Atonement were clearly given for the atonement. It was based around 2 goats. One was sacrificed to God. Leviticus 16 15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil…and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. 16So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins.” The word for “atonement” is “kipper,” which means “cover.” That’s where we get “Yom Kippur” = Day of Atonement. It implies 4 things: God can forgive; 2. God will cleanse; 3. The payment for sin has been made; 4. God’s wrath has been averted/avoided/turned aside. Leviticus 17:11 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” How about the other goat? It was sent away into the desert as a “scapegoat” or “goat for Azazel.” It means a “rugged cliff.” The priest would place his hand on the goat implying a transference of sins from Israel to the living goat. It was symbolic of their sins being carried away from them to somewhere far away. Ultimately, the goat couldn’t do that. It was to teach them and prepare them for the coming of the one who would not only die for our sins but carry them away for us.

What was the point behind all this? God was preparing them for what would be prophesied in Isaiah 53 (Adapted from Spieckermann):

  1. One person will intercede for the sins of others.
  2. The one interceding will be sinless and righteous.
  3. The act must be once and for all.
  4. It will be a voluntary act.
  5. God would be the one ultimately behind the act.

Did the people understand and get the meaning behind the sacrifices? Some did and some didn’t:

1 Samuel 15:22 So Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”

Psalm 51      16 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.

Amos 5      21 “I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. 22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. 24 But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream. 25 “Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings In the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? 26 You also carried Sikkuth your king And Chiun, your idols, The star of your gods, Which you made for yourselves.”

Isaiah 1      11 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats…13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting…15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. 16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil.”

Isaiah 53:5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

Invitation: Do you understand that you need someone to go between you and God? Have you received Jesus as your Savior and King?

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?

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 Plan by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Listen to David in Psalm 22 15 “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. 16 For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet…18 They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” No confusion there about how the Christ would suffer!
  • Also, listen to Isaiah 53     5 “But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Again, no confusion here regarding how the Christ would suffer.
  • I don’t have time to bring up the rest of the prophets. Listen to Peter in his sermon from Solomon’s porch in the temple in Acts 3:24 “Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days.” The point is that the suffering of Christ was no afterthought. It was well understood. Their question was “when?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Admonition by Dr. Abidan Shah

THE ADMONITION by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Have you ever been corrected by your kids, especially dads? Sometimes, it’s when we use slangs that have become outdated – far out, cool beans, talk to the hand, da bomb. Sometimes, it’s when we try to wear clothes that are out of style. The one my kids had to correct me on at one time was how I texted on the phone – don’t try to abbreviate, don’t use all caps, avoid texting a novel. I’m glad I listened to their corrections. If there’s one person in the New Testament who was repeatedly corrected, it was Peter. Of course, Jesus corrected him several times but someone else did too. In this message, we’re going to learn from Peter how to take corrections. As you know, we are in our series on 1 Peter; but before we dive into the letter, we are studying the character of Peter. Today’s message is titled “The Admonition.” Turn to Acts 2. Main point: Receiving admonition is a mark of a mature Christian. Being filled with the Holy Spirit and being mightily used by God will not exempt you from being admonished. In fact, the more you serve, the more chances there are of being admonished. How you take admonition says a lot about where you are spiritually.

Acts 2:14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.”

Context: Peter spoke these words and the words following on the Day of Pentecost. For 10 days, 120 of the disciples were praying in an upper room in Jerusalem. Then it happened—as the disciples were unanimously together, the Holy Spirit came upon them accompanied with supernatural signs. I don’t have time to get into all the details right now, but this was such an extra-ordinary and bewildering experience that the people in Jerusalem who were there from all parts of the known world for the Passover feast were utterly amazed. They were hearing the praise of God in their own languages! – “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.” Some even began to mock them saying, “…They are full of new wine” (Acts 2:10-13).

Who would you pick at this point to clear up the misunderstanding and explain the beginning of a new era in God’s divine plan? Matthew, John, Andrew, anybody but Peter, right? Acts 2    14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” He went on to give a powerful and stirring gospel message quoting from the Old Testament and ending with Acts 2:36“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” How effective was it? Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. That does not include women and children! What happened to the bungling and bumbling fisherman of Galilee? The Holy Spirit. In less than 2 months, Peter had become a spokesman for the kingdom!

Application: Do you understand the transformation and power the Holy Spirit brings into our lives? Do you have the Holy Spirit? You cannot have the Holy Spirit until you have Christ as your Savior and King? Are you saved?

But this was just the beginning of things to come!

  • In the very next chapter, Peter and John were on their way to the temple to prayer and encountered a man who had been lame from birth. He begged for alms but listen to Peter’s response in Acts 3 6 Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” 7And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. Once again, Peter preached to the people. After this sermon, they got arrested by the temple authorities but not before 5000 men were saved. Whether it was the total or 5000 in addition to the 3000, it is still a big number, especially with women and children.
  • In chapter 4, Peter preached before the leaders, elders, and the high priest in Jerusalem. They tried to threaten them but they continued to preach anyways and the church kept growing. By the way, there are 8 sermons by Peter in Acts.
  • Peter’s healing ministry was even more powerful than Jesus’! Acts 5 15 “…they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. 16 Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Jesus had promised this to his disciples. John 14:12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.”
  • Again, Peter was thrown in prison but an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison and brought him. Now, Peter was now on the hitlist.
  • God even opened Peter’s eyes so he understood that the gospel was not just for the Jewish people but also for the Gentiles. Remember the Cornelius incident. He even convinced the leaders that this was what God wanted.
  • I can go on and on, but the point is this – Peter became the pillar of the church along with James and John (Galatians 2:9).

It’s amazing how God takes us to a higher plane of ministry when we let him use us.

Application: Do you take the time to thank God for where he has brought you? Are you grateful? Are you humble?

Just when you would think that Peter had arrived or that he was infallible, something happened. Paul tells the Galatians about an incident that took place in Antioch. Listen to Galatians 2      11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” Paul went on and on to Peter before everybody! Why didn’t Paul take Peter aside and talk about this privately? You’ve heard—Private sins, private confession. Public sins, public confession. Here’s more—Private sins, private confrontation. Public sins, public confrontation. 1 Timothy 5:20 “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” Can you imagine what would have happened if all Jewish background believers followed Peter’s example!

How would you respond if you were corrected like this in public, especially if you thought you had arrived? I ain’t gonna take this! Did Paul do that to every Jewish background believer or Judaizer? I doubt it. Not everyone would be ready to receive an open admonition unless they were wise. Proverbs 9      7 “He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. 8 Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. 9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.” By the way, before you think you can rebuke someone like that, keep in mind that Peter went toe to toe with the Sanhedrin and the high priest but took an open rebuke from Paul. Are you a Paul? You better be prayed up, studied up, and above reproach yourself. I don’t let just anyone speak into my life.

Was Peter wise? How did he take the admonition? 2 Peter 3     15 “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” I have people who have called me out and I didn’t enjoy it at first, but, in time, I know it was because they loved me. I love them and thank God for them.

For e.g. W. A. Criswell taking notes from Rick Warren speaking.

Invitation: How do you take admonishment? Are you saved? Do you have the Holy Spirit? It’s only through Christ that you can have him.

Unsearchable by Dr. Abidan Shah

UNSEARCHABLE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: One Sunday morning after church, as the family was driving home, the mother began, “The choir was awful this morning. They were so off-key, weren’t they?” To this, the dad added, “The service was too long and I still don’t know what the minister was talking about.” The mother replied, “And, can you believe they’re going to spend all that money on that mission trip to Guatemala? Don’t we have plenty to do around here?” Their 16-year old daughter chimed in, “Why do the Jones’ always sit in front of us? They act like they are so better than us.” After a few seconds’ pause, their 10-year old from the back seat remarked, “Are we going back? Because, I thought it was a pretty good show for a dime.” Many Christians have a very low view of the importance of the church. Even before the current crisis, many had a take it or leave it attitude about the church. Now, with the current crisis, church has been shoved under the “non-essential” category. As you know, we began a mini-series through Ephesians on the role of the church. Here’s the main point of today’s message: The church is essential. In God’s divine plan, he has chosen the church to make known his mystery and wisdom to the principalities and powers of the evil domain. When the church is the church we are supposed to be, united and holy, then the spiritual rulers and authorities behind the power brokers of the world know that Jesus is in charge and they are not. For the church to shut down its activities is to give free reign to evil in the world. Today’s message is called “UNSEARCHABLE.”

Ephesians 3:8 “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Context: The verse we just read is part of a digression by the Apostle Paul. He often does this in his letters, but, unlike our digressions that are losing our train of thought, his digressions are the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to take us deeper into the wisdom and purpose of God. If you remember from last weekend, most believers had been playing on the shallow end of the pool, never learning how to swim in deep waters. All of a sudden, we got slammed by a pandemic tsunami and now we are stranded all over the place, clutching on to whatever we could find. If we’re going to make it moving forward, we will have to step into deep waters and learn how to swim.

Until the end of chapter 2, Paul was explaining to the Ephesians how the Gentiles had been brought into the family of God by Jesus Christ. Listen to 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, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” In other words, every believer—regardless of his/her ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, or nationality—has an equal status in the family of God by the grace of Jesus Christ. Then, Ephesians 3:1“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles…” Meaning: Paul’s calling from God was to help Gentiles come into the family of God and become one body, the church.

Just when we want to say, “It’s great how there is no more division between the Jewish people and the Gentiles. We are all one in Christ Jesus. Good work Paul!” he stops and takes a digression to help us understand that this one body is much more than just a holy huddle. There is a powerful purpose behind it. Listen to Ephesians 3     2 “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ).” What is the mystery of Christ? In some sense, Paul was using a term that the Ephesians would have been familiar with because they had mystery religions with secret knowledge. But, it is more likely that Paul was appealing to Daniel 2 where the Hebrew word “raz” or the Greek word “musterion” was used to refer to God’s secret plan of bringing Jesus into the world to save humanity. Paul was referring to the coming together of the believing Jewish people and the Gentiles into one body as the mystery of Christ. In the Old Testament, Gentiles could join God’s people, but they had to become Jewish first. Now, Gentiles did not have to become Jewish and Jewish people did not have to become Gentiles. Instead, both Jewish people and Gentiles could come together into a new community through Jesus Christ. This was the mystery of Christ. It was not as clear in times past. 5“which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, 7 of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.” Now comes the verse we read in the opening – Ephesians 3:8 “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” What are the unsearchable riches of Christ? Christ has incredible wealth that we cannot fathom! It includes his grace, his mercy, his goodness, his love, his promises, his glory, etc. All that is now available to each of the Gentiles who have entered into the family God. Verse 9 “and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ.”

Question: Are you part of this mystery? Have you been brought into the family of God? Are you saved? Do you value the unsearchable (unfathomable) riches of Christ?

Now, starting in verse 10, Paul goes deeper, explaining to us the critical nature of this new body, the church—10 “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God…” The Greek word for manifold is “polupoikilos,” which means “multifaceted” or “many faced.” The more you get to know Christ, the more multifaceted he becomes! Once again, verse 10 “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” Let’s pause here for a moment and ask “What are principalities and powers?” The Greek word for “principalities” is “archei,” which means “angelic rulers.” In our context, it refers to “evil angelic rulers.” The Greek word for “powers” is “exousias,” which means “spiritual authorities.” In our context, it refers to “evil spiritual authorities.” There are 2 other times, they are mentioned in Ephesians:

  • Ephesians 1   19 “and what is the exceeding greatness of His power…20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power…” When God the Father raised his Son from the grave, he also raised him higher than all evil angelic beings.
  • Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly” Here Paul commands us to “Put on the whole armor of God” because we are in a battle against evil angelic beings.

Here’s the point: The mystery of Christ was also kept hidden from all the evil angelic beings. The coming of Jesus not only brought redemption, but it also broke the power of these wicked beings. Even though they know that Jesus is King, they still try to usurp his power. When the church is the church we are supposed to be, united and holy, then the spiritual rulers and authorities behind the power brokers of the world know that Jesus is in charge and they are not.

Don’t misunderstand: This does not mean that the church has to proclaim a message to these evil beings. This does not mean that the church has to rebuke the enemy and his cohorts. It simply means that we make known “gnorizo” that we are the body of Christ, united and holy, and evil begins to back off. The Enemy has always used the tactic of “divide and conquer,” starting with Adam and Eve. When we come together in unity and holiness, we are making known to him and his cohorts the manifold wisdom of God.

Question: Isn’t it amazing that the same time evil has raised its ugly head in the past few months that the church has dropped her head and gone into hiding?

Ephesians 6     13 “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— 19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel.”

Invitation: Are you part of the mystery of Christ? Are you saved? How important is the church to you? Are you aware that we are in a spiritual battle?

Adopted Father by Dr. Abidan Shah

Adopted Father

ADOPTED FATHER by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  When Nicole and I first met, she told me that if we were going to keep dating that I had to meet her father. A few weeks after, she informed me that her dad was coming to college to have lunch with her and that she really wanted me to meet him. Well, I did go by the cafeteria and peeked through the window and saw this rather big and tall man sitting next to Nicole. I chickened out. Later that day, she asked me why I hadn’t shown up. I gave some lame excuse. Then, with a far more serious tone she told me that if we were going to go further that I had to meet her father. Long story short, I met him, and with just one handshake, I knew that this man loved me even though he had never met me. I had a wonderful father growing up and still do, but without the influence of Jerry Shedd, I wouldn’t be here today. He became my adopted father. He demonstrated what God does in our lives when we get saved—he adopts us into his family through Jesus Christ. Main point: Adoption is that process where after God declares us righteous through Jesus Christ that he welcomes us into his family as his sons and daughters. He lays down his gavel as our judge and comes around to embrace us as our adopted father. Now, he wants us to go out and do the same to those who need an adopted father. That’s the title of our message on this Father’s Day Weekend.

1 Corinthians 4     14 “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do nothave many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

A major benefit of our salvation through Jesus Christ is the gift of adoption into God’s family. If there’s one writer in the Bible who understood the importance of the doctrine of adoption (huiothesia), it was the apostle Paul. 3 things he brings out about it:

  1. Adoption was no afterthought doctrine. Listen to Ephesians 1  4 “just as He (God) chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” In other words, before God made the heavens and the earth, he chose to adopt us as sons and daughters. He was not satisfied in just making us pardoned sinners or reconciled friends; he wanted us to be family.
  2. Adoption was not free. It cost God something. Galatians 4 4 “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (and daughters).” For Peter and John, adoption came through rebirth (being born again); but, for Paul, it came through a change in status, our justification after being redeemed from under the law.
  3. Adoption brought tremendous benefits. Galatians 4 6 “And because you are sons (and daughters), God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
  4. Adoption has the promise of more benefits to come. Romans 8:23 “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”

Adoption brings great assurance to us as believers that we are not just pardoned sinners or reconciled friends; we are family, and nothing and no one can separate us.

Question:  How do you see yourself in your relationship with God? Is he your judge, your boss, or is he your father?

One more thing: Adoption also brings a new sense of responsibility towards others. Listen again to Paul’s words in I Corinthians 4     15 “…for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.”

Background:  Acts 16:1 tells us that Timothy was “the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.” The way Luke phrases that statement, Timothy’s father never converted to Judaism. Intermarriage between Jewish people and Gentiles was not as problematic as long as the Gentile person converted to Judaism. The requirements for conversion were quite high. If there was no conversion, it was strictly prohibited. You can imagine what Timothy must have endured. Probably, his mother’s people did not accept him because his father was Greek and his father’s side did not accept him because his mother was Jewish. Keep in mind that Timothy did have a father but society and circumstances must have made that role very difficult. Then, it was probably on Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13-14) that Timothy’s grandmother, mother, and Timothy himself got saved—2 Timothy 1:5 “when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.” Paul doesn’t mention Timothy’s father which may suggest that he never got saved and maybe even cut off all relations with Timothy and his mother. Paul must have felt compassion towards Timothy and decided to take on the role of an adopted father in his life. Repeatedly, Paul referred to Timothy as his son—1 Timothy 1:18 “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy”; 2 Timothy 2:1 “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul was protective over him, telling him in 1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” He encouraged him in 1 Timothy 6:12 to “Fight the good fight of faith…” He even warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 to avoid those who were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal…” Paul’s understanding of the doctrine of adoption motivated him to adopt Timothy as his beloved and faithful son in the Lord.

By the way, the position of adopted father is nothing new. Repeatedly, we find that relationship in the Bible, even if the title is not used:

  1. Abraham adopted Lot after his father Haran died and took him along to the Promised Land. This cost him dearly because he had to rescue him and then had to give into Lot’s demand for the more fertile plain of Jordan. Ultimately, he even bargained with God for Lot and his family when God came down to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
  2. Jethro adopted Moses when he fled from Pharaoh and came to Midian. Exodus 2 21 Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. Later, he even helped Moses divide up the work of judging the people of Israel.
  3. Moses adopted Joshua and groomed him to be the next leader of God’s people.
  4. Eli adopted Samuel and taught him how to discern the voice of God. He knew that the sun was setting on his ministry and his own sons were unworthy of the task. Instead of being jealous, he groomed Samuel in his task.
  5. Samuel adopted Saul to groom him to be the next king of Israel. Unfortunately, he was too mule headed to get it.
  6. Samuel adopted David and he did everything that Saul failed to do.
  7. Elijah adopted Elisha. Elisha expressly refers to Elijah as “father” in 2 Kings 2 9“…Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” 10 So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” 11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more…13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him…”
  8. Joseph adopted Jesus after the angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. He was willing to sacrifice his reputation and comforts in order to adopt Jesus as his son.

If only more men and women will see younger men and women as sons and daughters in the faith! Once we understand the doctrine of adoption in our lives, we have a responsibility to see others who are younger in the faith as God sees us. You don’t have to become overbearing, but you can come alongside respectfully, wisely, and lovingly guide a younger person or a younger believer in their faith journey. Unfortunately, I have heard many times when an older person discouraged a younger person.

Personal Example: When my own father became a Christian, his biological father disowned him and God sent an American missionary by the name of Dr. Fred Schelander to be his adopted father. He was instrumental in sending him to seminary and became a mentor to him in life and ministry. My father was so impacted by Dr. Schelander that he named his firstborn after him. Dr. Schelander even touched my life as he was the only grandfather I ever knew.

Although, I am focusing only adopted fathers, women have also played the role of adopted mothers (Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses, Naomi adopted Ruth).

Invitation: Have you been the father you were called to be? Have you been grateful to the father (biological or adopted) that God has placed in your life? Is God calling you to be an adopted father to someone who doesn’t have one? Is God your Heavenly Father? Through Christ you can become a child of God.

John 1     12 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

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