Brightness by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

  1. Greater Light to Rule the Day – SUN

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

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

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

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

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

  1. STARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plunder by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Subdue nations and plunder the kings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astray by Dr. Abidan Shah

ASTRAY by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  Some animals are smart, and some are not. Dogs are smart. Some are even smarter than humans, especially working dogs. Bees are smart. They have the classic swarm intelligence where they work together to build a nest or defend themselves. Dolphins, they say, have a larger brain that any animal, relatively speaking. But there are also dumb animals. For example: sloths. Other than being super slow, they can also mistake their own limb for a branch and fall to the ground. Another animal that I consider dumb are sheep. They are often unaware of their surroundings, and, for just another clump of grass, they are often led astray. In fact, that is the title of our message today – ASTRAY. If you have your Bibles, please find Isaiah 53. Main point: Human beings are like sheep. We are easily led astray by our sin. We are prone to wander and get lost. Jesus came to bring us into his fold by taking our punishment of sin upon himself. He became our lamb unto slaughter. By trusting in him, we can be saved.

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Context: So many of you have shared with us how much this series from Isaiah 53 titled “ATONEMENT” has meant to you. You have enjoyed the history and the geography behind these pages. You have also appreciated how the prophecies from the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New. Keep in mind that we were in our series through 1 Peter titled “TOGETHER FORWARD” that launched us back to Isaiah 53. Many of you have so many questions. Rest assured that we are in the process of getting something together that will benefit your whole family.

Listen again to Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray…” Isaiah the prophet wrote those words 100 years into the future to a people he had never met but who needed his words in their exile. Keep in mind that Isaiah, through the Holy Spirit, was writing to the Judeans who would be living in exile in Babylon. To refresh your memory – the people of Israel had divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) after Solomon’s reign. Both had sinned blatantly by going after false gods and breaking God’s commandments. God sent Assyria against the Northern Kingdom who by 722BC dispersed them, never to return. The Southern Kingdom continued for another 100 years, but they followed the way of their brothers and sisters to the North, if you remember from last week’s message. By 609BC Assyria fell to Babylon, their Akkadian brothers and sisters to the south. In 597BC, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came against Judah. Listen to 2 Kings 24       13 And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and he cut in pieces all the articles of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said. 14 Also he carried into captivity all Jerusalem: all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land. 15 And he carried Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officers, and the mighty of the land he carried into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 All the valiant men, seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths, one thousand, all who were strong and fit for war, these the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.” Before he left, he put Zedekiah, his handpicked king, on the throne and warned him to pay their taxes. Ten years later, Zedekiah rebelled, even Jeremiah the prophet warned him not to. As promised, Nebuchadnezzar returned. Listen to Jeremiah 52      13 He burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all the houses of Jerusalem, that is, all the houses of the great, he burned with fire. 14 And all the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down all the walls of Jerusalem all around. 15 Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poor people, the rest of the people who remained in the city, the defectors who had deserted to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the craftsmen. 16 But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poor of the land as vinedressers and farmers.” Sin and disobedience have consequences. It may seem that God has decided to overlook sin but he will punish sin.

Application: Are you presuming on God’s grace? Is there unrepented sin in your hearts?

How did the people feel in exile? Initially, they lamented. They felt sorry for Judah, Jerusalem, their leaders, their homes, and themselves. Listen to them:

  • Lamentations 1 1 How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces has become a slave! 2 She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears are on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies. 3 Judah has gone into captivity, under affliction and hard servitude; she dwells among the nations, she finds no rest…”
  • Lamentations 2 20 “See, O LORD, and consider! To whom have You done this? Should the women eat their offspring, the children they have cuddled? Should the priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? 21 “Young and old lie on the ground in the streets; My virgins and my young men have fallen by the sword; you have slain them in the day of Your anger, you have slaughtered and not pitied.
  • Lamentations 3 14 “I have become the ridicule of all my people—Their taunting song all the day. 15 He has filled me with bitterness, he has made me drink wormwood.16 He has also broken my teeth with gravel, and covered me with ashes. 17 You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.”
  • Psalms 137 1 “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it.”

Principle: There is a place to grieve, but prolonged grief or improper response to grief will lead to a victim mentality.

Application: Do you take your griefs to God? Are you living with a victim mentality? Do you know him as your Savior and King?

God was so gracious that he sent them word through Jeremiah that he was still with them. They were to build houses and plant gardens, take wives and have children, grow in numbers and seek the peace of the city where they were living. Listen to Jeremiah 29.    10“For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Did the people listen? Yes, the Bible doesn’t give us much information, but in the past century archaeologists discovered cuneiform tablets (wedge shaped style of writing in soft clay with a stylus which was then either baked in a kiln or under the hot sun) that give us hints that the people did quite well in Babylon. Remember, there were 2 groups of people in exile: the royals and the wealthy; the middle class. Those who were sort of commoners got land. They farmed and became successful. Those who were from the upper echelons of society also got land and other privileges. They learned Chaldean. Their children were educated in the cultures and manners of the Babylonians. They increased in affluence and wealth. Some became royal merchants and others like Daniel and Nehemiah became royal courtiers. Overall, they advanced socially, economically, and politically. In other words, yes, they did well. But how about spiritually? That’s a different matter. Not much indication in the cuneiform as to whether they were following God. If Sabbath keeping was any indication, they were not obeying God. Jeremiah 17      24 “And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the LORD, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, 25 then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever.” Now it was out of sight, out of mind. Add to that a victim mentality and a little disappointment with God.

Application: In some ways, we are in exile. Are we still seeking God? Not all of us.

To such a people, Isaiah had sent his prophecy – Isaiah 53      1 Who has believed our report? (The prophet is speaking on behalf of the people to the watching world.) And to whom has the arm of the LORD (Isaiah used that imagery repeatedly – 40:10; 48:14; 51:5; 52:10. It’s like saying “right hand man.”) been revealed?

2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. (The Servant will not be some mighty oak or some fruit tree laden with fruits. He will not be the “best of the best” like those who had been taken into exile. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”)

3 He is despised (not actively hating him but simply considering him worthless or unworthy of our attention) and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; (Have you been around someone in grief or sickness? Hair is matted; breath is bad; face is stained with tears. It is not a pleasant sight. We want to get away from there. The Judeans in Babylon were trying to climb the Babylonian ladder of success and regain their old splendor. Jesus was surrounded by sick and bereaving people when he came.) He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (We thought he was rejected and stricken “nagua” with leprosy. That’s why in the Babylonian Talmud the Messiah is described as a leper. This does not always have to be the case. To the contrary, he was representing us. We are grief stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. It is as if we are looking in a mirror and thinking it is someone else. He was not suffering because of the sins of the people but for the sins of the people. He was standing in their place and taking their spiritual punishment while they were improving their status in society and looking good and successful.)

5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised (The word is more like crushed.) for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (There is now a shift from illness to injury. This is where Isaiah started out – Isaiah 1        4 “Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers,children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. 5 Why should you be stricken again?You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.” Our sickness is because of sin. Jesus did not come to suffer with us but to suffer for us.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; (Sheep run away and scatter when they are spooked.) we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (The negative quality of the sheep are replaced by their positive quality by Jesus. Yes, they are dumb and fearful, but he was innocent and submissive.)

8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? (Those in exile wanted the best for their children and grandchildren. Hopefully, they will look back and sing our praises. He would have no such opportunity. In that society, such people were pitied. He was representing them!) For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

9 And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. He was hung between 2 thieves, but he was put in the borrowed tomb of a rich man. Joseph of Arimathea was a righteous man who was also a member of the Sanhedrin.)

Invitation: Are you gone astray? Do you need healing? Have you come to Jesus?

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?

Assignment by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Government:

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

At Work:

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

In Marriage:

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

There’s more resistance language in 1 Peter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvelous Light by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fervent Love by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faithfulness by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

Introduction: If there is one refrain or chorus that we have all said or heard again and again, it is “what a crazy year 2020 has been!” None of us ever imagined in our wildest dreams or nightmares that this year would turn out this way. Although, this year was quite serious and sad in many ways, people found humor in it as well. Check out some of the memes that people sent me – “T-shirt with the year in review stars – ‘Very bad, would not recommend,’” “picture of a knight in his armor with the caption ‘me being prepared for 2020’ and the next picture with an arrow through the eye slit,” “a bunch of porta potties on fire with the caption ‘if 2020 was a scented candle,’” and this one with “Sorry folks, the world is closed.” As I was praying about what is it that God would want us to remember at the close of this crazy year, he directed my attention to Psalm 66. Here’s the main point: If we look at our trials only through the lens of our personal story, we will become fearful and hopeless. Instead, we have to look at our trials through the lens of our collective story; then we see that we have faced worse situations before and God has been faithful. The foundation of our faith is not our own experiences but the collective experience of God’s people in the Scriptures. If he was faithful then, he will be faithful now and in the future. I can pray to him in confidence and know that he will answer the prayer of the clean heart.

Psalm 66       1 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! 2 Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.”

Context: Many of us treat the psalms as second-class literature compared to the narratives, prophecies, gospels and epistles. This is false. The psalms are equally Scripture. They are theology that sings. Once we decode the symbolism and the literary structure, they have some deep theology that is not found anywhere else in Scripture.

To start with, the psalm we just read (Psalm 66) can be divided into 2 halves: Verses 1-12 and verses 13-20. The first half is focused on corporate worship and the second half is focused on personal worship. In other words, first, we hear the chorus of the whole community singing and then we hear the voice of the individual worshipper. The first half lays the foundation for the second half. Without the corporate worship, there would be no individual worship.

First half – The choir calls all believers to praise God for his wonderful works. Listen again – 1 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!” In the context, I would say that “all the earth” is referring only to the “God-fearing Israelites” or only to “all the believers of the earth.” After all, how can the lost world shout joyfully to the living God? Also, 2 “Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.” Again, how can the lost world sing out the honor of God’s name and how can they make his praise glorious? Romans 3:23 is clear, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Moving on to verse 3 “Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power your enemies shall submit themselves to You.’” Every human being is an enemy of God until he/she meets Jesus Christ.Romans 5:10 “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Also,Colossians 1      21 “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” Once we receive Christ as our Savior, we can join the throng of those who sing praises to God’s name. 4 “All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.” Selah

Application: Have you been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? Are you saved? Are you singing praises to God?

Now the choir invites all believers to take a trip down memory lane – 5 “Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; They went through the river on foot…” Here the choir of God’s people are singing about the exodus from Egypt of their ancestors, particularly the time when the people of Israel found themselves hemmed between the Red Sea before them and the chariots of Pharaoh behind them. Remember, after the final plague of the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh allowed the people to leave Egypt. As this massive crowd of 3 million began their journey, the land of Egypt was a wreck and the Egyptians were scared. The people of Israel had to walk right past the fortresses on Egypt’s eastern borders. There were soldiers and chariots in these fortresses with plenty of hatred and anger towards the people of Israel. Even though they were large in number, these former slaves (less than 24 hours) were no match for trained angry soldiers in chariots. God led the people to set up camp in a place called Pi Hahiroth, which was right in front of the Red Sea. Just then Pharaoh changed his mind and decided to pursue the people of Israel with a couple of thousand chariots with soldiers. What a horrible tactical decision!

What was the response of the children of Israel? They were very afraid and they cried to the Lord and to Moses – Exodus 14     10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, “Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” Listen to Moses’s response in Exodus 14     13 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” Then, God commanded Moses to stretch his rod over the Red Sea to divide so the people could go on dry land. God sent a strong east wind that divided the sea and made dry land for them. Now, listen carefully to what happened next – Exodus 14    19 “And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” As the children of Israel crossed over on dry ground, listen to what the Angel of the Lord did 24 “Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians.” This Angel of the Lord and pillar of the cloud was the pre-incarnate Christ who guarded God’s people until they were safely on the other side. Then God gave the command and the sea came back and drowned the entire Egyptian army.

Let’s return again to Psalm 66:6 “He turned the sea into dry land; They went through the river on foot. There we will rejoice in Him.There is a shift in the “person” from third to second. There is something very subtle here which is very substantial for our faith. The singers/congregation were not there at the Red Sea. Their ancestors were there. Nonetheless, they were there in the sense of the confessional statements (Deuteronomy 26:5-9). In theological terms, this is known as the “actualizing identification with Israel’s salvation history.” It means that by faith we are part of the whole story of God’s people. In other words, even though I wasn’t there physically, I was there spiritually and I saw the faithfulness of God in my life. We do that as Christians through the Communion – 1 Corinthians 11:26 “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”

The choir/congregation continues – 7 “He rules by His power forever; His eyes observe the nations; Do not let the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah 8 Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, 9 Who keeps our soul among the living, And does not allow our feet to be moved.” This is the key verse of this psalm. God has preserved our feet from slipping into the netherworld. This does not mean that people have not died in 2020 of various causes, but God has our times in his hands and none have left this world outside of his time. 10 For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. 11 You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. 12 You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” Everything from the exodus experience is now personal.

Application: What is your faith story? The Bible is our faith story. We have been through worse. If God brought us through fire and water, he will bring us through 2020. Can you sing that? Can you shout that? Do you understand now why we need community? We understand those who cannot be with us because of health concerns. That’s why we go above and beyond to make sure that we have the best online experience possible for those who cannot attend in person. To stop assembling is to take away our faith story. We have to remind each other of it.

Second Half – The individual proclaims his personal thanksgiving to God and promises to keep his vows. Listen – 13 I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows.” There is a shift in the “person” from second to first. The choir goes silent now and all eyes are turned towards the individual as he makes remembers the promises that he had made to God through the trials. 14 Which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble. 15 I will offer You burnt sacrifices of fat animals, with the sweet aroma of rams; I will offer bulls with goats. Selah Many different kinds of sacrifices are in view here.

Applications: What promises did you make to God in 2020? You say, “I didn’t make any promises.” So, you just asked God to get you through? Get you through for what? Why should God give you another year? If were truly honest, many of us got through but our faith disintegrated. Many have destroyed the faith of others.

Listen to the conclusion of the psalm – 16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, And I will declare what He has done for my soul. 17 I cried to Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue. 18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. 19 Butcertainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me!” There is confidence in our prayers when our heart is clean before God.

Application: Is your heart clean before God?

Conclusion:

  • We need both descriptive praise and declarative praise.
  • We need to go back and then we can talk about the now.
  • We need both the community and the individual.
  • We need both worship and thanksgiving.
  • We need hearts that are clean if we want our prayers to be heard.

Can you see God’s faithfulness in the past and the present? Are you saved?

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?

Firm Resolve by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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