Living Stone by Dr. Abidan Shah

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Righteous Conduct by Dr. Abidan Shah

RIGHTEOUS CONDUCT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: Many of us tend to idealize or remake our past. Parents do that with their kids. It usually begins with “When I was your age…” or “When I was growing up, we had to walk 10 miles to school. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways. With my fat kid brother on my back.” Couples do that too when they argue. One will try to make his/her upbringing far better than the other. This does not mean that we need to disown our past or all our past was horrible. But, by glorifying our past, we tend to make it look better than it really was. Sometimes, we even return to our old ways, which leads to bad conduct. As we return to our series in 1 Peter, we are going to learn how to have RIGHTEOUS CONDUCT from our new story in Christ. Main point: Righteous conduct requires discarding our old and false narratives and embracing our new and true narrative as found in the Scriptures. In other words, in order to live holy lives, we have to embrace who we are in God’s narrative of redemption through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:17 “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear.”

Context: In this verse, Peter was calling his readers to conduct themselves in the here and now in light of God’s judgment to come. If you remember, Peter was writing this letter to 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. Peter was calling them to holy living by discarding their old family values and embracing their new family values. Listen to verse 14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Here “former lusts” refers to the old family values and old behaviors. In contrast, they were to choose holiness as their new calling. If that’s not enough, listen again to verse 17, “And if you call on the Father…” Here “the Father” is our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. 17 “…who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear.” Now, notice carefully verse 18 “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers.” Here “your fathers” are the earthly fathers representing our past life and values. Peter was clearly drawing a distinction between the readers old family and the new family.

Principle: During trials, if we’re not careful, we will return to our default setting. Trials can cause us to revert back to our old ways, the old family values we grew up with.

Application: How did you face your trials in 2020? Were you more Christlike or more Devillike? Did you grow in holiness or did you slide towards sinfulness? Did you revert to the old lifestyle or the new life in Christ?

How do you stay in the new lifestyle? You have to embrace your new narrative of redemption through Jesus Christ. Peter gives us a new timeline between verses 13-21, that is past, present, and future (Joel Green):

  1. Before Time:

20 “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”

Before the foundation of the world: Jesus talked about this time in John 17:24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Again, Paul talked about in Ephesians 1:4 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” Also, John said in Revelation 13:8 “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

In a world of nostalgia where the old is glorified, it doesn’t get any more glorified than this. The plan of salvation was not hatched after sin came into the world. It was already part of God’s plan before time began. It is much more than foresight. It implies the sovereign plan of God. The key here is “for you.” You may not have felt wanted or appreciated under the old plan, but you are wanted and appreciated under the new plan.

Application: Did you realize that you were in the heart of God before the foundation of the world?

  1. Time of Ignorance and Emptiness:

14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.”

Ignorance = not as much about lack of knowledge but about failure to grasp the character and purpose of God. It is a failure to align our lives with the purposes of God. This period was marked by “lusts” = epithumea, which refers to self-indulgence and evil cravings.

18 “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers.”

“Aimless” = “mataios” refers to worthless, useless, empty, vain life. Of course, we appreciate scientific, medical, and technological progress, there is not much gain that is left from the past. By the way, without Christianity and Judeo-Christian foundation, Western Civilization is nothing.

Application: How much do you value your past? Have you manufactured a fake past?

  1. End of the Ages/Last Times:

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.”

“Last Times” = “eschaton ton chronon” refers to the end times. Hebrews 1     1 “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” Acts 2:17 “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.”

Application: Did you know that we are living in the last days?

  1. Rescued and Restored Times:

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.

“Redeem” = “lutruo” meaning rescued and restored. The image is of slaves set free. It is taking us back to the Exodus event to the Passover. By participating in the Passover, the people were not only memorializing what took place on that night of the Exodus but they were also “actualizing identification with Israel’s salvation history.” Now, it is the precious blood of Christ that rescues and restores us. More importantly: we are not redeemed just from sin but also from our old behavior.

Application: Have you been rescued and restored?

  1. Exile/Temporary life:

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;

Time of your stay = “paroikias humon chronon,” which means “your exile life,” “temporary life,” or “foreigner life.” In every aspect of life – family, church, finances, work, social compassion, justice, integrity, neighborliness, etc. – we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are different. Remember, that you have to give an account to your Heavenly Father who is also your judge. Before you talk about praying, examine your life to make sure that it is approved unto God. Make sure your fear is directed in the right direction – towards God.

Application: How are you living in every aspect of life? Are you aware that God will judge you for your daily actions? Do you examine before you pray? Is your fear directed in the right direction – towards God?

  1. Revelation of Jesus Christ:

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.”

“Revelation” = “apocalypses,” which refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: What is your narrative? Where do you stand in God’s redemption story? Are you living in a way that he will be pleased when he returns? Trials are not an exemption to holy living. God demands holiness, especially in the midst of trials.

Are you saved?

Greater than Rulers by Dr. Abidan Shah

GREATER – THAN RULERS by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  How many of you have watched the old “Twilight Zone” TV show? I don’t know about you but, after a while, it starts to mess with your mind. One time, our kids were watching one episode after another and I had to tell them to stop! I felt like someone was always watching me or out to get to me. If there was one character in NT history who was always paranoid, it was King Herod. He constantly felt that he had to prove his kingship and that the world was out to get him. In our 3-week Christmas series titled “GREATER,” we are learning how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. Last week, we saw that Jesus was greater than Rome and Augustus Caesar. In this message, we will see that Jesus was greater than Herod, the paranoid king. Please find Matthew 2. Main point: Throughout history, people have tried to prove their significance and leave their legacy. Unfortunately, they’ve all failed. There is only one who is truly significant and whose legacy has no end. His name is Jesus. His coming was promised in the Scriptures, sought by the wise men, accompanied by celestial signs, and protected by the angels. He alone is the legitimate king, and he wants to bring his rule and legacy to your heart and mine.

Matthew 2     1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?’”

Context: Just like Luke 2 last week, this passage is also very familiar, especially during Christmas. Again, we usually rush past this to discuss the star or the wise men, and we miss something very important in the verses we just read. Listen again to verse 1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…” Of course, we know that Rome was in control of Palestine at the time, but it did so through local rulers. Herod was that local ruler, the client King, who ruled the region where Jesus was born. Herod’s policies made a big impact on the Christmas narrative.

A quick point here – It is vital that believers be involved in every level of government: local, state, and national.

So, who was Herod the King? Herod came from the Antipatrid family of Idumea, a region to the east and the south of the Dead Sea. Although, originally, they were descendants of Esau (brother of Jacob), now they were a mixture of Edomites, Jewish people, Arabs, Phoenicians, and Greeks. They had been forcibly converted to Judaism by a Jewish ruler named John Hyrcanus. In other words, they were a non-priestly, non-royal, and non-truly-Jewish family. That’s a lot of nons! Antipater I, Herod’s grandfather, had worked his way up and became the governor of Idumea. Herod’s father also followed in his footsteps and became even more successful. Sadly, some people were envious of his success and poisoned him. Now it was Herod’s turn. He was born with somewhat of a silver spoon in his mouth but he still had to work for every bit of what he had. He was hard working and had unending energy. As a strategos (military governor) of Galilee at the age of 25, he was not the type who just made his soldiers fight. He was unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat, a very good horseman, and even a good hunter.

How was his character? Overall, he was quite generous. When there was a drought, he used his own resources to help the people. He built up a strong military. He protected his people against bandits and tried to make his region safer and more peaceful. He was an amazing architect. He built forts, public buildings, streets, water systems, supported the Olympic games and on and on. According to Josephus, Herod’s most important achievement was the building of the temple in Jerusalem at his own expense. It took ten years to build. He doubled the foundation of Solomon’s temple and literally reshaped the layout of Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that the entire façade of the temple was covered with gold plates. When the sun rose, it was blinding to look at it! The upper parts were probably marble. He even took care to have the priests trained as masons and carpenters so that there would be no disruption of services. Furthermore, he made sure that no one family would control the priesthood. I can go on and on about the good he did. Yes, he did have a bad temper, but that’s minor compared to all the good that he did.

Did the people love him for all this? Not really. His people didn’t appreciate him. The Jewish people didn’t accept him because he wasn’t Jewish. His enemies tried to bring him to trial. The supporters of the opposition group tried to attack his family. He had to fight off the Parthians. He had to constantly keep Rome happy. He had to kill all the Hasmoneans (Jewish royalty) to ensure his rule. He even had his own brother-in-law – Aristobulus, the High Priest – killed. He had 300 of his military leaders killed. Yes, he was ruthless but it was all because he felt that they were a threat to his success.

Application: Do you know someone like that? He/she had to work hard all his/her lives. He had to deal with junk growing up. She had lowly upbringing. He didn’t have the best of family growing up. She made some bad choices. He tried to help people but he was not appreciated. Is that you? How do you handle those feelings of insignificance?

How was Herod’s love life? Herod’s family life was a mess, partly because he had ten wives and each of them wanted their son(s) to be the next king. His second wife deserves to mentioned in particular. He dismissed his first wife and son to marry Mariamme, a woman from a Hasmonean (prominent Jewish) family. Initially he did it to help his position, which it didn’t, but then he really loved her and had 5 children with her. She knew what he was like and she didn’t love him. Keep in mind that Herod had her brother killed. As Josephus the historian said, “her hatred of him was as great as was his love for her.” Then, Herod’s sister, Salome, started a rumor that Mariamme was cheating on him and he had her put on trial. He didn’t believe his sister but his sister kept pushing him with more and more lies. Finally, in a fit of rage, he had her killed. Then, he realized what he had done and began to grieve over her and even refused to believe that she was dead. He would often call for her. When he got sick, he took it as God’s judgment.

How was Herod as a father? He loved the two oldest sons he had with Mariamme and even sent them to Rome for their education, hoping to turn the kingdom over to them. When they returned they were arrogant and Herod couldn’t stand that. He even heard rumors that they wanted to avenge their mother’s death. After much back and forth, he had them strangled. Then he made a will (4th one to be exact) to give the kingdom to his son from his first wife but 5 days before he died he had him executed for plotting against him. Altogether, he changed his will 6 times before he died! By the way, I’m only dealing with the issues with his sons. I don’t have time to go into all the other family problems.

How was his end? In his final years Herod became terribly sick. Some scholars believe that he had syphilis. He had tried to get some relief in some healing baths near Jordan River but it didn’t help. When he realized that he was dying, he gave orders to his sister Salome to gather the prominent Jewish people at the hippodrome near Jericho and kill them when he died so people would actually cry when he was gone. He knew his own family wouldn’t cry for him. Thank goodness that after he died his sister did not follow the orders. I feel sorry for the guy. Don’t you?

Application: Do you know some people like that? They’ve had a bad home life. They’ve been let down in their marriage. They’ve tried to be good to their family but it never worked out. Their kids don’t appreciate them. They’ve made decisions that they can’t take back. They live in constant regret and guilt. Are you that person? You are trying to find significance in all the wrong places. You need Christ.

Did God forget Herod? No. In fact, he sent the gospel right to his doorstep. Matthew 2      1 “…behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

  1. Unlike Herod who had to prove himself constantly, Jesus was clearly promised in the Scriptures.

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

  1. Unlike Herod’s wise men who failed to prepare him, Jesus was sought by the truly wise men.

Matt. 2:9   When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

  1. Unlike Herod’s failed attempt to build his legacy, Jesus’s coming was accompanied by celestial signs.

11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

  1. Unlike Herod who constantly lived in fear of being killed, Jesus was protected by angels.

16 “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.”

This could have gone a whole different way. Herod could have found true significance. God didn’t hate Herod! He sent Jesus to be born 6 miles from where He lived. He sent magi from 430 miles to tell him about His birth. He even had all the chief and scribes at his disposal to tell him about the location of Jesus’ birth. Ultimately, it was his own wicked heart.

Application:  How is your heart this morning? Do you know Jesus as your Savior? If you know Him, are you sharing Him with others? Are you willing to step out of your hiding and follow Him boldly? Where are you seeking significance?

Greater Than Rome

GREATER – THAN ROME by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: How many of you have ever played “King of the Hill” as kids? The objective is to stay on top of the hill or pile and keep others from pushing you off. Unfortunately, people don’t stop playing that game when they grow up. They become rulers, kings, queens, and emperors. With Christmas upon us, we will be going through a 3-week series titled “GREATER.” We will learn how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. In this first message, we will see that Jesus was “GREATER THAN ROME.” Please find Luke 2. Here’s the main point: Our world has seen rulers rise and fall, and empires come and go. But, there is only one who stands greater than all, and whose kingdom has no end. It is Jesus Christ. Many have tried to overshadow him, but, as someone said, “When small men cast long shadows, it is a sign that their sun is about to set.” Jesus stands greater than all, and the sun cannot set on him because he made the sun and the moon and the stars.

Luke 2:1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

Context: The passage I just read is very familiar, especially during Christmas time. We usually rush past this to Joseph going to his hometown of Bethlehem and Mary giving birth to the baby Jesus and wrapping him in swaddling clothes because there was no room for them in the inn. Then, there were shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks by night and the angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were greatly afraid, and on and on. We miss something very important in the opening verses of Luke 2. The gospel writer Luke has given us some very important information about the world in which Jesus came. Listen again to verse 1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” The Greek word for “decree” is dogma, an imperial declaration. With just one decree, your entire world could be turned upside down.

Application: Do ya’ll understand what that means? This is why it is vital that we speak out and we know our rights. Having our voices heard and be strong in politics is not optional.

Who was Caesar Augustus? Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome when Jesus was born. His birth name was actually Octavius. He was the great nephew and the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who was the dictator of Rome until he was assassinated. Octavius ascended the throne after him, but he wasn’t much of a soldier so he linked up with 2 Roman generals and politicians – Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus – and began avenging the death of Julius Caesar. He was brutal and did not spare any who stood up to him. He even had coins minted with Julius Caesar’s image on one side with the words “the God Julius” and his image on the other side with the words “Caesar, Son of a God.” But, he was not satisfied with being one of three and so he first got rid of Lepidus. Then, he defeated Mark Anthony at the battle of Actium, who committed suicide along with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. They knew what would happen if they fell into the hands of Octavius. Now, Octavius was the only man standing. He was powerful and cruel, to say the least. He established the Pretorian Guard – private bodyguards of 5000 soldiers. The Senate was afraid of him and gave him power over the proconsuls and the armies. They even made him “Pontifex Maximus” or the chief priest of the state religion. Their own position was reduced to being just advisors.

But there’s more – there were provinces in Asia that had supported Mark Antony. Now Octavius was in power and they were going to pay for that. Very quickly delegations came from city of Pergamum and the city of Nicaea informing him that they were going to make him a god and needed his permission to build temples in his name. Of course, Octavius said, “That’s okay. You don’t have to. But, if you insist….” Two years later, the senate even gave him the title we find in Luke 2:1 – “Augustus,” which means “great” as in god. He became Caesar Augustus, not only the Emperor of Rome but also a god who had been appointed by the will of the other gods. It was in his hands to bring the “pax deorum” or the peace of the gods to the mortals on the earth. He was the incarnation of all the gods. He was the savior. The people loved him. He expanded the Roman Empire, rebuilt temples and public buildings, reorganized the Senate, and brought opportunities to the people. He was so popular that Roman men even adopted his hairstyle. For the first time there was peace in the world, as long as you didn’t oppose Octavius. One scholar noted that never before in the history of the world was a man worshipped like Octavius – Caesar Augustus.

Some of you are thinking – how come we’ve never heard of him? Have you ever looked at the calendar? The sixth month is named after the god Julius Caesar and the seventh month is named after Caesar Augustus – August. None of this was by accident. The Romans had a “complex and vibrant ideological matrix” (David Nystrom) on how to leave a Roman legacy. One scholar (Nystrom) said it this way – “He (Augustus) did not fundamentally alter it by assuming the trappings of personal supremacy, but rather magnified it by directing Roman tradition through the prism of his own story.” In other words, what did it mean to worship Augustus or to call an emperor “king”? (Nystrom)

  1. The Romans claimed that they were ordained by the gods to conquer and civilize.
  2. The Romans believed in the conviction that their rule was just.
  3. The Romans believed that their domination was not fixed by the “limits of the earth but by the limits of the sky” (Cicero).
  4. The Romans had a steep social pyramid based on wealth, class, ancestry, and location.
  5. The Roman empire was an urban phenomenon, with Rome as the ideal and the goal was to spread “Romanitas” – Roman values or Romanness.
  6. The Romans expected and practiced self-promotion, with ultimate power being in the hands of a select few.
  7. The Roman religion was not about faith. In fact, it was looked down upon as being weak. Religion was about gods, sacrifices, and duty.

Why did Augustus want the world to be registered? Taxes. More money was needed to fund the growing army – 28 legions, each legion had over 5000 soldiers. But, there’s something more – Herod the king of Judea had made Octavius mad and this was his way of proving a point to Herod that he was the boss. Amazing isn’t it? Everybody’s life is turned upside just so he can prove a point. Verse 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. In short, Augustus had turned everybody’s life upside down with one decree.

How about Jesus? 4 “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.” Augustus thinks that he has really told Herod. What he doesn’t realize is that he was just a pawn in God’s eternal plan. Eight hundred years earlier a prophet by the name of Micah had prophesied the location of the Messiah’s birth. Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”

Greatness is found when you are faithful and obedient, and God writes your legacy.

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. The word for inn is “kataluma,” which is guestroom. Joseph and Mary were probably staying with some friends and couldn’t find any privacy and had to deliver Jesus in the family room. Unlike Caesar Augustus who was living in the lap of luxury, the King of Kings had to spend his first night where the animals were tied.

Greatness is not in turning other peoples’ lives upside down. It is in laying our lives down for others.

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”  16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Greatness is when God comes to you and you know that you don’t deserve it.

Augustus had his “Res Gestae” (things done) left with the Vestal Virgins (Priestess to the goddess Vesta) to be read in the senate after his death. Only 3 copies have been found. Series of inscriptions were also written in the Forum Augusti with statutes of great men all round and Augustus in the middle riding in a chariot with the title “Father of his country.

What is the legacy of Jesus Christ? Eternity is not enough to list it!

Invitation: The world has an idea of greatness that fades away. God’s greatness never fades. Are you faithful and obedient? Are you laying your life down for others? Do you realize that you don’t deserve anything but hell? Are you saved?

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?

Greater Plan by Dr. Abidan Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genuine Faith by Dr. Abidan Shah

 

GENUINE FAITH by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  When I was a school teacher and then a principal, I would go along with the students on their field trips. The ones I especially remember where the ones to New York city. They were a lot of fun, but they were also very stressful. Some of you teachers know what I am talking about. Trying to lead 40-50 middle school or high school students through Times Square and China Town was like herding cats. Then, the boys would find a bargain on a Foakley! “Do you think anyone would know?” Or, the girls would find a bargain on a genuine imitation leather jacket! “Can you tell the difference?” My answer would always be – “I can’t tell.” This was of course a lie. But, I didn’t have to tell them anything. Sometimes, those glasses would start breaking and those jackets would start flaking even before the bus ride was over. Why? They were not real. So also, some people’s faith looks real until they go through the bus rides of life and they start breaking and flaking even before the ride is over. We are in our series through 1 Peter and today we come to 1 Peter 1:6 for our message titled GENUINE FAITH. Main point: How we respond to the trials of life reveals the content and the quantity of our faith. Genuine faith makes the invisible Christ visible and fills our hearts with joy. It even reveals our true destination.

1 Peter 1:6 “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.”

Context: After saying a good word about God, “eulogetos,” Peter immediately addressed the tough situation that the believers of Asia Minor were going through because of their faith in Christ. Peter assured them that he understood that they were grieved. The Greek word is “lupeo,” which can be translated “distressed,” “sorrowful,” “deeply grieved,” and “burdened down.” Why did they feel this way? As we learned in the last message, their own family and community had ostracized them and taken away their inheritance. Some people think that they were being persecuted by the Roman government. I don’t believe that was really the case because in the next chapter, Peter instructed them to honor the king and submit to those in authority. What did happen under Nero was that he got the people to hate the Christians. Here’s the point: Societal discrimination was often the method by which Christians were persecuted. Not much has changed. If we don’t step up and take a leading role in where our nation is headed, we too will face societal discrimination as Christians and the church. In the time of the governor Pliny, the name “Christian” was criminalized. We are headed down the same path in America today where being a Christian and holding church is being criminalized.

Application: Are you being grieved by what is happening in our nation? Are you standing up for truth and integrity? What trials are grieving you? Do you realize that trials have a timeline – a beginning, middle, and end. It is for a little while.

Listen again to 1 Peter 1:6 “In this you greatly rejoice…” Was Peter stating how the believers were responding or was he telling them to rejoice? In other words, was he saying, “You are greatly rejoicing in the face of trials” or was he saying “you should greatly rejoice in the face of trials”? I believe that it was both. In some ways, Peter was complementing them for their response. At the same time, Peter was also encouraging them to rejoice in the face of trials. How can we apply that in our lives? Should we pretend to laugh through our tears? Should be pretend to stay calm in the midst of chaos? Should we pretend that nothing is wrong? To understand the proper way to rejoice, we need to understand the various words and meanings of “rejoice” and “joy” (from William Morrice):

  1. euthumein, euthumos = optimism
  2. euphrainein, euphrosune = gladness
  3. hedone, hedus, hedeos = pleasure
  4. tharsein, tharrein, tharsos = courage
  5. hilaros, hilarotes = hilarity
  6. kauchasthai, kauchema, kauchesis = boasting
  7. makarios = happy
  8. skirtan = leaping for joy
  9. chara = inward joy
  10. sunchairein = shared joy
  11. agallian, agalliasis = exultant joy

That word “agallian” comes from the Septuagint. It means to be carried away in sacred joy. It’s the kind of joy that comes through worship. The psalmists loved that word!

  • Psalm 5:11 “But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them.”
  • Psalm 92:4 “For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands.”
  • Psalm 95:1 “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.”

That word is used again and again to praise God for his goodness and for his promises waiting for those who are in Christ.

How can these believers who were going through trials rejoice with this exultant joy? Listen again to the end of verse 6 “if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” The word for trial is “peirasmos.” Sometimes that word can mean “temptation” and sometimes it can mean “test.” The grief and sorrow that was coming from ostracization and societal discrimination could become a source of temptation. They can see that Satan was behind all temptations and he was trying to make God’s people doubt God and go back to their old ways. Or, they can see that it was a test from God.

Application: What are you doing with your trials? Are you struggling with temptations? It’s time to move over to testing.

To take it a step further, this test is not to destroy them but to make them shine even brighter. Listen to verse 7 “that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Gold is tested by fire to remove the dross and impurity. It proves its genuineness. So also, when we go through trials, God is bringing all our impurities out. His purpose is not to destroy us but to purify us. Malachi 3       2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.” Instead of running from trials and dreading them, we learn to welcome them and even rejoice in them. James 1      2 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” In my personal trials, God grew me into the person I am today. This is not just a sermon for me. I believe this stuff! David understood the value of trials and he said in Psalm 139:23“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties.” Ultimately, we shall receive praise, honor, and glory when Jesus returns!

Application: How do you respond to times of testing? Do you remind yourself that God is not trying to destroy you? Instead, he is trying to purify you. Do you welcome it like David? Are you looking forward to the reward that is waiting for you when Jesus returns?

Finally, listen to 8 “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” These believers were from Asia Minor. They never got the opportunity to see Jesus when he was doing his earthly ministry. Unlike Peter, the rest of the disciples, and the multitudes, they never saw him heal the sick, feed the hungry, preach the word, teach the disciples, and then die on the cross, buried, and rise again. Nonetheless, they loved Jesus. But, there’s more. They still didn’t see him. They didn’t see him as the resurrected Messiah. They didn’t see him as seated at the righthand of God. They didn’t see him as interceding for them to the Father. They didn’t see him as present where 2 or 3 are gathered. They didn’t see him as the coming King. Nonetheless, they believed in Jesus. Without historical encounter and present interaction, these believers had a relationship with Jesus through love and faith. This spiritual relationship with Jesus filled their hearts with exultant joy because they knew that he was with them! Hence, suffering and trials do more than just prove our faith. They make the Invisible Christ visible and bring exultant joy in our hearts. That is the motto of our church – “Making Christ Visible.” Bengel – “Christ in the heart; heaven in the heart; the heart in heaven.”

9 “receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

Where is all this headed? It is headed towards the salvation of your souls. Where is your faith headed? Trials reveal where you are headed.

Application: How is your joy level this morning? Are you facing temptations or trials? Can you see Christ? Have you ever seen Christ? Are you saved? Do you love and trust him?

HOSANNA by Dr. Abidan Paul Shah

HOSANNA by Dr. Abidan Paul Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

hosannaIntroduction:  This past Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day. Due to the coronavirus situation, parades all across the country were cancelled. Needless to say, a lot of people were disappointed. I don’t think they were disappointed because they couldn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s life, but it was because they couldn’t get out and have a good time with their family and friends. 2000 years ago, there was also a parade and some people tried to cancel it but they couldn’t. It was the parade for Jesus as he came into Jerusalem. Instead of clover leaves, the people held palm branches in their hands. Instead of Irish drinking songs, the people were singing Hosanna to the Son of David. As we draw closer to that time of the year, I want to preach a 4-week series titled “HOSANNA.” Here’s the message in this series: God wants to save us. In fact, he delights in saving us. Being saved by God is not a sign of weakness. It is our prerogative as his children.

John 12    12 The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!” 14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.” 16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.

Question: Did you know that God desires to save you? I’m talking to believers. He wants to rescue you from your predicament, whatever trials you are facing. Are you saved? I’m talking to unbelievers now. Have you asked Jesus to be your Savior and King?

Context: When people first come to Clearview, they are somewhat amazed at how much I talk about being saved. Some have even come to me and asked if that was a Baptist thing. I try to explain to them that it is not a Baptist thing but a Bible thing. Repeatedly, the Bible talks about being saved, being delivered, and being rescued by God. In fact, that word Hosanna is literally the combination of “hosiah” and “anna,” where “hosiah” means “save us” and “anna” means “now” or “please.” It’s referring back to Psalm 118 where the psalmist says in verse25 “Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.” This was usually prayed after the harvest season celebration. They would even wave and beat the ground with branches of willow and palm trees. Later on, this was also done during times of great needs and burden. In the weeks ahead, we will focus on all that. In this message I want to focus simply on the idea of being saved or rescued by God. It is all over the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus’ name in Hebrew is “Yeshua,” which is Savior! With that said, let’s look at it quickly in the short time we have:

  1. Let’s begin by going to what is considered the oldest book in the Bible, Job:

Job 5:11 “He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”

Job 40:14 “Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you.” Here God is speaking sarcastically to Job. He asks Job if he can do all the mighty things that God does. “If so, then you can save yourself Job.”

  1. When God’s people were in slavery in Egypt, he sent Moses to rescue them:

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.”

  1. After they settled into the Promised Land, God sent judges to save his people:

Judges 7:2 And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’”

Keep in mind that Gideon’s army was 32,000 men and they were outnumbered. Then 22,000 left when given the choice. Only 10,000 left and only those who drank like dogs were allowed to stay and that was only 300! God said, “Now that’s perfect!”

  1. After the judges came the kings but the formula didn’t change:

1 Samuel 17    45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. 47 Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’S, and He will give you into our hands.”

When the kings trusted in the Lord to deliver, they won. When they trusted in themselves, they fell.

  1. In the wisdom books, it is not cunning and strategy that saves but the Lord:

Proverbs 20:22 Do not say, “I will recompense evil”; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.

Proverbs 21:31 The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the LORD.

Proverbs 28:18 Whoever walks blamelessly will be saved, but he who is perverse in his ways will suddenly fall.

  1. Over a hundred times, the prophets call upon the people to look to the Lord to save:

Isaiah 45    21 “Tell and bring forth your case; Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A just God and a Savior; There is none besides Me. 22“Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth!”

Jeremiah 15:20 “And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall; and they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you; For I am with you to save you and deliveryou,” says the LORD.

Hosea 14     1 “O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; 2 Take words with you, and return to the LORD. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us…”

Jonah 2:9 “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”

  1. Finally, in the psalms, it is everywhere that God is our Savior:

Psalm 28     8 The LORD is their strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed. 9Save Your people, And bless Your inheritance;

Psalm 44     6 For I will not trust in my bow, nor shall my sword save me. 7 But You have saved us from our enemies, and have put to shame those who hated us. 8 In God we boast all day long, and praise Your name forever.

Psalm 80:3 “Restore us, O God; Cause Your face to shine, and we shall be saved!”

Psalm 119:94 “I am Yours, save me; for I have sought Your precepts.”

Psalm 144     9 “I will sing a new song to You, O God; on a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, 10 the One who gives salvation to kings, who delivers David His servant from the deadly sword.”

Let me repeat again what I said in the opening: God wants to save us. In fact, he delights in saving us. Being saved by God is not a sign of weakness. It is our prerogative as his children.

Matthew 1:21 “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Romans 10:9 “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Are you saved?

Unstuck (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

UNSTUCK (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the Newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on December 29, 2018)

“The Lord our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying: ‘You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey. . .’” (Deuteronomy 1:6-7a)

 “So you remained in Kadesh many days. . .”(Deuteronomy 1:46)

“. . . and we skirted Mount Seir for many days. “And the LORD spoke to me, saying: ‘You have skirted this mountain long enough; turn northward . . .’”(Deuteronomy 2:1-3)

Human beings are prone to getting stuck in a rut. Sometimes, it’s because we’re afraid of facing the challenges waiting ahead. Other times, it’s because we get comfortable in our misery. Either way, we fail to move forward in life and we miss out on the many blessings that God has for us. It’s easier to blame or feel self-pity than to accept responsibility for our inactions. We would rather complain and compare than confront our complacency.

This is nothing new. The people of Israel were stuck for 40 years in the wilderness. First, it was at Mount Sinai for eleven months. Here they encountered God, received the gift of the law, saw the holiness of God, and built the Tabernacle. This was not a waste of time. But, instead of moving forward with renewed faith, they decided to camp there indefinitely. God had to push them out. They made their way to Kadesh Barnea from where they could see the Promised Land. God helped them to organize themselves through Moses. They had seen enough wonders to know that God was with them. Again, instead of moving forward in faith, they refused God’s command to take the land. God condemned that generation to die in the wilderness over the next 38 years. Only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb survived because they believed God. As if all this was not enough warning to the next generation, they too decided to skirt Mount Seir for many days! God had to tell them what he had told their parents and grandparents 40 years earlier – “Enough going in circles! Move forward!”

Here are some questions to consider: Are you stuck? Are you wasting time going in circles? What is it that’s keeping you from moving forward? Would you rather skirt the mountain in your life than step out in faith? Do you blame others for your indecisions? Is crying and complaining easier than climbing and conquering? These are tough questions but unless you answer them honestly, there will be no progress in your life.

The place to begin is not by self-determination and self-will or even clarifying your goals or your strategy. Begin by clarifying who God is and whether you know him. Many times, our lack of movement is directly proportional to the size of our God. People who serve a big God attempt big things in life. But, it’s not enough to believe in a big God. You also have to know his heart for you. The only way to come to him is by first coming to his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said,“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.(John 14:6). If you don’t know Jesus, receive him today as Savior and King. If you do know him, it’s time to get unstuck from the rut and move forward!

The Greener Grass Syndrome (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

THE GREENER GRASS SYNDROME (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 18, 2018)Greener Grass Syndrome,

Have you ever driven past a herd of cows grazing in a lush green field and seen that one cow sticking its head through the fence, nibbling in the pasture next to it? Why is it doing that? Is there not enough grass in its own field? Is the grass any greener on the other side? Is the grass any tastier? None of the above. The cow is falsely assuming that the grass must be better on the other side. Humans do the same thing but worse. We buy into the myth that our lives are not as good as others’. We say things like: “I can’t wait to get outta here and move somewhere else,” “It was so much better back home,” “If only I looked like her, I would be so much happier,” “If only I had him, life would be so much better.” We see the perfect selfie and conclude that the person’s life must be better than ours. When in reality, that photo was retaken twenty times and tested by multiple filters. This delusion has become magnified in recent years with the rise of social media. As a result, some people have become paralyzed in self-defeat and some have slipped into the abyss of depression. Others have even walked away from a good job or a marriage, with tragic consequences.

So, how do you combat this “greener grass syndrome?” We can follow the example of God’s people in the book of Jeremiah. They were in exile in Babylon, pining to go back home to Jerusalem. They had forgotten that it was their sin that had caused them to be driven out of the land. Instead of repenting and seeking God’s will, they were wallowing in self-pity and longing for the “greener grass” back home. God sent Jeremiah to tell them to “bloom where they were planted.” Listen to Jeremiah 29:5-7 “Build houses and dwellin them;plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters…and seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive…” In other words, “Make yourself at home. Dig some foundations. Get your hands dirty in the Babylonian soil. Become a productive member of the society. Make the place better by your presence.” At first, the people did not want to hear this but God warned them that things would not change for the next seventy years. But, if they were obedient to plant themselves where God had placed them, then his promise to them would be“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.” (Jeremiah 29:11) People often quote this promise but neglect to realize that it was contingent on them flourishing where God had sent them.

There may be times when you have to change locations or jobs in order to improve your life. This is not “the greener grass syndrome.” Rather, it’s moving from a famine infested land to a fertile valley. But, just remember, bad habits don’t disappear by changing zip codes or job descriptions. Unless, the old nature has been transformed by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will still be you even if you move to the other side of the moon! So also, being inspired and motivated by the successes of others is not always bad as long as it doesn’t trap you into envy. There is a fine line between copying and coveting. King Saul crossed that line when he began to despise young David and his successes. It launched him into a horrible depression and provoked within him the desire to kill God’s Anointed.

Ultimately, the challenge to all those seeking the “greener grass” is to make sure that what they think is a better place is not actually astroturf or a septic tank. But, if we let God guide our lives, our Babylon may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

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